NFC West: Kyle Rudolph

Around the NFC West: Why 49ers lost

September, 24, 2012
The San Francisco 49ers weren't at their best Sunday. That wasn't the takeaway from their 24-13 defeat at Minnesota, at least in my view. The first two touchdown plays Christain Ponder made for the Vikings would have been nearly impossible for anyone to stop.

Ponder's touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph required athleticism and accuracy. Safety Dashon Goldson was bearing down on the quarterback. Ponder leaped and was fading backward when he released a tight-spiraled pass with pinpoint accuracy.

Later, Ponder felt the pocket collapsing around him. He shifted from quarterback to runner without hesitation and was gone up the middle before anyone could catch him. The 23-yard touchdown stretched the Vikings' lead to 14-3 with 5:29 left in the second quarter. Again, not much the 49ers could have done about this one.

Throw in the mistakes San Francisco made -- some off-target passes, an interception, Frank Gore's lost fumble, getting a field-goal try blocked, too many penalties -- and the 49ers suffered their most lopsided defeat under coach Jim Harbaugh. They previously lost by 10 to Baltimore, three to Dallas, three to the New York Giants (in the playoffs) and two to Arizona.

Jess Myers of the San Jose Mercury News passes along thoughts from various 49ers defenders. He didn't see the Vikings' running game as decisive even though Adrian Peterson ran well. Inman: "The bigger problems were multifaceted offensive tool Percy Harvin and second-year Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. When nothing was open downfield, Ponder often would scramble away from the pass rush and find Harvin open in the flat. Harvin had nine catches for 89 yards, and Ponder finished with two touchdown passes while producing zeros in two vitally important stats: sacks and interceptions."

From Cam Inman of the the San Jose Mercury News: "Alex Smith accounted for two fourth-quarter turnovers, including his first interception in 250 passes and a lost fumble on a final-drive sack by Jared Allen. Smith also kicked himself for overthrowing Randy Moss for a potential second-quarter touchdown."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Moss thanks Vikings fans for applauding him. As for the times Smith missed Moss? Smith: "He and I have to connect. I have to (throw) better balls there on both those occasions, because those were both key plays."

Also from Barrows: Justin Smith thought the 49ers lacked their usual edge. Smith: "We just came out a little flat and weren't able to get a stop. Hats off to them. They came out with a good game plan and moved the ball on us. We just need to tighten up."

Matt Maiocco of offers Mike Singletary's reaction to beating his former team: "I think more than anything else, I was just very, very pleased to see our guys respond to the challenge of playing San Francisco. They are playing very well right now. We are coming off a loss last week, and we bounced back and really showed a lot of character and I'm very excited about that."

Also from Maiocco: Goldson disputes a personal foul called against him.

More from Maiocco: Isaac Sopoaga and Patrick Willis were walking despite the injuries they suffered against Minnesota. Details were scarce.

Halftime thoughts as 49ers, Rams trail

September, 23, 2012
A few thoughts after watching the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams fall behind at halftime of their Week 3 games:
  • 49ers, down 17-3 at Minnesota: Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder accounts for much of the difference on the scoreboard. There was no shame in allowing Ponder's fourth-and-goal scoring pass to Kyle Rudolph. San Francisco defended the play well and had a man (safety Dashon Goldson) in Ponder's face. Ponder made an impressive touch throw. Later, Ponder went from passer under duress to dangerous runner at the flip of a switch. There was no hesitation. Ponder took off up the middle and was at full speed quickly. On offense, the 49ers are doing a good job on third down, but the Vikings appear ready for their misdirection plays in the run game. Minnesota seems a half-step ahead of the 49ers in just about every area, including special teams. Blocking David Akers' try and then getting a field goal before the half represented a big swing right before halftime. Alex Smith and Randy Moss haven't quite been in sync. Smith's passes for Moss have been high. Pressure was probably a factor when Smith missed Moss for a potential touchdown.
  • Rams, down 10-3 at Chicago: The Rams' defense was on the field too much early in this game. The Rams should feel pretty good about trailing by only a touchdown. Cortland Finnegan has another interception. Janoris Jenkins almost had another one. There's a sense watching St. Louis that the team is always close to picking off a pass, particularly against a quarterback as careless as the Bears' Jay Cutler can be. On offense, Sam Bradford has done a good job scrambling, but the passing game hasn't done enough. Brandon Gibson dropped what should have been a long reception deep in Bears territory. The passing game did get going in a two-minute setting right before halftime. Steven Jackson is playing, but his groin injury is diminishing his speed. Daryl Richardson looks so much faster.

Looking forward to the second halves.
Sometimes it's difficult to know for sure how a new coaching staff feels about the players it inherits.

We're left to differentiate between the various types of praise offered in public: faint, obligatory, unsolicited, etc.

