49ers-Bucs: Matchups to watch

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49ers-Bucs: Matchups to watch

In his first season as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting quarterback, Josh Freeman was outstanding.He led the Bucs to a 10-6 record, including a 21-0 thrashing of the 49ers in late-November. Now, Tampa Bay returns to Candlestick Park to face the 49ers in a matchup of 3-1 teams.49ers FS Dashon Goldson (38) vs. Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman (5)Tale of the tape
Goldson: 6-2, 200, Washington, 5th season
Freeman: 6-6, 248, Kansas State, 3rd seasonFreeman threw 25 touchdown passes and just six interceptions a year ago. His passer rating was 95.9. He quickly emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the league.
But while the Bucs have gotten off to another good start, Freeman has already committed some mistakes this season that he did not make a year ago.Freeman has already thrown four interceptions (to go along with just three touchdown passes) and three of those interceptions were in the end zone.So this is where Goldson comes in.Strong safety Donte Whitner is expected to return to the starting lineup this week after missing the better part of two games with a left hip contusion. That should free up Goldson to patrol the secondary to sit back in center field and read Freeman's eyes.Goldson has played two games since returning from a knee injury in the exhibition season. He had an outstanding game against the Philadelphia Eagles as a tackler. And he recorded the fumble recovery after Justin Smith's forced fumble of Jeremy Maclin that helped clinch the win."He's getting better each and every week," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said of Goldson. "He came into camp late, had about 10 days of work and then got hurt, and that always sets you back."Now he's played a couple games in a row and I expect him to keep improving, and hopefully he will. He had some good plays last week and we need to have good plays out of our safety"The guy who's nickname is "The Hawk," might have some opportunities to get his hands on the ball. The 49ers tied for first in the NFL with a takeawaygiveaway margin of plus-8, along with the Detroit Lions. Turnovers are likely, as always, to play a huge part in this game.
Other matchups worth watching
49ers right tackle Anthony Davis (76) vs. Bucs left defensive end Michael Bennett (71): Davis is coming off a rough game against the Eagles' Jason Babin, who picked up three sacks all off the right side of the 49ers' offensive line. Bennett has two sacks on the season, and Davis must have a strong game in pass protection to show he can bounce back. Davis has typically played much better at Candlestick Park than on the road. Davis will also be asked to control Bennett, as the 49ers look to unleash Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter in the run game.
49ers nose tackle Ricky Jean Francois (95) vs. Bucs center Jeff Faine (52): Jean Francois takes over for Isaac Sopoaga, who will miss Sunday's game with a staph infection. He makes his first career start against a nine-year pro who has more than 100 career starts. Jean Francois' main duty will be to hold the point of attack against Faine. If he can keep Faine from getting to the second level to block inside linebackers Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, then the 49ers' defense should be able to keep running back LeGarrette Blount in check. In passing situations, Jean Francois will exit when the nickel defense takes to the field.

Colts fire GM Ryan Grigson after five seasons

Colts fire GM Ryan Grigson after five seasons

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ryan Grigson spent tens of millions in free agency, trying to turn the Indianapolis Colts into a Super Bowl contender.

When most of those big investments went belly up, the first-time general manager paid the price.

On Saturday, Colts owner Jim Irsay fired Grigson after five up-and-down years that ended with Indy missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.

"It was a tough decision, well thought out and in the end the right decision for the Colts," Irsay said.

Initially, Grigson looked like a genius.

He hit it big on his first four draft picks - quarterback Andrew Luck, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and receiver T.Y. Hilton - and used a series of shrewd, cost-effective moves to deliver one of the greatest turnarounds in league history.

But when Grigson's costly misfires like first-round bust Bjoern Werner in 2013, trading a first-round pick for Trent Richardson in 2014 or loading up on a group of aging, high-priced free agents to make a Super Bowl run in 2015 and an anxious fan base, Irsay had no choice.

The timing, almost three weeks after the season ended, was strange - and comes after many thought the delay meant Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano were both safe.

Each agreed to contracts last January that was supposed to keep them together through the 2019 season.

Thirteen months later, Grigson is gone and Pagano's fate may rest in the hands of a new GM.

Grigson, by trade, was a gambler who refused to play it safe.

"I think the guys that sit on their hands, they've got to live with themselves and look in the mirror and realize they didn't take any chances," he once said. "They've got to look at themselves and say, 'Did I even deserve this opportunity?' If you just sit on your hands and say, 'I'm going to play it safe all the time,' you might be middle of the pack. But if you don't take a swing, you're never going to hit it out of the park."

Irsay appreciated Grigson's unconventional style and penchant for taking chances.

