The 49ers found a new low point this season, falling 28-18 at home Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals, who were winless and starting rookie quarterback Josh Rosen for the first time on the road.
Here are three takeaways after re-watching the game:
Defense’s inability to make the big play
San Francisco’s defense through five games is tied for last in the NFL with just three turnovers. And it’s not surprising considering the team entered the season without viable pass rushing off the edge, which is proving to be one of the most important positions in football given the way the game is favoring quarterbacks.
The 49ers are also in the bottom-quarter of the league with just nine sacks. They had just one Sunday, which came from Cassius Marsh after Rosen dropped the snap, and Marsh’s blocker seemingly thought the play was over before Marsh made the play.
“Rushing (the quarterback) and coverage have to work together. That’s the biggest thing,” cornerback Richard Sherman said after Sunday’s game, in which the 49ers lost the turnover battle, 5-0.
San Francisco’s defensive plan and execution was sound throughout the game. The 49ers limited the Cardinals to just 4.5 yards per play, 220 yards in total, and 2 of 12 on third-down conversions.
Yet the difference in the game proved to be Arizona’s ability to make game-changing plays, like getting Raheem Mostert’s fumble, stripping C.J. Beathard twice (including one returned for a crucial touchdown), and preventing the 49ers from converting their two-point conversion attempt to tie it in the fourth quarter.
Marsh and DeForest Buckner were the only players along the defensive front that were able to make Rosen uncomfortable in the pocket. For the most part, the rookie was poised and rarely had to throw under duress, including the 75-yard touchdown on his first pass of the game.
The 49ers got very little pass rush from Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead, who must play well to complement Buckner and help out the team’s young secondary. That didn’t happen and the Cardinals offense played just well enough to win the game, despite being lousy on the stat sheet.
Did Shanahan’s game plan backfire?
Surely running back Matt Breida’s injury changed the way Kyle Shanahan had to call the game. Breida, who had eight carries in the first quarter alone after not having more than 11 in any game this season, was the focal point. Once he left the game with a sprained left ankle, the offense lost its efficiency.
It led to 54 pass attempts by Beathard, a career high and the fourth most of any quarterback this week entering Monday, while the 49ers were without their top two deep-threat receivers, Marquise Goodwin (quad, hamstring) and Dante Pettis (knee). The majority of Beathard’s passes were short, including a number of successful screen plays that were effective, to Shanahan’s credit.
But Arizona’s strip sacks proved to be costly, particularly when the Cardinals dialed up a delayed blitz and Haason Reddick knocked the ball from Beathard’s hands allowing Josh Bynes to return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It proved to be the biggest play of the game, and it’s fair to question Shanahan dialing up so many passing plays for his backup quarterback.
On the other hand, Morris and Mostert averaged just 3.2 yards per carry with Breida sidelined, which would have made it difficult to continue to rely on the running game.
Missed opportunities in the kicking game
The 49ers missed an extra point in the first quarter and normally reliable Robbie Gould pushed a 45-yard field goal wide right in the fourth quarter.
Had both those kicks been good, the 49ers would have been down just 14-10 prior to scoring their second touchdown of the game, which would have given them the lead. Instead, they were down 14-12 following Trent Taylor’s 1-yard TD catch. Then came the disastrous fumble returned for a touchdown that made it a two-score game.
Gould’s missed field goal snapped his franchise-record streak of 33 consecutive makes. It was his first missed field goal of the year. The botched extra-point attempt in the first quarter appeared to be on Bradley Pinion for mishandling the snap, which later forced the 49ers to go for two following Taylor’s touchdown, which was unsuccessful when Chandler Jones batted down the pass attempt to Pierre Garçon.