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2016 Regular Season
Preview: Niners @ Cards

Setting the Stage:
Cards are coming off a Bye week after a gut-wrenching tie with Seattle followed by a MNF shellacking by the Panteras. Niners lost to the Saints 41 - 23. Cards remain 1.5 games behind Seattle but have benefitted from a rash of losses by their other two division rivals (the Rams and Niners). Saints added another half-game in the win column with a 31 - 25 victory over the Bills. At 3 - 4 - 1, the Cardinals have to consider every remaining game - including this one - a "must" game. Niners. Cards are beaten-up - their starting LT (Veldheer) on IR and defensive cog (Mathieu) out from 3 - 6 games. The Niners are pretty much done, with the transition from Gabbert to Kaepernick at QB pretty m
uch implemented.

Opponent's Last Game
Niners led by 11 points at the end of the 1Q and by 11 at the half. NO led by 18 at the beginning of the 4Q and wound up a 41 - 23 winner. Kaepernick completed 24 of 39 throws for 2 TD'a and gave up one TD. Ingram and Hightower netteda combined 245 yds on the ground (including a 75 yard TD burst by Ingram). M Thomas and B Cooks caught 5 passes apiece (Thomas is credited with 2 TD's). McDonald and D Harris had a TD apiece. Niners only ran 17 rushing plays (10 by D Harris and 5 by Kaepernick).

On defense, Hodges led all Niner tacklers with 11 (including one sack). Bellore was next with 8 tackles. NO converted 64% of their 3rd downs - even more revealing- the Saints attempted 17 while the Niners only tried to convert 9. Niners were 0 for 2 in the Red Zone (Saints were 3 for 5). Saints hogged time of possession 38:53 to 21:07 (Chalk it up to turnovers plus dominance in the run game).

First Quarter
NO received. KO returned to the NO 20. Three of the 9 snaps during the NO possession marred by penalties. They punted from their own 31. Kerley returned the punt 11 yards to the Niner 24. Niners survived to offensive penalties (out of 9 snaps) but the drive stalled at the NO 31 and they settled for a 49 yard Dawson FG. Niners 3 - NO 0.

KO returned to the NO 17. A 23-yard completion to M Thomas, a 32-yard hook-up with Hill and a 4-yd TD run off RG by Hightower highlighted a 10-yard NO TD drive. Saints 7 - Niners 3

TB on the KO. Niners made it out to their own 49, but Kaepernick's pass for Kerley on the fourth play of the drive was intercepted and (with a horse-collar penalty tacked on) gave NO the ball on the Niner qw. On the fifth play of the possession, Brees hit M Thomas for a 1-yd TD. Saints 14 - Niners 3.

TB on the KO. Niners made it to the NO 33 as the quarter ended.

First Quarter Score: Saints 14 - Niners 3.

Second Quarter
On the 3rd play of the quarter, Kelly "went for it" on a 4th & 1 (at the NO 24). Run by D Harris was short. NO ball on downs. Brees put together a 12 play (6:05) TD drive capped by a Brees to Ingrahm short pass. Brees shredded the Niner secondary, mixing short passes (longest gainer was 15-yds) with runs by Hightower and Ingram. .Saints 21 - Niners 3.

KO returned by Shepard to the Niner 35. Two plays after he hit Celek for +15 yds, Kaepernick connected with D Harris for a 47-yard TD. Saints 21 - Niners 10.

TB on KO. One the first play from scrimmage, Ingram scooted 75 yards off RT for a NO TD. Saints 28 - Niners 10.

KO returned 33 yards by Shepard to the SF 33. A 31-yd pass to Celek moved SF to the NO 36, but an illegal block block above the waist helped stall the SF drive at the NO 30, where Dawson was good from 48-yards. Saints 28 - Niners 13.

TB on the KO. Saints made it to their own 46, but had to punt. Fair catch (net fair catch interference penalty) gave SF the ball at their own 28. Three plays later (with 1:16 on the clock) Kaepernick hit V McDonald for +65 yards and a TD. Saints 28 - Niners 20.

NO returned the KO to their own 21. Completions of +26, +17 and +19 yards helped set up a 26-yard FG, with 0:04 left on the clock. Saints 31 - Niners 20.

2nd Half Score: Saints 31 - Niners 20.

Third Quarter
SF received and Shepard ran out the KO to the Niner 32. They made it to the Saint 8 but M Davis fumbled and NO recovered. Saints were boxed in at their one and went 3 & out. Kerley returned the punt 10-yds to the Niner 43. They managed to move to the NO 28, but had to settle for a 46-yard Dawson FG. Saints 31 - Niners 23.

