49ers key matchup No. 2: Jean Francois vs. McQuistan

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49ers key matchup No. 2: Jean Francois vs. McQuistan

Editor's note: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Seahawks matchups to watch Sunday, 5:20 p.m. (NBC-TV), at CenturyLink Field, Seattle.

[RELATED: 49ers key matchup No. 3: Crabtree vs. Sherman]

49ers RDT Ricky Jean Francois vs. Seattle LG Paul McQuistan

Tale of the tape
Jean Francois (95): 6-foot-3, 295 pounds, fourth season, LSU
McQuistan (67): 6-foot-6, 315 pounds, seventh season, Weber State

The 49ers called on Ricky Jean Francois, their first defensive lineman off the sideline, in the second half a week ago when Justin Smith was unable to return to action due to a left elbow injury against the New England Patriots.

Smith did not practice this week, and he is not expected to be available Sunday night against the Seattle Seahawks. Even if Smith does suit up, Jean Francois will likely be counted upon to play most of the game.

When asked how he feels about Jean Francois' ability to step into the lineup in place of an All-Pro player, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, "I feel good. I think we all felt good about Ricky Jean and Ray (McDonald), anybody who goes in there. Next guy up."

McDonald and Jean Francois provided big plays for the 49ers a week ago after the Patriots rallied to score four consecutive touchdowns to pull into a 31-31 tie in the fourth quarter. McDonald and Jean Francois produced back-to-back sacks of quarterback Tom Brady as the 49ers held onto the momentum and a 41-34 victory.

Jean Francois is expected to make his fourth career start. And the 49ers' most versatile defensive lineman will be going against the Seahawks' most versatile offensive lineman. Seattle's Paul McQuistan moved from right guard to left guard when James Carpenter went on injured reserve. McQuistan also played left tackle last year when Russell Okung was injured.

Jean Francois' effectiveness can also be measured in how outside linebacker Aldon Smith fares against Okung, who is having an outstanding season at left tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, Okung has yet to surrender a quarterback sack and has been beaten for only two quarterback hits in 13 games.

Aldon Smith has 19.5 sacks through 14 games, just three behind Michael Strahan's NFL record of 22.5 sacks, which he set for the New York Giants in 2001.

Justin Smith, who has made 185 consecutive regular-season starts since his rookie season in 2001 with the Cincinnati Bengals, generally attracts a lot of double teams. He ties up blockers, which benefits Aldon Smith, as well as inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Jean Francois must do a good job in his one-on-one matchups against McQuistan.

After all, Jean Francois said he figures the Seahawks will try to test him with a steady diet of running back Marshawn Lynch coming his way. Lynch has rushed for 1,379 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He gained 103 yards on 19 carries in the 49ers' 13-6 victory at Candlestick Park on Oct. 18.

"I usually get that every game, from the first time I started against Tampa Bay, I know they're going to come at me," Jean Francois said. "Everybody knows Justin Smith is one of the best D-linemen, so they're dealing with a guy who has played or hasn't started. That's the best part about it. They get to come at me."

Jean Francois is scheduled for unrestricted free agency in the offseason, so a strong showing could increase his stock on the open market. But as he prepared this week to start and play every down in place of one of the 49ers' most influential players.

"It would help me, but it's going to help my teammates, too," Jean Francois said. "It's another step closer to having a bye week, winning the division and so on and so on. Free agency? I'm not worried about that. I'm just worried about the season and what I can control right now."

Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

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Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

There is no shortage of blame to go around for the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl 51.

The Falcons built a 28-3 lead in the middle of the third quarter and let it slip away, ultimately falling to the New England Patriots, 34-28, in overtime.

Matt Ryan voiced one previously undisclosed factor in the collapse this week in an interview with Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, pointing the finger at the new coach of the 49ers.

Kyle Shanahan has been the focus of a lot of the blame, but critique from the league MVP was a new one.

The Falcons quarterback faulted his former offensive coordinator for taking too much time to relay the play calls. Ryan said he did not have enough time to change any of the plays – presumably checking out of called pass plays to run the ball.

