49ers

Five 49ers to watch in Week 12: Jimmie Ward has tough test vs. Packers

Five 49ers to watch in Week 12: Jimmie Ward has tough test vs. Packers

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers, a team that was bumped off "Sunday Night Football" on NBC twice last season, will play their third game under the lights in the past four weeks.

San Francisco returns to "Sunday Night Football" after a four-year absence, as this Week 12 meeting against the Green Bay Packers was flexed from its originally scheduled afternoon start to a prime-time showcase.

The 49ers lead the NFC West with a conference-best record of 9-1. The Packers come to town at 8-2 in their first year under coach Matt LaFleur.

San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said he was struck this week as he looked in the defensive meeting room and saw that only Richard Sherman and Dee Ford have previously been on NFL teams with winning records. (Ford will not play Sunday due to a hamstring injury.)

Shanahan has stressed to his team there is a different kind of pressure that comes when a team is winning as opposed to the misery of losing.

“People are telling you how good you are,” Shanahan said this week. “The league is hard every year. It doesn’t really matter what’s going on, they’re just different reasons why. I just try to tell guys that if you get too caught up in the moment and stuff it doesn’t seem as much fun and you need to make sure you enjoy this moment.”

It's an important game for the 49ers as they look to lock down a playoff spot and set themselves up for the postseason. Here are five players who should have key roles in Sunday’s game.

DT DeForest Buckner

DeForest Buckner is second on the 49ers in tackles with 40 through 10 games. His sacks are down from 12 last season to five, but that does not mean he is failing to meet expectations.

Buckner continues to play well, but he is yet to have a truly dominant game. The 49ers’ defense will be counting on Buckner on all downs Sunday against the Packers.

First, the 49ers have to take care of Green Bay running back Aaron Jones, who has rushed for 589 yards and 11 touchdowns. Buckner plays a huge role on those early downs to force offenses into passing situations.

Then, Buckner can be unleashed as a dominant inside pass-rusher on third downs. The 49ers count on Buckner and Arik Armstead inside to collapse the pocket, and that will be particularly important on Sunday against a mobile quarterback such as Aaron Rodgers.

TE George Kittle

It looks as if George Kittle is back for the 49ers, as he made it through practices Thursday and Friday on a limited basis. He is listed as questionable, which would seem to suggest he will be ready to return to action Sunday night after missing the past two games with knee and ankle issues.

Kittle leads the 49ers with 46 receptions for 541 yards. But what makes Kittle the best in the game, according to NBC "Sunday Night Football" analyst Cris Collinsworth, is his yards after the catch and his dominance as a blocker.

The 49ers run game struggled without Kittle on the field, so getting him back in the action is a huge boost as he is a proven playmaker and someone who has contagious enthusiasm and energy.

DE Nick Bosa

Another Bosa had a big day in Week 9 against Green Bay left tackle David Bakhtiari. Joey Bosa registered 1.5 sacks as the Los Angeles Chargers upset the Packers.

Nick Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft and younger brother of Joey, got off to a hot start with seven sacks in seven games. He has been shut out the past three games, but he is still applying pressure on the quarterback at an impressive rate.

Bosa has seen more than his share of double-teams, including backs, tight ends and wide receiver lending assistance to the left tackles he faces. But Bosa keeps right on coming.

“He’s consistently in the backfield disrupting both in the run and the pass game, and the motor on him is incredible,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of Bosa this week. “It doesn’t shock me because his brother is the same way. Anytime you get a player as talented as he is with a motor, that is a nightmare for an offense.”

RB Tevin Coleman

It will be another week without running back Matt Breida, which means Tevin Coleman will get the bulk of the rushing attempts. Coleman has not found much room to run in recent weeks as defenses have loaded the box to stop the 49ers' run game.

Coleman has 409 yards rushing with five touchdowns, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. Kittle's return could be huge for Coleman, as the Packers might not be able to stack as many defenders close to the line of scrimmage. Also, Kittle’s blocking should be a help.

The 26-year-old is adept at catching the ball out of the backfield, so this could be an opportunity for Shanahan to design more plays to get the ball to Coleman in space, in order to take advantage of his speed.

[RELATED: Watch 49ers-Packers on "Sunday Night Football" online]

FS Jimmie Ward

It does not get much more difficult for any free safety than facing Rodgers, one of the best in the history of the game. Rodgers is so good at taking deep shots when they present themselves, while also protecting the football from the hands of defensive backs.

