Well, now that everyone, their brother and their house cat has weighed in on this week’s “Game of the Year/Decade/Century,” I figured I’d tack a different course and delve into the statistics of the two teams involved and share with you what I’ve found. Let’s get right to it:
Carolina: (20) 332.8 yds/game; (12) 25.5 pts/game
San Fran: (16) 342.9 yds/game; (5) 27.s pts/game
Carolina: (8) 130.1 yds/game – 4.0 yds/attempt
San Fran: (1) 153.0 yds/game – 4.5 yds/attempt
Carolina (25) 202.6 yds/game – 7.5 yds/att
San Fran: (32) 189.9 yds/game – 8.0 yds/att
Carolina: (3) 299.9 yds/game; (2) 13.2 pts/game
San Fran: (6) 325.1 yds/game; (4) 18.1 pts/game
Carolina: (2) 79.1 yds/game; 3.7 yds/attempt
San Fran: (11) 104.6 yds/game; 3.9 yds/attempt
Carolina: (10) 220.8 yds/game
San Fran: (8) 220.5 yds/game
I find it interesting that both teams are so close in so many different areas on both sides of the ball but not horribly surprised since both teams appear to be built very similarly…strong running the ball and stopping the run. They pass sparingly but effectively and have very similar styles of quarterback play.
In fact, San Fran is #1 in running and #32 in passing so the Panthers, like all teams, will look to bottle up the Niners’ running game. Most teams can’t. Carolina’s weakness in recent years – defending the run up the middle – has become their greatest strength in 2013.
True strength vs. strength here.
Cam vs. Colin
Both QBs run about a 4.55-40, but Cam is a slightly larger man (6’5″ 245 vs 6’4″ 230). Colin may have a very slight edge in pure speed, but Cam is the more powerful, physical runner and his superior strength gives him an “escapability” factor Kaepernick doesn’t quite have. Cam’s been compared favorably to Big Ben with the way he can shrug off hands on him, use his legs and upper-body strength to turn and scramble to buy time while still looking downfield or, in certain cases, to take off with the ball.
Once in the open field, Cam has to be harder to plan a defense for because of his power. He’s as likely to “truck” a linebacker or especially a defensive back to get that key first down as he is to “juke” or glide in a finesse move to squeeze out an extra hard or two. Colin isn’t going to try to out-muscle defenders, despite his “Mary Katherine Gallagher” signature pose; he’d rather use his speed or get down than get hit, and that’s just smart football.
Both QBs know when to get down and when to take a chance, so their running ability is roughly equivalent. You won’t see Cam breaking Colin’s QB single-game rushing record but you won’t see Colin breaking Cam’s single-season QB TD record, either. Those really put the exclamation point on their respective styles.
Where Cam has the edge on Colin is in game experience overall and is playing the best football of his career right now. Colin hasn’t quite captured the magic he had last year, but a lot of that is due to injuries to his targets.
Cam’s 120.7 passer rating on third downs over the past four games indicates he’s making clutch plays at crunch time despite key drops by his targets a few times I’ve seen. Cam’s QBR (QB rating) for the season is 93.1 while Colin’s is 86.7. That’s probably enough of a difference to be statistically significant, but isn’t exactly a massive gap.
While the two teams both have strong ground games, the Panthers have an odd edge here because they now have FOUR competent ball carriers – and all with different skills.
Big 235-lb RB Jonathan Stewart has returned to action in his first NFL game this season last week and was effective in limited action. He’s got great hands out of the backfield and a load with the ball in his hands.
Mike Tolbert is even more of a load to tackle, at about 5’8″ and a ton and a half…he’s listed at 240 I think but that was more like his weight in the 7th grade than today I think…and he gets a lot of goal line/vulture carries, is a good blocker and pass-protector, can catch and frankly do it all except get the breakaway run.
DeAngelo Williams is the “speed” threat and a great change of pace to Tolbert and/or Stewart, while Cam rounds out the last of the rock-toters.
The Niners have a completely different style in that they’ll feed meat grinder Frank Gore 25 times a contest while subbing him out for the speedier Kendall Hunter. Gore should get 3-4 carries for each one Hunter gets.
