After watching their quarterback run for a season-high 98 yards in the wild-card game Sunday, the 49ers say they wouldn’t be surprised if their next opponent, Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers, leans on his legs more than normal with a trip to the NFC Championship Game at stake.
“Absolutely,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Thursday. “When you have a quarterback of Cam Newton’s ability in this type of game, I think he’ll be apt to run maybe a little bit more than he would normally. They may even call more of the quarterback runs for him, the quarterback powers and lead draws – anticipating more of them from them.”
During the regular season, Newton ran for 585 yards, tops among quarterbacks and 61 yards more than Kaepernick. But Newton had only 15 yards on eight carries in the Panthers’ 10-9 victory in Week 10 against the 49ers, who sacked him three times.
The 49ers likely will rely on their front seven defenders, especially linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, to contain Newton. The first splash of Bowman’s career occurred early in the 2011 season when he continuously corralled Michael Vick and made sure the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback didn’t hurt the 49ers with his feet.
“That’s everyone’s job,” Bowman said of stopping Newton from gobbling up yards on the ground. “It starts up front and those guys doing their job. And then if he gets away from those guys, it trickles down. But he’s a guy that has to be paid attention to when it comes to his scrambling. So for us as a defense, we have to keep that in mind the whole game.”
Neither 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick nor Newton excelled in their previous meeting. Newton completed a season-low 50 percent of his passes and finished with a 52.7 passer rating. He only had one lower rating, in Week 5 against Arizona.
Bowman pointed out that the Panthers have had plenty of time to tweak their game plan.
“They had, I think, two weeks to look at us,” he said. “So we’re expecting some different looks that we haven’t seen.”
No Rogers – Cornerback Carlos Rogers said he’s making progress from his Dec. 29 hamstring strain, but he missed his second practice of the week Thursday and it seems unlikely he will play Sunday against the Panthers. Rogers said he began sprinting at 10- and 20-yard intervals Wednesday.
“If I can continue to (ramp) that up to further yards and I can continue to go, I’m going to go,” he said. “And if I can’t do that, I don’t want to set it back. Because if I tear it again, I’m done for the rest of the season for sure.”
Earlier in the day, Fangio said Rogers would have to practice at least some this week to play against the Panthers. If Rogers can’t play, the cornerback lineup would be the same as it was against Green Bay – Tarell Brown and Tramaine Brock starting and Perrish Cox playing the nickel position.
Asked why Cox, and not Eric Wright, got the call in Green Bay, Fangio had a blunt answer: “Perrish had a better week of preparation.”
Wright suffered a mild hamstring strain last week, but he was healthy enough to play in Sunday’s game and is not on the injury report this week.
Injury update – Rogers was the only player who didn’t practice Thursday. Defensive end Justin Smith and center Jonathan Goodwin were back after resting. Defensive end Demarcus Dobbs was back, too, although he practiced on a limited basis. Dobbs is dealing with shoulder and knee injuries.