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49ers-Panthers preview: About those Cam Newton hits, and what it will take for 49ers upset

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We chatted with our Panthers blog to get a better handle on what to make of Carolina heading into Week 2.

The San Francisco 49ers face off against the Carolina Panthers in Week 2, marking their first road game of the season. It’s going to be a tough one, as they face the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are coming off a tough loss to the Denver Broncos, and I can’t imagine they’ll be happy about things in Week 2. Add in their first home game since last year’s playoff, and it should be a solid home field advantage for them.

We took a few minutes to chat with Jaxon from Cat Scratch Reader to get his thoughts on a few pertinent topics. The hits on Cam Newton are a big topic among Panthers fans. We also discussed Carolina’s defense, and what it will take for the 49ers to spring the upset. Thanks again to Jaxon.

Niners Nation: What do you all think is going on with Cam Newton and the illegal hits? Feel free to offer both logically-based arguments and irrational fan arguments :)

Cat Scratch Reader: First let me say that while this is the most egregious example of Cam not getting the same protections as other QBs it’s not the first time we’ve seen this as Panther fans. Newton has often received late or questionable hits that haven’t been flagged. In one famous example referee Ed Hochuli told Newton in response to his complaint about a late hit ‘You’re not old enough to get that call’. So it’s a trend we are very concerned about hence our over the top bitching about it. We simply want it to stop but if the refs turn a blind eye then it could get even worse. I’m not even going to get into the whole concussion protocol thing either and the Panthers potentially being penalized for not taking him off the field (while also not getting the roughing call).

That said it is not why the Panthers lost to the Broncos. Graham Gano has to make that kick, period. Our outrage is the threat to Newton health and obviously, ability to play football every week.

What’s driving it is defenses desperate to stop Newton by any means necessary. Hey it worked. Newton’s level of play dropped off after the hits started coming though he recovered enough to put the team in position to win. I truly think defenders are weighing the repercussions of a 15 yard penalty and fine a week later (that goes to charity) versus getting Newton off the field and potentially winning a game. Win at all costs right? I’ll stop here.

NN: What happened last week against Denver?

CSR: Graham Gano got iced like a rookie a kicker. We never thought the game would be an easy win and knew it would be close. Hat tip to Trevor Siemian for overcoming some early miscues to play some solid ball. RB CJ Anderson found more running room than expected as well. Beyond that it was about what we expected.

Oh and thanks for P Andy Lee by the way. He kicked a franchise record 74 yard punt in the thin air at Mile High. While some Panthers fans were bitching about the price (2018 4th rounder) that sentiment has subsided. We really needed a good punter.

NN: This defense was a huge strength in 2015. What are you all expecting from it in 2016? What are the strengths and weaknesses for the group?

CSR: The front seven remains as stout as ever, maybe even better than last season with DE Kony Ealy and LB Shaq Thompson starting. Plus this defense has a propensity for creating turnovers (#1 in NFL last season) so that will go a long way to maintaining a top 5 defense.

The weakness is obvious, the secondary. I was relieved to see CB Bene Benwikere start (depth chart had previously showed him backing up rookie Darryl Worley) but we expect some rookie mistakes from James Bradberry. My biggest concern has been safeties Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston and their piss poor at tackling. I’ll also add to that the pass rush is not as active as we really need it to be.

NN: What rookies and second year players are stepping into significant roles this season?

CSR: As mentioned earlier rookie CB James Bradberry looks like a keeper and a future quality starter in the mold of Chris Gamble. He’s keeping the play in front of him and has been solid in run support.

LB Shaq Thompson could have a break out year if that is even possible when lining up next to Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.

WR Devin Funchess had a great preseason and looked like a break out candidate but then got 2 targets versus the Broncos. With Cam’s obvious bias towards TE Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin I’m tempering my expectations for Funchess now.

NN: What will need to happen for the Panthers to win this game? What would lead to a Panthers loss?

CSR: I was impressed with the 49ers defense Monday night so I think they have to have a big game. Stop the run, force third and long and get pressure on Cam while also containing him. What will also help is being able to run the ball effectively which Carlos Hyde seems very capable. If the 49er offense can chew the clock and avoid turnovers then they should keep the score close. I’m still bullish on the Panthers though.

Prediction: Panthers 30 49ers 20