Lions vs. 49ers: Alex Smith and the 49ers Defense Hold Strong Against NFC North

Tyson LanglandNFC West Lead WriterSeptember 17, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 16:  Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers passes the ball during their game against the Detroit Lions at Candlestick Park on September 16, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

For the second time in as many weeks, the 49ers beat up on an opponent from the NFC North, Alex Smith had a quarterback rating over a 100, Aldon Smith recorded a sack, and San Fran averaged more than five yards a carry.

One may be wondering, how many times has Smith has back-to-back games with a quarterback rating over a 100? It has happened one time before, and coincidentally enough, it happened under Jim Harbaugh in Weeks 4 and 5 of the 2011 season. 

It truly is remarkable just how far Smith has progressed under Harbaugh's tutelage. Just imagine if No. 11 would have had him for his entire career; this is actually the first year where Smith has had the same offensive coordinator for two years in a row.

When you watch the 49ers offense, you just see a more confident unit that executes on every play. The play-calling has been upgraded, and the handcuffs are off as Smith looks like he is making better decisions and throwing the ball around like it's expected of him. 

Before, people had a hard time believing that he would ever string together a couple of good starts in a row. Most people would say he got lucky or the defense blew an assignment, but now the praise has been pouring in from everywhere. 

While Smith was garnering all the praise from all the national media outlets, San Francisco's defense was making Matthew Stafford's life a complete nightmare. They have grown accustomed to that under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. 

Last week against the Packers, Fangio's defense sacked reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers three times and hit him six more times. Oddly enough, it was more of the same this week against the Lions. Ray McDonald got in on the sack party, while Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks registered a couple quarterback pressures and one quarterback hit. 

Also, the 49ers did a great job of limiting Scott Linehan's offense to under 300 total yards. The last time Detroit's offense failed to gain 300 yards was in their ugly Week 14 comeback win against the Vikings in 2011.

Dashon Goldson was the only one who intercepted the pick-happy Stafford, but a guy who quietly impacted the game was fellow defensive back Chris Culliver. Sure, he was flagged for an "iffy" pass interference call, yet his coverage and ball skills downfield were air tight on outside receivers. 

Of course, Calvin Johnson got his, as he caught eight balls for 94 yards, but the rest of the pass catchers only amassed 136 yards on 11 catches. 

It will be interesting to see how much punishment San Francisco's defense inflicts on Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder next week. The last time the 49ers played at Minnesota in the regular season, Brett Favre hooked up with Greg Lewis for a game-winning touchdown pass. 

I have an inkling that this time will be different. They will leave the Metrodome 3-0.