As we go into the home opener of the 2017 season, there is a whole lot to be excited about. One of the last times Kyle Shanahan ran his offense against the Carolina Panthers, his leading receiver had a franchise record 300-yard receiving game and his quarterback threw for 503 yards. Now let’s get something out of the way before we start. Brian Hoyer is no Matt Ryan. Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin are no Julio Jones. I am in no way saying that you should expect a repeat of that game, but with all of our new weapons, a playbook no one has seen, and the added effect of thousands of Niners fans thrilled to see their organization heading in the right direction again there’s a lot this team can feed off of. There’s a lot standing in our way in this tough matchup with the Carolina Panthers, but a win here sets the tone for a great season.
The Passing Game
Brian Hoyer has earned his spot as the starting quarterback for the 2017 San Francisco 49ers and he is in place to surprise a lot of people this year. There’s no need for me to repeat everything you have heard about Kyle and Brian’s history, so I will focus on this specific matchup versus the Carolina Panthers. The biggest hole Kyle Shannahan will likely attempt to expose is the Panthers’ weakness at cornerback. The Panthers have yet to fully recover from losing Josh Norman, but his replacement James Bradberry has turned a lot of heads and shown his potential. In Julio’s 300-yard game Bradberry was injured, but in their other matchup with Bradberry healthy, Julio only managed 60 yards on four receptions. Bradberry has the tools to be a solid corner, but he very well could be the only one on the team.
On watching the tape of the Atlanta Falcons vs. the Carolina Panthers there’s a few pass plays to be on the lookout for.
- The first pass I guarantee you will see could feature both of our top receivers, Pierre Garcon, the man who catches everything and the speedster Marquise Goodwin. A play we saw a lot from both Julio and Mohamed Sanu is a simple go route. Both Goodwin and Garcon have the speed to torch their corners and make a big play here.
- The second pass that you will see a few times that should get big yardageis the pass out of the backfield to Kyle Juszczyk that we saw in the preseason game against the Broncos that went for 21 yards. In the Falcons-Panthers matchup, Tevin Coleman ran that play to great success.
- The last and quite possibly the one I am most excited to seeis Pierre Garcon slant over the middle. Kyle’s play calling will assist in clearing linebackers out of the box and Garcon will ultimately prove to be too much for CB2 Darly Worley in many situations. Julio Jones runs this play perfectly in both matchups against the Panthers, Garcon will load up on RAC in this game due to Carolina’s major struggles with tackling in the secondary. Garcon ran all over Carolina and the rest of the NFL, with that exact play last season with the Redskins. Trent Taylor and Marquise Goodwin can also excel on the slant route, with Taylor excelling in creating separation early and Goodwin benefitting from the cushions he is likely to see in coverage from corners to get open early in the route.
It will also be worth noting the potential threat that the 49ers TEs and RBs notably will carry in the passing game. If George Kittle is available, he, Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida are all capable of threatening a defense in the passing field. Their versatility ensures that the 49ers can shape up to run the ball (either in personnel and/or in their formation) and still pass the ball effectively and they all have the speed to turn minor lapses and small wins into chunk plays.
Going into a game against the team that went 15-1 just two years ago is no cake walk and will come with its fair share of challenges. Most notable is our offensive line. The group has not shown out in the preseason and we have all known since day one that our problems would start here. Putting that poor offensive line in front of what is still one of the best front sevens in football is going to prove to be very dangerous. Luke Kuechley, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short and Thomas Davis headline this core and will be a pass rush nightmare for Brian Hoyer. The Panthers lost Kony Ealy who had the second most sacks on the team last year, but they also brought back pass rush legend, Julius Peppers. At the age of 37 he is likely a manageable threat but we may see him rush from the interior of the defensive line against our guards.
This passing game comes down to, will the offensive line give Brian Hoyer enough time to make plays? Carolina didn’t do much to improve their 29th ranked pass defense besides adding safety Mike Adams. The secondary no doubt runs on veteran safety Kurt Coleman and if we can beat him mentally we can win. Though that is no easy task, Coleman has made a name for himself in the NFL with an uncanny ability to be able to tell where the ball is going before the snap. We’ll see how well that works against Kyle’s scheme, remember no one has real tape on this offense yet. If the 49ers want to win this one they will have to do it in the passing game, taking advantage of poor matchups and letting Kyle Shanahan create even more.
The Running Game
The run game is going to be completely hit or miss for the 49ers. On one hand Kyle loves his run first offense, but, on the other hand, he doesn’t have the offensive line to make that work. In Atlanta he built up a pretty good line and it worked perfectly for his scheme. If the Panthers come prepared to play they will know that Kyle needs to attack the air which could open up a few more holes for Carlos Hyde. While you should definitely be on the lookout for Carlos Hyde to have a career year, it very well could have a rocky start against the Panthers.
Undrafted rookie, Matt Breida, could also prove to have a decent value in this game. The shifty back has a remarkable trait of keeping his legs moving and always trying to earn more yardage which could earn him some extra yards on a team like Carolina. Breida also has sensational breakaway potential and if the Panthers do let him get into their defensive backfield they could well be waving goodbye to the 49ers’ very own muscle hamster.
There are two things could save the run game in this matchup, making it a far more consistent force. The first is everyone’s favorite fullback Kyle Jusczyck. The 49ers haven’t had a solid fullback on the roster since Bruce Miller and even he was shaky. A fullback can change everything for the run game, especially a good one like Jusczyck. He can function as that lead blocker and anyone that wants to get to Hyde or Breida will have to go through him first. He can also line up in a wing formation and play the role of a blocking tight end to add an extra body up front. If the Panthers don’t know already that they need to have a man following Juice every play, they will soon.
The second thing that could save the run game is the play action pass. A few successful run plays and you keep that Panthers defense honest, forcing them to commit bodies to the run, and you can make magic happen. The aforementioned trio of Kittle, Breida and Hyde, as well as Juice can really make the 49ers play action game dangerous and can share with the receivers in reaping its rewards.
Joe Staley is still one of the best run blocking tackles in the league, he makes holes. On the other side is Trent Brown, who proved to be a better pass blocker than run blocker in 2016, but for whom this offseason has been good for the promising right tackle. This included a compliment from one of the best linebackers in the game, Von Miller, who said he was the best right tackle in the league. Another player we have seen step up is Daniel Kilgore. After the 49ers brought in Jeremy Zuttah everyone wrote off Kilgore for the center spot but he went in and earned it for sure. Our guards are rather suspect – Zane Beadles/Laken Tomlinson and Brandon Fusco have a lot to prove to 49ers fans and the NFL as a whole. The offensive line is pretty weak, but hopefully they can pull it together enough to create a convincing run game.
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