49ers-Giants: Matchups to watch

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49ers-Giants: Matchups to watch

PRE-KICKOFF UPDATE: Delanie Walker is on the active list, Ted Ginn will not play for the 49ers.

SAN FRANCISCO -- They were the No. 1 overall picks in the 2004 and 2005 drafts.Eli Manning and Alex Smith had their best NFL regular seasons, and they've carried it over into the playoffs.And, now, their paths will converge Sunday as the most-important pieces of their respective teams in the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park (3:30 p.m.)Although the quarterbacks of the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers will never be on the field together, how they stack up against each other will likely decide which team advances to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis on Feb. 5.
Tale of the tape
49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11): 6-4, 217, Utah, seventh season
Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10): 6-4, 218, Mississippi, eighth seasonThis is the first time No. 1 picks of back-to-back drafts have ever squared off in a conference championship game. And it's only the second time that top overall selections have met this deep into the playoffs. The first such championship game meeting was in 1998 when John Elway led the Denver Broncos past Vinny Testaverde's New York Jets in the AFC title game.And the fact that Smith and Manning have taken their teams this far has been no small feat.Smith became the first quarterback in NFL history to lead his team on two lead-changing drives in the final three minutes of a playoff game. He scored a go-ahead touchdown on 28-yard run with 2:11 remaining last week against the New Orleans Saints. Then, he came back to throw a 14-yard score to tight end Vernon Davis with :09 remaining for a 36-32 victory.The 49ers entered this season with a 19-31 record in games with Smith as their starter. This season, he has taken every meaningful snap from center as the 49ers are 14-3. With a victory Sunday, the 49ers will reach the .500 mark with Smith as the starter."I've always been a big Alex Smith fan," Davis said. "He was my roommate during training camp. I had a chance to really pick his brain and find out more about who is Alex? What is Alex like? Alex, he's a strong individual. He's been through a lot. He's been up; he's been down, but he still managed to just hang tough, hang tough and fight through everything."I knew one day that he'd have success, but I didn't know it would come this fast. He's one of those guys that you just want on your team because he never gives up."With Smith at the controls, the 49ers have recorded six come-from-behind victories this season. The 49ers trailed the New York Giants 13-12 entering the fourth quarter on Nov. 13. Smith gave the 49ers a lead with his 31-yard touchdown pass to Davis in a game they won 27-20.Although the quarterbacks entered the NFL one year apart, Smith is more than 3 years younger than Manning, 31, who has already reached the peak of the NFL. Four seasons ago, Manning directed the Giants to a late touchdown and an upset victory over the previously unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.A week ago, Manning outperformed Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to get within one game of a repeat showing in the Super Bowl. Manning completed 21 of 33 passes for 330 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in the 37-20 win at Lambeau Field.
Linebacker Patrick Willis marveled at Manning's prowess up close during their one season together at Ole Miss, so he knows the challenge that the 49ers' defense will face.
"As a freshman, I thought he was the greatest quarterback ever," Willis said. "That was the best season I'd ever had in football. To see the things that he's done -- he's won a Super Bowl. That's the biggest accomplishment that we all try to go for, to win that. He's done that." Other matchups worth watching49ers LT Joe Staley (74) vs. Giants REs Jason Pierre-Paul (90)Osi Umenyiora (72): The Giants rotate fresh linemen into the game on a regular basis, but Joe Staley will never get a break. For most of Sunday, he can expect to go head-to-head against either Jason Pierre-Paul, who led the Giants with 16.5 sacks during the regular season, or Umenyiora, who has 12 sacks in 11 games this season. Umenyiora missed seven games due to an ankle sprain. He is healthy now, and he leads the Giants with three sacks in two postseason games. Staley and left guard Mike Iupati have been working well together, and that will have to continue to Sunday. In the first meeting, Staley and Iupati did not have a clean exchange of assignments on a stunt, and that led to a Umenyiora sack.49ers CB Chris Culliver (29) vs. Giants WR Mario Manningham (82): The 49ers figure to roll safety help to Hakeem Nicks' side. That's what they did in the first meeting between the teams. And Nicks has kicked his game into a higher gear in the postseason with 13 receptions for 280 yards and four touchdowns in victories over Atlanta and Green Bay. Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers will be assigned to handle Victor Cruz in the slot. Cruz had 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season, so Rogers will have his hands full, too. That leaves the rookie, Culliver, matched against Mario Manningham, who provides the Giants with a third explosive threat on the outside. Culliver enters the game when the 49ers employ their nickel defense. In the first meeting, the Giants targeted this matchup in the second half. Culliver had good coverage but could not prevent a 13-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.49ers RB Frank Gore (21) vs. Giants run defense: It's as if the 49ers have been saving Frank Gore for this. Gore's workload has not been too great since midseason. Earlier in the season he gained 100-plus yards in five consecutive games. That streak ended when a knee injury forced him off the field late in the second quarter against the Giants. He had zero yards on six carries in that game before exiting. Over his past eight games, Gore has rushed for 65 to 89 yards six times. Against the Saints, Gore had 89 yards on just 13 rush attempts. He added seven receptions -- more than twice as many as he had in any game during the regular season -- for 38 yards. The Giants have tightened up their run defense in the postseason, but this might be a matchup in which the 49ers believe they can physically impose their will at the line of scrimmage.49ers run defense vs. Giants RBs Ahmad Bradshaw (44)Brandon Jacobs (27): Neither Ahmad Bradshaw nor Jacobs averaged 4.0 yards a carry during the regular season, but the Giants' production in the run game has improved dramatically in the playoffs. Bradshaw rushed for 126 yards on 26 carries (4.8 average) in the first two playoff games, while Jacobs gained 114 yards on 23 attempts (5.0 average). But they have not faced a run defense like the 49ers, who limited opponents to just 3.5 yards per attempt in the regular season.

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.

 

Source: 49ers agree to four-year deal with former Dolphins DT

Source: 49ers agree to four-year deal with former Dolphins DT

The San Francisco 49ers agreed to a four-year, $16 million deal with defensive tackle Earl Mitchell on Friday, CSNBayArea.com has learned

Mitchell, 29, will earn $5.5 million in his first year with the 49ers. 

The seven-year veteran played in nine games last season for the Dolphins. He recorded 17 total tackles. 

Since entering the league in 2010 as a third-round draft pick with the Texans, Mitchell has appeared in 100 games between Houston and Miami, totaling 206 tackles. He has also recorded 5.5 sacks.