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2014 Regular Season
Preview: Niners @ Cards

Setting the Stage:
Cards won their last game - from behind...on the road...vs. the Giants. The Niners lost to "da' Bears." Unprobable as this might sound - Cards are undisputed leaders of the NFC West division (undefeated in 2 games with the Rams, Niners and Seahawks having all lost one game). Niners are smarting from a rash of injuries and off the field issues. (So are the Cardinals (without Palmer, Abraham and Zastudil last week) - it just seems as if Niners fans whine more). Cards may get Abraham back this week if he clears concussion protocol. Niners are said to be playing Ray McDonald Sunday despite his off-the-field problems
.

Last Game

Niners lost to Chicago 28 - 20. Bears scored 21 unanswered 4th quarter points to pull out the win. Niners were undermined by (16) penalties and a (-4) turnover-ratio, but still had plenty of time on their last possession to come back to within a 2-pt conversion of a tie; but they fell short on downs at the Bear 18.

First Quarter

  • Bears received and a penalty on the KO cubby-holed them at their own 7. They went 3 & out - except: their punt was blocked. Niner ball on the Chicago 8. Two plays later, Kaepernick hit Crabtree for a 3-yard TD. (That was fast). Niners 7 - Bears 0.

  • Touchback on the KO. Bears picked up a first down but then had to punt from their own 36. Punt was returned by Ellington to the Niner 19. The Niner possession was stained by four straight penalties: (1) the first was too complicated to bother sorting out but did result in the reversal of a Bear interception. (2) a holding penalty nullified a 10-yard Kaepernick ramble. (3) encroachment by the Bears and (4) a defensive holding call on Chicago. Eventually - after 13 plays (& 7:37) - the ball wound up on the Chicago 9, where Dawson's 27-yard FG attempt was good. Key plays in drive: Kaepernick to Boldin for +21; Kapernick to V. Davis for +14 and +17. Niners 10 - Bears 0.

  • TB on the KO. 15-yard roughness flag on McCray gave Chicago the ball on their own 35. They managed to get to their own 44 as the quarter ended.

First Quarter Score: Niners 10 - Bears 0.

Second Quarter

  • A 22-yard completion from Cutler to Bennett was reversed. Drive ended on the SF 41. Touchback on the punt. The two teams swapped 3 & outs. (Ellington muffed the punt but recovered it at midfield). On the very next play, KAepernick's deep pass intended for Boldin was intercepted by Conte and returned to the Chicago 32. Bears went 3 & out. After two consecutive penalties on the punt, Niners wound up on their own 15 with 7:39 till halftime. After completions to Crabtree (for +20 and +11) a 54-yard TD run by Gore was nullified by penalty. Chicago eventually punted drom their own 30. Punt was fumbled but Bears recovered at their own 20. 5:12 left. An aborted snap pushed the Bears back to their own 2 and they went 3 & out. Ellington returned the punt 19 yards to the Chicago 30. A 22-yard Kaepernick to Carrier completion set up an 8-yard TD run off left tackle by Gore. Niners 17 - Bears 0.

  • 2:22 left til the half. TB on the KO. The Chicago possession was marred by 4 penalties (3 on the Niners) which were key in eventually getting the Bears to the Niner 17 with 0:18 on the clock, , where Cutler hit Marshall for 17-yards and a TD. Niners 17 - Bears 7.

  • Two plays later, it was halftime.

First Half Score: Niners 17 - Bears 7.

Third Quarter

  • TB on the KO, but a roughness call on Skuta pushed SF back to their own 10. The NIners used 13 plays (& 9:04) to reach the Bear 7 where Dawsons 24-yarder was good. Aside from a 20-yard completion to Johnson, the longest SF gain was no more than 12 yards. Niners 20 - Bears 7.

  • (Looks like a Niner route at this point but the Bears countered with a long drive of their own). TB on the KO. Bears ran off 13 plays (and 7:21) on a possession that included 4 more penalties and extended 3 plays into the next quarter. Longest plays were completions of +14, +14 and +15.

