Each week, it seems like the 49ers play well for about 3.5 quarters and then find a different way to lose the ball game in the final frame. On Sunday against the Cardinals, it all unraveled in the fourth quarter, when quarterback Josh Rosen and Arizona’s offense put up 15 points and San Francisco couldn’t respond.
After wideout Marquise Goodwin caught the slant for a touchdown to put the 49ers up 12-3, it seemed like the game was under wraps, but new Cardinals’ offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich was able to dial up some plays that helped Arizona move the ball down the field. With the 49ers sitting at 1-7, let’s re-visit the keys to see how they performed.
1. Protect, protect, protect
After turning the ball over 18 times this season, the 49ers couldn’t afford to give the Cardinals extra chances on offense this past Sunday. Well, quarterback C.J. Beathard and all of his offensive weapons complied, holding onto the ball this weekend.
San Francisco didn’t turn the ball over for the first time since Week 3 and it gave them their best chance to win. Beathard was smarter with the ball, not throwing it into heavy coverage nor holding onto it for too long and getting strip-sacked.
In fact, Kyle Shanahan’s team won the turnover battle on Sunday, forcing a fumble and also grabbing an interception. That hasn’t happened too often this season!
2. Limit running back David Johnson’s effectiveness
The Cardinals’ best offensive player is running back David Johnson. Arizona’s offense starts and stops with the third-year player, so it was pivotal that Robert Saleh’s defense stops him.
Johnson was most successful on Sunday when he was used in the screen game, catching four passes for 41 yards out of the backfield, including a long of 15 yards. Numerous plays, Rosen would find Johnson as a last option and he would take it for a large gain.
On the ground, Johnson didn’t have as effective of an afternoon, rushing for 59 yards on 16 carries for an average of 3.7 yards per attempt. The 49ers also kept Johnson out of the end zone on Sunday.
Saleh wasn’t going to let Johnson beat them on Sunday, and he didn’t — rookie “chosen Rosen” did instead.
3. Unleash running back Raheem Mostert’s speed on the Cardinals’ defense
This was an assumption based on running back Matt Breida’s injuries, but with the 49ers’ second-year tailback healthy, Mostert’s carries were once again limited on Sunday. Breida led the way with 16 rushing attempts for 42 yards. He averaged 2.6 yards per attempt, which is far lower than his season average.
Morris was the 49ers’ second-leading rusher on Sunday, carrying the ball six times for 28 yards. Shanahan’s offense was most successful when they were able to run in between the tackles with Morris.
Mostert was the third-leading ball carrier, with only two carries for 18 yards. He was the most efficient 49ers’ runner on Sunday, but Shanahan chose to go in a different direction with Breida and Morris instead.
Despite the 49ers’ following the pre-game keys pretty closely, they still managed to blow the game at the end. As Shanahan lamented on Monday, they’re going to have to find a way to close these ball games out, as they continue to have an awful record in one-possession games under their second-year head coach.