Our staff writers break down the San Francisco 49ers Week 1 matchup, a home game against the Carolina panthers.
Let's dive into the keys to the game in this "Four Downs" preview of the 49ers home opener, presented by SunPower.1st Down:Who scores the 49ers first touchdown?@Joe_Fann: Kyle Juszczyk
Sunday is going to be one heck of a day to be a fullback. Juszczyk has Tom Rathman-sized shoes to fill in order to properly pay homage to the No. 44. Rathman will be on hand Sunday for his induction into the 49ers Hall of Fame. Those are fitting festivities for Juszczyk's debut with the 49ers. Expect to see Kyle Shanahan get creative with Juszczyk, especially in the passing game. I predict a short touchdown catch for Juszczyk on a play-action bootleg with Pierre Garçon rolling towards his left.
@KeianaMartinTV: Pierre Garçon
If history serves to repeat itself, Carlos Hyde is set for a big game on Sunday. In the 49ers 2016 season opener, Hyde rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns against the Los Angeles Rams. The four-year vet has totaled 306 rushing yards and five touchdowns in three career season openers. With Juszczyk as a lead blocker, Hyde is in a great position to be the first 49ers player to find the end zone.2nd Down: What is the game's best matchup?
@Joe_Fann: Solomon Thomas & Reuben Foster vs. Christian McCaffrey
Who cares that it's McCaffrey's NFL debut? I'd bet he's the player that the 49ers are most concerned about in their preparations for Carolina. It's not that Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen aren't capable playmakers. it's far more about McCaffrey's versatility and how many ways he can beat you. McCaffrey is a legit home run hitter as a receiver, running back and return man. The added challenge for the 49ers is that there's no tape to suggest how the Panthers plan to deploy their first-round pick. It's a good thing that the 49ers defense boasts a pair of talented first-rounders as well.
Carolina's defense presents a familiar challenge for San Francisco's head coach. Shanahan spent the previous two seasons as the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, facing the Panthers twice a year in the NFC South. Shanahan dialed up a 33-16 win over the Panthers in Week 16 last year and handed Carolina their sole loss in their 15-1 campaign in 2015. His personnel is different with the 49ers, but Shanahan's experience agains the Panthers could still pay dividends in Week 1.3rd Down: Which rookie are you excited to watch?
@Joe_Fann: Trent Taylor
Reuben Foster and Solomon Thomas are obvious and valid answers, but I'm intrigued to see how much Taylor is integrated into Shanahan's offense. Will he be an every down player in the slot? Will he split time with Aldrick Robinson? The 49ers clearly trusted Taylor enough to part ways with Jeremy Kerley. There's no reason why he won't be an immediate contributor in Week 1. Taylor is also listed as the team's starting punt returner. The rookie posted two returns of more than 30 yards during the preseason.
Sorry, Joe. But I took the obious answer here. How can you not be excited to watch Reuben "Ferrari" Foster take the field in his first NFL game? Foster proved his readiness for the big stage in the preseason and has the potential to be a big contributor on the 49ers front seven. He posted six interceptions in training camp, several pass break ups and led the 49ers in tackles in his final preseason apperance against the Minnesota Vikings. And who could forget that hit against running back Dalvin Cook? NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah named Foster the NFL's top rookie heading into Week 1. It's impossible to not be excited about this rookie's debut.4th Down: What is your bold prediction?
@Joe_Fann: Eli Harold gets two sacks
The third-year linebacker joined this week's 49ers Studios Podcast. During the discussion, Harold mentioned that he remembers some specific trash talk from Cam Newton. Newton threw a touchdown on a play where Harold recorded a QB hit. As Newton got up, he looked at Harold and said, "Is that all you've got?" Those words have lingered, and Harold is eager for redemption. He posted three sacks in 2016. I predict that the 49ers starting SAM linebacker gets two on Sunday.
@KeianaMartinTV:Brian Hoyer tops 250 yards passing
That doesn't seem like a bold prediction at face value, but consider that 49ers quarterbacks only threw for more than 250 yards in just three games last season. Hoyer threw for 300 yards in his first four starts last season with the Chicago Bears. Over his nine-year career, he passed for 250 yards or more yards in 16 games and has nine games with more than 300-yards. With a flushed-out receiver room, Hoyer has several receiving options in Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin and rookie tight end George Kittle, among other. I anticipate Hoyer spreading the ball around and the offense finding some extra yards on Sunday.