SANTA CLARA -- That Eli Harold made his first NFL start on Sunday was not a huge surprise. Few, however, saw Mike Purcell getting his first-ever start. Purcell began the game at right defensive tackle, which had been Quinton Dial's position through the first 10 games. Dial was on the left side Sunday in place of Glenn Dorsey, who is out with an ACL tear.
Most observers thought Arik Armstead would get the bulk of the snaps now that Dorsey is finished for the season. As it turned out, Armstead's role wasn't that different than it normally is. The first-round draft pick came in on passing downs and played 18 of the 49ers' 80 defensive snaps. Per Pro Football Focus, he had a hit and two hurries in 14 pass rushes. Jim Tomsula said Armstead is dealing with a shoulder injury and that the 49ers don't want to overburden him. While Purcell mostly has played nose tackle to this point, all of the 49ers defensive linemen are trained to play multiple positions. He did well in his starting debut in playing 49 snaps and finishing with three tackles, including San Francisco's only sack of the game.
Harold, meanwhile, started the game but fellow outside linebacker Corey Lemonier ended up playing more snaps -- 44 to 41. Both players finished with a tackle and Harold added a quarterback hit. Both are looking for their first sack of the season.
Tank Carradine did not make much of a splash in his amended role. He played 11 snaps, most of them as an outside rusher in the 49ers' nickel package. Carradine is down to 274 pounds after being close to 300 pounds at the start of the season. He did not make any plays that landed him on the stat sheet.
Linebacker Gerald Hodges played eight snaps but may be in contention for more. One of them ended in a tackle for loss at the goal line that underscored his speed. Michael Wilhoite played 62 snaps and had a few dazzling plays of his own, including two tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Defensive coordinator Eric Mangini said Friday that Kenneth Acker would start the game at cornerback but that Marcus Cromartie had earned the right to enter the game on defense. Mmmm. While Acker played 75 snaps, Cromartie didn't play at all on defense. That suggests Cromartie replaced Acker a week ago in Seattle not because Cromartie always had been designated to get some snaps -- which was the line the coaches have used -- but because Acker was playing poorly. Acker was better against the Cardinals, which likely is why he hardly left the field.
The Cardinals' 80 plays were a lot for a game that didn't go into overtime. They held the ball 15 minutes more than the 49ers who, by contrast, ran 56 plays on offense. Three defenders played all 80 snaps: cornerback Tramaine Brock, linebacker NaVorro Bowman and safety Jaquiski Tartt. Bowman and Acker tied for the team lead with eight tackles.
On offense, seven players were on the field for every snap. That includes the five starting linemen and quarterback Blaine Gabbert, which is expected. Not expected -- starting running back Shaun Draughn also was on hand for all 56 snaps. Draughn, of course, played special teams for Cleveland earlier this year, so he does not have a lot of wear and tear on his legs. Early in his career, he was viewed as a third-down specialist, which means he is well-versed in pass protection. That's certainly earned him a lot of snaps. But his hard-charging running style and his ability to catch passes also has meshed well with position coach Tom Rathman's philosophy. It's probably a safe bet that the 49ers at least have Draughn on their 2016 offseason roster. He seems to provide a lot of bang for the buck.
At wide receiver, Quinton Patton played 31 snaps while fellow backups Jerome Simpson and Bruce Ellington played three snaps and one snap respectively. Gabbert targeted Patton six times. His only completion was a tap pass for one yard. Another throw to Patton was intercepted by Tyrann Mathieu.