The Booth Review – 49ers vs. Cardinals: “Monday night lights out”

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Welcome to The Booth Review where the 49ers Faithful can expect a weekly retelling and analysis of the game – Who were the star performers? Who dropped the ball? What went well, and what needs to get better? You can find all of those things along with my random musings right here, every week.

If you're wondering why this week's edition of The Booth Review is a few days late, it kinda sorta had to do with this massive hurricane careening through my home state of Pennsylvania and the rest of the northeast United States. About five minutes into the first quarter, the lights began to flicker. Before I knew it, I was sitting in complete darkness. Fortunately, I had prepared myself for such an event...

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The power didn't return until the next day, and by then, I was dealing with an entirely different beast by the name of Hurricane Homework. On Wednesday, I finally got around to watching the game in its entirety - thank goodness for NFL Rewind - so, without further ado...

On the national stage of Monday Night Football, the San Francisco 49ers strengthened their grip over the NFC West as they defeated the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 24-3.

"It was a great team victory," said 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. "We've played good games before, but this was a really good performance against a tough foe on the road. That's hard to do in this league."

Quarterback Alex Smith played the most accurate game of his career as he completed 18 passes out of 19 attempts for a 95% completion rate. Smith finished the day with 232 passing yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

"It was great rhythm from the start. We were moving chains," said Smith. "It was fun to see guys in space, getting the ball to them quick, letting them make plays. Guys were having fun."

Two of those three touchdowns passes were corralled in by receiver Michael Crabtree. It was the first multi-touchdown game for Crabtree this season and the first since facing the St. Louis Rams at the end of last season.

"I'm just trying to win, really just trying to win on every play, trying to get the most out of any ball they throw to me," said Crabtree. "I've been working so hard with [Smith] at practice, to be a threat in the red zone. He trusted me today. Alex Smith threw it up, and I went to go get it."

The other side of the ball experienced just as much success. The defensive game plan was simple: stop Larry Fitzgerald.

"Our focus was to take #11 [Fitzgerald] out of the game plan," said safety Donte Whitner. "He's the number one threat on offense."

San Francisco's secondary carried out their plan of attack by committee. Cornerbacks Chris Culliver, Tarell Brown, and Carlos Rogers all played a hand in keeping Arizona's All-Pro receiver at bay. Fitzgerald was held to just five receptions for 52 yards and no touchdowns.

The 49ers' front-seven sought to match the efforts of the secondary by tempering the Cardinals' ground game. In that regard, they succeeded, holding Arizona to 7 total rushing yards all night.

"We feel like we have the most talented defense in the National Football League," said Whitner. "Any given game, it can be anybody's big game. Anybody can make the play from the defensive line, to the linebackers, to the secondary."

At least one player on offense seems to share the sentiment.

"I wouldn't trade our defense for nobody," said Crabtree. "C'mon, man! Best defense ever."

THE SPOTLIGHT

-- Run defense - Allowed 7 total rushing yards from 9 carries (0.8 average yards per carry)

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CAPTION: Oct 29, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (36) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers defensive end Justin Smith (94) and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga (90) during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

I've been waiting a long, long time to give these guys their due.

The San Francisco front-seven has played well this season, but to hold an opponent to just 7 total rushing yards the entire game is pretty remarkable. Their next best statistical performances against the run were facing the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 and the New York Jets in Week 4 - both teams were held to 45 total rushing yards.

You don't have to be a fan of the team to acknowledge the level of talent. Patrick Willis has been voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons, and some claim his protégé NaVorro Bowman is even better. Outside linebackers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks combine for 11.5 sacks this year; the former draws constant comparisons to 49ers great Charles Haley. And the big three up front are anchored by the relentless Justin Smith who has arguably been the league's most dominant 3-4 defensive end over the last couple of years.

When they're on, there's not a better front-seven unit in the entire league, and against the Cardinals, they were on. I'm a huge fan of good defensive play; it gets my blood flowing. To see Patrick disengage from Rich Ohrnberger and bring down LaRod Stephens-Howling with just one arm...it's simply sublime - a sight to behold and a pleasure to watch.

-- QB Alex Smith - 18/19, 232 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions, 157.1 QB Rating

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CAPTION: GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 29: Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers throws a few passes during pre-game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on October 29, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

My best friend, who's a bit of a casual football fan, asked me the other day, "So...is Alex Smith good or bad?" My response: "Ask me next week."

Alex continues to be a bit of an enigma this season. His production fluctuates wildly from game to game; he's hot one week and cold the next. So instead of anointing him as the next great 49ers passer or calling for his head, I've learned to temper my expectations and just go with the flow. It kind of makes it more exciting to not know which Alex you're going to get, right? Who wants a super consistent quarterback like Tom Brady anyway? That's boring.

Fortunately, Alex was on fire against a pretty formidable Cardinals defense. So far this season, Arizona surrenders an average of 192.9 passing yards per game - 4th best in the league. Alex completed 18 passes to just one incompletion which actually hit Delanie Walker's mitts before he dropped it. If he had completed one more pass, Alex would have engineered the highest single-game completion percentage in league history. However, that statistic only qualifies quarterbacks with a minimum of 20 attempted throws in a game. The current record holder is Kurt Warner, who completed 24 out of 26 passes (92.3%) against the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2009.

