Wednesday, November 11, 2015

49ers oust Falcons in Gabbert's Debut

Week 9 - In what's been a disastrous year for the San Francisco 49ers and their fans, Sunday brought at least some excitement as the (2-6) Niners hosted the (6-2) Atlanta Falcons. Entering the match-up, the 49ers had undergone a number of changes, including one at the quarterback position. With Colin Kaepernick at the helm, the 49ers had gone 27 consecutive drives without a touchdown while losing back-to-back games which led to the benching of the player once dubbed their "franchise quarterback." Filling in for Kaepernick would be former first round pick Blaine Gabbert who was declared a "bust" after a forgetful career in Jacksonville which saw the once promising QB compile a record of 5-22 with the Jaguars. 

And if a change of scenery was all Gabbert needed to help turn things around at least for the time being, he sure got it in his new job in San Francisco. Making his first start since October of 2013, things would be slow to develop early on for the newly named starter as each of San Francisco's first two drives on offense resulted in a three and out. It wasn't until a 41-yard gain 11 minutes into the game that Gabbert began to finally resemble an NFL quarterback when he scrambled out of the pocket and threw a strike to a crossing Quinton Patton. After nearly running it in himself from 10 yards out before being stopped at the 1, Gabbert connected with tight-end Garrett Celek in the end zone early in the second quarter for the 49ers' first touchdown in over two games and Gabbert's first TD pass since Week 7 of last year. Though the second quarter score marked the ninth consecutive game without a first quarter touchdown for San Francisco, it was nice to finally watch them strike pay dirt for the first time in weeks. 
With his first touchdown pass in over a year under his belt, Gabbert wasted little time before throwing another as he found Celek in the end zone a second time just three drives later to give his team a 17-6 lead which Atlanta would bite into with a touchdown of their own before the half. Though all 17 of San Francisco's points would come in the second quarter, it would be enough to hold off Atlanta who struggled on the ground after a stellar performance by the 49er run defense which held the Falcons to just 17 yards rushing, their fewest since 2000. With more interceptions than touchdown passes in his career, Gabbert couldn't avoid the turnover bug on Sunday as his two first half touchdown passes were matched by a pair of second half interceptions, including one that put the Falcons in an opportune position to steal the win with 7 minutes remaining in regulation. Needing a win anyway they could get it, the struggling 49ers benefited from a questionable decision by Atlanta's first-year head coach Dan Quinn not to go for it on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line. Playing it safe, Quinn elected to go for the field goal to pull his team within a point and rely on his defense. 

The decision would come back to haunt him as the Niners converted a pair of first downs while milking the clock and sealing the 17-16 win. Gabbert who had lost his last 10 starts entering Sunday's game, ended that dry spell by making his debut as the 49ers starter a successful one as he recorded his first win as a starter since a win at Indianapolis on September 23, 2012. Behind an offensive-line that has been heavily scrutinized this season but didn't allow a single sack on Sunday, Gabbert threw for 185 yards while rushing for 32, trailing only RB Shaun Draughn who made his 49er debut with 58 yards on 16 carries. The 49er newcomer also caught four passes for 38 yards out of the backfield. With the win, the 49ers improve to 3-6 on the year, meanwhile Atlanta falls to 6-3, enduring their first 2-game skid of the season after getting off to a blazing 5-0 start. Receiver Julio Jones continued his stellar season by catching 10 passes for 137 yards from Falcons QB Matt Ryan who managed a turnover-free game, throwing for 303 yards and a TD in the loss.
Week 11 Preview - With a BYE in Week 10 for the 49ers, San Francisco will have plenty of time to rest up and prepare for the nightmare that is Seattle's CenturyLink Field. Having served as a dead zone for the 49ers over the last several years, the home of the (4-4) Seahawks has been none too kind to their NFC Western division rival. But with Niners head coach Jim Tomsula announcing during the week that it'll be Gabbert who will once again get the nod at QB, perhaps San Francisco will finally have some luck come their way in the Pacific Northwest as the Seahawks' home venue was a thorn in the side of Colin Kaepernick who couldn't muster up a win on the road in Seattle and struggled mightily. Though it's unlikely, a performance in Seattle for the 49ers run defense like the one we saw against Atlanta would do wonders considering it's been Marshawn Lynch who the Niners struggled against in their earlier meeting this season. San Francisco is also still seeking their first win of the season within in the division. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Rams run amok vs struggling 49ers

Week 8 - Entering Sunday's meeting versus rival St. Louis, the 49ers were hoping to claim their first division win of the season against a Rams team that had already beaten division foes Arizona and Seattle this year. Not only would San Francisco fail to hand the Rams their first loss within the division, but they would fail to sniff the end zone for the second straight week. While the Niner offense sputtered and barely made it off the plane to show up for the game, the San Francisco defense which displayed poor tackling, allowed touchdowns of 71 and 66 yards en route to an ugly 27-6 loss. 

Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley who's been a handful for the opposition since busting onto the NFL scene just three weeks ago, was a thorn in the side of his opponent once again. Gurley rushed for 133 yards on 20 carries while breaking for a 71-yard touchdown in which the 49er defense failed to land a single finger on the explosive back who shined at the collegiate level as a Georgia Bulldog. With his stellar performance, Gurley became the first rookie in NFL history to begin his career with four straight games of over 100 yards rushing. Donning their throwback blue uniforms, the St. Louis defense was also stout on Sunday, keeping their opponent out of the end zone and forcing a safety. While the Rams haven't allowed a touchdown in their last two games, the 49ers haven't scored one in their last two as QB Colin Kaepernick once again played a turnover-free ballgame, but failed to pass for 200 yards. The Niner run game was equally as ineffective as Kaepernick led the team with 28 rushing yards on an afternoon they only managed 38 in total.
San Francisco thought they had recorded their first touchdown in seven quarters when linebacker Ahmad Brooks recovered a Benny Cunningham fumble which he returned 41-yards to the end zone. The score would be negated, however, as Brooks was called for a facemasking penalty. The flag would prove to be costly as a pair of Phil Dawson field goals were all the 49ers had to show for in the team's second straight loss to the Rams. Before Sunday, San Francisco hadn't lost back to back games versus St. Louis since 2004. The two teams will meet again to close out the 2015 regular season in Week 17 @ San Francisco. With a winning record (4-3) this late in the season for the first time since 2006, St. Louis is hoping to continue their winning ways as the team hasn't accomplished a winning season since '03.

In what would ultimately be his final game in a 49ers uniform, tight-end Vernon Davis caught a game-high 6 passes for 24 yards. After spending ten seasons with the organization, it was announced on Monday that Davis, a former 1st round pick in 2006 (6th overall), was traded to the Denver Broncos along with a 7th round draft pick in exchange for two 6th rounders (2016 & 2017). Remarkably, the trade of Vernon Davis wouldn't even be the biggest news of the week for the 49ers, as that would belong to Colin Kaepernick as it was announced the same day that he would be benched for backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, a decision made by head coach Jim Tomsula. A move that has raised quite a few eyebrows around the league as 2015 continues to be a nightmare for 49er fans. 
Injury News - For whatever reason, the NFL has yet to do something about the concrete behind the sidelines in these indoor stadiums which caused Reggie Bush to slip and fall like many before him and injuring his ACL in the process. Bush, who was carted off the field Sunday, has seen limited action with the 49ers after suffering a leg injury in Week 1 and will now be out for the season after an MRI revealed damage to Bush's left knee. Joining Bush for at least this week is rookie running back Mike Davis who will undergo surgery on his hand. Also ruled out this week on offense is Carlos Hyde (foot) and receiver Anquan Boldin who's been hampered by an ailing hamstring for a second straight week. With multiple injuries in the running back department and Jarryd Hayne assigned to the practice squad after initially being released, the 49ers signed a pair of players to man the backfield in Shaun Draughn and Pierre Thomas. Draughn has bounced around numerous teams since being drafted in 2011, most recently with the Cleveland Browns. Meanwhile, Pierre Thomas who helped the Saints to a Super Bowl victory in 2009, provides a threat in the passing game. 

Week 9 Preview - At 2-6 on the season, the 49ers look to head into their Week 10 BYE with a victory as they host the (6-2) Atlanta Falcons. Having served as one of the biggest surprises this season under first-year head coach Dan Quinn, the Falcons hope to come out of the Bay Area with a win to keep pace with the undefeated Carolina Panthers who own first place in the NFC South. While Atlanta features a much improved defense from a season ago which coach Quinn is well known for, they also have arguably the best receiver in the league in Julio Jones. The Niner defense will have to keep close tabs on the fifth year wide-out out of Alabama who caught 12 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown in a 23-20 upset loss to the Buccaneers. The 49ers will also have to establish the run game early on if they plan to make a game out of it, something they failed to do in each of their last two losses. And with a number of new faces in the backfield to kick the tires with, this'll be the perfect time to see what they have in their ground attack as Blaine Gabbert looks to revive his career at the QB position.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Niners go Missing In Action vs Seattle

Week 7 - With both the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks struggled out of the gates this season and sharing a 2-4 record at the bottom of the NFC West, wins have been hard to come by for the two teams recently removed from being conference powerhouses. But with the two renewing rivalries on Thursday night for the first of two meetings, one was bound to hang a 'W' in the win column while the other fell deeper into the abyss of the NFC Western division standings. And with Seattle getting the better half of their bitter rivals in three straight meetings, the results in this one would be no different. The opening-drive of the ball game resulted in a three and out for San Francisco, meanwhile, Seattle marched down the field on a 12-play drive that nearly stalled inside the 5-yard line before running back Marshawn Lynch finally reached the end zone on third down after numerous attempts. That's basically how the rest of the game would play out for both teams.

