Game Plan: How the San Francisco 49ers Can Clip the Arizona Cardinals’ Wings in Week 11
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
The unbeaten streak is over. The San Francisco 49ers are no longer infallible in 2019 after dropping a winnable overtime game against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night. They had a chance to win in overtime before their recently-signed rookie kicker, Chase McLaughlin, missed a 47 yard field goal after tying it up at the end of regulation with a 47 yard field goal. They didn’t just lose the game but lost several key members of the offense and defense.
First, Emmanuel Sanders left the game with a rib injury, which turned out to be torn cartilage and is considered day-to-day.Then they briefly lost Weston Richburg to a hand injury; he was able to return. Matt Breida aggravated his ankle injury, and Joe Staley, who was back for his first game action since breaking his fibula, sustained a fractured/dislocated finger.
On the defensive side of the ball D.J. Jones went down in the second quarter with a groin injury, Azeez Al-Shaair went into the concussion protocol during the third quarter, and Ronald Blair III tore his ACL while running down and stopping Russell Wilson for a key stop late in the fourth quarter.
When all of these injuries are added to the already injured George Kittle and Ahkello Witherspoon who both missed Monday night’s game, one has to wonder – how in the heck can the 49ers stop the hemorrhaging both on the injury report and the win-loss column on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals? This is an even more important question with the team dropping the divisional game against the Seahawks, leaving them only a half-game ahead of them in the division and in the NFC as a whole.
49ers fans will remember that two weeks ago the 49ers barely eked out a win against the Cardinals on Thursday Night Football. They will again face them on a short week, coming off of the Monday night game. In that game the 49ers’ defense was gashed again and again by Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake and the offense struggled after losing George Kittle to a knee injury. That was also 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s coming out party, where he threw for 317 yards and four touchdowns.
What have the coaching staff and the players learned over the last two weeks, and what improvements must they make to help them win against the 3-6-1 Cardinals?
First of all, even though the defense continues to show that they are the best unit in the NFL after holding MVP candidate Wilson to a stat line of 24-for-34 for 232 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception and a fumble that eventually ended up in Deforest Buckner’s hands and into the end zone, they have improvements they can make. How Wilson hurt the defense the most was with his legs. Even though the defense sacked Russell Wilson five times, with four of those coming on third down, the elusive quarterback was oftentimes able to extend drives by picking a hole in the line and scrambling. The defensive line must hold better gap integrity against the Cardinals also athletic QB Kyler Murray. They cannot allow Murray to tuck it and run, and with how well the secondary is playing and how quickly the defensive linemen can get up the field, that may be one of Murray’s only options play after play.
Even with Wilson extending drives with his legs, the defense did everything they could have been asked to do, and it is easy to expect them to continue to perform the way they have all season, especially after seeing that a starting position was not too big of a role for stud rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw. With Fred Warner putting together his best game as a pro, and Emmanuel Moseley nearly locking down the bigger and faster D.K Metcalf, the defense forced seven punts, three fumbles, an interception, and two field goals on the thirteen Seahawk drives that didn’t start with a 49er turnover.
This tells us that if the offense had taken care of the ball, the defense would have sealed the game for them. This is exactly what the 49ers offense needs to do against the Cardinals’ weaker defense. The offensive line of the 49ers must give Garoppolo more time to make decisions so that he can place the ball in more catchable position for his receivers. Speaking of the receivers, they cannot have a game like they did Monday night where they literally left Garoppolo out to dry several times, dropping what felt like every other pass. The coaching staff can’t rely on players coming back from injury, which looks like about a fifty-fifty chance or worse for all of the injured players mentioned earlier besides Richburg.
What should the offense do? Ride Tevin Coleman like it was their wedding night. Coleman has shown that he can carry the offense, scoring 4 touchdowns (three on the ground and one through the air) and rushing for over 100 yards in the team’s Week 8 thrashing of the Carolina Panthers. Right now Coleman is the most talented healthy skill player on the 49ers’ roster and they need him to come through in a big way. Whether that means him getting 25 rushes on Sunday or lining him up at WR and throwing screen passes to him, Coleman has to be the focal point of the offense this week, especially if Kittle and Sanders don’t come back 100 percent this week (hint: they won’t). Raheem Mostert, whose fresh legs helped move the ball in what could have been the offenses game winning drive against the Seahawks will also be expected to carry more of the workload with Breida day-to-day with his ankle injury.
Deebo Samuel also has to continue to improve and prove that he is a viable target in the passing game. A tackler’s nightmare with the ball in his hands, Samuel’s problem is that he has been leading the team in dropped passes this season. If he can improve on that, and one of the other WRs can step up (looking at you, Kendrick Bourne and Dante Pettis) and relieve some the pressure off of Garoppolo to deliver a perfect pass every single time, the 49ers offense could see Garoppolo torch the Cardinals’ defense like he did in Week 9.
At 8-1 and still on top of the NFC standings, the sky isn’t falling in Santa Clara. If they were to drop a game against the team at the bottom of the NFC West this Sunday, it might just crack a little bit. Fans should fully expect a “W,” but the offense will need to prove that it can move the ball without its first two passing options and its leading rusher in order for that to happen.
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