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Tag:Donte Whitner
Posted on: January 23, 2012 9:51 am
Edited on: January 23, 2012 11:40 am
 

Kyle Williams gets death wishes, via Twitter

K. Williams fumbled twice in San Francisco's loss to New York (AP).

By Josh Katzowitz

After a man makes a couple major mistakes in a game that helps cost his team a victory, it’s refreshing to know that that many fans, through the power of Twitter, can lend that man some much-needed support.

Take 49ers receiver Kyle Williams, for example. He muffed a punt and then lost a fumble in overtime that led to the Giants winning the NFC title and advancing to the Super Bowl. His teammates and many of San Francisco’s fans rallied around the crestfallen Williams, sending him messages of encouragement and love.

Championship Weekend Recap


Then, you have the people who, according to the San Jose Mercury News, are tweeting death threats and other heartwarming sentiments to Williams. As one apparent fan wrote, “I hope you, youre (sic) wife, kids and family die, you deserve it.” Wrote another: “Jim Harbaugh, please give @KyleWilliams_10 the game ball. And make sure it explodes when he gets in his car.”

So, that’s nice, huh?

But his 49ers teammates were there to defend him.

"We all lost this game," tight end Delanie Walker said, via CBSSports.com’s Gregg Doyel. "We play as a team -- it's 45 of us out there. It's not Kyle's fault, so don't go over there and act like it is. Cause it's not."

Safety Donte Whitner told reporters: “Hopefully, he doesn't beat himself up too hard. Hopefully, the media's not on him too tough. Because he's still a young player, and he still has a bright future in the National Football League.

"There's just certain things that you can't do in certain situations. We have to protect the ball at all times. I think he learns that now, and he'll be better."

For his part, Williams spoke to reporters after the game, saying he was simply trying to make a play.

“Everybody in here has covered my back and kind of patted me on the back and said, 'It's not all on your shoulders,'" Williams said.

Unfortunately, some of San Francisco’s fans didn’t get that memo.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 22, 2012 12:26 pm
 

49ers safety: We play physical...people get hurt

New York and San Francisco met on January 20, 1991 and Montana and Hostetler both took beatings that day. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

In the days leading up to Sunday's Giants-49ers NFC Championship game, New York running back Brandon Jacobs -- all 6-4, 265 pounds of him -- declared that "I wish like hell they'd hit me in the head. ... A helmet-to-helmet hit. I want one of those. Because that means they're staying high, you know. They're not going to the ground and trying to make tackles at the shoe strings."

Not long after, 49ers safety Donte Whitner, the man who knocked Saints running back Pierre Thomas out of last week's game with a concussion, spoke frankly about San Francisco's defense.

“We play physical,’’ he said according to the New York Post. “Whenever you play physical, people get hurt.’’

Whitner quickly qualified that it's not anyone's plan to injure or maim an opponent but football is a physical enterprise (just ask Joe Montana).

"We don’t want to go out and intentionally hurt anybody," he said. "But when you play this game the way we play, we play fast and carefree, some guys are going to end up getting injured. We are not going to stop playing physical. Guys come out of the game, hopefully it’s not too bad of an injury.’’

The Giants, unlike the Saints, aren't a finesse offense. In fact, they seem to welcome physical play. As we pointed out previously, they have a wide receiver who looks like a tight end (Hakeem Nicks), a tight end who looks like an offensive lineman (Jake Ballard), and a bruising running back who -- shocker -- likes to steamroll any defender unlucky enough to get in his way. (Of course, NFL Network analyst and former NFL defensive lineman Warren Sapp has called Jacobs the "tiptoe burglar" for his running style.)

But it's not Jacobs that concerns San Francisco's defense. It's his backfield partner, Ahmad Bradshaw.

“He’s going to be where our focus is this week,” Whitner said. “We have to take him out of the game.’’

Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh, a lock for NFL coach of the year honors, isn't short on confidence. And neither, is sounds, is his team.

“The only thing we have to fear is being unprepared,’’ Harbaugh said via the Post. “Like I’ve always said, you damn sure got to be confident. All these guys are.’’


