Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
The 49ers traveled to Glendale, Arizona Thursday night to take on a conclave of Cardinals (fun fact: a group of cardinals is called a conclave). Recently for the Niners, playing Arizona had yielded Alfred Hitchcock-like results, going 0-8 since the halcyon days of Jim Harbaugh.
With the dramatically short week that playing on Thursday presents, Robert Saleh and company were at a decided disadvantage, having just three days to prepare for Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.
To open the game the script seemed to be following a familiar pattern. Once again the 49ers had problems stopping the run on the opening drive. However, the 49ers appeared to get off the field when Dee Ford sacked Kyler Murray on third down, but the play was wiped out by personal foul call and Arizona was given new life with an automatic first down.
The newly-acquired Kenyan Drake paid immediate dividends for the Cardinals. Drake rushed for 41 yards and a touchdown on the opening drive.
The 49ers would go three-and-out on their first drive, and to make matters worse George Kittle went down with an injury. Kittle took a helmet to his knee, causing it to hyperextend and forcing him to leave the game, although temporarily. The 49ers would go three-and-out on their second drive as well; it the first time they have gone three-and-out on back-to-back drives all season.
The Niners would force the Cardinals to punt on their next two drives. For the Niners, their third drive is where the offense started to find its rhythm and the drive culminated in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to George Kittle. The catch and run was vintage Kittle as he stiff armed and crashed through would be tacklers on his way to the end zone (surprisingly this one wasn’t called back like so many other Kittle scores this season).
On Arizona’s first drive of the second quarter, D.J. Jones pressured Kyler Murray and forced him to retreat before Dre Greenlaw was able to touch him down for a sack and a loss of 19 yards. On the next play Fred Warner dropped a sure pick six, and after a third down run the Cardinals were forced to punt.
The 49ers’ offense continued to find success through the air. Emmanuel Sanders and Jimmy Garoppolo looked like they were building some chemistry on the drive. Garoppolo found Sanders three times on the drive before hitting Kendrick Bourne on a 7-yard score to put San Francisco up 14-7.
After forcing another Cardinals punt, the 49ers took over with 4:58 left in the first half. One of the hallmarks of a good team is the ability to have a successful “4-minute” offense to close out halves and games.
A 31-yard run by Matt Breida got the drive in gear as the Niners moved the ball methodically down the field. Another Breida run, this time for 19 yards moved the Niners inside the Arizona 20-yard line.
Once in the red zone, the offense experienced some fits and starts, including a Tevin Coleman touchdown run that was called back. George Kittle was tackled on the 1-yard line on third and goal. Facing fourth-and-goal on the 1-yard line, Kyle Shanahan foregoes the field goal attempts and opts to go for it. The Cardinals’ defense executed what looked to be a goal line stand, except that Kingsbury had called a timeout before the ball was snapped. Given a second chance, the 49ers hustled to the line of scrimmage and Garoppolo found Emmanuel Sanders for a 1-yard score and a 21-7 lead.
After forcing the 49ers to punt on the opening drive of the second half, the Cardinals took the ball down the field and scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 21-14.
The 49ers answered back with a seven-play, 7-yard drive, featuring a couple of really good throws by Garoppolo. The first of the two throws came on third down and four, Garoppolo arched a perfect throw to Sanders before Sanders made his break and the ball landed perfectly in his hands. The second throw also came on third down, this time, a third-and-7 from the Arizona 21-yard line. With pressure in his face and throwing off his back foot, Garoppolo lofted a pass to an open spot in the back of the endzone that allowed Dante Pettis to run underneath to make the score 28-14.
After trading punts to close out the third quarter, the fourth quarter began with Arizona going on a 13-play drive and kicking a field goal to make the score 28-17.
After punting the ball back to the Cardinals, the 49ers had perhaps their worst defensive series of the season thus far. Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley just missed undercutting a pass from Kyler Murray to Andy Isabella and what ensued was a display of speed on the part of Isabella and poor tackling by the Niners secondary resulting in an 88-yard touchdown. After a Kenyan Drake 2-point conversion the score was 28-25.
Again, the 49ers would get a chance to showcase their “4-minute” offense. Using a mix of timely running and clutch third down passing the 49ers were able to close out the game and escape with a division road win. The 49ers now have 10 days between games to get rested for the toughest part of their schedule.
Kwon Alexander tore a pectoral muscle and will be out for the remainder of the season.
The run defense was shaky in this game; how will the loss of Alexander affect it going forward?
Jimmy Garoppolo shows that he can carry the offense when needed, throwing for 317 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Emmanuel Sanders and Jimmy Garoppolo are quickly building a rapport with one another; what effect will that have on the offense moving forward?
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