5 keys vs. the Broncos

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers play the Denver Broncos today in their third preseason game. As you already know, the third preseason game is typically the most serious preseason game, the “dress rehearsal” before the regular season – starters play into the second half and coaches game plan for the opponent.

But Jim Harbaugh said this preseason game would be no different than the other Niners preseason games. He doesn’t seem to believe in the “dress rehearsal” philosophy. Last season, Alex Smith threw just six passes in the third preseason game against the Houston Texans, while the opposing quarterback, Matt Schaub, attempted 24 passes.

With that in mind, here are five things to watch in Sunday’s game.

  1. Injuries. The most important thing in the preseason is to stay healthy. Three key Niners have gotten hurt – Aldon Smith, Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James. The Niners can’t afford any more injuries before the regular season starts.
  2. Joe Staley and Anthony Davis vs. Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. The Niners absolutely cannot afford Alex Smith to get hurt, so that means the starting tackles – Staley and Davis – have to hold their own against the Broncos’ talented pass rushers – Dumervil and Miller.
  3. Alex Smith vs. Peyton Manning. If Alex Smith gets protection from the offensive line, it’s key for him to keep pace with Denver’s QB – Peyton Manning. If Smith can out throw Manning, that would be even better. Smith and Manning will be compared all season long because the Niners “evaluated” Manning in the offseason, and did not resign Smith until Manning chose to sign with Denver.
  4. Randy Moss. He needs to catch one deep pass from Alex Smith. So far this preseason, Smith has used Moss as a decoy to get other receivers open, but that’s not why the Niners signed Moss. They signed him to catch deep passes and touchdowns. Smith needs to develop the deep connection with Moss before the regular season starts.
  5. 5.     The battle for the backup QB. Harbaugh says Colin Kaepernick is the No.2 QB, but Kaepernick needs to play well in this game to keep that job. Last year in the third preseason game he had a 20.8 QB rating, completing 6 of 16 passes and throwing an interception. If he gives a similar performance this year, Scott Tolzien or Josh Johnson could become the No.2 QB.

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