The San Francisco 49ers travel to face the Carolina Panthers this Sunday in a Divisional round rematch of their 10-9 defensive affair in Week 10. The Panthers are 12-4, and they held Colin Kaepernick to his worst game as a professional. He was 11 of 22 for 91 yards, one interception, and 16 yards rushing on four carries. On the other side of the ball, the Panthers were far from dominant, but they got a key run from DeAngelo Williams, and some big passes from Cam Newton.
As we did last week in preparation for the 49ers-Packers contest, we'll have plenty of cross-blog content with our Panthers blog, Cat Scratch Reader. We have some basic thoughts on the Panthers, but it's important to learn more about them in advance of what should be a tough matchup for both squads.
We'll do some similar things as last week. W'll be doing a pair of "5 questions" posts (one on offense, one on defense), we'll be looking at why each team will win and lose, and we'll be breaking down what player on the opposing team scares us. Today, we're once again opening with a look at which player(s) we would take from the opposing team.
Cam Newton would be the easy pick for a lot of teams, but the 49ers are not one of those teams. The Cam Newton/Colin Kaepernick debate will be an interesting one as we move forward. Those two look like they will emerge as the two best quarterbacks in the 2011 NFL Draft (no disrespect to Andy Dalton). Newton is a little further along in his development because he started right away, but both quarterbacks have ridiculous upside. I don't know that you can say one has more upside than the other at this point. There are strong cases for both having huge upside.
Given that, I'm happy sticking with Kap. In looking through the Panthers offense, I'd probably go with a guy like Travelle Wharton. I'd look at him more as a plug and play guy for now, rather than a long-term option. He's getting older, but he could plug in at left guard in place of the somewhat hobbled Mike Iupati. It's been a tough year for Iupati, and his knee injury continues to slow him down. Wharton could plug in at left guard, but could also play several other positions on the line in a pinch.
Another guy I'd consider would be fullback Mike Tolbert. In light of Bruce Miller's injury, Tolbert could provide a stout option there. I place him after Wharton because I think the 49ers are OK right now with Will Tukuafu and Anthony Dixon. I'd rather have Miller back there, but Tukuafu and Dixon have done some good things as fill-in fullbacks.
In looking at the defensive side of the ball, how about Greg Hardy as an edge rusher? The 49ers would have to make some adjustments in their defensive scheme, but imagine rolling out four man fronts with Hardy on the edge? The 49ers have plenty of defensive talent already, but I wouldn't mind having a little extra oomph on the pass rush from time-to-time.
One of the interesting discussions that has arisen is about Luke Kuechly. I don't know many (or any) 49ers fans that would replace Patrick Willis or NaVorro Bowman with Kuechly, but I'm sure a Panthers fan or two might make the argument. I suppose that's a little bit baiting! There is no doubt in my mind that Kuechly is a great linebacker, but I'm happy to stick with Willis and Bowman for the foreseeable future.