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SF 28 ARI 25: Cards’ Dealing, But Some Stealing

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I don’t usually watch the pre-game shows—-but last night while eagerly awaiting the kickoff, I made an exception. What I saw for the duration of the 80 minutes disgusted me. FOX dedicated 95% of the pre-game show to hyping the 49ers—-their head coach, their QB, their offense, their defense, Nick Bosa, Richard Sherman—-as opposed to one little sit down interview with Kyler Murray.

To make matters worse, once the game started, the FOX audio of the crowd behind Aikman’s and Buck’s commentaries was miked up to a group of 49er fans who booed every call against the 49ers and who chanted DEFENSE-DEFENSE every time the Cardinals had the ball. It got so annoying that for the first time ever watching a Cardinals’ game on TV, I hit the mute button.

The coup de grace was during FOX’s post game “kiss and crown their asses” celebration of the 49ers’ win with the 49ers’ fans forming a raucous cheering section in from of the FOX booth, one of the announcers asked TE George Kittle, “this kind of felt like a home game, didn’t it?” To which Kittle replied, “It was.”

As most of you, after the game I felt uplifted by the Cardinals’ 18 point second half rally and yet, on the other hand, I felt cheated and fed up with what was horrendous game ending coaching and execution by the Cardinals’ defensive coaches and secondary.

The Cardinals had three chances to get the ball back—-the first was on a 3rd and 11—-and inexplicably, Vance Joseph called a 3 man rush with his soft zone (which hasn’t worked all year) behind it. Garoppolo to Emmanuel Sanders for 16 yards.

The second was a 3rd and 3 where the 49ers ran a sweep to the left and the Cardinals quickly lost contain (Chandler Jones why did you jump inside?) as they typically do and no one from the secondary forced the run with the required urgency and the 49ers’ Tevin Coleman was able to get the ball to the sticks—-which the replay clearly showed, but the Cardinals’ wasted a precious timeout challenging it anyway—-

Which then led to a game deciding 3rd and 9, which AGAIN was defensed by a 3 man rush and a soft zone behind and Jimmy Garoppolo against a mere three rushers easily ran through the middle of the pocket, pulled up and completed an easy 11 yard pass to wide open backup TE Ross Dwelley.

The 49ers were able to milk out the entire 4:53 of the clock after rookie QB Kyler Murray’s sensational 88 yard TD pass to rookie WR Andy Isabella, who dashed through the 49ers’ secondary like a comet.

The Cardinals right now are an exciting offense on the rise and a defense in dysfunctional disarray. Old customs of the past with Cardinals’ veterans are now standing in the way of what appears to be a new, burgeoning culture brought by the hard-working, humble rookie head coach and the tough minded, diligent youth of the team.

GM and Players in the Way: The Stealers

GM Steve Keim—-has made his fair share of good moves, like the trade he just pulled off for RB Kenyan Drake—-but, at this point, it is reasonable to say that Steve Keim is not adept at building a defense or at putting his defense in the right hands. Keim’s past three defensive coordinators (James Bettcher, Steve Wilks and Vance Joseph) have routinely disappointed—-and as an NFL GM Keim should hold his coaches accountable—-and yet as we saw last night—-it’s the same old same old mistakes from Vance Jospeh that keep occurring ad nauseam.

Keim has never quite seemed comfortable drafting the right prototypes for a 34 defense—-as most recently highlighted by the failures at the all-important $LB position when Deone Bucannon’s replacement Haason Reddick was taken out of the starting lineup. Neither of those 1st round picks ever played ILB in college. Add those two defensive gaffes to the significant failures of the likes of S Tyrann Mathieu (the only recent defensive draft pick whom Keim signed to a multi-year 2nd contract) and Keim’s other monumental 1st round bust, DT Robert Nkemdiche.

DC Vance Joseph—-after the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury as head coach this was the one move that Steve Keim had to get right—-and week after week, Joseph has been proving that his soft zone coverage approach to defense is an abject failure—-and, despite ranking 30th in defense, there has been no discernible change in Jospeh’s modus operandi. Clearly, neither the GM nor the head coach are holding him accountable—-but, to be fair to Kingsbury, Jospeh was hired so that Kingsbury could focus his energies on the offense and be able to out his trust in Joseph taking care of business on his side of the ball. At this point, because of his incorrigibility and lack of adaptability, Jospeh deserves to be fired. And if he is, he can go collect his checks and sit on the beach with Mike McCoy, Sam Bradford and D.J. Swearinger.

