49ers

49ers key matchup No. 3: Boone vs. Starks

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49ers key matchup No. 3: Boone vs. Starks

This is the first part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Dolphins matchups to watch Sunday, 1 p.m. (CBS), at Candlestick Park.

49ers RG Alex Boone vs. Dolphins DT Randy Starks

Tale of the tape
Boone (75): 6-foot-8, 300 pounds, third season, Ohio State
Starks (94): 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, ninth season, Miami (Fla.)

Alex Boone was asked the question that he wouldn't have even considered when last offseason began.

Is it possible your best position is guard and not tackle?

"Whoa," Boone responded.

Why did the question catch him, ahem, off guard?

"Because I never thought I'd be a good guard, at all," Boone said. "To be honest with you, I'm too tall. I'm not built like a guard. But once you adapt to the game and understand the position it becomes a little easier. There are things you have to continue to work on. It's just different. There's not a lot of space to work with, and you got to make it work."

Boone has made it work through 12 games in his first season after receiving word at the 49ers' first gathering of the offseason that he would be converted to a new position. The 49ers already had left tackle Joe Staley and right tackle Anthony Davis entrenched as starters.

The weak link of the 49ers' offensive line for years had been right guard, where Chilo Rachal and Adam Snyder lined up the past several seasons.

Boone has not merely just held his own. He has excelled.

Pro Football Focus, which grades every player at every position, ranks Boone as the No. 3 guard in the NFL behind left guard Evan Mathis (Philadelphia) and right guard Marshal Yanda (Baltimore).

Boone is coming off a strong game against the St. Louis Rams, and he'll have to produce another good effort Sunday when he is matched mostly against the Miami Dolphins' veteran Randy Starks, one of the top defensive tackles in the league.

Starks, who was selected to the AFC Pro Bowl team after the 2010 season, is a versatile player who will pose a challenge for Boone in pass protection. Starks ranks second on the Dolphins behind Cameron Wake with 4.5 sacks on the season. Starks is also stout against the run.

The 49ers must get their run game going, and the Dolphins rank as the league's eighth-toughest defense when it comes to stopping the run. The Dolphins yield just 94.5 yards rushing per game with a 3.7 average. Led by Frank Gore, the 49ers average 5.3 yards per rush attempt.

"Alex, I thought, had one of his best games, if not his best game last week," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "Technically, from an assignment standpoint, everything he did last game was really well. He's come along really well, he's learning every week.

"You see a lot of different styles of defender, a lot of different styles of defense and Alex is the kind of guy we want, a guy that's pushing to get better every week. So he's doing a great job. When he gets out in space, he can get rolling, a bit like an 18-wheeler going down a hill. He did a great job last week on a couple of our perimeter plays."

Boone has found a home at guard for the 49ers. And he might be there for a while. And that's something, when he thinks about it, comes as a surprise.

If and when he ever moves back to tackle, he believes he'll be better for the experience.

"It can make you tougher, being a guard," Boone said. "I always used to think that guards were guys who just sat there and didn't do much and were kind of lazy. But after playing the guard position, it's a tough spot. Guys really try to go through you. They don't try to go around you too much. They just take you down the middle. They're big, thick guys, so you're working every play. It's kind of fun. It's like a fistfight in a phone booth."

49ers veteran expected to play in Pro Bowl thanks to Eagles

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49ers veteran expected to play in Pro Bowl thanks to Eagles

Veteran 49ers left tackle Joe Staley is expected to benefit from the Philadelphia Eagles’ trip to the Super Bowl.

Staley, originally chosen as an alternate, is expected to be named to his sixth Pro Bowl to take the place of Eagles Pro Bowl tackle Lane Johnson.

The Pro Bowl will be played Sunday, Jan. 28, in Orlando, Florida. Members of the Super Bowl participant Eagles and New England Patriots will not play in the All-Star game. The Eagles advanced to the Super Bowl on Sunday with a 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

The other Pro Bowl offensive tackles representing the NFC are Dallas’ Tyron Smith and Los Angeles’ Andrew Whitworth, who replaced Washington’s Trent Williams.

Staley got off to a rough start last season as the 49ers opened on a nine-game losing streak. The idea of his career coming to an end began to creep into his mind, he said recently on the 49ers Insider Podcast.

