49ers: The Game Inside the Game, The Recap to the Recap.

The San Francisco 49ers sustain a tough loss at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals 23-20. Morale builder? Is the team finally buying into Chip Kelly? Did the Cards overlook the 49ers? Have the 49ers turned the page? Or did the Cardinals play down to the 49ers’ record and the 49ers finally play inspired football in all facets of the game, including the coaches? Is Chip Kelly finally starting to realize how to utilize some of his talents?

 

 

The San Francisco 49ers’ defense, after being written off, riding a streak of giving up 100 yards to seven straight RBs and heading into Sunday’s match-up on the road against the Arizona Cardinals, seemed prime for another shellacking. It certainly did look that way early on as the Cardinals jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first half on two David Johnson touchdowns who, as we highlighted in our pre-game analysis, was primed for another big game against the 32nd ranked defense against the run coming into Sunday’s contest. However, after giving up some plays early in the running game, the 49ers’ run defense held up for the most part only allowing 80 yards on 23 carries, their lowest output since Week One against the L.A. Rams, and holding Johnson to 55 yards on 19 carries, only turning in 2.9 yards a carry. Via ESPN.com.

The 49ers’ front seven seemed to pick up steam in the second half pretty much snuffing out every attempt the Cards made to try to the run the ball. Glenn Dorsey, Deforest Buckner, and Quinton Dial did a nice job plugging up running lanes and forcing the Arizona Cardinals to rely on Carson Palmer to move them down the field in the second half. Also, as seen below in the video recap, who can forget the hot pursuit strip sack and force fumble play on Palmer as second-year player Eli Harold flashed some play making ability?

 

Still, being the veteran that he is, Palmer did not shy away from the challenge, finishing the day with 376 yards passing and a TD. As we pointed out on Niners Live in the pre-game analysis on match-ups to watch, the 49ers’ secondary would need to rely on fundamentally sound technique and the use of physicality, something that had been lacking. The young 49ers were outclassed early in the game; Palmer was able to effectively use his plethora of weapons, targeting six different receivers for receptions in the game and keeping this 49ers’ secondary off-balance. Larry Fitzgerald continued to give the 49ers fits accounting for 12 receptions for 133 yards and a huge catch in the second half to give the Cardinals a first down on a time-consuming drive. Michael Floyd’s late catch ended up being the 49ers’ undoing which set up the winning field goal, one of a few great plays he made on his way to finishing with 101 yards on five receptions.

In the end, after some decent play from their young secondary who settled down in the second half, Jimmie Ward who had seven tackles, four passes defended, and earned some kudos from veteran Larry Fitzgerald who signed his jersey for Jimmie Ward, writing that he admired his “toughness and grit.” Gerald Hodges had six tackles and a timely interception that set up the tying score, not to mention safety Eric Reid who had four tackles, two passes defended, and an interception. The 49ers learned a valuable lesson on how you must play defense in this league on every Sunday.

Important to note: The San Francisco 49ers only managed 10 pts of 4 Arizona turnovers forced by the defense. Safety Antoine Bethea led the team in tackles with nine and had a critical fourth down missile launch tackle for a key stop on fourth down. Ahmad Brooks played relentlessly for most of the night and was in the backfield often; in fact, he led all players on defense behind the line of scrimmage with 1.5 tackles for losses. 

 So what about the Offense?

Well, for starters, let’s begin with San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who one could suggest the more he continues to get reps in this offense, the more comfortable he looks. In a post-game interview via the team’s website, Kaepernick pointed out that he is “growing with more reps.” After a decent showing last week against the Saints, Kaepernick lead the 49ers’ offense to a couple scoring drives to put the team within striking distance, knotting the game at 20 in the fourth quarter with a short TD run on a great play call with just under 2 mins left from Coach Kelly. Kaepernick also added another touchdown in the air to go along with 210 passing yards and 55 rushing yards. Kaepernick seemed to be in control of the offense, not letting the crowd noise get to him. Kaepernick also found the “Forgotten Man” wide receiver Jeremy Kerley  getting open consistently to the tune of seven receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown. Also, for the second straight week, Vance Mcdonald had a nice game with four catches for 50 yards and Quinton Patton had some nice runs after the catch with three receptions for 52 yards on nine targets.

Unfortunately, the San Francisco 49ers had to learn yet another important lesson in Sunday’s loss: “Never forget your running game.” Although it would seem Arizona made that a priority to stop, which was evident in their run blitzing and familiarity with Kelly’s scheme dating back the last couple years having played against Kelly in Philly and having success against him. With a chance to either send the game into overtime or maybe even try to win the game with a 2-point conversion? When you’re 1-7, play to win, maybe? What do you have to lose? The 49ers were in a great position to try and get their first win, but when you leave a little less than 2 mins for an offense like the Arizona Cardinals, it is going to be tough sledding. Having the ability to lean on a strong running attack at the end of the game and being able to impose your will to break your opponent’s spirit are what wins close games in the NFL.

Were the running backs being utilized correctly? Does Chip Kelly need to adjust his running scheme to cater to his running backs’ skill sets? How about changing formations to keep defenses from keying on 49er running backs, in particular, Hyde, as noted previously on Niners Live?

Well, a clearly still-not-100% running back Carlos Hyde received 13 carries and Dujuan Harris only got five, but as mentioned earlier, the Cards came into the game wanting to take away the run and force Kaepernick to become a passer from inside or outside the pocket. Why wouldn’t they have that mindset and game plan? It’s worked previously as we’ve noted on Niners Live in the pre-game analysis.

Allow me to leave you with this:

Recently on Niners Live, we’ve asked several questions about the utilizations of different players in this offense and the success or lack thereof. Hopefully, this game can serve as a clear platform. If coached properly and players are put into position efficiently from a schematic standpoint, there is some potential on this roster. There is just maybe a small glimmer of hope that the 49ers can build on moving forward, especially for this Sunday’s showdown at home against the New England Patriots.

Bonus Niners Live notes:  Arizona, 74 plays to 61 for the 49ers. Time of possession, advantage Arizona 32:18 to 27:42; 49ers also penalized nine times for 100 yards. Tramine Brock had a mixed bag of reviews, but he fought hard and competed for all game long ending with six tackles and one pass defended. Along with Keith Reaser, accounting for three tackles and two passes defended. 

All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus,49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author Irvin Johnson Staff Writer at Niners Live. Co-Author/Editor Niners Live.