#Channel49 Mailbag: Colin Kaepernick's Production, Michael Crabtree's Impact, Carolina's Defense & More

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

As the playoffs heat up, so does #Channel49. Trevor Woods and I host it every Friday at 2pm. The talk was all about the Panthers, how things will be different and what we need to do to win. It was the busiest session since the draft!

Once again, the 49ers play the most talked about matchup of the round. The two teams are mirror images of each other and an epic battle is being anticipated by fans on both sides, as well as the national media. It should be a good one, likely to give Fooch another near-death experience. Here he is doing his best Fred Sanford impersonation last weekend during the Packers game.

On to the mailbag...

General 49ers vs Panthers

Both the Panthers and 49ers are built in the same vein. Dual-threat quarterbacks head top-tier running games and ferocious front sevens keep the pressure off of average secondaries. If there's one area that the 49ers have the advantage, it's our weapons in the passing game. Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin are a far superior trio than Ted Ginn, Greg Olsen and a hobbled Steve Smith.

In order to take advantage of this, we have to keep Colin Kaepernick upright. We gave up six sacks in Week 10, five of which came on first down. 2nd and longs are drive killers. If we can limit the pressure that the Panthers get (easier said than done) we'll have a massive advantage in the passing game.

The other key factor will be establishing the run. Both teams have strong ground games and vicious run defenses. If one side is able to get things going while the other stagnates, that should be the decider. I expect both teams to have difficulty running the ball consistently, making this a wash. If that happens, Kap and the passing game have a better chance of making the key plays than Cam Newton and his cronies.

I have a hard time seeing how the Panthers score more than the 10 points they did in our last outing. Ray McDonald and Eric Reid left that game injured and Aldon Smith played limited snaps and was mostly ineffective in Week 10. Newton has had some late season heroics, including his heroic 9-yard 4th quarter drive to finish us off with a field goal, so we don't want to leave it close at the end.

If we get 20 points, I'd guarantee a victory, but 13 could be enough in this defensive slugfest. Let's say 17 points, right in the middle, will be our mark to beat.

Another area where we hold the advantage over Carolina is along the offensive line. The Panthers have a decent run blocking unit but have issues pass blocking. They're a bit like our line, but of a lesser quality. Carolina has more ways to get to the quarterback, though. They dial up perfectly timed DB blitzes and pressure the quarterback well. Aldon Smith, however, is the most dynamic pass rusher on the field this Sunday. If he plays like he has of late, the 49ers should be able to match Carolina in the amount of pressure they get on the QB, setting the stage for Kap and the offense to be the difference (as explained above).

The easy answer is Michael Crabtree. He's been nothing less than a third down coverting machine since Kaepernick took over as quarterback of the team. You saw it last week in Green Bay and you'll see it this weekend. In the first encounter, the 49ers had 13 drives and only one of them went for more than 20 yards. That is to say that we had one drive with multiple first downs. Crabtree changes that instantly.

The other key will be Vernon Davis. The Panthers have given up nearly half of their passing scores to tight ends (per Better Rivals podcast…so don't kill me if its wrong). I was expecting Davis to be a difference maker in the first encounter but he was lost for the game early on. Expect him to get a score in this one.

Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick won't need to have a monster game production-wise. What we need from him is efficient play. We'll need some key third down conversions and a handful of big plays (easy, right?). Kap had his worst game as a pro against the Panthers in Week 10 and we lost by a point. A repeat of that performance will surely doom us, but anything better than the 91 yards he tallied last time and I would expect us to carry the day.

I'm going to go with the under on this one. I think he goes for around 180 yards and a score. He may add some rushing yards and even a rushing touchdown. This will be a game with as few snaps being take as possible. Both teams grind the ball on the ground and control the clock. This could be a game that we win with 250 yards of offense. All we need from Kap is those few key plays. I'm confident that we'll get them.

If Colin Kaepernick gets sacked 6 times we'll have to get 7 sacks on the Panthers or we could be in deep trouble. I think our offensive line plays better and with his trusted targets back on the field, he gets rid of the ball quicker. I think we see four sacks of Kap, as stopping the Panthers pass rush has been near-impossible all season long. Again, keeping him upright should be the key to the game and I think we do it just enough to squeak out a defense-led victory.

