Dashon Goldson and the 49ers' defense kept Arizona out of the end zone
With the World Series ending yesterday, the attention of the nation's sports fans would turn to a key NFC West matchup tonight between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football.
The 49ers came into the contest with a one-game lead in the division over the Cardinals. The 49ers won convincingly, by a score of 24-3. The victory gave the 49ers a 6-2 record and three-game lead in the division.
The 49ers and Cardinals both have tough, physical defenses—a common thread among NFC West teams. The difference in the game was the 49ers offense was far more productive than that of the Cardinals.
It's hard to find any losers among the 49ers in tonight's game, as they thoroughly dominated the Cardinals in every phase.
Let's take a closer look at the winners for the 49ers in tonight's battle.
Ray McDonald played a very solid game on the defensive line
Ray McDonald was a force on the defensive line for the 49ers tonight. Although he had only three tackles, two of them were excellent plays, as he broke through Arizona's line and tackled the ball carrier for a loss.
The 49er defensive linemen typically are asked to occupy blockers, allowing their outstanding linebackers to make the majority of the tackles on running plays. McDonald's two big plays were significant setbacks for the Arizona offense.
McDonald and the 49ers' front seven basically forced Arizona to completely abandon the ground game. This allowed the defense to put relentless pressure on quarterback John Skelton.
They came away with four sacks, several hurries and many hard hits on Skelton.
Delanie Walker had two big catches for the 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers have utilized Delanie Walker more in the past two games. As teams have focused on shutting down Vernon Davis, the 49ers' second tight end has been given some opportunities to make plays.
Walker had two big catches for 38 yards and first downs. When opposing defenses spend the majority of its time concentrating on Davis, Crabtree, Gore, Manningham or Moss, Walker becomes an afterthought.
Fortunately for the 49ers, offensive coordinator Greg Roman has not forgotten about Walker and is getting him involved in the game plan.
Randy Moss thrills the Monday Night Football audience yet again
Moss took a six-yard pass from Alex Smith, sidestepped a tackler and raced down the sideline for a 47-yard touchdown.
Moss has now scored 18 touchdowns in 19 Monday Night Football games. When he is on the field, it adds to the explosiveness of the entire 49ers offense.
Although Moss has not been a major force in the 49ers offense thus far, he remains engaged and focused. A significant example of this was when Michael Crabtree made a nice catch and run, it was Moss coming back to make a block on the play, allowing Crabtree to gain extra yardage. A disengaged Moss doesn't do that.
Moss has also been a model teammate and a great mentor to the younger 49er receivers.
Michael Crabtree had an excellent game
Michael Crabtree had an excellent game on the national stage and showed why he is the 49ers' number one receiver.
He caught five passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
Crabtree's first touchdown was a tough catch over the arms of cornerback Patrick Petersonl. That was a pivotal play, as it was third down and had Crabtree failed to make that play, the 49ers would have had to settle for a field goal attempt.
Crabtree also did a great job running, after the catch as he turned a couple of short passes into much bigger gains. Crabtree's second touchdown occurred when he caught the ball inside the Arizona 10-yard line, eluded a tackler and burst into the end zone.
Alex Smith was on target for the entire game
Alex Smith played arguably his best game of the year.
He was spot-on with his passes, as he completed 18 of his 19 throws for 232 yards and three touchdowns. One of the most important things was Smith hit his receivers in stride, so they could be in the best position to make yards after the catch.
Smith's accuracy has sometimes been a question mark, but tonight he threw the ball beautifully. Although Smith did not throw the ball deep, he found his receivers open and took what the Cardinals defense gave him.
He was in command of the offense and made excellent decisions throughout the game.
Jim Harbaugh has the 49ers in first place in the NFC West
The San Francisco 49ers took a two-game lead in the NFC West with tonight's victory on Monday Night Football. There are areas where the 49ers can still improve and become more consistent.
The offensive line allowed four sacks in a game where the 49ers passed the ball sparingly.
The 49ers also committed too many penalties on offense, especially in the first half. An Alex Boone face-mask penalty killed the 49ers' promising opening drive.
The 49ers seemed to have trouble early in the game getting the play in to quarterback Alex Smith. They were called for a delay-of-game penalty once and forced to burn a timeout on another play to avoid another penalty.
Garrett Celek, was called for a holding penalty on the 49ers' second drive that nullified a good offensive play. A false start on Mike Iupati also put the 49ers in a long-yardage situation, which enabled Arizona to blitz on the next play and sack Alex Smith.
A 15-yard penalty against 49ers' gunner C.J. Spillman also cost the 49ers a chance to pin Arizona deep in their own territory.
Aldon Smith was victimized in pass coverage. He had trouble in pass coverage earlier this year and needs to strengthen that part of his game.
After the 49ers went up 24-0, they got very conservative on offense and just bled the clock. It was a very solid win and the 49ers should be credited for playing a good game.
However, the 49ers must clean up these mistakes, as they will not be able to overcome them against the top teams in the league. Injuries have decimated the Arizona offensive line, which enabled the 49ers defense to dominate the line of scrimmage.