49ers' frustration evident after loss to Cardinals

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49ers' frustration evident after loss to Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards were supposed to give the 49ers a formidable combination on the outside for those tough catches in tight spaces in the red zone.The 49ers already had a proven commodity, tight end Vernon Davis, who caught 20 touchdown passes over the previous two seasons. And the combination of Crabtree and Edwards, theoretically, should've provided matchup problems for any defense.But that's not how it has worked out.The 49ers have routinely sputtered in the red zone. And the 49ers' wideouts felt decidedly under-utilized in the 49ers' 21-19 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.The 49ers (10-3) are tied for the second-best record in the NFC with the New Orleans Saints behind the unbeaten Green Bay Packers. The 49ers hold the tie-breaker edge on the Saints based on a better conference record.But, now, the 49ers might not have any margin for error with remaining games at Candlestick Park against the Pittsburgh Steelers and on the road at Seattle and St. Louis.For the first time this season, there is palpable frustration in the 49ers' locker room.Crabtree caught seven passes for 63 yards, but he was a spectator in the red zone. The 49ers ran 11 plays inside the Cardinals' 20-yard line. Crabtree was on the sideline for four of those plays, and he was not the intended target on any of the other seven plays."I have no words, really," Crabtree said. "I saw a lot of opportunities. I really don't want to say anything negative. You know what I'm saying? But it's hard."When you're trying to be the man, and you're trying to do what you're supposed to do, trying to grind it out, trying to be the receiver, and you don't get the ball. It's hard. It's disappointing. I don't know, man. I don't need to be talking right now."And Edwards wasn't in much of a talking mood, either.Edwards, returning to action after missing a week to rehab his ailing knee and shoulder, played only 11 snaps. He had two passes thrown his way, and he did not make a catch."Talk to them," Edwards said of the other receivers. "They played. I didn't."Davis saw three passes come his way, and he had just one reception for 32 yards. That play gave the 49ers a first down at the 13-yard line. And that's when the 49ers turned it over to David Akers . . . again.There's a reason Akers has already set the 49ers' franchise record with 36 field goals. It's because the 49ers have far too often settled for three points instead of seven."Obviously, looking back there and after the game now, we had such great opportunities down there and such great field position and got down in the red zone and got down deep in the red zone and didn't execute and didn't convert," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "Looking back on it, it was very frustrating. So, yeah, guys are frustrated. Guys want the ball. Guys want to score."The 49ers' offense had a miserable day. Blessed with great field position for their first drive of the second half, 49ers running back Frank Gore had a 37-yard touchdown run to give San Francisco a 19-7 lead less than three minutes into the third quarter.But after that point, the 49ers' offense failed to pick up a first down on its own. The 49ers' only first down of the second came when the Cardinals were called for a personal foul.The 49ers converted just 3 of 17 third-down attempts in the game. Smith completed just 18 of 37 passes for 175 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He was also sacked five times, as pass protection has continued to be a recent problem.And the 49ers got inside the Cardinals' 10-yard line three times and settled for Akers field goals every time."We would like to be improving in that area," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "We attacked. We went after it and we just didn't convert. That's on all of us. That's on all of us on the offensive side of the ball."Meanwhile, the 49ers' defense wasn't exactly exemplary, either.Backup quarterback John Skelton took over for Kevin Kolb, who was sidelined in the first quarter with a head injury. Skelton got the start against the 49ers three weeks ago, and was so bad that coach Ken Whisenhunt benched him.This time, Skelton completed 19 of 28 passes for 282 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald had seven receptions for 149 yards. The 49ers could not pin this loss on the absence of All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, who missed the game due to a right hamstring strain.
"They made plays on the ball and we didn't when it was in the air," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said. "As a secondary, we felt like it was really on our shoulders and we lost this football game collectively -- all together."We didn't make plays and we gave up too many big plays. It doesn't matter what the offense does, if they can't get in. All we need are field goals. We feel like we let the team down, and we're going to go back to the drawing board and we'll be ready."Said left tackle Alex Boone, who played most of the game after starter Joe Staley left with a head injury, "The defense has been great. They're playing great football and we got to execute. We can't leave them hanging like that. We just got to score in the red zone."Akers made field goals of 46, 22, 27 and 22 yards. He also missed from 50 yards during a sequence that might have swung the momentum of the game in the second quarter.With the 49ers leading 6-0, Akers lined up for the field goal on a fourth-and-7 play from the 32-yard line. Holder Andy Lee took the snap and rolled right on a fake. Center Jonathan Goodwin, who lines up as a wing on field-goal protection, ran a corner route and made a spectacular catch while whistles blew.Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt threw his red flag to challenge the previous play -- an 11-yard Smith pass to Kyle Williams that moved the 49ers into field-goal range. Referee Alberto Riveron determined the flag was thrown before the snap of the ball.Harbaugh disputed Riveron's decision to blow the play dead. Teams are allowed to challenge only before the next snap of the ball. The 49ers felt as if the snap of the ball happened before Whisenhunt threw the flag."We were looking at that," Harbaugh said. "We were watching them, and we didn't feel like they got that challenge off. That's a judgment call by the officials. You can argue it, but there's nothing to really contest."Oddly, Riveron never ruled on the challenge because of a malfunction with the replay equipment, he said. Akers then missed the 50-yard attempt. The Cardinals took over at the 40-yard line, and on the next play Skelton hit Early Doucet for a 60-yard touchdown.The Cardinals scored touchdowns. The 49ers did not. And that was the story of this game.Arizona took the lead for good early in the fourth quarter when Skelton hit Andre Roberts on a 3-yard scoring pass.And, suddenly, the 49ers have lost two of three games. Players are frustrated. And Harbaugh has the challenge of getting the 49ers back on track when they return to practice Thursday to get prepared to face the Steelers on Monday night."We look forward to seeing how our team responds to some adversity," Harbaugh said. "We haven't had a lot of it this year."

