NFC West: San Francisco 49ers

Tramaine Brock suffered a painful toe injury in the San Francisco 49ers' season-opening victory at the Dallas Cowboys Sept. 7.

The starting cornerback did not play again until this past Sunday night. Against the Denver Broncos. And Peyton Manning.

It did not seem fair, did it? Yet that is life in the NFL, and Brock was not decrying his lot after being victimized by Manning on his record-setting night. Besides, with the Niners using their bye week to get healthy, both physically and mentally after the 42-17 loss in Denver in which the 49ers were reduced to having just three healthy cornerbacks, Brock is a huge key in the secondary going forward.

“We just still have to execute,” Brock said after the game. “It wasn’t about me being hurt or not. We still have to go out there and make plays.

“I didn’t feel it in the game.”

Rather, Manning was the one feeling it.

Brock, who was thrust into the lineup with Chris Culliver's strained hamstring knocking him out, allowed six receptions on six targets, per Pro Football Focus, for 126 yards and two Manning touchdown passes.

He was given a minus-2.8 coverage grade by PFF.

But none of that matters going forward. Not with a banged-up secondary -- besides Culliver sitting out Sunday, rookie defensive back Jimmie Ward's quadricep left him inactive and Chris Cook suffered a hamstring injury in the third quarter -- needing more than warm bodies and Brock healing up.

“We just have to keep our heads up now and ... get ready for the bye week,” Brock said, “and finish the season strong.”

Injured 49ers can use the bye week

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22

ESPN 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez says the team’s bye week comes at a good time with all the injuries.

The Film Don't Lie: 49ers

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
A weekly look at what the San Francisco 49ers must fix:

The 49ers enter their bye week licking their wounds, physical and mental, after Sunday night's 42-17 thumping at the Denver Broncos.

The Niners receivers should spend their time off standing in front of a JUGS passing machine, catching ball after ball after ball. Or track down Lester Hayes or Fred Biletnikoff across the bay and borrow some old-school Stickum in time for their next game, Nov. 2 against the St. Louis Rams at Levi's Stadium.

Of course, Stickum is now illegal, but the 49ers' pass-catchers were dropping passes nonetheless.

Especially receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis. The trio combined for four drops, per Pro Football Focus, with Crabtree clanging two.

Particularly galling was the normally sure-handed Boldin, quarterback Colin Kaepernick's Mr. Dependable, dropping one in the end zone that hit him in the hands on third-and-goal from the 4-yard line midway through the second quarter.

If Boldin holds on to the ball, the 49ers creep to within 14-7. Instead, they had to settle for a 22-yard Phil Dawson field goal, and the rout was on.

Asked specifically about the drops after the game, coach Jim Harbaugh evaded the question.

"The Broncos played a great game," Harbaugh said. "They really were good and better at every phase and played a heck of a ballgame."

And if you're scratching your head over that particular answer to that specific of a question, imagine Harbaugh's reaction watching his receivers drop catchable passes.
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh seemed just as perplexed as general manager Trent Baalke by talk that outside linebacker Aldon Smith’s nine-game suspension could be reduced.

“I saw that report, and I don’t know anything about it,” Harbaugh said Monday in his weekly media conference.

ProFootballTalk reported before Sunday night’s 42-17 Niners loss to the Denver Broncos that Smith could return a game or two early. He has already missed seven games and the 49ers are entering their bye week playing playing host to the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 2.

Smith was hit by the league with the suspension, which would keep him out through the team’s Nov. 9 game at the New Orleans Saints, “for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse and the league's Personal Conduct Policy.”

The suspension broke down with four games for violations of the league’substance abuse policy, five games for violations of the Personal Conduct Policy.

Still, Smith has been allowed to work out at the team’s Santa Clara, California, facility as part of his suspension.

Harbaugh was asked if Smith had kept his nose clean and had been fulfilling his promises to the team.

“Very well,” Harbaugh said. “Settling his community service and when he’s around the facility, very well.”

An incredulous Baakle told reporters on press row Sunday night he knew nothing of the report.
The night belonged to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who established a record for most touchdown passes in a career in Denver’s 42-17 rout of the San Francisco 49ers Sunday night.

