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, Calif. (AP) — 49ers this offseason was clear after the defense set records for futility with just seven takeaways and two interceptions last season.The team’s first two big moves of the new league year were made to address that deficiency with the additions of an edge rusher in Dee Ford, who has a propensity for strip sacks, and a speedy linebacker in Kwon Alexander, who has a knack for finding the ball.“That wasn’t fun to watch,” general manager John Lynch said Thursday. “It is something we have to live with. It’s a reality, and we needed to change that. These are the type of players that we believe can reverse that trend. Starting with Kwon. He’s always around the ball. There’s so many things to like, but that is definitely something that jumps. And then Dee, he has a knack for getting the ball out. Eight forced fumbles last year, and that first step is lethal. We think that can help our entire team get that virus going, where we’re taking away the ball on a regular basis.”The 49ers paid a big price for these additions, trading a 2020 second-round pick to Kansas City to acquire Ford and then giving him a five-year, $87.5 million contract, and signing Alexander to a four-year deal worth $54 million.Ford had a career-high 13 sacks last season and led the NFL with seven forced fumbles. He also led all edge rushers with 84 total quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus, making him exactly the kind of playmaker the 49ers lacked on defense this past season.“It’s really a mindset and muscle memory,” Ford said of forcing turnovers. “It’s not really an intricate skill to have. It’s just a mindset. Most guys get to the quarterback and just want to take him down. Just switch the mentality and knock the ball out. You have to work it. Everything happens so fast so it needs to be muscle memory to go for the ball.”The 49ers haven’t had an edge rusher reach double digits in sacks since Aldon Smith had 19 1/2 in 2012 and have the fifth-fewest overall sacks in the NFL the past six seasons. DeForest Buckner led the team with 12 sacks this past season, mostly from an interior spot.Alexander, coming off a torn ACL, has six career interceptions, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and seven sacks in 46 games.“Speed and violence affect the quarterback and make people do stupid things before they want to,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Both of these guys have a lot of speed, and they both play very violent.”With Ford slated to start at defensive end in the Leo position on San Francisco’s defense http://www.packerscheapshoponline.com/cheap-authentic-darnell-savage-jr.-jersey
, the strategy in the draft could be altered. The Niners have the second overall pick and could be in position to take Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, who is projected to play the same role.Now they could be in position to move down in the draft or look at a rush linebacker like Josh Allen.“We’re evaluating everyone,” Lynch said. “Having Dee just makes us a better football team, and the draft’s something separate. Yes, those two do interact at some point, but we’ll see. We’re going to go out there and look. At No. 2, you want to have a great football player. That’s what we’re looking for and we’ll see where it ends up.”The 49ers also signed cornerback Jason Verrett to a one-year deal, receiver Jordan Matthews to a one-year contract, linebacker David Mayo to a two-year contract, and agreed on a one-year deal to bring back safety Antone Exum. San Francisco also released linebacker Brock Coyle, who announced he will retire after suffering a back injury last season.Verrett is a 2014 first-round pick by the Chargers and made the Pro Bowl in 2015. But he has played only five games the past three seasons after suffering knee injuries in 2016 and ’17 and then tearing his Achilles tendon during a conditioning test on the first day of training camp last year.Verrett will compete with 2017 third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon and 2018 third-rounder Tarvarius Moore for the starting spot across from Richard Sherman.“It’s a smile now, cry later type of thing for me,” Verrett said of his run of injuries. “It was a lot of dark moments dealing with the injuries, but I came out of the tunnel and I’m ready to get things rolling.”Matthews is a cousin of former 49ers great Jerry Rice and has always wanted to play for the team. He was a second-round pick by Philadelphia in 2014 and has 270 catches for 3,255 yards and 22 TDs in five seasons with the Eagles and Buffalo.Matthews averaged 75 catches a year his first three seasons before being slowed by injuries in 2017 with the Bills and a lack of opportunities last season with the Eagles after returning to Philadelphia.Mayo was a special teams standout for Carolina who offers depth at inside linebacker for San Francisco.Exum spent the past two seasons with the 49ers and started seven games at safety in 2018.
In the topsy-turvy NFC playoffs, only the Falcons return from last year, and they sneaked in as the sixth and final team. They narrowly avoided the same fate as the Cowboys, Seahawks, Packers, Giants and Lions – all sitting this one out.
The top five seeds are newcomers, led by the Eagles. They are going with a backup quarterback and are making their first trip to the postseason party since 2013. The Vikings are back after a year away, hoping to become the first team to ever play a Super Bowl in its home stadium .
The five new teams went a combined 32-48 in 2016 but 59-21 this season, providing hope to all those franchises and fans who are already preparing for free agency and the draft.
The field features just two Super Bowl winners http://www.ravensauthorizedshops.com/authentic-justice-hill-jersey
, the Rams at the turn of the century when they were based in St. Louis, and the Saints in 2010, when they upset the Colts and Peyton Manning.
The Rams, in the playoffs for the first time since 2004, host the Falcons on Saturday in the showcase of wild-card weekend. The Saints, who ended a four-year playoff drought, host the Panthers on Sunday.
Strength and weakness of each team:
1. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (13-3). No Lombardis: lost Super Bowl 15 to Oakland in 1981 and Super Bowl 39 to New England in 2005.
Hope: The Eagles have the NFL’s third-ranked rushing offense with three productive backs: Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement. They’ll have to rely on them more to take pressure off QB Nick Foles and a passing attack that has struggled since second-year sensation Carson Wentz tore his left ACL in December, a major blow to the Eagles’ bounce-back season .
Nope: Foles isn’t Wentz, who was a leading MVP candidate when he got hurt. But the offense still has plenty of pop and talent, and Foles has the ability to get on a roll. He needs to develop more chemistry with receivers during the bye, be more consistent and avoid mistakes. Otherwise, the Eagles could fall into the trap that befell the Cowboys last year when Dallas became the first No. 1 seed not to reach the Super Bowl since 2013.
The Dope: ”We’ve got some good work the last couple of weeks with Nick, and we’ll go back and evaluate all of that. We have to get better in the run game. That helps any quarterback obviously, so we have to get better there. Then just taking a look at what his strengths are, strengths and weaknesses. Everything at this time of the year now becomes magnified even more going into the postseason.” – coach Doug Pederson.
2. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (13-3). No Lombardis: Lost Super Bowl 4 to Kansas City in 1970, Super Bowl 8 to Miami in 1974, Super Bowl 9 to Pittsburgh in 1975 and Super Bowl 11 to Oakland in 1977.
Hope: The defense , with all due respect to QB Case Keenum and the job he’s done. The Vikings ranked second in the league in both fewest rushing yards and fewest passing yards allowed, so there’s not really a one preferred way to attack them. No team gave up fewer points, either. With Pro Bowl picks at each of the three position groups yet a selfless attitude that’s kept individual players from chasing splashy plays or padding statistics at the expense of the scheme, coach Mike Zimmer’s unit will be a challenge for any opposing QB, especially in Minnesota at raucous U.S. Bank Stadium.
Nope: There aren’t many culprits Ben Powers Jersey
, but Kai Forbath will certainly be a person of interest. Vikings fans still wince thinking about stunningly missed field goals by Gary Anderson (1998) and Blair Walsh (2015) that cost their team seemingly certain postseason victories. Forbath has been better than his predecessor Walsh, but he has missed eight extra points in 23 games with the Vikings. He also missed five of 15 field goals over the last seven games of this season.
The Dope: ”Guys have to understand that you have an opportunity here to do some great things and you have to take advantage of that opportunity. If you don’t, you’ll probably regret it for the rest of your life.” – DE Brian Robison.
3. LOS ANGELES RAMS (11-5). Last Lombardi: Super Bowl 34, beat Tennessee 23-16 on Jan. 30, 2000, while based in St. Louis.
Hope: The NFL’s most surprising comeback story shows few signs of ending prematurely. L.A. has the talent and smarts on both sides of the ball, with the league’s highest-scoring offense led by QB Jared Goff and MVP hopeful RB Todd Gurley. The Wade Phillips-led defense remains a strength with DT Aaron Donald disrupting offenses weekly. Rookie coach Sean McVay has outsmarted his older foes with impressive regularity.
Nope: They can’t act like they’ve been here before, because they haven’t. Only six Rams have any playoff experience whatsoever, easily the fewest in the current field. McVay, Goff, Gurley and Donald have never been under the postseason spotlight, where every mistake is magnified. So the big question is whether they’ll continue to thrive under pressure or crater.
The Dope: ”There is a lot of value in experience. This is a very humbling business. … You try to learn from the experiences that you do have and not try to repeat the same mistakes twice. But I think, for a younger team, we’ve demonstrated a maturity throughout the course of the year.” – McVay, who was born 20 days after the Rams last hosted a playoff game in Southern California on Jan. 4, 1986.
4. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (11-5). Last Lombardi: Super Bowl 44, beat Indianapolis 31-17 on Feb. 7, 2010.
Hope: Although Brees passed for his fewest yards (4,334) since joining the Saints in 2006, he was as efficient as ever, setting a single-season record with his 72 percent completion ra