Why Kyle Juszczyk believes facing Falcons' defense was good for 49ers

Why Kyle Juszczyk believes facing Falcons' defense was good for 49ers

SANTA CLARA -- The Falcons defense matched Kyle Shanahan’s offense wit for wit on the field Sunday in San Francisco's 29-22 loss at Levi's Stadium.

Many opponents have focused on stopping the 49ers' dominant run game to make them one-dimensional, but Shanahan had remained one step ahead. That appeared to not be the case on Sunday when the Falcons came out with a different plan to stifle the Jimmy Garoppolo and the rest of the 49ers offense.

“Yeah, they had a great game plan,” 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “They came out and they gave us something different that they haven’t shown all season. They came out with five bigs, three linebackers and took a DB out, so it was just something we had to adjust to.

"I felt like at times we did a good job, but could have done a little bit better.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn recently delegated partial responsibility of defensive play calling duties to his assistant Raheem Morris, which could have factored into their efficiency. Regardless of the change, Juszczyk says different looks from opposing defenses is nothing new, it’s expected. 

“We run a unique offense that not a lot of other teams do with two running backs on the field so we get that a lot,” Juszczyk said. “We get a lot of teams that game plan and show us something that they haven’t run before.”  

The lack of productivity on offense was evident outside of one 83-yard drive that lasted 21 plays and ended in a touchdown. The remaining nine offensive drives went eight plays or less. The 49ers second and only remaining touchdown came after a fumble on a punt return put them one yard away from the end zone. 

“I think it says a lot about us that teams have to switch things up,” Juszczyk said. “They know if they just give us their vanilla defense that it might not turn out the way they want. It’s a compliment to us, but it’s also something that we’ve got to handle better.”

While the Sunday’s loss bumped the 49ers down to the No. 5 seed in the NFC, Juszczyk still believes there were important lessons learned by the loss. The 49ers still control their own destiny. Winning out can still put them back into the driver’s seat and give them a first round bye. 

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“It’s been high drama, but I feel like we’re built for it,” Juszczyk said. “I just keep saying that this is going to be good experience for when even more is on the line, you know? So we know that we’ve got some big games coming up with the playoffs and this kind of stuff is just good experience for us.

“Weird, weird feeling. Didn’t even realize that we had clinched until a few moments ago. That was a goal of ours, so you can take a little bit of good from that after a tough loss. 

George Kittle should not show up without new contract, says Donte Whitner

George Kittle should not show up without new contract, says Donte Whitner

The 49ers’ offseason has shifted from free agency to draft preparation.

But there’s another element of the offseason that should not be overlooked when it is time – whenever that might be – for NFL teams to resume their on-field work.

Tight end George Kittle is entering the final year of his original contract. And for the first time this offseason, the 49ers are allowed to give him a contract extension.

NBC Sports Bay Area analysist Donte Whitner believes Kittle should not report back to the club without a new contract.

“I think that he should demand top dollar and he shouldn’t take another snap or step on the football field without getting paid,” Whitner said on 49ers Central.

Kittle’s contract rose to $2.133 million for the 2020 season due to the NFL’s proven performance escalator. But he is still scheduled to be the 25th highest-paid player on the team.

“He’s going to demand a lot of money on the market – a lot of guaranteed money – and rightfully so,” Whitner said. “He’s a guy not only catches the football and gets into the end zone, but he provides the energy and the toughness that it takes to win.”

Kittle was a fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft. Through three seasons, Kittle has 2,945 yards receiving in the regular season – the most for any tight end in NFL history over the first three seasons of a career.

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Earlier this offseason, the Cleveland Browns made Austin Hooper the highest-paid tight end on a multi-year contract with a four-year, $42 million contract. Kittle’s next contract is expected to far-exceed Hooper’s deal.

But Kittle is taking a risk if he plays another down – or takes part in another practice – without first cashing in, NBC Sports Bay Area analysis Ian Williams agrees.

