49ers key matchup No. 1: 49ers pass defense vs. Drew Brees


49ers key matchup No. 1: 49ers pass defense vs. Drew Brees

This is the final part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Saints matchups to watch Sunday, 1:25 p.m. (FOX), at the Superdome.49ers pass defense vs. Saints QB Drew BreesTale of the tape
49ers pass defense: Ranked No. 2 in the NFL
Brees (9): 6-foot, 209 pounds, 12th season, PurdueThe 49ers trot out Colin Kaepernick on Sunday for his second NFL start, so there's a level of unknown facing the New Orleans Saints' defense.On the other side of the ball, the 49ers know exactly what they're up against.Shutting down Saints quarterback Drew Brees is not an easy task, and it comes with many levels of challenges. After all, the Saints' top four pass-catchers features two wide receivers, a tight end and a versatile running back."They have a lot of different weapons and they all can line up in different spots," 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers said.That means that while Rogers, who covers the slot receiver, will probably see more of Lance Moore than any pf the Saints' receivers, he had to prepare to face all of the Saints' receiving options."Their receivers, all of them, are good receivers," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "They don't have Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald. But all of them are really good. That's the problem with this team."There's not one guy to play, 'Hey, if we can take this guy out, we've got a good chance.' All the receivers and (tight end Jimmy) Graham and (running back Darren) Sproles and their group of running backs are tough to stop. So you've just got to line up and play and you've got to win some one-on-one matchups."But those one-one-one matchups will constantly change through the course of the game. The only constant is that Brees will be the man on the distributing end. Brees has averaged 306.6 yards passing per game. He has thrown at least one touchdown pass in an NFL record 53 consecutive games.This season, Brees has thrown 28 touchdown passes with the bulk of them going to four main targets. Graham has eight touchdown receptions, while, Marques Colston has caught seven scoring passes. Moore and Sproles have four touchdowns apiece.The 49ers' defense this season has done an exceptional job of limiting the big play, and they'll be put to the test on Sunday.Inside linebacker Patrick Willis is coming off one of his best games in coverage. Willis found himself matched in single coverage against Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte and he responded with a strong performance. Willis is also accustomed to covering tight ends, so he'll likely see plenty of Graham, who has 51 catches for 562 yards on the season.The 49ers will have to feature a group effort on Sunday. And they're facing a hot team. The Saints have won five of their past six games.Cornerbacks Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver must step up to the challenge. And safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner will be tested repeatedly.Outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who entered the day with an NFL-leading 15 sacks, can make things easier on the secondary if he can administer some pressure on Brees. But Brees is not an easy quarterback to sack. He has been sacked just 16 times in 10 games."Brees gets the ball out quickly, but we can't have a clock in our heads because he can keep plays alive, too," Rogers said.

What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense


What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense

SANTA CLARA – Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon did not win the right to suit up for the 49ers’ first four games. Behind the scenes, he made it his mission to earn a contributing role.

“He really started to get better with his coordination with his feet from the bump-and-run coverage and from playing ‘off.’ There’s always a light that goes on,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And we felt that for a couple weeks from Ahkello. Once he did that, he definitely earned the right to be out there.”

The plan was for Witherspoon to rotate into the action and share time with starters Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson. But he played just six snaps on Oct. 8 against Indianapolis before sustaining a concussion. Witherspoon returned to action last week and played 34 of the 49ers’ 74 snaps last week at Washington. He showed enough to coninue getting significant playing time.

“He’s earned the right to play,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He works his tail off in practice. He’s so deliberate in his approach. Whether it was scout team, whether it was team reps, whether it was walk-through, it didn’t matter.”

Witherspoon, the 49ers’ third-round draft pick at No. 66 overall, had a pedestrian training camp. Taking his lumps in August showed him what he needed to do to get into real games in October.

“I really turned up my focus, my intent every day in practice,” Witherspoon said. “What I did in camp wasn’t good enough to be a starting corner in this league, and that’s what I learned.

“I really focused on being aware of what it takes. That’s something I implemented these last four weeks -- that every day focus and competing on every single ball, and taking the mindset that no ball’s caught on me. I think that’s really helped my game, and helped these coaches trust me, as well.”

Witherspoon expected Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins to attack him. But of the 25 plays he was in coverage last week, Witherspoon saw only three passes come his way. He surrendered two receptions for 33 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Just being a rookie, I thought it was going to come, where they were going to be taking that one shot,” Witherspoon said. “I kept waiting for it to happen, but it didn’t happen. Going up against a smart quarterback, I know he saw me out there.

“There were a few times he looked my way in coverage. I wasn’t perfect in coverage, but I think he was looking. And I thought I did a good job.”

Witherspoon (6 foot 3, 195 pounds) is comfortable lining up on either side of the field, which he did during his college career at Colorado. He said he has not put on much weight but he has added more muscle, which has allowed him a better chance to compete physically against bigger NFL receivers.

Witherspoon fully expects to be challenged on Sunday when he is expected to see considerable playing time against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium. Witherspoon figures Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will be paying particularly close attention any time Dez Bryant lines up on his side of the field.

“They’re going to be looking at the ‘rook,’ ” Witherspoon said.

Said Shanahan, “They’re going to try to do that with all our DBs, so I don’t think it even matters who’s out there. They’re going to attack when we’re in single safety, which we are the majority of the time. They’re going to go outside and keep going out there until you stop them.”

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch Kyle Shanahan's full sit-down interview with Matt Maiocco on "49ers Game Plan," which is scheduled to air Saturday at 9 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).

49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine


49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine

The NFL fined 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon $24,309 for unnecessary roughness in last week’s game against Washington.

Garçon, who was not penalized on the play, lowered his helmet and struck Washington safety Montae Nicholson at the end of an 8-yard pass reception in the second quarter.

In 2013, the NFL passed a rule that bans the ball carrier from initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field.

Nicholson’s helmet flew off and he remained on the ground for a couple of minutes. He was evaluated for a possible concussion and shoulder injury. However, Nicholson was cleared and he returned to action.

After the play, Garçon and Washington safety D.J. Swearinger exchanged words, and Swearinger took a swipe at Garçon’s facemask. Swearinger was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The NFL fined Swearinger $9,115 for unnecessary roughness.