ReFo: Panthers @ 49ers, Week 10
Sustained drives? Smooth-operating offenses? Star QBs willing their teams down the field? Nope. On all counts. If you came to this game for that kind of action, someone mislead you somewhere along the way. This one was always going to be about the front-sevens and the run games with the flashy QB stuff left as a potential balance-shifting factor.
The Panthers came over to the West Coast looking for a statement win that would serve to end chatter about their recent winning ways being fueled by a soft schedule and that they were, in fact, for real. The 49ers, on the other hand, wanted to prove the magic they captured in last year’s second-half run hadn’t escaped them and that their young signal-caller could still be more than a big arm attached to a loping gait.
As it turned out, Carolina flew home happy and San Francisco was left searching for answers. Here are a handful of performances that stood out in the 10-9 Panther win:
Carolina – Three Performances of Note
Following a first half where Cam Newton matched Colin Kaepernick’s anemic rate through the air, his second half was defined by what he’s come to be known for this season – an efficient, if understated, passing game of just enough. An interception on a badly floated ball to nowhere and another that was gifted back as NaVorro Bowman tipped it to Greg Olsen for a catch were part of that first-half performance. Add in a bad overthrow and plays made on two balls by Tarell Brown and you have a span that left the Panthers thankful for any success found on the ground. After the half, though, Newton came into form completing six attempts that moved the chains (and seeing three more that would have dropped). One other that didn’t reach the sticks earned 6 yards on third down and got Carolina into range of a long field goal that ultimately proved the winning margin (4Q 10:48).
Success the Second Time Around
Travelle Wharton (+2.9) is becoming a story. His return to Carolina and subsequent move into the starting lineup has been met with surprising success – so much so that he has climbed our guard rankings, pushing his way into the Top 5 overall and Top 3 among left guards. His run blocking grade is supplying most of that and is now fourth in that area. He added to that this week, sealing/moving Justin Smith and meeting the SF linebackers on pull blocks, but the one spot – perhaps his most memorable moment this week – was facing Aldon Smith’s first pass-rushing snap back after his time away. At 12:48 of the second quarter, Smith lined up inside, over Wharton, and came with a bulrush that drove the Carolina guard straight back a quick 6 yards to the quarterback’s feet. Wharton sits just outside of the Top 20 guards as a pass blocker, so despite the positives to this point, he still has room to improve and finish off his comeback campaign in more rounded fashion.
In a low-scoring game played this tight, it’s not unusual for special teams to play a key role as field position and salvaged points often come into play. For Carolina on Sunday, there were a few of these moments that were pivotal, notably in the fourth quarter. At 13:47, trailing 9-7, Ted Ginn returned Andy Lee’s punt across midfield to the SF 44, setting up a six-play, 9-yard ‘march’ that would lead to the game’s winning points — after the short third-down completion mentioned above, Graham Gano connected on a 53-yard field goal with just over 10 minutes left to put the Panthers in front.
A deep kickoff by Gano followed – one that was brought out of the end zone and stopped at the 12-yard line by Carolina’s coverage unit. A three-and-out gave the ball back before the Panther punter, Brad Nortman, would send it back San Francisco’s way with the final insult. Nortman’s punt hit at the 3 and was hauled in off the bounce by Colin Jones to pin the 49ers at their own 1 with time running out and a long field looking even longer for an offense that had not found a gear all day.
San Francisco – Three Performances of Note
Much has been made lately of San Francisco’s need to get a pair of their passing targets back to add options for Colin Kaepernick (-2.9) whose positive days throwing the ball have been few and far between. One of them returned Sunday in the form of Mario Manningham with the other, Michael Crabtree, set to resume action sometime in the coming month. Manningham’s impact was muted. Playing 45 snaps, he ran 30 routes, was targeted six times, caught three balls, dropped two, and saw one his way intercepted. With tight end Vernon Davis leaving after just 21 snaps with a concussion, the idea of an expanded set of weaponry only went so far, but regardless, Kaepernick logged his fourth game of the season with a significant negative passing mark against just two in the other direction.
Highlighting the afternoon’s inept passing, outside of a pair of first quarter dumps to running backs that netted first downs on yards after the catch, Kaepernick completed just one ball that took his receiver past the markers, and that didn’t come until late in the fourth quarter. His best try of the day went for a drop on deep effort to Vance McDonald, but even that perfect placement was offset by a careless attempt that should have been intercepted by Captain Munnerlyn early on.
Leading the O-line
With his sixth consecutive ‘day in the green’ left tackle Joe Staley has driven his early-season wobbles firmly out of memory and is looking a lot like the player who topped our tackle rankings in 2012. Rising into the Top 3 overall in this year’s table, Staley now leads all tackles in run blocking grade and his Pass Blocking Efficiency mark of 96.7 is third in the group. The rest of the San Francisco O-line, however, continued along their inconsistent path, none marked with largely negative grades, but none able to string together strong performances to build upon either. Staley led the group this week in both run blocking and pass blocking grades (as he has on the year), but there were no bottomed-out showings, playing to par for the most part with Alex Boone’s run blocking (-1.4) being the only rating to land in the red.
Dan Skuta (+3.3) saw his snap total rise past 40 for the third time this season and, with Aldon Smith primed to return to a full role soon, he made the most of what might be one of his last opportunities at such a large chunk of playing time. A hit and two hurries as a pass rusher and three stops in the run game marked his best output of the season as he made plays against the added blockers charged with handling him. It wasn’t just tight ends and fullbacks that he beat, though, as Carolina left tackle Jordan Gross also surrendered a play to Skuta – the outside linebacker getting around the edge to reach Newton’s arm during his release at the 10:39 mark of the first quarter. This was a leap forward for Skuta and, if nothing else, should add confidence in bringing Smith back at a reasonable pace knowing quality depth is available.
– There were nine dropped passes and 10 missed tackles in this less-than-textbook game.
– 94 of Carolina’s 106 rushing yards came after contact.
– The talented tight ends for the two teams combined for two catches on seven targets.
PFF Game Ball
Played every snap, graded out positively in each facet… in a game short on highlight reel action and record-breaking performances — and with a nod to Carolina’s Greg Hardy — 49er offensive tackle Joe Staley’s solid showing takes the prize.