Why 49ers should focus on stopping Chris Carson, not Russell Wilson

Why 49ers should focus on stopping Chris Carson, not Russell Wilson

It's no mystery how teams are approaching their matchups with the 49ers.

Time and time again, San Francisco's opponent has come out on its opening drive with the obvious intention of establishing the run.

We saw it in Week 6, when the Rams didn't attempt a pass on their opening drive, instead running it seven straight times for a touchdown.

We saw it in Week 7, when Washington ran the ball on its first 11 plays.

We saw it in Week 9, when the Cardinals gained 36 rushing yards on their first offensive play and finished their first drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.

And you can bet we'll see it again in Week 10, when the 49ers host the rival Seahawks on Monday night.

Last season, Seattle led the NFL in rushing with an average of 160.0 yards per game. The Seahawks haven't been as prolific this season, but their average of 131.7 rushing yards per contest still ranks seventh-best in the league. Quarterback Russell Wilson gets all the headlines -- and deservedly so with his 22:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio -- but it's the run game, led by Chris Carson, that opens up the play-action with which Wilson has been so effective.

NBC Sports Bay Area 49ers analyst Donte Whitner believes Carson, not Wilson, should be San Francisco's main concern Monday night.

"I'm more concerned with how the 49ers started the last two football games, with the teams coming out forcibly running the football, doing whatever they want to do, throwing them around, moving them around," Whitner said on Thursday's episode of "49ers Central." "This team, yeah, everyone is talking about Russell Wilson, Russell Wilson, but it's Chris Carson. He wants to run the football. The Seattle Seahawks want to run the football, and then throw the football second."

Carson is listed at 5-foot-11, 222 pounds, and isn't one to shy away from contact. Whitner, who spent 11 years in the NFL as a safety, knows firsthand that Carson isn't a fun running back to face from a defensive back's perspective.

"You have to stop the run, and you have to understand that the defensive backs in the NFL don't want to hit a guy like this," Whitner admitted. "They don't want to face a guy like this, because he's a physical specimen back there. He searches for contact." 

Sound familiar? Carson reminds Whitner of a former bruising Seahawks running back: "He's similar to Marshawn Lynch in this offense."

[RELATED: 49ers encountering nightmares preparing for Wilson]

With linebacker Kwon Alexander out for the rest of the season with a torn pectoral, that thought should make the 49ers shudder, particularly given how their rush defense has performed as of late.

While a dominant pass rush has helped the 49ers establish the league's best passing defense, they're middle of the road (14th) in rush defense, and only one other NFL team has allowed more yards per rush than San Francisco (5.54) since Week 4.

Carson has fumbled four times this season and lost three, so he's not without his faults. But if the 49ers let him run wild Monday, it will be a long night for their defense.

Ravens' John Harbaugh reacts to 49ers' Tim Ryan's Lamar Jackson remarks


Ravens' John Harbaugh reacts to 49ers' Tim Ryan's Lamar Jackson remarks

49ers broadcaster Tim Ryan was suspended for one game after comments made about Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson following Sunday’s loss.

“He’s really good at that fake, Lamar Jackson, but when you consider his dark skin color with the dark football with a dark uniform, you could not see the thing,” Ryan said on the show (H/T The San Francisco Chronicle).

The comments created a social media firestorm, but Ravens head coach John Harbaugh isn’t interested in furthering the controversy.

“I don’t really know too much about it or understand the context of it. It’s not relevant to what we’re trying to accomplish right now,” Harbaugh said, via Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com.

[RELATED: 49ers' Harris to start at strong safety for injured Tartt]

Former 49ers defensive end Dennis Brown will replace Ryan on Sunday’s broadcast in New Orleans.

49ers injury report: Marcell Harris to start in place of Jaquiski Tartt

49ers injury report: Marcell Harris to start in place of Jaquiski Tartt

BRADENTON, Fla. – Marcell Harris on Sunday will be back where he ended his rookie season with the 49ers.

Harris will take over as the 49ers’ starter at strong safety with Jaquiski Tartt out for at least one game after sustaining cracked ribs in the team’s 20-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13.

Tartt and backup defensive tackle Jullian Taylor (elbow) have been ruled out for the 49ers’ game Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

Two of the 49ers’ seldom-used wide receivers, Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis, are listed as questionable, along with left tackle Joe Staley. Goodwin has knee and foot issues, according to the team, while Pettis has already missed one game with a knee injury.

Staley has missed three games after surgery to repair a fractured and dislocated finger. He is expected to play Sunday.

All other 49ers players, including Dee Ford and Richard Sherman, will be available for Sunday’s game.

Harris started the final five games of his rookie season after being a sixth-round draft pick from Florida in 2018. He did not earn a spot on the team’s 53-man roster at the beginning of this season. Harris was promoted from the practice squad in October and has appeared in nine games this season.

“I’m real happy for Marcell,” coach Kyle Shanahan said on "49ers Game Plan," which airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3). “He’s gone come a long way, in that he was a very good college player, tore his Achilles his senior year, which really hurt him. That’s why we were able to get him in the draft. It affected him his whole rookie year.

"He’s been able to string together about eight months where he has been healthy, and when you’re made of the right stuff, you have the talent and you can stay healthy, you usually just need the time.”

Harris took over for Tartt on Sunday and made one of the top plays in the game when he took the ball away from Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on a running play to create a turnover.

[RELATED: Sanders has been valuable resource for 49ers' young WRs]

49ers injury report

S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs)
DT Jullian Taylor (elbow)

WR Marquise Goodwin (knee, foot)
WR Dante Pettis (knee)
T Joe Staley (finger)