San Francisco 49ers: Tavon Austin

In an Insider piece, Pro Football Focus Insider ranks San Francisco 49ers’ defensive lineman Justin Smith as the second best player in the NFL who is 34 or older. Smith, who turned 34 in September, is ranked only behind Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.

Smith is having another big season. His statistics may not show it, but Smith is disruptive on every play. He causes chaos for the offensive line. I think he still has a couple of seasons left as he is showing he is still a huge factor on a dominant defense.

In other 49ers’ notes:

• As he often is, 49ers punter Andy Lee was an honorable mention Punter of the Week. Continuing a tremendous season, Lee punted four times Sunday against St. Louis and pinned the Rams on their own 3 and own 8 in the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter. St. Louis star returner Tavon Austin was able to return just one punt.

• According to ESPN Stats & Information, tight end Vernon Davis joined former receivers Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens as the only 49ers with multiple seasons of 10-plus receiving touchdowns in the past 40 years.

• The 49ers are currently on pace to have the 26th pick in the first round of the May draft. Click here for the full 2014 draft order through Week 13.

Upon Further Review: 49ers Week 13

December, 2, 2013
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – A review of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 23-13 win over the St. Louis Rams:

Crabtree effect: The 49ers were waiting all season for standout receiver Michael Crabtree to return from a torn Achilles he suffered in May. When he came back Sunday, the 49ers were not disappointed. He caught two passes, including one that went for 60 yards, and his presence opened up routes for Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis and made quarterback Colin Kaepernick a more productive player. This bodes well for the stretch run.

Defense dominates: The San Francisco defense has been playing at a championship level essentially all season. In recent weeks, though, it has upped its game. Spanning the final half of last week’s win at Washington and the first half against the Rams, the 49ers’ defense allowed 103 yards and three points.

Austin not a factor: St. Louis rookie star Tavon Austin averaged fewer than 17 yards per kick return and had one punt return for 10 yards. He added 35 yards combined on four catches and one carry. Austin has been explosive in recent weeks. Keeping him from making big plays was a focal point for the 49ers, and they did their job.

Run game stumbles: San Francisco's run game has faltered in recent weeks. Frank Gore had 42 yards on 15 carries Sunday and lost his third fumble of the season. In the past three games, Gore has 121 yards on 41 carries. I wouldn’t say it’s a problem, but it could become one if Gore doesn't regain his normal pace of production. For the season he has 821 rushing yards and is averaging four yards a carry.

Stopping Tavon Austin key for 49ers

November, 27, 2013
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers' coverage units had a brilliant night in their first meeting against rookie return man Tavon Austin.

Austin had just 19 yards on six punt returns in a 35-11 49ers' win at the St. Louis Rams in Week 4. However, the 49ers know it will likely not be that easy Sunday when Austin and the Rams visit Candlestick Park.

Austin, the No. 8 overall pick in the April draft, has exploded as a returner and as a receiver in recent weeks. He will be a focal point of a Rams’ upset bid. The 49ers know they must key on him.

"They've done a very good job because he's got all of those abilities," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Speed, quickness, the return game. They've done an excellent job of using all of his skills. Trying to setup middle returns and bounce into sideline returns. Misdirection in the return game. I think they also use middle returns. They use the wide variety that reflects his skills and that's a huge challenge for our coverage units."