Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Background: September 13, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert (31) runs the football past Arizona Cardinals middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) and outside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (59) during the first quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada
In a fast and furious 4th quarter, the Arizona Cardinals were able to overcome adverse air quality and empty stadium eeriness, plus an array of first-game mistakes to prevail on the road over the defending NFC Champion 49ers by the score of 24-20.
Here are the game highlights provided to us by NFL.com. If you want to follow along with me, let’s take it one play and one quarter at a time as we take a close look at the Cardinals’ performance.
Play 1: Cutback 10 yard run by Mostert on 1st and 10 from their own 45 yard line
49ers in a balanced set with twin WRs left and TE/FB stack to right.
Cardinals in their base 34 with Simmons at SAM, Hicks at MIKE, Campbell at WILL and Jones at BANDIT.
After the handoff, the flow is to the right to which all three of the Cardinals’ DI move toward and Jones gets pinned on the far edge by T Williams, leaving a giant cutback hole for Mostert. De’Vondre Campbell is sitting in the hole but gets caught a little too far to the flow side of the play and Mostert is able to bust through the middle for 10 yards—-taken down well by FS Jalen Thompson.
Adjustment: (1) DI should move a little toward the flow but not this much; (2) Jones can make a better attempt to get off his block; (3) Campbell can do a better job of anticipating the cutback and being in a position to square up on the RB.
Play 2: Pass for 12 yards from JG to Kittle on 3rd and 14
SF: “trips left with Kittle flexed”—-RB + WR right
ARI: 3 man rush look with one blitzer in 2 pt. stance—-with Cover 2 zone behind.
It’s a very conservative and passive defensive look from the Cardinals. The outcome is predictable—-there is no pressure on JG—-Kittle is open over the middle and his 12 yard catch gets the 49ers in FG range.
Now—-on the bright side this was the first of 6 straight stops the Cardinals made on 3rd downs—-quite a nice change from the Cardinals worst in the NFL 3rd down conversion percentage from last year.
I was surprised the 49ers didn’t go for it on 4th and 2 and elected to try the long distance FG instead.
Adjustment—-the 3 man rush look has been largely unsuccessful under Joseph—-scrap it and take a more aggressive approach to pressuring the QB.
Play 3: 52 Yard FG by Gould
ARI: stacked the left side on line and got good push from 94-Allen and 97-Phillips (good arm/hand up to challenge the kick), the punt rusher 21-Peterson gets the edge but doesn’t plane out.
Adjustment: team needs a better effort from the edge rusher—-just by planing out here it could get the 49ers to speed up the kick next time and it could open up the rusher to the inside of Peterson on the next kick. Make the edge rush pressure felt.
Play 4: 76 Yard TD catch from JG to Mostert on 1st and 10 from SF own 24 yard line
SF: 2 RB flanked to each side of QB in shotgun, 1 WR left, TE/WR right
ARI: 3-4 base but with SS Budda Baker playing the edge opposite Jones at BANDIT—-Campbell stacked behind Baker at the SAM, Simmons at WILL, Hicks as MIKE—-CBs in press coverage with FS Banjo in deep middle
Note: this is the same RB option pass left play that the 49ers won on at home last year when the Cardinals ran Budda on a delayed blitz—-only then left the middle open when the FS covered the TE.
Adjustment: Simmons makes a classic rookie mistake on the play. The good news is that he understands it is his job to cover Mostert, and that he appears to know that the 49ers RB has an option to go opposite the coverage here—-but Simmons over-commits and guesses wrong that Mosert will run the out pass instead of the curl. Motsert sees Simmons has over-committed and takes the curl route instead. The other good news is that Simmons does not quit on the play and tries his best to chase Mostert. The same cannot be said of Patrick Peterson who makes an initial effort to chase Mostert but then quits on the play—-you teach your guys to never quit on a play because you never know what might happen—-the RB could trip or somehow lose control of the ball—-so I don’t want to hear “you’re hating on Pat P.” For a world class 4.3-4.4 speed athlete like Peterson to not make a stronger effort on this play is disappointing.
Chris Banjo at FS badly misplays the RAC—-safeties are called safeties because they are the last line of defense. He reacts late to the play and then takes too shallow of a pursuit angle. It’s too bad that Budda Baker wasn’t playing FS on this play because at most it would have been a 10-12 yard gain.
The biggest adjustment the Cardinals have to make on defense versus the 49ers, beyond doing a better job covering George Kittle is covering their RBs—-their 2 TDs were to RBs and on both TD plays, no Cardinal even gets a hand on either one of them—-and then one of their biggest plays in the 4th quarter was the long RAC reception that FB Juszccyk made when Haason Reddick made the same mistake Isaiah Simmons did.
Adjustment: stay square on the RBs, do not over-commit and use your athleticism to mirror and run side by side with in coverage. The Cardinals have the athletes to do this well.
Play 5: 3rd and 8 Incomplete pass from K1 to C-Kirk
SF: Man coverage
ARI: Isolates Kirk to far right and had Hopkins as part of “trips” left.
The Cardinals did an outstanding job all day fo “chipping” on DE Nick Bosa. Plus, RT Kelvin Beachum was doing a superb job in pass pro on the other side.
Adjustment: Kirk get ties up too well and too long in press coverage and then never gains separation. You can see by Kyler’s throw that Kirk was nowhere near where he expected him to be.
Kyler Murray was well protected as Bosa was chipped and got caught up inside. Kyler needed to see that Kirk was not open and then look for option 2, which very well could have been Larry Fitzgerald who had leverage on his man over the middle.
Kyler and Kirk were not in sync in this game—-even when Kirk was wide open on a corner route later. They will work hard at correcting this.
Play 6: 3rd and 5 incomplete pass from JG to Trent Taylor
SF: Motion Kittle to the right to make “trips” on right
ARI: man coverage: Campbell on Kittle, Murphy on Taylor, Peterson on Pettis
The main credit here goes to De’Vondre Campbell who did what the other LBers who got beat didn’t—-he stayed square to Kittle—-he didn’t over-commit—-and he mirrored and ran with him, which then caused JG to throw the out pass to Taylor. Murphy did not have tight coverage, but Pat. P left Pettis on the throwing motion to charge Taylor on a pass that JG hurried perhaps because he saw Peterson flash. Great play by Pat P.
De’Vondre Campbell was the best cover LB in this game, which is extremely encouraging because when the coaches get Simmons and Reddick straightened out that gives them 3 fast and athletic good-sized cover LBs.
The other thing about this incomplete out pass is that in the 4th quarter, Byron Murphy defended it to perfection. Murphy settled down well in this game, which was another very encouraging development.
Play 7: 4th and 5 punt block by Ezekiel Turner
This momentum changing play at such a key time in the game was beautifully designed by AHC/STC Jeff Rodgers—-and perfectly executed by the two man catalysts, Dennis Gardeck and Turner. Gardeck’s job is to take out the blocker in front of the punter, so that if Turner can squeeze through his gap, he can get right to the punter. Not only did Gardeck hammer the blocker, he was there to pounce on the football and get up and run with it. Turner slipped through his crease and got his hands to the picture perfect point above of the right footed punter.
As we pointed out about the makeup of this year’s roster and how heavily it is stacked with ST players—-it was this STs play that was a major turning point in the game—-and a play that might in retrospect be considered the most timely big play of the season.
Play 8: 1st and goal from the 10 TD pass from K1 to Chase Edmonds.
SF: Man coverage
ARI: highly creative formation: Murray under center, triangle backfield L to R of Edmond, Drake and Maxx Williams, with Hopkins iso-ed left and TE Dan Arnold in-line to right.
On the snap, Arnold released straight downfield drawing the attention of the FS, and the Cardinals slip Edmonds from the left side of the triangle to the right flat when he made a tremendous RAC and one armed dive for the pylon.
Perfect play design and call for the perfect time.
Bang—bang—-the punt block and the one play TD. Cardinals are right back in the ballgame.
Play 9: 1st and 10 sack of JG by newly acquired DT Angelo Blackson
This is what a shift in momentum can do for your team.
Chandler Jones is blocked well initially by Trent Williams and then is double teamed, but Devon Kennard has a nice QB pressure from the left side, which caused JG to move inside the pocket where Blackson has shed his blocker and is right there for the sack.
Credit the Cardinals’ sticky man coverage on this play—-for it was a true coverage sack.
Play 10: 2nd and 17, 15 yard completion from JG to Kittle
At least the Cardinals weren’t showing a 3 man rush here like the last long down they had, but the results versus the Cardinals’ zone are the same as Kittle is adept and finding the gray areas and this is a throw that JG can routinely complete.
Adjustment: Having had earlier success with Campbell on Kittle, why not stick with man coverage? On this zone play, Campbell lets Kittle cross his face, but doesn’t run with him, because he thinks he has help behind. Notice how quick Budda Baker from his Cover 2 high safety spot gets to Kittle. Budda Baker’s heat seeking tackles in the game were one of the most important deciding factors for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals’ zones under Vance Joseph have not been good thus far and it’s time to improve them or to make a more full-time commitment to man to man or at least to combo man-zones.
Play 11: 3rd and 2, incomplete wheel route pass pass from JG to McKinnon
This is very clever play call/ man coverage switch by Vance Joseph.
It looks like the Cardinals are manning up on George Kittle with De’Vondre Campbell, but on the snap, Campbell immediately looks to pick up RB J McKinnon and Kittle is picked up every well by FS Budda Baker—-so well that as the pocket is starting to collapse on JG he throws up the sideline for McKinnon who is blanketed in textbook fashion by Campbell.
Campbell has proved in this 1st quarter that he is very capable in man coverage versus high caliber TEs and RBs—-what a boon that is for the Cardinals.
Play 12: 3rd and 10 Murray flushed out of bounds
The Cardinals line up with TE Dan Arnold alone to the left—-he chips on Bosa and releases downfield. The trips to the right release, but when Murray is flushed to his right none of them appear to adjust quickly enough to gain separation—-something the Cardinals’ WRs need to keep improving.
The good news is that Murray does not force the issue here. He is already showing added maturity in this aspect of his decision making.
Play 13: 1st and 10, 9 yard run by Mostert
This play shows why TE George Kittle is an All-Pro.
First he combines with RT McClinchey on a double team of DE Zach Allen, then he releases and blocks LB Jordan Hicks 4 yards downfield. This is pure textbook material.
Adjustments: Give credit to Zach Allen here for battling the double team and playing to the whistle—-he actually gets and arm in on Mostert 7 yards downfield. You’d like to see Allen avoid getting pushed back 4-5 yards and that’s something he can improve on. While SAM LB Haason Reddick sets the edge—-you’d like to see him set it earlier and squeeze it down some—-but he does turn the play inside and does not lose contain. You’d like to see Jordan Hicks come and meet Kittle in his tracks an not get taken on a sleigh ride. You’d also like to see FS Chris Banjo and CB Patrick Peterson make stronger, more aggressive efforts to force the run here.
But—-look at Budda Baker and where he comes from to make the tackle on this play. Why this baller is not a team captain is beyond comprehension to me. He is the heart and soul of this defense.
Play 14: 1st and 10, 14 yard pass on shallow cross from JG to Kittle
When I interviewed Brett Kollmann he said his number one concern about the Cardinals was MIKE LB Jordan Hicks in pass coverage. Unfortunately, Hicks was on the wrong end of a few coverage gaffes in this game. This one is mystifying to me as to how and why Vance Joseph would ever matchup Hicks on Kittle…let alone with having to key on the run first and shift into coverage second on an All-Pro like Kittle.
Notice who upends Kittle in the open field, taking him out an the ankles.
Play 15: Ist and 10, a 10 yard crossing pass completion from JG to TE Jordan Reed
De’Vondre Campbell right there on the coverage. Notice how squared up Campbell is on Reed. The Cardinals’ DI to that side does get his arm up on the throw but a little too late. The DI needs to do a better job of getting their hands up, especially when they are not winning on their pass rushes.
Play 16: 2nd and 7, 10 yard TE around run by Kittle
Chandler Jones gets blocked by the pulling guard and fails to keep contain. Kittle bounced his run outside of Jones where Campbell got caught a little inside on a slower than hope for read and CB Patrick Peterson gets tied up with WR Bourne on a block, while guess who makes the tackle by taking Kittle out at the ankles.
End of quarter with SF driving, up 10-7.
SF: RB Raheem Mostert
ARI: S Budda Baker
Did you follow along with each play on the video?
What did you see on certain plays that I may have missed?
What are your overall impressions?
Q2 Key Plays—-Tuesday
Q3 Key Plays—-Wednesday
Q4 Key Plays—-Thursday
Hope you like this format.
We’re 1-0 Birdgang—-h’bout those Cardinals!