With a short week and a cross country trip to Baltimore for the “Harbaugh Bowl” on deck, the 49ers had this game pretty much over with midway through the third quarter. This may have been more of a result of some poor performances from the Cardinals players, especially the quarterbacks. This is not to say the 49ers played badly at all, they just didn’t dominate quite to the level I expected them to.
For the Cardinals, it was sadly the same story as we’ve seen for most of the year as opposed to a repeat of last week’s upset win over Philadelphia. Arizona has simply lacked quality quarterback play on a consistent basis since Kurt Warner retired. That’s what this game showed about the Cardinals more than anything else.
Despite the lack of drama in this one, there were still a few performances that stood out from the rest. So with that in mind, let’s take a look.
San Francisco – Three Performances of Note
It’s no secret how good the 49ers’ inside linebackers have been this season. Sunday was no different with Patrick Willis (+4.2) and NaVorro Bowman (+3.4) grading out as the game’s two best defensive players. Both were excellent in coverage as Bowman allowed just three catches for a mere 12 yards. Willis gave up just a single reception, which he more than made up for with an interception and a pass break-up. Once again, run defense was where Willis separated himself with four defensive stops.
A Pleasant Surprise
It’s not often that Joe Staley (+4.5) puts in a performance as good as this. In fact, this week was Staley’s highest-graded game since his rookie year. Nearly perfect in pass protection, he allowed just the single pressure to Calais Campbell with 6:53 left in the first quarter. It was in the run game where he really stood out, helping the 49ers to 4.1 yards per attempt when they rushed off left tackle.
Alex Smith – Still Proving Me Wrong
As I said in my Three to Focus on article for this game, I keep waiting for Alex Smith (+5.2) to be the 49ers’ undoing. He simply continues to prove me wrong on a weekly basis though. On Sunday he showed why it’s important to blitz the quarterback in the NFL. The Cardinals blitzed Smith 11 times in this game. When they brought the heat he completed just two of 11 passes for 17 yards with a touchdown and an interception. However, when they reined-in the pressure, Smith completed 66.7% of his passes for 250 yards and his other touchdown. His best throw came on a gutsy 4th-and-2 with 2:17 left in the second quarter. On a designed roll out, Smith gave a quick pump fake to freeze safety Adrian Wilson and linebacker Daryl Washington before finding Kyle Williams in front of Patrick Peterson on the sideline. That’s the kind of play that makes me question whether this is just a phase for Smith.
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
Kevin Kolb, All Is Forgiven!
On the flip side to Alex Smith’s solid performance, both Cardinals quarterbacks highlighted the team’s struggles on Sunday. John Skelton (-7.9) had a day to forget during his three quarters on the field as he ended the day with a QB Rating of 10.5. Beyond 10 yards, Skelton had more interceptions (2) than completions (1) on his eight throws. Richard Bartel (-2.0) replaced Skelton to open the fourth-quarter and was an improvement with the deep ball. Bartel completed one of his two throws beyond 20 yards for a touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald. Overall, he struggled coming off the bench completing just 50% of his passes.
For all of Patrick Peterson’s success as a punt returner this year (only one negatively-graded game in that role), there have been times where he has shown himself very much to be a rookie in coverage. The 49ers went after Peterson 10 times in the passing game. Michael Crabtree made the most of this matchup with six of his seven receptions against Peterson, who earned a -6.6 grade in this game. Peterson gave up a total of eight receptions for 139 yards, including a particularly disappointing 60 yards after the catch. The future may be bright for Peterson but he’ll need more than a few big punt returns to make up for this performance.
Making the Best of a Bad Situation
I feel for Larry Fitzgerald (+0.2), I really do. The gifted receiver has done the best he can this year despite another season of bad quarterback play. On Sunday he was targeted nine times, managing just three catches. However, it wouldn’t be fair to blame him for those six incompletions as he didn’t drop a single pass. Want further proof of just how well Fitzgerald is playing right now? Look no further than his touchdown grab with 8:44 left in the fourth quarter. Despite double coverage from Carlos Rogers and Reggie Smith, and even with the ball being tipped by Rogers, he still managed to recover and catch the ball for the score. Fitzgerald is likely heading to the Hall of Fame when his career is over but it would be nice to see him working with a competent QB again soon.
– Including this game, just two of the passes thrown to 49ers wide receiver Kyle Williams have resulted in incompletions.
– The Cardinals averaged 7.3 yards per carry, heavily aided by Chester Taylor’s 34-yard run.
– The Cardinals allowed pressure on 13 of 38 passing plays.
PFF Game Ball
Despite a pretty dumb penalty at the end to extend the Cardinals’ final drive, Patrick Willis was his usual dominant self.