On Friday, we previewed how the game would look when the Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers offense were on the field. Today, Billy and I will take a look at how we expect things to play out when Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers are on the field. This should be their biggest challenge to date.
Here are a few key stats:
When the 49ers have the ball
Ron Rivera has faced the Shanahan offense many times over the years. In those games, the LBs have been too aggressive on play-action, which affects the middle of the defense. Carolina will likely ease off the pressure and blitzing during this game, so their coverages can hold up on the backend. Their run defense has been an issue this season, particularly with Kawaan Short out for the season, but they have athletic linebackers and safeties who will assist in run support. The 49ers are still going to be a huge challenge, but I expect some struggles in this department.
Billy hit it on the head with Carolina’s defense. They’re a different unit without Short. With Short in the lineup, the Panthers were 14th in rushing success rate. With Short out, they dropped 8% and are 31st. Is this the best defense the 49ers will have faced to this point? Yes. Football is a game of matchups, and the Niners pride themselves on the running game. Carolina is one of the worst rushing defenses on 1st & 3rd down per DVOA.
Shanahan always seems to catch defenses when they blitz at the wrong time. It may come on a screen pass or hit the vacated part of the defense with George Kittle over the middle. This game has Emmanuel Sanders with eight receptions for 100 yards written all over it. The middle of the field and a few Matt Breida long runs make the difference for San Francisco.
One player nobody is talking about
Some unheralded players always fly under the radar. There are plenty of people in the football world that have no clue Arik Armstead has been a destroyer of worlds this season. It doesn’t always have to be an extreme example, either. Shanahan has done such a good job masking and scheming that you could easily forget the 49ers have been playing multiple games without their starting offensive tackles.
Here are our players nobody is talking about.
Dennis Daley has been the starting LT for the past two weeks due to Greg Little being in the concussion protocol. He has been fine for a 6th round pick, but the Panthers are giving him plenty of help. Given how excellent the Niners defensive line is, the Panthers might not have the luxury of assisting Daley on every snap. He’s going to have to step up and hold his own.
Jaquiski Tartt will earn his paycheck against the Panthers. He’ll be tasked with corralling McCaffrey in the open field, guarding Greg Olsen over the middle, and likely have a few plays down the field where Tartt will be asked to prevent a deep completion. Tartt is skilled enough to excel at any position. He’ll have his hands full Sunday afternoon, and I predict Tartt will get his first interception of the season.