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What to expect when the Panthers have the ball

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Joined by Billy Marshall from Cat Scratch Reader to discuss this week’s game

Carolina Panthers v San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers beat up on Washington last Sunday. The game wasn’t too interesting to me because Washington didn’t stand a chance before the monsoon, and after it, it limited their offense even more. Now that football returns to California, we’ll see two quality teams face each other. Today, I’m joined by Billy Marshall of Cat Scratch Reader. Billy is a great follow on Twitter if you are a football fan. We’ve known each other for a few years, and you will learn something from him.

Today we are going to talk about what to expect when the Panthers have the ball on Sunday.

Billy

The offense will run through RB Christian McCaffrey, which doesn’t seem logical in the modern NFL. However, McCaffrey is a special player who can impact the game with and without the ball. Norv Turner has been creative in recent weeks by using plenty of pre-snap motion to dictate gap assignments in the run game. The passing offense remains an issue with Kyle Allen under center, but Turner has been using more play-action to give Allen easier reads.

KP

I’d expect the 49ers to sellout to stop McCaffrey. The word “special” gets thrown around a lot, but he’s a player that deserves it. McCaffrey is that good. We’ve seen teams have success on the 49ers run defense early in games, but end up stalling as the game goes on. The Panthers are 23rd in adjusted line yards upfront. The 49ers defensive line is 10th in the same category. For as well as McCaffrey has played this season, he’s only been successful on 43% of his carries. For reference, Matt Breida has a 53% success rate. That figure is probably more telling for Carolina’s line than anything. Here are some other key stats:

Yesterday, I thought the 5.5 points were too much. The more you dig into the metrics and matchups, Vegas has a point.

The significant advantage Carolina has on offense in the majority of their games is getting their playmakers into space. McCaffrey can take a swing route, make a few players miss, and all of a sudden; he’s 20 yards down the field. McCaffrey has broken the fifth-most tackles in the NFL, and he’s doing so on 21% of his touches. San Francisco needs to get to him before McCaffrey gets going.

One of the more underrated areas of improvement for this 49ers defense limiting passes to running backs.

The 49ers are third in DVOA against running back passes this season, and are only allowing 5.3 yards per pass. That’ll be tested this week.

Seeing ghosts

Sam Darnold said he was seeing ghosts in the pocket on Monday Night Football. That’s what the Niners pass rush needs to do to Kyle Allen. Allen is not good under pressure. Allen goes from a viable starter to a guy that shouldn’t be in the league when comparing his numbers when Allen is and isn’t under pressure. He does not take care of the ball. Don’t let Allen not throwing an interception distract you from the fact he’s fumbled six times in four starts. Dee Ford has to be licking his chops.

Allen put up good passing numbers against below-average defenses. Jacksonville—the lone above-average secondary Allen has faced—he averaged 4.6 yards per pass attempt and was successful on only 44% of his passes. That was a Jaguars secondary without Jalen Ramsey. San Francisco doesn’t have Jalen Ramsey. They do have a historically good passing defense, in any case. The 49ers have limited opposing offenses to a 30% success rate through the air. That’s 16% better than league average. They are number one in the NFL in that regard and were number one before the Slip-N-Slide game against Washington. Allen hasn’t played this type of animal yet.

The 49ers are the best team in the NFL at generating pressure while only rushing four. Here is how the matchup looks for Sunday:

Four good players against four average to below-average players. I wonder what will happen!

The one area the 49ers have “struggled” this season at is limiting the opposing offenses top receivers. They’re 20th in DVOA against No. 1 receivers and 26th in DVOA against No. 2 receivers. Carolina has D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, two promising young receivers that can make you pay when the ball is in their hands. Knowing the mismatch in the trenches, I can see a lot of screens and quick passes to these two. Remember how we were worried about Emmanuel Moseley? He hasn’t allowed a successful reception in his three starts. Moore and Samuel are more dangerous than their numbers indicate, but if Allen can’t get them the ball, it doesn’t matter.