KO was muffed but went out of bounds at the NO 15. Sainta mounted a 12-play drive that wound up with a missed 55-yard FG. (Five plays on the drive were running plays). Niners got the ball back on their own 45. aints held Niners to 3 & out. Saints downed the punt at their own 23 and ran three plays to end the quarter..

Third Quarter Score: Saints 31 - Niners 23.

Fourth Quarter
Four plays later, Brees hit M Thomas for a 32-yard TD. Saints 38 - Niners 23.

TB on KO. Niners held to 3 & out. Pinion's punt fair caught at the NO 24 (Reid injured). Saints moved to NOner 23 in 9 plays and tacked on another 3 points on a 41-yd Lutz FG. Saints 41 - Niners 23.

Final Score: Saints 41 - Niners 23.

Team Stats

First Downs - Niners 150 / Opponents 182

Third Down Conversions - Niners 394/111 / Opponents 55/118

Fourth Down Conversions - Niners 4/11 / Opponents 1/3

Offensive Yards - Niners 2,516 / Opponents 3,324

Rushing Plays/Yards/Avg - Niners 237/4.2 / Opponents 294/5.3

Passing Compl/Att/Int/AvgYds - Niners 140/252/8/6.4 Opponents - 162/263/5/7.3

Sacks - Niners 14.0 / Opponents 18.0

Field Goals - Niners 11/12 / Opponents 14/17

Time of Possession -Niners 25:32/ Opponents 34:28

Turnover Ratio - -6

Key Player Stats

Passing: Gabbert - 87 of 150 for 860 yds, 58.0%, 5.9 YPA, 5 Td's, 6 Ints. 69.6 Rating. Kapernick - 53 of 102 for 728 yds, 52.0%, 7.1 YPA, 4 TD's, 2 Ints,, 80.0 Rating.

Rushing: Hyde -109 for 429 yds (3.9 YPA). QB's - 61 for 345

Receiving: Kerley (33 for 353 & 2 TD's). Patton (25 for 293). Celek 16 for 215). T Smith (15 for 217 & 2 TD's). Hyde (13 for 66). V McDonald (11 for 226 and 3 TD's)

Field Goals - Dawson: 11 for 12 (missed one outside the fifty)

Punting - Pinion: 45.5 gross avg

Punt Returns - Kerley 11 for 8.4 avg

Kickoff Returns - Various - 20.6 YPR

Tackles -Bethea (53), Reid (50, Bellore 45), Hodges (40), Buckner (38)

Sacks -14 Sacks (scattered): Armstead and Brooks lead with 2.5 followed by Hodges and Buckner (2 each). Opponents racked up 18 sacks vs. Niners' 14.

Interceptions - 5 Picks (Opponents had 8) : Scattered among 5 Niner defenders.

Fumble Recoveries - 8 Niners recovered 8 fumbles /Opponents netted 13.

Rosters/Match-ups

Niner Offense

WR......17 Kerley (A).................19 K Martin
LT.........74 Staley (A).................71 Theus
LG........68 Beadles (P)        
OC       67 Kilgore (A)...............66 M Martin (P)             
RG       65 Garnett (P)..............61 Tiller (A)    
RT       77 T Brown (P)
TE       89 V McDonald (BA)....88 Celek (P)............84 Bell (P).........85 Hamm (BA)         
WR      82 T Smith (P).............13 Burbridge (P)                                            
WR     11 Patton (P)................81 Streator (P)
RB      28 Hyde (BA)...............24 Draughn (P)........22 M Davis (P)......32 DJ Harris (BA).
QB......07 Kaepernick.............02 Gabbert (P).....15 Ponder

PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality)

Cardinal Defense

LDE      93 Campbell (AA) .....72 Stinson (P)
NT        98 Peters (A)..............69 X Williams ......72 Pierre                
DT        95 Gunter........)..........92 Rucker) ..........97 Mauro ...90 Nkemdiche
SLB     55 C Jones (AA).........57 Okafor               
ILB       20 Bucannon (P) .......50 G Martin           
ILB       51 Minter (P)..............54 Bartu                
WLB    44 Golden (A).............96 K Martin     
LCB     21 Peterson AA)                
RCB    41 Cooper (A)............26 B Williams ......28 Bethel              
SS       36 Swearinger...........27 Branch                
FS       22 T Jefferson (HQ)

PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality) 

Matchup: Niner Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
I always felt Kaepernick was a better fit than Gabbert QB'ing Chip Kelly's ("Oregon") offense - which features an uptempo rhythm and reliance on zone-read plays which puts pressure on every defensive player - who must focus on stopping Gabbert and Hyde on the ground and WR Kerley and TE's Celek and McDonald via the air.

Although other receivers - T Smith and Patton - are making strides, they're both rated "poor" by PFF and, to my thinking, WR remains a Niner weak-spot.

Cards will be without Tyrann Mathieu (who claims to understand how the key to stopping the zone read is by blowing up the play in the enemy backfield at point of contact). It worked once vs. Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo, but, before that play, the Cards seemed to be sleep walking against it. Kaepernick is a more lethal running threat than Gabbert but, of late, has been making too many bad decisions on the run.

Three of the five starting Niner O-lineman have "poor" ratings by PFF. (The other two are rated "average"). Look for the Cards to attempt to rattle Kaepernick, while at the same time keeping him contained - both up the middle and on the edges. avoid giving up cheap TD's.

Coordination, communication and wrap-up tackling skills will be key to containing the Niner 4-headed monster (of Kaepernick, Celek,Kerley and either Hyde (when healthy) or DJ Harris. T Jefferson also points out that, although a defense may be picture-perfect for 80 of 83 plays, those three plays wlll often kill you - so ad "consistency" to the list of "C"'s. .

Expect C Jones and Golden to put pressure on Kaepernick from the outside while a combination of ILB's, DL's and safeties are available as "spies" and to motor up the A-gap to disrupt the lead-draw at point of contact. We expect Peterson to be all over Kerley like a cheap coat.

Key Matchups: C Jones and M Golden vs. Staley and T Brown. Peterson vs. Kerley. Buccanon vs. Celek/ V McDonald. Jefferson vs. Hyde/Harris

Matchup: Niners Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
When healthy, their RB Hyde is arguably the Niner's most dangerous offensive threat, but he's been injured and his status for Sunday uncertain. Niners like what they've seen from backup RB DeJuan Harris. Card run defense - while capable of stoning the run - can be overwhelmed by low-pad straight ahead blocking. It's all a matter of attitude. When the Cards have it, they can render the run useless, but when they allow their tacklers to be blown off the ball and second-efforted by RB'a "running low", they look very average.

Hyde is averaging 3.9 ypc. Minter had a poor outing last week, and we expect Minter to have a big day- especially as a watchdog to contain Hyde. (The big SF running back will kill you if you miss a tackle or prematurely vacate a gap).

Key Matchup: Hyde or Harris vs. Minter. Kaepernick vs. Cardinal "spy"


Cardinal Offense

WR1    11 Fitzgerald (HQ)...13 Jaron Brown
LT        73 Wetzel                       
LG       76 Iupati (AA)                   
C         53 Shipley (..............70 Boehm                    
RG       78 Watford (P)...........61 Toner                   
RT........74 Humphries (A)
TE       .85 Fells ..................80 Momah      
WR2    15 M. Floyd (BA).....12 John Brown (A).....14 JJ Nelson        
QB       03 Palmer* (P).........05 Stanton     
RB       31 D Johnson (AA)..23 C Johnson*...........38 Ellington.......30 Taylor
TE        84 Gresham (P)

PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality)

Niner Defense

LDT......91 Armstead (P)....99 Buckner(BA).....98 Blair (P)
NT........64 Purcell (P)........90 Dorsey (P)
RDT.....92 Dial (A).............63 Jerrod-Eddie (P)
OLB....55 Brooks (P)........95 Carradine (BA).....
ILB......50 Bellore (P)........56 Skov
ILB......51 Hodges (A)......57 Wilhoite (P)          
OLB....59 Lynch (P).........58 Harold (P)    
LCB....26 Brock (AA).......36 D Johnson (A)....33 R Robinson (A)
RCB....25 Ward A)..........27 Reaser (A)...........38 Shepard
FS......35 Reid (A)*..........20 M Cromartie           
SS......41 Bethea (A).......29 Tartt (BA)

PFF ratings in parentheses (P = Poor, BA = Below Avg, A = Avg, AA = Above Avg, HQ = High Quality)

Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Niners Pass Defense
When the Cardinal pass blocking has been shaky, Carson Palmer has been shakier - you see it in his decision-making and the funky way he delivers the ball (i.e. he'll throw off his back foot and kind of "push" the ball. His throws be a tad inaccuarate and occasionally lack zip). Cards were without their starting RG (Mathis) and now their starting LT (Veldheer) now on IR.

Cardinal pass blocking has had its moments, but equally as often allowed enemy pass rushers to get to Palmer (who was sacked 7 times in his pre-Bye game vs. Carolina.

