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49ers preview with San Francisco Chronicle's Eric Branch

By Jay Skurski

The Buffalo Bills’ next two opponents are teams we don’t get to see a lot of here on the East Coast, unless they’re on national TV.

To get a better idea of what to expect from the first of those teams on the two-game West Coast trip, the San Francisco 49ers, I spoke with 49ers beat writer Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.

We talked about the blueprint the Minnesota Vikings used a couple weeks ago to defeat the defending NFC West champions, how to defend quarterback Alex Smith and what old friend Donte Whitner has been up to in the San Francisco secondary.

Some highlights follow, with the complete audio below.

Q: Does this 49ers team have any weaknesses?

A: Ask the Vikings. Sure they have some weaknesses. I think teams that can get right after them in the trenches and don’t back down and our physical, which all NFL teams to varying degrees are physical, but the Vikings were able to run the ball fairly effectively. Obviously they have a pretty good running back in Adrian Peterson that gives them the ability to do that, but that’s one of the key things I think against the 49ers. They obviously have one of the best run defenses in the NFL, if not the best, but you can not get one-dimensional against them. You can’t suddenly give up trying to run the ball because you don’t have success early and go to the pass, because then they’ll pin their ears back with Aldon Smith and Justin Smith and everyone else.”

Q: What is the best way to defend Alex Smith?

A: “I think he’s gotten a lot better. He really looks comfortable in the offense this year, even as opposed to last year when he was pretty good. The ball’s coming out very quick. He makes quick decisions. He goes through his reads very quickly. That being said, he doesn’t throw a great deep ball. He’s pretty much relied on the short to intermediate passing game. So if you can, I guess make him test you deep. Through the first three games, he only threw four balls that traveled 20 yards down the field. He took a few more shots against the Jets without [cornerback Darrelle] Revis and had kind middling success. So I would say at this point, it’s not the Niners’ offensive game plan to throw 40 times a game. He’s not a guy that’s going to be some sort of gunslinger. He’s very patient, has a take-what-the-defense-gives-you approach.”

Q: How’s our old friend Donte Whitner doing there in the secondary?

A: “He’s been good. As you know, he sometimes has some problems in coverage, but they’ve done a pretty good job of not putting him in situations where he’s trying to cover an elite tight end. When Whitner first got here last year I can recall their second game against the Cowboys and in their game plan they had him covering Jason Witten and that was a complete mismatch. We haven’t seen a whole lot of that since. The 49ers’ coaches play to their players’ strengths, and not their weaknesses.”

San Francisco Chronicle's Eric Branch on the 49ers

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |