49ers-Steelers: Matchups to watch

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49ers-Steelers: Matchups to watch

SAN FRANCISCO -- Ray Horton, Arizona Cardinals first-year defensive coordinator, spent the previous seven seasons working on the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive staff.Horton's defense gave the 49ers fits a week ago. He employed a variety of pressures to harass quarterback Alex Smith with five sacks and numerous other pressures in the Cardinals' 21-19 victory.
The 49ers have struggled twice in the past three weeks against blitz packages from defenses that play a 3-4 scheme. Smith was sacked nine times in a Thanksgiving night loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
The 49ers will see more of the same until they prove they can handle it. The 49ers will be under tremendous pressure Monday night to diagnose and block everything Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LaBeau dials up."If you're playing Pittsburgh, you better be able to block blitzes up the middle because they've been doing it better than anybody for a long time -- and they still are," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said.So, perhaps, nobody will be under more pressure to perform Monday night than the man in the middle of the 49ers' offensive line: center Jonathan Goodwin.He must be on-point mentally with his pre-snap analysis of the Pittsburgh defense. And once the ball is snapped, he'll have the physical challenge of facing one of the top nose tackles in the NFL.Tale of the tape
49ers center Jonathan Goodwin (59): 6-3, 318, Michigan, 10th season
Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton (98): 6-1, 325, Texas, 11th seasonGoodwin has a lot on his plate Monday night. The Cardinals exploited the interior of the 49ers' offensive line. Goodwin, along with guards Mike Iupati and Adam Snyder, struggled in pass protection.And you can be sure that the Steelers will use that blue print.The Steelers are known for sending inside linebackers James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons on criss-crossing blitzes up the middle. Sorting out all of the assignments along the 49ers' line will be a big part of Goodwin's evening."A lot of different things could happen," Roman said. "It depends what kind of protection you're in. Who's responsible for each blitz, each protection. A lineman might be responsible for it; a running back might be responsible for it. There might be an adjustment required pre-snap if you sense the blitz is coming. It really varies play to play."But one thing that will not vary much on the run downs is Goodwin will have one of the top nose tackles in the league lining up over him almost every play.The 49ers must stay out of third-and-long situations to slow down the Steelers' blitzes. And that can occur if running back Frank Gore has some room to run on early downs.Gore is at his best between the tackles. And Hampton is at this best when he's clogging the middle and making it difficult on inside run games. Gore has gone up against the Steelers once in his career. He was held to 39 yards on 14 carries in the third game of the 2007 season. Other matchups worth watching
49ers CB Tarell Brown (25) vs. Steelers WR Mike Wallace (17): Brown has played at a consistent level in his first season as the full-time starter. He has the speed to match up with Wallace, as long as the 49ers' pass rush does not allow Ben Roethlisberger (and, yes, we're assuming he's going to play) to create additional time to throw. Brown will remain on the right side of the 49ers' defense. On almost all of the big plays that Brown has yielded this season, he has been in position but the receiver won at the end. Brown will have to finish those plays Monday night. And he'll see plenty of Wallace, a speedster who leads the Steelers with 62 receptions for 1,034 yards and eight touchdowns. 49ers WR Michael Crabtree (15) vs. Steelers CB Ike Taylor (24): It's not just good enough to get open. Crabtree has to get open quickly against Taylor's press coverage to give quarterback Alex Smith an option to get the ball out of his hands. Crabtree has come on strong this season. He has equaled his season-high in receptions (55) with three games remaining. He also leads the 49ers with 668 receiving yards. But he has just two touchdowns, and the 49ers might want to look for him in the red zone as an antidote to their woes inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Taylor (6-2, 195) is a nine-year veteran who offers a tremendous challenge for Crabtree (6-1, 214). Look for Crabtree to work underneath and then try to use a stop-and-go or some kind of double-move to beat Taylor deep.

Owners of No. 1 overall pick, Browns still searching for franchise QB

Owners of No. 1 overall pick, Browns still searching for franchise QB

CLEVELAND -- Finding Bigfoot has been more productive than the Cleveland Browns' search for a franchise quarterback.

This flawed football quest drags on.

For nearly two decades, the Browns, once a standard of NFL excellence and now a league punching bag, have been running in circles as they try to find a quarterback to lead them from the darkness to relevance and respectability. Since the franchise's inglorious expansion return in 1999, they've started 26 quarterbacks, a roll call of names that haunt even the most loyal Cleveland fans holding out hope the team will one day get it right.

From Tim Couch to Trent Dilfer, from Derek Anderson to Cody Kessler, and let's not forget that year of fun with Johnny Manziel, QBs have cycled through Cleveland like tourists, with none sticking around for long.

It's been a running joke.

And until the Browns find that long-term answer at quarterback, they'll continue to be looked at as a laughingstock.

They'll have another chance to perhaps end this long pursuit in this week's NFL draft. With the No. 1 and No. 12 overall picks, and four more selections in the first three rounds, the Browns are positioned to finally fix the most important position on the field.

This could be the year Cleveland fans have longed for, the one when the Browns find their Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger. But as fate would have it, this year's QB class isn't highly regarded. Many draft experts feel there isn't a quarterback worth a first-round selection and that Cleveland should wait until 2018.

That's just so Browns, whose experiment with Robert Griffin III backfired last season, resulting in the latest QB confusion.

"We're going to keep searching," coach Hue Jackson said recently. "I think we all understand, no one's really claimed this position yet on our football team so we need to do everything we can to continue to add a player that we feel, as an organization, really good about, that can lead our football team and we'll continue to chase that."

The chase continues Thursday when the Browns try to find that elusive, essential piece. Or fumble again.

Here are some quarterback tidbits to chew on when the Browns go on the clock:

UP TOP: Cleveland seems locked in ON Texas A&M defensive stud Myles Garrett at No. 1, and while he's proficient at sacks, there are no three- or seven-step drops in his future. The Browns are impressed with North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky, a former Ohio Mr. Football, despite his inexperience (only 13 college starts), but probably not enough to take him first. Landing Garrett and Trubisky would be a dream scenario, but Cleveland may have to trade up as the rebuilding Jets have sent out vibes they prefer Trubisky.

WHY NOT WATSON? Clemson's Deshaun Watson would seem to fit Jackson's profile of the ideal QB: mobile, dynamic, successful. The Browns, though, don't seem enthralled with Watson - not in the first round anyway - unless their silence is a smoke screen. There are other good options like Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer, Texas A&M's Patrick Mahomes or California's Davis Webb, who may all be available after Round 1.

DRAFT DEBACLES: The Browns' track record drafting QBs - or any position - is abysmal over the past decade, which is why many Cleveland fans fear the team will mess up again. Since 2007, only OT Joe Thomas and CB Joe Haden have proven to be good choices. Eight other first-round picks are no longer on the roster.

Along with Couch, the No. 1 choice in '99, the Browns have used first-round picks on Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Manziel, who was Johnny Goofball in an orange helmet. Those mistakes shouldn't deter the Browns from selecting a QB early, but they are grim reminders that there are no givens.

WAITING GAME: Would waiting one more year be so bad? Draft experts point to the 2018 QB class, led by UCLA's Josh Rosen and USC's Sam Darnold, as being more talented than the 2017 group. That wouldn't preclude the Browns from taking a quarterback later in this draft, just not in the first round.

HOMETOWN HEROES: Trubisky is the latest in a long line of Ohio-born QBs tabbed as the Browns' next savior. Quinn, Charlie Frye and Brian Hoyer all grew up as Browns fans, but none was able to lead the turnaround. If Trubisky is picked, the pressure on him to be the team's leader and face of the franchise will be immense.

BYE-BYE BROCK?: The Browns made a shocking move in free agency, acquiring QB Brock Osweiler, his $16 million guaranteed contract and a 2018 second-round pick from Houston. Cleveland made it clear Osweiler was not part of the future, but he's still on the roster and could be part of a fall-back plan if the Browns don't get their desired quarterback.

 

Report: 49ers strongly considering QB at No. 2

Report: 49ers strongly considering QB at No. 2

General manager John Lynch and the 49ers have created the desired intrigue about what the club will do with the No. 2 overall pick in this week’s NFL draft.

The team remains “open for business,” in the words of Lynch, to trade the second pick. If the 49ers are unable to find a trade partner, the team can do any number of different ways with that pick. The first round of the draft is scheduled for Thursday evening.

After edge-rusher Myles Garrett, widely projected to go to the Cleveland Browns with the No. 1 overall pick, there does not seem to be much separating the next dozen prospects on the board at a number of different positions.

Now, there is buzz the 49ers could go with a quarterback – likely, Mitchell Trubisky of North Carolina – with the No. 2 pick. That possibility gained steam Monday morning with a report from Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, citing “several sources,” that the 49ers are “strongly considering” selecting a quarterback with the second pick.

One league source last week told NBC Sports Bay Area some around the league believe the 49ers would draft Trubisky or Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.

“If the 49ers are waiting on Kirk Cousins, just remember that Trubisky is a better prospect now than Cousins was coming out of the 2012 draft,” the source said.

Cousins, who is set to play his second consecutive year as Washington’s franchise player, was a fourth-round selection under then-coach Mike Shanahan, New 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was his father’s offensive coordinator when Washington drafted Cousins.

Lynch has been open in his scouting and praise of this year’s draft class. He has attended workouts of top quarterback prospects: Trubisky, Deshaun Watson (Clemson), DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame), Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) and Davis Webb (Cal).

"I think most of this quarterback class should be later down the line, whether it's first round or second round,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said recently. ESPN’s Mel Kipier and Todd McShay had Trubisky as the first quarterback selected by the Browns at No. 12 overall.

“I think these guys are somewhat getting a bad rap,” Lynch said at the NFL scouting combine. “You turn on the film, and there’s a lot to like.”

The 49ers head into this week’s draft with Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley as the only two quarterbacks on the roster.

The 49ers have shown no interest in re-signing any of the top three quarterbacks on the team’s roster last season: Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder. Each of those players remains unsigned.