Well it wasn't pretty but in the first week of the season, on the road against a division foe a 'W' is a 'W' for the Arizona Cardinals. In a week when every other team in the NFC West went down, the Cardinals stood up and just kept throwing punches. Here's my quick take on the game before some more detailed analysis later in the day:
Ball Control - The Cardinals played an impressive game of 'keep away' in the second half and completely wore down the Niner defense. After a back and forth first half, the Cardinals stormed out of halftime and held the ball for almost the entire third quarter thanks to a perfectly executed pooch kickoff. The Cardinals held the ball for 10:57 in the third quarter and 11:41 in the fourth quarter. By the end of the game,
the Cardinals had run 45 plays in the second half while the Niners were only able to manage 15.
Pressure on the Quarterback: JT O'Sullivan was sacked four times and the defense kept the pressure on all game long, especially Travis LaBoy. LaBoy's looking like a free agent gem after racking up two sacks and the forced fumble that sealed the Niners' fate. Gerald Hayes and Bertrand Berry also registered sacks and Berry jarred the ball loose as well. The pressure often caused O'Sullivan to shuffle in the pocket and one of his mini-scrambles led to the Adrian Wilson interception.
Turnover Differential: The Cardinals ended with game +5 in the turnover battle as their four fumble recoveries and an interception. They obviously won't be as fortunate every game but it was encouraging to see Kurt Warner protect the ball, especially when he was being sacked. There were a couple of times where it looked pretty clear that he was content with taking a sack instead of trying to force the ball into a tight spot. The defense was opportunistic to say the least forcing five fumbles and recovering four.
Finishing Drives: If you're just looking at the boxscore, you'll probably wonder how a team can force five turnovers but only score 23 points. Well the Cardinals weren't very good at finishing drives yesterday. The Cardinals started three drives in Niners' territory during the first quarter and only came away with three points. They completely failed on two drives, one of which ended on a missed 35 yard field goal. On the second failed drive, a sack on third down pushed the Cardinals out of field goal range.
Defensive Dominance?: Normally a five turnover, 13 point game would be awful impressive and signify a dominant game by the defense but the Niners' offense was actually pretty efficient. JT O'Sullivan completed 70% of his passes for 9.8 yards per attempt in his first career start. Frank Gore almost broke 100 yards on just 14 carries and the running game as a whole averaged 5.4 yards per carry and didn't have a single rush for negative yards. One reason the Niners had problems putting points on the board is because they completely lost the battle of field position, starting three drives inside their own 10 and four other drives at or inside their own 20.
Missed Field Goal: I can't totally bury Neil Rackers because he was nothing short of amazing on kickoffs but his inability to be reliable from a short distances is maddening. Granted the three points didn't come back to haunt the Cardinals but there will be games when they'll need him to be automatic from inside of 40 yards.
That's what jumped out at me from yesterday. I'll be back later with a more detailed breakdown, but until then......Thoughts? Agree/Disagree? What else jumped at you?