49ers must clean up missed tackles despite beating Cardinals

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

29. 32. 49ers Cardinals final score. 45. 42. Final

The 49ers continued their win streak on Sunday in Arizona, but the tackling was poor. This will need to be cleaned up or it could spell trouble moving forward.

There was much to celebrate about the San Francisco 49ers' 45-29 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at State Farm Stadium.

For one, the Niners clinched their second straight NFC West title just a week after punching their ticket to the NFC playoffs, the first team in either conference to do so. That marks the first back-to-back division titles for San Francisco since 2011-2012.

It was also the team's high-water mark for points in a game, as Jake Moody's 43-yard field goal with just over three minutes remaining in the contest pushed the 49ers past the 42 points they scored against the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles earlier this season.

On top of that, running back Christian McCaffrey added to his already bonkers list of accolades this season by tying the NFL record for most games with at least one rushing and one receiving touchdown.

And quarterback Brock Purdy continued to make his case for the NFL MVP with his 13th career game with a passer rating of 110 or higher, tying Los Angeles Chargers signal-caller Justin Herbert for the second-most in a player's first two seasons, just behind Russell Wilson's 14 during his first two seasons with the Seattle Seahawks.

Still, there remains a glaring issue from Sunday's victory that has been rearing its ugly head at times this season but truly manifested itself in the worst way in Arizona: the 49ers' poor tackling.

49ers have a tackling issue, it showed vs. Cardinals

The Cardinals ran the ball 30 times on Sunday afternoon in a game they trailed in for all but about five or six minutes of, but they continued to do so because it was working. Arizona racked up 234 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, good for 7.8 yards per carry, an aboslutely absurd clip.

But the massive gains weren't really because of anything the Cardinals were doing schematically with their rushing attack, as a lot of the action was running back James Connor between the tackles or quarterback Kyler Murray getting to the edges and taking off.

No, the problem was squarely on the 49ers' run defense and its inability to bring the Cardinal ball carriers to the ground.

Take running back Emari Demercado's fourth-quarter touchdown dash as the prime example of what was going on with the Niners' run defense.

If you watch the video linked above, you'll see that Demercado is dead to rights almost immediately, as 49ers linebacker Fred Warner busts through the line and meets the back right around the line of scrimmage. But then, Warner does something uncharacteristic: he misses the tackle.

Demercado proceeds to shed EDGE Randy Gregory and defensive tackle Kevin Givens in the pile before scooting past linebacker Dre Greenlaw and outrunning safety Ji'Ayir Brown to pay dirt.

And while this is indicative of the problem, it wasn't the only time San Francisco got gashed for long gains. The 49ers also allowed runs of 12, 19, 9, 44, and 15 (that last one was on the garbage time drive late in the game) yards that were largely due to either not containing Murray or poor tackling of Arizona's running backs.

This problem has been and on-again, off-again one for the 49ers' this season. There have been times where the tackling has been what you'd expect from this defense: swarming, quick, and efficient.

But often the tackling has been anything but, especially during the midseason losing streak, and it looked as bad as it has all season at times against the Cardinals.

The good news is that the 49ers are a much better team, and the Cardinals' deficiencies on defense allowed the Niners to rack up points and nullify Arizona's offense.

And you have to take into account that the Niners were missing two of their key figures in stopping the run: defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave. Getting those two back from injury will hopefully sure things up a bit, because things don't get any easier next week.

The bad news is that the 49ers' upcoming opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, are in many ways a more talented version of the Cardinals, with an even more efficient rushing attack, led by quarterback Lamar Jackson, and possibly the league's best defense.

If the 49ers don't clean up the tackling, it could be a long Christmas night in Santa Clara.

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