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Cardinals Pop The Kirk On First Win

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As is Steve Wilks’ custom, when they won the coin toss, the Cardinals deferred.

As is Kyle Shanahan’s custom, his offense came out running a variety of misdirection plays that were designed to put the Cardinals’ defense on its heels and to exploit the Cardinals’ vulnerability on the edges. The result was a near perfectly executed 75 yard TD drive (aided by a Budda Baker pass interference penalty on a key 3rd down), culminated by a 5 yard shuffle pass to RB Matt Breida from QB C.J. Beathard.

As a Cardinals’ fan, this is the type of offense I was dreaming of all off-season—-alas.

At this point, if you had told me that the 49ers wouldn’t score again until the 4th quarter—-despite dominating the number of 1st downs (33-10), 3rd down conversions (10-17 to 2-12) and time of possession (40:12 to 19:48), I would have thought you were on mushrooms.

The 49ers botched the extra point which looked to be a fake, but upon further review, maybe not.

Then on 1st and 10 from the 25 yard line, the Cardinals popped the Kirk on their sole big chunk yard offensive play of the day, when rookie QB Josh Rosen froze the free safety from a perfect pocket and launched a 60 yard deep pass to streaking rookie WR Christian Kirk who caught it, stiff-armed the CB and scurried into the end zone.

Phil Dawson made the extra point and the Cardinals took the lead in this game for good at 7-6.

Wow.

I was thinking that had high school football camp buddies Rosen and Kirk had both wound up at UCLA (or at Texas A&M, for that matter) there is virtually no way the Cardinals would have been able to draft them both—-and very likely wouldn’t have been able to draft either one of them, unless they used the #15 pick on Kirk.

I was thinking too in light of all the hubbub in New York about Eli Manning how auspicious it was for the Cardinals that the Giants passed on a QB at #3 in the draft.

The key to the game from here was that the Cardinals were able to win the battle of field position (another very good day of positional punting from Andy Lee and good kickoffs from Phil Dawson)—-often pinning the 49ers deep in their own territory to start their drives—-which, despite their consistent ability to move the chains, at some point along the way they would make a critical drive ending mistake, vis-a-vis a rarely missed FG from Robbie Gould and a whopping 5 takeaways:

  • Forced fumble by DT Rodney Gunter that Patrick Peterson scooped up and ran deep into the red zone to set up David Johnson’s 2 yard TD run to make it 14-6.
  • A diving interception by FS Tre’ Boston off a tipped pass over the middle.
  • A textbook strip sack of Beathard by DE Chandler Jones which he recovered himself.
  • Another strip sack (when the 49ers had a chance to take their first lead) by blitzing LB Haason Reddick that LB Josh Bynes scooped up and took to the house to make it 21-12.
  • An icing on the cake interception by CB Bene Benwikere, which led to David Johnson’s 2nd TD rush, this time from 6 yards out to make it 28-12.

The result was a 28-18 road victory, the first win for head coach Steve Wilks (and the first win for rookie QB Josh Rosen). It was a highly emotional locker room afterward as Wilks was greeted with warm cheers when Michael Bidwill presented him with the game ball. You can tell that the players were very happy for Wilks—-for all the hard work and dedication he has been putting in, albeit under increasingly difficult circumstances.

Notes on the Offense:

  • One of the most encouraging signs was that receivers were getting open—-3 first half drops didn't help a struggling Josh Rosen get into a rhythm—-a rhythm he never found in this game. But, Chad Williams was open on a 3rd down out pass, Chase Edmonds was one on a 3rd down flat pass, Rick Seals-Jones was open on a seam route and Christian Kirk would have had a nice reception up the sideline on a rub route, had not RSJ thrown a shoulder into CB Richard Sherman. All of these were missed opportunities which Rosen and the offense will try to correct after they watch the tape.
  • The main question is—-why did Rosen and the offense look exactly like the offense that was run by Sam Bradford? Why, like Bradford, was Rosen rushing and overthrowing his passes when he really wasn’t under much duress? Is it the way these QB are being coached?
  • One of the most overlooked and impressive stats of the game is that the Cardinals’ offensive line limited the 49ers’ talented defensive line of DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas and Earl Mitchell to a combined 11 tackles and 0 sacks.
  • On the one sack Rosen took, he displayed outstanding poise. It was off Mason Cole’s bad snap and while Rosen was able to gather the ball and start to get a read downfield, he did the smart thing by taking the sack and not forcing the ball into coverage.
  • The key stat was 0 turnovers by the offense—-but—-some of the play calls on 3rd and 7 had little to no chance—-like the 2 bubble screens that the 49ers blew up—-the 2nd of which gave the ball back to the 49ers down 14-12. These short throws on 3rd down were exactly what Bradford was doing.
  • Another key stat that the Cardinals under OC Mike McCoy have to be very concerned about is 0 3rd quarter points in 5 games. That does not speak well to the adjustments (or lack thereof) being made at half-time. It is yet another reason why the fans have such little confidence at this point in McCoy.
  • The irony is that BA always took the ball to start the game—-and last year—-the defensive adjustments at half-time were consistently poor with the Cardinals getting consistently outscored in the 3rd quarter—-and now it’s the reverse—-Steve Wilks always defers and the offense hasn’t scored a point in the 3rd quarter in 5 games—-and there have been a record number of 3 and outs.

