Arizona Cardinals Lose to 49ers 20-16: Defensive Breakdown

For the second straight year the Arizona Cardinals opened the season with a solid performance against the San Francisco 49ers. In fact looking back at the 2008 opener, the similarities are almost scary. In both games the Niners managed just 13 first downs, their third down conversion rate was almost identical (38% vs. 37%) and in both games the Cardinals defenders managed four sacks. The big difference however was of course the score and the outcome of the game. The Cardinals defense had an up and down day but, unlike the offense, I think it's fair to say that we saw more promising things from the defense than negative.

  • Total Defensive Effort: 203 Net Yards. That is all that the Niners could muster on offense and that's counting a 50 yard touchdown pass and an 80 yard drive. The Niners averaged just 3.4 yards per offensive play and less than a yard per rush. In fact of their 25 rushing attempts, 13 of them gained one yard or less including six that resulted in negative yardage.
  • Frank Gore no More: One of the biggest keys to shutting down the Niners has always been stopping Gore and the Cardinals did exactly that. Forget the fact that he had two touchdowns for a second and consider this, before this past Sunday Gore had been held under 50 total yards from scrimmage just twice. During those two games combined he touched the ball 28 times for 73 yards. On Sunday, against the Cardinals, he touched the ball 25 times for just 48 yards. Linebackers Gerald Hayes (10 tackles, including four for loss) and Karlos Dansby (6 tackles including one for loss) were a big reason why Gore couldn't find running room.
  • Defensive Pressure: All offseason we wondered if the Cards would have the pass rush presence strike fear into opposing quarterbacks and through one game, I'd say their just fine. Of course they also notched four sacks in last year's opener against the Niners but for some reason this had a different feel. The Cardinals defensive line, namely Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, had great games and practically lived in the Niners backfield. Bertrand Berry proved that's he's not quite as washed up as your's truly thought he was and Chike Okeafor had a very impressive game. Okeafor is a key to this defense and if Sunday was any indication as to the type of season he'll have, it's a very good sign for the Cardinals.
  • Dominance for Three Quarters: Looking back at each of the Niner's offensive drives for the first three quarters of the game, it's almost unbelievable how dominant the Cardinals defense was on Sunday. They did allow one 50 yard bomb to Isaac Bruce but outside of that play they allowed just 94 yards on 40 plays. Of the Niners' ten drives during the first three quarters, the defense forced five three and outs, one drive ended with a fumble and all but one drive accounted for less than 25 yards. During that time the Niners started in Cardinals' territory twice and a third drive started at their own 44.
  • The 4th Quarter Drive: Obviously it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows so the black eye of this defensive effort was undoubtedly the 80 yard fourth quarter drive engineered by the Niners. Heading into this drive Shaun Hill was nine for 26 for 139 yards and the Niners were and the San Fran offense had converted just three of 12 third down opportunities. The Niners four previous drives consisted of just 12 plays that combined for negative six yards. Over the next 15 plays though San Francisco called 13 passes and Hill connected on nine of them for 72 yards including the go ahead touchdown, while also converting four consecutive third down conversions. None of Hills passes were down the field but his dink-and-dunk style helped the Niners work their way on the longest drive of the day, by either team.

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Overall the defensive effort by the Cardinals was more than admirable despite allowing 20 points and losing a very winnable game. The secondary still needs to get on the same page to prevent big plays and allowing 80 yard scoring drives during the fourth quarter of a game in which you're holding a narrow lead are terrible blunders but there were more positives than negatives we can take from this game. Thoughts?

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