49ers-Panthers preview

Know Your Enemy

This has the potential to be a very ugly game since it’s between two teams that have one win combined between them. Sitting at 1-5, the 49ers are one of the league’s bigger disappointments since a lot of people saw them taking the NFC West this year. They can still win that division with the shape it’s in but it’s going to be tough. San Francisco has a few things in common with Carolina, most notably their offensive struggles. Alex Smith has shown flashes of good play in this offense but he’s been having a down year for the most part and many fans are finally ready to pull the plug on him as the QB. There’s also some that question whether Mike Singletary is cut out to coach this team or not. Oh, and they recently fired their offensive coordinator. Yikes. Sounds pretty damn similar to Carolina’s situation only their owner didn’t put them in that spot. San Francisco got their first win last week against the Raiders in a low scoring, penalty filled affair. It wasn’t pretty but a win’s a win for them. Regardless, this looks like another game that the Panthers can win but the 49ers see this as a winnable game, too so there’s no doubt that Carolina’s going to struggle in this. Time to go in depth. It’s gonna be ugly.
Panthers pass offense vs. San Francisco’s pass defense

The big news out of Carolina this week was that Matt Moore would be the starting QB for the Panthers in Sunday’s game. These next couple of weeks are likely his last shot to show that he can quarterback his team before he’s benched again. SF’ defense is a good test since they are ranked 11th in passing defense in terms of yards per game (around 200) but no Carolina QB has even gotten to that mark this season. In Moore’s two starts for Carolina this year, he’s showcased poor decision making, terrible awareness and a knack for going for the big play. He’s also been sacked 9 times already.  I don’t think things will be any easier for him this week unless the line improves (i’ll get to that later) but the news of Steve Smith possibly being ready to play this game has to give him some comfort.

No one in the Panthers receiving corps has stepped up yet and the passing game was simply pathetic in the Bears game where Smith was hurt. You can expect either Shawntae Spencer or Nate Clements to be all over him in this game. Both have a pair of INTs this year and have only allowed one receiver to go over 100 yards (Roddy White a few weeks ago). SF’s pass D is very stable and this is an easy task for them to shut down. If we want to succeed in the passing game then we need to target Steve Smith a lot and make sure he can make the big plays when he needs to. I don’t want to say that this “needs” to be a breakout game for him but it could be the only way we can win this game. Of course there’s a chance that Brandon LaFell or David Gettis can breakout but I’m not counting on it. Another thing that might be smart is to use DeAngelo Williams on screen passes since that’s what the Eagles did with LeSean McCoy to pound away at this Niners defense.

Panthers running game vs. 49ers run defense

San Francisco has yet to allow a 100 yard rusher so far this season. The closest they came was against Kansas City where Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones gained 90+ yards on them a piece. This is what I want to see DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart do. Our running game still hasn’t shown the explosiveness that it had the last couple of seasons and it’s probably going to struggle this game, too. My hope is that OC Jeff “Dumbass” Davidson doesn’t abandon the running game after the first drive. Stewart and Williams need more than 10 touches a piece if we’re going to win this game. Whether or not SF can stop the run depends on if nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin can open up holes for linebackers Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes to run through and get to the ball-carrier. Willis has the speed to chase down running backs after they get across the line of scrimmage but stopping in them in the backfield would be a lot more effective against us. Especially with how quick Davidson is to abandon the run game if it doesn’t work right off the bat.

Panthers offensive line vs. 49ers defensive line

San Francisco plays a 3-4 with a lot of blitzing from the two outside linebackers. Look for Manny Lawson and Parays Haralason to be coming in on a bee-line straight for Moore. Carolina’s offensive line has been very poor so far and Mackenzey Bernedeau has already lost his RT spot to newcomer Garry Williams. Geoff Schwartz will remain at RG for now. The two of them are going to have their hands full dealing with Haralason and RE Justin Smith on blitzes and I’m hoping that Williams fairs slightly better than Bernedeau did against…well everyone. Another key matchup is center Ryan Kalil against the aforementioned NT Aubrayo Franklin. Basically, how effective we run the ball is going to depend on whether or not Kalil, Williams and Wharton block well up the middle. I’m more concerned about the pass protection for now since I’m worried Moore might get killed back there again with how effective this Niners blitz can be against us.

