The 49ers absolutely trounced the Arizona Cardinals to the tune of 38-10 in front of tens of thousands of jubilated fans in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca. San Francisco dominated in all three facets of the game and put together the most complete 60 minutes we have seen from this football team this season. Here are my five takeaways from this game.
The 49ers are the most dangerous team in the NFC
This is the team that nobody wants to face come playoff time. So for a moment, forget records, home-field advantage, and anything that currently might sway your perception of the current landscape in the NFC. Instead, focus on the month of January and what team in the conference provides a more difficult matchup for any of the teams who will find themselves in the playoff field.
Look no further than the San Francisco 49ers, who are now playing a complete brand of football by adding a dynamic offense to what has been the best defense in football throughout the course of this season.
The 49ers are averaging 28.5 points per game since acquiring Christian McCaffrey and have converted over 50 percent of their third down attempts in each of the four games McCaffrey has appeared in.
On the flip side, DeMeco Ryans’ defense has been stellar as of late, allowing just 13 points per game over their last three games, and not allowing a single point to be scored in the second half since Week 7.
San Francisco can get after the quarterback as well as any other team in the league, and they boast the number one rushing defense in the league allowing just 3.3 yards per carry on the season.
On the other side of the ball, the 49ers running game is as dynamic as any team in the league, and their assortment of skill position players and the ability to rack up yards after the catch is second to none. The kind of stress they are able to put on opposing defenses with this unique offensive attack creates nightmares for any opposing teams looking to game plan against them.
When this team is firing on all cylinders, they are as good as any of the other 31 teams in the NFL and a bonafide contender for a conference title. One of the major reasons why this teams ceiling is so high can be directly traced back to the fact that
Jimmy Garoppolo is playing the best football of his career
I’ve been saying it for weeks, and after every game, it feels like Garoppolo is getting better and better. His latest installment of this career-best stretch featured the fourth career game where Garoppolo threw for four touchdowns, three of which have come against an Arizona Cardinals team that Garoppolo has played of his best games against.
One of the main areas where Garoppolo has really stood apart this year has been his efficiency and ability to execute on third down to keep the chains moving. Here were Garoppolo’s numbers on the money down in this one.
8.1 yards per attempt
5 first downs
This game was also the first time in Garoppolo’s career that he has gone three consecutive games without turning the ball over. This version of Garoppolo has seen an uptick in big-time throws coincide with a regression of turnover-worthy plays, which has resulted in what appears to be a career-altering stretch for the nine-year veteran.
While we are on the topic of first times in a career, let’s talk about how
Kyle Shanahan’s record as a head coach is over .500 for the first time in his career
It only took 2,136 days, but Shanahan can now officially be labeled as a WINNER as a head coach at the NFL level. While there is obvious and much-needed context as to why it took Shanahan until his 97th game to get over the .500 mark, this one still has to feel good for the 49ers coach, who is now in his sixth season with the team.
Perhaps Shanahan had his own Steve Young moment, finally getting the monkey off his back of the sub .500 record that has been thrown around endlessly in discussions about the pedigree and caliber of coach Shanahan is.
Throwing the career record aside for a moment, these are the kind of games that really show the value of Shanahan as a coach and why he will be with the 49ers for a long time coming.
However, there is another coach on the staff whose days are probably numbered, and I am, of course, referring to...
DeMeco Ryans is almost guaranteed to land a head coaching job this offseason
He should have had one this past offseason, but there is little to no chance that the teams who will find themselves with vacancies can afford to make the same mistake of passing on Ryans for a second consecutive season.
The 49ers' defense currently ranks number in total defense and is the only team in the NFL to allow less than 3,000 total yards of offense through the first 11 weeks of the season. Ryans has consistently pushed all the right buttons with this unit, and every single week it feels as though he is fortifying a resume that will make him one of, if not the top candidate in the upcoming coaching carousel.
While the defense has gotten plenty of praise, this group has been largely overlooked this season...
The 49ers' offensive line has quieted any of the preseason concerns
Heading into the season, there was quite a bit of speculation that the 49ers' offensive line would end up being the weak link on an otherwise stacked roster. The uncertainty surrounding the group was fair, as there were three first-time starters on the interior, and Mike McGlinchey would be returning from a severe injury that prematurely ended his season the year before.
Not only has the offensive line not been the weak link, but they’ve also actually been one of the better and more consistent position groups on the entire team this season. They did not allow a single sack in their win over the Cardinals, the second consecutive game that the group was not charged with being responsible for a sack.
They also dominated the ground game, clearing the way for a rushing attack that averaged over 5.7 yards per carry while eclipsing the 150 rushing yard mark in back-to-back games.
Against the Cardinals, star left tackle Trent Williams recorded his highest single-game PFF grade in his storied 12-year NFL career and his highest run blocking grade.
This unit is rolling, and their ability to keep Jimmy Garoppolo upright is a major reason for the latter’s success this season.