When this season’s schedule came out, few people circled the match-up between the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers as a must-watch game. Since the season as progressed, however, this contest featuring two of the league’s most mobile quarterbacks has become much more intriguing. Both teams have recovered from early season struggles, both are on multiple-game winning streaks, and both sit in second place in their respective divisions threatening to overtake first place. Both also have starting third-year quarterbacks who are rising stars in the league. A lot is riding on this game for both teams, but in this duel between Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton, only one can emerge victorious. Despite the excellent year Newton is having, and the Panthers’ imposing defense, bet on Kaepernick if the 49ers use him effectively.
Newton, who was has been both praised and condemned in his NFL career, is having a resurgent year. He has completed 154 passes on 239 attempts for 1,801 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions with an overall quarterback rating of 93.1. Newton has also rushed for 251 yards and 4 rushing touchdowns. In terms of his immeasurable qualities as a starting quarterback, Newton is a much more mature player and makes better decisions on the field in his third year in the NFL.
Newton’s supporting cast has been essential for his and the team’s success. The Panthers’ leading receiver, Steve Smith, has 36 catches for 387 yards and 3 touchdowns. The offense also features former 49er Ted Ginn who has gotten more opportunity as a receiver with the Panthers, making 21 catches for 367 yards and 2 touchdowns on the season. Tight end Greg Olson has 34 catches for 426 yards and 3 touchdowns. Fullback Mike Tolbert has been productive as well, with 57 carries for 206 yards and 4 touchdowns. Rounding out the offense is Panthers’ leading rusher DeAngelo Williams who, although hampered by a quad injury, has 127 carries for 519 yards. Jonathan Stewart, the team’s starting back in 2012, returned from an ankle injury last week against the Atlanta Falcons for 9 carries and 43 yards.
In comparison to Newton and his supporting cast, Kaepernick’s statistics are not as pretty but he has won more games against tougher opponents than Newton. Kaepernick has received some criticism for not producing gaudy statistics like in week 1 against the Green Bay Packers where he threw for over 400 yards. For Kaepernick, winning games is more important than producing good fantasy football numbers. He has done so by working on his ball control. In the first four games of the 49ers’ season, Kaepernick made 7 turnovers by himself which included 4 interceptions and 3 fumbles. In the last four games, he threw one interception and made one fumble.
For the season, Kaepernick has completed 113 of 198 passes for 1,584 yards, 9 touchdowns, 5 interceptions and an overall quarterback rating of 87.6. He is also the 49ers’ second leading rusher with 294 yards gained on the ground and 3 rushing touchdowns. His supporting cast includes Anquan Boldin, the 49ers’ leading receiver, who has 38 catches for 551 yards and 2 touchdowns. Vernon Davis has 29 catches for 518 yards and 7 touchdowns. Bruce Miller has 13 catches for 158 yards and 0 touchdowns. Miller’s production and blocking has been particularly key for the 49ers’ offense, helping Frank Gore gain 618 yards and 7 rushing touchdowns.
While both Newton and Kaepernick have solid supporting casts, the main quality they share in common is their ability to run. As these two young mobile quarterbacks prepare to face each other for the first time, speculation will center on how much the 49ers will allow Kaepernick to use his legs and whether the 49ers’ defense can contain Newton’s. Kaepernick’s legs are arguably more dangerous than Newton’s. If given free rein by head coach Jim Harbaugh, Kaepernick will certainly run right over the Panthers, tough defense or not.
Sara DeBord is an NFL writer for www.footballandfutbol.com and www.baysportsreport.com.