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2015 Regular Season
Preview: Niners @ Cards

Last MInuteNews, Rumors etc.:
(Updated regularly if or when needed) - TBD
..

Setting the Stage:
Cards coasted to a 48 - 23 win over the Bears. Niners fell behind 21 - 3 to the Niners going into the 4Q, couldn't catch up and wound up on the wrong end of a 43 - 18 beating. The week before, the Niners (who had lost a number of key veteran players and their head coach) had surprised the world by using a "ground and pound"
approach (centered around frank gore's replacement, Carlos Hyde to put a whupping on their first opponent.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals (coming off an impressive home opener win over New Orleans) won on the road vs. the Bears; starting with David Johnson's 108 yard return of the opening KO (the first of two TD's by Johnson), 3 TD catches by Larry Fitzgerald and a Pick 6 by Tony Jefferson. Carson Palmer looked sharp (as did his OL which, for the second time in a row, gave up no sacks). So did WR John Brown who forced his defenders on deep throws into committing long defensive pass interference and illegal contact infractions.

Opponent's Last Game
Niners fell down early (29 - 3 at the half) and "couldn't get up."

First Quarter
Pitt received. TB on KO. The opening drive was marred by 3 penalties and a challenge. Steelers managed to get to the Niner 32 but a penalty pushed them back to the Niner 49. Punt was fair caught at the Niner 15. SF moved to its own 45 in 6 plays (Hyde carried three times for 9 yards). Kaepernick was sacked and the Niner drive stalled at their own 41. Pinion's punt went out of bounds at the Pitt 17. A 41-yard Roethlisberger to Heyward-Bey hookup put the ball on the Niner 37. A 17-yard completion to Wheaton and a defensive holding call helped set up a 2-yard TD completion to H MIller. The 2-point conversion succeeded. Steelers 8 - Niners 0.

D White returned the KO to the SF 13. They reached the Steeler 44 in 8 plays as the quarter ended.

First Quarter Score: 8-0 Steelers.

Second Quarter
Steelers hung onto the ball for 9 more plays before Kaepernick got sacked at the Steeler 22 on 3rd & 22 and Dawson's 47-yard FG attempt was "good." Steelers 8 - Niners 3.

A 59-yard Roethlisberger to A Brown pass paved the way for a 2-yard TD run by De. Williams off LG for a Steeler TD. 2-pointer (Roeth to H MIller) was good Steelers 16 - Niners 3

KO was returned to the SF 18. A minus-17 yard sack of Kapernick pinned the Niners back to their own 4-yard line. Punt was rerturned to the Niner 35. On the first play from scrimmage, Roethlisberger hit Heyward-Bey for a 35-yard TD. XP was no good. Steelers 22 - Niners 3.

5:45 left till halftime. TB on the KO. On the 3rd [play from scrimmage, Kaepernick lost an aborted snap. Steeler ball on the Niner 42. Completions of +11, +12 and +13 yards helped set up a 2 yard TD run up the middle by De Williams. XP was good. Steelers 29 - Niners 3.

1:58 on the clock. TB on the KO. Niners couldn't get past their own 36 and punted. Punt was out of bounds at the Steeler 22 with 0:17 till halftime. Roethlisberger took a knee.

First Half Score: Steelers 29 - Niners 3.

Third Quarter
Niners returned the KO to therir own 18. They moved to their own 36, but a clipping penalty pushed them right back to their own 21 where a minus-6 yard sack of Kaepernick helped them wind up on their 17 - one yard farther back than where they started.Punt was faire caught at the Steeler 43. Niners held them to 3 & out. Punt was returned to the Niner 17 (familiar territory). Kapernick then engineered an 18-yard (8:08) drive which ended on the Steeler's 1-yard line after Kaepernick failed to convert a 4th & 1. Steelers were hemmed in at their own 2 and went 4 & out. Punt was returned to the Niner 36 and the quarter ended one play later as Kaepernick completed a 43-yard pass to Vernon Davis as the quarter ran out..

Third Quarter Score: Steelers 29 - Niners 3.

Fourth Quarter
Niners reached the Steeler 6, but a penalty and sack moved them back to the Steeler 14 where Keapernick and Boldin hooked up on a 14-yard catch and run. Ruling survived challenge. Steelers 29 - Niners 10.

