Free NFL Pick: San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers

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Free NFL Pick: San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers

Sunday October 24th, 2010 1:00 PM EST

Line: San Francisco -3

Overview:

This game is not so much about who wins, but rather about who loses. The Panthers have not been able to come away with a victory against anyone, bringing them to a 5-0 record. The 49ers finally had the black cloud looming over their head blown away after knocking off the Raiders by eight last week. At home, the Panthers have been beaten by a minimum of 13 points. The 49ers are desperate for a road win to keep their season alive.

Keys to the Game:

  • Alex Smith needs to be more consistent. If you look at the highlights from Sunday’s game, you might wonder why everyone gives Alex Smith such a hard time. Smith makes five or so throws a game and leads one or two drives that make him look like a number one overall pick. Unfortunately for Smith, he looks lost at times. Part of that last week was due to the poor play of left tackle Joe Staley. Despite being the cornerstone and the most seasoned of the seasoned member of the offensive line, Staley struggled against the Raiders last week, being visibly beaten multiple times. Fortunately for Staley, and Smith for that matter, the Panthers are awful at applying pressure. They have racked up only seven sacks all year. Alex Smith has a real chance to gain some confidence here. Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree are poised to have monster years this year. Smith is going to have all day to throw. He needs to show his team he can not only show flashes of brilliance, but maintain his poise throughout the game.
  • Jimmy Clausen proved he isn’t the answer, but putting in Matt Moore isn’t going to help either. The Panthers rank dead last in passing offense this year. Despite having a talented wide receiver and backfield tandem, the Panthers do not have the talent on offense to put the ball in the air. What makes their lack of passing yards more mind boggling is that they rank near the bottom in passing attempts. Even when they Panthers are down, which they have been all year long, they shy away from putting the ball in the air. Maybe Jake Delhomme wasn’t the problem. They are the only team to allow 17 or more sacks and have 150 or less attempts. Part of that blame belongs to the porous offensive line, but part of that is on the quarterback. Jimmy Clausen is a rookie. He may have problems assessing blitz reads and defenses are sending a slew of looks at him to take advantage of that. Matt Moore showed promise last year, but he was benched after two terrible performances. The 49ers may have had problems all season long, but they are going to have a field day against Matt Moore this week.
  • If the 49ers win the turnover battle, they will win the game. They have struggled all year with finishing. Against the Raiders, they looked less than desirable on a number of offensive plays. At times, they were a poster of mediocrity. It is imperative for the 49ers to avoid putting the ball on the ground or throwing interceptions when they are in disarray. The 49ers punted the ball eight times against the Raiders. Their defense has the talent to be elite. As long as the offense does not put them in a position where they have to defend a short field, they give the defense a chance. Alex Smith had a less than stellar day, but by limiting turnovers, he puts his team in a position to win.
  • The Panthers allow 134 yards a game on the ground. This is not an ideal time for Frank Gore to come rolling into town. Gore is second in the league in yards from scrimmage. The Panthers have a top five passing defense, but teams succeed in running over them at will. They lack any sort of presence on defense. The 49ers have an offensive line full of physical specimens. The Panthers have been stellar at the defensive line position in the past, but their defensive line has been an afterthought this season. By getting to the second level, teams have been able to focus on tying up the Panthers linebackers. Jon Beason, Dan Connor, and John Anderson are the strength of the Panthers defense, but in a 4-3 defensive scheme, it is crucial they do not have offensive lineman to deal with. A 4-3, by design has three unselfish lineman that create penetration and tie up the offensive line. There is one hybrid pass rusher, which used to be Julius Peppers but that void has not been filled. With four mediocre defensive lineman, the focal point of the offense becomes taking the linebackers out of the game. Look for the Panthers to struggle coming off their blocks. Frank Gore is a one cut runner that can get up the field in a hurry.

Wrap Up:

The Panthers need to shake up their franchise. They are on a sinking ship and have solidified their spot at the bottom of the NFC South. This season will likely end with the departure of Head Coach John Fox. The quarterback controversy, combined with their lack of talent on defense, is going to make it hard for the Panthers to come away with more than four wins this year. But the 49ers can’t be complacent, they won one game after all. There is little reason to celebrate this season, but the 49ers may not be the most disappointing team in the NFL if they win this week. This is their only road game until week 12, aside from a trip to London against the Broncos. If they can capitalize against a week opponent on the road, it could give them the confidence they need to reach 5-5 in a hurry. The spread last week was 6 1/2 against the Raiders. Despite being on the road, the 49ers will win by more than a touchdown in this one.

Free NFL Pick: San Francisco -3

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