In front of a national TV audience on Monday Night Football the San Francisco 49ers showed how dominate of a team they can be, while Alex Smith showed confidence and poise completing 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns. The 49ers dismantled and embarrassed the Cardinals in all aspects of the game on their home turf in the 24-3 win. On offense, the 49ers racked up 317 total yards that included a combined 98 rushing yards by Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. On defense, Aldon Smith led the way with 2 sacks and the Niners front-seven only gave up a total of 7 rushing yards to the Cardinals.
Smith deserves a lot of praise for his performance on Monday night after two straight games of mediocre play. I did not expect to Smith to play as well as he did. In fact, I was ready to write him off and call for Colin Kaepernick to start if he had a repeat performance of his last two games. I guess that’s why I write for a Niners fan website and why I am not the head coach of the 49ers.
Still, critics will say Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss made the right moves and juked out defenders for their three touchdowns catches (2 by Crabtree, 1 by Moss), which made Smith look good. To which I would say, at least he found and connected with the open receivers, unlike the last two games. He was accurate with only one incompletion and most importantly, he did not have any turnovers. We still might see Game Manager Smith at some point again this season, but it won’t because of a lack of confidence or skills. If that happens again, just think back to Monday night’s game in which he tore up the Cardinals’ seventh ranked defense.
Let’s hand out some Game Gold Nugget awards.
Game Gold Nuggets Scale:
= VERY GOOD
The game plan on defense for the Cardinals was to make Alex Smith beat them by taking Gore and Vernon Davis out of the offense. They accomplish that feat with Gore averaging just 3.4 yards on 16 carries for 55 rushing yards and Davis having 2 catches for 34 yards. Problem was they didn’t think Smith would be almost flawless with a 94.7% completion rate and a 157.1 QB rating. Instead of passing to Davis, Smith went to eight other receivers including Crabtree, who was favorite target with 5 receptions for 72 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Smith’s most impressive TD pass of the game was in the first quarter for the game’s first score. On third down at the Cardinals 3-yard line, Smith threw up a perfect pass to Crabtree even though he was clearly covered and allowed his receiver to make the play in the end zone for a 7-0 lead. The throw showed Smith has confidence in Crabtree to make plays one-on-one. An equally impressive touchdown pass was in the third quarter that gave the Niners a 24-0 lead. On 3rd-and-8, Smith completed a pass to Randy Moss, who then juked and outran Cardinals defenders on his way to a 47-yard touchdown.
By completing 94.7% of his passes, Smith’s completion percentage was the best in NFL history with a minimum of 15 attempts. However, he fell one completion short of the NFL record book which requires a minimum of 20 attempts.
After Smith threw four interceptions over the last two games, seeing his performance on Monday Night Football against a division rival was encouraging for how he will play the rest of the season.
In four of the last five games, the Niners defense has not allowed a touchdown. It was hard to identify which was more impressive, the 49ers only allowing 7 total rushing yards or the jarring hits laid out by the defense. The two Smith’s on defense, Aldon and Justin, were all over Cardinals QB John Skelton and they might have scared him into early retirement. The defense totaled four sacks against the Cardinals offensive line (A.Smith 2, A. Brooks 1, N. Bowman 1). Safety Dashon Goldson had four tackles, one of which made the highlight reels with his hard and legal hit on receiver Early Doucet.
The Cardinals offensive line was overmatched all game with them missing three starters against the 49ers. The defense took advantage of the weak protection by dropping more defenders into coverage, while still being able to apply pressure on the quarterback and shut down the Cardinals rushing attack. The defense only gave up a total of 7 rushing yards in the game which was the lowest amount for the Cardinals since 1953.
The game was really over by halftime even though the score was only 17-0. The 49ers defense dominated in the first half by allowing only four first downs which equaled the number of punts by the Cardinals. In the second half the 49ers defense allowed a field goal after a 14-play, 70-yard drive late in the third quarter. Cornerback Chris Culliver led the secondary with one interception, 4 tackles and 5 passes defensed.
One of the keys for the 49ers to beat the Cardinals was limiting punt returner Patrick Peterson to short gains. Andy Lee and his punt coverage team accomplished that with precision allowing only 3.8 yards per punt on 4 returners. Lee landed four of his punts in areas of the field that allowed the punt coverage to quickly get to Peterson so he could not gain momentum for a big run back.
Ted Ginn Jr. is starting to emerge this season after being hurt for much of September. He averaged 11.8 yards per punter return, running one back for 35 yards. His lone kick return went for 31 yards.
With the offense playing so well, David Akers was only called on for one field goal, 43 yards, which he made. He was perfect on his 3 extra point field goals.
The coaching would have been awarded five GGN’s if not for the 10 penalties racked up by the 49ers. Jim Harbaugh has done a good job of limiting the penalties committed by his players and although they did not cost the 49ers the game, they were still unnecessary penalties. The defense committed three offside penalties late in the fourth quarter, with two coming on back-to-back plays. The linebackers were eager to get a sack on the QB late in the game with the team up 24-3 and the defense knowing the Cardinals were going to pass. But they still need to show discipline.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio developed a game plan that took advantage of the Cardinals weak offensive line. Throughout the game he dropped extra defenders into coverage to help limit the damage done by Larry Fitzgerald, while still shutting down the run and applying pressure on the quarterback. Fitzgerald finished with 5 receptions for 52 yards and no touchdowns.
The Cardinals defense tried their best in stopping the 49ers running game, but to no avail. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman established the run in the first quarter and with the Cardinals focusing on the Gore and the running game, there were not many defenders in the secondary to stop the 49ers receivers. Patrick Peterson was beaten on both touchdowns passes to Crabtree. On the first touchdown, Peterson was over powered by Crabtree as both jumped up for the pass. On Crabtree’s second TD catch he juked Peterson so hard, he fell to the ground.
Next Up: Bye Week