Wednesday morning, the folks at Cat Scratch Reader put together a look at under-the-radar-players to watch for this Sunday. As we've done through the first half of the season, I contributed my thoughts on 49ers players to watch.
Today, we're back with a look at why each team will win. The folks at CSR put together their offensive and defensive thoughts on why the Panthers would win, and I've got some thoughts on why the 49ers will win. First up CSR.
Why the Panthers Will Win
If the Panthers win this Sunday against the 49ers it will be because they continued to execute the same game plan that resulted in the current four game winning streak. Specifically, it starts with Cam Newton making good decisions with the ball. Though he did throw 2 INTs this past game against the Falcons they were on deep balls that didn't result in the Falcons scoring. Newton keeping the throwing errors to a minimum is priority one. Additionally in the passing game he needs to know when to pull the ball down and run with it, something he enjoys doing. In fact, look for some designed runs for Newton early in this game to help get him into rhythm.
After that the Panthers must be able to run the ball on 1st and 2nd down in order to create 3rd and short situations. If they can do that it opens the playbook and allows the Panthers to stay in a balanced run/pass ratio, one of the keys to their recent offensive success. Getting Jonathan Stewart healthy and performing well at a time when DeAngelo Williams is starting to get nicked up has been a lucky break. Stewart and FB Mike Tolbert will need the touch the ball 15 or so times to ensure this victory.
On defense it is another case of ‘Keep doing what you are doing'. The Panthers excel at stopping the run and the 49ers offense obviously leans heavy on their running game. If they can create 3rd and long situations it will give the Panthers a chance to pressure Colin Kaepernick into making mistakes in the passing game. So the battle will be in the trenches, the marque match-up of the game: the 49er offensive line vs. the Panther defensive line. If the Panthers win it will because they win this battle over the course of the game and hold the 49ers well under the league leading rushing average. As we saw in the 49ers two losses, if the 49ers have to rely on the passing of Kaepernick then that plays right into the Panthers defensive game plan.
Why the 49ers Will Win
The 49ers have found offensive success the last five games thanks to their overpowering run game. This week, they face a Panthers defense that brings the best defensive front seven the 49ers have seen thus far. The 49ers will need to continue establishing the run, but I think this week the 49ers will win because they get the pass game going.
The 49ers are last in the league passing yards per game, but by efficiency rankings their passing game is among the best. The return of Mario Manningham opens the door for that passing game to add some volume to its efficiency. The 49ers will continue to establish the run, but the passing game will help them stretch out the Panthers defense. It's not about "passing to set up the run", but it will be a matter of the two parts of the offensive game working in concert. This is the first game in a while where the 49ers will need to get the passing game going a bit more frequently.
On the defensive side of the ball, the name of the game is shutting down the Panthers run game on first and second down. The 49ers return Aldon Smith, and add Tank Carradine and Eric Wright to their defense. The secondary has been playing well in spite of an inconsistent pass rush. The return of Aldon Smith opens the door for this pass rush to take a big step forward. If the 49ers can consistently put the Panthers in 3rd and long, they will win this game.