49ers' run defense slows down Cardinals' Johnson

49ers' run defense slows down Cardinals' Johnson

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The No. 1 step for the 49ers to remain competitive and in a position to upset the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday was to clean up the team’s most glaring deficiency.

And that’s exactly what the 49ers did.

The 49ers’ run defense, which entered the game allowing 193.0 yards per game, stiffened against running back David Johnson. Still, it was not enough to prevent the 49ers from their eighth consecutive loss.

Kicker Chandler Catanzaro hit a 34-yard field on the final play of the game for the winning score in the Cardinals’ 23-20 victory over the 49ers. After the 49ers tied the game at 20-20, Arizona drove 69 yards on 11 plays to set up Catanzaro’s kick.

“I just told them I was proud of how they competed, but we still have to . . . they’re not handing out participation trophies in the National Football League,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said. “It’s about wins and losses.”

The 49ers’ defense snapped a streak of allowing seven consecutive opponents to rush for 100 yards or more. Johnson was held to 55 yards and a touchdown rushing on 19 carries. The Cardinals gained 80 yards on 23 run attempts on the 49ers’ last-ranked defense.

Arizona coach Bruce Arians said he knew it would be difficult to run against the 49ers, who stacked the box in an attempt to take away the Cardinals’ ground game.

“There was never a doubt,” Arians said. “And we didn’t block it very well at times. But he needs to stick it up in there and quit bouncing outside and putting the guys in jeopardy of holding penalties and losing yardage. A 2-yard gain is better than a 1-yard loss or a 10-yard holding penalty. When you get frustrated, you try to make big plays.”

Johnson entered the game as the NFL's No. 4 rusher with 705 yards. On Oct. 6, Johnson gained 157 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers in a 33-21 win at Levi's Stadium.

Kelly said the improved 49ers run defense was a result of the front getting lined up correctly and each player taking care of his respective assignment. The 49ers also received a big boost from veteran nose tackle Glenn Dorsey, who made his first start after being in and out of the lineup with a knee issue this season.

“I think our guys were where they were supposed to be,” Kelly said. “We had the right fits. Guys battled. We were lined up right.

“I think overall as a group the one thing that stuck out was our guys tackled well. There weren’t a whole lot of missed tackles with guys running around. And usually when you have those big plays, a lot of times the first guy there doesn’t make the tackle and get him down or slow him down so the rest of the guys can get there. But I thought our guys tackled well as a better.”

Defensive back Jaquiski Tartt said the 49ers brought a determined attitude into Sunday’s game after being scorched repeatedly during their losing streak.

“I would say it’s our mindset,” Tartt said. “It’s about time we stopped the run. Coming into the game, we knew they were going to try to run the ball on us. We just had the mindset, nobody is going to run the ball on us any more.

“It’s easier said than done, but that was our mindset.”

Linebacker Gerald Hodges, who had six tackles and a late-game interception that enabled the 49ers to tie the score late in the game, believes Sunday’s game signals a transformation with the defense.

“People get confused, thinking it was big problem when it was never really a big problem,” he said. “It was little details here and there that you have to tweak and fix. And this display shows you the kind of defense that we really are. It’s not a fluke or anything like that. We just have to make sure that everybody is hitting on all cylinders when we’re out there playing.”

Frank Gore returns home for his 14th NFL season


Frank Gore returns home for his 14th NFL season

Frank Gore is returning home to, in all likelihood, finish his professional football career.

Gore, 34, signed a one-year contract to enter his 14th NFL season with his hometown Miami Dolphins, the team announced Friday.

Gore grew up in Coconut Grove, Florida, and attended Coral Gables High School before playing collegiately at the University of Miami.

He played the first 10 NFL seasons with the 49ers and is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. Gore ranks fifth in NFL history with 14,026 rushing yards – just 75 yards behind No. 4 Curtis Martin.

After rushing for 11,073 yards and 64 touchdowns with the 49ers, the club declined to offer him a multi-year contract following the 2014 season. Gore played the past three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

Gore remains one of the most popular players in 49ers history. When asked recently if he would be willing to “retire” as a member of the 49ers after his final game, Gore reacted enthusiastically about the possibility.

1, Emmitt Smith 18,355
2, Walter Payton 16,726
3, Barry Sanders 15,269
4, Curtis Martin 14,101
5, Frank Gore 14,026

49ers increase competition for starting guard positions


49ers increase competition for starting guard positions

The 49ers are the fifth team to give Jonathan Cooper a chance after he arrived in the NFL as the No. 7 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 draft.

Cooper, 28, caught the attention of the 49ers with his career-high 13 starts last season with the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers signed him to a one-year, $4.95 million contract this week.

“We signed him to compete for one of the guard spots as a starter,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday at Stanford's pro day. “He played very well in our minds for Dallas last year and kind of resurrected his career. He’s battled injuries, but we really like the way he played, and we think he’s a very good fit for what we do. So we were pleased to add him.”

The 49ers plan to take it slowly this offseason with Cooper, who underwent surgery after tearing the medial-collateral ligament in his left knee during the final game of the season. The 49ers report for the offseason program in mid-April.

The 49ers are certain to have at least two new starters on the offensive line. Former New York Giants center Weston Richburg was signed to replace Daniel Kilgore, who was subsequently traded to the Miami Dolphins. Brandon Fusco, who started 16 games at right guard, signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an unrestricted free agent.

Laken Tomlinson has a chance to hold onto a starting job. Acquired shortly before the start of the regular season in a trade from the Detroit Lions, Tomlinson quickly moved into the starting lineup at left guard and started the final 15 games. Tomlinson was a first-round draft pick of the Lions in 2015.

“Laken played very well the longer he was there,” Lynch said. “I think people forget with Laken, he came here in Week 1. He was kind of force-fed. We didn’t have many options. But we saw a guy get better throughout the season. He’ll get his opportunity.”

Joshua Garnett, a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2016, spent last season on injured reserve due to an a knee injury sustained in training camp. The 49ers challenged Garnett to get in better physical condition. He has been cleared for football activity.

“Joshua Garnett has been working extremely hard, so he’ll be in that mix,” Lynch said. “He did a great job embracing the time he has last year to improve as a player. He remade his body and we're looking forward to see him get after it in the offseason.

“I think he’s excited about it. He’s feeling sexy, as he says.”

Erik Magnuson, 24, won a spot on the 49ers’ roster after signing as an undrafted rookie from Michigan. Magnuson could enter into the competition at guard. He displayed unique versatility in his first season, starting two games at right tackle before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. He can also serve as a backup center.

And, perhaps, the 49ers are not finished adding to the competition. The team owns the No. 9 overall selection, and Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson could be on the radar in the unlikely event he is not selected within the top eight picks.

When asked if the 49ers could also add another player to the mix with a draft pick, Lynch answered, “We’ll see. We’re always looking to get better there.”