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NFL analyst Brian Billick: Panthers could be ‘something special’

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  • San Francisco 49ers at a glance
  • Brian Billick on the Panthers

    FOX Network NFL analyst Brian Billick, who won a Super Bowl with Baltimore, shared a few other thoughts on the Panthers, including:

    •  Their defense: “They’re as good a defense as I’ve seen in the league in terms of a physical front seven that can stop the running game with just their front seven. The secondary, (which) early on because of injury was kind of in flux, has solidified to become a really good, solid secondary (with) Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell and the way they’re playing now, and generating turnovers. They’ve got maybe one of the best inside linebacking tandems in (Luke) Kuechly and Thomas (Davis) as there is in the league.”

    •  Mike Shula’s scheme: “They give a defense a lot to deal with. That sheer, downhill smash-mouth running attack that all of a sudden expands out into – and then Cam (Newton)’s ability to run when they are spread out like that. That’s a lot to deal with.”

    •  Ron Rivera’s shift in fourth-down philosophy: “I think coach Rivera would tell you, if I’m growing more confident in my abilities to convert in those situations, that could be true. But I don’t know that it’s a philosophical shift in what he’s doing. They’re having success doing it. And the more success you have in something, the more you tend to do it.”



Brian Billick has called four Carolina Panthers games as a FOX color analyst, and the Panthers have won them all.

The former Baltimore Ravens coach, who is working the Carolina-San Francisco game Sunday for FOX, joked that he’s been something of a good luck charm for the Panthers.

“I’ve been giving Ron Rivera a little bit of grief, saying I should be on the payroll as well as they’ve been doing,” said Billick, who’s also an NFL Network analyst. “I’ve been lucky because they’ve been winning this (first) half of the season. I’ll go ahead and take credit for it, but that’s probably not right.”

Billick said the credit for the Panthers’ success should go to a more mature Cam Newton, the commitment offensive coordinator Mike Shula has made to the running game and a defensive front seven that Billick believes is as good as any in the league.

And while some critics have questioned whether the Panthers (5-3) will hold up against their slate of tougher opponents the second half of the season, Billick doesn’t see any deficiencies.

“In coaching, you hope that in September and October you can position yourself to make a run in November and December, and that’s exactly what the Carolina Panthers have done,” Billick said this week in a phone interview. “Their style of play is very portable, which is a good thing late in the season. Meaning they can run the ball and stop the run.”

The Panthers are second in the league in rushing defense, allowing 79.1 yards per game. The 49ers have the top-ranked rushing offense (153 yards a game), and the Panthers are eighth (130.1 yards).

San Francisco’s 33.8 rushing attempts per game are the most in the NFL; Carolina’s 32.6 rushes a game rank third.

“These two teams are carbon copies of one another. ... You’re talking about two very similar philosophies,” Billick said. “Big, physical defenses that can stop you without having the extra guy in the box. I don’t know if there’s two teams more committed to the run than these two that also have quarterbacks that can expand and hurt you in that capacity.

“These two teams are two very good football teams. It’s going to be a heavyweight prizefight with body blow after body blow, and last man standing wins.”

Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick led his San Francisco (6-2) to the Super Bowl after becoming a starter midway through last season. Newton has an 18-22 record as a starter, but Billick said his development is readily apparent.

“Cam’s playing very well,” Billick said. “There are areas he can be better. But has really taken on the challenge of doing what the team needs for him to do, rather than just putting up a bunch of stats and plays down the field. He’s managing the game the way it takes to win.

“Like any quarterback, he’s matured – understanding what his team needs for him to do, when to take chances and when not to.

“He’s being very smart with where he’s putting the ball.”

Billick served as analyst for the Panthers’ wins against the New York Giants, Minnesota, St. Louis and Atlanta. He said he’d like to see the Panthers take a few more chances to add a quick-strike element that was a big part of their offense under former coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

The Panthers ranked first and second in the league in plays of 20 yards or more during Chudzinski’s two seasons in Charlotte. This season the Panthers rank 31st with 24 such plays, one spot behind winless Tampa Bay and ahead of only Arizona.

“At some point that explosiveness is going to have to come back” Billick said. “Cam’s going to have to make some of those plays that he made so well the last couple of years, which you can do when you’re 5-11 and 6-10. ‘What am I going to do, throw another interception? Who cares? We’re making plays.’

“Well, now there’s a price to pay. So he is being more judicious. If he can get to that next step where he can get more of those big plays without creating the turnovers, now you’re going to be something special.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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