St. Louis Rams assistants Dave McGinnis and Brian Schottenheimer spared us from reading between the lines on a couple potentially key players. Their praise for middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (from McGinnis) and tight end Lance Kendricks (from Schottenheimer) suggests both players figure prominently into the team's plans. That almost had to be the case with Laurinaitis, a rising young player. But after Kendricks struggled some as a rookie, his future under a new staff seemed less certain.

Schottenheimer, formerly of the New York Jets and now the Rams' new offensive coordinator, brought up Kendricks first when a reporter asked about the tight ends in general. This was during the team's recent mandatory minicamp:
“I know one thing, starting with Lance, we really liked Lance back in New York when we looked at him. He's got a chance to be a terrific all-around player."

Schottenheimer also mentioned DeAngelo Peterson, Jamie Childers and Mike Hoomanawanui as young players with potential.

Kendricks finished the season with 28 receptions for 352 yards. Those figures led all rookie tight ends (Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph was close behind and did have more receiving touchdowns, 3-0). Kendricks also had five dropped passes on 54 targets, the ninth-highest rate among players with at least 50 targets, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

McGinnis' praise for Laurinaitis comes as no surprise. Laurinaitis was well established as a rising young player. But how would he fit in coach Jeff Fisher's specific defense? McGinnis, the assistant head coach and a long-time Fisher associate, answered the question emphatically:
He's perfect. He’s the perfect middle linebacker for this defense. The ultimate linebacker for this defense when it started evolving was Mike Singletary. I was with Mike Singletary for seven years. The quarterback of the defense is the middle linebacker and in this system, he has to be so in tune -- I mean, he has to be right in the defensive coaches' skin. He has to understand it and know it from a lot of different angles.

"We could not have asked for a more perfect middle linebacker to install this system than James Laurinaitis. I remember watching him come out. I interviewed him at the combine when he came out and I loved him then and I love him even more now because he’s exactly what you need."

These sorts of compliments go beyond the obligatory type. They affirm what we thought of Laurinaitis while easing concerns about how well Kendricks might fit one year after the Rams drafted him with former coordinator Josh McDaniels in mind.

These obviously aren't the only players the Rams' new staff likes. They've spoken very highly of Sam Bradford, Chris Long and others. The comments from Schottenheimer and McGinnis did stand out most recently, however.
A quick look at where the Arizona Cardinals stand following the first round of the 2011 NFL draft:

Selected: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

Picks remaining: Seven

Biggest needs: Quarterback, pass-rusher

Comment: The Cardinals have options. The longer the draft goes, the harder it becomes finding a quarterback talented enough to affect the depth chart. Arizona appears likely to pursue a veteran either way. The team missed on outside linebacker Cody Brown in the second round two years ago. Da'Quan Bowers could be available this time. Like O'Brien Schofield, a player Arizona drafted last year, Bowers has serious medical concerns thanks to a bad knee. I wouldn't rule out a tight end if Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph remained available.
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic likes the Cardinals' selection of LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson with the fifth overall choice. Bickley: "This was the smart play. The Cardinals didn't get the yips and trade down, as they once did with Terrell Suggs on the board. They selected an impact player who immediately will upgrade Arizona's defense, rewarding fans that suffered through a 5-11 debacle last season. In the process, they resisted reaching for a quarterback, a move that suggests the Cardinals must have someone in mind when hunting season finally opens in the NFL." Selecting a quarterback over arguably the best player in the draft would have carried undue risk. This looks like a solid selection for Arizona. Cleveland might have come out better at No. 6, however, thanks to the Falcons' wacky dealing for a shot at Julio Jones.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals plan to use Peterson in the return game as well. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "I think he could line up today and be a kick returner in the NFL and be one of the best ones. As a punt returner . . . he certainly has the skill set to do it, but we obviously want to see him do it."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals have options in the second round. Somers: "The Cardinals need a tight end, and there's Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph. A quarterback? TCU's Andy Dalton, Nevada's Colin Kaepernick and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett weren't taken in the first round Thursday night. The Cardinals could also use a pass rusher, and outside linebackers Akeem Ayers of UCLA, Bruce Carter of North Carolina, Brooks Reed of Arizona and Tucson Sabino High and Dontay Moch of Nevada and Chandler Hamilton High are available."

Bob McManamon of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals could have a new starting quarterback next week.

Darren Urban of says the team expects to have players working out at the facility beginning Friday. Whisenhunt: "It will be exciting to have guys at the facility. It’s nice to have contact with these guys immediately. We got a number of calls and communication from players, and that’s exciting. When your players say they want to be here working out, I know they didn’t miss (strength and conditioning coach) John Lott, but they say they want to work out and that’s a good thing."

