49ers’ defense will have their hands full against Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City’s offense in Super Bowl LIV

ap file photo: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes drops back to pass in the first half of their game against the Chicago Bears on Aug 25th in pre season play. Little did Mahomes know at the time he and the Chiefs would wind up in Super Bowl LIV 

By Joe Hawkes
SRS Contributor

SANTA CLARA–The San Francisco 49ers made winning the NFC Championship over the Green Bay Packers, 37-20, to advance to Super Bowl LIV on Sunday night look like a walk in the park. It will be San Francisco’s first trip to the Super Bowl since 2013, where they lost to the Baltimore Ravens 34-31.

For the franchise to claim its sixth Vince Lombardi trophy in seven trips to the Super Bowl, the 49ers are going to have to take down Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, who are returning to the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years after defeating the Tennessee Titans, 35-24, to capture the Lamar Hunt trophy, named after the Chiefs’ late owner as the winner of the AFC.

The Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, in Super Bowl IV.

The play of San Francisco’s defense will be critical when the football is kicked off at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami on Feb. 2. If San Francisco’s defense plays anywhere near it did against both the Vikings and Packers respectively, than the 49ers will be in primed position to win the game.

In two playoff games, the 49ers stood head and shoulders above the rest on defense, finishing first in points (15.0), total yards (252.2), rushing yards (41.5), takeaways (5), and third down percentage (23.8).

But neither Minnesota or Green Bay can match Kansas City’s offense, which can go nuclear within a blink of an eye with the aforementioned Mahomes as the trigger man. The third-year quarterback has a stacked offense, a track team of wide receivers in Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman, and an electrifying tight end in Travis Kelce at his disposal.

In the AFC Championship Game, Kansas City found itself down 10-0 and 17-7, but Mahomes and that high-powered Chiefs offense didn’t flinch, building a 35-17 lead over the Titans thanks in large part of controlling the clock with a strong ground game. Mahomes, who finished the game throwing for 294 yards and three touchdowns, his final touchdown came on a 60-yard strike to Watkins for the Chiefs’ 28th straight point midway through the fourth quarter.

That’s the type of offensive explosion that the 49ers must avoid if they have any shot at winning this football game. That means the 49ers, who may arguably have the NFL’s best defensive line, featuring Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead must make life difficult for Mahomes every time Kansas City has the football.

The 49ers have the league’s best pass defense and ranked fifth with 48 sacks during the regular season. They have nine more this postseason, largely by taking opponents off schedule and setting up favorable pass-rush situations.

That’s huge against a quarterback that has the penchant of eluding would-be tacklers like Mahomes. Especially in a game with so much on the line like the Super Bowl.

 

Oakland Raiders host Los Angeles Rams at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Preseason Encounter

Oakland Raiders quarterback EJ Manuel (3) during an NFL preseason football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer

OAKLAND — The Raiders will play their first home game of the preseason schedule when they host the Los Angeles Rams Saturday night at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum.

Kickoff is at 7:00 p.m. PT.

This will mark the first game between the Raiders and the Rams in the preseason since 2015 (an 18-3 home win for the Silver and Black). Oakland and Los Angeles last played in the regular season in 2014, when the Rams rolled over the Raiders 52-0 in St. Louis where the Rams called home from 1995-2015 after relocating from Los Angeles originally.

Oakland dropped their preseason opener 20-10 to the Arizona Cardinals last Saturday night in Glendale.

The Raiders held out most of their top players most notably quarterback Derek Carr, running back Marshawn Lynch, wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper, offensive lineman Gabe Jackson, Rodney Hudson, and Kelechi Osemele.

With left tackle Donald Penn still holding out due to a contract dispute, the Raiders were cautious about playing Carr in the preseason opener. Carr is the franchise signal-caller the organization rewarded with a five-year, $125 million extension following his second-straight 3,900-passing yards and 25 touchdown-passing season in the offseason.

But with the second preseason game on the horizon and the Raiders returning to their Alameda headquarters Thursday following their annual training camp in Napa for the remainder of the season, you’d expect Carr and the first-team offense to be on the field Saturday night for at least the first quarter in front of Raider Nation.

Training camp reps are great, but Carr and the first-team offense need to be on the same page and live-action in an NFL game (even if it’s preseason), is the only way teams get better especially a team that have been picked by most Las Vegas odds-makers as the AFC’s representative in Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018.

Once Carr gets his work in for the evening, the battle for Carr’s backup will continue between five-year veteran quarterback EJ Manuel and second-year signal-caller Connor Cook.

Manuel got the starting nod against Arizona and played admirable in the first half, completing 10-of-12 passes for 107 yards and a quarterback rating of 103.8. The former Buffalo starter was signed in the offseason to be Carr’s backup, but Cook was drafted in the fourth round by the Raiders in 2016 and the organization believes he could be just as good as Carr someday.

Cook took over for Manuel and played the entire second half and was just 10-of-21 for 82 yards, but did lead the Raiders to their lone touchdown of the evening, a one-yard rushing score by second-year reserve running back John Crockett in the third quarter that finished off a five-play, 63-yard drive.

Remember, Cook did make NFL history last season becoming the first rookie quarterback to make his pro debut in a playoff game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, albeit after the Raiders lost Carr to a broken leg for the remainder of the season after an 12-3 start on Christmas Eve.

Losing Carr was the ultimate lump of coal in the stockings of Raider Nation.

Defensively, defensive end Khalil Mack and linebacker Bruce Irvin sat out Saturday’s contest in the desert. Both Mack and Irvin should see the field and get a chance to play with some of Silver and Black’s younger talent in second-year linebacker Cory James and rookie middle linebacker Marquel Lee.

James led all defensive players with seven tackles (seven solo) and looked more comfortable defending the run, while Lee finished with six tackles (five solo) and a fumble recovery in his first NFL preseason game.

Lee did struggle at times covering the running back out of the backfield and tight ends on option- and curl-routes, and needs to improve his coverage skills as the Raiders face dynamic tight ends almost on a weekly basis with Kansas City and San Diego coming to mind with elite guys named Travis Kelce and Antonio Gates, respectively.

Rookie defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes may have wrapped up a starting job, but fellow rookie defensive tackle Treyvon Hester racked up two of Oakland’s four sacks in Arizona with rookie linebacker LaTroy Lewis registering the other two sacks to go along with four tackles (four solo).

Add in holdovers Justin “Jelly” Ellis and defensive end Mario Edwards, Oakland’s defensive front could be intriguing to watch in 2017 after lacking any serious punch in 2016 with a league-low 25 sacks, 18 by the aforementioned Mack (team-leading 11.0 sacks) and Irvin (second with 7.0 sacks).

The Rams enter Oakland 1-0 in the preseason following a 13-10 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Los Angeles last Saturday.

Former California starting quarterback Jared Goff, the Rams No. 1 overall pick in 2016, started the game and finished 3-of-4 for 34 yards during his only drive. The Rams are entering the 2017 season hoping that they can rebound from a disastrous 4-12 season a year ago that resulted in a head coaching change, out goes longtime head coach Jeff Fisher and enters first-timer Sean McVay.

McVay spent the last seven seasons in Washington as an offensive assistant, but the last three as the offensive coordinator where he’s aided in the growth of Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins has posted back-to-back 4,000-yard passing seasons in the Nation’s Capital and is line for a major contract next offseason after making  nearly $44 million (fully guaranteed) on one-year franchise tenders the past two seasons (which includes this season at $23.9 million after walking away with $19.9 in 2016).

The Rams are banking on the 31-year-old McVay (the youngest head coach in NFL history) to develop Goff into a franchise quarterback. Goff started the team’s final seven games of the season last year and completed 112-of-205 passes for 1,089 yards and a  five-to-seven touchdown:interception ratio during that stretch.

Los Angeles did add weapons for Goff to help expedite the second-year pro by bringing in former Buffalo Bills wide receivers Robert Woods (signed by the organization to a five-year, $34 million ($15 million guaranteed) contract in free agency), a USC Trojan; and former top-pick Sammy Watkins in a blockbuster trade last Friday.

Watkins is also looking to have a bounce back season in 2017 that is reminiscent of his second year in 2015; where he exploded on to the NFL landscape with 60 catches for a career-high 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games after a down year in Buffalo in 2016; where he posted career-lows in catches (28), yards (430) and touchdowns (2) while dealing with a nagging foot injury that limited the former standout from Clemson to just eight games.

When healthy, Watkins can take the top off a defense as his career average of 16.1 yards per catch can attest, which should open things up for wide receiver Tavon Austin.

Austin, who is paid like the Rams’ No. 1 wide receiver at $42 million ($28.5 million guaranteed), doesn’t play like a No. 1. With the additions of the Woods and Watkins on the outside, the 5-foot-9, 174-pound Austin can now flourish in the slot and be utilized in the similar fashion that the 5-foot-10, 178-pound DeSean Jackson (now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) was utilized by McVay in Washington.

The Rams also added skill players via the NFL draft, utilizing three of their first four picks on tight end Gerald Everett, and wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds that will give Goff or third-year backup quarterback Sean Mannion (18-for-25 for 144 yards against Dallas) more options to look to in the passing game.

Kupp had fumble recovery on the Rams’ first drive of the game for a touchdown and could be a fixture in the Rams’ offense by Week 5 as coaches have salivated over his route-running ability. The former wide receiver from Eastern Washington is arguably the greatest weapon in Football Championship Subdivision history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, setting all-time records in total receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464), and receiving touchdowns (73).

Kupp finished his senior season as the best wide receiver in FCS in 2016, hauling in a conference-leading 117 receptions, for 1,700 yards receiving and 17 receiving touchdowns.

Third-year running back Todd Gurley is still the bell-cow for the Rams.

As a rookie in 2015, Gurley carried the ball 229 times for career-highs in rushing yards (1,106) and rushing touchdowns (10) in 13 games, but dipped a bit in his second year out of Georgia. Although Gurley played all 16 games in 2016 and finished with a career-high 278 carries, Gurley had only 885 yards rushing and six touchdowns to go along with a career-high 327 receiving yards.

Defensively for Los Angeles, veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips brings 39 years of coaching experience to Southern California and help McVay’s transition as a first-time head coach almost seamless. Phillips was the defensive coordinator from 2015-16 where he help guide Denver to their third Super Bowl championship in franchise history in 2015.

In 2016, Phillips’ defensive unit finished tops in the league in pass defense and yards per play.

Fourth-year defensive tackle Aaron Donald highlights the Rams’ defense. Donald was selected to his third-consecutive Pro Bowl in 2016 after recording eight sacks and 62 tackles while playing in all 16 games.

The glue to the Rams’ defense, Donald is currently holding out for a new contract that will make him one of the highest-paid defensive tackles in football. Recent reports have Donald threatening to extend his holdout into the season, which would cripple the Rams.

After Saturday’s game, the Raiders will travel to Dallas for their third preseason game against the Cowboys; and the Rams will return home to take on the Chargers in the “Battle of Los Angeles” or what my mentor likes to call the game, the “Carson Chargers” vs the “Inglewood Rams” at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Both games will be on Saturday Aug. 26th at 7:00 p.m. PT.

 

 

 

Raiders to host Bills in home finale

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon

OAKLAND — Raider Nation will get to see their team at home for the last time this season when the Silver & Black host the very tough Buffalo Bills Sunday at O.co Coliseum at 1:25pm PDT. Oakland looks to rebound from a 31-13 defeat to the Chiefs in Kansas City in Week 15.

Oakland battled Kansas City tough, trailing the Chiefs 10-6 early in the third quarter but the roof caved in on Oakland as Kansas scored three unanswered touchdowns.

Chiefs’ running back Knile Davis ran in a score from 3-yards out, then after a fumble by Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, quarterback Alex Smith found tight end Travis Kelce for a 20-yard touchdown. Then Smith hooked up with Davis on a quick go-route for a 70-yard touchdown that ended Oakland’s day.

“You just can’t blame one area,” Carr said after Oakland’s (2-12) 10th straight road loss. Oakland fell to 0-2 in Missouri this season, who were dusted 52-0 in St. Louis in Week 13 by the Rams.

Carr finished the day 27-of-56 for 222 yards passing, and one touchdown late in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand. Oakland’s signal caller was sacked four times.

Buffalo (8-6) kept their AFC playoff hopes alive with a gut-wrenching 21-13 home victory over the Green Bay Packers, thanks in large part to the Bills’ fifth-ranked defense.

Bacarri Rambo came off the bench to replace backup safety Duke Williams and made life miserable for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, intercepting Rodgers twice on back to back drives, while defensive end Mario Williams forced a Rodgers’ fumble into the end zone for a safety with 1:51 left in the game.

Buffalo’s defense held Rodgers in check, limiting the Packers quarterback to 17-of-42 passing for 185 yards and the two interceptions.

“It was a testament to what we do,” said defensive tackle Kyle Williams after Buffalo’s win. “We’ve played against great quarterbacks, so the only expectation that we had was to play well and win a football game.”

Players to Watch

Buffalo, WRs, Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods

The Bills’ top pick in 2014 (No. 4 overall), has had a tremendous season for Buffalo leading the team in catches (59), yards (850), and touchdowns (5). His 14.4 yards-per-catch ranks in the Top-10 among rookie wide receivers.

Woods has taken some of the pressure off Watkins with his 54 catches, 608 yards receiving, and three touchdowns. If Oakland decides to double team Watkins, Woods could hurt the Silver & Black’s secondary.

Oakland, RB, Latavius Murray

Murray finished with just 12 carries for 52 yards on Sunday in Kansas City, but did have a nice 25-yard run after getting the start over running back Darren McFadden. Oakland must establish the run to support Carr and it starts with Murray, who has recorded 49 carries for 301 yards and two touchdowns this season. His 6.1 yards-per-carry are tops on the team.