Expect big dose of Carolina's four-man rush

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick likely can expect a heavy dose of a four-man pass rush from the Carolina Panthers in Sunday's NFC playoff game.

The reasons are twofold. First, that's what the Panthers do best. Thirty-three of their league-high 60 sacks have come with a rush of four or less, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Four of six sacks in a 10-9 victory over the 49ers on Nov. 10 came with four or fewer rushers.

Carolina brought that kind of pressure 74 percent of the time in Week 10 at Candlestick Park. Kaepernick completed a career-low 47.1 percent of his passes (8-for-17) with no touchdowns and one interception four or fewer rushers.

In their past two games, the Panthers have used a heavy dose of that pressure to collect 15 sacks, seven by defensive end Greg Hardy. The first-time Pro Bowl selection also was key in the first San Francisco game, lining up at end, tackle and at times dropping into coverage.

The other reason Carolina likely will bring such pressure is Kaepernick has struggled against it all season against defenses ranked in the top half of the league. He has completed only 53.5 percent of his passes and thrown one touchdown to seven interceptions.

His total quarterback rating against top 16 defenses using a rush of four or less is 18.2, compared to 90.6 facing the same rush against the bottom half of the league.

Kaepernick's numbers in general are much lower against the league's top 16 defenses. He has a 3-4 record with seven touchdowns to eight interceptions and a quarterback rating of 31.2.

Carolina's defense is ranked second in the league.

It all goes back to discipline. Green Bay wasn't disciplined, and Kaepernick burned the Packers for 98 yards rushing in the 23-20 victory to advance to this game. The Packers also are one of the league's lower-half defenses (25th) that Kaepernick has flourished against.

That the Panthers play a lot of zone coverage also should help in that it gives them more eyes on Kaepernick should he decide to run.

"That’s what zone gives you," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "It gives you some vision on what’s going on in the backfield, hopefully not too much."

But again, it all comes back to discipline and an extremely deep and talented front four.

"You have to develop good fundamentals first before you try to pressure the quarterback through the blitz scheme," McDermott said. "If you try to do it the other way around you lose your core foundation and you never really establish the foundation.

"So we have tried to lay a good foundation on coming off the football up front. That is what those guys have excelled at."

That's why I made light of coach Ron Rivera saying on Monday the Panthers were "fortunate" Kaepernick didn't have a good game in the first meeting, that he doesn't expect the Panthers to do some of the things that "made it tough on him."

If anything, what the Panthers did is the blueprint for stopping Kaepernick.