The Carolina Panthers kick off the 2017 NFL season with a west coast game against the San Francisco 49ers. Both teams look to start off the season with a win and a 1-0 record.
The Panthers are coming off one of their biggest offseasons yet, acquiring electric playmakers and adopting a whole new offensive philosophy. Meanwhile, the 49ers are also coming off a decent offseason of their own. They built up a formidable defensive front while adding an offensive genius to spark their offense.
All of this culminates into Sunday’s game, where each team will witness the fruits of their effort. Both teams have a chance to start fresh, unleashing their game plan and weapons for the first time in the NFL.
However, only one team will win. There’s always a victor and a loser in the NFL.
So, without further ado, here are three match-ups that will determine the course of the game.
Steve Wilks + Defense VS Kyle Shanahan + Playcalling
A defensive coordinator revolving his defense around fundamentals and physicality. An offensive genius prudent on execution and creativity in complexity. Both very different philosophies clashing together over in California.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is one of the top offensive minded coaches in the league. His play designs are the reason for a historic Falcons offense and Superbowl run. Shanahan understands how to attack defenses weaknesses while masking the deficiencies of his own offense.
Generally, Kyle’s system revolves around the heavy formation, play-action, and designed openings. All the quarterback has to do is understand the play concept and throw a decent ball. Shanahan’s offenses are some of the most QB friendly in the league.
Steve Wilks has a tall task ahead of him. Although the 49ers may not have weapons with the most talent, they do have Shanahan. Last year, the Panthers had some of their worst games against the Falcons, getting most of their points through garbage time.
Against the 49ers, Steve Wilks has to be weary of these type of playcalls. One way to limit Shanahan’s hand is stuffing the run. Although that sounds generic, it couldn’t be any more truer in this case. By stopping the run, the 49ers are less likely to be successful.
The Falcons only lost two games by more than three points last year. Statistically, the constant appears to be the number of rushing yards they accumulate. Shanahan’s Falcons never exceeded 52 rushing yards in each of those losses.
Even in the Superbowl, the Falcon’s running game was nearly non-existent in the second half. Without a reliable running game, Kyle Shanahan started calling reckless plays, ultimately leading to the Falcons demise.
What this indicates is a correlation between success and running. Stopping the 49ers from running should put a limit on the 49ers playcalls.
From what the Panthers have seen so far in preseason, the defense look stout at stopping the run. This has to continue into next week.
Panthers Offensive Line VS 49ers Front Seven
If there’s one thing to not take lightly, it’s the 49ers front seven.
The 49ers boast guys such as Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, NaVorro Bowman, Reuben Foster, and Solomon Thomas. All five of these guys are talents and will terrorize plenty of offensive lines in the NFL. Even Aaron Lynch seems to be getting it together.
There’s no doubt these guys could pose a challenge in week one.
However, the Panthers offensive line is coming off a very strong preseason. The Panthers first team offensive line did fantastic in every game, opening up run lanes and doing well in pass protection.
Against the Jaguars, the offensive line protected well and opened up holes. The Panthers finished off their opening drive with 10 plays spanning 75 yards. Only two of them were pass plays, and they were generally short.
The offensive line was a huge reason for the Panthers being able to march down the field. It’s also interesting when considering the Jaguars defense is supposedly a top tier group. Considering it’s also the third game of preseason, that inspires a lot of confidence.
The main issue will be how the Panthers contain the 49ers defensive front for four quarters. No doubt Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner will be itching to get after Cam Newton at some point. However, I can say confidently this is a far better situation than last year.
If the Panthers offensive line keeps up this performance against the 49ers, the sky’s the limit.
RB Christian McCaffrey VS LB Reuben Foster, Or Any LB For That Matter
Finally, watch out for Christian McCaffrey’s opening day. As I’ve already explained in an earlier article, he transforms the very fabric of our offense. Christian McCaffrey is living up to the hype, and his preseason play justifies it.
In terms of matching up against linebackers, Christian McCaffrey’s done that plenty of times in practice. This generally led to some of the NFL’s best linebackers finding themselves left in the dust.
However, some were unsure if Christian McCaffrey would be able to translate at the game-level. Plenty cite the notion that the offense always has the advantage in these drills.
Well, McCaffrey proves everyone wrong against the Jaguars. Going against a very skilled LB in Paul Posluszny, McCaffrey leaves him in the dust on a nasty juke move.
This week, Christian McCaffrey gets to face off against the 49ers linebackers, including rookie LB Reuben Foster, who has been having a fine preseason himself. He’s living to his college hype of being a good, instinctive linebacker in coverage and hard-hitting when need be.
It’s fairly reasonable to expect Reuben Foster as a possible threat day one. He appears relentless in his coverage while showing traits similar to Kuechly. While not perfect, he’s still not someone to scoff at.
Nevertheless, this match-up is arguably in McCaffrey’s favor. Pitting that kind of quick talent against any linebacker will only serve to be their disadvantage. But nevertheless, it’s something to keep an eye on.
I do think this game will be closer than everyone expects. The 49ers should put on a fight, and so will the Panthers. Under Shanahan, they will be competitive on offense, and they have plenty of defensive talent to sustain themselves for a bit.
However, the Panthers are the favorites for a reason. Their offense and defense will ultimately prove to be superior, and should break the 49ers week 1 win streak.
Expect a fun game with plenty of tense moments with the Panthers clutching out the win.
Carolina Panthers: 28
San Francisco 49ers: 24Agree? Disagree? You can sound off right here with thousands of Carolina Panthers fans.