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Winners and losers from the 49ers/Cardinals: Arik Armstead has found a new home inside

Three winners, losers, and an IDK

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

By now, just about every player who stepped on the field for the 49ers Sunday has received some portion of the blame for the Niners' disappointing loss to the Cardinals — and we can add in the coaching staff for good measure.

When a team loses five of its last six games, optimism is hard to come by. That’s unfortunate, as there were plenty of positive performances on display Sunday. But, unfortunately, those were overshadowed by the same mistakes and miscues we’ve grown accustomed to seeing with this team.

Let’s talk about the individual performances in this week’s Winners and Losers edition.

Winners

Arik Armstead

Armstead was spectacular against the Cardinals. The 49ers started him at defensive tackle in place of an injured Javon Kinlaw and Maurice Hurst. Armstead finished the game with an impressive ten tackles, one for loss, a sack. He had another sack taken away after a penalty and hit the quarterback on another play. Additionally, Armstead had a couple of other reps where he beat his man. He was borderline unblockable.

Interior pressure has been few and far between for the Niners' defense this season. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Armstead is going to turn into the next Aaron Donald and be this productive for the remainder of the season. That’s not fair to him.

But, based on his contract, you expect Armstead to be a difference-maker. He was precisely that against the Cardinals as he showed that guards don’t stand a chance against him. Armstead appears to have found a new home at defensive tackle.

Brandon Aiyuk

Lost in Aiyuk fumbling — a play that you can chalk up to bad luck as he had two hands covering the ball — was him elevating and hanging in the air for what felt like a lifetime to reel in the pass. Aiyuk had a similar “wow” reception for a touchdown later in the game where he leaped over two Cardinals defenders for a touchdown.

Aiyuk finished with six receptions on eight targets for 89 yards, including moving the sticks on a reception that went for a first down. He also had three punt returns for an average of 34 yards.

Aiyuk seems to have turned the corner on what was a porous start to a season where he had high expectations. Instead, he looks like the player I spent all of August fawning over. Welcome to 2021, Brandon.

George Kittle

I’d compare Kittle’s fumble to a freak injury that you can’t prepare for. A defender leaped over another player and came flying through the air to jar the ball loose. The fumble killed all of the momentum the 49ers had built to begin the game, and if they score on the drive, I imagine there’s a different outcome Sunday.

As tough of a pill as that fumble was to swallow, Kittle caught six of his eight targets for 101 yards, including a touchdown (off a red zone target!) where he won a battle. Kittle also made a nice over-the-shoulder grab down the sideline that had a high degree of difficulty.

The offense has to find ways to punch the ball into the end zone earlier than they have. But, the way Aiyuk and Kittle played on Sunday, there’s reason to believe they’ll get on track if the Niners eliminate their mistakes.

Losers

Kyle Shanahan

Marc Delucchi wrote an excellent article on Shanahan and why it might be time for him to go. I don’t agree that it’s time to fire Kyle, but Marc suggested plenty of valid points.

My biggest issue remains Shanahan’s inability to evaluate the game flow properly. Math seems to get the best of him, too. A prime example is that letting 36 seconds run off the clock to end the third quarter without running a play when you’re down.

Kicking an extra point instead of going for a two-point conversion to make the game two possessions instead of a one-score game was mind-blowing. Punting the ball in Cardinals territory when you had only stopped them once through three quarters felt like waving the white flag.

Before the 49ers kicked the ball off Sunday, everything they needed to go in their favor did. From the NFC teams losing that are ahead of them in the standings to the Cardinals missing their best players.

Instead of coming out like a desperate team that’s going to play with their hair on fire and fight for a playoff spot, the Niners were punched in the mouth and laid down afterward. As a result, the team looked flat and uninspired. That starts with the head coach.

The tackling

I didn’t go through each of them in the video below, but I counted 15 missed tackles from 11 different defenders Sunday. The angles and effort were unlike anything we’ve seen from this unit in 2021.

We’re used to seeing an aggressive defense, but they were anything but that against Arizona.

Some of the blame has to go to players on the field. Talanoa Hufanaga missed three tackles. Dre Kirkpatrick, Tavon Wilson, and Josh Norman each combined to miss five tackles. We’re used to seeing this defense fly around and play fast. That was not the case Sunday.

Get well soon, Jimmie.

Veteran backups

The team is relying on veterans who have “been there” over letting young players grow and develop. I understand why any coach would do that, as they aren’t interested in living with the ups and downs that come with playing rookies.

Tom Compton allowed a couple of sacks and was routinely beaten. I understand Jaylon Moore hadn’t practiced at right tackle, but it’s difficult to imagine he would have performed worse than Compton.

To protect themselves, the 49ers signed 30+-year-old defensive backs in Wilson, Kirkpatrick, and Norman. Wilson had a jump on McCoy’s rollout pass early in the game. If you are an NFL safety, you have to intercept a pass that you get two hands on with a running start. Wilson had eight tackles, but it didn’t seem as though any of them were impactful.

Norman gave up an easy access slant for a first down and missed a tackle that led to another first down while Kirkpatrick still has cobb webs from Eno Benjamin running him over for a touchdown. Kirkpatrick also gave up a first down in coverage to Zach Ertz, where he was in man coverage but was caught looking in the backfield.

It’s evident the 49ers don’t feel like Ambry Thomas is the answer. But punishing Deommordore Lenoir for three mistakes on 16 targets feels like a bit much. You’re ignoring Lenioir’s four pass breakups or him being an aggressive tackler. Lenoir has eight tackles on the season for an average depth of 1.1 yards. That tells you he is coming downhill.

Also, he’s been targeted 16 times and has allowed seven completions. Yes, there have been big plays. He’s a rookie! That’s going to happen. Lenoir isn’t going to morph into Jalen Ramsey overnight but if you felt like he was your best option in Week 1, let him play through his struggles and see what you have in your rookie as opposed to the over-the-hill cornerbacks you’ve signed off the street.

IDKs - 49ers passing offense

I reviewed the passing offense in a video breakdown below. My initial impression was that Jimmy Garoppolo played well Sunday. I was wrong. I’m not saying he was the reason the team lost, as that’s not true.

What is true is the same mistakes that have plagued Garoppolo reared their ugly head once again. Indecisiveness when the initial read isn't there, not getting to the correct spots before the ball is snapped, missing receivers running open over the field, inaccurate throws. It’s the same old story:

There was one third-down where Aiyuk ran a dummy route, and Kittle stayed into block. Excuse me? The play ended up being an isolation route for JaMychal Hasty.

We won’t be seeing Mohamed Sanu anytime soon. Honestly, it might be addition by subtraction as Sanu struggles to separate, and when he does, there’s no guarantee he’ll catch the ball. He was supposed to be sure-handed and reliable. Instead, Sanu has a higher drop rate than Deebo if you count the pass interference call where the refs bailed him out.

There are plays and series at a time where this passing offense looks unstoppable. Then, a drop, a wrong route, an errant throw, or a missed block happens. The issue is consistency, and this team has consistently been inconsistent.