49ers-Ravens: Matchups to watch


49ers-Ravens: Matchups to watch

BALTIMORE -- The 49ers had demonstrated an all-around team defense. And the Baltimore Ravens have the most offensive playmakers the organization has ever compiled.But the 49ers' best defender and the Ravens' top producer will take center stage Thursday, and they are bound to see a lot of each other throughout the night.
Tale of the tape
49ers LB Patrick Willis (52): 6-1, 240, Mississippi, fifth season
Ravens RB Ray Rice (27): 5-8, 212, Rutgers, fourth seasonRice carried the ball just five times against the Seattle Seahawks a couple weeks ago, and the Ravens lost. On Sunday, he was fed the ball 20 times, gained 104 yards, and the Ravens defeated the Cincinnati Bengals.So the Ravens make it a priority to get the ball in Rice's hands. Rice ranks fifth in the NFL with 1,176 yards from scrimmage. He's a threat as a rusher and as a target in the passing game.Rice has 663 yards rushing with a 4.2 yards, and he also has 51 catches for 513 yards.
He will undoubtedly see a lot of Willis, who leads a 49ers defense that has been difficult on opposing running backs. Willis has also been a force in pass coverage, so he'll likely be asked to pick up Rice out of the backfield on occasion.CSNBaltimore: 49ers-Ravens -- the basics Keys -- pressure Smith, stop Gore predictions
The 49ers have been dominant against the run this season with Willis and NaVorro Bowman racking up most of the tackles. The 49ers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 32 games. And the unit has not allowed a rushing touchdown this season."You look at what's going on over there, and it kind of reminds us of our own defense," Rice said on a conference call with Bay Area reporters. "It's going to be a challenge. Every yard matters in this game. It's going to be a slugfest."And Rice said Willis is the closest comparison to Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.RELATED: Ravens roster depth chart injuries"He's a tenacious player," Rice said. "I have a lot of respect for that guy. Take Ray out, and (Willis) is the second-best linebacker in the NFL." Other matchups worth watching
49ers LOLB Ahmad Brooks (55) vs. Ravens RT Michael Oher (74): Brooks rarely comes off he field, as he plays standing up on base downs and lines up at defensive end in nickel situations. Brooks ranks seventh on the team in tackles, and his duty is to set the edge in the run game. As a pass-rusher, Brooks is second on the team with six sacks, matching his career-high. Oher, the subject of the book and movie, "The Blind Side," nearly was drafted by the 49ers in 2009. Then-general manager Scot McCloughan insisted on receiver Michael Crabtree over Oher, with then-coach Mike Singletary taking up the argument for the offensive lineman.49ers QB Alex Smith (11) vs. Ravens FS Ed Reed (20): If being a "game manager" means making good decisions and avoiding turnovers, Smith is guilty. But it becomes a lot more difficult to make good decisions and avoid interceptions with Reed patrolling the secondary. Reed is a seven-time Pro Bowl player. He produced a league-best eight interceptions in just 10 games last season, and he has three picks this year. Reed has 57 interceptions in his career, which is the league-high since entering the league in 2002. Thirty-three of his interceptions have come at home. Overall, the Ravens are 35-10 in games in which he has caught a pass from an opposing quarterback.

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

SANTA CLARA -- Tight end Vance McDonald became aware of a report the 49ers had engaged in trade talks involving him at his brother’s wedding in Austin, Texas.

But McDonald said he did not give it much thought because he had another immediate priority.

“I still had my best man’s speech to do,” McDonald said.

Later that evening during last month's draft, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan called McDonald to keep him in the loop. There was no trade, and McDonald returned to Santa Clara on Monday to continue participation in the 49ers’ offseason program.

“The first thing I told him was, ‘Man, there aren’t a lot of coaches that would do this,’” McDonald said of his talk with Shanahan. “He just wanted to fill me in.”

Nearly four weeks later, it is as if nothing ever happened.

“The only trade discussions we had was when another team asked us about Vance on draft day,” Shanahan said this week. “And after a team asked us about Vance then we asked other teams if they’d be interested in that same thing.”

McDonald said he completely understood why the 49ers would check with other teams around the league to see what they could acquire in a trade.

“Basically, it’s just like any other team in the NFL would do,” McDonald said. “If you’re a 2-14 team, obviously, there are a lot of things you can improve on, a lot of spots that need to be filled. There are a lot of things you need to improve upon in the offseason. So if teams are going to call and inquire about you, then obviously the next step is to … call around to every other team.

“So that’s exactly what happened to me. It isn’t like they don’t want me here. There was never a lack of communication on any level.”

Even before he knew his immediate future with the 49ers, McDonald said he tried to maintain the proper state of mind.

“I had the mindset this isn’t going to change anything,” McDonald said. “I’m going to end up where I end up and I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing, which is do everything to be a better football player.”

McDonald enters the fifth year of his NFL career after signing a new deal in December that amounts to a three-year, $19.7 million extension. Three days later, the 49ers placed McDonald on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

McDonald was on pace for his best season as a pass-catcher. In 11 games, he had 24 receptions for 391 yards and four touchdowns.

Now, he is competition for a spot in the 49ers’ offense, along with fifth-round draft pick George Kittle, undrafted rookie Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

McDonald said he likes what Shanahan has brought to the 49ers, including added responsibilities of the tight end position.

“Last year, all we talked about was how fast our pace was,” McDonald said. “With Kyle, it’s insanely quick. He’s a very detailed guy. It’s interesting to hear him present information. You try to apply it and play with the same mindset that he has. It’s a task that we all enjoy doing.

“We (tight ends) are the end of the line. There’s communication with us and the wide receivers and running backs. We’re also in command with receiving corps. There are a lot of things on our plate. Hopefully, this doesn’t get back to the wide receivers, but we’re supposed to be smarter than them. It’s a fun job to have. We don’t try to rub it in too much.”

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly is back in college football.

The former Oregon coach, who served as 49ers head coach last season, signed a multiyear deal as an ESPN analyst, the network announced Friday morning. He will work predominantly on pre-games, halftimes and in studio wraps each Saturday on ESPN2.

“Over the last 30 years, I have experienced football from one perspective – as a coach,” Kelly said in a statement. “Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different angle; simultaneously, I‘ll provide viewers an insight to the mindset of a coach and team while offering alternative views of various situations.

“Once I decided to make the move to TV, my familiarity with ESPN, combined with their high-quality production and vital role in college football, it was easily the best network suited for me.”

Kelly, 53, was fired on the evening of the 49ers’ season finale. The 49ers went 2-14 under Kelly and set the franchise record with 13 consecutive losses. Their only victories came against the Los Angeles Rams. Kelly also auditioned with FOX for the analyst job vacated when John Lynch became 49ers general manager, sources told NBC Sports Bay Area.

Kelly served as Oregon’s head coach from 2009 to ’12. His teams compiled a record of 46-7. Under Kelly, the Ducks advanced to the 2011 national championship game, losing to Auburn 22-19.

Kelly won the AP College Football Coach of the Year. He twice won the Pac-10 coach of the year. He left Oregon to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. After his first two NFL teams went 10-6, Kelly was fired in 2015 with one game remaining in the season. The Eagles were 6-9 at the time of Kelly's firing.

“Chip is one of the most innovative football minds of our generation,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting said. “As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach. We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process.”