But Staley said he had a talk with coach Kyle Shanahan that got him refocused for the remainder of the season. The 49ers finished with a five-game win streak to finish with a 6-10 record, and Staley played well down the stretch.

“I’m so far gone from where I was in that moment early in the year that I’m just focused on next year and, hopefully, years after that,” said Staley, 33, an 11-year NFL veteran. “I feel like I can still play.

“I think this last half of the season I played some of the best football of my career. I feel very confident in what we’re doing schematically with the people surrounding us, and it shows in my own play.”

Staley would join fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who was the only 49ers player named to the Pro Bowl when the teams were announced in last month.

Foles frenzy: Eagles fly over Vikings to meet Patriots in Super Bowl LII

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Foles frenzy: Eagles fly over Vikings to meet Patriots in Super Bowl LII

BOX SCORE

PHILADELPHIA -- Hey Philly, maybe it's time to forget Carson Wentz. Nick Foles might be good enough to win the Eagles their first Super Bowl.

Foles was on fire Sunday night against the stingiest scoring defense in the NFL. Philly made big play after big play on both sides of the ball in a stunning 38-7 rout of the Minnesota Vikings for the NFC championship.

Next up after their most-lopsided playoff victory: the Eagles' first Super Bowl appearance since 2005, against the team that beat them then, AFC champion New England.

Foles replaced the injured Wentz in Game 13 and finished off a rise from last place to first in the NFC East. There were plenty of doubters entering the playoffs, but the former starter in Philadelphia (15-3) under another regime has been brilliant.

His best work might have come against Minnesota (14-4) and its vaunted defense that was torn apart in every manner. Foles threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, showing poise, escapability and moxie in going 26 for 33.

In doing so - helped greatly by the Eagles' domination on defense and a spectacular weaving 50-yard interception return TD by Patrick Robinson - Foles ruined the Vikings' hopes of being the first team to play in a Super Bowl in its own stadium

Instead, the Eagles will seek their first Super Bowl crown in Minnesota on Feb. 4; their last championship came in 1960.

OVER AT HALFTIME: Minnesota made it look easy at the outset, driving 75 yards on nine plays, each of which gained yardage. The payoff was a 25-yard throw from Case Keenum to Kyle Rudolph well behind linebacker Najee Goode as Philadelphia's defense looked confused on the play.

That didn't happen again for Philly.

Defensive end Chris Long had a huge hand in Robinson's 50-yard interception return. Long burst in from the left side and got his arm on Keenum to disrupt the throw for Adam Thielen. The ball went directly to Robinson, who sped down the left side, then made a sharp cut to the right and got a superb block from Ronald Darby to reach the end zone.

Inspired, Philly's D forced a three-and-out, the Foles led the Eagles on a 12-play, 75-yard masterpiece of a drive. LeGarrette Blount showed all his power and escapability on an 11-yard surge up the middle for a 14-7 lead.

Turnovers, something Minnesota rarely committed with an NFC-low 14 during the season, hurt again and not only ended a solid drive, but set up more Philly points. On third down from the Eagles 15, Keenum was blindsided by rookie Derek Barnett, and the ball bounced directly to Long.

It was only the second strip-sack the Vikings have been victimized by all season.

A blown coverage - another rarity for Minnesota - on third-and-10 allowed Alshon Jeffery to get wide open for a 53-yard TD, and Philadelphia tacked on Elliott's 38-yard field goal to make it 24-3 at halftime.

DANCING IN THE LINC: Fifty seconds into the final quarter, with the score 38-7, Eagles players on the sideline and waiting to kick off on the field were dancing up a storm and fans were chanting "We want Brady."

They get Tom Brady and company in two weeks.

BACK TO THE BIG GAME: Long won the Super Bowl last year with the Patriots, as did Blount. Now they return on the other side.

QUICK DRIVE: Philadelphia got the ball with 29 seconds remaining in the first half at its 20. Foles hit passes of 11 yards to Jay Ajayi, 36 to Ertz and 13 to Ajayi before Elliott's field goal to end the half.

THIRD DOWNS: Minnesota was the league's best team defending third downs and was third in converting them. Yet Philadelphia went 10 for 14.

NEXT UP: Minnesota returns home to watch two other teams play at its stadium for the Lombardi Trophy.

With the entire stadium singing "Fly Eagles Fly" during the NFC trophy ceremony, Philadelphia can look forward to facing New England in Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4