49ers observations: Defense dominant again in win over Panthers

CHARLOTTE, NC — The 49ers turned to a balanced, efficient offensive attack after their best defensive player exited the Week 5 game Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

The 49ers put together their best offensive showing of the season behind quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and a strong running game in the team’s 37-15 victory over the lowly Panthers and embattled head coach Matt Rhule.

Defensive end Nick Bosa, who entered the week as the NFL’s leader with six sacks, sustained a groin injury in the third quarter. He was immediately ruled out, and his status for upcoming games is in question.

The game did not start too well for the 49ers from an injury standpoint, as veteran safety Jimmie Ward sustained a hand injury on the first defensive play of the game and did not return. Ward was making his season debut after missing time with a hamstring injury.

Garoppolo responded with his best game of the season. He completed 18 of 30 pass attempts for 253 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

The 49ers especially were strong on third downs. While building a 30-12 lead, the 49ers converted seven of their first 11 (64 percent) third-down attempts.

The 49ers improved to 3-2 on the season, and here are the takeaways from their victory over the Panthers:

Defense’s killer instinct

The 49ers’ defense did not allow a touchdown in the first half of any of their first five games.

Yet, the 49ers had not led by more than eight points in the first half of any game this season — until Sunday’s game. And, again, that was the defense that got that done.

Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley picked off an errant pass from Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown near the end of the first half to give the 49ers a 17-3 lead.

It was the second time the 49ers’ defense scored on an interception return in two games. Talanoa Hufanga put away the 49ers’ Week 4 victory over the Los Angeles Rams with a pick-six against Matthew Stafford.

The 49ers have surrendered just 12 points, coming on four field goals, in the first half of their five games this season.

Coleman makes a mark in the backfield

Running back Tevin Coleman had a prominent role against the Panthers as the backup to starter Jeff Wilson.

Coleman subbed into the game and carried the ball eight times for 23 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground with three receptions for 44 receiving yards and a touchdown through the air.

But his biggest mark came as a receiver.

Coleman appeared in 23 games for the 49ers in 2019 and ’20. During that time, he caught just 25 passes for 214 yards and one touchdown.
In the first half on Sunday, Coleman came through with three receptions for 44 yards and one touchdown.

Coleman caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Garoppolo to cap the 49ers’ first offensive series for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

Later, Coleman made a big-time catch over Panthers safety Myles Hartfield for a 30-yard gain to set up a Robbie Gould field goal.

Wilson had a strong game for the 49ers as he continues in the role of the starter after the injury to Elijah Mitchell. Wilson carried 17 times for 120 yards and a touchdown.

Getting Kittle involved

The 49ers appeared determined to get the ball into the hands of tight end George Kittle at the start of their Week 5 game against the Panthers.

Garoppolo’s first two pass attempts were intended for Kittle, who caught both passes for a total of 25 yards. In Kittle’s previous eight games, he averaged just 27.1 yards receiving per game.

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Kittle looked to be well on his way to a big receiving game, when he caught his fourth pass of the first quarter. However, Carolina linebacker Damien Wilson stripped Kittle, forcing a fumble that Panthers defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos recovered to thwart a 49ers drive near midfield.

While Kittle showed early signs of breaking out of his pass-catching slump, the 49ers couldn’t get much going for wide receiver Deebo Samuel.
Samuel was the target of five Garoppolo pass attempts in the first half, all of which fell incomplete. Garoppolo was 11-of-13 for 136 yards on passes intended for his other targets.

Samuel opened the second half with a 16-yard reception on a second-and-15 play. And he helped give the 49ers a 24-9 lead in the third quarter with a 4-yard touchdown reception from Garoppolo.

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