What he didn't like was the underwhelming payout.

In five seasons, Grigson made 15 trades for players and only one, Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis, played in Indy's season finale. Grigson also drafted 38 players - 18 of whom finished the season with the Colts. Eleven were out of the NFL.

Then there was free agency, where Grigson signed dozens of expensive players. Only 11 were still on Indy's roster when the season ended, 18 others were out of the NFL.

With an estimated $60 million to spend in free agency this year and a chance to get the Colts righted for the prime years of Luck's career, Irsay couldn't afford to roll the dice again with Grigson so he made the change.

The 44-year-old Purdue graduate's blunt personality didn't always mesh with coach Chuck Pagano. Irsay even acknowledged last summer that the two men needed to resolve their differences before he gave them the extensions.

Players didn't always get along with him, either.

"Thank God. 'Unwarranted Arrogance' just ran into a brick wall called karma," Pro Bowl punter Pat McAfee posted on Twitter after word first leaked.

Grigson also drew the wrath of Patriots' fans by tipping off NFL officials that Tom Brady was using improperly inflated footballs during the 2015 AFC championship game. The Deflategate controversy eventually led to a four-game suspension for Brady as well as a fine and the loss draft picks for the Patriots.

And despite Irsay's repeated pleas to better protect Luck, Grigson, a former offensive lineman, never quite figured it out.

Luck missed 10 games because of injuries over the past two seasons and was sacked 41 times last season. The first real glimmer of hope appeared in December when the Colts held Minnesota and Oakland without a sack in back-to back games - the only times all season they didn't allow a sack.

When Grigson arrived, the Colts were coming off a 2-14 season and were about to release Peyton Manning and several other aging veterans in a salary cap purge.

So Grigson cleaned house.

He fired Jim Caldwell, hired Pagano and revamped the roster with low-budget free agents to work with the cornerstone of the future, Luck.

It worked. The man once dubbed by a previous boss as a "great" expansion team general manager, turned the Colts into a surprising 11-5 playoff-bound team.

Indy finished 11-5 each of the next two seasons, too, and advanced one step deeper in the playoffs each season.

The steady progression turned the Colts into a trendy Super Bowl pick in 2015, a trek that was derailed by a litany of injuries that forced the Colts to use five different quarterbacks just to finish 8-8.

Waiting for Shanahan could be a good thing for 49ers

Waiting for Shanahan could be a good thing for 49ers

The 49ers were willing to be patient in securing their next head coach.

Depending on the outcome of the Atlanta Falcons’ game Sunday against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game, they could be required to wait another two weeks.

The other five organizations with vacancies after the regular season have filled their head-coach positions with four assistants from teams that did not qualify for the playoffs and former Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, whom the Denver Broncos hired after his team was bounced in the AFC wild-card round.

Early in the 49ers’ search to replace Chip Kelly, the top targets appeared to be Josh McDaniels and Kyle Shanahan, the offensive coordinators for two of the top-three scoring teams in the NFL.

The coach-general manager team of McDaniels and New England Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio was the runaway favorite to be the package deal, according to sources close to the 49ers’ coaching search.

But when Caserio chose to remain as Bill Belichick’s top personnel lieutenant – just has he has in the past when other opportunities presented themselves – the job became less attractive to McDaniels, according to those sources. McDaniels announced on Monday he would remain with the Patriots for at least another year.

With McDaniels out of the picture, Shanahan became the clear favorite over Seattle assistant Tom Cable. And once Cable publicly stepped aside due to suspicions he was only being used to secure a commitment from Shanahan, only one candidate remained for the job.

Since the middle of this week, Shanahan has been the presumptive coach of the 49ers. Falcons coach Dan Quinn was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator two years ago when he was officially hired just hours after the Super Bowl. He knows he drill. And this week he announced to the Falcons staff that Shanahan would be the next coach of the 49ers, according to the NFL Network.

Regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s game, the 49ers will be allowed to interview Shanahan next week – most likely, Tuesday in Atlanta. Shanahan will be involved in the process to hire the next general manager. Minnesota assistant general manager George Paton appears to be the favorite. The 49ers expect the general manager position to be filled early in the week.

If the Falcons lose, the 49ers would be able to hire Shanahan on their own time frame. It would not be expected to take long.

But if the Falcons win, the 49ers would have to wait until after Feb. 5, when the Super Bowl will be played in Houston, to hire Shanahan.

There is an advantage to being forced to wait. In the long term, the 49ers could benefit from their next head coach gaining the experience of a Super Bowl week and calling a game on the biggest stage in all of sports.