Niners Live provided you with the pre-game matchups to watch and a postgame analysis of the week four contest against their NFC West counterparts the Arizona Cardinals. We now take it a step further and go inside the game as only we do, to give you a thorough breakdown of the play of the secondary.
The San Francisco 49ers’ secondary gave another valiant effort against the Cardinals, however, in the end, gave up the winning touchdown in a hard fought 18-15 loss. Arizona Quarterback Carson Palmer, for the most part, had his way racking up 357 passing yards and completing three or more passes to six different receivers. For the first time in recent memory, the 49ers’ secondary did a decent job keeping Pro-bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in check, which is, until he made the biggest play of the game hauling in a 19-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left in overtime to give the Cardinals the victory. Despite the strong effort, there are no moral victories, and this unit must be held accountable for failing to make the big play when it counted the most!
Starting cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson accounted for a total of 14 tackles and six passes defended, playing aggressively in run coverage. However, they both had their fair share of lapses in coverage, and surrendered costly pass interference and defensive holding penalties at bad times. One of which, by Robinson, allowed the Cardinals to get deep into 49er territory which eventually led to a field goal. Wide receiver Jaron Brown also took advantage of the lack of experience in this secondary, torching them for eight receptions for 105 yards.
Interesting to note: Robinson has five penalties in the last two games.
Nickel back K’waun Williams, who just this week was rewarded with a contract extension, accounted for eight tackles and did a decent job in coverage on Fitzgerald for the majority of the game. However, most notably on the last play of the game where instead of staying glued to his man, he allowed Fitzgerald to get a clean release off the line of scrimmage and the rest as we know was history.
It seemed to be a questionable coverage call by defensive coordinator Robert Saleh potentially calling for Williams to pass his man off to Jimmie Ward and Rashard Robinson who were not in a great position to make a play.
Williams showed poor awareness, and after providing good initial coverage left the door wide open for quarterback Carson Palmer to throw a high inside ball putting his help at a disadvantage. Robinson said in an interview (via NBC Sports Bay Area), “We had three men on one and I had a lot of ground to cover, good throw, good catch.”
Did Robinson indirectly lay blame towards DC Robert Saleh and Williams as aforementioned? Robinson was already engaged in coverage on the far right side and he left his man to help Ward after Williams allowed as aforementioned a free release by Larry “Legend.”
Are your eyes wide open?
Important to note: Fitzgerald has destroyed the 49ers for 17 touchdowns in his career, that’s more than any other active player against one team in the NFL.
Asa Jackson also saw action over third-round pick rookie Ahkello Witherspoon, who was inactive for the fourth straight week, which could be cause for concern for the rookie. But we’ll save that for a different conversation.
Box Safety and Free Safety “Eraser”:
Starting Free safety Jimmie Ward had an up and down performance in his third game since returning from injury. While he accounted for four tackles and did a decent job of not allowing many long completions, he was partly responsible for the miss-communication that happened on the game-winning touchdown pass. To make matters worse, he was called for pass interference two plays prior on third down and long inside the red zone which kept the Cardinals drive alive and pretty much set them up for the opportunity to punch it in for the win.
Box Safety Jacquiski Tartt who came into the game with 19 tackles on the season continues to be a force to be reckoned with amassing seven tackles, including one for a loss, and seems to be really coming into his own filling in for the injured Eric Reid. Tartt still needs to show better skills in coverage, and providing better help over the top for his defensive backs.
Rookie Lorenzo Jerome also saw limited action and accounted for two tackles.
Area of opportunity: The 49ers’ secondary will also need to improve on identifying receivers out of the backfield, as Cardinals Running Back Andre Ellington was also a big factor in the passing game accounting for nine receptions for 86 yards, making timely catches and first down conversions.
Expectations heading into week five against the Indianapolis Colts
Although the 49ers’ defensive game plan looked to be effective with its bend but don’t break philosophy, the inexperience of DC Robert Saleh and secondary coach Jeff Hafley looked to be exposed in crucial times of the games. Both must do a better job going forward of putting players in a position to make plays, especially when the front seven is doing their part to bring pressure on the quarterback and make life easier on the defensive backs.
This week will be featuring an intriguing match-up against a Colts offense that will most likely again be without its unquestioned leader, Quarterback Andrew Luck, and leave the 49ers defense to figure out how to defend against the little-known Jacoby Brissett. Thus far, Brissett has shown he is capable of making plays not only with his arm, but also by being creative and improvising with his mobility. The Colts also feature Pro bowl Wide receiver T.Y Hilton and speedster Donte Moncrief, who can be a handful from the slot position. Nickel corner Williams will need to mind his P’s and Q’s as the 49ers’ secondary looks to bounce back strong against this young and inexperienced Colts’ offense unit. This could very well be a great opportunity for this unit to make some big plays and give this 49ers team some promise going forward for the remainder of this season.
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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, Content Creator, Editor Sequoia Sims.