Here’s what Ryan told Prisco:

"Kyle's play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in. As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you're talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, 'There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.' You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

"With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You're not being aggressive not running it there."

The 49ers can point to mismanagement of the clock for their own Super Bowl heartbreak. The 49ers’ offense had the perfect play call at the perfect time against the Baltimore Ravens late in Super Bowl XLVII.

But with the play clock striking :00, coach Jim Harbaugh was forced to call a timeout from the sideline. A split-second later, the ball was snapped and it appeared the quarterback run would have easily ended up with Colin Kaepernick in the end zone.

Much like after the 49ers’ loss, the Falcons left plenty of room for second-guessing.

Two of Shanahan’s plays calls, which directly led to the collapse, will forever be scrutinized.

The first came with 8:31 remaining in regulation and the Falcons holding a 28-12 lead. On third and 1 from the Atlanta 36, Shanahan did not remain conservative with an expected run play. He swung for the fence.

Receiver Aldrick Robinson, whom the 49ers added this offseason as a free-agent pickup, was breaking free past the Patriots secondary for what could have been a touchdown. But just as Ryan was unloading, New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower hit him and forced the fumble. Running back Devonta Freeman whiffed on blitz pickup, which would have provided Ryan with enough time to target Robinson deep.

Ryan’s explanation does not appear applicable on this play, though. In watching the replay, the Falcons broke the huddle with more than 25 seconds remaining on the play clock and the snap occurred with :15 to spare.

The other questionable sequence came after the Falcons – leading by eight points -- got to the New England 22-yard line with less than five minutes to play. The Falcons lost 1 yard on a run play on first down.

On second down, Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss. Before that play, the Falcons broke the huddle with :19 on the play clock. The snap occurred with :04 remaining. The game clock was running, so the Falcons had reason to attempt to burn as much clock as possible.

In the fourth quarter, the Falcons never seemed rushed to get off a play. The closest they came to delay-of-game penalties were when they snapped the ball with :04 on the one play and :03 another time. The majority of their snaps occurred with :10 or more seconds to spare.

If the Falcons were guilty of anything when it came to the play clock, it was that the offense did not waste more time. After New England pulled to within 28-9 late in the third quarter, the Falcons ran only six offensive plays while the game clock was running.

On those six plays, the Falcons snapped the ball with :13, :09, :14, :20, :13 and :04 remaining on the play clock. If they’d snapped the ball with one second remaining each time, they could have shortened the game by 1 minute, 7 seconds. The Patriots scored the game-tying touchdown with :57 remaining in regulation.

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Until now, Kyle Shanahan’s hiring by the San Fracisco 49ers looked great because of his two-and-a-half predecessors – the last days of Jim Harbaugh, the misplaced concept of Jim Tomsula and the couldn’t-make-chicken-marsala-out-of-old-Kleenex problems surrounding Chip Kelly.

But now, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has told us all that Shanahan has a gift we in the Bay Area know all too well. Specifically, that Shanahan took too long to call plays to the Super Bowl the Falcons vomited up to the New England Patriots.

Now who does that remind you of, over and over again?

Yes, some things are evergreen, and too many options in this overly technological age seems to be one of them. Data in is helpful, but command going out is what bells the cow. Ryan said Shanahan was, well, almost Harbaugh-tastic in his timing.

“Kyle’s play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in,” Ryan told Bleacher Report. “As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you’re talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, ‘There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.’ You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

“With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You’re not being aggressive not running it there.”

And the reason this matters is because the Atlanta Shanahan had multiple good options on every play. In San Francsco, at least in the short term, he’ll be dealing with minimal options. That could speed up his choices, as in “What the hell, we don’t have Julio Jones.” But it could also mean more delays, as in, “Okay, him . . . no, maybe not . . . no, he just screwed up that play last series . . . oh, damn it, time out!”

In short, it’s growing pains season here, children. On the field, on the sidelines, and maybe even in Kyle Shanahan’s head.