The San Francisco 49ers are known as a physically punishing team of offense and on Sunday, the 49ers’ defense will be seeing a team who is a mirror image of their offense in many ways when they take on the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers come into the Week 10 game with a record of 5-3, having won four of their last five games. A large part of the Panthers’ success has been due to their ability to run the football. So far in the season, the Panthers are averaging 130 rush yards per game. They have been able to achieve this without the services of running back Johnathan Stewart, who made his return in the Panthers’ Week 9 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
In Stewart’s absence, DeAngelo Williams has been doing a good job of being the main ball carrier. In eight games, he has rushed for 519 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per rush.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has also done a good job running with the football as he has rushed for 251 yards and averaged 4.6 rush yards per carry, while Mike Tolbert has pitched in with 206 yards rushing. As a result, this has opened things up for Newton to be a much more effective passer. The likes of Greg Olsen and Steve Smith have been able to benefit from the running game opening things up for them downfield.
Precisely because of the success of the Panthers’ rushing game, the 49ers’ defense will have to shut down or at least contain the Panthers’ running attack.
It is clear that the Panthers have done a very good job of establishing their running attack during their recent 4-1 run, something they failed to do consistently last season. It is no coincidence that Newton’s success as a passer, especially on third downs, has been due to the fact that teams have had to respect the Panthers’ ability to be an effective rushing team.
For the 49ers’ defense, the challenge will be to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and allow the linebacker corps to play the run much more effectively, as opposed to being back into the second level. Being able to stop the Panthers from effectively running the football will allow the 49ers to put pressure on Newton and make the challenge of covering Smith and Olsen an easier task.