THE WATER COOLER

"Standing next to Giants"

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Earlier this month, Jim Harbaugh suggested that Bay Area sports fans should support all local teams, including Major League Baseball's San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics - both of whom who were competing in the playoffs at the time. On Wednesday, the San Francisco Giants held a parade to celebrate their World Series sweep of the Detroit Tigers. This afforded Harbaugh an opportunity to practice what he preached. Just ask Brandon Belt.

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Even Alex Smith got in on the action.

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A great time for Bay Area sports, indeed!

It's always fascinating and equally strange to me whenever I see athletes from different sports mingling. It's like seeing Iron Man and Thor in The Avengers. In my mind, athletes live in the macrocosm of their sport and no other. How do they view other athletes and teams and leagues?

"The [San Francisco 49ers] really gained a lot of inspiration from what the [San Francisco] Giants have done this year," said Jim Harbaugh. "The team that won't be divided, that stays together and fights for each other...that one team at the end of the season, they're the champions. It's most impressive, just as a fan watching it. I'm very inspired by it and moved."

Let's hope that inspiration is a slow burn. I'm sure the city of San Francisco wouldn't mind another parade in February with Bruce Bochy and Sergio Romo playing chauffeur instead.

"What's got Vernon down?"

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Vernon Davis' slowed production is becoming San Francisco's worst-kept secret.

Consider this...

Vernon's stats through the first three games of the season?

  • 13 receptions, 169 receiving yards, 4 touchdowns

Vernon's stats through the last three games of the season?

  • 5 receptions, 71 receiving yards, no touchdowns

Against the Seahawks last Thursday, Vernon had exactly zero receptions. You'd have to dig back to the 2008 season to find the last time that happened. But why is it happening?

"Look at the tape, look at the action," said Harbaugh. "They're focusing a lot of attention on Vernon Davis. Even before he gets into a route, defensive ends are disengaging in their pass rush and making sure that they chip Vernon on the way out."

Harbaugh points out, however, that this forces the defense to pick their poison.

"[The defensive ends] stay with him for three, four, five yards which doesn't allow them to get into their pass rush lanes," said Harbaugh. "So that's something that is affecting him getting the ball, but it's also opening up other options. It's pretty plain to see."

How does Vernon feel about his lack of receptions?

"Being a competitor, it's tough to deal with during the game, because you want to be involved," said Davis. "Everyone who catches passes wants to be involved. I just tell myself, ‘just play the game, it'll come.' "

If you're at all concerned about Vernon becoming frustrated, allow me to quell those fears right now. Remember that since Harbaugh came to San Francisco, the mantra has been: "The Team. The Team. The Team." Vernon was quick to echo his coach's sentiment. As if to say, ‘enough about me,' he quickly changed gears and talked about his teammates instead.

"It was exciting to see [Michael] Crabtree do some good things out there," said Davis. He formed a grin and got wide-eyed. "Especially Randy Moss. What about Randy? The old man up the sideline, doing a little two-step, and taking off. That was pretty interesting."

"Gobble, gobble, gobble"

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In a Sports Illustrated article from October 19th, Jim Trotter questioned Alex's confidence after facing the Seattle Seahawks:

"The 49ers [...] may have lost a starting quarterback Thursday night. Not physically. Mentally...You can't help but wonder about Alex Smith's psyche after the coaching staff left him on the field but took the ball out of his hands...Smith was not fantastic, nor did he play extremely well. He played tentatively, like someone who was concerned with making a mistake...he looked like someone who feared he was one mistake from possibly watching from the sideline..."

Shots fired!

In Trotter's defense, he formed a pretty solid case as to why Alex might be singing the blues, but you could never get Alex to admit it. Did he lose his confidence?

"Yeah, that's right," said Smith, with a snicker. "It was in my closet. I found it."

Alright, Alex, it was a poor choice of words, jeez! You don't have to be so condescending...

"That's the nature of the NFL. That's the nature of professional sports," said Smith. "All the days in between, people got to write things. At this point, I don't care. If you'd asked me a few years ago, yeah, maybe, but at this point, I really don't care. I'm only concerned about winning. I think the guys in the locker room know what I'm all about, and that's all that matters."

Return fire!

Alex has a point. It would merely be self-defeating for an athlete to admit they were losing or have lost confidence in themselves. Sportswriters, journalists, bloggers...we're all sharks who are chomping at the bit, and such a statement would be a wounded seal.

Then again, it's easy for Alex to make such a remark, because he's coming off a near-perfect passing game. The second he slips up, the sharks will start to circle once more. It's a vicious circle, a symbiotic relationship between sports and sports media. It doesn't matter if it's me, Jim Trotter, or a Niners Nation reader in the comments section...as long as there's a critic, there will be criticism.

You're safe for now, Alex! *shakes fist*

The 49ers have a bye this week, and as such, won't take the field until Sunday, November 11th when they face Jeff Fisher's St. Louis Rams. It'll be the first time the two NFC West teams play each other this season and should provide an interesting dichotomy. One is first in the division and the other is last, but both have wins against the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals this year. San Francisco currently has a headlock on the NFC West, and if they want to keep it that way, they ought not to overlook the Rams.

Luckily for you guys, I don't get a bye week! Expect another edition of The Booth Review this Monday. We're already halfway through the regular season (pretty crazy, huh?), so I'll have a midseason report for you all. Until next time.

Follow Anthony Ly on Twitter: @TheBellamores

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