Monday, October 14, 2013

5 Burning Questions Answered

The 49ers defeated the Cardinals 32-20 on Sunday.  The game was in doubt late in the third quarter as the Cardinals marched into 49ers territory for the second time in the half.  It is fitting that the 49ers defense then forced a Larry Fitzgerald fumble to thwart the drive, and the 49ers offense put together an 18 play, 9:32 drive to go up 29-20 and put the game away.  Those two drives were a microcosm of the 49ers season in so many ways.

Strong defense, and a power run game have carried the 49ers from a 1-2 start to their current 4-2 record.

1)  Which receiver will step up?  You can be certain the Cardinals will match up their top cornerback, Patrick Peterson, on Boldin wherever he lines up.  This should open up opportunities for Williams, Baldwin, or Moore to step up and contribute.

The receiver that stepped up was actually a tight end, as Davis put together a career day with 8 receptions for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns.  The key with this is who Davis was picking on, Cardinals cornerback Jerraud Powers.  Davis beat Powers for 3 of his receptions for 101 yards, including his 61 yard touchdown grab.  On the day Powers gave up 4 receptions for 101 yards, including a 9 yard completion to Jon Baldwin.

2)  Will Greg Roman stick to the current offensive formula?  During the last 2 weeks, both 49ers victories, Roman has shown a commitment to the run.  The outcome of each game should be no surprise.  Running the ball is what this team does best, it's their identity.

Throughout last season Roman showed a curious trend of getting away from the run every few weeks, and the 49ers had a win, win, loss pattern to show for it.

The Cardinals bring into this game a run defense ranked third in the NFL.  It will be a good challenge for the 49ers offense, and one they should win.  Arizona has yet to face a power run team like the 49ers.

Yes.  Roman called another balanced game, including an awesome sequence on the game clinching 89 yard drive when he called 8 straight running plays.

Roman's balance carried over the the passing game.  Coming into Sunday, Colin Kaepernick had a rating of 124.7 on play action passes compared to 62.27 on drop back passes.  In addition to sticking with the run, Roman also called 11 play action passes, the most he has called since opening day, and passing numbers reflect that.  On Sunday, Kaepernick put up a rating of 110.98 on play action passes, and 104.16 on drop back passes.

3)  Can Colin Kaepernick match Alex Smith?  In the first matchup between these two teams last season Smith went 18-19 for 232 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions.  The Cardinals brought one of the top defenses in the league into that game, and the 49ers offense took them apart, scoring points on 4 of their first 6 possessions, building a 24-0 lead.

Yes/No.  While Kaepernick could not match Smith's efficiency, he did finish the day 16-29 for 252 yards and 2 touchdowns with 1 interception.  Kaepernick continued to show a lack of patience with his progressions, and inaccuracy when having to hold onto the ball, but at the same time he did a good job of identifying matchups and taking advantage of them.

With his top receiver, Anquan Boldin blanketed by the Cardinals top cornerback, Kaepernick was able to take advantage of the coverage of Jerraud Powers and Yeremiah Bell on Vernon Davis, beating them when matched up for 2 touchdowns and 136 yards.

4)  Will Ray McDonald play, and if he does how effective can he be?  

McDonald was subbed out early and often from what I could tell, but I will look at this more closely tomorrow when the coaches film becomes available.

5)  Can the 49ers defense keep Carson Palmer's streak alive?  Carson Palmer enters Sunday's game having thrown at least 1 interception in each of the first 5 games this season, including 3 last Sunday against Carolina.  

Yes.  The 49ers defense was able to pick off 2 Palmer passes in the first quarter and set up the offense on the Cardinals 7 and 11 yard lines.

Prediction Time

The 49ers will beat the Cardinals 24-13.  The Cardinals offense has had at least 1 good touchdown drive in each game this season, but that won't be enough on Sunday as the 49ers grind out another win.

My score was off, but the result was not.  The Cardinals did put together 1 long touchdown drive in the 3rd quarter to pull within 22-20, but that was not enough and the 49ers put the game away with their grinding 18 play, 89 yard drive to go up 29-20.

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