49ers Mailbag: Spencer is No. 4 CB

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49ers Mailbag: Spencer is No. 4 CB

Veteran cornerback Shawntae Spencer entered camp atop the 49ers' depth chart, having lined up as a starter for every game the previous two seasons.But Spencer sustained a hamstring strain early in camp. He came back too soon, aggravated the injury and lost even more time due to the injury.When Spencer's hamstring finally healed, he sustained a turf-toe injury Oct. 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles. And that's been that for Spencer's playing time this season.On Sunday, though, Spencer was back on the field. He saw three snaps on defense in the 49ers' dime defense, lined up against Larry Fitzgerald in the 21-19 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.Now, Spencer has moved ahead of second-year cornerback Tramaine Brock as the 49ers' No. 4 cornerback behind starters Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown, and third cornerback Chris Culliver.Let's go to the 49ers Mailbag to field some questions submitted on my Facebook page at www.Facebook.comMaioccoCSN
Will Shawntae Spencer play? (Tay Porter)
He is likely to see some action Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, because the Steelers like to use three- and four-receiver formations. However, the Steelers might employ fewer of those sets with Emmanuel Sanders out with a foot injury. I don't envision Spencer supplanting any of the 49ers' top three cornerbacks, but he might get a handful of snaps and he's on standby for depth purposes.Is Aldon Smith expected to have a big game since Big Ben is the leagues most sacked QB? (Sammy Araiza)
Smith, who ranks second among NFL rookies with 10.5 sacks, will certainly get his chances against Ben Roethlisberger (if Roethlisberger plays). The reason is because the 49ers figure to be in their nickel defense for a large portion of the game to defend against the Steelers' multi-receiver sets.Why isn't Vernon Davis being used in the Red Zone more? (Elijah Rangel)
The main reason is because defenses have focused on Davis near the goal line. Quarterback Alex Smith is not forcing the ball to anybody deep in the red zone, so if he sees double coverage he's going to look to get the ball to somebody else.How will the 49ers OL slow down Pitts blitz packages? (Nate Keyser)
It's not just the offensive line, of course. This is on the quarterback, running backs, tight ends and wide receivers, too. When a defense blitzes more pass-rushers than a team has blockers, that means there are going to be chances to make plays for the offense. Smith has to recognize the blitzes with his pre-snap reads, and he has to get rid of the ball quickly and decisively. Also, the offensive line has to do a better job of communicating the line calls. That was an issue in Baltimore and Arizona, where it was difficult for them to hear due to the noise from the road crowds. That's why the 49ers are emphasizing to their fans to remain quiet when the 49ers' offense is on the field.What's the time table for Josh Morgan? (Cesar Garcia)
As he recently told CSNBayArea.com, Morgan expects to start running soon. Of course, he is out for the remainder of this season, including playoffs with the fracture just above the ankle. Once a player is placed on injured reserve, he is ineligible to return until the following season. Morgan said he expects to be ready to take part in the entire offseason program.Did we fix the red zone problems? (Sean Sp Pierce)
You can see for yourself on Monday night . . . and beyond.

Jay Gruden anticipates Kirk Cousins returning to Washington

Jay Gruden anticipates Kirk Cousins returning to Washington

Quarterback Kirk Cousins is, perhaps, the top NFL player scheduled for unrestricted free agency in March.

But if Washington is unable to sign Cousins to a long-term contract before the start of the free-agent signing period, the club appears likely to place the franchise tag on him for the second year in a row.

Washington coach Jay Gruden appeared to confirm that suspicion on Tuesday while speaking to reporters at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

"We totally anticipate Kirk coming back to (Washington)," Gruden said via CSN Mid-Atlantic. "We're excited about parlaying two very good years as the starting quarterback with a third year and continue to watch him grow."

But does Gruden anticipate another team willing the pay the price it would take to acquire Cousins?

If Washington places the franchise tag on Cousins at approximately $24 million for one season, another team could sign him to an long-term offer sheet and pay the price of two first-round draft picks as compensation.

The 49ers – and presumptive head coach Kyle Shanahan -- are expected to be interested in acquiring Cousins. If the cost of two first-round draft picks is considered exorbitant, the 49ers could attempt to negotiate another deal with Washington.

Washington can end any possibility that the 49ers or any other team could acquire Cousins this offseason if they tag him as an exclusive franchise player at a cost expected to be slightly higher than $24 million.

Cousins, who turns 29 in August, started every game the past two seasons for Washington. In 2015, he completed 69.8 percent of his pass attempts while throwing 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a passer rating of 101.6. Last season, he finished third in the NFL behind Drew Brees and Matt Ryan with 4,917 yards. He averaged 8.1 yards per attempt and had a rating of 97.2.

Falcons C Mack explains what makes Shanahan's offense so effective

Falcons C Mack explains what makes Shanahan's offense so effective

The Atlanta Falcons had the highest scoring offense during the 2016 regular season, averaging 33.8 points per game, and they racked up 6,653 total yards.

In two playoff games, they've scored a combined 80 points.

The architect of that high-powered offense is Kyle Shanahan, who is the presumptive head coach of the 49ers.

So what makes Shanahan's scheme so effective?

Falcons starting center and former Cal Bears star Alex Mack answered that on ESPN's Mike and Mike show on Tuesday.

"He does a really good job of just having a very balanced offense. We want to run outside schemes. we want to run outside zone, we want to be really effective at doing that. And when a team stops you from doing that, when they put people over there, or they slant out or whatever they do to stop that, he has the backup plan," Mack said.

"He knows exactly when they bring that safety down to make it really tough to run outside zone, well that's going to open up some throws later down the field. And then when they put someone out there on the throws, well, there's a bigger cutback lane, so he calls a different run for that. So our offense is really built around being balanced and having an answer for what the defense wants to do to stop us," Mack continued.

Mack, Shanahan and the Falcons are set to put their No. 1 scoring offense to the test against the Patriots' No. 1 scoring defense in Super Bowl 51 in Houston on Feb. 5, 2017.