Panthers face NFL’s #1 Defense
by Sharon Thorsland
It’s been a rough start to the season for the Panthers, who are 1-3 on the year thanks mostly to an offense that can’t get going. They currently rank dead last in the league in total offense and next to last in passing offense. That makes this week’s opponent all the more daunting – the San Francisco 49ers come to town with their top ranked defense. The 49ers are 2-2 on the season after an impressive win over the Rams on Monday Night Football. They are allowing just 234 yards and 11.5 points per game. It starts up front with a ferocious pass rush. Star defensive end Nick Bosa leads the NFL with six sacks, he teams with Samson Ebukam, who has three sacks and a forced fumble. Former Gamecock Javon Kinlaw teams with 6’7 Arik Armstead inside. Outside linebacker Dre Greenlaw leads the team in tackles. “It’s a great challenge for us,” said Panther quarterback Baker Mayfield. “Their defense is playing at an extremely, extremely high level. Physical up front, their front seven kind of speaks for itself with the names, the players they have, and just how they’re playing.”
Mayfield and the Panthers will have to contend with a 49er’s secondary that is allowing just 161 passing yards per game, that’s 2nd in the NFL. Play-making safety Talanoa Hufanga anchors the back end, he has a pair of interceptions, one of them a pick six. =
The good news is that the 49er’s offense isn’t nearly as impressive as the defense, they’re managing just 325 yards and under 18 points per game. After trying unsuccessfully to trade quarterback Jimmy Garappolo this off season, the 9-year veteran is back under center after second year pro Trey Lance suffered a season ending ankle injury in week two. Garappolo isn’t mobile like Lance, but he’s thrown for 607 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. “He’s solid,” said Panther defensive end Brian Burns. “He’s a veteran quarterback, he’s been in the league a long time. He knows what to do and how to win a game. He makes good decisions.”
Burns and the Panthers defense will have their hands full with Pro Bowl receiver Deebo Samuel. The do everything player out of South Carolina is the team’s top receiver and second leading rusher and can be a nightmare to defend. All-pro tight end George Kittle is healthy, and the Niners have a solid running back in Jeff Wilson, who anchors a rushing attack that ranks 9th in the NFL averaging 135 yards per game. The Panthers defense is dinged up right now, with safety Jeremy Chinn on IR and fellow safety Xavier Woods and linebacker Frankie Luvu questionable with injuries.