San Francisco 49ers Week 7 Preview: Carolina Panthers
The 49ers are back on the road, where they've fared even worse than they have at home this season. The two blowouts they've endured so far have been at Seattle's Qwest Field, and Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium. They lost a last-second-field-goal heart breaker at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The Carolina Panthers are currently 0-5, and the 49ers can understand just how hungry that will make a team.
Carolina might be thinking this struggling San Francisco team will provide them with just the opportunity they need to get their first win.
San Francisco is far from satisfied with their 1-5 record, and are looking to improve on last weeks success, and prove (to themselves and everyone else as well) that they can win on the road.
A young and rebuilding Panthers team has an uphill climb in this one, and the 49ers should be playing one of the weaker teams on their schedule this year.
As the weekend approaches, take a look at who these Carolina fellas are.
Coaching: John Fox vs. Mike Singletary
Mike Singletary is beginning to show some of the creativity and moxie that so many 49ers fans had decided he didn't have. The result was the teams first win of the season, last week.
John Fox has enjoyed quite a few successful seasons in Carolina up until recently.
Singletary is charged with the task of getting the 49ers back into the playoffs sooner than later, while Fox is in a lower-pressure situation, as he rebuilds the Panthers chunk, by chunk.
Fox has 22 years coaching experience: substantially more than Singletary.
Passing: Jimmy Clausen (&Matt Moore, &Tony Pike?)
Quite a few rumors circulated about the 49ers interest in Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen last April.
In the end, the 49ers went a different direction, opting not to select a quarterback while Carolina picked up two rookies at the position in Clausen and Tony Pike.
Clausen was expected to be, and has proven himself the better of the two thus far. While Tony Pike waits on the back burner, Clausen should start. They both have a decent eventual upside, but they are also just rookies.
What they can accomplish waits to be seen, although through three starts, the young Clausen has three interceptions, one touchdown, and has been sacked nine times.
Matt Moore started the year with two touchdowns, has been sacked eight times, and has thrown six interceptions.
Update: Carolina has named Matt Moore the starter against the 49ers this week. Interpret as you will.
Running: DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart
The strength of the panthers is their running game. They have a very solid one-two punch in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
Last year, both backs gained over 1,000 yards on the ground. The tandem averaged 22.5 touchdowns over their two years together. Williams is in his fifth year; Stewart is in his third.
While Williams is a slightly smaller, quicker running back (5'9, 217) Stewart is more of a bruiser at 5'10, 235.
They will be a challenge for the 49ers run defense.
Receiving: Steve Smith
One of the most explosive receivers of the last decade, Steve Smith can ignite the Panthers offense if his skill is not properly accounted for.
A perennial Pro-Bowl candidate, Smith has amassed 587 receptions for 8,504 yards and 52 receiving touchdowns in his career thus far.
He's not a lanky jump-ball receiver at 5'9 and 185 pounds, rather he's a smaller pass catcher who can be impossible to get a hand on if he gets the ball in space.
Smith plays with a mental and physical toughness, and with a dangerous precision that can make even mediocre quarterbacks look great.
Smith's status for Sunday is still questionable, however. A high ankle sprain kept him in an air-cast, and out of last Sunday's game.
Receiving: Supporting Cast
Two more rookies and a transplant from the New York Jets fill out Carolina's primary options at receiver.
Rookies David Gettis, out of Houston, and Brandon LaFell, out of Louisiana State, give the Panthers larger receivers as well. Again, however, they are rookies.
David Clowney doesn't have their size, but any player out of Rex Ryan's camp is going to be physically and mentally tough.
Armanti Edwards and Devin Thomas should also be suited up.
Blocking: Experience All Around
Unlike San Francisco, all of Carolina's starting blockers all have at least a full year of NFL experience. Their biggest starter, Jeff Otah (pictured) is out with a knee injury, however.
If the Panthers start big man Geoff Schwartz in Otah's place, they will be starting a second-year man, with only eight starts under his belt, at right tackle.
Carolina's tight ends are not Vernon Davises, nor are they Antonio Gateses. Jeff King, Gary Barnidge, and Dante Rosario are your more typical blocking tight ends, who can still make a big grab here and there. They're presence is most noticeable in the Panther's running success.
Defense: Finding an Identity
The panthers are trying to fill a big void where Julius Peppers used to anchor their line. They still have a reasonable amount of talent on their defense, but without the star pass rusher on the squad anymore, everything moves just a little bit slower against opposition this year.
Their secondary doesn't get fed choice picks, quarterbacks sleep better at night, and running backs don't get harassed in the backfield while taking hand-offs as often.+
Still, they're scrappy and they swarm the ball well, even if they are a little undersized.
The talented Jon Beason heads their squad at linebacker. They also drafted a potential loaded sleeper out of Ole' Miss named Gregg Hardy in the sixth round.
Venue: Bank Of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
It's hard to predict the energy the Panthers' fans will produce, as they can be inconsistent in their rowdiness.
As a young expansion team, they gave the 49ers quite a pestering. As a Super Bowl contender, they had a rocking house. When they're not doing well, however, it can be eerily quiet. The 49ers have not played great on the road under Mike Singletary though, so lookout!
San Francisco will need to figure a way to deal with the road if they are going to do anything remotely notable this season, and Carolina would be a good place to start.
It's an open-air staduim on natural grass, so we're taking real football here.
Ramifications Of 1-5 vs. 0-5
Yet again, we have two cellar dwellers already clawing for their play-off lives. The main difference is that nobody expected Carolina to do much other than a rebuilding dance this year.
The 49ers, on the other hand, were favored to win the NFC West coming into the season. They lost several tough, close ones, however, and are a handful of haunting plays away from what could have been a 4-2 record.
Carolina has essentially zero playoff hopes, given their division, but they could guest star as a coffin-nail spoiler for San Francisco's imaginary playoff contention they are currently in the thick of.
The 49ers could, and should win this game. Of course, that was also said before most of their losses this year.
At least there's always the cheerleaders.