After dominating the Green Bay Packers last week, the New York Giants will travel to Candlestick Park to square off against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. Join NFL.com's Pat Kirwan and Jason Horowitz as they break down this matchup.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 18, 2012 5:20 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2012 12:16 pm
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Giants NFC CG preview

Can Smith and Harbaugh work some more magic Sunday? (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

These teams gave us a very good game back in Week 10 from which we came away truly believing for the first time that San Francisco’s old school style might actually still work in today’s pass-happy NFL. However, not much can be drawn on from that game, as the Giants were without Ahmad Bradshaw, hadn’t yet gelled on the O-line and were still trying to figure things out in their defensive back seven.

New York is healthy now and, as you’ve undoubtedly heard a thousand times, “playing with confidence”. Confidence does not breed success, it stems from success. Simply put, the Giants are a much better football team this time around.


1. Tougher task for Alex Smith
Alex Smith’s fourth quarter heroics last week might have been career-changing, at least pertaining to his public image. But lost in the excitement was the fact that Smith and his teammates struggled somewhat to identify blitzes throughout most of the contest.

And, until the final few minutes, Smith wasn’t comfortable against heavy coverage in the red zone. He caught fire once he started recognizing the one-on-one matchups for Vernon Davis BEFORE the snap (which wasn’t hard against the Saints’ Cover 0’s). Thus, after the snap, he didn’t have to worry about making the right decision – he just had to worry about throwing a good ball.  (To his credit, he did this extremely well.)

This week, Smith will have to worry about both. Given the mediocrity of San Francisco’s offensive tackles, the Giants’ four-man rush should be able to get pressure and force the Niners to keep backs and tight ends in to block (or at least chip). When the Giants do blitz, it’s usually a zone pass-rushing concept involving a linebacker (see Michael Boley’s two sacks at Green Bay).

Thus, all game Smith will be throwing into a more crowded secondary and without quickly defined reads. Unless Joe Staley and Anthony Davis play the game of their lives, Smith will also be throwing under some duress. Post-snap decision-making from a crowded pocket has always been Smith’s greatest weakness.

As he’s done all season, Jim Harbaugh will ameliorate Smith’s deficiencies by giving him simplified quick throws off three-step drops, utilizing play-action and, perhaps, calling throws on first down (where the coverages tend to be more basic). The Niners did this with great success in Week 10. In fact, they did it was great success throughout the season; Smith’s passer rating on first down was 101.6.

But at some point, just like last week, Smith is going to have to make a big-time throw in an obvious passing situation.


After dominating the Green Bay Packers last week, the New York Giants will travel to Candlestick Park to square off against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. Join NFL.com's Pat Kirwan and Jason Horowitz as they break down this matchup.

2. Smith’s targets
Smith isn’t the only passing game contributor who faces a tougher challenge this week. Michael Crabtree will likely be shadowed by Corey Webster, an outstanding all-around cover corner. Because Crabtree isn’t fast enough to run away from most corners, he has to beat them with body control and agility. Often, his best routes drag over the middle. When his routes go inside, it’s easy for the Giants to give Webster help (not that he needs much).

Smith’s top target, Vernon Davis, won’t be facing Roman Harper or Malcolm Jenkins in man coverage. Instead, he’ll go against Antrel Rolle, a more athletic cover artist whom the Arizona Cardinals originally drafted in the first round as a cornerback (the Saints drafted Jenkins as a corner, as well, but after a year they admitted what had been apparent from Day One: the stiff-hipped ex-Buckeye was better suited for safety).

And unlike last week, Davis won’t have just one defender to beat, as it’s highly unlikely the Giants will play only man and have Rolle constantly defend the 250-pound tight end one-on-one.

3. Gotta make it Gorey
Expect the run-first Niners to go back to the ground this week. Frank Gore got just 13 carries against New Orleans; he needs at least 22 against New York. If Gore can pound the rock against Perry Fewell’s big nickel defense (two linebackers, two safeties and Rolle playing a utility role as a third safety/linebacker/slot corner), the Giants may decide to go back to their base 4-3.

That would make for a less athletic front seven and present a greater possibility for Davis to draw matchups against linebackers.

