After San Francisco’s 28-0 win over the Los Angeles Rams last Monday night, there’s a lot of excitement about the 49ers’ chances today against Carolina.
Here are some keys to victory and things to know about today’s game:
1- Taking control up front
The 49ers offensive line, despite Anthony Davis and Joshua Garnett not playing or not playing much, were very effective against the highly-esteemed defensive line of the Rams. Blaine Gabbert was not sacked and was able to lead an efficient passing attack.
The line should continue to be a strength and if that is the case, Carlos Hyde will be effective, which will then set up the passing game.
The key is keeping the Panthers from getting a lot of pressure on Gabbert and putting both the rushing and passing attack in the best position to be a balanced offense that doesn’t commit turnovers.
2 – Get the ball downfield to Torrey Smith
On Monday, the 49ers were conservative. Against the Panthers, they will have to be more aggressive to get points on the board. Torrey Smith is a fantastic deep threat and should see one-on-one coverage, thus giving him opportunities to get open for some big plays downfield. If the 49ers are able to make an early statement with a deep pass to Smith, that could go a long way in keeping the Panthers off balance and uncomfortable.
3 – Harass Cam Newton
The front seven completely dismantled the Rams’ attack and this week, they will have to raise their game even higher to contain the league’s MVP. The Niners will need to send creative blitzes as well as disguise the defense so that Newton can’t just sit back and pick San Francisco apart.
If the defensive line, led by Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, can generate pressure without the blitz, then the likelihood of Newton being forced into a mistake goes up a lot.
For the 49ers to be in the game late in the fourth quarter or to ultimately steal a win, they will have to force a turnover and make sure Cam Newton is feeling a lot of pressure.
4- Make the Panthers’ offense one-dimensional
Carolina is nearly unstoppable when they get a 10+ point lead and are able to be balanced. Teams that can jump on them early and take away Jonathan Stewart are the ones that win (see 2015 Atlanta, Super Bowl 50 and last week against Denver).
If the 49ers can limit Stewart’s effectiveness, especially on first and second down, then they will have chances at making Cam Newton convert third and long, which is not his strength.
Ideally, San Francisco gets a couple of scores early and makes the Panthers play from behind. This will enable the front seven to go after Jonathan Stewart and take him out of the offense.
5 – Make someone other than Greg Olsen beat you
Obviously, this also goes for Kelvin Benjamin, but this could be a week where Olsen is the primary target and sees a lot of action.
The 49ers have to make sure they don’t allow big plays, but also have to guard Olsen from converting third downs.
None of these keys will be easy to achieve, but expect the 49ers to play better football this week than they did last year during Week 2 at Pittsburgh, where they got shelled.
Make no mistake, this will not be an easy game, but it also could end up being a much better game than most think.
Injuries to watch
- Anthony Davis will be out with a concussion he sustained in practice before the Rams game
- Defensive backs Chris Davis (hamstring) and Keith Reaser are questionable
- Guard Andrew Tiller (ankle) is also questionable
Other players to watch
- Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey practiced in full this week and will make his return which should really help the defensive line
- Arik Armstead and Quinton Dial practiced in full and are off the injury report – the defensive line should be totally healthy going into the game
- Receiver Jeremy Kerley (7 catches last week) should continue to be targeted and will have another chance at a good game