Enduring their worst start since 2011, Seattle entered Thursday's game having lost three game this season in which they held a 4th quarter lead of at least 7-points. They wouldn't have to worry about any fourth quarter collapse in this one, however, as the 49ers offense was a no-show, totaling more punts than first downs. San Francisco's defense was decent, intercepting Seattle QB Russell Wilson twice, but Seattle's was better as Colin Kaepernick was kept in check and held to only 124 yards passing. Kaepernick, who was sacked six times, struggled once again against a Seattle defense that has had his number in six of the seven meetings since he's been named the starting quarterback. Wilson didn't have a great game by any stretch either, throwing for 235 yards and a touchdown to go with two picks, but he had Marshawn Lynch to fall back on. On a night Russell Wilson was sacked five times, adding to his league-high 31 sacks this season, Lynch carried the load on offense by rushing for 122 yards and a TD on 27 attempts. Meanwhile, the 49ers ground attack accounted for only 61 yards between Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush.

In a game that lacked flair from either side, Russell Wilson connected with receiver Tyler Lockett in the end zone from 43 yards out for a touchdown on the only big play of the evening as the 49ers fell, 20-3, and have now been outscored 56 to 13 in their last three meetings vs Seattle. Niners tight-end Vernon Davis who missed his last three games before returning to the field a week ago as he was a non-factor in the win against Baltimore, led his team in both receptions (4) and receiving yards (61) in the loss despite being linked to possible trade rumors. As for Seattle's newest offensive addition -- Jimmy Graham, the San Francisco defense kept him in check for only 31 yards receiving on two grabs. 
As for my take on Colin Kaepernick who I've been behind and defended all season long after the criticism he's received, I finally have my first beef as the Niners QB played too conservatively for my taste on Thursday and tried too hard not to throw an interception versus his nemesis which he succeeded at but in doing so, negated the possibility of any big play ability. His safe decision making was almost reminiscent of an Alex Smith led offense. It's one thing to fear disaster and not risk the gamble, but Kaepernick simply plays too scared against Seattle which showed once again as the offense was virtually nonexistent. By no means am I suggesting a change at quarterback, but perhaps a game plan different from the predictable one we saw on Thursday. Not to mention the zero rush attempts by Kaepernick all game long. In the few times Kaepernick has had success against Seattle throughout his career, he was doing it with his feet, something we saw none of in the 49ers' fourth consecutive loss to Seattle. Whether it's by design from the head coach on down to the offensive coordinator, the once upon a time "dual-threat QB" has completely deserted the rush. If the Niners aren't going to try executing a game plan that might actually work, they're better off forfeiting before kickoff. 

Injury Report - Pro Bowl safety from just a season ago -- Antoine Bethea will be lost for the year with a season-ending injury after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in Thursday's game. Voted team MVP for the 49ers just a season ago, the injury to Bethea will likely open the door for rookie safety Jaquiski Tartt. 

Week 8 Preview - After experiencing the taste of victory for a brief four days before falling once more to Seattle, the 49ers will use those extra handful of days of rest when they hit the road for a meeting with the division-rival Rams (3-3). Squaring off for the first of two meetings this season, St. Louis is one of the few teams in the league that has struggled as mightily as San Francisco has on offense. With both teams ranking 31st (STL) and 32nd (SF) in average points per game, expect this one to be another defensive battle. Splitting the season series just a year ago with each team claiming road victories, a win for the Niners in this one would give them their first road victory of the season and some confidence heading into their final game before a BYE in Week 10. But in order to do that, the San Francisco defense will have to put a halt to rookie running back Todd Gurley. The Rams' first-round pick out of Georgia has been on a tear as of late since being handed the starting job, averaging over 120 yards in each of his last three games including a 2 touchdown performance in last week's win at Cleveland and a 159 yard outburst the game before.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Niners end skid with Win over Baltimore

Week 6 - Meeting for the first time since Super Bowl XLVII just three seasons ago, Sunday's match-up between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, both of whom entered the game last in their respective division's at 1-4, took on the look of two entirely different teams than the ones that met in the Super Bowl. Out of the 44 starters in that Super Bowl, a combined 10 remain on that team today. And unlike that game which ended in disappointment for San Francisco fans, it was the 49ers who prevailed on Sunday. Niners QB Colin Kaepernick would build off of his best outing of the season just a week ago, a heart-wrenching loss to the Giants, with an even better performance in this one.

Throwing for a season-high 340 passing yards, Kaepernick connected on long passes to Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin who had big games against their former team as well as fullback Bruce Miller who totaled a career-best 89-yards receiving on three receptions. The biggest play of the game coming on a career-high 76-yard touchdown reception by Smith. On the play, Smith torched Ravens cornerback Shareece Wright who signed with the 49ers during the offseason and demanded to be released just a week ago. Picked up by the Ravens, the Baltimore defender was exploited all afternoon long as Boldin burned his former teammate on a 51-yard reception in the fourth quarter to put him over 100 yards receiving in the game, which then set up a 21-yard touchdown catch by Quinton Patton, the first of his career. Scrambling in and out of the pocket, Kaepernick found Patton wide-open in the end zone after Wright slipped on the play, adding salt to the wound and making his disappointing Ravens debut that much worse. The Niner defense also did their part as the Ravens ground attack was held to just 76 yards.
Baltimore's Joe Flacco threw for 343 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but was picked off twice on the afternoon. In a last-ditch effort and a chance to hand the Niners consecutive last-minute losses, the former Super Bowl MVP heaved one into the end zone only to have the ball batted down by San Francisco safety Eric Reid, sealing the victory for the 49ers. The win, San Francisco's first since Week 1, helped the Niners end a four-game losing streak and snap a six-game losing skid to the Ravens who fell to 1-5 on the season, their worst start in franchise history through the first six games. Despite having to settle for four Phil Dawson field goals in the 25-20 win, a number of nifty passes by Kaepernick, including two for touchdowns, helped stave off a 5-game losing streak and breathe life into an offense that has looked much improved from the offense that struggled out of the gates. Then again, Baltimore's defense isn't quite what it once was.

Week 7 Preview - With a short week ahead prior to the 49ers next game -- a Thursday night showdown with the arch-rival (2-4) Seattle Seahawks who are coming off a last-minute loss at home to the undefeated Carolina Panthers, San Francisco will look to claim their first win in the division and first winning-streak of 2015. While the 49ers have mirrored a completely different team this season than the one that made three consecutive trips to the NFC Championship which ended a season ago, the Seahawks have yet to look like a playoff team this season either and appear to be suffering from a Super Bowl hangover, having already blown a number of fourth quarter leads this year, including in back to back games (losses to Cincinnati and Carolina). And if not for an illegal tip in the end zone late in their Monday night meeting against the Lions three weeks ago, Seattle would be starring down a 1-5 record right now. Even given their recent struggles and new faces, these are still two teams that don't like each other as both teams look to shed the title of "last-place" in the division. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

49ers Collapse late in Loss to Giants

Week 5 - Entering Sunday's meeting between the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants who hosted on Sunday Night Football, the match-up featured two teams going in complete opposite directions as the Niners have fallen into last place in the division with three straight losses, meanwhile the Giants have won their last two after opening the season 0-2. With a combined 10-points scored over the last two games for the visiting 49ers, scoring wouldn't be a problem for coach Jim Tomsula's team in this one, but rather their inability to sack the quarterback and keep the opposing team from scoring. While it was the defense that kept San Francisco in the game just a week ago versus Green Bay, on Sunday night it would be their demise as the defense cost them the game.

Much of the chatter over the past few weeks regarding the 49ers was about their quarterback Colin Kaepernick and whether or not it was time to pull the plug on the QB that led them to a Super Bowl just three seasons ago. But with a solid performance on Sunday, Kaepernick was able to silence the naysayers for the time being. With a first half filled with field goals, the Giants went into the locker room holding a 13-6 lead, an advantage that would've been more had it not been for a Tremaine Brock interception in the end zone that kept New York from adding to their lead just before the half. San Francisco would finally score their first touchdown in eight quarters to start the second half as Anquan Boldin capped off an 88-yard drive with a touchdown reception from 3-yards out, tying the game and igniting a back and forth scoring frenzy between the two teams. Giants star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. helped New York answer as Eli Manning escaped a sack by dumping a pass off to his favorite target who sprinted through the middle and along the sideline for a 17-yard score. It would be the last of Beckham Jr.'s receptions on the night as he spent nearly the entire fourth quarter on the sideline with an ailing hamstring.
Then came a pair of impressive fourth quarter scoring-drives by the San Francisco offense which marched 80-yards on back to back possessions. The first of which ending in a touchdown pass to tight-end Garrett Celek who filling in for the injured Vernon Davis, shook off a defender with a nice juke move to separate himself for the wide-open pass. Seeking their first lead of the game with under five minutes in regulation, Kaepernick connected thru the air on back to back passes to Boldin and Torrey Smith for gains of 25 and 26 yards before running back Carlos Hyde added the finishing touch with a 2-yard touchdown run as the 49ers pulled ahead. Unfortunately, the 1 minute and 45 seconds San Francisco left on the clock would prove to be too much time as Eli Manning came through in the clutch once again, pulling off yet another game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter. The 2-time Super Bowl MVP capped off a career-best 41 completions on the night with his last pass being a game-winner between two 49er defenders as Manning hooked up with tight-end Larry Donnell in the back of the endzone with 26 seconds remaining to escape the Giants from the jaws of defeat and rob the Niners of their first road victory of the season. With the 30-27 win, Eli Manning threw for 441 yards and a trio of TD passes all while becoming the winningest QB in Giants franchise history by notching career win No. 102. Kaepernick logged two touchdown passes of his own while passing for 262 yards, 107 of which going to Anquan Boldin. RB Carlos Hyde added 93 yards on the ground and a touchdown in the loss.

