5 lessons SF 49ers learned after losing to Cardinals in Week 1

Chris Banjo #31 of the Arizona Cardinals intercepts a pass intended for Jerick McKinnon #28 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Chris Banjo #31 of the Arizona Cardinals intercepts a pass intended for Jerick McKinnon #28 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /
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Nick Bosa, SF 49ers
Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

SF 49ers Lesson No. 4: Defensive discipline is lacking

I don’t blame the 49ers defense for a lot this game, especially the players. I’ll get to the issues that popped up and how they can be corrected soon, but this defense had a tough break of it. They played outstanding for most of the first half when they were fresh.

But the snap count, which heavily favored Arizona’s offense, slowly wore them down, leaving them gassed against a mobile QB who was tucking and running at first sight.

This is an issue with the offense not playing to support the defense, but that doesn’t mean that the defense got off scot-free. Allowing 24 points is not an insane number when they haven’t tackled in six months, and it’s certainly a number the Niners could win with.

But it was how they gave up the 24 points that became an issue.

Within their schemes, the Niners played very well against the Cardinals for the most part. The play-calling was clearly designed to allow short passes to Arizona wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins but take away the deep ball, effectively forcing the Cardinals to dink and dunk their way down the field. The assumption would be that the pass rush or the secondary would eventually make a play, stopping the drive. The problems with that type of play-calling will be elaborated on much more next slide.

But playing a functional prevent defense requires two things: no coverage busts and lane discipline. Fundamentals to make sure a player doesn’t get a free running lane or behind the defense.

The 49ers messed up both.

The play that won the game functionally was a coverage bust that allowed Hopkins a wide-open lane down to the half-yard line:

Cornerback Richard Sherman, when talking to reporters after the game, said that “There was a miscommunication on both sides. The calls didn’t get through to everyone.”

This type of miscommunication is a major snafu that simply cannot happen.

Beyond a coverage bust, the SF 49ers also struggled mightily with the rushing of quarterback Kyler Murray. This was part-schematic but also significantly due to a lack of discipline by the front-seven. Linebacker Kwon Alexander, in particular, had a tough game when spying Murray, frequently missing tackles and taking poor angles. The defensive line didn’t do enough to keep Murray in contain, allowing him to get free.

Overall, as Peter Panacy pointed out, the Niners defense was sloppy, an issue that is very much attributed to the unique start. But as Sherman said, cannot be used as an excuse. Lack of discipline against mobile QBs was an issue last year as well, and the discipline component is necessary to get any success against players the Niners will have to deal with.

Time should fix this issue quickly, but it certainly was an eye-opening lesson for the team and something to build on.