49ers review: Defensive player-by-player

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49ers review: Defensive player-by-player

Here is the entire defensive player-by-player review from the 49ers' 36-32 victory over the New Orleans on Saturday in the NFC divisional playoff at Candlestick Park:Defensive linemen
90-Isaac Sopoaga: Started at nose tackle and played 29 snaps in the game. During those base downs, he controlled center Brian de la Puente to make it difficult for the Saints to get any yards between the tackles. New Orleans had just 37 yards rushing on 14 attempts. Sopoaga had four tackles and a quarterback pressure.
91-Ray McDonald: Started at left defensive end, and he clearly was not 100 percent with a right hamstring. Typically, McDonald plays every snap. But he was on the field for just 44 of the Saints' 80 offensive plays. Still, McDonald was effective. He had two tackles and also got some pressure on Brees with five quarterback hurries, according to the coaches' film review.
93-Ian Williams: Inactive (coaches' decision). (Follow on Twitter @IWilliams95
94-Justin Smith: He played all 80 defensive snaps, which is mind-boggling for a guy who plays at such a high motor level. Smith had four tackles, a sack, seven pressures and five hits on quarterback Drew Brees. One was simply amazing, as he bull-rushed Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod and grabbed Brees as he was throwing to force an incomplete pass. Smith blew past right guard Jahri Evans from a standing start to drop Brees for a 9-yard sack in the third quarter.
95-Ricky Jean Francois: He had a very good showing, as he played 36 snaps from scrimmage with McDonald not healthy enough to play the entire game. He had two tackles and two quarterback hurries, along with a quarterback hit. (Follow on Twitter @Freakyjean95)
96-Demarcus Dobbs: Saw playing time on special teams, including running down on kickoff coverage.Linebackers
51-Blake Costanzo: Played on the special teams, and was simply outstanding in that phase of the game. Constanzo had a tackle, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on separate plays. (Follow on Twitter @BlakeCostanzo51)
52-Patrick Willis: He played the entire game and had the difficult assignment of trying to keep up with 6-foot-7 tight end Jimmy Graham in coverage. Willis recorded 10 tackles and recovered a fumble in the first quarter after Donte Whitner's big hit on running back Pierre Thomas. Graham twice elevated over Willis for receptions that turned into touchdowns. The first was on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Brees in the second quarter. On the second touchdown, Willis ran with Graham down the field but didn't find the ball on the back-shoulder throw. Willis was then taken out of the play, as Donte Whitner arrived and Graham turned it into a 66-yard touchdown. (Follow on Twitter @PatrickWillis52)
53-NaVorro Bowman: Started at the "mike" linebacker position and he played every snap. Bowman rolled up a team-high 14 tackles, according to the coaches' film review. (Follow on Twitter @NBowman53)
54-Larry Grant: Played special teams. (Follow on Twitter @LarryGrant54)
55-Ahmad Brooks: Started at left outside linebacker and played 71 of the 80 snaps in the game. He had a solid showing with four tackles, a sack, and two quarterback hits. He broke up a second-quarter pass to Darren Sproles. Working against right tackle Zach Strief, he threw Brees for a 7-yard loss in fourth quarter.
56-Tavares Gooden: Played solely on special teams, and recorded one tackle.
98-Parys Haralson: Started at left outside linebacker, and played 29 snaps in the game. He recorded one tackle, and provided good coverage on Sproles in the left flat on a first-quarter incomplete pass. Pressured Brees in to a second-quarter throwaway.
99-Aldon Smith: He played 51 snaps in the game, as he was used as part of the 49ers' nickel coverage. He was credited with three tackles, a sack, six quarterback pressures and four hits on Brees. He beat left tackle Jermon Bushrod for an 11-yard sack in the first quarter. (Follow on Twitter @AldonSmithJETS)Defensive backs
20-Madieu Williams: Played exclusively on special teams, and made a huge play when he stripped return man Courtney Roby of the football at end of the first quarter. Costanzo recovered at the New Orleans 13-yard line, and that led directly to a 49ers field goal. (Follow on Twitter @MadieuWilliams)
22-Carlos Rogers: Started at left cornerback, and had a strong game with three tackles, two quarterback pressures on corner blitzes and three passes broken up. Saved a touchdown -- or at least a long play -- with a tremendous break-up of a deep pass to Adrian Arrington in third quarter in one-on-one coverage. Rogers had a shot to bring down Graham near the 10-yard line late in the game. It's a good thing for the 49ers that he didn't, because that allowed the offense to have enough time to respond.
25-Tarell Brown: Started at right cornerback, and played very well with four tackles, an interception and two passes defensed. (Follow on Twitter @RealTB25)
26-Tramaine Brock: The 49ers' No. 4 cornerback was credited with a tackle on special teams. (Follow on Twitter @T26Brock)
27-C.J. Spillman: In addition to coming up with two tackles on special teams, he also added two tackles as part of the 49ers' prevent defense. His tackle of receiver Robert Meachem ended the game after an obvious illegal forward pass from Brees that was not called. (Follow on Twitter @CJSPILLMAN27)
29-Chris Culliver: Played as the 49ers third cornerback, and recorded four tackles. He had good coverage on Marques Colston in the front right corner of the end zone, but a perfectly thrown ball resulted in a Saints second-quarter touchdown. (Follow on Twitter @Cullyinthehouse)
30-Reggie Smith: Saw limited action as the 49ers dime back, and he made a play with a hit on Marques Colston early in the fourth quarter on an incompletion that forced the Saints to settle for a field goal. (Follow on Twitter @superreg30)
31-Donte Whitner: Started at strong safety, and set the tone for this game on the first series. He delivered a legal helmet-to-helmet hit on running back Pierre Thomas to force a fumble and knock him out of the game with a head injury. That play came after he was called for a 23-yard pass interference penalty on Graham. Whiter had 10 tackles in the game. He appeared to be readying for a game-clinching interception but Graham went up and snagged the ball in front of him. Then, Whitner had a difficult time transitioning into tackle mode. Graham ended up taking it the distance for a 66-yard touchdown with 1:37 remaining. (Follow on Twitter @DonteWhitner)
36-Shawntae Spencer: Inactive (coaches' decision). Second-year player Brock has replaced Spencer on the depth chart as the team's No. 4 cornerback.
38-Dashon Goldson: Started at free safety, and had a strong game with 13 tackles, an interception and two passes defensed. He slid over from opposite side of the field to cut in front of receiver Arrington to intercept Brees in the first quarter. He returned it 41 yards to the New Orleans 4. . . He did not take the right angle to cut off Sproles after fourth-quarter completion on play he turned into a 44-yard touchdown. (Follow on Twitter @thehawk38)
43-Colin Jones: Played exclusively on special teams, and he was outstanding with two solid tackles on kick coverage late in the game. He also recovered a fumble.Specialists
2-David Akers: He made field goals of 25, 41 and 37 yards. The Saints' average starting point after kickoffs was the 17-yard line. (Follow on Twitter @DavidAkers2)
4-Andy Lee: He was not as consistent as usual, but he got some nice bounces along the way to average 49.5 (43.5 net) on eight punts. (Follow on Twitter @Andy4lee)
86-Brian Jennings: In addition to handling the long-snapping chores, Jennings contributed to a fumble recovery. With the ball loose on the round, he grabbed the left arm of Saints special-teamer Korey Hall to make sure he couldn't wrestle the ball away from Colin Jones. (Follow on Twitter @Jennings141)

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.