Mailbag: Which 49ers vets are on shaky ground?

Mailbag: Which 49ers vets are on shaky ground?

The 49ers’ new regime heads to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week with the first major wave of offseason activity set to kick off.

Already, the 49ers have made roster improvements. And there figure to be plenty of activity ahead in the coming weeks.

Here are some questions submitted by readers on Facebook for this edition of 49ers Mailbag:

Do you see the 49ers cutting ties with larger contracts like Bethea, Torrey Smith and Ahmad Brooks?‬ (Blair Wilkins)
The 49ers have approximately $75 million in space under the salary cap – and that’s before any adjustment of Colin Kaepernick’s contract. So it’s not as if the organization needs to create cap room.

Any decision made to part ways with veteran players will be made solely on how that player fits into what the 49ers envision on the field.

And that’s what general manager John Lynch, coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff are doing now. They are studying the video from last season to determine which players fit their ideals.

Safety Antoine Bethea is scheduled to earn $5.75 million. Bethea, 32, enters the final year of his contract. There is no question he is everything the 49ers want in a player off the field. If one of the younger guys is not better than Bethea, there is no reason to get rid of him.

Brooks is on the books to earn $5.3 million in 2017. That’s not a huge amount for a starting outside linebacker or defensive end – whichever spot he might fit best. The 49ers must look to upgrade their pass rush. Brooks turns 33 next month. He’s good for six sacks a season. Again, it’s not as if the 49ers can’t afford him. And, as of now, it’s not as if the 49ers have anyone better.

Smith is scheduled to earn $8 million. He has been vastly underutilized in his two seasons since signing with the 49ers. He’s the most interesting case of the high-priced veterans.

Kyle Shanahan’s offense is predicated on using the running game to set up the play-action shot down the field. Smith is limited. He’s not a possession receiver. He’s not going to make plays over the middle. He is an outside receiver whose contributions come in the vertical passing game. But that’s what Shanahan wants.

If Smith is paired with a strong tight end, a running back who catch the ball out of the backfield, a slot receiver with short-area quickness to get open underneath, a very good receiver on the other side and an accurate quarterback who can throw the deep ball, there should be a role for Smith in the 49ers’ offense.

Will the 49ers continue to be aggressive pursuing free agents this offseason? If so, what positions?‬ (Bradley Lodge)
The 49ers have zeroed in on two veteran free agents and they signed them both.

The organization has already spent more money than it did all of last offseason on veteran free agency with the four-year, $16 million deal to sign defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, whom the Miami Dolphins recently released.

Nickel back K’Waun Williams has a history with 49ers defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley. The 49ers did not have to make much of a financial investment to sign him.