The key here is which defense will be able to stop the run better, and I think both teams will have trouble sustaining a ground attack.
Look no further than the best two MLBs in the league – San Fran’s Patrick Willis and Carolina’s wonder-kid Luke Kuechly.
Kuechly and Willis both have incredible instincts. Kuechly has a good edge over Willis in speed while Willis makes up for that with his experience and steady but not flashy play. Kuechly has the edge in “upside” in any particular game due to that speed and his incredible fundamentals. The two teams could swap MLBs and neither one would miss a beat. They’re both that good.
The only area I see either team having any advantage over the other is that the Carolina Panthers have a healthier team overall right now than do the Niners. San Francisco is getting a lot of people off of injuries around now and it’s not clear who all will be playing, but assuming they ALL do, they won’t be quite in “football shape” and any individual’s contribution should be limited…much like how Jonathan Stewart was last week (and continues this week) in coming off his long layoff due to his ankle surgery.
The Niners still have WR Anquan Boldin and TE Vernon Davis. Boldin plays like a TE and Davis plays like a WR, so Carolina’s defense has to adjust for their peculiar skill sets. Boldin is FEARLESS in traffic especially now that the NFL has put in so many rules about hitting “defenseless” players.
Vernon Davis has 4.37 speed to go with his TE frame and is nearly impossible to cover man-to-man. He has the size of a TE and speed of a deep threat and you only have to look at his brother, Indianapolis CB Vontae Davis, to see the family resemblance and athletic freakishness there.
The Panthers have cagey vet Steve Smith on the outside. While he has lost a step or two over the past two years, he’s still one of the strongest and most physical receivers in the NFL despite his 5’9″ height. Throw in his patented “trash-talking” to get into opponents’ heads and off their game and the complete package he has is a bit of an “X-factor” for ANY team to deal with. Jim Harbaugh and/or his defensive coaches are going to have to already have been drilling into their DBs’ heads to NOT TAKE HIS BAIT and draw flags.
The Panthers also have Ted Ginn, jr., who likely wants to prove something Sunday. Ginn, a top-ten draft pick by the Miami Dolphins seven years ago, spent three seasons in Miami and another three in…San Francisco. Panthers’ GM David Gettleman grabbed the blazing-fast WR on the cheap this offseason if nothing else to give Cam that deep threat that Steve Smith no longer can consistently be while boosting the electricity in the return game at the same time.
I really think Ginn is going to be the key to this game. I know he’s not a star, he’s inconsistent, but I do know last year at least.
I had said before the Super Bowl that the Niners’ biggest weakness was in special teams coverage and that a big play given up there could make the difference in the outcome of that game.
…Enter Jacoby “Dancing with the Stars” Jones and his 107-yard kickoff return TD. The Niners lost by three.
With Ginn having some extra skin in this game, I’m thinking we should see him at his very best. With both offenses and defenses being SO similar in SO many ways, if Ginn can get a good return or two even without scoring, flipping the field could mean the Panthers get a TD out of a drive that might have otherwise ended in a FG, or a FG on a drive that might have ended in a punt, and that, in effect, should neutralize the “Home Field Advantage” at Candlestick or whatever its called now.
When I took a look at the Panthers’ remaining schedule and made a quick prediction on each game, I had the Niners winning by 3…with the caveat that you had to twist my arm to get me to make a pick at the time.
I still feel that way. It’s really a “pick ‘em” game, or should be, and with all else equal, NFL teams generally win more at home than not.
When you consider the last trip out west the Panthers made they got scalded by a Cardinals team that is admittedly a bit on the rise, that experience should help the Panthers better adjust to playing out there. Been there – done that. Got their T-shirts stripped off of them, but they know what to expect on a long road trip now.
Still, it’s not a home game for Carolina and I’ll just stick by my base prediction that the first team to 17 points should win this one. It’ll be an old-style slugfest in the dirt that should make guys like Dick Butkus get the warm fuzzies for a bygone era reborn – even if but for a single match-up.
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