The San Francisco 49ers defense impressed in Week 1, when they were the only team in the NFL to log a shutout.
The front seven bottled up Todd Gurley allowing him only 47 yards on 17 carries. The difference in Week 2? The Carolina Panthers have more than a couple offensive weapons.
But for the Panthers, their attack all starts with Newton. Can the Niners follow the blueprint laid out by the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl and again in the season opener by continuing to pressure — and hit — the reigning NFL MVP?
According to defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, yes and no.
“You look at a lot of stuff. But you’ve got to be true to yourself,” he said Wednesday. “You’ve got to be true to who your players are, what you believe in scheme-wise and then you’ve got to go play.”
While the front seven is talented, with Ray-Ray Armstrong emerging as a solid pass rusher to complement the talents of veterans Ahmad Brooks and NaVorro Bowman, it still doesn’t feature Von Miller — the best at what he does in the league.
But let’s say the Niners rise to the occasion and contain Newton on the ground. Unlike the Rams, with only Gurley and Tavon Austin as formidable weapons, the Panthers are loaded on the offensive attack.
If they sell out to stop Newton on the read-option and don’t land a hit, running back Jonathan Stewart, a former player for 49ers’ head coach Kelly at the University of Oregon, will expose open rushing lanes. In that case, play-action schemes will open up receivers down the field. And with Kelvin Benjamin back from an ACL injury to help tight end Greg Olsen in the passing game, the Panthers are fully stocked with playmaking pass-catchers.
So it all starts with stuffing Newton, because if they don’t, the Faithful will be watching a spread-out defense scrambling to react as Carolina’s skill players march the ball down the field.
Another thing to consider: The Panthers kicked off the NFL season last Thursday; the 49ers wrapped up Week 1 with the late-night Monday night game.
The ill effects of traveling across the country for an early game against an angry, well-rested, skill-laden Panthers team isn’t lost on Kelly.
“You can complain about it, but it’s not going to change,” he said. “I think you have to embrace it.”
Embrace the challenges and adjust might be the credo of Kelly’s first year with the Niners as he inherited a rough roster and an organization in turmoil. He silenced the doubters in Week 1, can Kelly do it again by declawing the Kitties?
It’s unlikely, because not only is the Panthers’ offense worlds above the Rams’, it’s unlikely their best defensive player will have a meltdown — a’la Aaron Donald — as they get exposed by Blaine Gabbert and his gang of unknowns.
And to think, it was all good just a week ago.