Cardinals Survive 49ers Scare
Maybe the Arizona Cardinals are just not a good team this year. Perhaps general manager Steve Keim made a miscalculation in not doing more to fix the holes on the team. Or maybe a win is a win and it does not matter how sloppy or bad it looked on Sunday. There were penalties and missed chances for both teams. The Cardinals escaped with a win against their divisional rival San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon. Here is a breakdown of how that happened.
Recapping the 49ers’ Week 4 loss
Palmer Stands and Delivers
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was hit a lot on Sunday. The 49ers sacked Palmer six
times on the day and hit a total of 16 times as the offensive line struggled to keep a clean
pocket. Palmer and the offense often relied on short drops to get the ball out quickly against a ferocious 49ers pass rush. He was able to link up with Jaron Brown eight times for 105 yards and Andre Ellington nine times for 86 yards. The veteran threw an interception in the first half as the Cardinals were looking to score. It was a bad decision by Palmer as he was being hit on the play and threw the pass into traffic. Palmer completed 33 of his 51 attempts for 357 yards passing.
The offense was all on Palmer’s shoulders as the ground game was non-existent and for the most part the 49ers defensive line dominated up front. Palmer spread the ball around to his receivers and helped the Cardinals chew up clock and move the ball. However, once inside the red zone the offense continuously sputtered as penalties and pressure sank any chances to put touchdowns on the board. In overtime it was Palmer using whatever time he had and the large cushion provided by the 49ers secondary to move down field to get into range for kicker Phil Dawson. Rather than rest with less than a minute left, Palmer stood tall and delivered a perfect pass into the end zone for a leaping Larry Fitzgerald.
Defense Does Enough
One of the keys to victory for Arizona was to stop the run game. They did just that, although most of the reason was due to an injured Carlos Hyde requiring long stretches of rest, rather than the defense actually stepping up. Regardless of the reason, the 49ers rushed for just 95 yards on the day, with Hyde accounting for 68 yards on 16 carries. The Cardinals did enough to slow down the run when Hyde was not on the field. Corey Peters did well to hold the middle against an underpowered Daniel Kilgore. Peters often found penetration and did well to absorb blockers to allow linebacker Karlos Dansby to make plays with his speed. The lack of a consistent run game forced the 49ers to focus heavily on the passing game which played right into the talented Cardinals’ secondary.
The 49ers struggled to find stability through the air as quarterback Brian Hoyer completed 24 of his 49 passes for 234 yards and an interception. The Cardinals were able to take out top wideout Pierre Garcon with Patrick Peterson covering the veteran receiver throughout the game. An injury to wide receiver Marquise Goodwin also allowed the secondary to focus in on the rest of the targets for Hoyer. Tyrann Mathieu had his hands full with rookie slot receiver Trent Taylor. Taylor made five catches but only totalled 47 yards. The Honey Badger may have allowed Taylor to make catches but hounded the rookie with quick tackles and tight coverage. Make no mistake, it was not a perfect game for the Cardinals defense. There were multiple occasions where a dropped pass or a bad throw left large chunks of yards on the field for San Francisco. A big offensive pass interference penalty on Taylor and a dropped pass by Garcon wiped away two scores for the 49ers. In the end the defense did enough to make the game harder for Hoyer and the 49ers offense. Allowing just five field goals on the day was a major victory.
Special Teams Deserves Recognition
Phil Dawson and Andy Lee were brought in to bring some stability to the special teams unit for Arizona. Against their former team, the duo proved to be worth every penny spent by the Cardinals. Dawson kicked four field goals, accounting for all the points in regulation for Arizona. Dawson’s perfection was capped with a 50 yard kick, making it a total of 39 field goals made over 50 yards for his career. Dawson’s play this season is in stark contrast to what the Cardinals saw from Chandler Catanzaro last season. Catanzaro famously missed two game winning chances against Seattle last season. Dawson has hit just 75 percent of his kicks this season, but on Sunday he came up big with the game, and likely the season on the line.
Not to be outdone against his former team, Lee did a superb job against San Francisco. Lee hit a long of 60 yards and routinely pinned the 49ers deep in their own territory during the fourth quarter. The punting game was shaky last season in big spots and put the defense in bad position when it counted late in games. On Sunday, Lee did well to flip the field position, averaging 42 net yards per kick. He kicked for season highs in average punt (48.8 yards) and net average. Lee spent his first 11 seasons in San Francisco after being drafted by the 49ers in the 2004 draft in the 6th round out of the University of Pittsburgh. With Dawson and Lee at the helm, the kicking game looks to be a strength moving forward for Arizona.
The Cardinals are second in the NFC West, tied with the Seahawks on two wins and two losses. The Cardinals could easily have lost the game on Sunday and were lucky to come out victorious. Carson Palmer was battered throughout the game but made the one throw he needed to make to rescue his team. With guard Mike Iupati lost for the season and backup Alex Boone out likely another week, the Cardinals will need to make some changes or hope the current linemen on the roster can find some talent. The road gets tougher and the Cardinals will need all hands on deck to get the season heading on track.