Setting the Stage
Call it "The March to the Bottom" - perhaps the only remaining game on the Cardinals' schedule where they have a reasonable shot at winning. Cards got mashed by Denver on a Thursday night and are coming off a mini "breather, being off the following Sunday. Niners got blown out by the Rams.
Niner's 's Last Game
They got blown out by the Rams 39 - 10 in a turnover plagued outing reminicent of the 45 - 10 blow out of the Cardinals by the Broncos.
(Note - NFL is no longer posting play by play logs in a timely manner - so the following is more of a narrative recap of quarter by quarter highlights.
Rams got on the board first after their first takeaway- courtesy of a pair of young OLBs early in the1Q.... On 2nd-and-16 on the San Francisco 35, OLB Samson Ebukam came off the edge and recorded a sack/fumble on C.J. Beathard. Rookie Trevon Young was there to catch the airborne fumble for a Rams takeaway. Fumble led to a 35-yard FG by Greg Zuerlein.
Though the Niners were able to move the ball into Rams territory on their second possession, Cory Littleton came through on a pair of significant plays to keep the home team off the board.
On 1st-and-10 from the L.A. 26, Littleton perfectly read a screen to RB Raheem Mostert and made the tackle for a one-yard loss.
Then on 3rd-and-11, Littleton blitzed from the left and corralled Beathard for an 11-yard loss, taking the 49ers out of FG range. (Littleton’s first sack of the season and 2nd sack of his caree)r.
On the first play of San Francisco’s third possession, Aaron Donald ripped the ball away from running back Matt Breida . The ball never hit the ground for Los Angeles’ second takeaway of the first quarter. Donald would later have a sack
It didn’t take L.A. too long to fully capitalize on the turnover, using four plays to go 21 yards into the end zone. The offense converted a 3rd-and-3 play with a seven-yard jet sweep from wideout Brandin Cooks.
RB Todd Gurley did the rest, taking in a seven-yard handoff over the left side for his league-leading 12th touchdown of the season. (Gurley has scored a touchdown in his last 10 regular-season games).
First Quarter Score: Rams 3 - Niners 0.
Littleton continued his huge first half by blocking another punt. Littleton came through the middle of the punt protection. Though many Rams gave chase, they weren’t able to possess the ball before it went out of the back of the end zone for a safety. The two-point play gave L.A. a 15-0 lead.
Cornerback Troy Hill recorded the first interception of his career midway through the second quarter, giving Los Angeles its third extra possession in the first half. On 1st-and-10 from the Niner 49, Hill stepped in front of a pass over the middle intended for WR Marquise Goodwin and picked it off, returning the takeaway seven yards to the L.A. 40.
With the help of solid run yards from Malcolm Brown, L.A. got in position to further extend its lead.QB Jared Goff hit Cooks with a 19-yard pass in the front-left corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
With the extra point, the Rams led 22-0.
Niners got on the board at the end of the first half with a big drive faeturing tight end George Kittle. The 49ers leading receiver caught three passes for 68 yards on the possession, including a 10-yard touchdown with 16 seconds left to give Niners their first TD of the game.
Second Quarter Score: Rams 17 - Niners 7
The Niners opened the second half on offense, but didn’t hold it for long in large part thanks to Donald’s second sack of the game. On this play, Donald started lined up over a guard, but ended up rushing around the right tackle to bring Beathard down for Los Angeles’ fourth sack.
After San Francisco punted, Los Angeles got down to the red zone in part to a pair of strong runs by Gurley — one for nine yards, and another for 18. But Gurley was stuffed for a two-yard loss on 3rd-and-2 at the home team’s 13, and the Rams settled for a 33-yard Zuerlein FG.
Armed with a 25-7 lead, the Rams defense went back to work for its fourth takeaway of the game. On 3rd-and-1 from the San Francisco 34, safety John Johnson intercepted Beathard's pass for Kittle - Johnson tipped the ball before it could reach the tight end, and, while Kittle appeared to have control of the pigskin for a second, Johnson was able to rip it away and clearly possess it before it hit the ground.
With the ball on the Niners’ 27, the Rams didn’t take long to fully capitalize on the opportunity. Gurley ran it up the middle for seven yards, then Goff connected with wideout Josh Reynolds — for a 19-yard gain to the one-yard line. Then - running up to the line of scrimmage for no-huddle play - Gurley took the ball in over the left side for a one-yard touchdown.
