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.

49ers announce more hires to Shanahan's staff

49ers announce more hires to Shanahan's staff

Kyle Shanahan put together some of the final pieces of his coaching staff on Tuesday.

The 49ers announced the hirings of seven coaches, including confirmation of John Benton as offensive line coach.

The team hired former NFL standout linebacker DeMeco Ryans as defensive quality control coach. He was a second-round selection of the Houston Texans in 2006 and spent 10 seasons in the league. He finished his career playing four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The 49ers also hired Daniel Bullocks as assistant defensive backs coach, Stan Kwan as assistant special teams, Vince Oghobaase as assistant defensive line, Adam Stenavich as assistant offensive line, and Michael Clay as strength and conditioning assistant.

Benton, 53, was hired away from the Broncos after being on the job for approximately a month. Benton served as Jacksonville’s assistant offensive line coach last season. He worked the previous 13 seasons as offensive line coach with the St. Louis Rams (2003-05), Houston (2006-2013) and Miami (2014-15).

Benton and Shanahan worked together for four seasons with the Houston Texans.

Bullocks worked in the same role with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. The Jaguars' linebackers coach last season, Robert Saleh, is the 49ers' new defensive coodinator. Bullocks appeared in 31 games in three NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions in 2006 and '08.

John Lynch: 49ers will be up-front with Kaepernick

John Lynch: 49ers will be up-front with Kaepernick

The only promises new 49ers general manager John Lynch made quarterback Colin Kaepernick for this offseason are open communication and honesty.

Kaepernick has spent all six of his NFL seasons with the 49ers after being a second-round draft pick in 2011. He has started 58 of the 49ers’ past 71 regular-season games.

Kaepernick has the contractual ability to opt out of his contract in March. If he does not, it seems likely the 49ers would release him – even if they want him back – to avoid being on the hook for his scheduled $14.9 million pay for the 2017 season.

“The one thing we will do very well with Kap is we’ll communicate,” Lynch said Tuesday on 95.7 The Game. “And I think that’s very important for both sides. Like everything else, that process is well in the works. We’ll continue to do that and we’ll be very up-front with him, in terms of what we’re thinking and we’ll want to know what he’s thinking, as well.”

Lynch said he developed trust and a good rapport with Kaepernick during the time when the 49ers were among the top teams in the NFL. Lynch was a broadcaster for FOX-TV and had occasion to meet with Kaepernick multiple times during production meetings.

“Every time we talk about Kap, I think of the guy who was in the Super Bowl not too (long ago),” Lynch said. “Things happen in guys’ careers. Injuries happen. Different things happen.”

Kaepernick began last season as the backup to Blaine Gabbert. After regaining his starting role in Week 6, Kaepernick put together his best season since 2013 – his first full season as a starter.

Kaepernick completed 59.2 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. His passer rating was 90.7, and he added 468 yards rushing.

Lynch said he and coach Kyle Shanahan have been evaluating the players on the 49ers’ roster. The other three quarterbacks on the roster – Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Thad Lewis – are not under contract for next season.

“Like we said we would – and like we told Kap we would – we’re assessing everything,” Lynch said. “Both Kyle and I believe wholeheartedly that position is the most-important position in football.

“From every side of this thing, we’re evaluating. And we’re continuing to watch the film. We’ll continue to work toward that until we have made a decision.”