3TFO: Panthers @ 49ers, Week 10
The San Francisco 49ers and the Carolina Panthers both had a slow start to the season, (1-2 record for both of them) however the fortunes of both teams have changed with the 49ers on a five-game win streak and the Panthers on a four-game win streak. It seems that the 49ers will once again be playing when the playoffs hit, but for the Panthers a win in this game will go a long way in the public’s perception that they are a legit threat in the NFC and not just a team fighting to make the playoffs.
The Panthers and 49ers have mirrored each other more than just being on a winning streak this season, both teams have surprisingly had an offensive outburst. When either team has won, they have scored 30+ points.
This game will be important for the playoff aspirations of both teams and possible seedings when it comes to the end of the season. They are both trying to continue their winning streaks to put pressure on the Saints and Seahawks.
Panthers Run Game
The Panthers’ left side of the offensive line have all graded +4.3 or higher in run blocking and add in Ben Hartstock who leads all TEs with a grade of +12.7 (+12.0 in run blocking). When the Panthers have a Point of Attack from middle left to left end they are averaging 4.2 yards per carry compared to 3.8 yards from the right. The 49ers’ best run defender this season has been the cast off from Kansas City, Glenn Dorsey. He has the fifth-best Run Stop Percentage for DT/NTs this season at 11% and will be relied upon to try and cause Ryan Kalil some difficulty. Kalil is having his best season since 2009 when he graded out as the second-highest rated center.
When the Panthers try to run right, they will be facing the second- and third-highest graded run defenders the 49ers have to offer. At left end, Ray McDonald has a 7.9% Run Stop Percentage, with OLB Ahmad Brooks outside of him with the fourth-highest 3-4 OLB Run Stop Percentage.
While the Panthers have managed to stay balanced in where the point of attack is, they have had more success running toward their better run blockers, which will give them a distinct advantage over the 49ers’ defense. The 49ers have given up over four yards per carry when runs are attempted to the left while giving up less than four yards when teams run behind the right guard and right tackle.
Newton’s Deep Passing vs. 49ers Secondary
Cam Newton has built upon his performance from the end of last season where he graded out at +18.8 over the last seven weeks of 2012. Over the first two years of Newton’s career, he struggled with passes under 10 yards and was very good on passes over 10 yards. This season, Newton has attempted a pass over 20 yards on 14.2% of his passes, good for the fifth-highest percentage of Deep Passes. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Newton only has completed 29.4% of those passes and with a QB Rating of 63.5.
The majority of the time, the 49ers will play both safeties (Eric Reid and Donte Whitner) deep. This has limited the amount of deep passes against the 49ers defense. The 49ers have allowed opposing QBs to go 9-31 for 334 yards, two TDs, and three INTs for a QB Rating of 53.9 on passes over 20 yards. If Newton can regain his deep ball touch from his first two years, it will add a new dynamic to a team that has shown the NFL they are not to be taken lightly
Kaepernick & Davis vs. Panthers Secondary
Colin Kaepernick had a slow start to season as after four weeks he had a -9.4 grade. Even though it was against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Kaepernick had his best game of the season. So far this season he has struggled in the shorter passing areas, especially in between 0-9 yards where Kaepernick has graded out at -6.4 with a QB Rating of 82.9. While he has had problems in underneath passing, Kaepernick has performed well on passes over 10 yards with a +8.4 grade and a QB Rating of 102.9.
Kaepernick has posted a near-perfect QB Rating (156.3) on corner routes this season particularly when throwing them to Vernon Davis who has seven catches on 10 targets for 152 yards and five TDs. So far this season the Panthers have been good at defending the passes over 20 yards, only allowing 12-33 for 260 yards, two TDs, and five INTs for a QB rating of 45.8. While opposing QBs have struggled to get big plays against the Panthers’ defense, no one has tested them on corner routes this season (only four attempts). The Panthers have not faced a TE who can cause defenses issues the way Davis can. Davis has to play like the player he has shown so far this season to be the X-factor for the 49ers’ offense.