Also from Urban: Cardinals general manager Rod Graves says the team had Peterson fifth on its board.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sizes up the Rams' selection of Robert Quinn this way: "The selection of University of North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn sounds just like the sort of logical pick you would expect from a guy such as Spagnuolo, who likes collecting pass rushers the way Donald Trump likes collecting birth certificates. Quinn is a big, fast, strong and aggressive guy who Spags can plug into his rotation that already includes Chris Long, James Hall, George Selvie, Fred Robbins, C.J. Ah You and Eugene Sims."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams were surprised Quinn remained available at No. 14. Thomas: "The Rams liked Prince Amukamara, who ended up going No. 19 to the New York Giants. They really liked Corey Liuget, who went No. 18 to the San Diego Chargers. As for Quinn, well, in the Rams' minds he was too good to pass. As such, Quinn became the first defensive player taken in the first round in coach Steve Spagnuolo's three-draft tenure in St. Louis."

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams are taking a chance on Quinn, a player with some question marks.

Clare Farnsworth of passes along Pete Carroll's thoughts on not drafting a quarterback in the first round Thursday. Carroll: "John (Schneider, the GM) and I are of the mindset that we always have to look at the quarterback position -- every year, every draft we’re going to continue to do that. This year’s draft, Charlie (Whitehurst) is our third-round pick. I don’t know if you guys (reporters) realize that, but that’s something we’re very well aware of. We’re going to continue to deal with the quarterback position. Remember last year, the first big thing we did was to go get Charlie. He’s already come in and won a big game for us (the season finale against the Rams) as our pick in this year’s draft. So we think we’ve already been paid back on that front. But by no means are we done. We’ve got some question marks there, obviously."

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks wanted to trade down and wound up taking a second-round talent in James Carpenter when they couldn't move back. Brewer: "Ultimately, the Seahawks were more concerned about finding a good player who fits the style they're trying to create. For them, Carpenter carried a high value because of his physical, aggressive brand of football. In Carpenter and Okung, the Seahawks now have two young bookend tackles to stabilize the offensive line. That's not a bad start. It seems they could've gotten better value out of that No. 25 pick, but they didn't. And now it's on Carpenter to make this decision pan out." Carpenter appeared at No. 31 in Rob Rang's final mock draft. That was as high as I'd seen anyone project him to go.

Christian Caple of says the Seahawks were unapologetic about their first-round selection. Schneider: "I would say to a fan that they should take reassurance in the fact that we’ve been busting our tail since last May covering this guy. And that we spent countless hours the last probably eight weekends in a row just evaluating this thing, and this guy’s never changed."

Art Thiel of Sportspress Northwest says the Seahawks' recent first-round struggles make it tough for fans to get too excited about Carpenter -- even if the team's current leadership wasn't responsible for past mistakes.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Carpenter was "shocked" to be selected in the first round.

Matt Maiocco of expects the 49ers to select a cornerback, then work toward securing a veteran quarterback. General manager Trent Baalke: "We understand as an organization that we need to get a quarterback. But when that takes places, how it takes place, that's all been discussed internally and that will stay internally. We've looked at every option available to us. When you look at free agency, and you look at the trade opportunities and possibilities, and you look at players still on the board. There are players out there and situations out there that will allow us to address the position. But we have to let it play itself out."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee casts the 49ers' selection of Aldon Smith in the context of not selecting quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Barrows: "By bypassing Gabbert, the 49ers still will be eager to re-sign quarterback Alex Smith. Alex Smith, in turn, likely was watching carefully to see if the 49ers used their No. 7 pick on a quarterback. Gabbert was taken by the Redskins at pick No. 10. Harbaugh said he and the 49ers took a long look at Gabbert as well as every other prospect."

Also from Barrows: Opportunities to trade down never materialized for the 49ers.

More from Barrows: Alex Smith and the 49ers plan to get together Friday.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat likes the 49ers' decision to select a pass-rusher in the first round. Cohn: "Smith was an enviable pick because it took guts to go against the conventional wisdom. And it shows Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh think for themselves and act on conviction. They actually do. They knew who and what they wanted and they got him. Even after the 49ers made the selection, writers were tweeting the 49ers would trade Smith to the Eagles for Kevin Kolb. It's like no one believed the Niners did what they did. But they didn't trade. When writers later asked Harbaugh if he considered trading Smith, he looked dumbfounded, as if the question made no sense. It didn't." The trade talk came out of nowhere. The 49ers weren't trading a pick that high for Kolb without being convinced they could win a championship with him. I'm not convinced they're convinced enough on Kolb to make that sort of move.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Smith's toughness appealed to coach Jim Harbaugh.

Also from Branch: The 49ers realize Smith faces a transition period.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers appeared patient in making Smith their selection. Harbaugh does have a five-year contract. He didn't have to take a quarterback right away.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle describes Harbaugh as relieved to get a shot at working with players now that the lockout is ending.

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle wasn't impressed with the 49ers' use of the seventh overall pick. Knapp: "They deserve credit for not allowing themselves to be seduced by one of the many overrated quarterbacks in the draft, but the two teams in front of them spun their slots into gold. By comparison, Aldon Smith, a promising but raw Missouri defensive end, seemed like a poor yield on the No. 7 pick."