Jimmie Ward: Why 49ers CB Is the X-Factor versus Panthers

Last week, the San Francisco 49ers front seven played aggressive enough to shut down the passing attack of their opponents. This week, Jimmie Ward is the key to stopping Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.

This week the  San Francisco 49ers face their biggest challenge of the season as they travel to Charlotte, NC to face the Carolina Panthers.

Last week against the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers defense stifled the run and the pass with a strong presence up front and the ability to force quarterback Case Keenum to remain out of rhythm.

But the Niners will face an entirely different task in Week 2.

Leading the Panthers offense will be reigning MVP quarterback Cam Newton. And the weapons he has on offense will be the reason why third-year 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward needs to be an impact player for San Francisco.

Ward earned a starting gig entering this season, based off his strong 2015 finish.

Speaking of those tests, the Niners defense will have to contend with stellar Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

Benjamin, a 6-foot-5 third-year pro, presents an obvious size problem for the 5-foot-11 Ward. And yet Ward’s coverage abilities may mean the 49ers don’t sway from letting him cover Carolina’s top receiving threat.

Ward, and fellow corner Tramaine Brock, earned some pretty top Week 1grades, according to Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus:

True, the Niners may go with taller corners versus Benjamin. Perhaps Dontae Johnson (6-foot-2) or Rashard Robinson (6-foot-1) line up opposite the Panthers’ No. 1 target.

But this would mean a loss in coverage skills. And San Francisco’s defense would be better off with Ward retaining his prominent role.

So look for this matchup to be a crucial one for the Niners in Week 2. If Ward wins the majority of battles here, the 49ers defense could stand a decent chance of holding the Panthers in check.

All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of ESPN.comPro-Football-Reference.com and Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.

This article originally appeared on