I don't mean to get all Buzz Killington on you, but the 49ers shouldn't be bubbling with confidence after yesterday's win in the desert. The story in Phoenix today is how the Cardinals' offense looks nothing like it did at the end of the 2008 postseason and that Arizona is still emerging from their post-Super Bowl hangover. The Cardinals' passing game never got on track in the exhibition season, and the team committed 12
turnovers penalties yesterday.
Meanwhile, the 49ers' victory looked an awful lot like their season-opening win two years ago. They also nipped the Cardinals in that game and they also had one good-looking touchdown drive amid a game's worth of ugly offense. I'm not saying 2009 is going to turn out like 2007 (yet). But the commitment to running the ball and the inability to do so lay at the heart of that horrible season.
Ok, you've eaten your vegetables. Now you can sink your teeth into something sweet.
- Scot McCloughan can't be having many restful nights given the Michael Crabtree situation, which is looking more and more like an unqualified disaster every day. But the GM looked good Sunday after his two biggest free-agent acquisitions, Justin Smith and Nate Clements, came up huge for the 49ers. Clements shut down Larry Fitzgerald most of the day while Smith seemed to be in Kurt Warner's face throughout. Smith is strong as an ox and relentless. While most other defensive linemen begin to flag at the end of the game, Smith seems to get stronger. That he and Parys Haralson have picked up where they left off in 2008 bodes very well for the season. Haralson had one sack, four QB hurries, two tackles for loss and was the scourge of the first half. Smith had one sack, two quarterback hurries and was unblockable in the second half.
- Patrick Willis appears to be in midseason form or close to it after missing a big chunk of the preseason with a nutcracker injury. Willis had a game-high 13 tackles, many of them after short dump offs to running back Tim Hightower. That was the 49ers' defensive game plan yesterday: They wanted to take away the deep passes to Fitzgerald and Boldin and hope that Willis could clean up the short stuff that was readily available to the Cardinals all day. The Cardinals gained yards, but they never had any back-breaking plays, and, thanks in part to the pass rush and all those penalties, they couldn't sustain any drives. (The "back-end" players, including Dashon Goldson, Michael Lewis and Mark Roman, also had good games.) Willis also had an interception, continuing a 49ers defensive trend from the preseason. Turnovers are the one thing that can turn a good defensive into a great one this season.
- The 49ers can throw the ball. After watching a preseason that was dedicated entirely to the run, you had to wonder if Shaun Hill had any sort of chemistry with his wideouts. He did, hitting Josh Morgan early and Isaac Bruce on a nice 50-yarder that set up the 49ers' first touchdown. Hill also found Bruce on that long drive in the fourth quarter. That drive featured 14 pass plays. Aside from one bad pass in triple coverage to Bruce, Hill was in control. As the 49ers approached the goal line, I was getting a bit of déjà vu from last season when, at the same end of the field, the 49ers couldn't punch it in from 2 ½ yards out. This time, they had the perfect play called, and Hill found Gore wide open for the touchdown. Afterward, center Eric Heitmann said he knew the Cardinals were going to be coming with an all-out blitz. He said he shifted the pass protection to the left side of the line in order to protect Hill's blind side. Heitmann said it was important that Hill see the extra rushers coming at him. He did, and he also knew that Gore would be uncovered on the play. At that point, his only worry was making sure he lofted his pass to Gore over the unrushing linemen. The 49ers pass-rush ratio: 58 to 42 in favor of the pass.
- Carolina looked awful. Yes, it was only Week One and there is plenty of time for the Panthers to right their ship. But if you had to make predictions based on Week One performances, Carolina's dubious effort against the Eagles would put them at the bottom of the heap. The 49ers, of course, have Carolina's first-round pick for 2010. And, no, they can't use it to re-draft Michael Crabtree ...
-- Matt Barrows