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Film Breakdown: Covering the Cardinals

Let's evaluate the secondary from last week's game

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Looking at the score it's hard to believe that this past Sunday, Carson Palmer completed 64 percent of his passes for 357 yards. The game was a field goal fest prior to the heartbreaking overtime touchdown. In review of the film, there were two things that stood out to me as to why Arizona was able to consistently move the ball through the air.

The first reason is the defensive scheme. If you've watched any of Robert Saleh's press conferences, he often downplays random completions as minute and part of the play-calling. It's a bend but don't break scheme. We ran some man up, single high coverage, but I also saw us in a Cover 3 on the back end. Arizona's route combinations, Carson Palmer's excellent anticipation and quarterback IQ helped him pick holes in the zone, because it attacked the weaknesses zone defenses present.

The second reason is the physical make-up of our defensive backs. I focused most of my clips on John Brown. He's a shifty, quick twitch wide receiver who ran a 4.34 40 yard dash. He stands at only 5'10. Our corners, both over 6'0, for one are not 4.3 40 guys. They're big physical guys, they don't have the agility to make some of the breaks at the same speed Brown can. The clips below highlight the two principles I mentioned.

In our first clip, the 49ers are in man defense, and Jimmie Ward rushes the line of scrimmage in a blitz. This leaves Rashard Robinson one on one on the outside (bottom of the screen). Brown charges off the line and Robinson is slow to react, missing the bump. At this point, Robinson ends up running side by side with Brown. Once Brown hits 12 yards he quickly stops, Robinson reacts but the ball is already out. Ward fails to get home on the blitz which gives Palmer the time to be able to complete an easy pitch and catch.

The next play leans on sheer physical man to man football. Once again, Robinson is out on the island with Brown. Brown comes off the line to run a go route. Robinson is beat almost from the snap of the ball. He's saved by Carson Palmer's 400 year old arm. Brown simply outran his throwing distance so he has to slow to catch the ball. This under-throw gives Robinson a chance to get back in the play. He's able to catch up and knock the pass down. Kudos to Robinson for not giving up.

Once again it's Robinson and Brown. This time Robinson does a much better job of getting his hands on Brown at the line of scrimmage. Using good technique he rides the wide receiver's hip and is able to pivot with him across the field. The pass is made with great anticipation and is simply pin point accurate. Robinson is all over him but he's still able to make the catch on the deep in. The blitz never reaches the QB so he has time for Brown to work past the DB.

In the next clip, we see the Cardinals attack our Cover 3. Dontae Johnson is currently responsible for the bottom 3rd of the field. He keeps Brown in his peripheral but he keeps outside contain. Jimmie Ward has the middle 3rd of the field, and he's the one put in a tough spot by this play call. Carson Palmer is reading Ward on the play — if he leans toward Brown on the outside, he has Larry Fitzgerald down the middle. If Ward leans toward Larry, he can hit Brown on the deep in. Ward, reading Palmer's eyes, takes two steps off his zone toward Fitzgerald. That's two steps too many, Carson quickly delivers a strike to Brown on the outside in the void.

In a similar play design, this time with Brown in the slot, Fitzgerald motions to the outside. Once again, Ward is the focus from the offensive side. They do two things to force his hand. First is the play action fake, even though Palmer doesn't fake the hand off, Chris Johnson steps as if he's receiving the ball. Arizona even pulls a guard around to further sell the run. Second, is driving Fitzgerald up the seam. I see Ward step out to the right, but without seeing his eyes, I'm not sure which he reacts too. By then, Brown has already streaked across the field on the deep slant. Robinson also gets flat footed and neglects his deep 3rd assignment. He actually just kind of stands there, the Arizona TE is wide open too. At the end of it Robinson decides to simply just grab Brown.

Arizona does have a potent offensive attack. They feature fast multiple sub 4.4 guys, savvy route running and play calling. Our young defense faced a good test, and for the most part stood tall. They took some lumps but kept Arizona out of the end zone for most of the day. The play call at the end was just another excellent play call attacking the weakness of a single high zone defense, the seams.

We won't see a potent attack like this one for the next few weeks. I can maybe name one wide receiver that plays for Indianapolis, while Washington’s best wide receiver used to be a QB. Dallas has some big strong guys. Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer could cause some trouble, but K'waun Williams is pretty solid in the slot. Plus the Cowboys are more of a run first team. We should perform a lot better, as we can matchup with these teams in the secondary. Go Niners!