Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
I will be the first one to admit that the 49ers pass defense is underrated. It may not have star-studded talent at the cornerback position, but it does have above-average talent at the safety position and two All-Pro inside linebackers.
Furthermore, the numbers don’t lie. At PFF, the 49ers graded out as the second-best team against the pass. Of the 27 defensive players who played at least one snap for San Francisco, only six of them were hit with negative grades. The other 21 players either received an above-average grade or an average one.
That speaks volumes to the job secondary coach Ed Donatell has done. He dealt with injuries and helped maximize the talent of young players like cornerback Tramaine Brock. Yet, it seems like the 49ers pass defense has taken a step back the past few weeks.
Brock’s late-season surge is starting to cool, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman have been uncharacteristically bad over the course of the last three games, and Perish Cox is a liability. These things are worrisome as San Francisco prepares to head into its biggest game of the year.
With wide receiver Steve Smith returning to the starting lineup for the Panthers, Newton may be in a good position to take advantage of the 49ers pass defense. The No. 1 overall pick out of Auburn is enjoying the most fruitful season of his young career as a passer.
During the regular season, he threw for 3,379 yards, tossed 24 touchdown passes and posted a quarterback rating of 88.8. He underperformed Week 10 versus the 49ers, but he always plays better at Bank of America Stadium. At home in 2013, he completed 65.2 percent of his passes, turned in a 100 quarterback rating and took fewer sacks.
Newton has the clear edge over a pass defense that has struggled since Week 16.