Ward has been solid with his ability to play the deep middle and limiting the number of big plays the 49ers have surrendered this season. He wants to generate more takeaways, but this might not be the week for that.

Ward said he is neither satisfied nor discouraged with how he has played in his seven starts, rating himself somewhere in the middle. He will get tested on Sunday, as Rodgers likes to keep plays alive and deliver the game-changing play down the field. It will be Ward’s job to prevent that from happening.

Chiefs' Eric Bieniemy indentifies 'heart and soul' of 49ers' defense

Chiefs' Eric Bieniemy indentifies 'heart and soul' of 49ers' defense

The Kansas City Chiefs offense is stacked. They have an elite quarterback in Patrick Mahomes and a track team of receivers in Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman and Travis Kelce, the best tight end east of George Kittle.

They shouldn’t fear anybody. Not with that lineup. They do have great respect for the 49ers defense, its ferocious front in particular.

That’s an appropriate stance. The 49ers might have the NFL’s best defensive line, featuring Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead.

The 49ers have the league’s best pass defense and ranked fifth with 48 sacks during the regular season. They have nine more this postseason, largely by taking opponents off schedule and setting up favorable pass-rush situations.

All that’s why the Chiefs attack versus the 49ers defense is strength on strength. Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy understands that and identifies what makes the 49ers go.

“They are fast, and they do a great job of rushing the passer,” Bieniemy said in his Thursday press conference. “They have some big boys up front. That’s the heart and soul of who they are. I’m not knocking anybody on that defense because everything starts up front. It’s just like on offense. We want our guys to be the heart and soul of who we are.

"Well, the heart and soul of that defense lies up front. Those guys do a great job of getting off the ball. On top of that, they have a couple of backers who just fly around. On the back end, those guys are playing very, very sound, with one hell of a leader in Richard Sherman.”

[RELATED: 49ers' Robert Saleh details what makes Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes elite]

The 49ers have linebacker depth and legit players in a secondary that plays its coverages well. It’s a complete unit that has earned Kanas City’s respect.

“Obviously they have a ton of playmakers on the defense with the defensive line, linebackers and in the secondary,” Mahomes said. “They have guys that have experience and they have young guys that are super talented and so you can see that the young guys have really grown as the season has gone on and they have learned from other guys around. They’re very sound in what they do and in the coverages that they play. For us, it’s about executing at a high level and knowing it’s going to be a challenge every single play.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).

Jimmy Garoppolo's first encounter with Patrick Mahomes left impression

Jimmy Garoppolo's first encounter with Patrick Mahomes left impression

SANTA CLARA -- In Week 3 of the 2018 season, the Chiefs beat the 49ers 38-27, but more important than the loss alone, the trajectory of the losing club was changed forever. 
 
Late in the fourth quarter, down by 12 points, Jimmy Garoppolo faced a third-and-20 situation. The quarterback scrambled for 13 yards and in the process tore his ACL, ending his season. 

There were several impressions made on Garoppolo from the experience but one of the positives was his first interaction with Patrick Mahomes. After the game, Garoppolo was on a cart in the tunnels of Arrowhead Stadium and the Chiefs quarterback sought out Garoppolo to wish him luck in his recovery. 

It’s a moment that Garoppolo was asked if he still recalled. 

“Absolutely,” Garoppolo said. “I didn’t even know Pat at the time. For him to come out of his way after the game and wish me luck and everything, just a real class act. The guy is awesome, on the field, off the field, he does it all.”  

The 49ers went on to finish the 2018 season with a disappointing 4-12 record but an argument could be made that there was a huge positive from those results. The 49ers, in turn, had the second pick in the 2019 NFL draft and were able to select Nick Bosa. 

The addition of the Ohio State product, as well as free agent Dee Ford, has added speed to the defensive line. Those two, among other key additions, helped the team to a 13-3 regular season. Subsequently, the club is now preparing for Super Bowl LIV to face off with Chiefs once again, but this time for all the marbles. 

[RELATED: McGlinchey calls out Jimmy G naysayers]

The two quarterbacks have not had the chance to interact since that fateful game but Garoppolo still has a lot of respect for the gesture. 

“Not really since then, no, but just for him to do something as simple as that, it went a long way.”
 

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday).