Nationals

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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Mike Rizzo provides an injury update on Max Scherzer

Mike Rizzo provides an injury update on Max Scherzer

After being placed on the 10-day injured list with a mid-back strain, Max Scherzer is supposed to come off of the IL by Saturday in time for the Nationals' third game of their series against the Atlanta Braves.

When he will actually pitch, is another question.

On Tuesday, Scherzer reportedly told manager Davey Martinez he's feeling "a lot better." Nationals GM Mike Rizzo followed up those comments during his spot on The Sports Junkies Wednesday.

"If he’s capable of pitching he will," Rizzo said.

Rizzo told the Junkies that he will find out more information about Scherzer's status prior to Wednesday's final game against the Baltimore Orioles. He said he, in conjunction with the Nationals' medical personnel, made the decision to place Scherzer on the 10-day IL.

“He was incapable of pitching the way Max Scherzer pitches so we all decided to put him on the IL," Rizzo said.

Scherzer was scheduled to start against the Braves this weekend, but the decision will depend on how Scherzer feels.

‘We’re still in July," Rizzo said. "Guarantee you this: If this is September and we needed this win, you couldn’t keep Max off the mound. Sometimes I have to be the adult in the room and just say, ‘sorry, buddy, not this time.”

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Mike Rizzo on how the Nationals plan to approach the nearing trade deadline

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Mike Rizzo on how the Nationals plan to approach the nearing trade deadline

With the MLB trade deadline only two weeks away, Nationals' general manager Mike Rizzo expects the team to be more focused on acquiring players than trading away any - and that includes third baseman Anthony Rendon, whose contract expires at the end of season.

"Obviously, we’re always listening and we’re always talking to people," Rizzo said on The Sports Junkies Wednesday. "But I don’t anticipate moving Anthony Rendon, no."

Rendon's contract extension of $18.8 million going into the 2018 season will expire at the end of this season, and while Rizzo and the Nationals have made it clear they are actively working to re-sign him, a deal has yet to be made.

Rendon's agent Scott Boras told NBC Sports Washington's Todd Dybas during the All-Star Break that he and the [Nationals team owners] Lerners have "always worked out things -- usually."

“There are times that they make decisions and we make decisions, and I think they’ve been very good decisions for all parties involved," Boras added at the time. "When they sit down and look at where their franchise is going, that’s a direction they have to give us. Obviously, they have to make those decisions. Rendon is a superstar and that is a major decision in their franchise. I don’t ask. I just go and prepare for our meetings and we talk and kind of listen to what they tell us they want to do. It’s really in their corner as to how we go from there.”

Rizzo told the Junkies that the Nationals plan to keep Rendon, though acknowledged the calls for him from other teams do keep coming in.

‘’[An offer] would have to be something that wouldn’t make sense for us to turn down and probably wouldn’t make sense for them to acquire," Rizzo said on trading Rendon.

Rizzo said the Nationals' front office is prepared to add some players to the roster.

"We’ve been most recently in acquire mode, because, you know, we’ve had the chance to win the last eight seasons and I think we're in that mode again," Rizzo said.

Though, of course, he wouldn't actually rule out making any trades that send some players out of DC.

"We're an aggressive front office, we're an aggressive ownership group, and if there’s a deal to be made that would help us prepare for meaningful games in September and beyond, we’ve shown in the past that we’re capable of doing that and we're not afraid to make a trade," he said.

The Nationals take on the Orioles for game 2 of the Battle of the Beltways Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. 

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