The 49ers will definitely go after a veteran quarterback or two in free agency or via trade. Pass rusher, inside linebacker and wide receiver are other positions the 49ers can be expected to look during free agency.

The opening of the new league year – when free-agent signings and trades can occur – is March 9. The draft is seven weeks later.

The 49ers must fill as many of their needs with smart deals that fit into the long-term plan with veteran acquisitions. Then, the draft is about taking the best players on their board when it’s time to select. Teams that reach for need generally strike out.

What are the chances of drafting a QB with first pick and playing them behind a Kap / Cousins until they're ready to become starter?‬ (Hillory Broussard)
If Colin Kaepernick returns, it will not be as a no-questions-asked starter. Just read what Lynch said on KNBR this week about the team’s needs:

“Do we have some places – probably the ultimate position, quarterback – where we need to improve? Absolutely. And we’re committed to doing that.”

That statement can easily be interpreted that Lynch does not believe the 49ers had a starting-caliber quarterback on the roster last season.

But if the 49ers were to go out and swing a trade for Kirk Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo, it’s going to take a big commitment – in terms of draft picks and a suitable new contract. Then, the 49ers would have that player.

Cousins or Garoppolo would unquestionably fill the 49ers’ need at quarterback for 2017 and beyond -- at least in the minds of the 49ers' new decision-makers. There would be no reason for the 49ers to then draft a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick – if the 49ers even had the No. 2 overall pick at that point.

 

49ers have already spent more in 2017 free agency than a year ago

49ers have already spent more in 2017 free agency than a year ago

Under the 49ers’ new regime, the club has already invested more in the free-agent market than a year ago under then-general manager Trent Baalke.

Just a reminder: The free-agent signing period does not officially open until March 9.

The 49ers on Friday reached a contract agreement with veteran defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, who is penciled into be a starter in the team’s new 4-3 base scheme under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

"As soon as Earl hit the open market, he became a priority for us to sign,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said in a statement released Saturday morning. “A man of high character, he represents everything we want to be as a football team. Earl is a tone-setter who plays the game with a tremendous passion and the effort necessary to win in this league. We believe those qualities are contagious and will help to make our team stronger. We look forward to the impact Earl will have on the field, in the locker room and in our community.”

It was the first significant move under Lynch, who also signed a player with NFL experience earlier in the week.

The 49ers also added cornerback K’Waun Williams to a one-year contract. Williams served as the Cleveland Browns’ nickel back for two seasons. The Browns released him before the start of last season and he was unable to play due to an ankle injury.

Mitchell was available to be signed before the start of the new league year because the Miami Dolphins released him last week in a move to save the team $4 million in cap space.

Mitchell took four free-agent visits and after wrapping up his tour with the Atlanta Falcons on Friday, he and the 49ers quickly agreed on a four-year, $16 million contract that includes $5.5 million of money in the first year, according to a source.

Last year, Baalke did little to improve the roster for coach Chip Kelly. The 49ers, who finished 5-11 in Jim Tomsula's one season, dropped to 2-14. Just hours after the season concluded, the 49ers announced the firings of Baalke and Kelly.

The only veteran free-agent addition who stepped on the field for the 49ers last season was offensive lineman Zane Beadles. The 49ers signed Beadles in late-March to a three-year, $9.75 million contract with a $1.75 million signing bonus. Beadles had a good season for the 49ers, starting 12 games at left guard, two games at left tackle and the final two games at center.

The 49ers have already shown more willingness to be aggressive under Lynch’s leadership.

Mitchell, 29, is a seven-year veteran who began his NFL career from 2010 to ’13 with the Houston Texans. He was a rookie in Saleh’s final season as assistant linebackers coach in Houston.

Mitchell joins DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Quinton Dial on the 49ers defensive line. The 49ers view Mitchell as a high-energy player who bring good character to the locker room. The signing of Mitchell could be an indication the 49ers are moving on from Glenn Dorsey, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.

With 5.5 sacks in seven seasons, the 49ers do not figure to use Mitchell in passing situations. The club must try to bolster its pass rush in free agency or the draft. Last season, Buckner and Ahmad Brooks shared the team-lead with six sacks apiece. In 2015, Brooks and Aaron Lynch both led the way with 6.5 sacks.