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#Channel49 Q&A Mailbag, Week 10: Mario Manningham, Carolina's Defense & More

Every Friday at 2pm PST, Trevor Woods and I hold our Twitter Q&A session. The 49ers face their toughest test since their Week 3 loss to the Colts. How will they hold up against a Panthers team cut from the same cloth? Carolina's the darling of the advanced stats crowd, but….

Brian Bahr

49ers vs Panthers

The key to this game is going to be our offensive line. The two teams match up pretty evenly on paper. One thing that separates the two is that the Panthers have an average offensive line and we have one of the best in the league, particularly when it comes to run blocking. Both teams feature dominant front sevens that allow secondaries that were viewed as suspect coming into the season to shine. While their defense was able to bottle up Seattle, the other top-10 rushing team they faced, the Bills, gouged them for 149 yards on the ground. I think our offensive line will have a harder time than what they've become accustomed to over the last 5 games, but they have a much better chance of succeeding than the Panthers O-Line does against our front. We ran all over the Cardinals, gaining more running yards than any other team has against them this year in our Week 6 encounter.

I also think that Vernon Davis, with his unique skill set and the matchup problems it creates, is another key. He's a weapon that Carolina doesn't have an answer for on defense. Likewise, they don't have a comparable threat on their offense. He could be a difference-maker.

Your loyalty is appreciated, but I wouldn't read too much into it. The media's job is to bring out discussion and get people talking and that's what they're doing here. Cam Newton is playing the best stretch of football of his career and deserves some praise. It's a nod to Colin Kaepernick that until this recent stretch by Cam, he has been viewed as the preferable choice over the number one overall selection in the same draft he was chosen in.

I'd take Kap in this debate. While Cam is a special talent, he's yet to win big games, yet to show he can come from behind under pressure. I do think the two are fairly comparable and this debate (with Russell Wilson, RGIII and Andrew Luck) will follow these guys for the duration of their careers.

Returning Players

In evaluating Mario Manningham's impact, the one thing that should be kept in mind is that anything he adds to the offense is an upgrade over what we've had. That said, I wouldn't expect massive things from him. He didn't provide a ton of production last year. He's a solid No. 3 receiver who will be a No. 2 until Michael Crabtree is full strength. As for numbers, I'd guess he gets a couple of scores while averaging 3 catches and 40-50 yards per game. Like I said, a major upgrade.

Dan Skuta has filled in well against the run and we don't know what shape Aldon Smith is in following his hiatus in rehab. If it's a close game and the Panthers are behind, needing to pass to win, I want Smith on the field. Corey Lemonier has been fine in his place, but few in the league can match Aldon's production in disrupting opponents' passing games. I wouldn't mind him resting more than usual, and besides, Carolina is one of three teams (the others being ourselves and Seattle) that run more than they pass.

However, I do think 25% is a bit low. The coaching staff is tempering everyone's expectations by giving a low number, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't closer to 50%.

Following Michael Crabtree's return to practice, he will have 3 weeks to be activated, placed on IR or cut. We know which of the three will take place, but the question is when. That time frame had him scheduled back November 26, the day after the Washington game. As noted by Fooch, Washington is re-sodding their notoriously horrendous field, making it a lot more attractive for a man returning from an achilles injury. I think we see him in that game. The following game, at home against the Rams in Week 13, would be the latest we should expect him to return. Anything after that doesn't make sense (why would they activate him, starting the 3 week window if he wasn't ready) and would only take place if he suffered a setback that was not serious enough to see him put on IR.

I think this is a common misconception that people have. Some are predicting that when we're all healthy, we'll be winging the ball all over the field to great success. That's not the case. We're going to run the exact same offense, it will simply be more effective. Instead of watching Jon Baldwin and Kyle Williams not get open in their limited snaps, we'll see Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham being viable targets. This could just as likely create more chance for the other guys in the pattern on any of these passing plays. Same offense, just more of a chance to find open receivers which will equate to some better passing performances and the perception that the 49ers are opening up the passing game.

Off Topic

We won't be considered the favorites in the NFC until we wrestle the home-field advantage away from the Seahawks. While it's true, they've played poorly in quite a few games this season, especially the last two, they keep getting the W's. Even if we beat Seattle handily at home in Week 14, they'd still be the favorite in a playoff game played at the CLink based on our last two outings there.

That's the bad news. The good news is that if we beat Seattle, and finish tied with them, we should win any tie-breakers based on strength of schedule. I also get the feeling that Seattle's luck will come to an end sooner or later. I'm actually thinking that Atlanta could upset them this Sunday. Matt Ryan and the Falcons have been getting embarrassed. Roddy White is returning. Seattle is shaky, at best, on the road. Here's to wishful thinking.

We've all been waiting to see something special from Vance McDonald at some point this season. It simply has not happened. Surprisingly, Bruce Miller has taken on a larger portion of the workload vacated by Delanie Walker's departure. Miller has done well and is actually our third-leading receiver. The two combined have more than made up for Walker's absence on the production front (Walker had 21 catches last season). We don't need a ton of work from McDonald, but a game in which he hauls in 4 catches and a score would be a great addition to an offense that has needed weapons all year. We needed that from him in the first half of the season, with all the injuries to the receivers.

Counterintuitively, I think we'll see a boon in production now that those injured players are back. Previously, Vance was the third biggest threat behind Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis on any given passing down. I'm envisioning plays breaking down in the red zone...Crabtree, Boldin and Davis having the defense's full attention and a wide-open Vance sneaking in behind one of them and sitting in a hole in the zone somewhere. Kap keeps the play alive by rolling away from pressure before spotting Vance waving his arms like a swimmer trying to get the life guard's attention. Touchdown 49ers.

I like that KB states that Frank Gore has "around" 9,457 yards. That's exactly what he has, so that's a good estimate. Teasing aside, if you do the math, he's on pace to break that barrier in Week 17, on the road, against Arizona. I've always loved statistics and averages and one thing I know is certain…they nearly never work out. Injuries, freak occurrences, a shift in the cosmos….anything can happen that could knock him off course. Gore's yards per carry have been going down the last few games and if his average yards per game drops, even slightly, he'd be forced to wait until next year. But I'm going to go with the numbers on this one, and pick that Week 17 showdown, a game in which we'll get an early lead on a 3rd-string Cardinals QB who I won't bother to look up right now. Gore will hit that milestone while we win the battle for time of possession.

Prediction / Parting Shot

49ers 23, Panthers 13

Don't forget to participate. You can join us on Friday at 2pm. You can send a question in ahead of time if you can't make that midday start time. You can catch the discussion later in the day by searching for the hashtag. And, of course, you can answer any or all of the questions below in the comments. Until next time.