Let’s keep it simple and also remember that, regardless of what the defense is doing, running is San Francisco’s bread and butter. They’re built around the power run, with booming and mobile left guard Mike Iupati pulling to the right of Pro Bowl center Jonathan Goodwin and working in unison with lead-blockers Bruce Miller and Justin Peelle (or Delanie Walker if he can get healthy).

That’s the formula that got this team here. And it happens to be the formula that can keep New York’s white hot quarterback off the field.

4. Giants passing game
New York’s rushing attack is nowhere near as dreadful as it was in September, October and November, but against the league’s stingiest run defense, it still can’t be counted on. The Giants will have to ride the golden right arm of Eli Manning. He isn’t facing a porous pass defense like he did a week ago. San Francisco has three corners who can stay with New York’s frighteningly athletic wide receivers.

In the last meeting, Carlos Rogers was sensational defending the slot, making a handful of great jumps on the ball and finishing with two interceptions. Rogers is good enough to handle Victor Cruz.

What really stood out in the first divisional round game was how well the Niner defensive backs – particularly safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner – tackled. Considering the DB’s penchant for forcing fumbles, the Giants may be hesitant to put Hakeem Nicks and Cruz in the catch-and-run situations that they enjoy.

5. San Fran’s defensive line
The 49ers were able to break down the Giants’ pass protection in the last meeting, but again, this Giants line has improved immensely since then.

Still, Aldon Smith, with his explosive first step and startlingly quick hands, is a nightmare matchup for David Diehl on the left side, while Kareem McKenzie will need a little help against the speed of Ahmad Brooks on the right. Then there’s Justin Smith, who makes four or five fantastic penetrative plays a game.

In addition to rushing the passer, the Niners’ front three/four is fast and athletic enough to hunt down screen passes outside the numbers. That’s assuming Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman don’t hunt them down first.

Against this dynamic front seven, the Giants won’t be able to count heavily on Ahmad Bradshaw or ancillary options like Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum. Manning and his wide receivers will have to find ways to make big plays.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the Championship games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 14, 2012 9:11 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2012 10:08 pm
 

Don't forget to give Niners defense credit

49ers defensive end Justin Smith was all over Brees Saturday. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

The 49ers victory over New Orleans on Saturday might very well go down as one of the all-time great playoffs games. And Alex Smith is going to get a lot of credit for morphing into Joe Montana and leading the 49ers to a pair of lead-grabbing drives with less than 150 seconds on the clock. He deserves that credit, but let's not forget the effort that the Niners defense put forth against Drew Brees and the Saints for the majority of the game.

As we noted at halftime, San Francisco's physical play disrupted Brees, shut down any sort of rushing attack for the Saints and led to 13 points for a Niners offense that lost its identity for most of the game.

In fact, the Niners could've blown out the Saints if the offense had shown up for the first three quarters; even the Niners long scoring drive in the first quarter came off a Pierre Thomas fumble forced by Donte Whitner.

The secondary was resplendent with the exception of giving up two big plays to Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, and Carlos Rogers so many big plays you could practically hear the general area of Washington D.C. groaning in collective misery.


Justin Smith showed precisely why many people believe he was the best defensive player in the NFL this year and through most of three quarters, the Niners played what might've been the best defensive football this season. And rookie Aldon Smith continued to flash big-time potential, forcing his way through blocks to pressure Brees.

The offense simply didn't come to play for the second and third quarters, and for much of the game, the playcalling was curious. That's not to knock Greg Roman because the plays he busted out in the final three minutes more than made up for it, but the Niners still only ran the ball 22 times. That makes zero sense, especially with a 17-0 lead early on.

Whatever, the offense came through when it needed to, but in the wake of handing Smith all the due credit he deserves, let's not forget to give props to the defense for not just keeping the Niners in the game early, but actually offering San Francisco a chance to run away with an upset victory that eventually came anyway.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 14, 2012 6:23 pm
 

Physical 49ers jump out to lead, up 17-14 at half

San Francisco's offense was aggressive and impressive in the first half. (AP)
By Will Brinson

The 49ers had to get physical with the Saints to compete against New Orleans high-octane offense and they did just that early in the game Saturday, forcing three early turnovers to jump out to a 17-0 lead. But Drew Brees is kind of good and led two masterful second-quarter scoring drives to cut the lead to 17-14 at halftime in San Francisco.

