49ers Improve to 4-0

The 49ers didn’t overlook the Cardinals, after their surprising and convincing victory over the Cowboys last week.  The Cardinals are not tanking.  They are committed to playing the best they can and let the cards fall where they may.  It is the best way to build a football team.  It mirrors what Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have done over the last seven years.

News broke last week that both Shanahan and Lynch signed extensions.  It wouldn’t be due to lose to the spunky Cardinals.  This afternoon, Christian McCaffrey led the skill position group with 176 total yards and four touchdowns on 26 touches.  Brandon Aiyuk caught all six of his targets for 148 yards.  Finally, Brock Purdy completed 20 of his 21 passes to eight different receivers for 283 yards and a touchdown.  The offense only punted once, scoring on five out of their six drives.

The 49ers started the game off with a characteristic touchdown scoring drive, after their defense forced the Cardinals to punt.  In fact, the Niners scored touchdowns on all three of their offensive possessions in the first half.  Meanwhile, the defense started to falter once the Cardinals figured out that Michael Wilson was getting open consistently.  Over the course of the game, Wilson carved up the Niners defense on seven catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns.  Wilson only played 14 college games at Stanford, so he is a bit of on unknown factor.  Joshua Dobbs used his astrophysics mega mind to read the field and find his open receiver.  In fact, Dobbs was fairly efficient connecting on 28 of his 41 throws for 265 yards and two touchdowns.  He could have had another touchdown at the end of the game, but Zach Ertz dropped the ball.

The Niners fed the Cardinals defense a heavy dose of McCaffrey today.  Though the offense seemed run heavy, the offense was still multiple.  The run set up the pass.  In fact, some run plays set up other run plays.  Coach Shanahan does a great job of calling the offense in such a way that the defense is on their heels guessing what is coming next.  The plays organically fit with each other making for a fluid, explosive offense that rarely punts.  Thankfully the 49ers play as a team, and no one is demanding the ball be in their hands.  This allows Brock Purdy to surgically deliver the ball to the open receiver.

The 49ers fell flat on their face at the beginning of the second half.  Typically, the opening sequence of the third quarter is a critical point in the game.  Unfortunately, the Cardinals found a way to get after Brock Purdy.  Their first 2nd half possession broke down when Deebo Samuel was tackled for a loss.  Then on third down Brock Purdy was sacked for a 12-yard loss on a play with long developing routes.  Arizona picked up where they left off and drove 99 yards for a touchdown.  The 49ers lost the third quarter.  They were outcoached and out played.

You figure out what kind of person you are when you take a few punches in the face and your nose is bloodied.  Do you wilt and fall, or do you rise to the occasion?  The 49ers rose up and won the fourth quarter, shutting out the Cardinals and scoring two touchdowns.

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (11) catches a pass against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)

Late in the third quarter, Coach Shanahan dialed up a play action with Brandon Aiyuk running a deep over route.  Purdy completed the 34-yard pass, injecting enthusiasm into the whole team.  The 49ers went back to grinding the Cardinal’s defense into the dust with the run game and the swing pass game.

Coach Shanahan does a great job of setting things up schematically for Brock Purdy and the offense to execute.  Everyone once in a while the play breaks down.  Purdy has to improvise.  Today he did a bit of everything.  He threw the check down, the swing pass, the short post, the long post, the over route and the back shoulder pass.  At one pint in the game, during their second drive, it appeared that Purdy put the ball in jeopardy by throwing at Aiyuk with two defenders in the area.  A close view of that play shows that Purdy put the ball out in front of Aiyuk where only Aiyuk could catch it.  Some may say it was a bad read.  I think it was Purdy believing Aiyuk had a step, and he launched the ball where only he knew his receiver would come down with it.  As it turned out, it was a 42-yard pass to keep the drive going.

Purdy isn’t the only player on offense who improvises.  Later in the game, Purdy took the snap, read the field and was forced to check the ball down.  McCaffrey saw that his Quarterback was in trouble and found a whole in the zone, showed his numbers to his quarterback allowing Purdy to make an easy completion.  This is a team sport, and everyone must work together to make it happen.

Defensively the 49ers put consistent pressure on Dobbs.  Javon Hargrave collected his third sack of the year and Drake Jackson forced another tipped ball.  Still, Dobbs is mobile and had no problem pulling the ball down and running with it.  A defense can have perfect coverage, but still allow the quarterback to get cheap running yards.  Coach Wilkes seemed to be ok with that formula.  It was frustrating to watch at times, but in the end, the Niners found a way to force three punts and win a fourth down at the end of the game.  Still, the defense has areas to improve in.  Thankfully they cleaned up the unnecessary roughness penalties this week.

Next week the Niners host the Dallas Cowboys.  It is the first time this year that two elite NFC teams will meet.  The game likely has playoff implications and could affect seeding and homefield advantage.  Brock Purdy will face his toughest test yet as he faces off against Micah Parsons and company next Sunday afternoon.





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