Four Downs: Bold Predictions in Week 2 vs. Panthers

Our 49ers.com writers are back to break down four pressing topics in the San Francisco 49ers first road game of the 2016 regular season against the Carolina Panthers.

Let's get to what you should look forward to in this "Four Downs" update, presented by SunPower.

1st Down: What is the game's best matchup?@Joe_Fann: Pierre Garçon vs. Luke Kuechly

It's no secret that Hyde will be a focal point in Chip Kelly's offense all season long. San Francisco's starting running back ran the ball 23 times in Week 1 and was targeted three times in the passing game. The Panthers had trouble stopping the run in their opener against the Denver Broncos. C.J. Anderson tallied 92 yards on 20 carries, caught four passes for 47 yards and scored two touchdowns. Kuechly and the rest of the Panthers talented front seven will look for an improved performance against the 49ers in Week 2. The three-time All-Pro linebacker will have Hyde in his sights throughout the contest.

@TaylorPrice:Ahmad Brooks vs. Mike Remmers

San Francisco's veteran pass-rusher has enjoyed great success against the Panthers, specficially versus Cam Newton. In two games against the reigning NFL MVP, Brooks has recorded 4.5 sacks. The starting outside linebacker picked up his first sack of 2016 last week on a well-designed stunt with teammate Arik Armstead, who later recorded a sack of his own when Brooks' edge rush forced Los Angeles Rams quarterback Case Keenum to step into Armstead's pressure. Brooks' versatility in the 49ers defensive front will make him a player to watch, but when he's matched up against Remmers, Carolina's right tackle, keep an eye out to see if No. 55 can win his 1-on-1 matchup.

2nd Down: What position group will be tested the most?

@Joe_Fann: Linebackers

Someone will have to spy Newton throughout the contest. Someone else may find themselves matched up with tight end Greg Olson. The whole group will work to contain Jonathan Stewart. Even when the pass-rush gets to Newton, it will usually take more than one guy to bring him down. That's why NaVorro Bowman and Co. will not be short on responsibility on Sunday. The group was fantastic against the Los Angeles Rams and will work to replicate the performance. They held Todd Gurley under three yards per carry, kept Keenum from ever being comfortable in the pocket and even secured two takeaways (interceptions by Bowman and Ray-Ray Armstrong). The test will be far tougher on the road in Week 2.

@TaylorPrice: Quarterback

Blaine Gabbert's stat line in Week 1 was very similar to Newton. But most people are looking at the 49ers signal-caller to improve his play for the road team to pull off an upset. Let's examine each quarterback's Week 1 production...

Player A: 18-of-33, 194 passing yards, one touchdown, one interception, sacked three times, 69.5 quarterback rating, 11 carries, 54 rushing yards and one rushing score.

Player B: 22-of-35, 170 passing yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, not sacked, 84.2 quarterback rating, nine carries for 43 rushing yards.

Player B was Gabbert, who will return to Carolina, the site of his first career NFL start in 2011. Carolina's defense is stout up front, but has a lot of young cornerbacks in the mix after the team let Josh Norman walk this offseason. Can Gabbert capitalize when it's time to move the chains on third down?

3rd Down: What will be the key stat of the game?

@Joe_Fann: Turnovers

It's crucial that San Francisco's offense doesn't provide Newton and the Panthers offense with a short field. The Rams saw last Monday how detrimental it can be to shoot yourself in the foot while you're playing on the road. The 49ers have enough working against them already - crowd noise and a Panthers team desperate to avoid going 0-2 to name a few - which means avoiding turnovers and costly penalties will be imperative. The good news is that San Francisco limited themselves to two minor penalties for only 10 yards and turned the ball over only once on "Monday Night Football."

@TaylorPrice: First-half points

San Francisco struggled on the road in 2015. In most of the games, the visitors had trouble getting points and stopping their opponents from getting out to big leads. This has to change. If the 49ers are able to hang in the game early, put points on the board and keep the Newton-led Panthers to a low point total, a second-half surge could be likely. But in order to get there, Chip Kelly's team has to come out firing on all cylinders to start the game. This means no penalties. Agressive defense. Timely clutch plays on offense.

4th Down: What is your bold prediction?

@Joe_Fann: Torrey Smith finds the end zone

I'm doubling down on this. Smith is too talented a player and Kelly is too great of an offensive mind for San Francisco's top wideout to stay quiet for long. Norman is gone as the Panthers have turned to rookie James Bradberry and third-year pro Bene Benwikere. The pair of starting cornerbacks played well against Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in Week 1, but I still like Smith's chances of finding pay dirt on Sunday.

@TaylorPrice: Phil Dawson hits a game-winning field goal

Let's be bold. The 49ers kicker only connected on extra points in Week 1. This is good news. But in the clutch, Dawson is as good as they come. Should the 49ers find themselves in position to get a much-needed road victory, I'm expecting Dawson to be involved. You're not always going to go 4-for-4 in the red zone, especially against a stingy Carolina defense. I'm expecting Dawson to be involved in the game. He could also send us home with a victory like he's done in previous road stops in Arizona (2013) and Green Bay (2013).

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