• Travis Rapp

The Most Disappointing Loss of the Season: The Good and Bad Against The Cardinals

Image Credit: 49ers


On Sunday, a mostly healthy San Francisco 49ers played a home game against an Arizona Cardinals team comprised mostly of backups. Fan and critics alike though that the 49ers would be able to make a pivot from their disappointing beginning of their season towards being a playoff contender. Instead, they were blown out of the water 31-17 in a game that was never even close. Early mistakes and turnovers put them behind on the score board, and their disinterested play afterwards never allowed them to get close.

Like professional athletes and coaches must do, the 49ers are now seeing if there is anything they can salvage from this disheartening campaign that started with talks about running to the Super Bowl. Humans are dreamers, and for dreaming 49er fans, there are still some positives and possibilities left on the season. Let’s take a look at the good and the bad about this past defeat, and then the possibilities of the next eight weeks.

The Bad

The 49ers continue to lose in the turnover battle. The offense shot themselves in the foot with two fumbles early on, which coupled with a defensive facemask penalty on a fourth down play, contributed to the Cardinals running up a 17-0 score. Both tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk put the ball on the turf in attempts to make big plays. The offense needs big plays, but so far this season they have relied on WR Deebo Samuel to be godly with the football in his hands; someone else needs to help, and that is exactly what Kittle and Aiyuk were trying to do. The outcome is bad. Turnovers lose games, especially when your defense is the second worst in the league at creating them.

The offensive skill players looked desperate to make those big plays early on, and then disappointed about it later in the game. Mistake-free football is hard to play, but the 49ers have not been close to claiming mistake-free football. Whether it’s the penalties, which is something else they are in the bottom of the league with, or turnovers due to poor ball protection, the offense can’t get out of its own way. That 17-0 deficit forced head coach and offensive play caller Kyle Shanahan to abandon the run immediately. The run game is the 49ers bread and butter. Their early mistakes essentially forced them to abandon what they do best. Not the equation for a big win.

Defensively, the team also looked desperate to make a big play, but unable to make it happen. The defensive line was unable to sniff out screen passes, allowing Cardinals running back James Conner to look like a young LeVeon Bell. The very stationary quarterback Colt McCoy was able to stand in the pocket and complete short pass after short pass that was turned into first downs. Even though the DL was attempting to pursue McCoy, they didn’t get home enough, producing only two sacks. Defensive end Nick Bosa was unable to make much of a mark on the game, besides forcing one fumble which wasn’t recovered by the defense directly after Josh Norman’s inability to not get into an argument with Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury put Arizona directly back into field goalrange.

Every game you watch in the NFL this season you see linebackers and safeties punching the ball out of offensive players’ hands while their teammates are holding them up. Unless the 49ers defense is on the field that is. Instead of trying to knock the ball out, it seems that 49ers defenders believe only in trying to recreate a Donte Whitner-type hit, often times finding themselves tackling air as their opponent steps around them. It’s a problem I have been seeing on both sides of the ball. The team is so desperate to make the big play, that they aren’t making the right plays. I love to see Kittle hurtle a defender, and the fact that Aiyuk was savvy enough to know he wasn’t touched going down to the ground is great, but the focus on ball security and tucking that thing in has to be there too. Defensively, the 49ers need to stop trying to physically intimidate players and start embarrassing them with smarts. We saw none of those things happen during the game on Sunday.

The Good

Okay, let’s be honest:there wasn’t a lot of good on Sunday. Kittle, minus the fumble looked like he was ready to go. With six catches, 101 yards, and a touchdown, he gave the team an added boost on offense. Aiyuk stepped up with an injured Samuel with six catches of his own for 69 yards. Samuel made it through the game, and had five catches for 49 yards, but lacked his explosiveness. Jimmy Garoppolo played well enough to win the game without the turnover mistakes. His line of 28-for-40 for 326 yards and two touchdowns with one interception would normally be enough to lead this team to a victory. He looked commanding of the offense when he direct Kittle where to go on the TD throw, but as is too often with this offense this week, it was too little too late. The fans got a glimpse of what this offense could look like with all three of its main pass targets able to play.

Defensively there isn’t much to say here. For the second week in a row, they didn’t commit any big pass interference penalties, but that the best I can come up with. Fred Warner played well enough, but the secondary with Norman or Dre Kirkpatrick manning the cornerback positions, and now down their top three safeties, just isn’t going to get it done. Tackling became suspect again, and a blueprint of short screens and misdirection plays was given to the rest of the league on how to man handle a defense that has played well enough up to this last two-week stint.

The Possibilities

Some good news is that LB Dre Greenlaw should be back soon, possibly in the upcoming Monday night game against the Los Angeles Rams. Norman is battling broken ribs, which means the Niners may be forced to play rookie cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, who flashed some potential early in the season. With the loss of Mohamed Sanu, either Trent Sherfield or Jauan Jennings should see an increase in snaps, with both of them having flashed earlier in the season before seeing their snap counts disappear.

The good news for the 49ers is that the NFC is so top heavy, and they are still only one game out of the seventh and final playoff spot. They have winnable games against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings, and Atlanta Falcons left on the schedule, but they also play the Seattle Seahawks, the Los Angeles Rams (twice), the Tennessee Titans, and the Cincinnati Bengals. If the defense could start creating turnovers and both sides of the football can quit shooting themselves in the foot the team could realistically win six of their next nine games, possibly putting them in the playoffs as the No. 7 seed.

The 49ers have dominated the Rams, even when trotting out quarterbacks like Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard, and Garoppolo has never lost to the Rams in the four games they’ve played. Everyone thought that the game against the Cardinals would be the stepping off point, but maybe the team was waiting for a Monday night game to flash their potential into real game outcomes.


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