But where did the game truly get away from the Niners, whose 42 points allowed are tied for their most under fourth-year coach Jim Harbaugh?

Look no further than their offensive line, which was more makeshift line than front line by the time the game ended.

Consider that the 49ers were already without left guard Mike Iupati, who suffered a concussion six days earlier, and Anthony Davis was making just his second start of the season at right tackle thanks to injury.

The Niners then lost center Daniel Kilgore to a potentially season-ending broken left ankle/leg and his backup, undrafted rookie Dillon Farrell, rolled an ankle.

Colin Kaepernick was sacked a season-high six times and the resultant grades for offensive linemen were ugly.

Per Pro Football Focus, left tackle Joe Staley allowed three sacks and Joe Looney, who started at left guard in place of Iupati, surrendered six quarterback pressures and had a minus-5.7 grade.

Davis, who dealt with Von Miller, had an overall grade of minus-3.8 while right guard Alex Boone had his first positive grade as a starter this season at plus-3.8.

And when you look at how the 49ers attempted to attack the Broncos, PFF says they did not attempt one rushing play outside of Davis at right tackle while only using two-tight end personnel on 13.3 percent (10 of 75) of their plays, the same percentage as when they had two running backs on the field.

The bye week comes at a perfect time for the heart of the Niners’ offense -- the O-line -- to try and get right … and healthy.

DENVER -- Peyton Manning put on an absolute clinic Sunday night in the Denver Broncos' 42-17 beatdown of the San Francisco 49ers.

Sure, he set a new NFL record for career touchdown passes with Nos. 507, 508, 509 and 510, and he also had as many TD passes against the 49ers as he did incompletions -- four -- in completing 22 of 26 passes for 318 yards and a passer rating of 157.2.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
AP Photo/Jack DempseyIf you're keeping score, Colin Kaepernick is just 468 touchdown passes behind Peyton Manning on the all-time list. But Kaepernick would do well to learn from Manning's record-breaking night.
But perhaps the most important thing he accomplished on his record-setting night, at least as far as the 49ers are concerned, was setting an example for Colin Kaepernick to follow in his nascent career.

No doubt, they are two different quarterbacks with polar-opposite skill sets. But Kaepernick had a front-row seat to, well, the greatness that is Manning when he is firing on all cylinders.

That greatness includes touch passes, reading defenses and calling audibles in and out of plays depending upon what the defense shows him at the line.

"He's a great player," Kaepernick said. "He's able to put up a lot of points. He's proven that. We knew we were going to have to score points regardless."

Kaepernick actually had more passing yards than Manning at halftime, though the 49ers trailed 21-10 at intermission. And Kaepernick, who is only 468 touchdown passes behind Manning, flashed by leading the 49ers 80 yards in seven plays with no timeouts to close out that first half.

His 4-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson with 11 seconds remaining in the half gave him a touchdown pass in 14 straight games, the third-longest such streak in franchise history behind Steve Young (17 games, from Oct. 9, 1994, through Oct. 15, 1995) and Jeff Garcia (15, from Dec. 3, 2000, through Dec. 2, 2001).

But with the 49ers playing catch-up and Kaepernick needing to pass, the Broncos merely pinned their ears back and dominated the Niners' decimated offensive line. Kaepernick was sacked a season-high six times and he passed for only 74 yards in the second half to finish with 263 yards on 24-of-39 passing with a touchdown and an interception.

Still, having a front-row seat to history should allow Kaepernick to glean something from Manning going forward, no? Well, so long as Kaepernick wants it.

It sounds like he does.

"He's a very smart player," Kaepernick said. "He knows where he wants to go with the ball, how he wants to attack different defenses."

So, you could add that your arsenal, your QB bag o' tricks, so to speak?

"Very much," Kaepernick said.

Niners coach Jim Harbaugh is not one to compare players, but on this night, the former quarterback seemed in awe of Manning. (A bit of trivia: The last QB to start a game for the Indianapolis Colts before Manning was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1998 draft? Harbaugh.)

"I'm sure there are some things [he can glean from Manning]," Harbaugh said. "He's one of the greats, and that certainly was on display tonight."

