The 49ers had 33 first downs. The Cardinals had 10. The 49ers ran 92 offensive plays. The Cardinals ran 49. The 49ers gained 447 yards of offense. The Cardinals gained 220. The 49ers had the ball for 40 minutes. The Cardinals had it for 20. Get the idea?
Well, after all that, San Francisco found itself on the receiving end of their fourth loss on the season, 28-18. The one statistic I didn’t list that turned the game upside down? Turnovers — Cardinals forced five of them, San Francisco didn’t force any. Two C.J. Beathard interceptions and three fumbles later, Kyle Shanahan’s team couldn’t dig themselves out of that hole.
Sitting at 1-4 and heading into a Monday Night showdown against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, what are the 49ers’ biggest problems?
1. The injuries are piling up and it’s making Shanahan’s life extremely difficult.
In the NFL, injuries are a part of the game, but I can’t remember a team that’s been as banged up as the 49ers have. Coming into today, San Francisco was already starting a backup quarterback, running back and wide receiver on offense.
To add to that, the 49ers lost running back Matt Breida (ankle) for the second half of the game, and offensive lineman Weston Richburg (knee) for 13 snaps. One of the biggest keys for an offensive unit is cohesion and chemistry. With various players getting hurt on a weekly basis, it’s making life difficult for Shanahan to create a game plan.
As part of my keys to the game, I mentioned Breida needing to be a driving force on Sunday. Yet, less than a half into the game, the second-year running back was out of the game, completely shifting the game plan. That loss combined with the 49ers trailing, and Beathard was forced to attempt 54 passes — far too many for him.
2. Mental defensive breakdowns can’t continue to happen.
On the Cardinals’ opening drive, before most fans could set their drink down, wideout Christian Kirk was taking the pass to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown.
At first glance, it seemed like Kirk had blown by 49ers’ corner Ahkello Witherspoon and it was just a phenomenal throw from quarterback Josh Rosen, but actually it was a mental lapse on the part of the 49ers.
Free safety Adrian Colbert was responsible for staying high and helping Witherspoon over the top. Instead, the second-year safety bit on an underneath route, allowing Kirk to get behind the defense and make the easy reception.
These kinds of defensive mistakes can’t continue to happen, especially if the 49ers are going to be a team that’s relying on the ground game and stout defense to win games on a weekly basis. But I should add, aside from this one play, the 49ers’ defense was excellent for the rest of the afternoon, making Rosen and Co. look pretty average.
3. San Francisco needs to add pass rushers in the offseason.
On defense, sometimes pass defenders can help create a sack and in the same realm, pass rushers can take the burden off of cornerbacks. In the case of the 49ers, corners seem to get blamed a lot of times for poor coverage, but if the pass rush got home sooner, maybe those plays wouldn’t happen.
Sunday wasn’t any different, where the 49ers were able to only account for one sack — a Cassius Marsh play, in which the coverage held up really well and Rosen had nowhere to go with the ball.
Anyone remotely associated with the 49ers know that it’s a major issue with the team, that they need to address in the offseason. Adding a few players that can pressure the opposing quarterback will make the entire defense look a lot better than it currently is.
4. QB C.J. Beathard needs to step up in the pocket more often.
Similar to the last problem, the quarterback can make the offensive line look better, by getting rid of the ball sooner. In the case of Beathard, he needs to release the ball sooner, otherwise the turnovers are going to keep piling up.
On Sunday, the 49ers’ signal caller was strip-sacked on two separate plays and one of the plays was taken back by the Cardinals for a touchdown. Aside from this, Beathard was sacked twice and hit on numerous other occasions.
When the pocket breaks down, more often than not, Beathard’s first instincts are to sneak out right or left, when he should be stepping up into the pocket to escape the rush. Typically, sensing the pass rush is a skill that comes with playing time, but in Beathard’s case it hasn’t improved. Since last season, there’s not a game I can’t recall where the 49ers’ quarterback doesn’t get hit in the backfield.
5. The 49ers schedule doesn’t get any easier from here.
When the schedule came out, I knew this early stretch in the season would be tough. They had to play the Chiefs and Chargers on the road, come home to the Cardinals, head back out to play the Packers, and then host the Rams.
After dropping the road games to Kansas City and Los Angeles, I was optimistic that the 49ers could beat win-less Arizona at home. Yet, the 49ers are 1-4 and at the bottom of the NFC West.
Next up, Aaron Rodgers and the high-flying Green Bay offense on Monday night. I’m assuming that the 49ers will drop that game, then return home to host the Rams the following week. Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff should have a field day against the 49ers’ pass defense.
It’s very likely that the 49ers could be 1-6, before the much-anticipated showdown against the Raiders.