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49ers defense hungry for shutouts

49ers defense hungry for shutouts

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) There's no secret about what the NFL's second-ranked defense wants to accomplish over the second half of the season.

It's the same list of things the first-place San Francisco 49ers got done on that side of the football during their first eight games.

``As a defensive unit, the way we play speaks for itself,'' outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks said Friday. ``We're an aggressive D, and we want to shut guys out.''

Nobody in the league does that better than the 49ers, who have allowed fewer points than any team and rank either first or second in the NFL in seven defensive categories as they prepare for their first game since their bye on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

The long layoff - San Francisco will be playing just its second game in 24 days - gave the 49ers some time to reflect on a defensive performance that was dominant during most of the season's first half.

The 49ers, who returned all 11 starters from last season, have matured as a veteran unit, building on what they accomplished in 2011 when San Francisco ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense and led the league in rushing defense.

``It's a veteran group of talented players, and you see upward trajectory really in all their play,'' coach Jim Harbaugh said. ``I don't see anybody that's falling off or decreasing in their effort or their performance on the field. And then how they're playing together as a group - all those things - we're seeing good improvement at a high level.''

The 49ers (6-2) have played at the highest level keeping opponents away from their goal line. San Francisco has allowed a NFL-low nine touchdowns, including a league-low six through the air.

The 49ers have not allowed a touchdown in four of their past five games, and their opponents have scored just 12 total points in those four victories. San Francisco shut out the New York Jets in September and is allowing just 12.9 points per game, which would be a franchise record if it holds to the end of the season.

San Francisco's lone shutout last season came against St. Louis at Candlestick Park, where the 49ers will be looking to shut down the struggling Rams (3-5) again and extend their 11-game home winning streak against NFC West opponents. That's the longest active streak in the NFL.

``You want to be good at everything, but the biggest thing is keeping teams out of the end zone,'' Harbaugh said. ``Number one is keep the other team from scoring, as few points as possible.''

The 49ers also have made strides this year defending against the pass, which has made them a complete defense. San Francisco ranks second in the NFL in pass defense after finishing 16th in that category last year.

San Francisco is the only NFL team not to allow a passing touchdown of more than 20 yards this season, and the 49ers have allowed only nine passing plays of 25 or more yards, the third-fewest in the league.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has lauded the improvement of his starting secondary, which includes Pro Bowlers Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson, and also nickel cornerback Chris Culliver, who has become a regular part of San Francisco's defensive packages.

``Little strides in a lot of areas equals a big difference,'' Fangio said.

One area where the 49ers would like things to be different the rest of the season is creating more turnovers. The Niners led the NFL in takeaways (38) and turnover differential (plus-28) last season, but at midseason this year they've produced only 12 turnovers and their turnover differential stands at plus-3.

But there's still a half season to work on improving those numbers.

``We were looking at that turnover-ratio chart the other day,'' Brooks said. ``Last year, we were at the top of that chart. We're going to have to boost that up. But we'll just keep doing the same things we've been doing all year, the same things we were doing last year, just trying to go out there and dominate the other team.''

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NFL revamping players' pain management and prevention programs

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NFL revamping players' pain management and prevention programs

NEW YORK -- The NFL and the players' union have two new agreements to address player health in the areas of pain management/prescription medications, and behavior well-being.

The joint agreements, announced Monday, are designed to lead to advancement and understanding of dealing with pain and to improve potential treatments. The league and union also will add to programs already established in education, prevention, and overall behavioral health throughout the league.

"I was hired two years ago and when I was hired I was asked about areas of concern," said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's medical chief. "And I said these were two areas I saw from my knowledge of someone taking care of athletes for over two decades. I felt a real need there."

"We've been working together with the players' union to come up with something that would work proactively for both. We have the same goal, to take care of the whole player and in a holistic way, and to focus on prevention."

Among the stipulations in the pain management area will be formation of a committee of medical experts appointed by the league and union that will establish uniform standards for club practices and policies in pain management and the use of prescription medication by players. The committee also will conduct research concerning pain management and alternative therapies.

That committee will receive periodic reports from a newly developed prescription drug monitoring program that will monitor all prescriptions issued to NFL players by club physicians and unaffiliated physicians.

Each NFL club must appoint and pay for a pain management specialist before next season.

All this builds on the programs in place.

"We've had an electronically submitted health record for each club in place for a number of years," Sills said. "Medical providers enter the prescriptions they have given to the players. Periodically, our medical advisory committee and the NFL Physicians Society would issue white paper guidelines around strategies. The important change here is obviously it creates a committee tasked with overseeing our educational efforts -- the best practices around pain management."

All 32 teams now must retain by the start of training camp a behavioral health team clinician focused on supporting players' emotional and mental health and well-being. The old bromide of "toughing it out" when someone has such issues has long been discarded, Sills said.

"This is not novel to the NFL or to sports," Sills added. "It applies across all levels of society at all age groups and walks of life, and we know these are issues we need to address."

While the NFL and NFLPA have had previous joint programs in these health areas, Sills and NFLPA President Eric Winston note these initiatives are a major step forward in medical care.

"These agreements are positive developments for our membership as they will provide new and important resources to help players and their families," Winston said. "Our union has always advocated for advancements in health and safety and we think this work with the NFL is another important step to improve care for NFL players."

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: OTAs Day 1

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: OTAs Day 1

Kick off your Tuesday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news including a recap of the first day of OTAs.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. Yesterday, (Monday) was the first day of the Ravens' OTAs. OTAs continue today (Tuesday) as the Ravens work on developing a new offense. Check out some of the highlights here. 

2. The Baltimore Ravens have officially announced the full 90-man roster that will be competing for an official team roster spot in OTAs this summer. 

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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