And then some.

"You're playing against a coordinator when you're out there," 49ers free safety Eric Reid said.

Whatever lessons Kaepernick took home from Denver will have to wait for a while. The only way he will see Manning this up close and personal again would be if the 49ers and Broncos meet in the Super Bowl.

"I hope we do," Kaepernick said.

He's not the only one who feels that way in the 49ers' locker room.
Observed and heard in the locker room after the San Francisco 49ers' 42-17 loss to the Denver Broncos:
  • The 49ers’ top two centers entering the game both left with injuries. Starter Daniel Kilgore suffered what coach Jim Harbaugh said “might be a break” in his lower left leg while backup Dillon Farrell, who limped off the field after replacing Kilgore, was seen walking around without a noticeable limp.
  • It was a stunned locker room, one that was trying to process how efficiently Peyton Manning dissected the 49ers' defense. “You’re playing against a coordinator out there,” free safety Eric Reid said of Manning.
  • The 49ers are beat up, both emotionally and physically after being run over by the Broncos. So, can the bye week come at a better time? “This is perfect timing,” linebacker Ahmad Brooks said.
DENVER -- Three players who started for the San Francisco 49ers on Monday will not play tonight against the Denver Broncos due to injury as cornerback Chris Culliver, who missed practice on Friday due to an injured hamstring, joined linebacker Patrick Willis and left guard Mike Iupati on the inactive list.

Willis (toe) and Iupati (concussion) were ruled out on Friday.

The other 49ers inactives: WR Quinton Patton, DB Jimmie Ward, C Marcus Martin and DT Tank Carradine.

Rookie Chris Borland will start for Willis while Joe Looney will start at left guard.

Tramaine Brock, who has not played since injuring a toe on his right foot in the season opener at the Dallas Cowboys, will start at cornerback, alongside Perrish Cox.

With Culliver and Ward (quadriceps) out, Chris Cook and Dontae Johnson will provide depth as Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning needs three touchdown passes to set a NFL record for career TD passes.

Also, Anthony Davis, who has been nursing knee and ankle injuries, will make his second start of the season for the 49ers, taking the place of his backup, Jonathan Martin.
The Denver Broncos' Julius Thomas represents the NFL’s new wave of athletic, but powerful tight ends. At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, nine of his 24 receptions in five games have scored touchdowns.

“Big body, good receiver,” San Francisco 49ers strong safety Antoine Bethea mused this week in the locker room. “All the tight ends nowadays in this league, you know, big bodies. It’s tough to get around them.

“Week in and week out, we’re starting to see more of these type tight ends, big bodies, wide radius range of being able to catch the ball. Just got to go out there battle and have fun.”

And with inside linebacker Patrick Willis likely out with a toe injury, how will the San Francisco 49ers defend Thomas? With a safety like Bethea, or Willis’ likely replacement, undersized 5-11 rookie Chris Borland?

“Well, it will be a mix,” said Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “When you [face] a tight end like him, some people think you’re crazy if you don’t put a DB on him. Then the next guy will think you’re crazy because of the size mismatch if you don’t have a linebacker on him.

“That’s what these good tight ends do; they cause you problems. So it will be a mix of who’s on him for us.”

Fangio said Borland has practiced well against Niners backup tight end Vance McDonald, but could not recall him facing Vernon Davis all that much.

And if Borland is in the game, Fangio does not anticipate keeping Borland away from Thomas.

“You can a little bit, but ultimately, you’ve got to play your package, you know?” Fangio said. “If you start tinkering here and there to cover up somebody’s perceived deficiencies, that just leads to problems other places, too. You've got to be able to play.”
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has a unique history with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, one that goes beyond their time together with the Indianapolis Colts.

And yet, it might not matter as far as an advanced scouting report goes.

“Well, I’ve known him since he was a teenager, a young guy back in New Orleans,” Fangio said Thursday. “His dad was involved with the Saints and Peyton used to come around to our practices. Back in those days, there were no OTAs. If you had guys around, you maybe have a little skelly. And some of the times, he was a freshman and sophomore in high school, he came over and quarterbacked in those [scrimmages]. So, I’ve known him a long time.”