Third Quarter Score: Niners 20 - Bears 7.

Fourth Quarter

  • An 11-yard completion to Forte helped set up a 5-yard Cutler-to-Marshall TD pass. Niners 20 - Bears 14.

  • KO was returned to the Niner 22. On the first play from scrimmage, Kaepernick's pass for Crabtree was intercepted by Fuller and returned to the Chicago 6 (An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Kaepernick moved it to the 3). On the next play, Cutler hit Bennett for a TD to give Chicago their first lead. Bears 21 - Niners 20.

  • Plenty of time (13:14)left. Ellington returned the KO to the Niner 23. They moved to their own 35 in 6 plays where Kaepernick's pass for Carrier was picked off by Fuller and returned to the Niner 42. A 29-yard completion from Cutler to Jeffrey helped set up a 3-yard TD completion from Cutler to Marshall. Bears 28 - Niners 20.

    6:55 left. TB on the KO. Kaepernick brought the Niners all the way back to the Chicago 18 in 10 plays, but was unable to move them much further and the Niners surrendered the ball on downs. Two knees later, game over.

Final Score: Bears 28 - Niners 20.

What the Game Stats Tell Us
This should have been a Niner "Laugher." Turnovers, penalties and other miscues ate up the Niners, who dominated first half play but squandered what seemed to be a solid 13-point lead going into the fourth quarter. (Even then, the Niners still had a legitimate shot to come back on their final possession, but Kapernick ran out of downs at the Bear 18).

  • Kapernick was the leading ground gainer for SF, (66 yards on 9 carries). Gore pocked up 63 yards on 13 carries and had a 50+ yard TD run nullified by penalty. (Lesson: Treat Kaepernick like a single wing tailback in a 2-back tandem featuring Kaepernick and Gore).

  • Lots of weapons in the passing game. Crabtree (long a Cardinal nemesis) led the Niner receivers with 7 catches for 82 yards. Carrier and Davis each had 3 catches. Boldin had 2.

  • With Kapernick, you get both the good and the bad. He went 21 for 34 for 248 yards and a TD but was picked off 3 times, lost a fumble and was Willis, Culliver and Bethea.sacked four times.

  • Willis led the Niners with 8 tackles followed by Culliver (5) and Bethea (5)

  • Niner defense had zero interceptions. J Smith is credited with the only Niner sack.

  • Niners were 7 for 13 on 3rd downs. (By contrast, Chicago went 3 for 9).

  • Niners offense netted 361 net yards (vs. 216 by Bears).

  • Game must have set the record for penalties (What's up with that)? *Niners were flagged 16 times for 118 yards. (Bears were penalized 10 times for 58 yards).

  • Niners were minus-4 in turnovers (3 interceptions/one fumble lost). No fumbles or interceptions given up by Chicago.

  • Niner Rushing Plays: 27/Passing Plays: 38.

  • Time of Possession: Niners 33:51/Bears 26:09

Rosters/Match-ups

Niner Offense

WR1     81Boldin      13 S Johnson   10 B Ellington              
LT         74 Staley                       
LG        77 Iupati               
C          67 D Kilgore 66 M Martin            
RG       78 Looney    56 Farrell         
RT       76 A Davis    71 J Martin                  
TE        85 V Davis    89 V McDon'ld46 Carrier                                      
WR2     15 Crabtree  84 B Lloyd      11 Patton 14 Osgood 
FB        49 B Miller                        
QB      07 Kaep'rn'k  02 Gabbert     01 J Johnson
RB       21 Frnk Gore 28 Hyde         xx Jame
s             