The Cardinal receiving corps has taken its hits - Out is Jaron Brown. Limping around has been Michael Floyd. Coping with sickel-cell disease leg-cramps is John (Smoky) Brown. With Jaron out, Bruce Arians has increasingly turned to diminutive blazer JJ Nelson to provide a greater home run threat. And he has an additional weapon to throw to in RB David Johnson to throw to. Expect BA and Palmer to throw to the "hot hands" (whomever that turns out to be in any given week.

Niners have been giving up more yards than their opponents have gained. When you review the PFF numbers, the thing that sticks out (compared to other teams we've played) is the lack of really high-rated Nine defensive players (i.e. you'd look at ratings for Bills and Ram defenders and be amazed at how many on each team were ranked in the NFL top 10. Not so with the Niners - Hodges, Reid and Bethea are rated "above average" (& we'd guess that Bowman - who mysteriously isn't rated at all belongs in that group) but that's about it

Niner pass defenders come across as relatively "averag." Their LCB (Brock) is rated "Above Average" by PFF. The other three starters in the Niner secondary are rated "Average" and their Free Safety (Reid) left last week's game vs. the Saints with an injury.

Niner pass rushers have sacked opposing QB's 14 times. (By comparison, Niner opponents have sacked NinerQB 18 times). Card pass blockers allowed the weak-sacking Panteras to sack Palmer 7 times. Unlike some NFL teams - who rely on one or two sack-meisters - the two leading Niner sackers are Armstead and Brooks with 2.5 sacks apiece.

Key Matchups: D Johnson vs. Bethea or Reid. Fitz, Floyd, John Browns & or Nelson vs. Brock, Ward & C Davis. Veldheer and Iupati vs. Armstead or Brooks.

Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Niners Run Defense
David Johnson continues to be having a lights-out season and is ranked #1 (or close to it) by PFF. He's earning that rating in a number of ways - running between the tackles or around the flanks, powering for extra yards after contact or catching out of the backfield (either as a screen receiver or running regular routes as an extra WR). His recent run vs. the Panthers - where he hurdled one tackler and juked another out of his jock - s sure to make very highklight reel and reminds us of a 225 pound version of Barry Sanders.

Cards will have to rely on a starting OL of Wetzel, Iupati, shipley, Watford and Humphries to open up holes for D Johnson and his backup, Ellington. (Given the risk you take when you rely on backups to handle pass blocking), we expect the Cardinals to follow the blue-print of the Saints (who churned out 248 yds vs. SF last week) and distribute large doses DJ

Key Matchup: D Johnson vs. Brooks and Harold

Special Teams

Rams

K          04 Dawson                         
P          05 Pinion                        
H          05 Pinion  
LS        86 Nelson                             
KR       47 Kerley........82 T Smith                   
PR       17 Kerley........82 T Smith

Cardinals

K          07 Catanzaro                             
P          09 Quigley                                   
H          02 Butler                             
LS        46 Brewer                                 
KR       38 Ellington              
PR        12 Jn Brown

Matchup: Pats Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Lackluster special teams play has been the Achilles Heel of the Cardinals all season. From missed kicks by Catanzaro to lopsided yards-per-return numbers by Cardinal opponents - you could make the argument that breakdowns on special teams cost us at least three games this season.

Quigley was brought in to handle punting chores until Butler recovered. uns it out.

Meanwhile "Old Reliable" Mr. Dawson is 11 for 12 (his only miss coming from 50+ yards out). Pinion is averaging over 45.5 gross yards a punt. Gotta watch Kerley - his yards per punt return has come down considerably as the season progressed, bur he's still quite dangerous.

Key matchups: Kerley vs. Cardinal punt coverage team.

Coaching
SF: I remain a Chip Kelly fan and was pretty surprised when things went south in Philly amid rumblings that the Chipster was inflexible and his insistence on "my way or the highway" (including an uptempo offense that often kept the Eagle defense on the field for too long) created problems in the locker room.
. Kelly got a second shot in SF, but also has had the additional burdeon of juggling QB duties between Gabbert and Kaepernick and dealing with Colin Kaepernick's "actions of conscience."

AZ: BA no doubt didn't expect his team to be below .500 (& playing like it) this season. His mission has to be to keep the team culture pointed in the right direction and to keep his injury-depleted squad playing to a high level.

Last Word
Cards come off a Bye week preceded by a gut-wrenching tie with Seattle and
an unimpressivel loss to Carolina. And his team has had to look up at the rear-end of the Seahawks as they receive official-call after official-call as Seattle expands their division lead to 2-games.

Don't bother to try to game the schedule. Every game counts now - there's no more wriggle-room. Card players just have to put their head down and grind away.


 
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