It's a testament to just how explosive the Saints offense is that they're in the game; a pair of fumbles (one in the 49ers red zone, the other in the Saints red zone) and a pair of Brees picks in the first half should be nearly impossible to overcome.

Speaking of testaments, it's a testament to Alex Smith's career that his first career game with two touchdowns in the first quarter came on Saturday against the Saints. But we shouldn't knock Smith, considering how good he looked in the first half, 12 of 20 for 130 yards, two touchdowns and no picks.

It was the 49ers defense that deserves the most props for the first 30 minutes though. They were absolutely physical, hawked the mess out of the ball, flustered the Saints skill position guys and swarmed to the ballcarrier on plays that typically work well for the Saints, like screens to Darren Sproles.

Donte Whitner, in particular, was absolutely terrifying, forcing a fumble by Pierre Thomas (and knocking him out of the game) and generally wrecking shop/laying wood all over the field with big hits.

Whitner also provided a pretty good summary of the first half, in GIF form:

Whitner's absolutely laying wood against the Saints. (Mocksession.com)

With the 49ers holding just a three-point lead, it's anyone's game, obviously. And we'd be remiss to forget the second-half performance by the Saints last week at home against Detroit when assuming this will remain close.

But with the way the 49ers defense is playing, it would be shocking if the first Divisional Round game of the weekend didn't come down to the wire.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: December 14, 2011 1:06 pm
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Steelers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


At 10-3, the San Francisco 49ers are fighting for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. With two losses in their last three outings, questions are starting to lurk. Are the Niners indeed a top-tier club with a powerhouse defense and limited-but-fundamentally sound offense? Or are they, like the ’08 Dolphins or 08 Titans, just another middle-tier team that happened to rack up a lot of wins thanks to the good fortunes of turnover differential? (The Niners are currently first in the league at +21).

San Fran’s recent two losses have been to quality 3-4 defenses (Baltimore and Arizona). The Monday night matchup against Pittsburgh could provide the “moment of truth” for Jim Harbaugh’s club.


1. Niners’ protection woes
The Cardinals defense, led by former Steelers assistant Ray Horton, came after Alex Smith & Co. with fervidity and dimension. Horton’s panoply of blitzes brought rushers from all four linebacking spots and, on a few occasions, the secondary. San Francisco’s offensive line, particularly inside with LG Mike Iupati, C Jonathan Goodwin and RG Adam Snyder, floundered in their identification and reaction speed. Two weeks before, those three linemen, along with backup guard Chilo Rachal, were physically manhandled by Haloti Ngata and the tough Ravens front three.

The Niners spend most of their time in base offensive personnel, which has them line up against base defensive personnel. The Steelers are less aggressive than the Cardinals when it comes to blitzing out of base personnel (most of Dick LeBeau’s blitzes come from nickel and dime packages). And, physically, the Steelers defensive front three is not as powerful as the Ravens’.

That said, the trenches mismatch will still be glaring and hard for the Niners to avoid (see items 2 and 3).

2. Niners run game
Jim Harbaugh’s is a run-oriented offense in the purist form. On first and second downs, the 49ers align almost exclusively in 21 or 22 personnel (i.e. two backs and one or two tight ends). The Steelers, at times, even in their base defense with vociferous nose tackle Casey Hampton, have uncharacteristically struggled in run defense this season. But those struggles have come against zone-blocking teams like the Texans, Ravens or Bengals.

The 49ers are a power-blocking team. Their ground game is predicated on size and force, double-teams and interior pulls (Iupati is very mobile; Snyder is often ineffective off movement but can at least physically execute the plays). Power-blocking is not a good formula when facing the Steelers. Their defensive line cannot be consistently driven, and inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior play too fast for slow developing pull blocks to work.

