After last week's 9-0 win in Washington over the Redskins, the San Francisco 49ers have improved to 6-0. This week will be a difficult test against the red-hot Carolina Panthers, who are second in the NFC South at 4-2 and are coming off a bye.

The Carolina Panthers have won four straight games and have not lost with new starting quarterback Kyle Allen. The Panthers are fifth in the league in points per game (27.2), twentieth in yards per game (353.0) offensively, and on defense they are fifteenth in points given up (22.2) and twelfth in yards per game (344.0). This is a good football team, but it is beatable.

As far as injuries go, the 49ers will be without tackle Mike McGlinchey, fullback Kyle Juszyzck, and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. Joe Staley is listed as doubtful and likely will suit up on Thursday for the first time since injuring his fibula. Listed as questionable are Marquise Goodwin, Levine Toilolo, and Raheem Mostert.

The Panthers will be missing Cam Newton, reserve offensive tackle Greg Little and reserve defensive lineman Christian Miller.

Here are five keys to winning this game:

Where and When: Sunday, October 27 at 1:05 PST at Levi's Stadium

Where to Watch: How to watch or listen to Panthers at 49ers

1) Stop the Run and Make Kyle Allen Beat You


Christian McCaffrey is third in the NFL in rushing and has seven touchdowns (tied for third). To put it simply, McCaffrey is a force who will be difficult to slow down. If the 49ers are going to prevent the Panthers from controlling this game and getting a lot of points on the board, they must ensure that McCaffrey doesn't have a big day.

The 49ers enter the game eighth against the run (90.0 yards per game) and they have the ability to bottle up McCaffrey on the ground. The Panthers' running back, unfortunately, is also superb coming out of the backfield in the passing game. While both Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander are perfectly capable in coverage, McCaffrey cannot be allowed to make big plays when Allen goes back to pass. If McCaffrey has a big day, this could be the 49ers' first loss of the season.

2) Dominate the Line of Scrimmage and Pressure Kyle Allen


This goes without saying every week. The 49ers must control the line of scrimmage and pressure the opposing quarterback. If Kyle Allen is under duress, the Panthers will have a difficult time scoring points against the 49ers, who come into the game second overall in points allowed and only give up 10.7 points per game.

49ers' opposing quarterbacks have been under constant pressure all year and there's no reason to think this game will be any different. The Panthers will try to counter the pass rush with the ground game and a lot of short, quick passes. The 49ers have handled this kind of attack well and are the best in the league against the pass and only give up 133.5 yards per game in that department.

Allen has played well and could remain the Panthers' starter for the season. Don't expect the 49ers to take him lightly, but also, don't expect them to play poorly against the pass. San Francisco should be able to prevent receivers Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore from making big plays, but will also have to account for veteran tight end Greg Olsen and not let him run free in the middle of the field.

3) It's Time For the Passing Game to Shine


It's not going to surprise anyone if the defense does its job and San Francisco's ground game does well. It's the passing game that has been under fire from critics. Jimmy Garoppolo has not had to have a big game to win football games, but this week may be an exception. The passing attack cannot afford to have a below-average day against a defense like Carolina.

The Panthers' front seven is very good and loaded with players like Gerald McCoy, Luke Kuechly, Dontari Poe, Shaq Thompson, Bruce Irvin, and others. They can stop the run and get after the quarterback a lot like the 49ers. Garoppolo is going to have to make some big plays and get the ball out quick to get this offense going.

This week, San Francisco acquired wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in an effort to bolster the receiver corps. Deebo Samuel also returns from an injury and George Kittle practiced fully on Friday and will play. The passing game has to have a better day in order to win this game.

4) Protect Jimmy Garoppolo


A couple of weeks ago was a big test for the offensive line, which is still without its starting tackles. It has done a good job thus far, but will need to keep the foot on the gas against the Panthers, who, like the 49ers, are looking to make a statement. Carolina can pressure the quarterback and it will be imperative to give Garoppolo time to find an open receiver.

If the Panthers hit Garoppolo and force turnovers, this could be a long day for the offense.

5) Score in the Redzone


Coming into this game, San Francisco is 29th in the league at scoring touchdowns in the red zone at 38.5%. That number has to go up if it expects to win this game.

This is where Emmanuel Sanders could come up very big. Not only is he great in the red zone, but he should open things up for George Kittle and others like Deebo Samuel. It will be up to Garoppolo to find an open man and come away with touchdowns down there.

Will the 49ers score a touchdown every time they have ball? No, but when they get in field goal range outside the 20, Robbie Gould needs to find his 2018 form and make those attempts. Kyle Nelson, the regular longsnapper, is back from his suspension and should greatly help the kicking game return to what we're used to.

Prediction


This is likely going to be a more difficult game than many realize. Carolina is a good football team and will make this one tough. However, the 49ers will grind out another win and we will see improvements in both the passing attack and the kicking game as Robbie Gould makes a couple of big field goals.

We will see Kyle Allen throw his first interception, Jimmy Garoppolo look better in the passing game, and Emmanuel Sanders make an impact in his first game in a 49ers uniform.

49ers 27, Panthers 23