Donte Whitner

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.

49ers can learn from Kyler Murray ahead of matchup vs. Russell Wilson


49ers can learn from Kyler Murray ahead of matchup vs. Russell Wilson

Entering Thursday night's game against the Cardinals, the 49ers undoubtedly had the top defensive unit in the NFC, if not the entire NFL. They still can lay claim to that title, but they didn't play like it in Arizona.

Sure, San Francisco got the 28-25 win to improve to 8-0, but it certainly wasn't as commanding of a victory as any of the prior seven. The 49ers allowed a touchdown on the Cardinals' opening drive, and the defense really wore down in the second half. If not for some poor clock management on the part of Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury, San Francisco's record might no longer be spotless.

After escaping with the victory, NBC Sports Bay Area's Donte Whitner was highly critical of the 49ers' defensive effort, particularly at the start of the contest.

"Understanding that when you take the field early in the football game, you have to pack the defense and you have to match or exceed the intensity of the offense," the former 49ers safety urged. "So if you come out and those guys are running the football and you're flat and you're waiting on one of your teammates to make a play, this is when big plays happen. Each individual has to go out there with the mindset that 'I'm going to be the guy that makes the play, I'm not going to ease into this football game, and we're going to match or exceed the intensity of the offense.' And they didn't do that today.

"They didn't start the game fast, they didn't sustain throughout the middle of the game and they didn't finish. And you can't beat teams like the New Orleans Saints with Drew Brees, and they have a good defense. And the Green Bay Packers with Aaron Rodgers, and they have a good defense. You have to play Seattle twice, you have Baltimore ... if you play the way that you played today versus those good teams, you don't have a chance to win these games."

It's worth mentioning that San Francisco's lackluster defensive performance came on a short week, as the 49ers were playing their second game in a span of five days. Of course, so were the Cardinals.

Whitner didn't buy that as an excuse.

"I don't think the short week played into that at all," he said. "There were simple plays out there, like the deep over route that went for 88 yards. I guarantee you [Emmanuel] Moseley has probably covered that route a thousand times since he's been in San Francisco, a thousand times playing football in college, and then just on that play, you get stuck in between. 'Oh, do I make the tackle, or do I go for the pick?' And he chose the latter, he didn't get the football, and then they had an 88-yard play.

"And then, pursuit angles. Even once he catches that football, you have a corner on the backside in [Richard] Sherman who takes the wrong angle, overruns it, allows the guy to cut back. And then you have a middle-field safety -- whose job is last defender, get the guy on the ground -- and he overpursues and takes a bad angle. So it's not just Moseley, it's everybody. Once he catches the football, you take good angles to the football and you get the guy down. You live to play another defensive series or another play, and they didn't do that."

As Whitner pointed out, the 49ers have several high-quality opponents on their upcoming schedule, beginning in Week 9, when they host the rival Seahawks on Monday Night Football. The former safety knows just how difficult of a challenge Seattle's Russell Wilson poses, and described how San Francisco might prepare for the dynamic quarterback over the coming week.

"What they'll probably put back there is a wide receiver or somebody to emulate [Wilson] running around, breaking the pocket, plastering," Whitner explained. "Plastering is when the defensive backs have to latch onto the receivers they're covering because once he starts to scramble, the guys who go deep come back to the ball, and the guys who run short routes, they go deep. So you have to have muscle endurance to be able to cover these guys, because you have guys like Tyler Lockett, who will take off, run a 15-yard route, [Wilson] starts scrambling and he takes off 40 yards across the field.

"You have to have muscle endurance to be able to keep up with [Lockett], and if you don't do that, they can blow you out or put a blemish on this record. So you want to understand what he's doing, you want to have a sense of urgency from the defensive line to get Wilson on the ground, and not allow him to run around and throw the football."

[RELATED: 49ers' Alexander to undergo MRI for possible pec injury]

While Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray has a long way to go to reach Wilson's level, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2019 NFL Draft was fairly impressive against San Francisco on Thursday night, and NBC Sports Bay Area's Ian Williams believes the 49ers' experience against Murray will benefit them against Wilson next week.

"Being able to play this game today against Kyler Murray definitely helps the defense," Williams said, "because now they'll be able to go into the film room this next week, be able to watch the film and correct the mistakes, like letting Murray out of the pocket on the touchdown he threw and other instances where he was able to get outside the pocket and scramble around. 

"They're going to see a lot of that this week coming up on Monday night, but I feel like seeing that now -- they don't really have that kind of guy on their roster -- they got a great look tonight, and they got the win. So now, go back, see what you did wrong, correct it, and then come out on Monday night and don't make those same mistakes."

The 49ers produced arguably their worst defensive performance of the season on short rest. They should be replenished -- and reinforced -- by Monday night, and against Wilson, they'll need to be.

Why Donte Whitner believes 49ers need to add true No. 1 wide receiver

Why Donte Whitner believes 49ers need to add true No. 1 wide receiver

Somehow, the 49ers are 6-0 without a legit threat at wide receiver.

General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan have tried to address the position through the last few NFL drafts, but Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd have yet to pay off.

Prior to the 49ers' 9-0 win over Washington on Sunday, CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reported, citing league sources, that San Francisco is "aggressively pursuing multiple options at wide receiver."

You can count NBC Sports Bay Area analyst Donte Whitner as a fan of that idea.

"You don't have that No. 1 guy. You have a bunch of No. 2s and No. 3s, and Kittle is your No. 1 guy, but as you saw today, they paid special attention to him," Whitner said on 49ers Postgame Live. "They were bumping him with defensive linemen, they were bumping him with linebackers, there was one play out there where he had three guys around him when they threw the football to him in the middle of the field. You need a definitive No. 1 guy to pull that extra guy out of the box, to allow this running game to continue to flourish, and that's when you can take another leap towards winning a championship."

Kittle, an All-Pro tight end, is nearly 200 yards clear of the 49ers' top receiver this season. Marquise Goodwin has 181 receiving yards, while Kittle is at 376 after Sunday's game. Samuel leads all San Francisco wideouts with 15 catches, and he didn't play in Washington.

La Canfora mentioned several intriguing names that are of interest to the 49ers: Cincinnati's A.J. Green, Denver's Emmanuel Sanders, Atlanta's Mohamed Sanu, Miami's DeVante Parker and Chicago's Taylor Gabriel.

Any of those five would instantly be an upgrade over what the 49ers currently have in house.

Whitner also brought up a name he's been pushing for the last couple of weeks: disgruntled free agent Antonio Brown.

"Hopefully they get a trade, sometime soon, maybe A.J. Green, maybe one of these guys that's on the trading block, maybe Antonio Brown once he clears up everything that he needs to clear up," Whitner said. "But they need this guy because as you go further in the playoffs or towards the end of the season, you play better defensive back units that are on the details of their job and it's hard to beat that coverage man-to-man, so they need that guy."

[RELATED: Whitner believes 49ers can go deep in playoffs]

The 49ers have made it this far without a true No. 1 receiver, but Whitner is right. If they want to win Super Bowl LIV in February, they are going to need a big-time target for Jimmy Garoppolo.

Time for Lynch and Shanahan to swing for the fences.

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