TB on the KO. 6 plays later, De. Williams ran up the middle for a 1-yard TD that survived the usual challenge. Key plau was a 48-yard completion from Roethlisberger to Wheaton. Steelers 36- Niners 10.

TB on the KO. Two plays later, Keapernick hooked up with T Smith on a 75-yard home run. 2-pointer was good. Steelers 36- Niners 18.

TB on the KO. 9:43 still left. Two plays after Roethlisberger connected with A Brown for 56-yards, he hit Brownb again for a 7-yard TD. Steelers 43 - Niners 18.

7:43 to go. Kaepernick used up 5:18.worth of clock time on a 15-play drive capped by an apparent 3-yard TD run by the Niner QB. But on (ahem!) further review, the ruling was reversed (Kapernick didn't brea the plane). Ball was turned over to the Steelers on the one-yard line with 2:35 left on the clock and no Niner time outs. After Pitt ran for +11 yards on the opening play, M Vick took 3 knees to close 'er out.

Final Score: Steelers 43 - Niners 18.

Meaningful Stats

Passing - Kaepernick was 33 for 46, 335 yards, 2 TD's and a no picks.

Receiving -Leading receivers were T Smith and Anquan Boldin with 6 grabs a apiece and Vern Davis with 5. Smith and Boldin each caught one TD pass. Smith's tota receiving yardage was 120 (longest gain was for 75 yards). . Davis had a 43-yard catch to his credit.

Rushing - Hyde was held to 43 yards on 13 carries. Kaepernick led the Niners with 51 yards on 9 carries.

Pass Defense - Roethlsberger threw for 369 yards, 3 TD's, no picks and went 21 for 27. Antonio Brown had a huge day (9 catches for 195 yards and a TD). Heyward-Bey was second with 77 yards on 4 receptions.

Run Defense - De Williams gained 77 yards on 20 carries but scored 3 short TD's.

Turnovers - Kaepernick fumbled twice/lost one. He threw no picks. Steelers didn't cough up the ball.

Tackles - Acker led the Niners with 6 tackles followed by Reid and Wilhoite with 5 apiece.

Sacks - Pittsburgh went sack-free. Niners allowed Kaepernick to be sacked 5 times.

Third Down Efficiency - 7 for 17 (41%). Pitt was 6 for 10 (60%.

Fourth Down Efficiency - 3 for 5 (60%). Steelers didn't "go for it" on any 4th downs.

Net Rushing Yards -111. (Niners held Pitts to 369))

Net Passing Yards - 298 Yards. (They allowed Pitts to rack up 189)

Run/Pass Ratio: 31/46 (Steelers were 25/27)

Net Punting Average - 38.8 (vs. 43.0 for Pitts)

Penalties - Each team was flagged 7 times.

Red Zone Efficiency: Niners - 1 for 4 = 25%. Steelers - 5 for 5 = 100%)

Time of Possession: Niners: 36:59. Steelers: 23:01.

Rosters/Match-ups

Niners Offense

WR    81 Boldin............11 Patton...........10 B Ellington         
LT      74 Staley                     
LG     75 Boone............62 Silberman             
C       66 Martin............69 Easton     
RG    65 Devey.............60 B Thomas        
RT     71 Pears..............77 T Brown              
TE     85 V Davis...........89 McDonald....88 Celek......84 Bell                                 
WR    82 T Smith..........18 D White
FB.....49 Miller
RB.... 28 Hyde..............23 Bush...........38 Hayne.....22 M Davis                     
QB.....07 Kaepernick....02 Gabbert

Cardinal Defense

DE        93 Campbell..........73 Mauro
NT        95 Gunter...............69 X Williams                
DT        92 Rucker..............72 Stinson                    
SLB      52 Woodley.......... 47 Riddick....96 K Martin               
ILB       55 Weatherspoon..54 Demens              
ILB       51 Minter...............59 Fua                    
WLB    57 Okafor............. 44 Golden       
LCB     21 Peterson                    
RCB    25 Powers.............28 Bethel               
SS       22 Jefferson..........36 Bucannon.. 29 Clemons                 
FS       32 Mathieu............26 R. Johnson 
  

