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Week 1 Game Recap: Carolina Panthers 23, San Francisco 49ers 3


What you need to know

Carolina Panthers

Receivers continued to struggle to separate at times, with Kelvin Benjamin in particular having a hard time

The Panthers used both Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart in the backfield together very often, and clearly plan to feature this as a staple of their offense

Cam Newton settled into the game in the second half and looked much more comfortable. He played within himself as the Panthers defense kept the game well in control.

Christian McCaffrey may not have lit up the stat sheet, but his impact was felt from the first snap. Used as a wildcat quarterback and all over the formation as a runner and receiver, he will play a huge role for the Panthers this year.

San Francisco 49ers

Brian Hoyer is fine when the play is well-protected and the first read comes open, but he is otherwise a limiting factor on this offense. Carlos Hyde was in top form, but couldn't get in a rhythm with the offense unable to sustain drives. Pierre Garcon was getting open at will and should fulfill his PPR promise.

Carolina Panthers

QB Cam Newton, 67 offensive snaps, Pass: 14 - 25 - 171 - 2 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 6 - 3 - 0
Comfort was the key for Cam Newton in the early stages, and offensive coordinator Mike Shula's play calls were clearly with his quarterback's confidence in mind. The talents of backfield duo Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey were heavily emphasised as the passing game sputtered in the first few drives. Newton had an early fumble on a center-quarterback exchange, and was nearly intercepted after being baited into a throw by linebacker Reuben Foster. Newton eventually knocked off some of the rust, however, and fired a nice touchdown pass to Russell Shepard. The receiver found a weak spot in the 49ers' zone defense, and Newton's pass gave him the opportunity to juke a defender and score. Typically, Newton's inaccuracies came to the fore at times; his most flagrant error being missing a wide open touchdown pass to tight end Ed Dickson. The offensive line afforded Newton fantastic protection throughout the game, keeping him very clean. When pressured, he showed good poise and vision to keep his eyes downfield and link up with McCaffrey and others. His second touchdown pass came on a well-designed play that exploited the 49ers' attention on McCaffrey. With both McCaffrey and Stewart in the backfield, the rookie pulled away the underneath coverage with a flat route, allowing Stewart to sneak in behind his offensive line mates. Newton had a simple dump off pass to Stewart for the score, who finished impressively by diving over the top. Newton was locked in with his passes in the second half, looking like a totally different player. He delivered on time and accurately to Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess on crucial third down plays to keep drives alive and to salt the game away. His interception was a throw that perhaps he shouldn't have made, but such is his trust in Benjamin he attempted it anyway. It came on a deep route to the burly receiver, but the 49ers' single high safety made a great break on the pass and intercepted it with one hand.

RB Jonathan Stewart, 29 offensive snaps, Rush: 18 - 65 - 0, Rec: 2 - 17 - 1 (2 targets)
Lacking the flash of debutant Christian McCaffrey, Jonathan Stewart nonetheless produced a quality outing for the Panthers offense. Things did not go as smoothly as they would have liked on the ground, with Stewart often having to break a tackle or two to earn even meagre gains. Not cowed by the physical 49ers front seven, Stewart continued to pound the ball through narrow gaps and showed good burst to bounce outside on occasion. At times both he and McCaffrey featured in the backfield together, with jet sweep motion and other pre-snap moves giving Stewart clearer running lanes as the defense was forced to respect the rookie. Stewart was the main man when it came to the red zone. Although he was stopped a couple of times, he scored a touchdown on a well executed screen pass. On the play, McCaffrey was lined up in front of Stewart in an offset I formation. McCaffrey flew into the flat and attracted the underneath coverage, giving Cam Newton a simple dump off pass on a screen to Stewart, who dived over the top for the touchdown.

RB Christian McCaffrey, 47 offensive snaps, Rush: 13 - 47 - 0, Rec: 5 - 38 - 0 (7 targets)
Statistically, the big unveil of the eighth overall pick Christian McCaffrey may have left some disappointed. Dig deeper, however, and his debut had much more positives than negatives. The Panthers made it an emphasis to get the ball into McCaffrey's hands early and often, using him as a wildcat quarterback, in the slot, out wide and as a conventional back. Even when McCaffrey wasn't touching the ball, his presence was attracting defensive attention, opening up room for other players to prosper. He and Jonathan Stewart often shared the backfield at times, with a fake jet sweep to McCaffrey opening up a lane for Stewart to run through. At times McCaffrey tried to do too much and didn't trust his instincts. One play in particular saw him stutter and hesitate a little too much before making a cut upfield, allowing the pursuit to close and tackle him. He proved his worth as a pass catcher, giving Cam Newton an easy option on some dump off passes and turning them up the field for nice gains. As a runner, he and Stewart found it tough sledding against the 49ers front seven, but McCaffrey ripped off some nice game-killing first down runs at the end of the contest. The only blotch on his score card on what was otherwise a fine debut was his fumble. After being handed the football, McCaffrey was quickly stoned in the backfield. He managed to spin off the contact and ran laterally to get outside the pursuit. Despite having two hands on the ball, however, two 49ers defenders converged on him and the hit popped the ball loose. To his credit, he responded well to finish the game and looks to be a central figure if this game is anything to go by.

