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The 49ers could beat the Lions before the game even starts.

The Lions no-showed their season opener at home against the New York Jets. Lost 48-17. Embarrassed themselves on Monday Night Football. Matthew Stafford threw four picks. Sunday, he could be gun-shy, afraid to throw over the middle. Afraid to throw period.

Some of the Lions players reportedly already have turned on head coach Matt Patricia, who has coached only one game. Now, they have to fly across the country and play on a short week. They had one fewer day to prepare than the 49ers.

By the time the Lions get over their blowout loss from last week, they could be losing big again.

Advantage: 49ers.

These are the critical matchups that will determine who wins.

1. Kyle Shanahan versus Matt Patricia: The rematch.

Even if the Lions fall behind 28-3, the game might not be over. It wasn’t over the last time between Shanahan and Patricia.

Those two have faced each other only once – during the 2017 Super Bowl. Shanahan was the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator. Patricia was the Patriots defensive coordinator.

You remember the game. Shanahan’s plan was brilliant. The Falcons took a 28-3 lead. Then, Patricia figured out Shanahan’s offense, adjusted to it, shut down the outside-zone run play, which shut down the entire running game, which in turn shut down the entire Falcons offense. And the Patriots won the Super Bowl largely because Patricia outcoached Shanahan in the second half. You can bet Shanahan and Patricia are aware of their first encounter. Up to that point, it was a career-defining moment for both of them.

Of course, the Lions aren’t the Patriots, but the 49ers aren’t the Falcons, either. There are unknowns in this matchup, but one thing is known.

Patricia has a book on Shanahan. Now, Shanahan has to write a new chapter by making a counter adjustment. Has to break the tendencies he established last season and in the Super Bowl against Patricia.

Let’s see if Shanahan does something different.

Advantage: Lions.

2. Right guard Najee Toran versus left defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois.

Starting right guard Mike Person officially is questionable. But, he couldn’t walk without limping Friday in the locker room, so he probably won’t play.

Without Person, the 49ers would start Toran, their fourth-string right guard. He’s an undrafted rookie from UCLA. The 49ers promoted him from their practice squad on Wednesday.

If Toran plays Sunday, the run game will become left-handed, meaning most of the runs will go to the left, behind Joe Staley and Laken Tomlinson. And the Lions will know it. Everyone will know it.

The 49ers have to find a way to run to the right. Have to find one or two plays that have a chance to succeed on that side.

Advantage: Lions.

3. Wide receiver Dante Pettis versus cornerback Nevin Lawson.

Detroit has one great cornerback: Darius Slay. He intercepted eight passes last season. Normally, he would cover Marquise Goodwin, but Goodwin will miss the game with a thigh bruise, so Slay will cover Pierre Garcon.

Advantage: Lions. Slay could shut him down.

That means Goodwin’s replacement must produce.

The replacement is rookie Dante Pettis, who made a touchdown grab last week. He will face Lions No. 2 cornerback Nevin Lawson. He never has intercepted a pass during his five-season career, and is only 5-foot-9.

Pettis is 6-foot-1.

Advantage: 49ers.

4. 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh versus Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

Advantage: Lions, just based on their names. Not based on ability.

Cooter has been the Lions offensive coordinator since 2015. His offense never can run the ball. Always has ranked worse than 25th out of 32 teams in yards per carry. Last season, the Lions ranked dead last.

This year, Cooter made it a point of emphasis to improve his run game. After one week, the Lions yet again rank dead last in yards per carry.

Meanwhile, the 49ers’ defense ranks seventh in fewest yards per carry allowed this season. The Niners ranked seventh last season, too.

Saleh will force Cooter to call way too many passes.

Advantage: 49ers.

5a. Cornerback Richard Sherman versus the Lions’ fast receivers.

If Lions go bombs away, Sherman will face his first real test since returning from an Achilles tear.

Last week, the Vikings didn’t really challenge Sherman. Most of the time, they let him cover their worst and slowest receiver, Laquon Treadwell, who was no contest for Sherman.

This week, Sherman will have to cover someone fast, either Golden Tate, Marvin Jones or Kenny Golladay. All three are legitimate deep threats. All three can burn Sherman if Stafford has time to throw.

Advantage: Lions.

5b. DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead versus the Lions interior offensive line.

Stafford probably shouldn’t have time to throw.

The 49ers improved their pass-rush simply by benching Solomon Thomas in obvious passing situations – second-and-long, third-and-long and third-and-medium.

Thomas has no pass-rush skills, no counter moves. He’s a robot. His replacement, Arik Armstead, has skills. He was terrific Week 1 against the Vikings. He and DeForest Buckner make it tough for quarterbacks to see over the middle. Both are 6-foot-7. And they push the pocket.

Stafford is not mobile. He doesn’t scramble or use the zone read. Buckner and Armstead will flush him out of the pocket and into the arms of edge rushers. This is the key matchup of the game. It’s where the Niners will get the Lions in checkmate.

Advantage: 49ers.

They should put away the Lions before the fourth quarter even starts.

Final score: 49ers 30, Lions 19.

Grant Cohn covers the 49ers and Bay Area sports for The Press Democrat and Pressdemocrat.com in Santa Rosa. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.

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