3. Niners pass game
If the Niners do try to stick with their power ground game, they’ll inevitably face a handful of third-and-long situations. That will compel Harbaugh to spread into three-receiver sets. That’s when LeBeau will take advantage of San Francisco’s interior pass protection issues.

One of the hallmark blitzes in LeBeau’s portfolio is the Fire-X, which is when both inside linebackers crisscross and attack the A-gaps. The Steelers execute Fire-X’s better than any team in football. James Farrior is brilliant in timing his blitzes and setting up pass-rushing lanes for teammates. Lawrence Timmons is more explosive than Acetone Peroxide when firing downhill.

What’s more, Troy Polamalu’s versatility becomes more pronounced in passing situations. That’s problematic given how much trouble Adrian Wilson (a poor man’s Polamalu) gave the Niners last week.

Because rushing yards could be tough to come by, it’s very likely that the Niners will throw on early downs out of base personnel (they had success with this formula against the Giants a few weeks ago). To help Alex Smith thrive in these scenarios, Harbaugh has implemented several changes this season – such as using play-action and specific route designs that allow for one-read throws, eliminating sight adjustment routes to ensure that the receivers and quarterback are always on the same page and being very judicious in calling “shot plays” downfield.

But in most games, there are points when a quarterback and his receivers simply have to make things happen. Smith doesn’t have the dynamic tools to consistently do that against a D like Pittsburgh’s. His primary wide receivers don’t have the speed and quickness to regularly separate outside (especially against a star cornerback like Ike Taylor). And, most concerning, his offensive tackles, particularly lackluster second-year pro Anthony Davis, are not formidable enough in pass protection to stave off LaMarr Woodley or even Jason Worilds.

4. Niners defensive line vs. Steelers O-line
The good news for Harbaugh is his defense is capable of posing nearly just as many problems for the Steelers offense. Obviously, Ben Roethlisberger’s health will have a significant impact on this game. You already know the advantages Big Ben gives the Steelers.

Almost as important is the health of center Maurkice Pouncey. Like Roethlisberger, he’s battling a Grade 1 high ankle sprain. Pouncey could not finish the game against Cleveland but says he’ll play Monday night. That’s huge. Without Pouncey, the Steelers would have to slide Doug Legursky from left guard to center, which poses a substantial drop-off in mobility and strength (even if Legursky has been somewhat of an overachiever the last year).

What’s more, Chris Kemoeatu would be forced back into the lineup at left guard. Kemoeatu has been a top ten player at his position the past few years. But for whatever reason, he’s fallen flat on his face this season – mainly in pass protection, where he’s shown poor lateral agility and a proclivity for holding.

Even at full strength, the Steelers offensive line is average and, thus, incapable of completely neutralizing the 49ers front line over four quarters. Left end Justin Smith is as good as they get. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga has blossomed into a plugger who’s mobile enough to make plays anywhere in the box.

Right end Ray McDonald is healthy again and flashing uncommon initial quickness. And on passing downs, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith are lightning fast, supple edge-rushers with versatile short-area explosiveness. It’s highly doubtful the Steeler tackles can contain them one-on-one.

5. San Francisco’s defensive back seven
Even if Patrick Willis’ hamstring keeps him out a third-straight game, the Niners have enough speed and burst with NaVorro Bowman and strong safety Donte Whitner to answer Pittsburgh’s methodical rushing attack. The key will be whether San Francisco can hold up in pass defense. The Niners like to play zone in base D and man in nickel or dime.

Without Willis, San Francisco’s zones become somewhat vulnerable inside (we saw this on Early Doucet’s 60-yard touchdown last week). In man, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver are all capable of hanging with Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace, but not if Roethlisberger is able to extend the play (Brown is simply too good at making late adjustments to his route, Sanders is similar and Wallace obviously has lethal speed if he can get downfield).

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 15 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 9, 2011 10:54 am
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Giants preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The NFC’s top team from the East will travel some 3,000 miles to face the top team from the West in a game that could ultimately decide the No. 2 playoff seed. Here’s a five-point look at this matchup between two overachieving clubs.



