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49ers can up sacks total facing Arizona Cardinals

49ers can up sacks total facing Arizona Cardinals

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) The pass rusher in Aldon Smith is getting a little more excited than usual this week.

That's a feeling spreading throughout the San Francisco defense as the 49ers prepare for Monday night's game against the Arizona Cardinals, the only NFC West team to beat the Niners during coach Jim Harbaugh's two seasons here.

Despite another strong season from Smith, the 49ers aren't sacking opposing quarterbacks at the same rate they did last year. But that hasn't prevented San Francisco from leading the NFL in both total defense and passing defense.

There could be plenty of opportunities for sacks against the Cardinals, who have struggled all season to protect quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and John Skelton.

That pair has been dropped 35 times in seven games, by far the most sacks allowed by any team in the league. Skelton, who will start Monday's game, was sacked seven times in last week's loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

That's something that hasn't gone unnoticed by Smith, who set a franchise rookie record last season with 14 sacks and leads the team with 5 1/2 this year.

``We'd all like to have more sacks,'' Smith said Thursday. ``Seeing other people have success getting sacks, I mean that's what I do and that's what we do. So of course it's thumbs up for us.''

Smith has half of San Francisco's entire sack total. The 49ers have only three sacks in their past three games and rank 23rd in the NFL in sacks per play - the team's lowest standing in 12 defensive categories recorded by the league.

The 49ers had 42 sacks in 2011, and the havoc created by their pass rush was a key to the team's defensive success. Smith burst onto the scene with an impressive rookie season, but the 49ers also got a consistent push up front from their bookend defensive tackles, All-Pro Justin Smith (7 1/2 sacks last year) and Ray McDonald (5 1/2).

Justin Smith and McDonald have combined for only a half sack so far this season. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (three sacks) is the only 49er besides Aldon Smith with more than one sack this year.

But the lack of sacks belies the strength of San Francisco's pass rush. The pressure up front has been good with Justin Smith and McDonald combining for 47 quarterback hits and 68 pressures even though they haven't been taking quarterbacks to the ground.

``We're ranked (first) in pass defense, and pass rush is part of pass defense,'' defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. ``So, although we don't have the sack numbers, which a lot of people want to sink their teeth into, that's not the measure of a good pass rush. And right now to this point, I haven't seen pass rush as being a weakness for us.''

Aldon Smith still has been getting his sacks. He was particularly impressive during a three-play sequence in the final two minutes last week against Seattle to help the 49ers finish a 13-6 victory over the Seahawks that left San Francisco (5-2) a game ahead of Seattle (4-3) and Arizona (4-3) in the division.

With the Seahawks back deep in their own territory, Smith overpowered Seattle offensive tackle Breno Giacomini to sack quarterback Russell Wilson for a seven-yard loss.

Two plays later, with Seattle facing 4th and 17 from its 4, Smith again was pushing Giacomini back into Wilson in the end zone before guard Paul McQuistan peeled back to help. McQuistan was flagged for a chop block on Smith, and the 49ers were awarded a safety that Harbaugh declined since the ball went back to San Francisco with 43 seconds remaining.

``I think teams are a little bit more prepared for us than they were last year and quarterbacks are getting the ball out faster,'' Smith said. ``But all in all we're hurrying throws and we're creating a lot of pressure, so we're doing our job.''

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

The Capitals are the Eastern Conference Champions!

After dispatching Tampa Bay in Game 7, the Caps claimed the conference crown for just the second time in franchise history. But they're not done yet. Now it's on to Vegas to face the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps' win over the Lightning and look ahead to the matchup with the Knights.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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