In his last full start before Sunday, quarterback Drew Stanton went up against the San Francisco 49ers and got a road victory. Much like that victory, Stanton did just enough this past Sunday to guide the Arizona Cardinals to a much needed win against a divisional foe. The win puts the Cardinals back into the playoff conversation.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Sunday’s victory.
Leaning on the Run
The Cardinals offense decided it was time to rely on the run game. Adrian Peterson carried the football 37 times for 159 yards against the 49ers. Peterson got the game started with some big runs against an undermanned 49ers defense and never stopped pushing. The Cardinals favored the left side of the line, finding success behind left guard Alex Boone and left tackle D.J. Humphries. The duo was able to get to the second level and get powerful double teams to allow the run game to flourish. On most runs, Peterson quickly found the second level and required multiple defenders to bring him down. It looked like the Adrian Peterson from 2015, fast and powerful, breaking through the line of scrimmage.
The run game forced the 49ers to bring an extra man into the box in an attempt to slow down the run. It worked on occasion, but when the game hung in the balance, the run game showed up. Peterson gashed the defense with a huge 20-yard run on the Cardinals’ final drive. The run allowed the offense to run the remaining time off the clock and sealed the victory. Even though he was held out of the end zone, Peterson and the Cardinals offensive line showed they can be counted on.
Defense Gets Pressure
The Cardinals defense faced a depleted 49ers offensive line. They took advantage of that fact and punished rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard. The rookie was sacked five times on the day, and hit more than 20 other times. There was constant pressure from the Cardinals and defensive coordinator James Bettcher did not rely on just his defensive line rushing the passer. The defense blitzed early and often against San Francisco who was down their best lineman tackle Joe Staley.
ESPN revealed that the Cardinals defense brings five or more defenders on about 32 percent of plays. That is a third of all snaps where the Cardinals are blitzing. Against the 49ers it was no different. As a result, Beathard struggled to find rhythm in the pocket and often threw wild when he was able to get the ball out. The pressure was able to force an interception in the red zone. If the 49ers had been able to score it would have made it a one score game and likely a different outcome. The Cardinals won the day in the trenches.
Stanton Does Enough
Drew Stanton has now won twice against the 49ers on the road. Both victories featured the quarterback doing enough to put his team in position for the victory. On Sunday, Stanton played a relatively clean game, allowing his supporting cast to make plays and get the win. Stanton threw for just 200 yards on just 50 percent passing. The 49ers defense was able to get steady pressure on Stanton throughout the game, often forcing the quarterback to move out of the pocket or throw the ball away. However, it was his ability to extend the play which proved pivotal in two touchdown drives for Arizona.
On Arizona’s first score, Stanton escaped the pocket to his right and scrambled about 7 yards before firing to the end zone, finding Jaron Brown for the touchdown. Stanton felt and saw the pressure coming from the middle and his left and was able to keep enough distance from Deforest Buckner and get the throw away. On the other Cardinals touchdown drive, Stanton was able to again get away from defenders and get the ball downfield for a first down. On the play, Stanton stepped up and to his right before running along the line of scrimmage. He was able to keep the play alive just long enough to find an open receiver and a first down. Stanton was not great, but he did not need to be to win. Instead the backup quarterback did just enough to lead his team to victory.