49ers-Cardinals: Matchups to watch


49ers-Cardinals: Matchups to watch

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Arizona Cardinals invested heavily in upgrading their play at quarterback after the lockout ended.But the team's improvement behind center of the past two weeks has been with second-year quarterback John Skelton at the controls -- and not high-priced offseason acquisition Kevin Kolb.Skelton has led the Cardinals to back-to-back victories over St. Louis and Philadelphia after Arizona stumbled to six consecutive losses with Kolb, who has missed the past two games with a toe injury. Again, Kolb is expected to be watching from the sideline Sunday when the Cardinals (3-6) enter Candlestick Park to face the 49ers (8-1).
Expect Skelton to try to rely on one of the best receivers in the NFL.Tale of the tape
49ers free safety Dashon Goldson (38): 6-2, 200, Washington, fifth season
Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11): 6-3, 218, Pitt, eighth seasonThe 49ers have done a good job this season against top wide receivers, as they have employed a lot of double coverage. And Goldson figures to see a lot of Fitzgerald on Sunday.Skelton targeted Fitzgerald 13 times in a 21-17 victory last week over the Eagles. It doesn't matter if Fitzgerald is covered or not, Skelton will throw the ball into traffic to give Fitzgerald a chance to make a play.Last week, Fitzgerald came down with seven receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns."He's got good arm talent," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said of Skelton. "This guy can throw the ball. He's got an easy release. He's got a strong arm. (He) kind of reminds me of (Baltimore quarterback Joe) Flacco a little bit with his arm strength and how easy the ball comes out."(He) throws a good deep ball, and in the last couple of weeks he has fallen in love with Fitzgerald, which is smart on his part. So, I've been impressed with the guy."The 49ers are not expected to shadow Fitzgerald with just one cornerback. They will likely mix up their coverages. Carlos Rogers might match up with Fitzgerald more often, as Fitzgerald also sees action in the slot.Starting right cornerback Tarell Brown is questionable with a knee injury sustained late in the practice week. Rookie Chris Culliver is the 49ers' No 3 cornerback.Goldson will be relied upon to provide deep coverage on Fitzgerald. Goldson has done a good job of playing center field in recent games. He had interceptions in back-to-back games against Cleveland and Washington, and nearly had a pick against the New York Giants' Eli Manning last week. (He failed to get his second foot inbounds.) Other matchups worth watching
49ers left guard Mike Iupati (77) vs. Cardinals right defensive tackle Calais Campbell (93): The 49ers offensive line has taken tremendous strides from early in the season. Iupati and left tackle Joe Staley have to work together against the Cardinals 3-4 defensive front to keep that trend going. Iupati will be matched mostly against Campbell, who leads Arizona with five sacks and 12 quarterback hits. "I think they've been doing a great job of improving, their communication, their overall play in all phases," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of the 49ers line. "Pad level, pass protection, finish. You can highlight really the young guys Mike Iupati and (right tackle) Anthony Davis, probably made even more improvement than the others on the offensive line. It all bodes well for us. We're pleased with how those guys are playing."49ers special-teamer Blake Costanzo (51) vs. Cardinals return man Patrick Peterson (21): Costanzo, the 49ers' top special-teams performer, and his teammates on the coverage team will have a difficult chore. Peterson, a rookie, has been phenomenal on punt returns with a 17.6-yard average and three touchdowns. Peterson's 99-yard punt return in overtime supplied the Cardinals with a 19-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams two weeks ago. The 49ers punt-coverage unit has been outstanding. Punter Andy Lee has a 50.5 average. His league-leading net average of 43.8 is more than a yard better than Denver's Britton Colquitt, who ranks No. 2.

DeAndre Smelter gets second chance with 49ers

DeAndre Smelter gets second chance with 49ers

SANTA CLARA – Wide receiver DeAndre Smelter is healthy and he’s back for a second opportunity to prove himself.

Smelter was inactive as a rookie last season as he rehabilitated from a torn ACL that cut short his final year of college ball. And the 49ers never really got a chance to see what he could do during the offseason program and training camp due to a hamstring injury.

After he was waived in September, Smelter went unclaimed and never signed with another team. The 49ers brought him back this week to take a spot on the team’s practice squad.

Said 49ers coach Chip Kelly, “It was one of those deals is that you never saw enough of him to really make an accurate decision on, ‘Hey, can he really contribute and help? So, let’s give him an opportunity when he’s healthy.’”

The 49ers drafted Smelter (6 foot 2, 210 pounds) despite his limited college exposure to a passing offense. He played 25 games at Georgia Tech, which runs the triple-option offense. In his final college season, he caught 35 passes for 715 yards and seven touchdowns.

He was considered a project when he began practicing with the 49ers during his first training camp. But he never was healthy for a long enough period of time to develop.

“It was a real serious hamstring injury,” Kelly said. “You feel bad for the player because he’s put so much time and invested so much time coming in and being on IR the first year and getting ready to show us what he can do but then really didn’t have a chance to show us what he can do.

“It happened before our first preseason game, so we never really got a chance to see him in action.”

The 49ers on Tuesday waived wide receiver Dres Anderson from the practice squad to create the opening for Smelter.

Kelly already sees Kaepernick improvement

Kelly already sees Kaepernick improvement

SANTA CLARA – In his second week handling the bulk of the team’s first-team practice snaps, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has shown noticeable improvements, according to his coach.

“Yeah, you can see that,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said Thursday. “I think he played three snaps in the first game, but his last extensive playing time was in the San Diego game, which was our last preseason game, which was over six weeks ago. What you’re trying to do is get him into a rhythm.”

Kaepernick replaced Blaine Gabbert as the 49ers’ starting quarterback a week ago. He will make his second start of the season on Sunday when the 49ers face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi’s Stadium.

“I think for any quarterback you’re just looking for consistency,” Kelly said. “The chemistry or the relationship that’s where the receivers are, knowing where, as they come out of their break, where they’re going to be. Is one guy a little bit sharper out of his cut? Is one guy a little bit deeper out of his cut?

“Obviously reading the defense as you go, but just getting a little bit more consistent, a little bit more familiar because he is getting more snaps. Sometimes when you’re the two that’s difficult because you’re not getting as many snaps.”

Kaepernick completed 13 of 29 pass attempts for 187 yards with one touchdown and no interception in the 49eres’ 45-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills. The game was played in 22 mph wind.

In speaking about Kaepernick’s attributes, Kelly said he believes his quarterback has the necessary throwing touch and anticipation.

“I think he does have anticipation. He does have the ability to throw guys open,” Kelly said. “There’s certain balls you have to put some touch on to throw and I’ve seen that displayed in practice. I think one of the things that’s difficult in terms of grading Colin just from the first game that he played in Buffalo is I don’t think anybody was really accurate. But a lot of that had to do with the weather.

“So, hopefully, back here in the friendly confines of Levi’s, we’ll be in a little bit better situation, a little bit better weather in terms of us throwing the football.”