Week 6 Preview - The 49ers return home to Levi's Stadium in hopes of claiming their first win since Week 1 when they face another 1-4 team desperate for a victory -- the Baltimore Ravens. The Week 6 meeting will mark the first game between the two teams since they met at Super Bowl XLVII three seasons ago, a 34-31 defeat for the Niners. Unless you know your history, it might be hard to believe that these two teams are three seasons removed from meeting in the Super Bowl considering their recent struggles. A number of faces have also changed for each team as receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith now call San Francisco home after winning a championship ring in Baltimore. However, the duo will now be trying to defeat the team they once played for as the 49ers attempt to get off the schneide and back into the win column before a divisional match-up with rival Seattle. With tight-end Vernon Davis sitting out the last two games while nursing a knee injury, the Niners are expecting to have the Pro Bowler back on the field Sunday which serves as good news for an offense hoping to register another impressive performance, only this time with a victory.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Niners lose third straight, Fall to Pack

Week 4 - Heading into Sunday's meeting against the visiting Green Bay Packers (3-0), we knew it wouldn't be an easy task, but neither could we have predicted an offensive struggle like the one that would unfold at Levi's Stadium. Since taking over the starting quarterback position in San Francisco, QB Colin Kaepernick has made a living off of torturing the team he grew up rooting for, having built an undefeated record of 3-0 and averaging 401 total yards per game versus Green Bay. In this one, however, Kap would be a shadow of his former self as a lack of protection coupled with a number of bad passes would eventually bring out the boo-birds before the game ended as frustration was felt throughout.

The Niner defense would have themselves a fine afternoon overall, but they would shoot themselves in the foot early on as a would be three and out turned into 7-points after an illegal contact call on linebacker Michael Wilhoite. Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers was sacked on the play that would've led to a punt. Instead, the penalty would breathe life into the Green Bay offense as Rodgers and company marched down the field before striking paydirt on a bullet to tight-end Richard Rodgers. It would be Rodgers' 11th touchdown to start the season without a pick, the third-longest streak in NFL history as Green Bay increased their active-streak to 19 consecutive games with a first quarter touchdown. As for San Francisco's first drive on offense, the Niners would be robbed of not one but two missed penalties on nose tackle B.J. Raji, the first being a blown call on a facemasking and another on the very next play on an obvious off-sides call that the officials instead ruled a false start call on Kaepernick. Under constant pressure, Kaepernick would get little help on San Francisco's second drive as tight-end Vance McDonald failed to come up with a wide-open catch that would've led to a big gain and first down.
After finally putting a promising drive together, the Niner offense would go up in flames on a trip to the red zone before the half. A short tap from Kap to receiver Quinton Patton would result in a 40-yard gain, one of few big plays on the afternoon for the San Francisco offense. Staring down a chance to tie the game, Kaepernick would fall victim to back to back sacks, pushing the Niners back as they would have to settle for a Phil Dawson field goal. A solid first half performance by the Niner D would be capped off by a 9-yard sack from linebacker Ahmad Brooks with seconds to go in the second quarter. Hoping to put up some late points and add to their lead heading into the looker room at the half, Green Bay's Mason Crosby would shank a 44-yard field goal attempt wide-left, keeping it a 7-3 ballgame and leaving the Niners within striking distance. The Packers would manage to get those points and then some in the second half, as they cashed in on their first drive of the third quarter. Facing a third and long, a perfectly placed ball by Rodgers along the visiting sideline to receiver James Jones resulted in a 38-yard pickup, setting up a touchdown run from fullback John Kuhn three plays later. 

With running back Carlos Hyde virtually a non-factor with only 20 yards rushing on 8 attempts, Kaepernick was forced to play catch up thru the air, something he struggled mightily at as he was picked off on a deep pass attempt along the sideline to Anquan Boldin. Green Bay would fail to do anything with it, but by then, time was beginning to run out fast for San Francisco. With just under 5 minutes remaining, Kaepernick and co. was given one final chance to inch closer and make a game out of it. And after finding Torrey Smith down field for a 47-yard gain, things began looking good. But once again, the Niner offense would fizzle out in the red zone as a pair of incompletions and a sack resulted in a turnover on downs. On a day Kaepernick was sacked six times on the afternoon, the 49ers QB managed only 160 yards thru the air as the Niners fell for the third consecutive week, all losses coming by double-digits. With the Packers making their first ever trip to Levi's Stadium, a site they hope to revisit later this year as it'll host the Super Bowl, Rodgers threw for 224 yards and a score, beating his boyhood team for the first time in his last five tries. Green Bay made themselves feel right at home and were welcomed by the many cheese heads in attendance who watched their team come away with the 17-3 victory. LB Aaron Lynch was one of the few bright spots for the 49ers, totaling 4 tackles, including 2 sacks in the loss.
Week 5 Preview - The (1-3) Niners will look to get back into the win column in Week 5 as they take a trip across the country to face Eli Manning and the (2-2) New York Giants. Coming off an upset victory on the road over the Buffalo Bills, the Giants have won consecutive games after falling in their first two and are tied with the Dallas Cowboys for first in the NFC East. With the San Francisco secondary being torched already twice this season by shifty receivers in Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, the Niner D will have to keep a close eye on second-year receiver Odell Beckham Jr. if they want to keep the New York offense at bey. With Giants QB Eli Manning playing some nice ball as of late, the Niner defense will have to apply the same kind of pressure they did on Sunday that took Rodgers out of his comfort zone. More importantly, they'll have to wake up on offense if they plan to hand Big Blue a loss as San Francisco has scored a measly 10-points combined in their past two games.