RB David Johnson—-he’s Keim’s one offensive player who received a lucrative multi-year 2nd contract and if last night proved anything (with Johnson now missing his 3rd game in a row, counting his quick exit fro the Giants’ game), was that newly acquired RB Kenyan Drake, after a mere 3 days of learning the offense ran in the offense the way David Johnson was supposed to. It was a mistake to re-sign Johnson in 2018 after he was lost 15 12 games in 2017, but just as what happened with Tyrann Mathieu, eerily similarly at a whopping $13-14M a year—-the player has become a stealer.

DE Terrell Suggs—-this past week it was reported on Twitter by a source close to the Ravens that Suggs told a couple teammates that he didn’t want “to steal” money from the Ravens at his age and out of such pure respect for the Ravens’ organization—-and that is why he signed with the Cardinals, because he could go home to Arizona and steal from them instead. This hurts. But, it’s the truth about so many of the veteran free agents the Cardinals sign—-the standing joke is—-”go to Arizona to retire.” The perception of the Cardinals’ organization under Keim is that it’s a country club, the media is soft and star-struck and you can cut a whole bunch of corners, as Suggs did when he elected to be a no-show at the team’s OTAs. Last night on the biggest and brightest stage of the season, despite rushing against backup offensive tackles, Terrell Suggs was a non-factor—-making one solo tackle, adding two assists, 0 sacks, 0 QB hits and 1 untimely off-sides penalty that gave the 49ers a 1st down. This is coming off a poor performance versus the Saints (46.0 PPF).

To be fair, Suggs has made solid contributions in previous games (69.6 PFF grade before last night), garnering 6 sacks and 4 forced fumbles—-but, as with Patrick Peterson, Suggs is not handling the other responsibilities of his position with distinction or sustained effort, as evidenced by his 43.0 season long tackling grade (only 16 tackles on the season in 9 games) and his lack of discipline on the edge, especially with regard to keeping contain. Notice how the 49ers had their biggest runs to the outside last night—-because they knew that Suggs and Chandler Jones easily give up contain and that the Cardinals’ CBs are slow to force the run and one of the CBs has no interest in tackling at all.

On the key 3rd down sweep left to Tevin Coleman, on the pitch, for whatever reason, Chandler Jones from his edge spot jumped inside and took himself completely out of the play. If he strings that play out as he is supposed to—-the Cardinals would have gotten the ball back. Suggs often does the same thing—-and it’s this lack of discipline that loses football games and one of the reasons why teams convert so may third downs on the woeful Cardinals’ defense. 49ers were 11/17 in 3rd down conversions last night.

CB Patrick Peterson—-Steve Keim was adamant this week that Peterson is the “best CB in the NFL” and per Mike Florio, Keim turned down a 1st round pick and change in a trade offer. I elaborated at length on Peterson this past week in my “Keim Stands Pat” article, but—-two of the points I have made for years about Peterson’s lack of effort were in full display on these two plays—-(1) acting like he doesn’t know the sweep is coming his way and therefore running away from the play; (2) giving up on a play when it doesn’t go his way:

It’s one thing to get beat—-but it’s another thing to quit on a play. Peterson here was not only quitting on himself, worst of all, he was quitting on his teammates.

Kliff Kingsbury is now learning the hard way that it’s not a good idea to be star-struck by his own players to the point of giving them lavish recognition when they don’t really deserve it and making excuses for them, again, when they don't deserve it.

Kingsbury, in my opinion, has recently made two egregious mistakes regarding Peterson. (1) After the Giants’ win, who does Kingsbury give the 1st game ball to? Peterson. Then Kingsbury gives one to Chandler Jones (who had 4 sacks) and now doesn’t have another ball at the ready to give to RB Chase Edmonds (3 TDs, 126 yards rushing), but gives him one without tossing him one—-Edmonds was a thousand times more worthy of a game ball for than waterlogged win than Peterson. (2) Last night, when asked about Peterson’s poor play, Kingsbury should have simply said, “I need to see the tape” and should have left it at that—-instead Kingsbury already had an array of excuses lined up after reiterating what an elite player Peterson is. According to Kingsbury, “He missed so many reps at the end of training camp, he’s just now getting back into football shape, and he’s still trying to learn the defensive schemes.”