Matchup: Niner Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
Kaepernick is a mobile QB who can make all the throws and, when necessary, beat you with his feet. Problem is: opposing teams are adjusting to his QB'ing style and takes a lot of hits (sacked 5 times by Pittsburgh). (In a 16 game season, jhow long can he hold up)? His favorite targets are TE Vernon Davis and wideouts Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Niner roster has taken a hit this offseason and its OL hasn't been immune. How well Kaepernick performs depends, in part on how well his blockers protect him, and there is evidence that their are a few chinks in that armor.

The Cardinal secondary is physically talented but (as Chicago's first TD a week ago demonstrates) they can be prone to coverage occasional breakdowns that allow opposing receivers to get wide open. Need to put pressure on enemy passers sometimes puts Cardinal pass rushers in the position of deserting coverage of a RB in favor of rushing the QB. (Do that with Kaepernick at your own peril). Card defense has historically struggled in coverage vs. tight ends - they don't want to do this unless they want to allow Vernon Davis to run all over them. Miller. There are lots of combinations designed to contain Kaepernick, Boldin, T Smith, V Davis and their RB Hyde. Here's one that makes sense:

Key Matchups: Mathieu vs. Kaepernick. Peterson vs. Smith. Powers vs. Boldin. Bucannon vs. V Davis. Jefferson vs. Hyde. Let the remainder of Cardinal DL's and RB's play position football, contain Kaepernick and hang tough vs. the run.

Matchup: Niner Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
On paper, going into preseason, the CW was that it would be hard for the Niners to replace the departed Frank Gore. Backup RB Carlos Hyde was considered talented, but still a bit of a questionmark going into the Niners' first game vs. the Vikings. Those questions were answered emphatically when Hyde gained 168 on 26 carries. Teams throughout the league then wondered: Had the 49ers morphed into a smashmouth juggernaught riding the shoulders of Hyde? Apparently, the Steelers made a few adjustments, because Hyde's production was limited to 43 yards on 13 carries.

Meanwhile, a week ago, the Cardinals held another tough RB (Matt Forte) to 61 yards on 15 carries. Based on the Niner success vs. Minnesota and their struggles vs. the Steelers, we'd guess that they'd try to regain the mojo from Week #1 and revert to more of a smashmouth/ball control approach featuring large doses of Hyde punctuated with periodic designed runs (zone-read and otherwise) by Kaepernick. It will be up to our safeties and LB's to contain Kaepernick and prevent Hyde from running wild.

Key Matchups: Mathieu (as a spy) vs. Kaepernick. Jefferson, Remaining LB's and OL vs. Hyde.


Cardinal Offense

WR1     11 Fitzgerald, 12 John Brown, Golden   
LT         68 Veldheer, 79 Sowell                      
LG        76 Iupati, 62 Larsen                     
C          63 Sendlein, 53 Shipley                    
RG       61 Cooper, 74 Humphreys                   
RT        78 Watford, 70 Massie, 79 Sowell                      
TE        87 Niklas, 85 Fells            
WR2    15 M. Floyd, 14 JJ Nelson,13 Jaron Brown              
QB       03 Palmer, 05 Stanton xx Barkley        
RB       38 Ellington, 27 C Johnson, 31 D Johnson, 30 Taylor,
TE        85 Fells, xx Fauria, 84 Gresham, 87 Nikklas

Niners Defense

LDE  90 Dorsey.......63 Jerod-Eddie.....91 Armstead 
NT    93 I Williams...64 Purcell          
RDE  92 Dial............95 Carradine         
OLB..55 Brooks......96 Lemonier    
ILB.. .53 Bowman...56 Skov          
ILB....57 Wilhoite....50 Bellore                 
OLB  59 Lynch.......58 Harold       
RCB..26 Brock.......36 D Johnson    
LCB ..20 Acker.......27 K Reaser..........24 Wrightry       
FS   ..35 Reid.........25 Ward         
SS.....41 Bethea.....29 Tartt.................31 McCray

Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Niner Pass Defense
Niners lost a ton of defensive talent in the offseason. No more Willis. No more Smith boys...Absence of dynamic outside pass rushers (Zero sacks vs. Pittsburgh). With the exception of their FS (Reid and LB's Bowman, Brooks and the rookie Skov) we don't recognize many names on defense any more. In their first two games, Cardinal pass protectors have shut out enemy pass rushers.