Trade News - Needing all the help they can get, the 49ers went out and acquired linebacker Gerald Hodges during the week from the Minnesota Vikings. In return, SF sent C Nick Easton and an undisclosed draft pick to Minnesota in return for the former fourth round pick (120th overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft out of Penn State. 

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Niners Dismantled in the Desert

Week 3 - Hoping to put a blowout loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers behind them with a trip to the desert, the San Francisco 49ers saw those hopes vanish quickly on Sunday as rival Arizona bullied their way to a 40-point victory. Niners QB Colin Kaepernick entered the game with one interception in 154 career pass attempts versus the Cardinals, a mark he would surpass on the team's first two offensive drives alone. A career worst 67 passing yards and 4 interceptions highlighted a miserable day for Kaepernick who had two of his first four passes returned for a touchdown as Arizona jumped out front to an early 14-0 lead. The bleeding wouldn't stop there, however, as San Francisco was staring down a 28-point deficit before finally getting on the board via a touchdown run by Kaepernick, set up by an impressive 37-yard punt return from Aussie Jarryd Hayne. Unfortunately, the Niner offense would fail to muster up anymore points as they were blown out of the water, 47-7.

The loss marked the first time since 2005 that San Francisco has lost five straight on the road, all by double-digits as the 49ers were held to a measly 156 total yards on offense. As for Arizona who tallied 446 total yards, not since 1969 have the Cardinals registered back-to-back 40-point performances like they did in week's 2 and 3. Though Cards QB Carson Palmer threw his first interception of the season, the first pick of 49ers cornerback Kenneth Acker's young career, the 35-year old veteran threw for 311 yards and a pair of touchdowns in route to his 16th victory in his last 18 starts and 9th win in a row, the longest active streak in the NFL. Palmer had himself a rather easy day at the office as Arizona was able to turn their opponents costly mistakes into points, scoring three touchdowns and a field goal off of Kaepernick's four interceptions as the Niners were unable to find an answer for Arizona on either side of the ball. With a career-low quarterback rating of 16.7 for Kaepernick on Sunday, the 49ers have now been outscored 90-25 in their last two games and unless they make the needed adjustments quick, that number will only increase with a date with the NFL's best quarterback to follow.
With a forgetful performance from Kaepernick who was made a non-factor thru the air, Niners bell cow Carlos Hyde was also held in check by Arizona's suffocating defense which held the San Francisco running back to 51 yards on 15 carries and also stopped him in his tracks for a safety in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Cardinals backup running back Chris Johnson had himself a vintage performance while filling in for the injured Andre Ellington, rushing for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns to stymie San Francisco's run defense for a second consecutive outing. Speaking of vintage performances, Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald looked a lot like his old self for the second week in a row as he torched the Niners secondary from the slot position for 9 receptions, 134 yards and a pair of touchdown grabs after putting up three scores against Chicago just a week ago. With the loss, San Francisco falls to 1-2, while Arizona improves their undefeated mark to 3-0 while remaining atop the NFC Western division standings and one of only seven unbeaten teams in the league.

Week 4 Preview - Getting back into the win column will be no easy task for Jim Tomsula's 49ers in Week 4 as they play host to Aaron Rodgers and the (3-0) Green Bay Packers who so far this season look like the team to beat in the NFC. Coached by former 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, the Packers have had limited success against SF over the past few years as Colin Kaepernick looks to improve his unbeaten mark to 4-0 against Green Bay, with two of those wins coming during the playoffs. Kaepernick and company are hoping a return to their home field of Levi's Stadium coupled with a meeting with a familiar foe will be the perfect ingredients to getting them back on track as they seek their first win since Week 1. San Francisco's offensive-line will have their hands full on Sunday as they face a Packers defense that is coming off a 7 sack performance on Monday night vs Kansas City and former 49ers QB Alex Smith.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Niners fall victim to the long ball in 43-18 romp by Steelers

Week 2 - Entering Sunday's Week 2 match-up between the (1-0) San Francisco 49ers and (0-1) Pittsburgh Steelers, the Niners held a two game edge over Pittsburgh, having won 11 of 20 meetings between the two teams all-time. But San Francisco would dig themselves too big a hole to climb out of early on as the Steelers utilized something Minnesota didn't in Week 1 -- the deep pass. QB Ben Roethlisberger shredded the San Francisco secondary on numerous occasions, including pickups of 28 and 41 yards to convert on third down on each of Pittsburgh's first two drives, the second ending with a touchdown as Big Ben found Heath Miller in the end zone.

The only answer San Francisco was able to put up in the first half was a Phil Dawson field goal, only to watch the Steelers QB connect for a big gain once again with receiver Antonio Brown who hauled in a 59-yard strike, setting up an easy touchdown run by running back DeAngelo Williams. A week after holding one of the game's very best in Adrian Peterson to a measly 31 yards rushing and zero touchdowns, Pittsburgh's DeAngelo Williams humbled San Francisco's run defense by finding the end zone three times which tied a Steelers franchise record coupled with 77 yards. Heading into the game, the 49ers had initially thought they had caught a break with Steelers All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell serving the final game of a 2-game suspension, but it didn't matter who Roethlisberger handed the ball off to on Sunday as they were bound to score. As for the 49ers who ran their way to victory in Week 1 with the help of Carlos Hyde's monster performance, the San Francisco bell cow who celebrated his 24th Birthday on Sunday, only mustered 43 yards on 13 attempts while leaving the game in the third quarter after being checked by team officials for head and leg injuries.
Facing a 29-3 deficit at the half, the blowout score coupled with Hyde's injuries forced the 49er offense to take a much different approach thru the air as they played catch up. Niner QB Colin Kaepernick logged career-high's in pass attempts (46) and completions (33) while throwing for 335 yards and 2 touchdowns. Though Kaepernick had himself a nice game overall aside from a lost fumble, his performance was overshadowed by the offensive-line's inability to buy him time as Kap was brought down for a sack 5 times and was constantly hurried. The 49er offense had two would-be touchdowns wiped off the board when Bruce Miller dropped a pass in the end zone on fourth down and Kaepernick came up short on a play that was reversed after initially being ruled a touchdown. The replay showed the knee of a diving Kaepernick touch the ground before he broke the plane of the end zone as the Steelers took over on downs from the 1-yard line and let the clock die down. Not even defensive coordinator Eric Mangini's familiarity with the Steelers could prepare his defense for the aerial assault Pittsburgh put on thru the air as Roethlisberger bombarded the Niner D time and time again as 195 of Big Ben's passing yards were caught by Antonio Brown who also hauled in 1 of 3 touchdown passes.

The Niner defense couldn't do much to stop Pittsburgh's pass game from close range either as Big Ben and company converted on both of their 2-point conversion attempts. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin might be the league's newest trendsetter with the 2-point conversion being strongly considered more often than years past with the league recently implementing a new rule which moved the traditional extra point back to the 15-yard line which has already ed to more missed PAT's this season thru the first two weeks than all of last season. The lone highlight for the 49ers in Week 2 came on a 75-yard catch and run touchdown pass from Kaepernick to his new receiver Torrey Smith who tallied 120 yards on 9 receptions and has been known to torch the Steelers throughout his career while playing in Baltimore. Still, it wouldn't be enough as the Steelers stormed their way to an easy 43-18 victory to claim their first win of the year and handing San Francisco their first loss.
Week 3 Preview - Week 3 will see the 49ers travel to the desert to take on division rival Arizona as the Cardinals remain the only undefeated team in the NFC West at 2-0. After lighting up the scoreboard in Chicago with a 48-23 win over the Bears, the 49er defense will once again have their hands full thru the air versus a Carson Palmer led Arizona team that is averaging a league-best 39.5 points per game through the first 2 weeks. The meeting will be 49ers first-year head coach Jim Tomsula's first taste at a division opponent as the two teams split the division series a year ago with both teams winning at home. A win for San Francisco would do wonders for the team's confidence considering they'll be given the daunting task of playing host to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Week 4. 

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

New-look 49ers just fine in season-opener

After a long wait from 49er fans ready to put the tumultuous offseason behind them, football finally made its return on Monday night as San Francisco hosted the Minnesota Vikings. With the story heading into the game swirling around the return of two of the game's best at their respective position -- All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman and future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson, only one would come out victorious. Bowman, who saw his first regular season action since sustaining a left knee injury during the 2014 NFC Championship over a year and a half ago, looked like a man possessed with no cobwebs at all. As for Peterson, who hasn't played in over a year after serving a suspension stemming from a child-abuse case filed against him, the former NFL MVP looked rather rusty.

With all eyes on Peterson in the run game, it would be San Francisco's running back who stole the show. Making his first career start, second-year running back Carlos Hyde would make his starting debut a memorable one by putting up career-highs in almost every category. Hyde led the way for the 49ers offense, shouldering the load left by the franchises all-time leading rusher Frank Gore who departed during the offseason for Indianapolis. In it's first game without the future Hall of Famer Gore, San Francisco's run-game didn't skip a beat as Hyde rushed for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns on 26 carries, spinning and diving his way into the end zone on one carry, reminiscent of a Madden juke move. But before Hyde found the end zone to put his team on the board, the 49ers endured a special-teams nightmare in the first quarter. On their opening-drive, QB Colin Kaepernick and Hyde led the offense on a promising drive that sputtered near the red zone and went up in flames as kicker Phil Dawson had his field goal attempt blocked and nearly taken to the house. Luckily, Minnesota would fail to capitalize as Vikings kicker Blair Walsh shanked a field goal wide right from 44-yards out. The 49er special teams would later shoot themselves in the foot once again when former Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne fumbled his first career touch when called on to return a punt.
With a 7-0 lead heading into the half following the first of Hyde's two rushing touchdowns, rookie head coach Jim Tomsula addressed his team's sloppy play as the team played a much more fluid game during the second half, not committing nearly as many penalties as they did in quarters 1 and 2. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick didn't overwhelm anyone with his numbers, but logged a clean sheet while managing to play a turnover-free game. In many ways, Kaepernick registered an Alex Smith-like performance, playing it safe and not forcing anything as he completed 17 of 26 passes for 165 yards while gaining 41 yards on the ground. On the other side, Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater who many are expecting to take a huge leap forward this year, had arguably his worst night as a pro yet. Bridgewater threw for 231 yards and was picked off once by Tremaine Brock on a night where he was sacked 5 times as Minnesota's only points came via a field goal. 