Please Coach, first of all, you saw what RB Kenyan Drake did after being on the team for four days. Secondly, let’s not forget that Peterson skipped OTAs and was not there for his teammates nor was he there to master the new scheme while fully cognizant of the fact that he was going to miss 6 games. Plus—-there is no excuse ever for Peterson’s poor efforts all night longin man and zone coverage. The best always come to play. The best play with heart and a sense of urgency, the way Budda Baker did last night.

Kingsbury now faces the most difficult challenge of his tenure as an NFL head coach. Up until now he has been putting Peterson on a pedestal, just like Keim continuously does, but head coaches learn pretty quickly that diva veterans will play coaches like a fiddle, especially the enabling type of coaches. Right now Kingsbury need to stand up to Peterson and to Vance Joseph and hold both of them accountable. If Kingsbury doesn't step up—-the players will continue to rule the roost in Arizona. And if that continues to happen and the culture change isn’t complete—-then, it won't matter, like last night, how good Kingsbury’s offense is, because it will be Texas Tech all over again.

Now—-for the fun part: The Dealers

Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury—-his decision to call timeout on the 49ers’ 4th and goal play at the end of the 1st half was not a poor decision at all—-what was poor was Kingsbury’s lateness in getting the TO called. The 49ers were coming off of their own TO, so Kingsbury and Jospeh had ample time to agree on calling a TO when the 49ers had shown their formation and personnel group. In Kingsbury’s modest way, he took the hit for it after the game. Give him credit for that—-but on the TD—-it’s too bad that Patrick Peterson made no effort to cover Emmanuel Sanders on the eventual TD. Peterson was lined up directly across from Sanders (who was the off-set FB to right), but Peterson lined up 6 yards deep into the end zone behind the LB (who ever does that on a 4th and goal from the 1 yard line?), or that Haason Reddick didn't see Sanders coming his way and read the out pass quicker or that Chandler Jones on the edge didn’t get into position to obstruct the passing lane.

You can see the play at the 2:14 mark on this game highlights video:

But what was great about Kingsbury last night was how he got RB Kenyan Drake so well involved and productive to the tune of 110 yards rushing (versus a defense that averages less than that per game) and 52 yards receiving. Then, credit Kingsbury for coming out in the second half in a hurry-up offense. It made a world of difference—-and it is what the K-Raid is designed to do—-keep the defense on the field, keep them off-balance and keep them gasping for air. The offense had been getting away from that and hopefully they will now stick with it.

RB Kenyan Drake and TE Maxx Williams—-what a tandem on this TD burst:

How about this for Drake’s first carry:

QB Kyler Murray—-let’s let the videos do the talking here:

Kyler fought back hard after a frustrating 1st half. He played gutsy football and man, those throws to KeeSean Johnson and Andy Isabella were big-time dimes, one on the move and one from the pocket. Five straight games without a turnover!

Cardinals’ Offensive Line—-moving forward this may be the best combination, with Mason Cole at LG and Justin Pugh at RT. D.J. Humphries did a fine job on Nick Bosa—-but his off-sides penalty was a momentum breaker when the Cardinals had the chance to go top 14-0. Gotta love the way Kingsbury and Sean Kugler have these linemen playing with their feet and getting downfield in a hurry—-no—-the ineligible man downfield call on the nifty 17 yard Drake middle screen was an error on the refs’ part. Regardless, the offensive linemen are playing inspired football.

WRs KeeSean Johnson and Andy Isabella—-for their 1st TDs as Cardinals. Both were works of art.

Fitz—-for playing his heart out as usual.

Cardinals’ Defensive Line—-man, they got after the 49ers’ running game. The Cardinals outgained the 49ers on the ground 153 yards to 101. That was twice more yards per carry: 6.7 for Cardinals to 3.3 for the 49ers. The DT rotation is looking good with Corey Peters, Rodney Gunter, Jonathan Bullard, Zach Kerr and Clinton McDonald combined for 9 tackles and 3 tackles for loss last night. They were punishing Breida and Coleman on runs between the tackles.

LBs Jordan Hicks and Joe Walker—-combined for 21 tackles and 2 12 tackles for loss. Walker in this game looked like s significant upgrade at WILB. of course, both Hicks and Walker played on the Eagles a few years back for LB Coach Billy Davis.

S Budda Baker—-Budda has been a little hot and cold this season—-until last night. He left everything he had on the field. leading the defense in 3 key categories: 13 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and 3 passes defended. if Budda keeps playing like this—-it can give us hope.

K Zane Gonzalez—-having just earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Month, Zane remained in the Zona.