Using their no-huddle offense, the 49ers were able to move the ball effectively into Rams territory. But Littleton once again came through bringing down Beathard at the L.A. 25 on 3rd-and-7 for an eight-yard sack. Kicker Robbie Gould nailed his 51-yard field goal to make the score 32-10, Los Angeles.
Third Quarter Score: Rams 32 - Niners 10
After a Johnny Hekker punt left the Niners on their own nine-yard line, Donald pushed them back even further with his third sack of the game. His four sacks doubled his season total to 8.0, - the first time in his career that he has recorded at 4.0 sacks in one contest.
With San Francisco punting out of its own end zone, returner JoJo Natson set L.A. up with good field position once again with a 36-yard return to the San Francisco 13. Gurley put the game on ice with his third touchdown of the day — on a 12-yard pass from Goff. With the extra point, Los Angeles took a 39-10 lead.
While the Rams elected to rest many of their starters on the ensuing defensive possession, Donald did return to record his fourth sack of the game — setting a new career high for a single contest.
From there, Los Angeles put in its reserves on offense — even running a play from I-formation, something the club never does — in order to salt the clock and leave the Bay Area with a victory.
Final Score: Rams 39 - Niners 10
Last Game Stats
Net Yards - LA 331 - SF 228
Penalties - LA 1 - SF 2
Time of Poss - LA 32:51 - SF 27:09
Passing (Beathard) - 15/27 170 yds 1 TD 2 Int.
Rushing (Mostert) - 7 carries for 59 yds. Mofrris 9 carries for 25 yds
Receiving - Kittle 5 catches for 98 yds. Mostert 4 catches for 19 yds.
Turnover Ratio -Minus-5
Niners in a Thumbnail
More like the Cards than different - Beathard is backup QB to injured Jimmy Garropolo - strength is more of a game-manager than lights-out passer. SF doesn't run very well. They don't protect the FB very well. Ther receiving corps possesses some hot-sauce but lacks a dominant superstart - top receiver is their TE (Kittle). Their offensive line isn't as shredded as the Cardinal O-line but doesn't do a great deal to protect Beathard or open up holes for Niner RB's. On defense, their top tackler is Warner. Foster is their young defender of the future but has been injured a lot. Their safety (Tartt) is a lights-out hitter.
STATISTICS TO DATE
Passing ....Sf Beathard (ranks 28) ....88 for 141... 62.4%.. Rating 81.3 .1062 Tot Yds 7 TDs ..7 Ints...Sacks 14
..................AZ Rosen (ranks 44)........71 for 129... 55,0%...Rating 66.0....820 Tot Yds 3 TDs...5 Ints...Sacks 13
Rushing....SF Brieda 68 carries for 445 yds 6.5 YPC
.................SF Morrris 71 carries for 253 yds 3.6 YPC
.................SF Mostert carries 25 for 157 yds...6.3 YPC
.................AZ D Johnson 106 carries for 335 3.2 YPC
.................SF..Kittle.............32 for 527...1.6.5 YPR
.................SF..Juszczyk......19 for 245.....12.9 YPR
................SF..Garcon..........21 for 230.....11.0 YPR
................SF..Goodwin.......11 for 204......8.6 YPR.....82 Lng
................SF..Taylor............17 for131.......7.7 YPR.....16 Lng
................AZ Kirk...............28 for 368....13.1 YPR.....75 Lng
................AZ Fitzgerald.....26 for 255 .....9.8 YPR.....27 Lng
Tackles....SF Warner 58
................SF Tartt 30
...............SF Foster 28
...............AZ Baker 65
...............AZ Bethea 61
...............AZ Bynes 56
Sacks.....SF Buckner 4.5 (ranks #21)
...............AZ S Jones 6.5 (ranks #6)
Total Offense - Niners 2519 /League Average 2430
Run/Pass Ratio - Niners 191/141 - Opp 184/156
Pass Yds/Game - 222.4 / League Average 253.9
Rush Yds 962 - Opp 735
Rush YPC 5.0 / Opp 4.0
Rush Yds/Game - 137.4 / League Average 110.4
Pass Defense - 59.8% / League Avg 65.0
Def Pass Yds/Gm - 265.6 / League Avg 253.2
Def Rush Yds/Att 4.0 / League Avg 4.32
Sacks - Niners 14 / Opp 27
Intercepted - Niners 10 / Opp 1
FG - Niners 14 of 15 93.3% /League Ave 11 of 13 84.4%
KOR - YPR - Niners 28.2 /League Avg 23,2
PR - YPR - 3.6 / League Avg 8.6
QB ..03 Beathard...04 Mullens
RB.....22 Brieda...46 Morris...31 Mostart
WR1....15 Garcon...18 Pettis...84 Bourne
WR2 ...11 Goodwin...81 T Taylor...13 R James
TE......88 Celek...85 Kittle...89 Wick
LT.......74 Staley...78 Coleman
LG ..75 Tomlinson...66 Toran
OC .58 Richberg...62 Magnuson
RG......68 Person...65 Garnett
RT ..69 McGlinchey...76 Gilliam
Defensive Interior Line
DE - 44 Golden, 91 Mayowa, xx Z Moore,
DT - 90 Nkemdiche, 72 Pierre, G Smith
NT - 98 Peters, 95 Gunter
DE- 55 C Jones, 96 J Smith
SAM - 43 Reddick, 92 Gardeck
MLB - 57 Bynes, 51 Hodges
WILL - 20 Bucannon, 47 Turner
LCB - 21 Peterson, 26 B Williams, 39 Nichols
RCB - 28 J Taylor, 23 Benwikere
SS - 36 Baker, 30 Ford
FS - 41 Bethea, 38 Boston, 40 Tillman*
Matchup: Niner Passing Attack vs. Cardinal Pass Defense
Beathard (62% rating) is more of a game manager with a well-balanced offense than big time thrower who relies on on or two superstars. . His favorite target is his TE (Kittle). He's posted 7 TDs, but has been intercepted equally as often and sacked 14 times. Other seasoned, dangerous receivers are Garcon and Goodwin. His RB's (Brieda, Morris, Mostert) are all pretty good receivers.
Safeties (Bethea and Baker are active in pass coverage (But there's been a dropoff since Ford was asked to fill in for the injured Boston). Peterson is a legitimate Pro Bowl "lock down" corner but his production has fallen off since being asked to perform in mostly zone coverage rather than press-man. Benwikere appears to be winning the battle to start at #2 CB opposite PP21 and has held up fairly well - though still learning the ropes.
Cardinal pass rush (C Jones, Golden, Nkemdiche et al) must be considered a team strength. Niner blockers have experience in Staley, Richberg & Co. but Beathard can be surprised and chased out of the pocket by delayed-blitzers. Niner QBs have been sacked 27 times (vs. 14 sacks by Niners)).
Key Matchups: Kittle vs. Bucannon, Peterson vs. Goodwin; Benwikere vs. Garcon. C Jones Golden, Nkemdiche vs. Niner OL
Matchup: Niner Rushing Attack vs. Cardinal Run Defense
Niners split run game among Morris, Breida and Mostert - who are unspectacular but run low to the ground with pretty toughness aftercontact. Beathard scrambles more than you'd normally like your QB to do.
Cardinal run tacklers lack lane discipline and don't reliably bring down runners after contact. Their young OLBs (Bucannon and Reddick) are on the small side (more like converted safeties). So what you get are either tacklers who are too often out of position or - even when they're not out of position - will hit the ball carrier but then "bounce off." Cardinal safeties have been quite involved in Cardinal run defense, but when Boston went down with an injury, his backup (Ford) hasn't picked up the slack as a tackler.
Key Matchups: Brieda, Morris or Mostert vs Bynes, the Card DL, Riddick or Bucannon
03 Rosen, 09 Bradford, 07 Glennon
23 D Johnson, 29 Edmonds, 22 Logan, 32 Coleman
WR - 11 Fitzgerald, 13 Kirk, 16 Sherfield
WR - 16 C Williams, 14 Nelson,
TE1 - 86 Seals-Jones, 85 Holmes, 84 Gresham,
LT- 74 Humphries, 73 Wetzel, (79 Cunningham)
LG - 76 Iupati, 68 Vujnovich,
OC- 64 Cole, 62 Munyer
RG- 67 Pugh, (68 Vujnovich)
RT - 71 A Smith, 75 Clausell, 79 Cunningham
LDE......94S Thomas...54 Marsh
LDT.....90 Mitchell...93 DJ Jones
RDT......99 Buckner...96 Day
DE....91 Armstead...98 Blair...77 J Taylor
SAM....51 M Smith...53 Nzeocha
MIKE...48 Warner...47 Lee
WILL..56 R Foster
LCB.....25 Sherman...20 Ward...24 K Williams
RCB....23 Witherspoon...26 Mabin...33 Moore
FS .....27 Colbert...32 Reed Jr
SS......29 Tartt...38 Exum...30 Powell
Matchup: Cardinal Passing Attack vs. Niner Pass Defense
Rosen is still getting adjusted to "life in the passing lane." He's learning how to hang in there despite miserable pass protection and receivers who drop the ball as often as they hang onto it. The depressing thing is that, when Rosen gets protection and his receivers hang onto the football, he can really zip the ball with accuracy (though he will go thru spells where he overthrows the open man).
Niners pass rush is only "ordinary" - their primo pass rusher (Buckner) has 4.5. Sherman was held out of the Ram game - his status for Sunday is uncertain - but when he's healthy, Sherman is one of the top corners in the NFL. Stats show that Niner defenders have only intercepted one pass (vs. 10 by its opponents. Niners have sacked opposing QBs 14 times (vs. 27 times Niner QBs have been sacked. Niner defenders have only picked off one pass (compared to 10 interceptiond by Niner opponents).
Cards are beginning to use their TE more in the receiving game - adding Seals-Jones or Gresham to their two receivers, Kirk and Fitzgerald. All season long, talk has centered around "finding ways to get David Johnson more touches." Unfortunately, all the talk and good intentions have not translated to more touches by DJ.
What every fan wants to know is - what will play calling and play design be like under new OC Byron Leftwich? Hopefully the Cardinal offense will be more wide open than it was under McCoy. (we encourage this - heck, what do we have to lose at 1 & 6)?
Fitz vs Flowers..Kirk vs. Sherman or Griffin...Gresham or Seals vs. Thomas...Johnson vs. Warner
Matchup: Cardinal Running Attack vs. Niner Run Defense
Production doesn't match "good intentions" to run the ball more and give David Johnson more touches. Starts with the offensive line (who opens holes that are smaller than a snake-hole). Lack of run production created a self-fulfilling offensive culture where - since they couldn't gain rush yardage anyway - why bother to give the ball to DJ?
Actually, the Cards appear to be fascinated by what Edmonds can do with the ball in his hands, but he's more of a 3rd down type RB who has trouble pushing the pile inside.
D Johnson vs. Warner, Cardinal OL vs. Warner, Foster, Buckner
Niner Special Teams
K 09 Gould
P 05 Pinion
H 05 Pinion
LS 86 Nelson
KR 32 Reed Jr
PR 81 T Taylor
Cardinals Special Teams
P - 02 Lee
K- 04 Dawson
H - 02 Lee
LS -46 Brewer
KR - 22 Logan, 14 Nelson
PR - 13 Kirk, 22 Logan
Matchup: Niner Special Teams vs. Cardinal Special Teams
Dawson and Lee are fine. Pinion and Gould appear to be equally as good.
Kirk is slowly becoming more comfortable (& dangerous) returning punts and kicks.
Coaching / Intangibles
Niners are in the second year of the Kyle Shanahan coaching regime. He's said to have worked miracles during the final month of last season going 5 & 0 in December, but the loss of his star QB (Jimmy O) has been a challenger.
As for the Cardinals, OC Mike McCoy is now "former OC" and the question looms large - "What will the Cardinal offense be under new OC Byron Leftwich?
According to Byron: ‘We’re not going to try and reinvent the wheel,’”
Leftwich is a bridge from the previous regime of Bruce Arians and (as noted by current coach Steve Wilks), someone who was around when the Cardinals) had excellent success with David Johnson as both a runner and receiver.
But just how much the offense will change remains to be seen: According to Justin Pugh, the problem rests more with individual execution than it does play calling and scheme:
“Our offense isn’t going to change overnight because of what happened, We all played a role in what happened to coach McCoy, and it’s not all his fault. There are things we have to correct, regardless of the offensive coordinator.”
Wilks said he is looking for improvement from the offense and “that could mean a ton of things.” But running the ball better s the top priority. Protecting quarterback Josh Rosen is next.
The Cardinals have a lot to fix, of course. Only the Bills rank lower in scoring per game, and Cards remain last in third-down conversions.
(Ed Note - What I didn't hear from Coach Wilks or OC Leftwich was anything about a more aggressive approach to playcalling or more creative approach to play design or adding to the playbook. Yet my gut instincts tell me that, while better execution is part of the answer, more modern, zippier strategizing is also key).
How to Beat the Niners
Contain Beathard and force mistakes. Match up physically. Run the football. Tackle (much) better. Don't make mistakes