Cards should get back two starting offensive linemen in Iupati and Massie (though it's unclear whether the suspended Massie can win back his old RT job from Watford). All three main RB's (Ellington, C Johnson and D. Johnson) can catch out of the backfield. Their top receivers (including Fitzgerald, John Brown and Floyd) are good to go and operating at a high level of production. TE's (Fells and Gresham) are offensive time-bombs ready to explode. Key to everything is how well we protect Carson Palmer. So far so good, but we've got to keep it that way.

Key Matchups: Cardinal OL, TE and/or RB vs. Bowman, Brooks and Dorsey. Fitz and John Brown vs. Brock and Acker. C Johnson or D Johnson vs. Bowman, Fells vs. Reid

Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Niner Run Defense
Ellington is considered a possibility to return this week (although I don't think BA will rush things). Cardinal running attack is still not as dominating as we might wish, but it's good enough to keep enemy pass rushers honest, and the Cards can be expected to run the ball because "that's what you've got to do" to generate a well-balanced offensivre attack. So early-on, expected the Cards to challenge the Niner front seven with runs, screens and flares in order to set up the deep pass.

Key Matchups: Iupati vs. Niner LB's; Ellington, C Johnson and D Johnson vs. Bowman, Brooks and Reid.

Special Teams

Niners

        05 Pinion                            
K         09 Dawson                            
H         05 Pinion0l     
LS       86 Nelson                                
KR      23 Bush                             
PR      23 Bush

Cardinals

K          07 Catanzaro                             
P          02 Butler                                   
H          02 Butler                             
LS        82 Leach                                  
KR       10 Golden          
PR       10 Golden

Matchup: Niner Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Nelson (shoulder) figures to be out for 2 - 4 weeks - which scares us (We really don't want to risk injuries to key defensive players like Peterson or Mathieu). Golden hasn't exactly set the world on fire so far, but has home run potential. The one player-move in a plus-direction for the Niners for a change was the addition of Bush who's a threat to put of 6 every time he touches the ball. In the Niner kicking game, Pinion didn't post very impressive numbers punting vs. Pittsburg. Dawson is reliable. For the Cards, Catanzaro has the leg and accuracy but is a bit inconsistent (with each long XP now an adventure). Butler Is getting the job done, but we also know he's capable of blowing up occasionally. Cardinal coverage teams continue to be loaded with talent.

Key matchups: Bethel and Campbell vs. Dawson. Dawson should have a slight advantage over Catanzaro. We like Bush over Golden.

Coaching
SF: The Niners are in transition from the Harbaugh era to that of Jim Tamsula. The way we saw it, Harbaugh won SF championships but his intensity threatened to "blow up Camelot." Tomsula brought with him former Card Geep Chryst as OC, Eric "Man Genius" Mangini as DC and Tom McGaughey Jr. as STC. We also note the presence of Tony Sparano as TE coach. It's a new group who no doubt is finding its way figuring out what things to keep from the Harbaugh era and what changes they want to bring to the party. The adjustment period may take a bit of time.

AZ: Bruce Arians comes across as having an "old school" coaching style but unafraid of new approaches or to stretch the play-calling envelope. HIs motto: "No risk-it/no biscuit." A fun guy to follow - and he backs it up with solid coaching fundamentals (he has a huge staff of teaching-coaches from diverse backgrounds) and proven success. So far he's 2 & 0, and one of his challenges will be to keep his players grounded and not victims of their own success.

Look for Tamsula to returnto the smashmouth approach that helped the Niners dismember the Vikings in convincing manner. And look for BA to continue doing what he's doing; but also bracing his team to meet the physical challenge from the NIners head-on.

Last Word
Huge game in our yard. Expect this game to be one of six division "wars" where anything can happen and where the bouncing ball, a breakdown in coverage or a maverick official can determine the outcome of the game. Be smart. Play hard, Be consistent.


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