49ers Mailbag II: Is Aldon Smith ready to start?

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49ers Mailbag II: Is Aldon Smith ready to start?

Rookie Aldon Smith recorded one tackle and no sacks in his first three games of the season. Last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, he recorded five tackles and 1.5 sacks.This edition of 49ers Mailbag leads off with a question about the No. 7 overall pick . . . Q: When do you see Aldon Smith becoming a starter? I'd like to see him play more. @sf_game
My answer: As long as Ahmad Brooks and Parys Haralson are healthy, I do not envision Aldon Smith moving into the starting lineup this season.The reason is because Haralson is a better outside linebacker, and Smith is a better defensive end. When the 49ers have their base defense on the field, Haralson plays right outside linebacker.And when the 49ers go with their nickel pass defense, featuring a four-man line, Smith takes his position at defensive end.Last week, the Eagles called 60 pass plays. They featured a lot of three-receiver formations. Therefore, the 49ers countered with five and six defensive backs. In those situations, Smith was on the field. So he played the majority of the game over Haralson.
Smith took advantage of his extended playing time to produce his best game of the season. But it was entirely as a defensive endpass rusher.Smith will not play as much Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Why? Because the Bucs do not use many three-receiver personnel packages other than third downs, two-minute drills and catch-up situations.Q: Do you expect Anthony Dixon to really get any more playtime versus the Bucs? @travisbarnette
My answer: No. I think the way the 49ers rotated their backs against the Eagles is pretty much how it's going to be for a while. Dixon is in the coaches' doghouse, as suggested by his comments to CSNBayArea.com on Friday. I expect Gore to start and play about 23 of the game with Kendall Hunter seeing the rest of the action. If Dixon plays on offense, I don't believe it'll be for more than a couple snaps.Q: Will Tampa Bay copy the Eagles and put Aqib Talib on Vernon Davis? If not, can either of Tampa's safeties keep up? @Msclemons67
My answer: It's an option, but I would not think it'll be a play-in, play-out strategy. Nnamdi Asomugha (6-foot-2) might be the biggest cornerback in the league. That's why the Eagles matched him up against Davis. Talib is 6-1, so it's possible he could be assigned to Davis on some calls. But I don't believe the Bucs will put one defender on Davis. More than likely, they'll continue to play their Tampa-2 defense, drop the middle linebacker deep and have their safeties attempt to pinch off that deep seam route to Davis.
Q: How much of an impact do you think we could see in the run game with RJF over Ice? @edbuto
My answer: Isaac Sopoaga had an outstanding year last season at left defensive end. And he has proven to be an upgrade over Aubrayo Franklin through four games at nose tackle. Sopoaga has been stout in the run game. Ricky Jean Francois is 35 pounds lighter. His job will be to keep the Bucs' guards and center from getting out to the linebackers and blocking Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. I believe there will be an impact. The Bucs will go after Jean Francois. And if they see a weakness there, they'll exploit it throughout the game.Q: What is the team doing to battle staph infections, and prevent other players from getting it? Serious issue! @Ali_Q8T
My answer: Yes, it is a serious issue. When 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was asked Friday what precautions the team has taken, he declined to answer. Seems to me that the club would want to talk about what it has done, rather than let there be any doubt. I do know that Sopoaga was kept away from the 49ers' practice facility during the week. The 49ers were on their way back from Philadelphia after 10 days away from Santa Clara when Sopoaga first began feeling ill. He was diagnosed with a staph infection -- the fourth time in four years a 49ers player has been affected.

Rodgers, Packers headed to NFC championship after thriller with Cowboys

Rodgers, Packers headed to NFC championship after thriller with Cowboys

BOX SCORE

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time it was a catch, and another win for the Green Bay Packers.

Call it a "Half Mary" from Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a huge Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook on third-and-20 with 12 seconds left - confirmed on review - wasn't nearly as debatable as Dez Bryant's famous catch that wasn't in the Cowboys' divisional round loss to Green Bay (12-6) two years ago.

Cook, who led Green Bay with 104 yards receiving, kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds.

And it came after the Cowboys tied the game twice in the final 5 minutes behind rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debut.

It was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:33 - two from Crosby and one from Dallas' Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

Rodgers, who sparked last week's wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta's Matt Ryan next Sunday. It will be his third NFC title game - all on the road.

"Unbelievable effort. I mean, what a game, what a game," said Rodgers, who threw for 356 yards with two touchdowns. "We're going to celebrate this and move on to Atlanta. We're just going to enjoy this right now."

Green Bay's win was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season. The Packers were the previous road team to win - over Washington in last season's wild-card round.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when "Captain Comeback", Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco.

Instead, top-seeded Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

Prescott, whose 11-game winning streak during the regular season sent Tony Romo to the bench when he was ready to return from a back injury, rallied the Cowboys in a way that probably made Dallas' 10-year starter proud.

The fourth-round pick, who was supposed to be the No. 3 quarterback before injuries changed everything, got Dallas' rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten, also the first postseason touchdown for the 14th-year tight end.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey.

Prescott threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns with an interception, and Elliott had 125 yards rushing.

Rodgers didn't seem to miss receiver Jordy Nelson, out with a rib injury sustained in the win over the Giants.

Rodgers found six different receivers, including a 34-yard touchdown to Richard Rodgers that was his longest since catching one of three successful Hail Mary passes from Aaron Rodgers in the past 13 months.

SAY AGAIN?

The Cowboys had a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that doesn't happen often. Dallas had a first down wiped out by the penalty against receiver Brice Butler, who wasn't even part of the play. And that was actually the issue.

Referee Tony Corrente threw the flag immediately after the snap. After Terrance Williams made a catch the referee announced that Butler was penalized for going into the offensive huddle and then leaving the field.

There was even more confusion when the penalty was initially marked off only 5 yards. After Packers coach Mike McCarthy pointed it out, Corrente announced the correction and the ball was moved back another 10 yards. The Cowboys punted soon after.

UP NEXT

Packers: At Atlanta in the NFC championship game next Sunday.

Report: Jags interviewed Chip Kelly 'very quietly' before hiring Marrone

Report: Jags interviewed Chip Kelly 'very quietly' before hiring Marrone

The 49ers fired Chip Kelly on January 1. But it didn't take long for Kelly to get a job interview.

Between January 1 and January 9, when the Jaguars hired Doug Marrone, Jacksonville reportedly interviewed Kelly for the job.

The interview happened "very quietly" according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

The Jaguars had interviewed six known candidates: Marrone, Tom Coughlin, Harold Goodwin, Mike Smith, Kyle Shanahan and Josh McDaniels.

While the Jaguars hired Marrone and most other teams filled their head coaching vacancy, the 49ers are the lone team remaining without a head coach.

The leading candidates for the 49ers’ job appear to be McDaniels and Shanahan. The 49ers interviewed Shanahan and McDaniels on Friday and Saturday, respectively, as their teams earned first-round playoff byes.

The 49ers are also scheduled to interview Seattle offensive line/assistant head coach Tom Cable on Sunday.

Three days after he was fired by the 49ers, Kelly addressed his next possible career move with CSNBayArea.com.

“I’m not going to close the door on any opportunity, but I have to be very smart in what I do next,” he said. “I don’t have to take anything, but I wouldn’t rule anything out. I need to make sure that I’m in the right situation.

“I don’t know what the future holds. I’ll do my due diligence. I’m not going to coach just to coach.”