Cardinal Defense

DE        93 Campbell    96 K,Martin       95 Kelly
NT        92 D. Williams 66 Ta'amu                     
DT        98 Rucker       72 Stinson                    
SLB      91 Sh'ghnssy 94 S. Acho               
ILB       50 Foote         54 Demens              
ILB       51 Minter        56 Carson                     
WLB     53 Keiser        57 Okafor      97 Alexander xx Butler     
LCB      21 Peterson    28 Bethel                      
RCB     31 Cromartie    25 Powers                     
SS        22 Jefferson     36 Bucannon                 
FS        32 Mathieu       26 R. Johnson 
  

Matchup: Niner Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
Niner pass offense struggled last week vs. Bears. . Kaepernick had one of his worst career outings - 4 turnovers. Pass protection disintegrated late in the game. Jonathaan Martin allowed 2 sacks. In normal circumstances, Kaepernick can beat you either with his arm or with his feet. He has good instincts under pressure and an arsenal of receiving weapons to throw to in Boldin, Crabtree, V. Davis, McDonald and Gore (out of the backfield). When you look at the Cardinal secondary, you get the feeling that it was constructed with Niner receivers in mind. Cromartie and Peterson are well over 6-feet as are Powers and Bethel. They drafted Bucannon to, among other things, better matchup with opposing TE's like Davis (who incidently, may be "questionable" for Sunday due to an ankle injury). John Abraham will go on IR. He had evidently decided not to retire, but suffered a major concussion a couple of weeks ago (on the heels of what some described as a recent history of severe memory loss) and wasn't medically cleared. It will be up to guys like Keiser and Acho (& Mathieu?) to pick up the slack.

Key Matchups: Peterson vs. Crabtree. Cromartie vs. Q. Jefferson and Bucannon vs. McDonald and (maybe) V Davis. And maybe we'll see Foote or the Badger shadow Gore out of the backfield.

Matchup: Niner Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
The vaunted Niner running attack looked less invincible last Sunday. A nullfication (due to what Niner fans call a "questionable" holding penalty on Boldin) of a 54-yard Frank Gore TD explosion up the middle otherwise could have meant "game over" as early as the 2Q. On another occasion, the Niners couldn't push 'er in from the six-yard line. Gore carried 13 times for 63 yards. Hyde went 0 for 4. Harbaugh likes to play smashmouth on offense and the Niner running attack is unique in that Kaepernick is a legitimate "2nd ball carrier" in the backfield. Cards have met the challenge by building their Front Seven to become tougher and more physical. Thus far this season, they've held opposing runners well under 100 yards. They may want to treat the Niner running attack more like a 2-back "zone read" scheme with Kapernick and Gore serving as dual threats.

Key Matchup: D Williams, Minter and/or Bucannon vs. Gore. A (rotating) "spy" on Kaepernick.


Cardinal Offense

WR1     11 Fitzgerald, 19 Ginn, 13 John Brown   
LT         68 Veldheer, 79 Sowell                      
LG        62 Larsen, 61 Cooper                     
C          63 Sendlein, 62 Larsen                     
RG       74 Fanaika,  78 Watford                   
RT        70 Massie, 79 Sowell                      
TE        87 Niklas, 85 Fells            
WR2     15 M. Floyd, 13 Jaron Brown              
QB        03 Palmer, 05 Stanton 06 Thomas        
RB        38 Ellington, 30 Taylor, 39 Hughes, 34 Parmele
TE        89 Carlson, 84 Housler

Niner Defense

LDT     91 McDonld 63 Jerod-Eddy 95 Carradine            
NT      93 Ian Wilms 92 Dial           
RDT    94 J Smith   83 Dobbs                
OLB    55 Brooks   59 Lynch        
ILB     57 Wilhoite  54 Moody                    
ILB    52 P Willis     50 Borland                  
OLB   51 D Skuta   96 Lemonier              
LCB   26 T Brock    22 C Cook       
RCB   29 C Culliver 20 P Cox       36 D Johnson           
FS      35 Reid        25 J Ward       31McCray                    
SS      41 Bethea    43 Dahl
     

Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Niner Pass Defense
Last week Brandon Marshall abused FS Jimmy Ward on the way to 3 touchdown catches. Niner's legendary pass rush was limited to one sack by Justin Smith. (Aldon Smith's absence could clearly be felt here). Culliver (back from concussion) had a few good moments. Big issue for the Cards will be "who'll play QB?" (It probably won't be a matter of Palmer's condition gradually improving. If and when the nerve "wakes up" and fires, Carson will be good to go. If not, it will be Stanton again. Last week, Stanton performed solidly if unspectacularly. Since Stanton has only appeared something like 4 times in as many years) he was understandably a bit rusty, but an extra mid-week of reps and film study should improve his performance from "not bad" to "pretty good." How well he does will, in part, depend on the amount of time he's given by his pass blockers. If they can buy him an extra half-second or greater, he'll have Fitz, Floyd, Ginn, Smokey, Carlson and Jaron to target. BA's quest for "chunk" passing yardage could provide good matchup advantages should Ward continue to struggle. (Note - last week vs. the Giants, most of the Cardinals' rushing success could be found on the perimeter).

Key Matchup: Floyd and Carlson vs, Ward,

Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Niner Run Defense
Niners held Forte to 1.8 ypc (12 carries for 21 yards). They did allow Cutler to escape once for 25 yards. Six defenders were credited for stops behind the LOS. The shifty and explosive Ellington presents a different challenge from the tough but versatile Forte - inside yardage might be tough to come buy, but all Andre needs are one or two misdirection-holes to run through to create a couple of game-changing opportunities. On the other side of the equation, this might not be a good week for Hughes (especially inside the 5).

Late Breaking - Dwyer has been placed on "reserve - Non-football injury" list while the legal process stemming from his recent domestic-abuse arrest plays itself out. That leaves Stepfan Taylor and Hughes and recently re-signed Jalen Parmele to handle short-yardage chores. (Chris Rainey had recently been signed to the practice squad but was said to have even more off-the-field baggage than Dwyer and subsequently released).

Key Matchup: I'd keep an eye on Willis vs. Ellington.

Special Teams

Niners

P          04 Lee                              
K          09 Dawson                               
H          04 Lee       
LS        86 Nelson                                   
KR        10 B. Ellington xx James                              
PR        10 B. Ellington  xx James

Cardinals

K          07 Catanzaro                             
P          09 Zastudil,        02 Butler                                
H          09 Zastudil                                
LS        82 Leach                                  
KR        19 Ginn             12 John Brown               
PR        19 Ginn             21 Peterson        12 John Brown

Matchup: Niner Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Last Sunday, Aaron Lynch blocked a punt. Bruce Ellington muffed one but otherwise looked promising. Dawson booted 2 FG's. Zastudil (groin or hammy) will be back. (Drew Butler lwas released). Catanzaro was 4 for 4 and consistently kicked off into the end zone last week. Special Teams star was Ginn (who can look very very ordinary on 9 straight carries but then break one for a game-changing 71-yards). Just guessing, but it's not unlikely that a one-in-ten "home run" can cause opponents to be slightly less aggressive covering future punts or kickoffs.

Key matchups: How about Lynch vs. Catanzaro? In the return game, Ginn will remain a perennial "wild card."

Coaching
Niners and Kapernick had a bad day last Sunday (blowing a 13 point 4th quarter lead and being penalized 16 times (10 in the first half). You never know how a good team, coach or key player - unused to losing - will react to a loss (Will they lose confidence? Or will they use it as motivation to bounce back)? Harbaugh has to spend this week between games focusing on cutting down on penalties (some of which might have been a function of the officials and League wanting to make a statement).

Last Word
This game could go either way for a couple of reasons: (1) The two teams seem to be close enough in quality for the game to hinge on such intangibles as the bounce of the ball, the status of V Davis or Palmer or a questionable call (or 10) by the officials. (2) We don't yet know how either team will react to either adversity (Niners) or success (Cards). Home field advantage could be the deciding factor (although there are rumors that Niner fans - who travel well - will attempt to pack U of P Stadium).


 
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