After watching their own quarterback run for a season-high 98 yards in the playoffs on Sunday, the 49ers say they wouldn't be surprised if their upcoming opponent, Cam Newton, leans on his legs more than normal given there's a trip to the conference championship at stake.
"Absolutely," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Thursday. "I think 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. So I think Newton's a playmaker, and we've all got to be aware of him."
Newton ran for 585 yards this season, more than any other quarterback in the league and 61 yards more than Kaepernick had in the regular season. But he had only 15 yards on eight carries against the 49ers, who sacked him three times in the game.
The 49ers are unlikely to employ a spy against the Carolina quarterback. Instead, the team will rely on its front seven defenders, especially linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Bowman's coming-out party occurred early in the 2011 season when he was able to continuously corral Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and make sure he didn't hurt the 49ers with his feet.
"That's everyone's job," Bowman said today of stopping Newton from gobbling up ground yards. "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 quarterback excelled in the Week 10 meeting between the 49ers and Panthers. Newton completed a season-low 50 percent of his passes and finished with a 52.7 passer rating. He only had one lower rating - Week 5 against Arizona - all season.
Still, Bowman noted that the Panthers have had plenty of time to tweak their game plan since the last encounter. "They had, I think, two weeks to look at us," he said. "So we're expecting some different looks that we haven't seen."
Top rushing QBs*
Cam Newton, CAR, 585 yards
Terrell Pryor, OAK, 576
Russell Wilson, SEA, 539
Colin Kaepernick, SF 524
Robert Griffin III, WAS, 489
Alex Smith, KC, 431
Andrew Luck, IND, 377
Geno Smith, NYJ, 366
Michael Vick, PHI, 306
Ryan Tannehill, MIA, 238
* regular season only
-- Matt Barrows