Notes on the Defense:

  • It appeared that Steve Wilks was taking a more assertive role in calling the defense this week—-especially in dialing up the pressures.
  • DE Chandler Jones’ play was inspirational (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 2 pass deflections, 3 tackles for loss, 3 QB hits)—-in all aspects—-stopping the run, pressuring the QB and tipping key passes like the saving on on the 2 point conversion attempt.
  • Kyle Shanahan did the very smart thing of trying to counter for Jones’ pressures by throwing slip screens to TE George Kittle and FB Justin Juszczyk underneath Jones—-and the Cardinals had no answers for it until late in the game FS Tre’ Boston flew in and blew up the lead blocker which enabled LB Josh Bynes (11 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 fumble recover, 1 pass breakup, 1 QB hit, 1 TD) to finish on the tackle. The swarm of Bynes, Baker, Bethea, Boston and Benwikere is quickly becoming the Cardinals’ “killer bees.”
  • There a couple of ways that Wilks and Al Holcomb can address this glaring weakness—-(1) you teach your DTs to slide and sit on the screens (Frostee Rucker was a pro at this); (2) you teach the LB to the screen side to read it more quickly and beat the blockers to the ball; (3) you roll the safety down as an added defender, as they did with Boston. One time the 49ers perfectly caught S Budda Baker on a blitz which left the screen wide open. Baker might have busted that play had he not blitzed.
  • Speaking of Tre’ Boston and Budda Baker—-they are developing into one of the top safety tandems in the NFL. Boston (6 tackles, 3 pass breakups, 1 interception) is starting to look like a faster, rangier version of D.J. Swearinger and Baker (16 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup, 2.5 tackles for loss) is a stronger, quicker tackling version of Tyrann Mathieu. Add in here yet another unsung but highly productive effort from S Antoine Bethea (13 tackles, 1 QB hit) who essentially is playing OLB.
  • The Cardinals got breakout performances from LB Haason Reddick (8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 2 tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups, 1 QB hit) and DT Rodney Gunter (5 tackles. 1 forced fumble, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass deflection and 1 QB hit). Reddick’s versatility and athleticism were impressive particularly in covering the likes of Kittle and Juszczyk—-tough matchups for most linebackers.
  • DE Benson Mayowa (3 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss) has been a solid, physical player for the Cardinals.
  • This week the Cardinals appeared to be more locked in on their coverage assignments—-but at times were hurt when they switched to zone—-like the time Beathard recovered from a 2nd and 22.
  • CB Bene Benwikere is proving to be a good cover CB opposite Patrick Peterson. He was stride for stride on the deep passes. I would like to see Wilks and Holcomb keep him there and use CB Deatrich Nichols in the slot instead of sliding Benwikere there and bringing in Taylor at RCB. As for Pat P. (7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss)—-he is playing his best football under Wilks. Pat P. is bringing it.

Notes on Special Teams:

  • Another 15 yard penalty from Brandon Williams—-block in the back, this time.
  • It looked like gunner Rudy Ford, did everything he could to avoid contact with the punt returner. That was a close call.
  • Zeke Turner and Dennis Gardeck are balling on STs. Hope Turner is ok.
  • Too bad the Cardinals didn't see that one punt late that hit Trent Taylor in the hand—-as a rule of thumb it is best to hop on the ball anyway.
  • Still cannot believe that T.J. Logan isn’t the kickoff returner and a situational speed RB option.
  • Lee, Dawson and Brewer had very good days. Loved the fact last week that Josh Rosen consoled Dawson after his 4th quarter miss. That, and the fact that Steve Wilks called Dawson in for a chat to make sure that Dawson was ok. Wilks does stay the course—-and he is dedicated to improving the team each day. His defense this week was a paragon of resiliency, aggressiveness and opportunistic play.