Film review: Culliver ready to pounce on starting job


Film review: Culliver ready to pounce on starting job

Cornerback Tarell Brown sat out last Wednesday's practice due to a slight hamstring ailment. He returned to practice the next day, and was available for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.

It was a wise move.

Jim Harbaugh has been reluctant to make lineup changes in two seasons as 49ers coach. Guard Chilo Rachal is the only player benched due solely to poor play.

But Harbaugh has made several changes after injuries. And quarterback Alex Smith does not stand alone.

Bruce Miller took over at fullback for veteran Moran Norris due to an injury last season and he held onto the job. Shawntae Spencer lost his starting job and then his role as the No. 3 cornerback due to an injuries. Tramaine Brock, who opened last season as the No. 3 cornerback, sustained an injury that opened the door for Chris Culliver, who has remained in that role.

And, now, Culliver is playing at a starter's level. If Brown or Carlos Rogers ever exit the lineup, Culliver would have a chance to take over -- and then hold onto -- a starting job.

Rogers got off to a slow start Sunday against the Dolphins with an apparent miscommunication on Miami's second play of the game that resulted in a game-long 28-yard pass play.

Rogers and Brown have started every game for a defense that No. 2 in the NFL against the pass. And both had solid showings Sunday in a defensive effort that held rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill to 17-of-33 passing for 150 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.

But Culliver, who played 70 percent of the snaps as the 49ers' third cornerback, had another outstanding game. He was targeted four times and did not allow a catch, according to Pro Football Focus. He had the defensive play of the game when he hung in the air long enough to deflect Tannehill's deep throw to Brian Hartline in the end zone. Culliver's 42.9 completion percentage allowed this season ranks as the best in the NFL, according to PFF.

Other observations from the 49ers' 27-13 victory over Miami:

--Outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who has quickly risen to the short list of NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidates, had four quarterback hurries to go along with his two sacks.

--Neither of Aldon Smith's sacks was a direct result of any help from Justin Smith, who was busy causing all kinds of problems of his own for the Dolphins. Justin Smith was particularly impressive at the start of the second half when he batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage on second down and then destroyed guard Richie Incognito to pressure Tannehill into a third-down incomplete pass.

--Safety Dashon Goldson did not have a strong game, as he overran a couple of would-be tackles. He took a bad angle and allowed Tannehill to get past him for a 20-yard scramble in the fourth quarter. He also got flattened by center Mike Pouncey on a 9-yard gain by Reggie Bush. Goldson's best play was in coverage against Bush on a deep right along the left sideline.

--Linebacker NaVorro Bowman, fined $10,000 last week for unnecessary roughness, could be looking at another fine this week for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Tannehill in the fourth quarter. It drew a 15-yard penalty.

--The 49ers' only touchdown allowed came on a play in which tight end Anthony Fasano made a highlight-reel one-handed diving catch against the sideline in the end zone. It's difficult to fault the coverage of safety Donte Whitner on that one.

--On offense, the 49ers featured a lot of balanced offensive formations with Colin Kaepernick in the pistol along with three backs.

"We thought in this particular game, that it was a way for us to get a hat on a hat," Harbaugh said. "A way to balance off Miami's defense and what they had shown to do. Because it is a balanced formation, it allows you to go in any direction and throw the ball. It was a good, basic, base formation for us in this game."

The 49ers used it on the first play of the game to hit Delanie Walker on a 20-yard reception.

--Kaepernick had only two pass plays for 20 yards or more. The pass to Walker traveled 17 yards in the air, and a 25-yard gain to Michael Crabtree included 7 yards after the catch.

--The only pass Kaepernick has thrown the past two weeks at least 20 yards in the air, according to PFF, was the flea-flicker to Randy Moss. The ball was perfectly thrown, but Moss seemed to have very little chance of making the one-handed catch with cornerback R.J. Stanford grabbing Moss' right arm.