1. Old School offenses
If not for HD quality picture and the first-down line, you could fool yourself into thinking the year is 1990 when watching these two offenses line up on Sunday. Both are built around traditional rushing attacks, operating predominantly out of classic 12, 21 or 22 personnel (12 personnel = 1 back, two tight ends; 21 personnel = two backs, one tight end; you can guess what 22 personnel equals).

The difference is that the Niners this season have successfully run the ball, while the Giants have not (San Francisco ranks sixth in the NFL with 137.6 yards rushing per game; New York ranks 29th with 88.8).

Jim Harbaugh has good horses in Frank Gore and the more dynamic but less experienced Kendall Hunter, but it’s not a glistening backfield like those found in Philadelphia, Houston or Oakland. To compensate, Harbaugh has done a masterful job manufacturing rushing yards through formation variations, motion and subtle subterfuge. The Niners show opponents a lot of different looks with their running back and tight end alignments. And with mobile guards like Mike Iupati and, to an extent, Adam Snyder, they can frequently change up their movement-oriented run-blocking techniques. They have the most variegated ground game in the NFL.
 
The Giants would like to mimic this, but Ahmad Bradshaw hasn’t been healthy and Brandon Jacobs hasn’t been impactful. More encumbering has been the shakiness of the offensive line. The center position has been particularly problematic. David Baas has battled injuries and struggled with gap-shooting defensive tackles against Miami two weeks ago; when Baas has been out, Kevin Boothe has looked how you’d expect a career backup tackle to look at center. Most telling is that recently, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has been almost exclusively aerial in his late-game play-calls.

2. The Quarterbacks
The Giants have managed six wins despite a sputtering ground game. The reason? Eli Manning has played the best football of his career. Herein lays the difference between New York and San Francisco. Both teams have former No. 1 overall drafted quarterbacks, but only one can put the game on its quarterback’s shoulders.

Manning is seeing the field clearer than ever (fortunately for him, New York’s front line struggles have not been in pass protection). His command of the offense and sound decision-making have propagated the eruptions of tight end Jake Ballard and slot receiver Victor Cruz. Ballard is an enhanced version of Kevin Boss; Cruz, with his unique body control and sticky hands, is a more explosive – though less stable – version of Steve Smith.

Something that’s not talked about often enough is Manning’s arm strength. He’s among the small handful of quarterbacks who truly can make all the throws; and he doesn’t need to be on balance or in perfect pocket conditions to do it.

Alex Smith, on the other hand, does need perfect pocket conditions. Smith is not functional with bodies around him. When he does have room, the throw usually has to target his first or second read, as he’s never had the poise to work deep in his progressions. This is one reason the Niners have spent so much time in 12 or 21 or 22 formations. When there are only three receivers running routes, defenses are more inclined to bring an eighth defender in the box, thus allowing for more one-on-one coverage concepts outside. This makes things simpler for the quarterback.

The Giants, on the other hand, are able to split into three, and sometimes four, receiver formations for long stretches and let Manning run the show.

3. Pass-rushes
These are two of the best pure pass-rushing defenses in the NFL. Pure meaning both are willing but not compelled to blitz. When they do blitz, it’s often primarily in an effort to command isolated matchups for rushers on the edge. For these defenses, those matchups will almost always be favorable.
 
For the Giants, Osi Umenyiora augments his incredible speed by being the league’s best snap-count anticipators in obvious passing situations. Opposite him, a healthy Justin Tuck is a versatile, fundamentally sharp force, and a rising Jason Pierre-Paul has willowy power and speed that make him a potentially more explosive version of Tuck. And don’t forget that linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka is a former first-round defensive end who can turn the corner.

You already know all this, though. What you may not know is that San Francisco’s pass-rushers are not too many rungs behind New York’s. Sixth-year pro Ahmad Brooks has finally learned how to apply his startling speed and fluidity on an everydown basis (even against the run, which close observers two years ago would not have predicted).

Rookie Aldon Smith plays with Manny Pacquiao-like hand-quickness to go with natural leverage that punctuates his first-round athleticism. What’s more, most 3-4 defenses don’t bank on getting pressure from their ends. But they don’t have a weapon like Justin Smith. He wears opponents out and makes three or four splash plays a week. Opposite Smith, Ray McDonald, when healthy (he injured his hamstring in Week 8) has been equally dynamic this season.

