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49ers game-planning shows signs, then baffles

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The San Francisco 49ers got off to a strong start on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. And then it all came crashing down. The game-planning in particular raises some questions.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers surprised almost all of us Sunday afternoon when they came out of the gates running a hurry-up offense that featured numerous 4- and 5-WR sets. It was a brand new offense, and it thoroughly stunned the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers rolled to a pair of scores in their first two drives, and looked ready to roll over the Cardinals.

The 49ers were without tight ends Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald, leaving them with Derek Carrier and Asante Cleveland. The tight ends are normally such an integral aspect of their offense, so not having their two best tight ends forced a change. It was good to see the adjustment, and the Cardinals were clearly not ready for it.

The Cardinals adjusted, however. After the game, Arizona head coach Bruce Arians had this to say:

"Not knowing whether they were going to have their tight ends, it was a pretty tough week defensively to get prepared not knowing what they were going to do when they cam out no-huddle. Five wides, four wides, move the ball on this end . . . But we adapted and saw what was happening."

Arians also mentioned the team eventually assigned a spy to Colin Kaepernick, and went with tighter coverage against the 49ers receivers.

Kap was the team's leading rusher, and while that was working in the first half, the running plan was off kilter in the second half. The 49ers seemed to put the game on Kap's legs, rather than arm, while also removing the running backs from the equation. Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde combined for 23 yards on 9 carries. I get the early use of the spread out look that was doing so well. But once the Cardinals adjusted, wouldn't it have made sense to counter again?

This game was somewhat similar to last year's Week 3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. The commonality being that the 49ers abandoned the traditional game. Last year, the team was looking sharp on the ground in the first half, and then just about stopped in the second half. This past Sunday, the 49ers game planned away from the traditional ground game in the first half, and then just did not bother trying it out in the second half. Gore and Hyde combined for 2 carries in the second half. Given the adjustments the Cardinals were making, wouldn't some kind counter-adjustment made some sense?

One thing I do want to take a look back at is, on Kap's scrambles when the play seemed to break down, what did the back end look like? Were receivers open and he was out of sorts because of the defense? Or were these coverage plays where he simply did not have open guys to throw to? That's something the All-22 will help with this week.

The 49ers performance was a tough one to figure out. They've shown flashes of brilliance, but they have seemingly spent more time mired in mediocrity. The team has a week to figure something out before they welcome the Philadelphia Eagles to town. At the very least it would be nice to find a little bit of consistency.