Coming off a big win Monday night, the Niners carry some momentum across the country for a two-week road trip of the NFC South division. First up is a meeting with the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte. Nobody is giving the Panthers much of a chance, so let’s take a look at some of the key matchups to see why.
DeMeco Ryans vs. Baker Mayfield
The Niners obviously have a lot of talent on defense, and defensive coordinator Ryans has been maximizing their potential in the first four games. With elaborate stunts for the lineman and clever blitzes from the secondary, Niners defenders have been living in the opponent’s backfield. Take a look at how a designed rush has Nick Bosa barrelling untouched up the middle to take down Matt Stafford last Monday night:
Expect plenty more of that this Sunday. By any statistical measure, the Panthers’ Baker Mayfield has been one of the worst quarterbacks in the league this season. He is dead last in QBR, is completing only 55% of his passes, and leads an offense at the bottom of the league in total yards. The home crowd in Carolina booed their QB last weekend, leading many to wonder if he will be the next starting QB to lose his job.
49er Linebackers vs. Christian McCaffrey
A unique dual threat out of the backfield, McCaffrey became only the third player in NFL history to put up over 1000 yards both rushing and receiving in 2019 (the first being Niner legend Roger Craig in 1985). Injuries have limited him to only 10 starts in the past 2 years, but he’s looked strong in the first four games of 2022.
Much like the Rams’ wideout Cooper Kupp last week, the Niners can afford to let McCaffery keep the chains moving as long as they eliminate his big play opportunities. He might get a little room to run, but I expect this speedy linebacker corps to keep the chunk plays to a minimum and force McCaffrey to earn every yard. He might accumulate some stats, but he won’t be efficient, and the star running back will take a pounding in the process.
Jimmy Garoppolo vs. His Own Arm
Monday’s game was vintage Garropolo. He didn’t make any big mistakes, but he didn’t make any big plays either. His sole touchdown pass would’ve been a short 5-yard completion if not for the ridiculous tackle-breaking skills of Deebo Samuel. Outside of a few nice throws down the middle of the field, the vast majority of his 16 completions came on short-designed screens.
Garoppolo doesn’t seem to have the confidence in his own arm strength to challenge defenses outside the hash marks, and this makes him pretty easy to game plan against, especially if the Niners are behind and need to play catch up. At some point this season, he’s going to have to push the ball downfield to balance out this offense.
San Francisco vs. Expectations
Despite cross-country travel on short rest, the oddsmakers have the Niners as heavy 6.5-point road favorites this Sunday. The Panthers are coming off a disappointing home loss last week, and will be desperate to avoid a 1-4 start. If they come out flat on Sunday, this shapes up as a classic “let down game” for the Red and Gold.