Monday Night Football saw the 49ers put together a strong effort on both sides of the ball in their 24-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. The defense was able to contain the Cardinals and make John Skelton's life a bit of a living hell. While Skelton did throw for 290 yards, an argument can be made that 290 yard passing efforts are not all equal.
The defense saw particularly huge efforts from cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Tarell Brown. Culliver seemed to have some of the more high profile pass defenses, but both Culliver and Brown were key to containing the Cardinals passing attack. The picture above is only one example of Culliver getting his hands on a pass in front of a receiver. He also showed a strong ability to reach over wide receivers and deflect passes while avoiding pass interference. He was physical with receivers, but not to the point of encouraging flags.
I took a look at Pro Football Focus' numbers on the targeting of the 49ers three primary cornerbacks:
Carlos Rogers: 11 targets, 10 receptions, 63 yards (long 13)
Tarell Brown: 10 targets, 2 receptions, 22 yards (long 15)
Chris Culliver: 9 targets, 3 receptions, 21 yards (long 9)
First off, while people are going to be quick to jump on Rogers' numbers, I'm fairly certain these particular numbers are not quite accurate. I took a look back at the 49ers defensive plays on NFL Rewind and I found eight of the ten receptions PFF appears to claim Rogers gave up. At least four of them were plays in which I don't think Rogers was the primary coverage guy.
For example, PFF says Rogers gave up a 7-yard pass to Anthony Sherman. The problem is that as the picture below shows, Rogers had dropped back into coverage elsewhere. The coaches film isn't available yet, but here is a screenshot:
It's not entirely clear, but where Rogers is at to the left, you can just barely make out a foot just above Rogers' left elbow. That is a Cardinals receiver Rogers engaged and then let move past him as he went into a zone defense. Sherman is to the far right and John Skelton is about to let go of the pass. After Sherman caught the ball and turned up field, Rogers moved down and got the tackle.
I can try and further confirm everything on coaches film, but is there any way this can be counted as targeting Carlos Rogers? I counted other instances, including a 13-yard pass Rogers "gave up" to Larry Fitzgerald. In that play, Tarell Brown initially had coverage on Fitzgerald, and then Fitzgerald found a hole in the zone for the catch. Again, it seemed like more of the team being targeted than a single player.
Whatever the case, Brown and Culliver had strong games and are emerging as the top two corners for this team. Brown continues his quietly strong play, while Culliver is becoming more and more of a high profile performer. Strong secondary play will remain a must as the 49ers head into the second half of their schedule. The 49ers get the Saints dynamic passing attack, the Patriots multi-headed monster, and even Cutler to Brandon Marshall in a few weeks. Strong defense will be key in these high profile matchups.