Seeking his first 100-yard performance in a season-opener since 2009, Adrian Peterson entered Monday night's game having struggled against the 49ers throughout his career. With only 51.3 yards per game and 0 touchdowns in 4 games vs San Francisco, Peterson saw much of the same as the 49er defense shut him down and held him to only 31 yards rushing on 10 carries. Credit first year defensive coordinator Eric Mangini who drew up the perfect game plan on the ground for Peterson and through the air for Bridgewater as neither looked comfortable all night. On a night where the 49ers debuted their new black and red uniforms, the first ever alternate jersey in franchise history, San Francisco pulled off the 20-3 victory. And despite Carlos Hyde's 168 yard performance which marked the most rushing yards by a Niner since 2011 (Gore) and was the second-most yards by a 49er running back in a season opener behind only Garrison Hearst's 187 in 1998, the game ball was awarded to coach Jimmy T in the locker room after the game with Kaepernick doing the honors. It would be the 7th consecutive win for SF on Monday Night Football, the second-longest active streak behind only the hated Seahawks who have won nine straight. 
Week 2 Preview: Even after his team won in his first career game as head coach, Jim Tomsula made it known that there was little time to celebrate and that it was on to Pittsburgh where the (0-1) Steelers will look to bounce back from a 28-21 loss to the defending champion Patriots in the season-opener. Though the (1-0) 49er defense looked stout in the win against Minnesota, they'll be given the tough task of having to face Big Ben Roethlisberger at home in the Steelers' home-opener. The Niners will look to spoil Pittsburgh's homecoming and make it 2-0 as defensive coordinator Eric Mangini renews his rivalry with the Steelers, a team he's grown to know quite well spending time in the AFC as head coach of the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets. 

Injury News: 49ers RB Reggie Bush was the only reported injury after Week 1's win as he sustained a calf strain in the first quarter which forced him to leave the game. Bush has been listed as week-to-week which opens the door for rookie Jarryd Hayne who should see his reps at running back increase come Week 2.

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

All Aboard the Hayne Plane

The Hayne Plane has officially touched down as Australian Rugby star Jarryd Hayne has made the cut and was named to the San Francisco 49ers' 53-man final roster on Saturday in what's been the story of the 2015 NFL preseason. If you've kept up at all with the 49ers' preseason, this should come as no surprise as Hayne's stellar play stood out like a sore thumb. The 2014 National Rugby League player of the year who was on the verge of signing the wealthiest contract in NRL history, dropped a bomb on the sports world when he announced his decision to leave rugby and purse a career in the NFL nearly a year ago in October of 2014. 

With no experience in the American sport at all and the Australian media covering his every move, the 28-year old Hayne made the transition look rather easy while displaying nifty cuts and a brutal stiff arm in both the run game and on special teams as a kick and punt returner. In his preseason debut against the Houston Texans, Hayne broke off a 53-yard run on only his second touch of the ball and later added a 33-yard kick return which helped catapult him into a celebrity overnight in the States. His second preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys would be equally impressive as he found a hole for a 34-yard gain before eventually finishing as the game's leading rusher with 54 yards on 8 carries. Hayne's 175 rushing yards on 25 carries was good enough for second in the league, trailing only Zach Zenner of the Detroit Lions. He also placed third on punt returns with 163 yards on 10 carries while his average of 7.0 yards per carry was tops in the NFL. 
Hayne's only flaw early on while transitioning to his new sport was that he wasn't getting low enough when approaching a defender, something he has since worked and improved on as the preseason progressed. His explosiveness and big play ability will most likely be used on special teams with Hayne specializing as a kick and punt returner but could also see some action as a running back behind Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush.

What started off as nothing more than an improbable journey has developed into a full on dream come true for the former rugby star who less than a year ago was deciding between the 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions. After initially falling of his radar, the 49ers immediately jumped to the top of Hayne's list when the team announced the hiring of head coach Jim Tomsula. The two had already developed a relationship during a meeting alongside then head coach Jim Harbaugh, but it was Tomsula's experience overseas with NFL Europe and rugby players which ultimately proved to be the deciding factor in Hayne's decision to head for the Bay Area. With an entire country backing him and proud of his success in making the team's 53-man roster, he's inspired an entire nation and is one player I'll be supporting in full force.

View Hayne's press-conference on his decision down below:

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