Week 2 at Carolina Panthers
Sunday, September 18 at 1 p.m. ET
This isn’t a fair spot on the 49ers schedule. They have to travel all the way across the country, on a short week, and take on the reigning NFC Champion Carolina Panthers.
OK, so the Panthers no longer have standout cornerback Josh Norman, but Carolina’s vaunted defense — which ranked sixth in the NFL a year ago — still boasts two All-Pros (linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis), and defensive tackle Kawaan Short led the team with 11 sacks.
Oh, and there’s that Cam Newton guy too.
No matter how 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil schemes it up, Newton’s quarterbacking abilities will be tough to handle. Carolina’s offensive game plan last year was one of the more unique schemes seen in recent seasons, so how can a young 49ers defense react? Will this unit be able to effectively bottle up tight end Greg Olsen and negate Newton’s abilities?
The best solution may be to try and exploit Carolina’s Norman-less secondary, which did allow over 3,700 yards through the air last season.
Why the 49ers Win
There aren’t too many reasons why this would happen, aside from those cliches we won’t get into.
The Denver Broncos showed what an effective pass rush can do to Newton, although the 49ers aren’t anywhere close to replicating those sorts of efforts. Especially with linebacker Aaron Lynch suspended for the first four games of 2016.
Maybe, just maybe, rookie defensive end DeForest Buckner has some pass-rushing impact, along with teammate lineman Arik Armstead.
While the passing game may be the most effective way to exploit a less-than questionable Carolina secondary, running the ball would be the surefire way to keep the Panthers’ No. 1 ranked offense from a year ago off the field.
No, a win won’t come easy. At all.
Why the 49ers Lose
There are probably too many reasons to list. The short week, extensive travel and being away from home are all non-helping factors.
And the Panthers were in the Super Bowl last season for a reason. They’re good. Really good.
Newton and Co. shouldn’t have too much difficulty overworking a generally young and inexperienced 49ers defense, and it’s doubtful O’Neil has much of a scheme to throw Carolina’s offense off its game.
Flipping to the other side, this should be a real test for San Francisco’s revamped offensive line against one of the premier front-seven units in the NFL.
Next: Week 3 at Seattle Seahawks