The run-up to the 49ers-Cardinals game began with Arizona safety Tony Jefferson insisting 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had trouble throwing to the outside and ended with four Kaepernick interceptions – all on passes outside the numbers.
Jefferson said on Pro Football Talk radio that Kaepernick is predictable on third downs in that he tends to lock in on one target, and if that receiver is covered, he will take off and run with the ball.
Their passing game has just simplified so much, it was easy to anticipate routes, get some good breaks on the ball today.
Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu, who made two interceptions
“So we got to contain him and try to keep him throwing the ball outside the numbers because we don’t think that’s his strength,” Jefferson said.
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Two of Kaepernick’s interceptions came on third down and one each on first and second. All were outside the numbers.
“Obviously we’re going to look at it,” coach Jim Tomsula said. “It’s not what they did vs. what we’re doing. It’s not good.”
The issue isn’t arm strength, something many quarterbacks struggle with on passes toward the sideline. Instead, Kaepernick seems to be misreading the depth of the defenders on those throws.
“The first pass I just have to put further outside and allow Vernon (Davis) to make that play,” Kaepernick said. “The second one – a little bit of pressure rolls up. Tried to stick that one into Anquan (Boldin) and it got undercut. So both of those are my fault and my mistake and hurt this team.”
Receiver Torrey Smith said the Cardinals didn’t do anything unique to force Kaepernick to the outside.
“It’s on us to make things happen,” said Smith, who had no receptions. “They didn’t do anything special.”
The Cardinals, however, had a different take.
“We had a bead on what those guys like to do,” said safety Rashad Johnson. “... I think Kaepernick was a little bit uncomfortable all game. There were guys in his face and he was never able to step in and throw it. He was always a little bit behind on his throws.”
Said safety Tyrann Mathieu, who had two interceptions: “Their passing game has just simplified so much, it was easy to anticipate routes, get some good breaks on the ball today.”
Bright spot – The 49ers accomplished something neither of the Cardinals’ previous opponents did – sack Carson Palmer.
The four-yard sack in the third quarter came courtesy of first-round pick Arik Armstead, the first of his career. Armstead also teamed with Tank Carradine to bring down Palmer after a one-yard run on third and 4. (The play was offset by a NaVorro Bowman penalty.) Armstead later stuffed running back Stepfan Taylor for no gain.
There were guys in his face and he was never able to step in and throw it.
Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson on Colin Kaepernick
“It was a good feeling but kind of bittersweet because we didn’t win,” said Armstead, who was credited with three tackles. “But when I was out there I had opportunities and tried to make plays to help my team win.”
Bowman survives scare – Bowman seemed to be in pain and was slow to get up after a shoestring tackle on running back Chris Johnson in the fourth quarter. Bowman said he “tweaked” his surgically repaired left knee, which naturally scared the inside linebacker and team leader.
“No damage, but I felt it,” Bowman said. “(Johnson) just rolled up on it.”
In a way, Bowman said, the sequence was reassuring in that he survived an awkward blow to the knee that forced him to sit out the 2014 season.
“Yeah, it’s a good thing,” he said. “That’s a trial that I’ve been telling you about. You can’t simulate football until you go out there and play the game. ... Those kind of tweaks and little aches are going to come. But I’ve got to get out there and keep going.”
Asked if he felt he was back to pre-injury form at this point, Bowman said, “No, I’m not.”
Et cetera – Davis suffered a knee injury in the second half and left the game. He said it was not a long-term issue. Davis was targeted twice but finished without a catch.
▪ San Francisco receiver Bruce Ellington (ankle) and his cousin, Cardinals running back Andre Ellington (knee), didn’t play. Arizona guard and former 49er Mike Iupati, who is still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, also sat out.
▪ Cornerback Shareece Wright was inactive for the third time this year. “Politics as usual,” Wright tweeted before the game before quickly deleting the item. Said Tomsula when asked about the tweet: “No, that is an incorrect statement. It had nothing to do with (politics). I made the decision to put guys up that I thought gave us the best chance of winning the football game.”