Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why the Carolina Panthers may Have the Advantage over the 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers' "diamond" formation
Week Ten gave us one of the better games of the year between the Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ers. Yes, the NFL and it's fans have turned away from liking and promoting hard-hitting defensive battles; but some of the year's greatest games come from the "old school" matchups.

In that game, we saw what I expect this one is going to bring us. We saw Colin Kaepernick throw under 100 yards, Cam Newton complete just half of his passes, and the Carolina defense get pressure all afternoon long. This game is pretty straight-forward and you're going to get what you expect, but this time, there could be something that is just a bit different come game-day.

Overshadowed by a great game, Frank Gore had a big performance for Jim Harbaugh's bunch. Rushing for 82 yards over 16 carries, Gore was able to take advantage of a couple big openings to set up great field position for San Francisco. His biggest run of the day was 17 yards, one where he was able to find a big hole on the right side.

He had great success, but what we don't see is why the big runs happen. Once we see a back hit a hole and fly, we're quick to give credit to the runner and put the blame on the opposition's front-seven. In Gore's case in Week Ten, he had a bit of help from superstar Bruce Miller. Yes, I just put the term "superstar" in front of Miller's name thanks to his undeniable skills. He is a huge part of this team and not having him against a defense like Carolina is going to be a huge blow.

Here's an example of what he was able to do against the stout Panther defense earlier in the year:

  
Here, you'll see Bruce Miller (#49) lined up to the left of the 49ers' formation. They have seven blockers at the point of attack to counteract the Panthers, who have eight men in the box. Miller will be the eighth blocker for the Frank Gore run, but he is going to have to hurry to the second level, find the one free linebacker and seal him off...

 
Here you see the Offensive Line do their job, but Thomas Davis (Carolina) is still left open right where Gore needs to run. Miller is able to surge through from the other side with perfect precision to seal off Davis and let Gore through for a 17 yard gain.
 
This play was just one of multiple plays that Miller was able to use his smarts and quickness to excel to the next level and beat the "unblocked man". When I watched back from Week Ten, I saw Miller pop on tape multiple times when the 49ers needed the big play.
 
There's no doubt that Miller is an impact player. Don't write off this loss just because he is a fullback...when it comes to blocking, Miller is one of the best. Against a defense that swarms to the ball like the Panthers, the running game is going to need every bit of firepower they can get.
 
I asked ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer if he thought Miller's absence would hurt the 49ers. He said while Miller is a "good player and very versatile", he isn't a game-changer.
 
Our own Jason Feirman said that the biggest problem will be the lack of a third-down threat out of the backfield. Before his injury, Miller had 25 catches with an average of almost 10 yards per grab.
 
What do you think the 49ers need to do to beat the Panthers? Weigh in with your comments below.
 
Pictures courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

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