There was a time when the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers were division rivals. For seven seasons, the pair faced off in the old NFC West. The battles were tough matchups featuring talented defenses. Nearly two decades later, the 49ers and Panthers meet up with talented defenses in tow. The 49ers are facing their toughest test thus far but added an extra weapon on offense. Ahead of Sunday’s clash, we take a look at the three matchups which could decide the game.
Panthers Pass Rush vs. 49ers O-Line
The Panthers enter Sunday’s matchup as the league leaders in sacks with 27 on the year. They’ve also played in just six games. By comparison, the 49ers have 20 sacks through six games. Carolina is led by Mario Addison and his 6.5 sacks. Addison is joined by fellow edge rusher, Brian Burns. A rookie from Florida State, Burns has totaled 4.5 sacks thus far. Simply put, the Panthers boast an effective pass rush and face off against a San Francisco offensive line missing their two starting tackles.
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Left tackle Joe Staley has been a limited participant in practices this week. Staley is questionable at best, especially with a trip to Arizona on Thursday night. That leaves Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill to combat the talented Carolina pass rush. Both tackles have filled in admirably over the past two weeks. Carolina presents a new problem with their ability off the edge. Expect Kyle Shanahan to help his young tackles with tight end chips in addition to keeping someone in the backfield to assist with pass protection. It would not surprise to see Shanahan move the pocket or even throw the football out of heavy sets.
|1||San Francisco 49ers||6||91||165||55.2||801||5||3.0||7||30||4.2||5.8||4.5||10.5||133.5||64.6||20||153||34||34||4.3||3.2||10.8|
|3||New England Patriots||7||123||242||50.8||1039||1||0.4||18||50||7.4||5.0||1.7||9.8||148.4||35.6||26||170||50||29||3.9||0.9||9.7|
|8||Los Angeles Chargers||7||138||185||74.6||1513||12||6.5||6||16||3.2||8.7||8.5||11.6||216.1||108.5||14||90||31||31||7.6||7.5||7.0|
Kwon Alexander & Fred Warner vs. Christian McCaffrey
The Carolina offense revolves around running back Christian McCaffrey. Carolina’s dynamic running back has been the best at his position this season. Through six games, he has already rushed for 618 yards, in addition to 305 yards receiving. As a dual-threat playmaker, McCaffrey is a matchup nightmare for the 49ers. Linebackers Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner have the size to play McCaffrey tough. However, he has a speed advantage on both players. The gameplan should be to corral the talented running back and limit his exposure to open field.
It has been a recent trend against the 49ers defense to start games running the football. Both Los Angeles and Washington found early success. Expect bracket coverage on McCaffrey with one of the linebackers underneath and Jaquiski Tartt over the top. It is also possible for Robert Saleh to employ multiple blitz packages with a safety or cornerback coming off the edge in order to rush the throw while keeping Alexander or Warner close to McCaffrey. Whatever the defense tries, they need to make the tackle in the open field and limit the big gains.
Jimmy G vs. Panthers Secondary
The Patriots lead the league in interceptions with 18 through seven games. Carolina comes in second with nine total interceptions. A formidable pass rush typically leads to an increase in turnovers, namely interceptions. Jimmy Garoppolo has struggled with interceptions. He has made some great throws but has a propensity to make two or three questionable throws each game. Against Carolina, Jimmy G must avoid the interceptions at all costs. Garoppolo isn’t to blame for all of his six interceptions this season.
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At face value, his seven touchdowns to six interceptions are less than ideal. However, at least two or three of his interceptions were a result of passes bobbled by his receivers. He also is missing a few touchdowns from drops. All of which points to an efficient quarterback who has yet to make a game-deciding mistake. Shanahan is an expert at limiting risk. What is worrying is Garoppolo’s occasional mental lapses. Whether a failure to pick up a defender dropping in coverage, or throwing blindly to a spot, many of Garoppolo’s interceptions are a result of a bad throw. Jimmy G will have chances to make big plays through the air, the 49ers are hoping that he can make the right throw.
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage 49ers. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada