San Francisco 49ers

Hand off the WR! Manning, Broncos should help 49ers adjust to stricter rules

Like any tweak to the NFL rule book, the league’s scrutiny on defensive holding and illegal contact fouls this season is sure to draw mixed reactions from the 49ers.

On one hand, their rivals, the Seahawks, were penalized three times for illegal contact Friday night against San Diego, including a call in the third quarter that negated a 105-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Tharold Simon.

Forcing the Seahawks to tone down their famously physical style of pass defense would be a welcome change for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who publicly complained – “Is it within the rules?” he asked – about it following a narrow win in the 2012 season.

Of course, the 49ers have to abide by the same rules. And defensive coordinator Vic Fangio wasn’t happy with an illegal contact call against backup safety Ray Ventrone in his team’s preseason opener.

Ravens tight end Nathan Overbay seemed to initiate contact with Ventrone. But Ventrone was called for a penalty, which wiped out a third-down sack by Corey Lemonier.

“They called us for an illegal contact penalty, which in no way, shape or form was an illegal contact penalty,” Fangio said. “And the league’s already confirmed that it wasn’t. You hate to think that these (officials) have been drilled into their head that they’re seeing ghosts out there now, too. We were called for a penalty where a guy did nothing wrong.”

Fangio’s unit is likely to get plenty of chances to adjust to learn the boundaries today when Peyton Manning and the Broncos help break in Levi’s Stadium at 1 p.m.

Last year, no team threw the ball more than Denver, and coach John Fox has said Manning and the first-string offense could play the entire first quarter. His counterpart, Colin Kaepernick, figures to play one or two series.

“He’ll put the ball in the air,” said safety Antoine Bethea, who spent six seasons in Indianapolis with Manning. “It’ll be a good test for everyone.”

Through Friday’s preseason games, officials have called 68 penalties for defensive holding, 42 for illegal contact and 26 for defensive pass interference.

Ventrone called it “a gray area” for defensive backs, and he said the next few preseason games will be a feeling-out process for players to see just how much contact will be permitted. He saidofficials might be overemphasizing the rules now to set the tone for the regular season.

“To not touch the receiver at all?” Ventrone asked. “That’s really hard to do. It’s football. They’re probably being more aggressive with the call now to scare guys or at least make you aware that they are going to call it if it goes too far.”

The team that promises to be most affected by a strict interpretation of the rules is the one that knocked the 49ers out of the playoffs last season and throttled Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl. And though the Seahawks blew away the Chargers on Friday, there was concern afterward their style is under attack.

“It doesn’t seem quite right,” coach Pete Carroll said of the penalties. “It seems like there are too many calls being made and too many incidental calls that seem to be affecting the game. So we’ll see.”

Seattle safety Earl Thomas was more blunt.

“It’s the ‘Legion of Boom rule,’ ” he said during a television interview. “Everyone knows that.”

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