Scorched in the Desert

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I’m hoping we’re not going to be asking the question, “What happened?!” every week, but this is now two games in a row.

The Arizona Cardinals completely dismantled the 49ers 47-7 on Sunday and it raises a lot of questions going into next week’s game against the Packers.

From the start of the game, the combination of poor offensive line play and Colin Kaepernick’s inaccuracy sunk the Niners before they could get started. It was a very tall order to ask the defense to take over this game when the offense put the team into an instant 14-0 hole.

Here is a breakdown of the total breakdown that happened in Arizona on Sunday:

Problems on offense:

Way too conservative.

Teams have figured out that at least in the first half, the 49ers will line up in their 22 personnel set (2 backs, 2 tight ends), run the ball and do lots of short passing.

If the 49ers don’t start trying to get the ball downfield early, it will continue to make it very easy for teams to play up and disrupt things like what happened so many times last year.

The play-calling has been suspect at best, but the worst call had to be the read option call from the pistol at their own 1 yard line that resulted in a safety, due to how long it took to develop.

Coach Jim Tomsula admitted he should have vetoed that play when it came in. “That’s my fault. I knew the play went in. Wish I had it back.”

Offensive Line

The line is still struggling. There were several plays in which Kaepernick had less than 3 seconds to throw and it didn’t go well. Some of that is quarterback play, some of it is play-calling and play design, but a lot of it is bad protection.

The 49ers will likely only go as far as the right side of their line will take them. Getting center Daniel Kilgore back, possibly by Week 7, will help, but by then it could be too late.

Quarterback Play

While there were a combination of things that contributed to the loss, it would be grossly unfair to not criticize Kaepernick.

To put it simply, he looked lost against Arizona’s defense. When you start the game with almost identical pick-six’s, you’re in major trouble as now the team will have to play from behind.

Amazingly, despite poor decisions and poor throws, the 49ers had a reasonable chance to get back in the game after a good drive that ended with Kaepernick scoring on a beautifully designed read-option keeper.

Being down 28-7 was not insurmountable as on the following drive, the Niners were able to get pressure on Carson Palmer and force an interception with about one minute left in the half.

Unfortunately, instead of putting up at least three points, Kaepernick made another bad throw that set up Arizona to add to their lead.

If that weren’t enough, San Francisco still had a chance as they received the second half kickoff. Though Torrey Smith broke wide open, Kaepernick was unable to float the ball over the defender and it was picked off for a fourth time. Once the Cardinals extended their lead to 38-7, it was over.

Problems on Defense

Most of the loss is probably on the offense and coaching staff but the defense did the offense no favors.

As the game went on, the schemes became more aggressive with more blitz packages and pressure, but it was too late.

One of the main problems it faced against the Cardinals was Arians’ use of Larry Fitzgerald in the slot against the 49ers’ base defense. When the Cardinals used 11 personnel (one back and one tight end) with Fitz in the slot, it forced the 49ers to cover him with either a linebacker or a safety.

According to Pro Football Focus, Arizona ran this grouping eight times in the first quarter and the 49ers were in their base for seven of those plays. That has to be cleaned up and quick if the Niners are going to have any success against Green Bay.

The Bright Spots

Jarryd Hayne had a beautiful punt return that he caught on the run and took it 37 yards to the Arizona 19 that set up San Francisco’s lone score of the day. He looks great when he gets into open space, using his rugby skills to repeatedly evade would-be tacklers.

Rookie defensive lineman Arik Armstead was the lone bright spot of the defense, pressuring Carson Palmer a couple of times and coming away with a sack. He graded out at a positive +1.7 Pro Football Focus rating.

Where do we go from here?

Obviously, everything needs to get better and facing the 3-0 Packers this week doesn’t help matters.

The keys will again be stopping the run and making sure that the Packer receivers don’t make big plays. Offensively, the offensive line has to get better. If the line can sustain blocks and open holes for Carlos Hyde, I can see the playbook opening up by using the play action.

Probably the biggest concern will be, can the 49ers keep things close or get a lead by halftime? Getting into a major halftime deficit has killed the 49ers these last two weeks and it’s something that needs to get corrected.

This team is still loaded with talent, but it needs confidence. A win over the Packers would do just that.

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