Tale Of The Tape: San Francisco 49ers At Carolina Panthers
- QuarterbackIn the moments after a wild-card win at sub-zero Lambeau Field, Colin Kaepernick’s initial reaction to meeting the Panthers was that it gave his team a chance to get revenge for a regular-season defeat. Kaepernick displayed plenty of savvy and courage in the win over the Packers. Kaepernick had a 21-8 TD-interception ratio and he ran for 524 yards and four TDs this year.Cam Newton grew as a passer and a leader this season and helped lead the Panthers to the NFC South title and the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. Newton’s athletic ability allows him to keep plays alive that other quarterbacks couldn’t. Newton has a strong arm and is an exciting runner, but his short- and medium-range passing may not be good enough to help his team advance in the playoffs.
- OffenseThe 49ers are going to try to establish their run with hard-nosed Frank Gore against Carolina’s powerful defense. That will be a big challenge for a running back who gained 1,128 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry. Anquan Boldin is a strong wide receiver who can make the tough catch in traffic, while tight end Vernon Davis has the speed to make game-changing plays downfield.The Panthers get solid production from the combination of DeAngelo Williams and fullback Mike Tolbert. They need to be productive to take the pressure off of Newton. Wide receiver Steve Smith is battling a knee injury, but the veteran receiver will likely play and could be a difference maker. Tight end Greg Olsen is an outstanding route runner with excellent hands.
- DefenseThe 49ers are a powerful, hard-hitting defense that will make the Panthers earn every yard they get. Their best all-around player is inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who led the team with 145 tackles and also had 5.0 sacks. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks had 8.5 sacks and seven passes defensed, while defensive tackle Justin Smith is a stud-like run defender.The Panthers ranked second in fewest yards allowed, and head coach Ron Rivera will challenge his defenders to keep Kaepernick from making big plays with his right arm or legs. Greg Hardy is an overpowering pass rusher who led the team with 15.0 sacks. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly had a team-high 145 tackles and he also had four interceptions.
- Special TeamsThe 49ers have been solid in punt and kickoff coverage, and they are going to have to maintain that level of performance against the Panthers. Phil Dawson has been a game-changing kicker. The former Cleveland Brown provided the winning points in the wild-card game against the Packers.Ted Ginn has the explosive speed needed to give the Panthers a big edge if he can get loose returning punts or kickoffs. He has been held in check most of the year. Graham Gano made 24-of-27 regular-season FG attempts, including 6-of-6 from 50 yards and beyond.
The Panthers announced they were a legitimate contender when they defeated the 49ers on the road in Week 10. They held the Niners without a touchdown in that game, and if they can replicate that performance, they will be headed to the NFC championship game. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor