Throughout the preseason, Niners Live broke down every angle of all 4 games. Now it’s the regular season and our coverage continues as we preview the home opener against the Carolina Panthers. We will breakdown the key offensive and defensive match ups.
Finally, we have reached the start of the 2017 regular season where the games count; the San Francisco 49ers will begin the 2017 season against the Carolina Panthers. Last season’s week two matchup between these teams determined the fate of the 49ers, and this year’s game is no exception. The Panthers are one year removed from their Super Bowl appearance at Levi’s Stadium and are looking to contend in the very tough NFC South. Let’s look at the offensive and defensive matchups.
49ers Offensive Line & Running Backs vs. Carolina’s Front Seven
The Panthers front seven remains one of the most formidable in the NFC, making yards hard to come by for the 49ers. Last year, the Panthers were 7th in the NFL against the run, giving up only 91.6 yards per game and they keep their core front seven intact. They are led by Charles Johnson and Mario Addison at Defensive End. You can expect former All-Pro Julius Peppers to come in on passing situations as he returns to the team that helped launch him into stardom, a tough assignment for tackles Trent Brown and Joe Staley. The running game for the 49ers has struggled all preseason and won’t get any easier as Daniel Kilgore and guards Zane Beadles and Brandon Fusco do their best to open holes for Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert against Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei at the tackles and SAM linebacker Shaq Thompson. Make no mistake, the heart of the Carolina defensive is the All-Pro middle linebacking duo of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. They are a threat against the run and the pass. Usually, Kyle Juszczyk has an advantage against the opposing middle linebacker, but in facing Davis, he will be challenged by one of the best.
Brian Hoyer vs. Mario Addison & Julius Peppers
If there were ever a game in which Brian Hoyer needed great pass protection, this would be the game. The Panthers were 2nd in the NFL with 47 sacks. Mario Addison the right Defensive End led the team with 9.5 sacks. This highlights the matchup between Addison and Joe Staley, but we must also look at the other side between Trent Brown and Julius Peppers on passing downs. Peppers, who ranks 5th in the NFL all-time with 143.5 sacks, has made a career of getting to the quarterback, and it will be interesting to see if the praise bestowed upon Brown by Denver’s Von Miller will be shared by Peppers after the game.
49ers: WRS & TEs vs. Carolina’s Secondary
If Hoyer can get pass protection, it could be a big day for 49ers’ receivers Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson. One season removed from losing Josh Norman in free agency to the Washington Redskins, the Panthers’ cornerbacks are still relatively young and inexperienced. The corners are James Bradberry on the left, Daryl Worley on the right, and veteran Captain Munnerlyn covering the slot. Munnerlyn could be splitting time with Kevon Seymour, acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills over the weekend (via Panthers.com). The Panthers’ safeties are veteran pro Bowl free agent acquisition Mike Adams in the box and Kurt Coleman at free safety. George Kittle will put these safeties to the test as the number one tight end.
49ers Front Seven vs. Carolina Offensive Line and Running Backs
Running back Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whittaker will put the 49ers Front four to the test as they look to set the table for the Panthers’ offense. Five-time Pro-Bowl Center Ryan Kalil and his brother, former Pro-Bowl Matt Kalil at left tackle who is back after sitting out most of 2016 with a hip injury, lead the offensive line. It will be a formidable test against DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead on the ends with Earl Mitchell and Tank Carradine along the interior. You can expect Solomon Thomas and Elvis Dumervil to see plenty of action as well against Panthers’ Right tackle Daryl Williams, Right guard Trai Turner and Left Guard Andrew Norwell. Navarro Bowman will be back in his familiar role at middle linebacker and Eli Harold will get the nod at the Sam linebacker position.
Christian McCaffrey vs. Reuben Foster: The battle of wills we came to see
Both Reuben Foster and Christian McCaffrey had storied college careers and have done nothing but impress this preseason. Now we get to see this premier matchup of rookies this Sunday. McCaffrey is a matchup problem for most linebackers, while Foster has been a beast against the run and in pass coverage. Something will definitely have to give in this game.
Cam Newton vs. DeForest Buckner and Elvis Dumervil
Perhaps a better title would be Superman vs. Krypton and Lex Luther. Cam Newton had a down year by any measure, but as a dual-threat, remains a matchup problem for most defensive coordinators. Fortunately, for 49ers Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh, he has DeForest Buckner who led the team with six sacks, and Elvis Dumervil who comes into the season with 99 career sacks. Containing Newton is a must for the defense to be successful.
49ers’ Secondary vs. Carolina’s Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Tough doesn’t begin to describe the challenge awaiting the 49ers’ Secondary on Sunday. Wide Receiver Kelvin Benjamin on the left side is a dominant force to be reckoned with, and Devin Funchess will be looking to stretch the field against corners Donate Johnson and Rashard Robinson. However, Newton’s most reliable target is that of 3-Time Pro-Bowl Greg Olson, who had team highs in catches, with 80, and 1,073 receiving yards. Olsen will definitely test Box Safety Eric Reid, and Jimmie Ward at Free Safety.
Note: Don’t sleep on the third year “hybrid ” safety Jaquiski Tartt A.K.A the Missile…. having a package put in place to take advantage of his physicality at the line of scrimmage (blitzing) and guarding tight ends. An approach potentially that may be deployed by defensive coordinator Robert Saleh (via the team’s website).
K’Waun Williams will see action defending the slot against Damiere Byrd.
Storylines: The ties that connect the 49ers and Panthers
Although this is the first official coaching matchup between Carolina Panthers’ Head Coach Ron Rivera and San Francisco 49ers’ Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, these two are very familiar with each other, having been divisional rivals during Shanahan’s time with the Falcons as Offensive Coordinator. Current Carolina Offensive Line Coach Ray Brown was the 49ers’ Assistant Offensive Line Coach in 2010 and played for the 49ers from 1996 through 2001. Carolina Quarterbacks Coach Ken Dorsey was drafted by the 49ers in 2003. 49ers’ Defensive Line Coach Jeff Zgonina played for Carolina during the 1995 season. Fellow Stanford Cardinal teammates Solomon Thomas and Christian McCaffrey will be on opposing sides for the first time in a few years.
One More Thing
This home opener officially marks the era of the John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan era and the anticipation among the 49er Faithful is at a fever pitch. Expect a very defensive matchup between the two teams, where the first offense to avoid making a mistake will win the game. The 49ers need a win to set the tone for the season, as they enter the first of three divisional games the following week against the rival Seattle Seahawks. This is going to be a very exciting season.
Please join us again soon on Niners Live, the home of the faithful fan and analyst from an objective/analytical lens, of course.
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author and new Staff Writer @NinersLive.net, David Edmondson. Co-Author, Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims