49ers key matchup No. 1: 49ers pass defense vs. Drew Brees


49ers key matchup No. 1: 49ers pass defense vs. Drew Brees

This is the final part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Saints matchups to watch Sunday, 1:25 p.m. (FOX), at the Superdome.49ers pass defense vs. Saints QB Drew BreesTale of the tape
49ers pass defense: Ranked No. 2 in the NFL
Brees (9): 6-foot, 209 pounds, 12th season, PurdueThe 49ers trot out Colin Kaepernick on Sunday for his second NFL start, so there's a level of unknown facing the New Orleans Saints' defense.On the other side of the ball, the 49ers know exactly what they're up against.Shutting down Saints quarterback Drew Brees is not an easy task, and it comes with many levels of challenges. After all, the Saints' top four pass-catchers features two wide receivers, a tight end and a versatile running back."They have a lot of different weapons and they all can line up in different spots," 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers said.That means that while Rogers, who covers the slot receiver, will probably see more of Lance Moore than any pf the Saints' receivers, he had to prepare to face all of the Saints' receiving options."Their receivers, all of them, are good receivers," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "They don't have Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald. But all of them are really good. That's the problem with this team."There's not one guy to play, 'Hey, if we can take this guy out, we've got a good chance.' All the receivers and (tight end Jimmy) Graham and (running back Darren) Sproles and their group of running backs are tough to stop. So you've just got to line up and play and you've got to win some one-on-one matchups."But those one-one-one matchups will constantly change through the course of the game. The only constant is that Brees will be the man on the distributing end. Brees has averaged 306.6 yards passing per game. He has thrown at least one touchdown pass in an NFL record 53 consecutive games.This season, Brees has thrown 28 touchdown passes with the bulk of them going to four main targets. Graham has eight touchdown receptions, while, Marques Colston has caught seven scoring passes. Moore and Sproles have four touchdowns apiece.The 49ers' defense this season has done an exceptional job of limiting the big play, and they'll be put to the test on Sunday.Inside linebacker Patrick Willis is coming off one of his best games in coverage. Willis found himself matched in single coverage against Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte and he responded with a strong performance. Willis is also accustomed to covering tight ends, so he'll likely see plenty of Graham, who has 51 catches for 562 yards on the season.The 49ers will have to feature a group effort on Sunday. And they're facing a hot team. The Saints have won five of their past six games.Cornerbacks Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver must step up to the challenge. And safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner will be tested repeatedly.Outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who entered the day with an NFL-leading 15 sacks, can make things easier on the secondary if he can administer some pressure on Brees. But Brees is not an easy quarterback to sack. He has been sacked just 16 times in 10 games."Brees gets the ball out quickly, but we can't have a clock in our heads because he can keep plays alive, too," Rogers said.

49ers specialists get drenched in preparations for inclement weather

49ers specialists get drenched in preparations for inclement weather

CHICAGO – The 49ers trained for the expected low-30s temperature and snow at Soldier Field with a week of workouts in the 80-degree heat of Florida.

However, the team’s specialists got some practice handling wet footballs during the 49ers’ final practice in Orlando, Fla.

Special-teams coordinator Derius Swinton and his assistant, Michael Clay, made a game of it. Long-snapper Kyle Nelson had to execute 10 perfect snaps to holder Bradley Pinion for field goals. Then, Pinion moved back to punt formation, where another 10 in a row were required.

But they had to be perfect while Swinton and Clay squirted water on the ball and at the hands of Nelson and Pinion, who also received a blast of water in his ear hole at one point.

“We always look up to see if there’s a chance of rain or snow, and we go, ‘Wet-ball drill,’ ” Nelson said. “They (Swinton and Clay) get to have fun, squirting water on us and use the water bottles.

“They make it as bad as possible.”

Nelson and Pinion teamed up to execute perfectly on all 20 field goals and punts.

“If I can do this, in a game it’s going to be even easier,” Nelson said. “They make it a lot harder in practice than it is in a game, so when we get to a game, everything is not as fast.”

The weather conditions on Sunday against the Chicago Bears will likely challenge Nelson, Pinion and kicker Phil Dawson as much as anyone. Dawson has been tracking the weather forecasts for more than a week to get mentally prepared for what he might face.

“Soldier Field is notorious for being a tough place to kick because of the wind and the field itself,” Dawson said this week on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “The footing is pretty poor. So when you add snow and moisture to the equation, it’s going to be one of those days.

“You need to have conversations with your coaches and let them know – be honest with them – about the difficulty. But you have to do that without it affecting your confidence to go out and get the job done.”

Said Nelson, “It takes more focus in bad weather. The snaps have to be a little more perfect. Bradley has to focus more on catching the ball, and Phil has to concentrate on the approach and be more cautious.”

Mark Helfrich provides insight into Chip Kelly's line of thinking

Mark Helfrich provides insight into Chip Kelly's line of thinking

Mark Helfrich had a strong indication he would be fired as Oregon’s head coach. And he said he told Chip Kelly recently he would have no hard feelings if Kelly left the 49ers to return to coach the Ducks.

Kelly this week said he is not interested in abandoning his job with the 49ers to coach in the college ranks. Helfrich suggested during a radio interview on Friday that Kelly told him the same thing privately.

When it was suggested that Kelly hated to recruit, Helfrich did not disagree.

"That's a fact," Helfrich said in an interview on ESPN Radio's Russillo and Kanell. "I don't know hated recruiting. . . a dislike. A strong dislike. But I think Chip has that challenge in his mind right now to make it right in the NFL.

"I had some of those conversations with him a couple weeks ago when it looked like this was going south. That was a very awkward converation, but (I) just wanted to let him know that to take our personal relationship out of it in every way, shape or form if he wanted to consider this.

"But, me, reading between the lines, I think he wants to make it right in the NFL. I think he wants to win at that level. He's had a rough go of it this year, but he'll get it right."

Kelly compiled a 46-7 record in four seasons in Eugene, Ore. He left after the 2012 season to accept the head-coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly was fired late last season and took the 49ers job two weeks later.

In Kelly’s first season with the 49ers, the club is 1-10. The 49ers are on a franchise-long 10-game losing streak entering Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

Helfrich was 37-16 in his four seasons at Oregon after his promotion from offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Kelly said he spoke with Helfrich the morning after he was fired.

“I just felt bad for Mark. I love him like a brother,” Kelly said. “He’s a tremendous person. He’s a hell of a football coach, but he’s an even better person. Just felt for him and the rest of the guys on that staff. It’s an unfortunate thing that goes on in this profession. We all know about it when we sign up, but when it happens you’re still taken aback by it.”

Kelly said he hoped his denial of any interest in the Oregon job would end all speculation about his future. When asked if intends to remain with the 49ers, Kelly said on Wednesday, “Yep. So we're all done with that, I hope."