49ers-Cardinals: Matchups to watch

592626.jpg

49ers-Cardinals: Matchups to watch

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Arizona Cardinals invested heavily in upgrading their play at quarterback after the lockout ended.But the team's improvement behind center of the past two weeks has been with second-year quarterback John Skelton at the controls -- and not high-priced offseason acquisition Kevin Kolb.Skelton has led the Cardinals to back-to-back victories over St. Louis and Philadelphia after Arizona stumbled to six consecutive losses with Kolb, who has missed the past two games with a toe injury. Again, Kolb is expected to be watching from the sideline Sunday when the Cardinals (3-6) enter Candlestick Park to face the 49ers (8-1).
Expect Skelton to try to rely on one of the best receivers in the NFL.Tale of the tape
49ers free safety Dashon Goldson (38): 6-2, 200, Washington, fifth season
Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11): 6-3, 218, Pitt, eighth seasonThe 49ers have done a good job this season against top wide receivers, as they have employed a lot of double coverage. And Goldson figures to see a lot of Fitzgerald on Sunday.Skelton targeted Fitzgerald 13 times in a 21-17 victory last week over the Eagles. It doesn't matter if Fitzgerald is covered or not, Skelton will throw the ball into traffic to give Fitzgerald a chance to make a play.Last week, Fitzgerald came down with seven receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns."He's got good arm talent," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said of Skelton. "This guy can throw the ball. He's got an easy release. He's got a strong arm. (He) kind of reminds me of (Baltimore quarterback Joe) Flacco a little bit with his arm strength and how easy the ball comes out."(He) throws a good deep ball, and in the last couple of weeks he has fallen in love with Fitzgerald, which is smart on his part. So, I've been impressed with the guy."The 49ers are not expected to shadow Fitzgerald with just one cornerback. They will likely mix up their coverages. Carlos Rogers might match up with Fitzgerald more often, as Fitzgerald also sees action in the slot.Starting right cornerback Tarell Brown is questionable with a knee injury sustained late in the practice week. Rookie Chris Culliver is the 49ers' No 3 cornerback.Goldson will be relied upon to provide deep coverage on Fitzgerald. Goldson has done a good job of playing center field in recent games. He had interceptions in back-to-back games against Cleveland and Washington, and nearly had a pick against the New York Giants' Eli Manning last week. (He failed to get his second foot inbounds.) Other matchups worth watching
49ers left guard Mike Iupati (77) vs. Cardinals right defensive tackle Calais Campbell (93): The 49ers offensive line has taken tremendous strides from early in the season. Iupati and left tackle Joe Staley have to work together against the Cardinals 3-4 defensive front to keep that trend going. Iupati will be matched mostly against Campbell, who leads Arizona with five sacks and 12 quarterback hits. "I think they've been doing a great job of improving, their communication, their overall play in all phases," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of the 49ers line. "Pad level, pass protection, finish. You can highlight really the young guys Mike Iupati and (right tackle) Anthony Davis, probably made even more improvement than the others on the offensive line. It all bodes well for us. We're pleased with how those guys are playing."49ers special-teamer Blake Costanzo (51) vs. Cardinals return man Patrick Peterson (21): Costanzo, the 49ers' top special-teams performer, and his teammates on the coverage team will have a difficult chore. Peterson, a rookie, has been phenomenal on punt returns with a 17.6-yard average and three touchdowns. Peterson's 99-yard punt return in overtime supplied the Cardinals with a 19-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams two weeks ago. The 49ers punt-coverage unit has been outstanding. Punter Andy Lee has a 50.5 average. His league-leading net average of 43.8 is more than a yard better than Denver's Britton Colquitt, who ranks No. 2.

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as studio analyst

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as studio analyst

Chip Kelly is back in college football.

The former Oregon coach, who served as 49ers head coach last season, signed a multiyear deal as an ESPN analyst, the network announced Friday morning. He will work predominantly on pre-games, halftimes and in studio wraps each Saturday on ESPN2.

“Over the last 30 years, I have experienced football from one perspective – as a coach,” Kelly said in a statement. “Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different angle; simultaneously, I‘ll provide viewers an insight to the mindset of a coach and team while offering alternative views of various situations.

“Once I decided to make the move to TV, my familiarity with ESPN, combined with their high-quality production and vital role in college football, it was easily the best network suited for me.”

Kelly, 53, was fired on the evening of the 49ers’ season finale. The 49ers went 2-14 under Kelly and set the franchise record with 13 consecutive losses. Their only victories came against the Los Angeles Rams. Kelly also auditioned with FOX for the analyst job vacated when John Lynch became 49ers general manager, sources told NBC Sports Bay Area.

Kelly served as Oregon’s head coach from 2009 to ’12. His teams compiled a record of 46-7. Under Kelly, the Ducks advanced to the 2011 national championship game, losing to Auburn 22-19.

Kelly won the AP College Football Coach of the Year. He twice won the Pac-10 coach of the year. He left Oregon to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. After his first two NFL teams went 10-6, Kelly was fired in 2015 with one game remaining in the season. The Eagles were 6-9 at the time of Kelly's firing.

“Chip is one of the most innovative football minds of our generation,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting said. “As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach. We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process.”

Bills sign two former 49ers

Bills sign two former 49ers

The Buffalo Bills have signed two 49ers free agents within the past two days.

After signing wide receiver Rod Streater on Wednesday, the Bills announced the signing of linebacker Gerald Hodges on Thursday.

The 49ers acquired Hodges in a 2015 trade with the Minnesota Vikings for center Nick Easton and a sixth-round draft pick. Hodges started 12 games last season and ranked second on the team with 92 tackles.

Hodges left the 49ers shorthanded for a late-season game against the Atlanta Falcons when he violated team rules. Then-coach Chip Kelly did not disclose the nature of Hodges infraction. Hodges offered no explanation or apology.

The 49ers entered the game against the high-powered Falcons with just two healthy inside linebackers due to Hodges’ deactivation. Starter Nick Bellore sustained an elbow injury on the third play of the game, and the 49ers were forced to use safeties Antoine Bethea and Vinnie Sunseri, and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks at various points of the game.

The 49ers showed no interest in re-signing Hodges as a free agent.

Streater, a five-year NFL veteran, saw action in all 16 games last season after being acquired in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs in September. He caught 18 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns.