With Sunday’s win over the Arizona Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers managed to do something they could not do at all last season: win three games in a row. Thanks to solid performances on offense and defense, the 49ers (4-2) now have sole position of second place in the NFC West, still one game behind the Seattle Seahawks.
The 49ers initially had a tough time getting their offense going thanks to the Cardinals’ defense ranked 3rd in the league against the run. That defense held the 49ers to three punts and a field goal on their first four possessions. However, strong contributions by Frank Gore and Vernon Davis eventually got the offense rolling. Gore ran for 101 yards on 25 carries; overall, the 49ers’ offense gained 149 yards on the ground against the Cardinals’ defense. Davis had 8 catches for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns. Colin Kaepernick completed 16 of 29 passes for 252 yards and 2 touchdowns, but also threw an interception and fumbled the ball once. Coach Jim Harbaugh compared the offense’s efforts to “grinding meat,” especially the 18-play 89-yard drive in the fourth quarter that took up 9 ½ minutes and culminated in a touchdown.
The offense’s domination of time of possession kept the defense fresh enough to force four Cardinal turnovers during the game. Several 49ers’ defensive players gave exceptional efforts to halt the Cardinals’ offense including Eric Reid, Corey Lemonier, Patrick Willis, and Carlos Rogers. Rookies Reid and Lemonier shined in particular. Lemonier had 3 tackles, 1 sack for a safety, and one forced fumble. Reid had 3 tackles and one interception. Willis, returning to the field after missing two games due to a groin injury, and Rogers led the defense with 8 tackles each. Willis also forced a fumble by Larry Fitzgerald and Rogers intercepted Carson Palmer.
The turnovers made by the 49ers’ defense may have made the difference in the game as Palmer was still allowed to throw for 298 yards and 2 touchdowns. Fitzgerald had 6 catches for 117 yards. Cardinals’ running backs combined for 109 yards rushing. These statistics show that despite the 49ers’ defense’s strong efforts, much room for improvement remains.
The nose tackle position, where the team was already thin heading into this game, is another big concern for the 49ers. Glenn Dorsey, who replaced original starter Ian Williams, left the game due to a hamstring injury. Dorsey was replaced by Tony Jerod-Eddie who also had to leave the game briefly due to cramps. Jerod-Eddie was replaced by Demarcus Dobbs, the only other active defensive lineman available. Who will start at nose tackle for the upcoming game against the Tennessee Titans?
The Cardinals proved to be a tougher opponent than many expected, both offensively and defensively. Fortunately the 49ers’ offense and defense were better. Turnovers, time of possession, and a deliberate running game were the keys to this tough win for the 49ers.
Sara DeBord is an NFL writer for www.footballandfutbol.com and www.baysportsreport.com.