The Carolina Panthers are back home for week two after suffering a gut-wrenching loss on the road in Denver late due to a missed Graham Gano field goal. A home game should be just what they need to cook up their winning ways again. Though Ron Rivera and Cam Newton may tell you that catering the team with Cam’s new food truck will help, but there may be a little more to it than that.
STOP THE RUN
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns coming away from week one was how the Carolina Panthers front seven allowed 148 yards on the ground with a 5.1 YPC average. This is something the Panthers will hope to have corrected come this Sunday. San Francisco racked up 150 yards rushing against a solid front seven in the LA Rams. Blaine Gabbert accounted for 43 of those yards on 9 attempts, displaying his underrated running ability.
The Broncos helped open up the running lanes by passing early and often on the first drive. This forced the Carolina Panthers defense to dial back and defend the pass more. When they did blitz and miss, it Anderson gashed them into the second level. However, San Francisco doesn’t have the luxury of two receiving weapons like the Broncos had with Thomas and Sanders. This is made obvious by newly signed receiver Jeremy Kurley leading the team with seven receptions for 61 yards.
Watching all of Carlos Hyde’s runs from last week, nearly all of the positive gains were off second chances where he just showed good patience and bounced to the outside or found a hole other than where one was supposed to be. Hyde is a similar runner to Jonathan Stewart as they’re both bruising runners, can bounce off and take multiple defenders bring them down. Panthers can ill afford bad tackling like some we saw at Denver when handling C.J. Anderson.
PREDICTION: Panthers hold San Francisco under 100 yards total rushing. Rivera and McDermott certainly know the rushing total they gave up in week one. They build their defense from the trenches out, predicated on stopping the run first and making opposing offenses one-dimensional. After allowing an average of only 88.4 rushing yards per game last season, it’s fair to assume they focused hard this week to getting back to that. Force the up-tempo offense off the field quickly and it will help the offense by wearing that 49ers defense down.
SAN FRANCISCO RUN DEFENSE
The San Francisco defense held the LA Rams to ten first downs in a 28-0 shutout at home, all while limiting Todd Gurley to 47 yards on 17 carries. The Rams offense doesn’t have the talent and depth that the Panthers have, but there are a few things San Francisco’s defense did do well.
The first thing the Panthers like to establish is the run game. Made evident by heading into week two ranked second in the NFL with 157 rushing yards last week in Denver. Not to mention finishing second in the same category last season as they tore through the regular season at 15-1. The Niners defense is in a three-way tie at 6th after allowing a total of 65 yards in week one.
San Francisco defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil made shutting down Rams running back Todd Gurley their main goal by stacking the box with sub-packages and making Case Keenum beat them through the air. O’Neil knows the same task won’t work well against last season's top scoring offense led by NFL MVP Cam Newton.
“Yeah. But, I mean, the Broncos are a different defense than we are. So, you’ve got to be true to yourself. So, you study a lot of things. You go back, you look at preseason tape. You look at tape last year. You look at tape, you know, when I was in Cleveland and you played against them two years ago. So, yeah, you look at a lot of stuff. But, you’ve got to be true to yourself. You’ve got to be true to who your players are, what you believe in scheme-wise and then you’ve got to go play.”- O’Neil when asked about watching Super Bowl film on how Broncos schemed for the Panthers offense.
PREDICTION: Carolina tallied 157 yards against a stiff Broncos front on the road. While San Francisco shut down Todd Gurley, Rams lacked the weapons do anything else offensively. The Panthers don’t have that problem. I’m guessing somewhere around the 140-yard range for the Carolina rushing attack. Could hit over 150 again if they are able to get up big early.
SUPERCAM vs AHMAD BROOKS
Newton will be facing a name he knew all too well in veteran linebacker Ahmad Brooks. Brooks tallied 4.5 sacks on Newton in two meetings, 2.5 of those came in the divisional matchup at Bank of America stadium. Where the Carolina Panthers would ultimately lose 23-10.
“He doesn’t look to run. He looks to get the yards. I’m not saying he can’t run. I’m not saying he can’t make guys miss. But he looks to pass the ball. So when you’re rushing him, you know you have to get to him before he passes the ball.” -Brooks on a more experienced Newton.
Cam is more comfortable in the pocket, it’s the biggest reason he landed the MVP award last season. Perhaps the biggest difference between the 2013 and 2016 teams, however, is the offensive line and weapons. The Panthers could have the best depth at wide receiver in the franchise's young history. Benjamin recorded a 6-91-1 line against one of the most physical secondaries in the league in Denver. Also with Cam facing the best pass rush in the league. Hard to imagine Brooks and company doing the same, but Michael Oher will certainly need to be on top of his game this week.
PREDICTION: Brooks adds another sack to his Cam Newton resume’. He’s a veteran guy who has had success against Cam and the coaches will find a way to utilize that at least once. Maybe even for roughing the passer?
FINAL PREDICTION: As big as San Francisco won over LA, they weren’t world beaters themselves. Traveling from west to east coast on a short week against the defending NFC Champions is just their recipe for disaster. The Carolina Panthers get to 1-1 at home 30-13 and you will see Cam’s Smokn’ Aces food truck at Bank of America next Thursday. One shrimp Po’ Boy coming right up!
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