--Kaepernick was 18 of 23 for 185 yards. His five incompletions consisted of: 1) A bullet off Vernon Davis' hands at the left sideline against good coverage. The throw was high and wide and too hot for Davis to handle; 2) A high-and-outside throw toward the right pylon to Crabtree that, if accurate, likely would've been a 20-yard touchdown pass; 3) A wise throwaway at the end of the first half to allow David Akers time to kick a 37-yard field goal; 4) The deep throw to Moss, which could've been a 47-yard TD; and 5) A quasi-throwaway just before running out of bounds on a roll to his left late in the third quarter.

--Crabtree was targeted 10 times and caught nine passes. Fifty of his 93 receiving yards came after the catch.

--Left tackle Joe Staley graded out with a strong performance, according to PFF. He surrendered one sack but did not allow any other pressures. According to PFF's rating system, Staley has not had a negative grade in any game this season.

--Running back Frank Gore looked fresh and routinely made Dolphins defenders miss. His used an exceptional jump-cut to peel off a 19-yard gain late in the third quarter. Due in large part to Miami's focus on Gore, Kaepernick was able to keep the ball on a zone read play in the fourth quarter for a 50-yard, game-clinching touchdown.

--On the first play of the fourth quarter, Gore ran 19 yards on a draw play to the 1-yard line. Guard Alex Boone made a strong block on defensive tackle Paul Soliai and rookie receiver A.J. Jenkins had a block against safety Chris Clemons.

--On the next play, extra blocker Daniel Kilgore absolutely mauled defensive end Olivier Vernon and Miller took care of safety Reshad Jones on Anthony Dixon's 1-yard touchdown run.

Jaguars retain offensive coordinator, pass on Chip Kelly

Jaguars retain offensive coordinator, pass on Chip Kelly

It appears the Jaguars have passed on Chip Kelly for a second time this month.

After reportedly not getting their head coaching job, Kelly reportedly interviewed for their offensive coordinator position on Monday.

But two days later, Jacksonville announced that Nathaniel Hackett has been retained as offensive coordinator under head coach Doug Marrone.

Kelly told recently he would take his time to determine his next career move.

“I’m not going to close the door on any opportunity, but I have to be very smart in what I do next,” Kelly said two days after his firing. “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.”

The 49ers fired Kelly with three years, $18 million remaining in his contract. The 49ers hired Kelly just two weeks after the Philadelphia Eagles fired him. Kelly went 26-21 with the Eagles after leaving his successful program with the Oregon Ducks after the 2012 season.

Report: Shanahan announced as 49ers' coach to Falcons' staff

Report: Shanahan announced as 49ers' coach to Falcons' staff

The 49ers feel certain they have landed their head coach, according to sources.

And the Atlanta Falcons are reportedly convinced offensive Kyle Shanahan will be entering the head-coaching ranks with the 49ers next season, too.

Atlanta coach Dan Quinn made an announcement to coaches that Shanahan would be the 49ers’ next coach, Mike Silver of the NFL Network reported Wednesday, adding everyone in the room was “super supportive.”

On Wednesday, Quinn was asked at a press conference about Shanahan and the 49ers.

“I know it’s for sure out there, (but it’s) definitely not our story to tell,” Quinn said. “They (the 49ers) will for sure reach out to (general manager) Thomas (Dimitroff) and to the organization and there will be a window for them if they’d like to visit with him for next week. But that’s really where it’s at, and there’s nothing left to do until then."

The Falcons will face the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in the NFC Championship game. The 49ers will have a second interview with Shanahan after the game. Shanahan will also become involved in the process to hire the 49ers’ next general manager.

The 49ers are checking with the NFL to determine what is allowable under the league’s anti-tampering policy, according to a league source. If the Falcons win on Sunday, the 49ers would not be able to officially hire Shanahan until after the Super Bowl on Feb. 5.

According to sources, the 49ers have narrowed their initial search for the next general manager to four candidates: Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst of Green Bay, Minnesota’s George Paton and Terry McDonough of Arizona.

The general manager candidates are expected to meet with Shanahan, but it’s unclear whether Shanahan can interview the candidates if the Falcons advance to the Super Bowl and he is not officially the 49ers’ coach. The 49ers are expected to hold a second round of general manager interviews early next week and could fill the position by the end of next week.