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Five Things to Watch vs. San Francisco: Offense faces a challenge


CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers end their three-week homestand this week, seeking offensive consistency and defensive continuity in front of a home crowd.

Carolina (1-3) will look to get back in the win column after its Week 4 loss to Arizona when the San Francisco 49ers (2-2) come to Bank of America Stadium for a 4:05 p.m. kickoff Sunday.

Here are five things to watch in Week 5:


Quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Panthers' offense are looking to put together a consistent and productive showing amid a less-than-ideal start to the season. Carolina's 262 total yards per game rank last in the league, and its 25.5 percent clip on third down (12-of-47) is also at the bottom.

They'll have a tough challenge in front of them in San Francisco's defense, allowing 234.5 total yards per game, tied at first in the league with the Buffalo Bills. The 49ers have allowed the fewest points per game (11.5) and yards per play (3.8) this year, and they're coming to Charlotte off a dominant showing against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night football when they didn't allow Los Angeles to score a touchdown.

San Francisco also brings the league's second-best passing defense to face Carolina's 30th-ranked passing attack. The 49ers are an effective pass-rushing team, with efforts led by defensive end Nick Bosa. Bosa's 6.0 sacks and 16 quarterback hits this season are both the highest numbers in the league, and he sacked Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford twice in Week 4.

Mayfield has taken 11 sacks on the year, tying him at eighth in the league, and leaders along the Panthers' offensive line said they're looking to improve with the task at hand against San Francisco.

Right guard Austin Corbett, who played with the Rams for three seasons, is familiar with the 49ers' front seven, given his time in the NFC West. Corbett has been sharing his knowledge of San Francisco's sound fundamentals and physicality with his teammates. 

"He always said it was the most physical game every year, so that's what we're ready for," left guard Brady Christensen said. "We've got to be ready for a bloodbath – just really a physical, physical game. We're excited for that up front. That's the type of game we love."


As the Panthers continue to manage their wide receiver rotations in Week 5, head coach Matt Rhule said to expect second-year wideout Terrace Marshall Jr. to be active against the 49ers. 

Marshall, Carolina's second-round pick of the 2021 draft, hasn't recorded a target this season and has only been on the field for six snaps across the two games when he was active. 

Rhule said the hamstring injury to wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., which has Shenault ruled out for the 49ers game, wasn't a primary factor in the decision to activate Marshall. Rhule said that he has impressed his coaches throughout the last three weeks of practice.

Marshall will look to add a spark to the Panthers' pass game, as Robbie Anderson, DJ Moore, and Shi Smith – the only healthy receivers who have recorded a catch this season – have yet to piece together a consistent rapport with Mayfield, particularly downfield. The Panthers are tied for 30th in the league in big plays, an area where Marshall's talents could be utilized well.


With a lack of third-down conversions paramount amid other recent issues, the Panthers' offense has struggled to stay on the field. Carolina's average time of possession is last in the league, averaging 24:18 per game through the first four weeks.  

That time differential leaves the Panthers' defense playing for long stretches, playing a more significant number of snaps when compared to the offense.

The defense has given up 42 points in the fourth quarter this year as they spend more time on the field, but defensive coordinator Phil Snow said the time of possession gap doesn't play into his evaluation of how the defense has performed. 

"You know, we don't even talk about that, right?" Snow said. "We've got to play for 60 minutes, and really our goal is that they have fewer points than we have. That's the goal every week, and it doesn't matter if you're on the field 50 plays or 80 plays; that's the goal. So that's what we talk about."


The Panthers' defense has been hit by injuries this week. Safety Jeremy Chinn is the most prominent loss, as he headed to injured reserve after sustaining what he described as a "really bad strain" in his hamstring.  

Linebacker Frankie Luvu (shoulder), defensive end Marquis Haynes Sr. (knee), and safety Xavier Woods (hamstring) popped up on the injury report this week. Luvu was limited on Friday's practice, while Haynes participated in full on Friday after being limited Wednesday. Rhule said he expects both of them to play Sunday. 

Woods, who did not practice all week, will be a "game-time decision," Rhule said. Woods provides veteran leadership in the Panthers' secondary. With Chinn out for at least four weeks on IR, the Panthers will need Woods' communication and experience when the defense faces versatile receiver Deebo Samuel.

Samuel leads the 49ers with 18 receptions, 246 receiving yards, and 359 scrimmage yards this season. He put his explosive ability on full display against the Rams, breaking free from multiple defenders en route to a 57-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.


With Chinn heading on IR, the Panthers brought veteran safety Juston Burris off the practice squad to bolster the secondary. 

Safety-nickel hybrid Myles Hartsfield and Sean Chandler, primarily a special teams contributor who can play snaps at safety, will also be part of the plan against San Francisco. 

Snow said he will be looking for all of the Panthers' defensive backs to get playing time against the 49ers, as they plan to deploy multiple personnel groupings in Chinn's absence.

View photos from past games between the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers. Carolina holds a 13-9 edge in the all-time series.