Now that the dust has settled on the Cardinals win and I'm able to reflect on the game, it's a good time to figure out what the Cardinals did well and contributed to the win as well as what contributed to the loss.
Following two wins against the Seahawks and Bengals where the Cardinals had more turnovers than the other team the Cardinals played today without having one turnover offensively and had two turnovers defensively. Both allowed the team to score points and clearly every point mattered today. It was a good job protecting the football.
Third down defense
It doesn't matter if San Francisco is the worst offense in the NFL, stopping an opposing team from converting one third down is impressive. The defense struggled today, but continually showed resiliency with their backs against the wall.
John Brown finished with 5 receptions for 99 yards and Larry Fitzgerald had 10 receptions for 66 yards. Add in the huge J.J. Nelson catch to set up the game winning touchdown and the Cardinals were carried offensively by their talented wide receiver corps.
On a day when Butler ended up being relied upon for much of the game he delivered with some nice long punts to put the 49ers in poor field positions when the offense struggled. Definitely not perfect since he missed a few opportunities to put them against their end zone and punted too far, but gave positive contributions.
I want to be clear, I'm not talking about their physical blocking. Frankly, in general the line kept Palmer clean in the pocket most of the day and was arguably mediocre in the running game. I'm more talking about working properly as a team. The 49ers had blitzes by linebackers that were untouched. Bruce Arians even brought it up in his press conference afterwards. The o-line was not prepared for the 49ers and blew their assignments constantly. For all the fanfare about this being a superior offensive line, in truth, this group has under-performed.
Short yardage situations
Now we're talking physical. The Cardinals couldn't beat the 49ers yesterday. On offense, the interior was consistently beaten by the defense. Just flat out ran through without being blocked. It's pathetic the Cardinals couldn't even allow a running back to get to the line of scrimmage when they only had one yard for a first down all game. Veldheer and Massie were fine on the run plays, but Iupati, Sendlein and Cooper should all be "knee deep" this week.
Chris Johnson was 17 yards on 12 attempts for 1.4 yards per carry. Andre Ellington was the leading rusher with 5 rushes for 24 yards (4.8 ypc). David Johnson finished 8 rushes for 21 yards (2.6 ypc). While the offensive line's poor blocking was a direct contributor to this, the running backs had issues running vertically and could all do with a lesson of falling forward to get an extra yard.
This is the one category that is out of everyone's control although that statement is debatable. However, the Cardinals injuries were a concern coming into the game as all the defensive tackles except Rodney Gunter were injured and Red Byrant, who was picked up this week, played quite a bit.
More than that though is the fact that Jerraud Powers, Chris Johnson, Andre Ellington and Lyle Sendlein all were injured during the game to one extent or another. As the entire country learned last season, the mantra "next man up" has it's limitations even on the impressive Cardinals team.
The Cardinals played well below their weight and almost lost. However, they did win and if Palmer's touchdown run celebration is any indication, they are ready for a full game fight. Hopefully the team learns from this scare and applies the lessons to the avenging their earlier loss to the Rams next week.