The 49ers enter their week seven matchup with the Carolina Panthers looking to get a winning streak together for the first time since the end of last season. The 49ers are in the midst of a stretch of games that they simply have to win if they want to get back into the NFC West playoff race.
We're back this week with five questions, this time with Jaxon from Cat Scratch Reader. The Panthers are currently 0-5, but sometimes that creates a level of desperation that makes a team all the more dangerous. Check CSR out this week to get all your Panthers info, but in the meantime thanks to Jaxon for taking the time to answer a few questions.
Fooch: Can you explain what seems to currently be a fairly ugly QB situation? The team gave Jimmy Clausen some starts but now they're back to Matt Moore. Do they feel Clausen isn't ready?
Jaxon: It's mainly because Matt Moore did not perform as expected. If he doesn't throw so many INT's in the first two games he probably keeps his job and Clausen is simply an afterthought holding a clip board. As it stands I imagine Fox had hoped Clausen could do a better job but that was really wishful thinking given the offensive line has taken a serious step back. Though Clausen didn't throw as many INT's at Moore he failed to drive the offense. Now Fox feels the more experienced guy is the way to go and that hopefully Moore has settled down after observing for a couple games. We are hoping for a return of the Matt Moore that went 4-1 down the stretch last season.
Fooch: Steve Smith participated in practice yesterday and would seem likely to play on Sunday. If he goes do you think he can make a significant enough difference for this offense, or will you guys really need to have Williams/Stewart have a strong game to make things happen?
Jaxon: Smith is a difference maker if we can get him the ball. Moore has a better chance of doing that than Clausen I would say. I would still expect the 49ers to stack the box to stop the run because both Williams and Stewart are too dangerous to take it the distance. The Panthers would be happy to simply hand the ball off 30+ times if the 49ers prove unable to stop the chains from moving. I would be surprised in that even though so getting Smith involved early is going to be key to the Panthers keeping the 49ers from loading up the box.
Fooch: On defense, it looks like your linebackers are incredibly solid. What are the strengths for the Panthers defense?
Jaxon: The strength is certainly the LB's as you pointed out. You might recall Jon Beason was moved to WLB when Thomas Davis re-injured his knee in camp. He's played at his usual high level but it's the other two guys that have impressed. Dan Conner (All-time leading tackler at LB U - Penn St) moved into Beason's spot and has played with high intensity and toughness. 5th yr player James Anderson has been a surprise performer at SLB as prior to our bye week he was leading the NFL in tackles. The front line has been pretty good against the run and the secondary has been very opportunistic with 9 INT's in 5 games. The strength though lies with the LB's easily.
Fooch: Even as the 49ers were dropping to 0-5, we were hearing people say the 49ers were one of the better 0-5 teams ever (a fairly meaningless comment since the 49ers were still 0-5). Are the Panthers as bad as their record would indicate, or is there anything else to which one could attribute the losses?
Jaxon: I did think we were better sitting at 0-2, then 0-3 and even 0-4. But once 0-5 hit it was obvious this team had a number of problems and that they are not nearly as good as we had thought or hoped. To lose to the Bears by 17 points after getting 4 INT's from the defense was a huge cold bucket of reality. That said I think we have enough talent to turn things around for next season with a couple key FA acquisitions and high draft picks. So I don't think this franchise will be a bottom feeder for long.
Fooch: John Fox has had 3 winning seasons interspersed with a lot of 7-9, 8-8 seasons. What does he bring to the table at this point and how much longer can Panthers fans expect him to stick around?
Jaxon: Fox is a dead man walking as nobody expects him to return next season. The owner has refused to discuss an extension and has given no vote of confidence to Fox at any point this season. I personally love DC Ron Meeks and hope somehow he and the defensive staff are retained but I'm not expecting it.
To be fair to Fox he has been dealt a piss poor hand. GM Marty Hurney was forced to dump a number of high $ veterans in what we call ‘the purge' with the notion we had younger (and cheaper) players ready to step up. That worked on the defensive side of the ball for the most part but the offense is obviously in shambles. Fox tried to put a positive spin on it but it's well known he prefers to play veterans to a fault (He started DeShaun Foster over Williams for two seasons!)
Fox is easily the most successful coach in franchise history and will certainly end up somewhere else quick. I still think he's is a good coach but his run-first preference for an offense seems to be outdated from rule changes designed to help the passing game. So it will be a sad farewell but a fresh start to get excited about next season.