Quarterbacks beware, the Panthers and 49ers can really get after the passer


CHARLOTTE – Kyle Allen and Jimmy Garoppolo are in the same boat this week.

Both quarterbacks are going to be staring down an intimidating group of pass rushers when the Panthers and 49ers square off Sunday in San Francisco.

Carolina leads the league with a staggering 27 sacks in six games. The undefeated 49ers are tied for fifth with 20 sacks and they are allowing just 10.7 points per game.

As you can imagine, both head coaches are having to spend a lot of time thinking about how they're going to handle the guys coming after their quarterbacks.

"You look at those guys, they're rolling that group of guys through, you never really know which combination you are going to get," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "We've talked about the different skillsets of the guys our offensive line will face, and hopefully they're doing the same thing for all of our guys."

Yup, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is going through the same exercise.

"Yes, it's good to hear other people worry about that stuff because that's what I've worried about every single time I've played the Panthers in my life," said Shanahan, who formerly was the offensive coordinator in Atlanta. "They remind me a lot of our defense. It starts with the defensive line. It's a huge advantage when you have the type of defensive line that can affect the quarterback with only four guys coming. It's a lot easier to play coverage with seven."

We know all about the Panthers' pass rush, with veterans Mario Addison, Gerald McCoy, Bruce Irvin and Dontari Poe wreaking havoc alongside young rushers like rookies Brian Burns, Christian Miller and even former first-rounder Vernon Butler, who had two strip-sacks last time out.

Carolina has also dialed up timely blitzes, with guys like linebacker Shaq Thompson and several defensive backs getting in on the act (defensive backs James Bradberry, Eric Reid and Javien Elliott have all gotten to the QB).

But what about San Francisco?

"They're scary, man," left guard Greg Van Roten said.

The 49ers' foundation is built on their D-line, with 19 of the team's 20 sacks coming from defensive linemen.

Dee Ford leads their group with 4.5 sacks. The Chiefs, who selected Ford in the first round back in 2014, traded him to San Francisco this offseason.

Next is rookie Nick Bosa, who has four sacks. The dynamic defensive end was the second overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Then there are two 6-foot-7 monsters – Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner – who have combined for 6.5 sacks. Both were also first round picks.

And we can't forget about Solomon Thomas, the third overall pick in 2017.

Bottom line: San Francisco has invested a lot of resources to build a formidable front line.

"They just get after you. This defense is about getting up the field to disrupt," Van Roten explained. "And they have the body types to do that. They have two guys that are 6-7 and very athletic. They're not just slugs. It's going to be a tough challenge."

It goes both ways.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has enjoyed great protection so far this season despite San Francisco's injuries on the offensive line, as he's only been sacked eight times.

But the Panthers and their 27 sacks present a unique challenge.

"They're very talented. Big and strong up front," Garoppolo said. "They get after you with four guys. They don't have to pressure that much."

Here's the thing we all know about rushing the passer – it's a lot easier to do when you've got a lead.

The 49ers, as their record indicates, are spending a lot of time in front. San Francisco averages 35:42 game time with a lead – second-most in the NFC behind Green Bay, according to Football Outsiders. That allows them to rely on the run, which they've done rather effectively with 172.7 rushing yards per game (the No. 2 mark in the league).

So, can Carolina put the 49ers behind to really release the hounds?

As safety Tre Boston said after Carolina's big win in London: "When you turn those dogs loose, you may as well call the police, because the thieves are coming right with them."