Playoff Run

Carlos Rogers has not looked good in about a month. In hindsight, we hope that injury concerns were to blame and not a massive dive in quality of play. The secondary as a whole performed poorly in our last two regular season outings and Rogers gave up some big chunks of yards. He's definitely an upgrade on Perrish Cox, though. If Rogers is healthy, he's in there. The Panthers and the Seahawks, our most likely matchup in the NFCCG (if we win on Sunday), are both limited in their passing attacks so we won't have to lean on our secondary as much as we did against the Packers. That said, the rest of our road through the NFC figures to be tight, low-scoring games, and any lapse in the secondary could be the difference between a 16-10 victory and a 17-16 defeat.

It would be honorable to say that I'd like us to beat the best team or that we want to prove we can win in Seattle. But the goal is to win a Super Bowl and victory in the NFCCG is twice as likely if we're playing the Saints at home than if we play the Seahawks in Seattle. We should have beat the Saints in their building with a depleted passing attack, but a bogus penalty on Ahmad Brooks took that from us.

Besides, a matchup against the Saints means one more game at Candlestick. A rematch of the January 2012 Divisional Round classic would be about as exciting as it gets. It seems like the national media is salivating at the idea of a 49ers - Seahawks NFCCG.

Offseason

Crabtree is back, as he's under contract through the end of next season. The question is whether or not the 49ers re-sign Anquan Boldin. I think there's about a 50/50 chance. He can make more somewhere else, so the key will be his motivation in signing. He's already one a title with Baltimore last year so that may be less of a factor. He seems to like the 49ers atmosphere, and if the team will give him a two-year, $5 million a year contract, will that be enough to entice him to stay? I'm leaning towards no. Regardless of how the year ends for us, this will be one of the big storylines of the offseason.

Carlos Rogers is the main candidate to be cut. He's overpaid and his play has slipped since signing this contract before the 2012 season. I would actually be surprised if he wasn't cut. As for other key contributors that won't be back, Jonathan Goodwin is in the last year of his deal and has hinted that he may retire after the season. Both Anquan Boldin and Donte Whitner will be free agents and it would be unlikely that the team were able to sign both. Tarell Brown may also be beyond our price range. Getting two of those last three back would be a masterstroke for Trent Baalke.

The surprise name I'll put on the list is Frank Gore. (See below)

I've already mentioned it before (both above and in other posts), and when I do it always causes a stir, but I think we may not see Frank Gore back in a 49ers uniform next season. The backfield is already crowded, and if Marcus Lattimore is poised to match Gore's production as a featured back, why wouldn't the 49ers pay him $6 million less per year to do it? It's a business decision and one that won't make many 49ers fans happy. Both Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James are under contract next season for cheap. If the 49ers think they can keep the same rushing production without Gore on the squad, it could happen. I'll go out on a limb and say that Gore is the odd man out, though I don't see this as a certainty by any means.

This was one of the more puzzling developments of the game against Green Bay. We cut Perrish Cox in favor of Eric Wright during the latter part of the season. Then, with Rogers nursing a sore hamstring we sign Cox for insurance. He plays over Wright against one of the most dynamic passing attacks in difficult conditions. If Wright were injured that would explain it. But he was healthy enough to log special teams snaps. What gives?

I thought Wright was a lock for next season, but in light of the recent developments, I don't think we keep either. If Cox was cuttable during '13, they'll likely look for an upgrade in the offseason.

Other Stuff

My answer started a Twitter battle (a friendly one) and it may ruffle some feathers here, but I'm going with Newton. I like Kaepernick's future as much, if not more, than Newton's. Much of that has to do with Harbaugh and the 49ers structure as a whole. They'll do a better job at putting Kap in a position to succeed than Carolina will do with Cam. What would we have seen from Kap had he ended up a Panther under Ron Rivera's tutelage? Would Cam under Coach Harbaugh not be throwing for 4,000 yards? Hard to say.

The real reason I think Carolina was right to choose Cam was that they needed a face for the franchise and Cam is infinitely more charismatic. I realize that Kap has been coached to say nothing, but people like Cam. Cam has been good for the franchise, given them a marketable player and, given the average talent around him on offense, has done fine for them on the field. There's no reason to think they'd swap the two if they could.

Enough said!

Prediction

49ers 16 - Panthers 10

I see us limiting their offense, and with our weapons back in the passing game, we get that extra score we so sorely missed.

Don't forget to participate, either on Friday's at 2pm on Twitter or in the comments down below.

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