What Went Wrong in 49ers’ Week 3 Contest vs. Cardinals


The San Francisco 49ers suffered their second heavy defeat in seven days, following up a 43-18 humbling against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 47-7 loss at the Arizona Cardinals that leaves fans and observers alike wondering what is next for a team that has taken a drastic downturn since a Week 1 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

What went wrong? The short answer – everything. There were very few positives in an embarrassing reverse and any bright spots were nullified by a dreadful display that made it four consecutive double-digit defeats on the road for the 49ers.

For what it’s worth two young players in Kenneth Acker and Arik Armstead had decent games, while Carlos Hyde ran well again. However, Hyde was effectively taken out of the gameplan by his own quarterback’s nightmarish start.

Colin Kaepernick’s back-to-back pick-sixes put the Niners in an early 14-0 hole and – save for a rushing touchdown that marked San Francisco’s only score of the day – things did not improve for the 49er signal-caller.

He finished the game with just 9-of-19 passing for 67 yards and with two further interceptions, with his third the one that really killed the game as it came immediately after Acker had picked off Carson Palmer and prevented the 49ers from cutting the Cardinals’ lead to 28-14 at the half.

Yes Kaepernick rarely had time to throw behind an offensive line that continues to struggle mightily, however, as he admitted, that is no excuse for a game in which he consistently made bad decisions and gave his team no chance to win.

Kaepernick is right to take the blame for the loss, yet head coach Jim Tomsula and the offensive staff have much to ponder when it comes to the offensive line, which – after three games – is in clear need of another revamp if the Niners are to have any chance to succeed.

Left tackle Joe Staley was the only 49er lineman to receive a positive grade from Pro Football Focus, who credit the 49ers with giving up two sacks, three quarterback hits and five hurries against the Cardinals.

Continuity is normally the key for offensive lines, but this group is showing no signs of developing chemistry and — with center Daniel Kilgore available to be activated in a few weeks and players with higher upside than Jordan Devey and Erik Pears such as Trenton Brown and Brandon Thomas sitting on the bench — changes would be wise if for no other reason than to see what those younger guys can do.

Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu offered an alternative explanation for the 49ers’ struggles in the passing game, intimating that it was easy for Arizona to predict what San Francisco was going to do.

Mathieu may have a point, but the fact is the 49ers’ defeat came about as a result of Kaepernick’s mistakes and failure to execute and the big men up front being bullied in the trenches, a problem that was not specific to the O-line.

For the second straight week, the 49ers’ defense struggled to deal with an average running back whose best days look to beyond him.

Last week it was DeAngelo Williams, this week it was Chris Johnson, who had 22 carries for 110 yards — an average of five yards a carry — and two touchdowns. Johnson was able to exploit the holes made for him by a Cardinals O-line that dominated the 49ers’ defensive line throughout and then proved to have too much speed for the linebackers.

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Thanks to the efforts of Armstead and Tank Carradine, the Niners were able to get to Palmer, something they were unable do against Ben Roethlisberger, but that was only after the Cardinals quarterback had dissected San Francisco to put the game pretty much beyond doubt.

Indeed when it mattered Palmer had plenty of time to throw and link up with Larry Fitzgerald, with the experienced duo taking advantage of a 49er pass defense that once again looked confused and inexperienced.

Acker had a decent bounce-back game after struggling in Pittsburgh in Week 2 and fellow corner Dontae Johnson looked good in flashes, however, for the most part Palmer and the Cardinals were able to do what they want, with receivers Fitzgerald and John Brown left wide open and free to wreak havoc.

Per PFF, Fitzgerald was targeted by Palmer for plays of 20 or more yards seven times. The 32-year-old caught five of those passes for a total of 121 yards. Meanwhile, Brown’s three catches went for an average of 20.7 yards.

There is talent on the back end of the 49er defense, but this young group are experiencing some pretty painful growing pains right now and consistently giving up the big play.

For all the issues with the defense, Eric Mangini’s group was not what lost the game for the 49ers. The blame, as the man himself pointed out should be laid squarely at the feet of Kaepernick.

Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The pair of pick-sixes took the 49ers away from what should be their gameplan, which is to run the ball with the team’s best offensive weapon in Hyde and use a successful ground attack to set up the passing game, as they did in Week 1.

Through the last two games, the Niners have been unable to do that and the defense has been left to struggle against high-powered offenses free to play with the confidence that comes with having a big lead.

Serious flaws that require the urgent attention of a 49er coaches have been exposed in the last seven days. The staff has to make adjustments and immediate improvements have to be made but, more than anything else, San Francisco has to stop putting itself in a hole early.

One more problem, though, the 49ers face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers next week. If Tomsula and his staff cannot make adjustments, another hole may await.