49ers travel to Carolina for Divisional Round

By Gabe Schapiro

One down, three to go. After last weeks win over the Green Packers, the San Francisco 49ers advanced to the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. This Sunday they travel to Carolina, where they will be taking on the Panthers. The second seeded Panthers won the NFC South title with a 12-4 record. They had a first round bye.

Carolina started the season 1-3, before going on a tear and finishing the year on a 11-1 run. They are led by quarterback Cam Newton, who is one of the most athletic QB’s in the league. He struggled at times, but overall the third year rising star had his best season yet. However, he doesn’t have great weapons at his disposal. His favorite targets are tight end Greg Olsen, who leads the team in receiving and touchdown catches, and wideouts Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. None of the group are real game breakers. As a whole they scored the 18th most points per game in the regular season. They lean significantly on their running game, which ranked 11th. They finished an abysmal 29th in passing yards per game.

The reason the Panthers are still a team to fear, is because of their stout defense. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is the captain of the unit, and is seemingly in on every play. Defensive end Greg Hardy is a great pass rusher, and finished with 15 sacks this season. They allowed the second fewest points in the league.

This matchup isn’t quite a unstoppable force hitting an unmovable object, but it’s close. The 49ers feature the third best rushing attack in the NFL, and they’ll need some solid production against the Carolina, which counter with the leagues second best run defense.

These two foes faced off in Week 10 at Candlestick Park, and the Panthers came away with a hard fought 10-9 victory. In the contest the 49ers failed to reach the endzone, but thanks to three field goals held a lead for much of the game. A late field goal by Carolina sealed the comeback win.

As the saying goes, it’s tough to beat the same team twice in one season. However, the 49ers are fresh off of accomplishing just that last week. This weekend the conditions will be nicer, but the opponent is tougher. Colin Kaepernick will need to be a game manager. He needs to limit his mistakes and grab the few opportunities he’ll get. Michael Crabtree appears to be getting better every week, which is a great sign. Frank Gore wasn’t busy, but did well when given the carries in their previous matchup. He rushed for 82 yards on 16 carries, good for 5.1 yards per carry.

Expect another hard-nosed, low scoring affair. It’s certainly a winnable game, but it could come down to which side blinks first.

49ers to be tested against the tough Carolina Panthers

By Gabe Schapiro

This Sunday at 1:05pm the San Francisco 49ers (6-2) will be taking on the Carolina Panthers (5-3) at the friendly confines of Candlestick Park. This matchup features two teams who have been on a roll over the past few weeks. The 49ers have won five straight, and are in second place in the NFC West, just one game back of the Seattle Seahawks. The Panthers had a shaky start, but have hit their stride, rattling off four wins in a row, putting themselves in second place in the NFC South, one game behind the New Orleans Saints.

San Francisco is coming off of their bye week, but two weeks ago they easily dismantled the Jacksonville Jaguars, coasting to a 42-10 victory. The 49ers quickly put the game out of reach, mounting a 28-3 lead by half time. San Francisco stuck with what has got them here, and did most of their damage on the ground, rushing for 221 yards as a team. Frank Gore ran for 71 yards and two scores on 19 carries. Colin Kaepernick had two rushing touchdowns of his own to along with 54 yards on seven carries. For good measure, Kendall Hunter also got in on the action, compiling a team-high 84 yards on the ground on just nine attempts. On the defensive side the 49ers suffocated the Jaguars offense, not letting them ever get much of anything going. The highlight was a Patrick Willis forced fumble that Dan Skuta returned for a touchdown.

The Panthers should present a much more formidable opponent. On offense they have their own electric duel threat at quarterback in Cam Newton. His primary weapons are running back DeAngelo Williams, who is having a solid but not great season, tight end Greg Olson, who is leading the team in receiving yards, and old reliable Steve Smith, who isn’t the dominant player he once was, but still poses a threat. Their defense is easily their biggest strength, however. Young linebacker Luke Kuechly has been fantastic, lead the team in tackles and tied for the team lead in interceptions. Pass rushers Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have consistently been giving opposing quarterbacks a hard time. As a unit they have allowed the second fewest yards and second fewest points per game in the NFL.

Sunday’s contest is a classic case of strength meeting strength. The 49ers have the fourth best rushing offense in the league, and they will be going up against the league’s best rush defense. Expect San Francisco to stick to their game plan, however, and go with a ground and pound approach. Depending on their success, however, they may need Kaepernick to air it out more than he has in recent weeks. Carolina’s defense hasn’t been as strong against the pass.

Mario Manningham and Aldon Smith are both expected to be active. It remains to be seen how limited they will be initially, but they could provide a big boost in what could be a tough week.

Oakland Raiders’ Jared Veldheer needs surgery, still able to play season

jared-veldheer-injury-oakland-raiders

 

By Kahlil Najar

NAPA –

It was revealed in a MRI on Tuesday that Oakland Raiders Left tackle Jared Veldheer partially tore his triceps at practice in Napa. Veldheer will undergo surgery to fix the tear however luckily it’s not a full tear which the Raiders had initially feared. If it had been a full tear Veldheer would have been out for the entire year but now it looks like he’ll be ready to play for most of the season.

If Veldheer’s injury was worse, it would have thrown a wrench into the system as the Raiders would have had to find someone to protect newly acquired Quarterback Matt Flynn as well as All-Pro but injury prone running back Darren McFadden – who with the addition of new offensive coordinator Greg Olson, is promised to get more time to run the ball and find his blockers which is where Veldheer excels.

With this scare, it points out that the Raiders do have some planning to do with finding a competent back up left tackle. As of right now they have Alex Barron who although being a first round draft pick when he entered the league in 2005, hasn’t played a game since 2010 when he started 11 games for the Dallas Cowboys. Then there’s second-round draft pick Menelik Watson from Florida State who can be groomed for the left tackle position but he has been out for almost all of camp with a calf injury.

Jared Veldheer has impressed all Raider fans ever since he came to the league in 2010 with his near perfect play and his durability as he’s started every game for the last two years. The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Veldheer as he’s in his contract year and since the Raiders will have a good amount of salary-cap room next year, it’s been speculated that he was a guaranteed signing before free agency. Hopefully Veldheer will be able to com back from this surgery and continue the form that all Raider fans are used to.