Browns' special-teams loss is 49ers' gain


Browns' special-teams loss is 49ers' gain

The 49ers have improved dramatically on special teams from a year ago. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns have struggled mightily.Perhaps it's too simple to point to the fact that Brad Seely, who spent the previous two seasons with the Browns, is in his first year with the 49ers.Or maybe it's so simple because it's more than just a coincidence."It was instilled in the guys how important (special teams) is to the football team, and his attention to detail was just on point," said Josh Cribbs, who made trips to the Pro Bowl in both of Seely's two seasons with the Browns. "Even from their film now, we can look at the San Fran team and coach ourselves off them, because Seely is such a great coach."Special teams could play another important role Sunday at Candlestick Park when the 49ers (5-1) face the Browns (3-3).
Under Seely, the Browns were ranked among the best special-teams units in the NFL. But breakdowns on special teams have become commonplace for the Browns this season.The Browns had two field goals blocked last week in a 6-3 win over the Seattle Seahawks. One week earlier, the Raiders scored two touchdowns on special teams in a 24-17 win over the Browns. Jacoby Ford returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown, and holder Shane Lechler threw a touchdown out of field-goal formation.Meanwhile, the 49ers have excelled behind kicker David Akers, punter Andy Lee, return man Ted Ginn and the coverage units."I don't know that I've ever had that kind of combination," Seely said of his 22 years as a coach in the NFL.Ginn had late kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns in the 49ers' 33-17 victory over the Seahawks in the opening game of the season. Lee is tied for the league lead with a 44.4 net average, and Akers has nailed two 55-yard field goals while converting 13 of 15 field-goal attempts.And Seely's impact isn't felt just on special teams. With the title of special teams coordinatorassistant head coach, Seely is often seen during games interacting on the sideline and discussing game situations with coach Jim Harbaugh."Phenomenal football coach, great teacher, technician all the way around," Harbaugh said of Seely. "Oh yeah, (I'm) leaning on him, like Abraham leaning on his staff."Seely coached special teams with the New England Patriots for 10 seasons, winning three Super Bowls along the way. When he went to the Browns with Eric Mangini, the Browns kept several players on the roster solely for special-teams contributions.One of those players was Blake Costanzo, whom the 49ers signed to a one-year contract during the first week of training camp. Costanzo ranks as the 49ers' top special-teams player."He's just a guy," Seely said. "But he has something else to him that's not measurable. On Sundays, he's a pretty good football player. He doesn't have great talent, but he does great things."Costanzo, C.J. Spillman, Tavares Gooden and Larry Grant are among the veteran players who make up the core special-teams units. Fullback Bruce Miller and tight end Delanie Walker play a lot on offense but they also have large roles on special teams."(He's) very detail-oriented," Costanzo said of Seely. "(He's) a great teacher, great motivator. It's hard to coach special teams because you've got offensive guys, defensive guys, to try to bring them all together and form a unit is pretty tough. He just does a great job of getting guys together and teaching them what to do. Everyone wants to go out there and play for him." Here are the statistical differences on special teams for the Browns and 49ers from last season. (Plus signs equate to improvements, minus signs signify declines.)
Net punting average
Browns 2010: 39.0
Browns 2011: 36.5 (-2.5)
49ers 2010: 38.2
49ers 2011: 44.4 (6.2)
Opponent net punting average
Browns 2010: 37.8
Browns 2011: 39.5 (-1.7)

49ers 2010: 37.4
49ers 2011: 35.8 (1.6)
Kickoff return average
Browns 2010: 17.0
Browns 2011: 24.0 (7)

49ers 2010: 19.5
49ers 2011: 30.9 (11.4)
Opponent kickoff return average
Browns 2010: 17.8
Browns 2011: 26.5 (-8.7)

49ers 2010: 22.2
49ers 2011: 21.3 (.9)
Field goals
Browns 2010: 23 of 28 (82.1 percent)
Browns 2011: 9 of 11 (81.8 percent)

49ers 2010: 22 of 27 (81.5 percent)
49ers 2011: 13 of 15 (86.7 percent)

Snap count: 49ers' rookie running backs watch the veterans

Snap count: 49ers' rookie running backs watch the veterans

SANTA CLARA – Rookie running backs Joe Williams and Matt Breida have made strong bids for roster spots. But on Saturday night, the 49ers wanted to see what the veterans could do.

Williams entered the game late and played only four snaps of offense. He carried once for 1 yard. Another designed run play was aborted when a Denver Broncos defensive lineman got into the backfield so quickly he forced a fumble before the handoff could occur.

Breida, an undrafted rookie from Georgia Southern, did not see any snaps on offense in the 49ers’ 33-14 loss to the Denver Broncos at Levi’s Stadium.

Coach Kyle Shanahan said the plan all along was for Tim Hightower and Kapri Bibbs to see a lot of action after neither played in the exhibition opener.

“We’re trying to give them a chance to compete,” Shanahan said. “We see it in practice each day, but in games you want to see what guys do breaking through those arm tackles and see how they perform.

“We have a tough competition at back. If you rotate them every series, you don’t really give anyone a chance to show what they are. We try to do it that way. I’ve really tried to do it that way my entire career. You try to select which games you’re going to try to give guys a number of carries, so you have enough when it’s all said and done after four to try to make a decision.”

The 49ers’ run game was non-existent against the Broncos. Starter Carlos Hyde gained 26 yards on eight attempts. Bibbs managed 6 yards on four carries, while Hightower was thrown for minus-1 yard on three rushes.

In the exhibition opener last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, Williams gained 60 yards on seven carries, while Breida rushed for 40 yards on 11 tries. Raheem Mostert, the 49ers' leading rusher (15 carries, 89 yards) in the exhibition opener, was limited to just four plays on special teams.

Here is a look at the 49ers’ playing time on offense, defense and special teams:

Quarterback – *Brian Hoyer 24, C.J. Beathard 20, Matt Barkley 4
Running back – *Carlos Hyde 20, Tim Hightower 14, Kapri Bibbs 10, *Kyle Juszczyk 6, Tyler McCloskey 5, Joe Williams 4
Wide receiver – Louis Murphy 23, *Marquise Goodwin 18, Kendrick Bourne 15, Jeremy Kerley 13, Aldrick Robinson 13, Victor Bolden 12, Trent Taylor 11, *Pierre Garçon 10, DeAndre Carter 5
Tight end – George Kittle 22, Garrett Celek 12, Logan Paulsen 10, *Vance McDonald 9, Blake Bell 5, Cole Hikutini 3
Offensive line – Erik Magnuson 25, *Trent Brown 24, *Zane Beadles 23, *Daniel Kilgore 23, *Brandon Fusco 23, *Joe Staley 23, JP Flynn 21, Tim Barnes 21, Garry Gilliam 21, John Theus 20, Darrell Williams 4, Norman Price 4, Andrew Lauderdale 4, Andrew Gardner 4

Defensive line – D.J. Jones 38, Leger Douzable 36, Pita Taumoepenu 31, *Chris Jones 30, Quinton Dial 23, *Arik Armstead 23, *Earl Mitchell 19, Solomon Thomas 16, *Tank Carradine 15, Noble Nwachukwu 15, Elvis Dumervil 8
Linebacker – Dekoda Watson 33, Brock Coyle 30, Ray-Ray Armstrong 30, Ahmad Brooks 30, *Eli Harold 23, *Reuben Foster 23, *NaVorro Bowman 23, Shayne Skov 22, Alex Calitro 21
Cornerback – Asa Jackson 40, Ahkello Witherspoon 39, Keith Reaser 30, Will Davis 22, *Dontae Johnson 20, *Rashard Robinson 20, K’Waun Williams 11
Safety – *Lorenzo Jerome 37, Jaquiski Tartt 33, *Eric Reid 23, Don Jones 22, Vinnie Sunseri 19, Adrian Colbert 19
* -- Starter

D.Jones 18, Bell 17, Taumoepenu 17, DeAndre Smelter 16, Jerome 16, Celek 11, Watson 11, Coyle 10, Sunseri 10, Armstrong 10, Skov 9, C.Jones 9, Tartt 9, Bradley Pinion 8, Calitro 8, Colbert 8, Paulsen 8, Jackson 8, Kyle Nelson 7, Bolden 7, Bibbs 6, Witherspoon 6, Reaser 5, Dial 5, Davis 5, Raheem Mostert 4, Harold 4, Carter 4, Johnson 4, D.Williams 4, D.J. Jones 4, Robbie Gould 3, Robinson 3, J.Williams 3, Flynn 3, Douzable 3, Carradine 3, Nwachukwu 2, Price 2, Taylor 2, Kerley 2, Barnes 2, Theus 2, Magnuson 2, McCloskey 2, Armstrong 2, Foster 2, Reid 2, Bowman 2, Mitchell 2, Nick Rose 1, Matt Breida 1, Tim Patrick 1, Thomas 1, Bourne 1, Lauderdale 1, Brooks 1

QB Nick Mullens, WR Aaron Burbridge, DB Will Redmond, DB Jimmie Ward, DB Prince Charles Iworah, LB Sean Porter, LB Aaron Lynch, G Joshua Garnett, DL Ronald Blair, DL DeForest Buckner

Potential big play slips from Hoyer's grasp during preseason loss to Broncos

Potential big play slips from Hoyer's grasp during preseason loss to Broncos

SANTA CLARA – Quarterback Brian Hoyer threw the ball well enough to impress the Denver Broncos’ defensive backs during the 49ers’ two joint practices.

While he hit most of his passes on Saturday night, it was one that slipped away that summarized the 49ers’ 33-14 loss to the Broncos in the second exhibition game for both teams.

Hoyer had plenty of time to throw and saw a potential big play unfolding as he started to throw to wide receiver Jeremy Kerley. But the ball popped out of Hoyer’s right hand as he began to throw.

“I was getting ready to rip it to Kerley,” Hoyer said. “He had a double-move route, and I thought he was going to win. I went to throw it. And I was going to throw it hard, and literally, I think my arm even went forward and I was looking around, ‘What happened to the ball?' "

The ball ended up loose on the ground, where Broncos defensive lineman Shelby Harris recovered.

“My quarterbacks coach asked me, ‘When’s the last time that happened to you?’ Hoyer said. “Maybe a few years ago in practice, that happened one time. I never had that happen in a game. It’s the worst feeling. You go to throw the ball and you’re looking, and all of a sudden, you look around and you have no idea where it is.”

Hoyer and the 49ers passing game was sharp during two practice sessions with the Broncos during the week, prompting All-Pro defensive backs Aqib Talib and Chris Harris to praise the Hoyer, as well as coach Kyle Shanahan's offense.

Hoyer completed 8 of 11 pass attempts for 89 yards under the lights of Levi's Stadium. He threw an interception when 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin juggled the ball and Denver defensive back Chris Lewis-Harris wrestled the ball away from him as they tumbled to the ground.

“There weren’t any reads on his 11 attempts that I was upset with,” Shanahan said of Hoyer.

“(On) his pick, Marquise has to catch that ball. He threw it to him. That keeps the drive alive. He just didn’t catch it clean and the DB made a good play. I wish Brian could’ve played longer to get a chance to get into some sort of rhythm.”

In the game, the 49ers committed 11 penalties for 86 yards and turned the ball over five times. Denver scored 27 points off those turnovers.

“I don’t think any of us should be pleased right now,” Hoyer said. “When you put the defense in that situation, regardless of whether it’s a regular-season game or a preseason game, you should feel displeased with the performance.”