Wait, a teenaged Manning used to follow his father Archie to Saints unofficial offseason workouts and throw the ball around with the pros who happened to be in the facility?

“I said, now, there were no formal practices back then,” said Fangio, who was the Saints’ linebackers coach from 1986 through 1994. “OTAs did not exist. It might be 10, 15 guys hanging around. We’d have a little playground-type skelly. Not an OTA that you’re thinking that we have [now].

“I’d say [he was] 14, 15 [years old]. You just knew that he loved football. He was thrilled to be there with some other NFL players, but yet he was focused on the task at hand and he wanted to throw the ball good.”

Their paths crossed again in Indianapolis when Fangio served as the Colts’ defensive coordinator from 1999-2001.

“Vic is an outstanding coach,” Manning said in a conference call with Bay Area reporters on Wednesday. “I enjoyed the [three] years that he and I were together in Indianapolis.

“I used to enjoy talking ball with him and competing against his defenses in practice. It was always very competitive and the different places he’s been, his teams have always been very well coached.”

Fangio recalled a young Manning -- the No. 1 overall pick of the 1998 draft -- being a sponge.

“He would spend a lot of time at the facility,” Fangio said. “I’m talking day and night. Many times, I’d walk by the film room where he was watching tape, he’d pull me in and ask me what the defense was doing here, why they’re doing this or he’d come in my office and ask me. We would always have football conversations.

“He loves football. He really does. He’s 38 years old ... and he still loves the game, loves playing, loves preparing. I’m sure he’s studying just as he always has. He’s a true football junkie.”
San Francisco 49ers All-Pro inside linebacker Patrick Willis missed his second consecutive day of practice on Thursday with a toe injury, further putting his availability for Sunday night’s game at the Denver Broncos in doubt.

Also, left guard Mike Iupati has yet to pass the NFL-mandated concussion protocol as he missed his second practice this week, and rookie defensive back Jimmie Ward sat out again with a quadriceps injury.

Ward is one of five Niners DBs on the injury report.

“Well, Ward’s (injury) is the most serious of all those guys,” 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Thursday.

And the others?

“They’re dinged,” Fangio said, “but everybody’s dinged to some point at this stage.”

Following is the 49ers’ injury report for Thursday:

Did not participate: LG Mike Iupati (concussion), S Jimmie Ward (quadricep), ILB Patrick Willis (toe)

Limited participation: CB Tramaine Brock (toe), CB Chris Cook (quadricep), CB Perrish Cox (quadricep), CB Chris Culliver (shoulder), RT Anthony Davis (knee, ankle), DE Tony Jerod-Eddie (shoulder), WR Stevie Johnson (hip), DT Ian Williams (ankle, shoulder)

Full participation: TE Vernon Davis (back), DE Justin Smith (not injury-related)
Many critics and observers thought Colin Kaepernick, in his third season as the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback, would have been further along in his development as a pure dropback passer by now.

And yet, there were signs of an improvement in his decision-making in Monday night’s victory at the St. Louis Rams, a game in which he threw for 343 yards, the second most of his career, with three touchdown passes.

Perhaps most impressive was the fact that the three TDs went to three different wide receivers. It was, according to ESPN Stats & Info, the first time Kaepernick had at last three touchdown passes without an interception when targeting wideouts.

“I always think Colin plays well,” Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said after the Monday night win in St. Louis. “He just keeps doing it and doing it. No turnovers from the quarterback position. He is really good at running the team and getting us in the right play and throwing the ball really well.

“He had some pinpoint throws where he laid it in there perfectly. He got the step-up and the check-down and kept the chains moving.”

When throwing to his wide receivers against the Rams, Kaepernick completed 16 of 24 passes, with an 11.0 yards-per-attempt average, compared to going 6 of 12 with a 5.6 yards-per-attempt average when throwing to anyone else.

Also, per ESPN Stats & Info, it was Kaepernick’s second career game with at least 300 yards passing, three TD passes and no interceptions. He became the first 49ers quarterback with multiple such games since Jeff Garcia in 2000 and 2001.