Both defenses have the versatility to create pass-rushing mismatches through position relocation and group concepts. All of the men mentioned above are outside players who can align inside, stand up as de facto blitzing linebackers or properly set up and execute crashes and stunts with teammates.

4. The Coverage Effect
These difficult-to-block four-man pass-rushes force quarterbacks to throw under duress into seven-man coverages. As they showed at New England last week, the Giants linebackers and safeties are getting more comfortable recognizing and attacking passing lanes. It helps that their cornerbacks, though inconsistent early in the season, can play press-man coverage outside.

Corey Webster has been particularly impressive in recent weeks, often shadowing the opposing team’s top receiver. He’s well equipped to defend the lithe but inexplosive Michael Crabtree.

The Niners love to play two-man out of their nickel defense. This puts cornerbacks Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver man-to-man on the wideouts and allows the two safeties, Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson, to roam free over the top. Rogers, who starts outside but plays the slot in nickel, is having a career-year. Brown blends into the scheme in a good way. Culliver, a precocious third-round rookie, always plays with a great sense for his surroundings.

Even if Hakeem Nicks, discreetly a top-10 NFL receiver, returns from his hamstring injury this week, the Giants are going to have a tough time consistently getting wideouts open against this Niners secondary.

5. The inside linebackers
We saved the best for last: San Francisco’s inside linebackers (and just San Francisco’s – New York’s entire linebacking corps is very mediocre).

Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman form the best inside linebacking duo in football. The past few years, Willis has rightfully been regarded as the best in the business. This season, he may be the second best on his own team, as Bowman, a 2010 third-round pick, leads San Fran in tackles.

Setting these two apart is the fact that they both play all three downs. That’s incredible in this day and age of spread offenses. In nickel and dime defense, Willis and Bowman perform coverage assignments normally reserved for defensive backs. They have the speed, change-of-direction prowess and awareness to do it. Both are quick-closing tacklers, instinctive run-defenders and innate playmakers.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 10 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: August 4, 2011 6:00 pm
 

49ers land Donte Whitner to bolster secondary

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Maybe former Bills safety Donte Whitner saw the news that the 49ers were looking to unload Taylor Mays on, well, anybody with a passing interest in a warm body.

Or perhaps it dawned on Whitner that there isn't much difference between winters in Buffalo and Cincinnati. Because shortly after ESPN, the Cincinnati Enquirer and even Whitner via Twitter announced that he had agreed to terms with the Bengals, the 49ers signed him to a three-year, $11 million contract with $4.5 million in guarantees, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. (Whitner confirmed as much via -- you guessed it -- Twitter.)

Either way, Whitner appears to be headed to the Bay Area while Mays may be on the way out just a year after the 49ers selected him in the second round of the NFL Draft.

In general, if it takes a team a season to figure out that a second-rounder is a bust, either the scouts weren't doing their jobs, or the coaches and/or front office decided to take Mays against the scouts' wishes.

In Mays' case it sounds like the latter. ESPN.com's Mike Sando writes that "Mays would have remained in the team's plans to this point had Mike Singletary remained head coach. Singletary was invested in Mays. The team had Ronnie Lott reach out to Mays right away. Kenny Easley was another great safety the team held up as an example to follow. Priorities and values change when staffs change. This doesn't necessarily mean the 49ers erred when they drafted Mays. It means they erred when they hired Singletary, and Mays is a casualty of the fallout."

However you spin it, San Francisco wasted a 2009 second-round pick. And wherever you lay the blame, that's a big deal for an organization that last had a winning season in 2002.

Now Whitner will join safety Madieu Williams (who played for the Bengals from 2004-2007) and cornerback Carlos Rogers as new faces in the 49ers secondary.

As for the hard-luck Bengals, they're familiar with being left at the free-agent alter, Frazier Crane style. The Enquirer's Joe Reedy writes that Shaun Rogers was traded to Cincy in 2008 … only for the deal to be nixed before he was later traded to the Browns.

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