Editor's note: This is the second part in a series that spotlights four 49ers-Panthers matchups to watch Sunday, 10 a.m., in Charlotte, N.C.
49ers FS Eric Reid vs. Panthers QB Cam Newton
Tale of the tape
Reid (35): 6 foot 1, 213 pounds, rookie, LSU
Newton (1): 6 foot 5, 245 pounds, third season, Auburn
Eric Reid’s first priority Sunday against the Carolina Panthers is in pass coverage.
The rookie stepped in this season to replace All-Pro Dashon Goldson, and there was no drop-off at the position. Reid was solid in pass defense and provided four interceptions.
But Reid also knows that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who rushed for just 15 yards in the November meeting against the 49ers, will also present a major threat with his running ability.
“You have to be aware,” Reid said. “You definitely have to know the type of quarterback you’re facing. But at the same time, I know we’re going to trust our front seven to keep him in the pocket and get him on the ground if he scrambles.
“If he does break out, the safeties and the corners have to rally and try to save a touchdown.”
As a freshman in college, Reid had a front-row view of Newton’s ability as a runner. Newton passed for only 86 yards in Auburn’s 24-17 victory over LSU, but he ran for 217 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think when you have a quarterback of Cam Newton’s ability in this type of game, I think he’d be apt to run maybe a little bit more than he would normally,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I think Newton’s a playmaker and we’ve all got to be aware of him.”
Reid will be tested on Sunday, just as he was in the 49ers' playoff-opening victory over Green Bay. He supplied one of the important defensive plays in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs. He had coverage on Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb and allowed a fourth-down completion for 25 yards when quarterback Aaron Rodgers bought seven seconds after avoiding a blitz.
But it could’ve been a lot worse. Cobb turned the corner and had the end zone in his sights when Reid tripped up Cobb at the 9-yard line. The 49ers held the Packers to a game-tying field goal to set the stage for Phil Dawson’s game-winning kick as time experience for a 23-20 victory.
[RELATED: Rogers not expected to play against Panthers]
Again, the 49ers will focus on preventing the big play and keeping the Panthers out of the end zone.
Newton had 33 pass plays of 20 yards or more during the regular season. As the free safety, Reid must have a good grasp on Newton's arm strength and his ability to deliver passes down the field. The 49ers held Newton without a big play earlier this season. Reid was on the field for 56 percent of the 49ers’ defensive snaps, as he exited in the third quarter with a concussion.
Reid must serve as deep help in the passing game, and he figures to find himself matched up on occasion against tight end Greg Olson, who led Carolina with 73 catches for 816 yards and six touchdowns.