The Film Don’t Lie: 49ers

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
A weekly look at what the San Francisco 49ers must fix:

In riding a three-game winning streak, you'd think the 49ers were firing on all cylinders. But they've had to come from behind in all three victories to get their record to 4-2, and heading into Sunday night's nationally televised game at the Denver Broncos, the Niners need to continue to work on getting pressure on the quarterback.

Especially one who is as immobile as he is quick with his release in Peyton Manning, who is just two touchdown passes away from tying Brett Favre's record of 508 career TDs.

Heading into Monday night's game at the St. Louis Rams, the 49ers had only five total sacks in five games. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio dialed up the pressure, and the Niners sacked Rams quarterback Austin Davis five times, twice each by outside linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Dan Skuta and once by strong safety Antoine Bethea.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the 49ers entered last week last in the NFL in pressure percentage (16.5) but raised that figure to 44.4 percent against the Rams. In fact, excluding two spikes, Davis was sacked or under duress on 20 of 45 dropbacks.

And in the past two seasons, quarterbacks have a record of just 3-12 when throwing 15 or more passes under duress. Yes, the 49ers have to bring the heat on Manning without leaving themselves too vulnerable to Manning's clinical approach.

It's easier said than done, obviously, but it's something the Niners have to figure out.

49ers banged up going into Broncos game

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15

ESPN 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez talks about the four players injured against the Rams and how it will impact the team against the Broncos.
ST. LOUIS -- You could say that Michael Crabtree is Colin Kaepernick's favorite receiver. You could make a strong case that Vernon Davis is Kaepernick's security blanket and Brandon Lloyd has become his most explosive playmaker down the sideline.

But Kaepernick's Mr. Dependable? The guy who has a knack for getting open whenever the San Francisco 49ers absolutely, positively need a clutch catch in traffic or simply to move the chains?

That would be Anquan Boldin.

Or did you miss Boldin again coming through in the clutch during the 49ers' 31-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams after the Rams built a 14-0 lead?

The play that epitomized the relationship was the highlight-reel, 11-yard TD pass Kaepernick lofted to the left back of the end zone and into Boldin's waiting arms.

[+] EnlargeBoldin
Jeff Curry/USA TODAY SportsAnquan Boldin's 11-yard touchdown in the third quarter put the 49ers ahead 17-14.
"It was a broken play," Boldin said, matter-of-factly, of his first TD of the season. "Kap made a play with his legs."

To the guy who has been his Mr. Dependable.

The third-and-1, third-quarter pass play was actually drawn up to go to left tackle Joe Staley, who had reported as an eligible receiver. But defensive end Robert Quinn sniffed it out and essentially tackled Staley, which drew a defensive holding flag.

So, with a free play, Kaepernick rolled to his left and seemed to float for an eternity before uncorking a rainbow just over the outstretched arms of Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh was stunned.

"What is he doing with the ball?" Harbaugh admitted thinking as it was in flight.

Kaepernick was simply finding his most trusted target, who was simply doing his thing against a familiar opponent. In 16 career games against the Rams, Boldin has 104 catches for 1,420 yards and eight touchdowns after catching seven balls for 94 yards Monday night. His teams have gone 12-4 in those matchups, and he has six 100-yard receiving games against the Rams.

Ownage, anyone?

Kaepernick's TD pass to Boldin was his league-leading sixth thrown from outside the pocket, per ESPN Stats & Information, one more than the Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck.

Boldin said working on "scramble drills" helped his scoring play, which gave the 49ers their first lead of the game at 17-14.

"Because with a mobile quarterback," Boldin said, "things like that are going to happen. … I've seen him do it over and over."

Kaepernick gave the credit to Boldin.

"He came back and made a great play," Kaepernick said. "He was supposed to be running the other way, saw me scramble. … I'll give Anquan a shot any day of the week."

Boldin praised his quarterback's development.

"His decision-making has improved a lot," Boldin said. "He's always been a good leader. He's always been able to make plays with his legs. But his decision-making has really grown in the last two years, the two years I've been here.

"You see him going through his reads -- if it's not there, checking it down. Things like that."

Things like developing a certain faith and chemistry with his personal Mr. Dependable.