WR Devin Funchess, 45 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 20 - 0 (2 targets)
The forgotten man on a day the Panthers passing attack wasn't required to do much, Devin Funchess did his job when called upon. An excellent route to set up the defensive back to open his hips up allowed Funchess to get inside leverage on a skinny post pattern in the second half. Featured often, Funchess simply wasn't targeted as Cam Newton sprayed shorter, higher percentage passes to the likes of Christian McCaffrey and Kelvin Benjamin.

WR Russell Shepard, 20 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 53 - 1 (2 targets)
One of the new faces in the Panthers offense scored their first touchdown of the season. Lined up in a three by one set in the tight slot, Shepard sprinted up the seam and bent his route towards the sideline. The 49ers defense overplayed the deeper patterns run by Devin Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin, leaving Shepard unaccounted for. Cam Newton's pass was on the money, and Shepard made the pursuing safety look silly with a beautifully executed spin move to escape his grasp. Shepard was mostly featured in four-wide sets, with Benjamin and Funchess the de facto starting duo. Later in the game Shepard made a nice catch on a high fastball from Newton, attacking the football with his hands.

WR Kelvin Benjamin, 43 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 25 - 0 (5 targets)
A lack of rhythm in the passing game had a direct effect on Kelvin Benjamin in the early stages. Always a trusted target of his quarterback, Benjamin found it tough to establish any kind of separation against a well marshalled 49ers defense. Cam Newton was almost baited into an interception on a quick slant to Benjamin. Linebacker Reuben Foster read the quarterback's intentions and buzzed underneath the throw, but was unable to come up with it. The Panthers continued to line Benjamin up in stacked alignments to avoid him facing press coverage, but this did not have the desired impact. Subsequent targets on a shallow crossing route and on a sideline pattern were both incomplete. Newton finally let loose and targeted Benjamin on a deep pattern, but an excellent interception by a 49ers safety put paid to any potential big play. The ball was slightly underthrown, forcing Benjamin to reach back for it. The big receiver made a nice catch on a skinny post route late in the game, but this will be a clash he remembers more for missed opportunities than anything else.

TE Greg Olsen, 67 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 18 - 0 (4 targets)
On a day dominated by a Panthers front seven that kept the feisty 49ers at arm's length, the offense stayed conservative. Opportunities for Cam Newton's favorite target of the past few seasons, Greg Olsen, were few and far between. The passing game sputtered in the early stages as Newton got his feet under him. Olsen found some room to roam on a seam pattern in the second half and earned a personal foul for an illegal hit on a defenceless player. When he wasn't engaged with defensive players at the line of scrimmage as a blocker, Olsen remained a consistent part of the passing attack; he just didn't get many looks. Late on, he made a nice grab in traffic to set up a red zone opportunity, absorbing a sandwich hit from two 49ers.


San Francisco 49ers

QB Brian Hoyer, 57 offensive snaps, Pass: 24 - 35 - 193 - 0 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 1 - -5 - 0
Hoyer looked good on plays that went as designed. When he had a clean pocket and the first option was open, Hoyer was accurate and on time. When there was pressure from the Panthers defense, he was ineffective. Drives sputtered because of sacks, penalties, and unsuccessful plays and the 49ers were unable to score a touchdown in this game. Hoyer was also picked to open the second half, killing any chance the 49ers had to create momentum. CJ Beathard will get to start before the season is over.

RB Carlos Hyde, 45 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 45 - 0, Rec: 6 - 32 - 0 (6 targets)
Hyde was primed for a big game, but the 49ers couldn't sustain drives and get him in a rhythm. He got to the second level on multiple runs and ran with great burst and power. The Panthers tough linebackers met him with equal force at the end of runs to limit his yards after contact. Hyde was used more as a receiver in the second half and looked good in the role. He was the red zone offense on a late drive deep into Panthers territory but couldn't crack the Panthers defense for a score.

RB Matt Breida, 12 offensive snaps, Rush: 4 - 11 - 0
Breida got some work to spell Carlos Hyde and looked quick through the hole, but won't value unless Hyde goes down.

RB Kyle Juszczyk, 19 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 0 - 0, Rec: 2 - 17 - 0 (4 targets)
Juszczyk got the first target of the game, but also had a few drops and couldn't convert a fourth-down opportunity. He'll be part of this offense, but the volume and talent level aren't enough to create fantasy value.

WR Pierre Garcon, 50 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 81 - 0 (10 targets)
Garcon got open easily all day and also added value with hard-nosed running after the catch. With better pass-blocking, he could have had 8 or 9 catches and 100 yards receiving. Garcon didn't shy after from tacklers or have any problems creating separation off of the line. He broke a tackle for a long gain on a fourth down reception and is clearly the primary option in the passing game.

WR Marquise Goodwin, 50 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 21 - 0 (6 targets)
Goodwin got one good deep shot from Hoyer that he couldn't haul in and was overthrown on another that he had at least a step on his opponent. Later he was featured more as a short-range receiver and even got a red zone target in the end zone. Goodwin was getting a big cushion on an easy first-down creating reception and looks like he'll be a steady part of the gameplan every week.

TE George Kittle, 54 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 27 - 0 (6 targets)
Kittle was a surprise active after being listed as questionable a hamstring injury. He got a handful of short receptions where the 49ers were asking him to beat the first tackler to create a larger play and he couldn't. Still, his role size was encouraging for a rookie and as he gets healthier, he could approach fantasy relevance in deeper leagues.