“He doesn’t come off to me as that type of player, but we’ve all seen players who have held out in previous years,” Williams said. “It happens. It’s a business decision and guys have to be smart about their bodies and know that, ‘If I do stuff on this practice field or I do stuff on this game field and I get injured and I don’t have anything to secure my future, that’s on me.’”

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The 49ers are likely saving some of their cap room for a new deal for Kittle this offseason. The 49ers are $15.8 million under the salary cap, according to the NFLPA.

The 49ers’ rookie pool is set at $8.2 million, but only the top 51 players count against the cap at this time of year. Therefore, the draft picks are set lower the 49ers’ current cap number by approximately $3.4 million.

The 49ers have enough cap space to strike a new deal with Kittle this offseason. Now, they just have to find a figure that works for both sides.


2020 NFL Draft profile: CeeDee Lamb could fill Emmanuel Sanders' 49ers role

2020 NFL Draft profile: CeeDee Lamb could fill Emmanuel Sanders' 49ers role

Editors Note: NBC Sports Bay Area will preview the NFL Draft with a look at the 49ers’ top needs, profiles of prospects that might be good fits, along with some hidden gems in the later rounds. In this installment, we profile Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb.

Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb might not have the blazing speed of Alabama’s Henry Ruggs or the refined route running of Jerry Jeudy, but he will still make an immediate impact on the team that selects him in the 2020 NFL Draft. 

Lamb’s 40-yard dash ranked him tied for just 21st among the wide receiver group at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he’s still no slouch. He has legitimate acceleration with a long stride due to his 6-foot-2 frame. 

Over his three seasons with the Sooners, Lamb amassed 3,292 yards and 32 touchdowns, lining up predominantly as a slot receiver. Emmanuel Sanders' departure to the New Orleans Saints in free agency left a void at that position for the 49ers, and Lamb could help coach Kyle Shanahan's offense not skip a beat in 2020. 

While Lamb has proven that he can haul in contested catches, he did not face the stoutest defenses playing in the Big 12 Conference. One of the main questions facing the First-Team All American is his potential to succeed against much more formidable cornerbacks and safeties in the NFL.

To combat this transition, Lamb has worked on increasing his strength, putting on nearly 10 pounds following his sophomore season. 

Lamb’s ability to gain yards after the catch is something that Shanahan looks for in a skill position player. Like 49ers pass-catchers Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, Lamb is known for forcing missed tackles. 

[RELATED: How Ashtyn Davis went from Cal to walk-on draft prospect]

Lamb, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, led the Big 12 in yards per catch, with an astounding 21.4 yards per reception in his junior year. That was no fluke. He has a 19-yard per catch average over three seasons. 

Many scouts and draft pundits have compared Lamb to Arizona Cardinals star DeAndre Hopkins, who the 49ers will face twice in 2020. It might be opportunistic for the 49ers to have a comparable weapon. 

NFL draft profile: CeeDee Lamb

Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 198 pounds
College: Oklahoma
Career stats: 173 catches for 3,292 yards and 32 touchdowns

Combine measurables
40-yard dash: 4.5 seconds (tied for 21st among wide receivers)
Bench Press: 11 reps
Vertical jump: 34.5 inches
Broad jump: 124.0 inches

What experts are saying
Todd McShay, ESPN: "Lamb excels in finding soft spots in zone coverage and has great hands to go make the catch. No receiver in this year's draft class forced as many missed tackles as Lamb did. His ability to stop and start, along with good size, wheels and instincts, helped him post 11.1 yards after the catch in 2019, among the best in the nation."
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Media: "A tall, lean wideout with top-tier hands, toughness and production. A polished player who is equally explosive and reliable."
Josh Norris, NBC Sports: "Lamb’s game is very reminiscent of DeAndre Hopkins. Lamb offers everything you want at the position: size, fluidity in routes to create separation and yards after the catch thanks to broken tackles."

Projected round: First

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