49ers key matchup No. 3: Patrick Willis vs. Marshawn Lynch


49ers key matchup No. 3: Patrick Willis vs. Marshawn Lynch

This is the first part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Seahawks matchups to watch Thursday, 5:20 p.m. (NFL NetworkKGO-TV, Ch. 7), at Candlestick Park.49ers LB Patrick Willis vs. Seahawks RB Marshawn LynchTale of the tape
Willis (52): 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, sixth season, Mississippi
Lynch (24): 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, sixth season, CalThrough three quarters, there was nothing out of the ordinary going on with the 49ers' usually stout run defense.But in the fourth quarter on Sunday, New York Giants running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and David Wilson had five runs of 11 or more yards, including gains of 23 and 20 yards, respectively.Bradshaw finished with 116 yards rushing on 27 carries.Who was the last person to gain 100 yards rushing on the 49ers?The answer: He is coming to Candlestick Park on Thursday night.Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch is the top running back in the NFC and he ranks third in the NFL with 549 yards on 128 rushing attempts."He's still the same running back. He runs the ball hard. He's an elusive guy. He's a hard guy to tackle," 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. "We have to have everybody swarming to the ball and not expecting one guy to make the play. He's by far one of the best running backs in this league and will be one of the best backs we face all year. And we have to face him twice."Willis and Lynch went back to back in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft. The 49ers selected Willis at No. 11 overall, while the Buffalo Bills chose Lynch. In October of 2010, Lynch was traded to the Seahawks. He has been the focal point of the Seattle offense since his arrival.Lynch gained 107 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in the 49ers' 19-17 victory in Seattle on Dec. 24.
"Their running game is the bread and butter of their offense," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "And everything works off of that. He's one of the best backs in the league. He's the best back we played last year by far."He broke more tackles than any back we played against last year. He broke the most against us. He runs hard. He's a slasher. But, yet, he's got really good cutting ability. So, when he's coming off his cut and maybe you don't have a clean, full shot at him, he's strong through the arm tackles."The 49ers know they'll be in an all-game battle against Lynch. And nobody will be tested as much as Willis, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his five NFL seasons.
The 49ers' run defense experienced uncharacteristic breakdowns in the fourth quarter against the Giants, and that unit will expect to tighten it up against a formidable opponent.Former Pro Bowl linebacker Matt Millen, an analyst on 95.7-FM The Game, said the Giants' game was the worst performance he's seen from Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Millen has raved in the past about the 49ers' inside linebacker duo.Fangio referred to the run defense in the fourth quarter as "sub-par."He added, "We've just got to take on our blocks better. We've got to play a little bit more physical in the front seven. We've got to get off blocks better. We've got to tackle better."

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals


Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blaine Gabbert will get his first start for the Arizona Cardinals when they play the Texans in Houston on Sunday.

Coach Bruce Arians announced the decision after Friday's practice.

Drew Stanton, the starter the last two games, bruised his knee early in the Thursday night loss to Seattle last week. He stayed in the game but has been limited in practice all week.

Arians said it will be a game-time decision as to whether Stanton or recently signed Matt Barkley would be Gabbert's backup.

Gabbert will be making his 41st NFL start. He has a 9-31 record. He signed with Arizona last offseason and was the third quarterback until Carson Palmer broke his arm against the Los Angeles Rams in London and was lost for the season.

49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?


49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?

Believe it or not, the 49ers’ offense is improved from last season.

The 49ers ranked 31st in the NFL in 2016, averaging 308.1 yards per game. Although the offense is producing just a little better (325.9 yards per game), their ranking this season has shot up to 21st in the league.

The 49ers have had a different head coach and different person running the offense in each of the past four seasons, so their continuity has been severely lacking.

Next season, the 49ers should finally have carryover from one season to the next.

The direction of the offense is one of the topics addressed on this edition of 49ers Mailbag (questions were submitted via Facebook):

Now that we have Jimmy G do you see 49ers getting an offensive coordinator or will it still be Kyle calling the plays? (Julio Orozco)
I'm not sure why the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo would have any impact on the 49ers’ offensive structure, but in any event, the answer is a resounding, “No.”

Kyle Shanahan has been hailed as one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL. The reason he was hired as 49ers head coach was, in large part, because of the success he achieved while designing offenses and calling plays.

Why would he give that up? It makes no sense.

Rob Demovsky of ESPN this week identified the 32 primary play-callers. There are 18 NFL head coaches with offensive backgrounds. Twelve of those coaches call their own plays.

Shanahan has a staff of assistant coaches on whom he leans. Passing game specialist Mike LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello are closely involved in working with Shanahan on the passing game, while running game specialist Mike McDaniel, offensive line coach John Benton and running backs coach Bobby Turner spearhead the involvement in the ground game.

But, make no mistake, it is Shanahan who calls the shots. And that's the way it should be. If Shanahan stepped aside as his own offensive coordinator, he would be diminishing his biggest strength as a coach.

What do you see happing with the Hyde situation? We drafted Joe Williams and Breida seems to be a bright spot. There’s a lot of talk about Barkley from Penn State with that high 1st rounder. (Manny Hinojos)
There does not seem to be any movement toward a long-term extension for Hyde. It is getting to the point in the season where it makes a lot more sense for Hyde to play out his contract and hit the open market.

There is no question in my mind the 49ers like Hyde a lot. He has scored some major points with the organization for his performance on the field and how he has responded off the field.

GM John Lynch loved it when Hyde came to the defense of quarterback C.J. Beathard, tussled with Arizona lineman Frostee Rucker and got ejected from the game.

That said, the 49ers are not going to break the bank for Hyde. A multi-year agreement has to come at the right price. My personal feeling is that running backs are luxury pieces when the remainder of a team’s roster -- especially the offensive line -- is set.

Shanahan and his father, Mike Shanahan, and Turner (the assistant coach who served on both of their staffs) have achieved a lot of success without investing heavily in running backs. That’s why I think the 49ers would be best-served by investing elsewhere and using another mid-round draft pick on a running back.

With Joshua Garnett coming back next season how aggressive will Lynch and Shanahan be in trying to get guards this offseason? (David Hartless)
Garnett is not a particularly good fit for this offensive scheme. The presence of Garnett can help increase the competition next offseason, but I do not believe he is being penciled in as a starter.

The 49ers will certainly be aggressive in an attempt to upgrade the guard positions. Currently, Laken Tomlinson and Brandon Fusco are the starters. Neither will be assured a starting job when the offseason begins.

The 49ers did not see enough from Garnett to determine he has a future with the organization, but he will be given the opportunity to come back healthy and prove himself.

Is Eric Reid in long-term plans? (Grant Rasmussen)
I do not believe so. I think the 49ers would like their starting safeties next season to be Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt – with Adrian Colbert as the front-runner for the No. 3 job.

The 49ers can also be expected to add a player or two in free agency, as well as the draft, to provide a competitive environment in the offseason. The 49ers seemed to telegraph their intention with Reid when they moved him to linebacker with Ward and Tartt remaining as the starting safeties.

That position change lasted about a week, as Ward’s injury prompted the team to move Reid back to safety. Reid is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. It's entirely possible there will not be a big market for him, but I do not believe the 49ers are going to be ultra-competitive in retaining him on the open market.