Cardinals vs. 49ers: How San Francisco Showed Supremacy in NFC West
In beating both the Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks (4-4) over consecutive weeks, San Francisco now holds a two-game lead—with head-to-head tiebreakers—in the competitive NFC West.
How were the 49ers able to dismantle the Cardinals and take firm control of the division so effectively Monday night?
We'll give you that answer in the following slides.
Stunning Efficiency from Alex Smith
Save for taking four mostly meaningless sacks, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith could not have played better Monday night.
Smith completed 18 of 19 passes—his lone incompletion coming on a dropped pass—for 232 yards and three touchdowns. His average per attempt was a sterling 12.2 yards, and his passer rating checked in a nearly perfect 157.1.
Overall, it was a flawless performance. Teams simply don't lose when they get quarterback play like Smith delivered Monday night.
Dominance in the Run Game
The 49ers remain one of the NFL's best run defenses, but the Cardinals played right into San Francisco's hands Monday night.
Arizona ran just nine times for seven yards, instead having quarterback John Skelton drop back to pass 52 times. That kind of one-dimensional offense was a major factor in San Francisco holding the Cardinals to just three points.
However, the run game was going nowhere fast.
LaRod Stephens-Howling led the Cardinals with six yards on eight carries, and that included one carry for 11. The 49ers tackled Stephens-Howling for a loss on four of his eight carries.
Playmaking in the Open Field
To be fair, Alex Smith made very few high-risk throws Monday night. What he did, however, was get the ball to his playmakers in space, and they did the rest.
The Cardinals defense mostly embarrassed themselves as the 49ers ran circles around tackle attempts. Even Randy Moss got into the act, catching a short pass and then weaving his way for a 47-yard touchdown. He wasn't alone.
Michael Crabtree, who led the 49ers with five catches, 72 yards and two touchdowns, caught his second score in the middle of several defenders, but waltzed into the end zone untouched. It was a tackling performance to forget for the Cardinals.
Pressuring the Quarterback
Arizona entered the game with the NFL's worst offensive line, especially in protecting the passer. The Cardinals' NFL-worst 35 allowed sacks through seven weeks put them on pace for 80 this season.
Things were only marginally better Monday night.
While the 49ers got home on four sacks—one below what the Cardinals allow on average per game—quarterback John Skelton was under siege for most of the night. In all, San Francisco hit Skelton six times and hurried him on double-digit drop backs.
Thanks to the consistent pressure, Skelton's 52 attempted passes resulted in just 258 total yards of passing offense for Arizona.
Controlled Special Teams
The offensively-starved Cardinals needed a play or two from the special teams to get something in motion Monday night, but the 49ers coverage units did a nice job in controlling both kicks and punts.
Dangerous punt returner Patrick Peterson was held to just 15 yards on four returns, and despite several kickoffs, the Cardinals didn't record a kick return. 49ers punter Andy Lee pinned three punts inside the 20-yard line, which helped negate Peterson.
Ted Ginn, San Francisco's return man, had a much better day at the office.
On six returns, Ginn provided the 49ers with 90 yards of field position. His best returns were a 31-yard kick return and 39-yard punt return.