Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Cardinals vs. 49ers Review: Game Gold Nugget Awards

There were plenty of big plays in the NFC West battle between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals in Week 6. Luckily for Niner fans, most of the big plays in the second half went San Francisco’s way and swung momentum in their favor. The game changing plays were all the 49ers needed to win, 32-20.

The best teams in the NFL get better every week. For the first three games of the season, the 49ers were anything but one of the best teams in the league. Since a 1-3 record to start the season, the Niners have found their footing in all aspects on the field. On offense, Frank Gore (101 yards, 25 carries) has reemerged as the focal point of the play calling, powering a smash-mouth rushing attack that has been a staple of his career. This in turn has set up the passing game and taken pressure off of Colin Kaepernick (16-for-29, 252 yards, two TDs, one INT) to shoulder sole responsibility for the offense.

On defense, the unit is looking like their old dominate self after starting the season with a dud. The Niners D has ten turnovers in the past the three games after having only two in the first three games. All of the ten turnovers have been followed by scoring drives by Kaepernick and the offense for 54 points. That translates to six touchdowns and four field goals the past three games.

Still, the 49ers were far from perfect against the Cardinals, especially on offense. While it’s easy to wave off the terrible first quarter by the offense because of the outcome of the game, higher-caliber teams will make the Niners pay for not scoring touchdowns after getting inside the ten-yard line three times.

(Game Gold Nuggets Scale)

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OFFENSE

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Vernon Davis and Frank Gore powered the 49ers offense, totaling a combined 281 of the 387 yards achieved against Arizona on Sunday. Davis (eight catches, 180 yards, two TDs) exploded in the first half as he had seven receptions for 171 yards. This included his two TD receptions of 61 and 35 yards.

Heading into the second half, Arizona’s defense made adjustments to stop Davis. Which the Cardinals did, however, they forgot about Gore. The running back had 81 of his 101 rushing yards in the second half.

After a sluggish start in the first quarter that saw the offense get inside the ten-yard line three times, without scoring a TD, Kaepernick found his grove in the second quarter. He completed 178 passing yards in the second frame. The yardage surpassed his totals from the previous four games.

The Niners offense was able to gain 149 yards on the ground despite going up against the Cardinals’ third-ranked rush defense. The most impressive part of the running attack was that they gained 99 of their rushing yards in the second half, when the game was being decided. Before Week 6, Arizona only gave up an average of 79 rushing yards a game.

The offense only received 3 Game Gold Nuggets because they ended three drives with a FG, FG, INT, despite getting inside the ten-yard line each time. Also, while it was great to see Davis and Kaepernick connecting so well on the field, the other receivers were completely useless. A lack of depth at receiver is really starting to show its blemishes on the offense. Including Anquan Boldin (3 catches, 28 yards), San Francisco’s receivers had a total of five receptions and 51 yards in the win.

DEFENSE

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The 49ers D had four takeaways that were converted into 16 offensive points. Two of the turnovers came in the first nine minutes as Eric Reid (2 tackles, 1 PD, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery) and Carlos Rogers (7 tackles, 2 PDs, 1 INT) picked off Carson Palmer. This allowed the Niners to take an early 6-0 lead.

Is it me, or does Reid look like a veteran playing at safety? Dashon who?

Rookie OLB Corey Lemonier (3 tackles, 1 PD, 1 sack) provided two points with a safety in the second quarter, which gave SF the lead, 8-7. Lemonier did his best job yet filling in for Aldon Smith.

Even though he was not missed too much the past two games, having Patrick Willis (6 tackles, 1 FF) back on the field for the Niners was a game changer. Late in the third quarter the Cardinals were trailing by two points and driving. It looked like Arizona was on their way to retaking the lead, until Larry Fitzgerald fumbled inside the red zone. The fumble was made possible by Willis, who leveled a heavy hit on Fitzgerald from behind after the receiver made an 8-yard reception. The fumble was picked up Reid and the offense put the game away on the ensuing drive.

Fitzgerald finished with 117 receiving yards. However, 75 of those yards came on one play. The play resulted in a 75-yard TD by Fitzgerald because safety Donte Whitner (4 tackles) was too aggressive in trying to lay out a jarring hit, instead of going for the tackle.

SPECIAL TEAMS

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There are no punters in the Hall of Fame, but with Andy Lee we might be seeing live in action the first punter to be shrined. On six punts, Lee booted three inside the 20 and he averaged 48 yards per punt.

Kicker Phil Dawson ended with a perfect day connecting on all three of his field goals and three extra points. Dawson made field goals of 34, 26 and 44 yards.

C.J. Spillman showed against the Cardinals why he is one of the best special team’s players in the NFL. Case in point was his tackle on Patrick Peterson on a punt return in the first quarter. The tackle forced Arizona to start the drive at their 3-yard line.

COACHING

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Overall, Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff drew a great game plan to take on the Cardinals. Greg Roman needs to figure out a way for the 49ers to score after getting inside the ten-yard line. The lack of scoring touchdowns was limited to just the first quarter, but against other teams they will make the Niners pay for the mistakes.

The highlight for Roman and his offense was the 18-play, 89-yard drive led by Kaepernick that lasted over nine minutes, in the fourth quarter of a game that was still 22-20. Not only did the drive drain time off the clock and give the Niners a two-possession led, it showed Kaepernick can sustain a long-drive in crucial moments of a game.

Highlight of the day on offense was seeing offensive line Daniel Kilgore lining up as a wide receiver.

Vic Fangio must have put something in his defensive players’ water because the 49ers were a turnover machine yesterday, forcing four takeaways. Fangio has steadily improved his defenses play during the three-game winning streak. Fangio is just getting started, so expect the defense to continue steamrolling along.

Harbaugh’s best coaching move was in the second quarter when he challenged the first-down ruling that followed a 3rd-and-4 play from Arizona. On the replay it was clear the Niners would win the challenge and the call was overturned. This led to a Cardinals punt, which was followed by a Niners touchdown.

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