49ers passing game vs. Panthers pass defense

Alex Smith’s numbers sort of tell the tale of the Niners passing game this season. Already over 1000 yards, 8 TD’s, averaging around 230 yards a game but he’s turned the ball over 10 times (9 INTs, 1 fumble). Smith has shown that he can be impressive when he’s called upon but he’s still making too many mistakes for SF to win right now. The Panthers secondary has to like what it sees here since they have intercepted 9 passes this year and are going against a turnover-prone QB. Strong safety Charles Godfrey has been great this year at picking off badly thrown passes and hopefully he will see a lot of those on Sunday. Free safety Sherrod Martin will be seeing a lot of those come his way, too.

The matchup here that doesn’t work in the Panthers favor is that Alex Smith’s favorite target is TE Vernon Davis and Carolina’s been terrible at stopping tight ends all season. The only thing that might work in their favor is that Davis is used on a lot of deep routes, which the Panthers D plays specifically to prevent. Needless to say, Jon Beason and James Anderson could have their hands full. I’m not terribly worried about Michael Crabtree or Josh Morgan burning us since like I said, we haven’t given up a lot of big passing plays the last few weeks. Whether or not we can prevent the Niners from stretching out drives like the Saints did is what I’m sort of concerned about.

49ers run offense vs. Panthers run defense

Despite the Niners struggles, Frank Gore’s had a great season. He’s been called upon in every running situation for SF and has done a solid job at it minus a couple fumbles. I wasn’t terrible worried about our run defense until Matt Forte torched them a couple weeks ago. Gore is capable of doing that as well so we will need to stop him in his tracks at the line. I’m hoping we see the Derek Landri from the Saints game show up since he was great at stopping the run in that game. Nick Hayden had a solid game against Chicago so I hope he picks up where left off there. This is probably what scares me most about the Niners offense because not stopping the run is what essentially lost the Bears game for us.

Niners offensive line vs. Panthers defensive line

The rookies on SF’s o-line have been solid from what I’ve seen. RG Mike Iupati’s been proving his first round status and so has Anthony Davis. How does the Panthers pass rush match up against them? Well, SF’s only given up 12 sacks all season and Carolina only has 9 sacks this year. Pressuring Alex Smith is going to be key considering the defense we play and in order to do that I think we should start Greg Hardy at LDE instead of Everette Brown or Travelle Wharton. Hardy’s been great whenever he’s started this year and I see no reason to give him a shot. Charles Johnson has been the best pass rusher so far and I hope he can get better. I’ve been asking this out of them every week but if we want Smith to throw a lot of bad passes, the line has to get in his face a lot. I would expect Dan Connor to be sent in on a blitz every now and then too.

Things I Want To See From This Game

– 10 touches a piece from Williams and Stewart. Like I said, do what the Chiefs did.

– A big game from Steve Smith if he’s playing. Not a 100+ yd game but something where he makes some kind of impact.

– More than 14 points to be scored. Ugh.

– Alex Smith to not look comfortable all game. In other words, I want to see him sacked, throw bad passes and miss his targets completely. Just like they did to Todd Collins.

– Matt Moore not to turn the ball over. Might be asking for too much but we really need to protect the ball.

– Win the TOP battle. Again, ugh.

Prediction

I’m thinking this is going to be very similar to the Bears game but I’m hoping for some different results this time going in our favor. For those of you wondering why I pick the Panthers every week it’s because I’m giving the scenario saying “If the Panthers win the score would look like…” It’s hard for me to pick against my team even if they’re awful like they are right now. It’s a good chance for them to get that first win this week so I hope they can do it this Sunday

Panthers 20, 49ers 13

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