The San Francisco 49ers will host the Carolina Panthers in a game that features two teams that are closer than many think. The two teams are very similar from their dual-threat quarterbacks to their athletic linebackers. This game will probably not be a high scoring one because of the defensive prowess of these two teams. Let’s take a look at five things to watch for on Sunday.
1) The Duel of The Dual-Threat Quarterbacks
Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick are two of the better quarterbacks from the 2011 NFL draft. These two actually roomed together at the 2011 NFL Combine. Defenses that face them have to be concerned about their ability to create plays with their legs and their ability to throw the ball down field. Both of these playmakers are capable of having explosive games.
Lately, Kaepernick has seen a reduction in his pass attempts. This is because of the 49ers rededication to running the ball. Kaepernick has still connected with Vernon Davis on a few big plays however. Look for the 49ers to get Davis the ball on a lot of play action passes. The Panthers will put seven in the box but still focus on stopping the run. They will have a rookie starting at corner so don’t be surprised if Kaepernick has a big game targeting him. Mario Manningham will be returning to the offense in some sort of role as well.
Newton is riding a hot streak in which he has played very well. He did throw two interceptions last week against the Atlanta Falcons though. The Panthers like to use a lot of bunch formations and run rub routes to free up their receivers on underneath routes. They will also work the play action passing game to one of Newton’s favorite targets, Greg Olson.The Panthers and 49ers both have athletic linebackers so don’t be surprised if one of them gets the assignment to shadow the opposing quarterbacks.
2) The Athletic Linebackers
Everyone knows about the athleticism that Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis bring to the table. Quietly, Luke Kuechly has developed into one of the best middle linebackers as well. Greg Roman talked about how Kuechly is all over the field. Roman also talked about the speed of Thomas Davis. He said that Davis is as fast as they come.
The athletic linebackers will need to be on their best game when they are facing the opposing offenses. Both of these teams use the read option and feature some pretty good running backs in Deangelo Williams and Frank Gore. They will need to maintain their gap integrity against the read option and use their speed to go from sideline to sideline if either quarterback is able to get to the second level of the defense.
3) The Panthers Run Defense Against The 49ers Rushing Offense
The Panthers are second in the NFL, allowing 79 yards rushing per game. The 49ers are tops in the NFL, gaining 153 yards rushing per game. Something will have to give. The question is which strong point will hold suit in this game. The Panthers like to keep seven in the box and still defend the run. The 49ers run a lot of trap plays and like to use wham blocks to get their running backs to the second level. Bruce Miller and Vance McDonald will get some cracks at Star Lotulelei, who is playing very well as a rookie three technique. They will need to knock him out of the way to open up a whole for the running back. If this happens, the wide receivers will need to execute their blocks to spring Gore and Kendall Hunter for the big gains that they are capable of breaking off.
4) The Return of Aldon Smith and Mario Manningham
Aldon Smith and Mario Manningham have both missed time for different reasons. Both of these players are set to return in this game. Aldon Smith will instantly improve the 49ers pass rush. He is one of the best pass rushers in the game. The Panthers struggled a bit against the Falcons when they executed the Texas stunt. No team does this better than the 49ers, who feature the Smith Bros, Justin and Aldon Smith. This could lead to a few sacks and plenty of pressure on Cam Newton. Aldon Smith has also improved against the run. He is able to use his speed to track down the running back even on plays that are ran to the opposite side of him. He will help out the defense but is only expected to play in a limited role as per defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
Mario Manningham is set to make his return from injured reserve. He gives Kaepernick a viable option opposite of Anquan Boldin. Manningham is a player that Kaepernick can trust. He can catch a short pass and turn it into a big gain. The 49ers will only use Manningham sparingly but this is a huge step towards an improvement in the wide receiver corps.
5) How Will The Panthers Play In This GPS Game?
This game is what some refer to as a GPS game for the Panthers. Many people have said that the Panthers are on a four-game winning streak, but they haven’t beaten any worthy opponents. These people feel that this is a GPS game for the Panthers in that this is a game that will show the NFL who the 2013 Panthers really are. The 49ers are riding a win streak of their own and are once again considered to be one of the best teams in the NFC. The Panthers are seeking to make their own claim as an elite team in the NFC. They can do so if they are able to escape from Candlestick Park with a victory.