The 49ers lost a fierce battle Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals to fall to 2-3 this season. The story was the same despite a different starting quarterback: mistakes, mistakes, mistakes, despite the defense doing everything in their power to win. Here are four takeaways from the game.
DeMeco Ryans is the right guy for the job
You get the impression that no one is ever happy with defensive play, and you forget that they are paid on the other side of the ball. During the game I said Ryans was doing a great job and he was pushed back.
Kyler Murray threw the fewest yards this season, recorded his lowest yards per attempt, worst QB rating (29 points) and rushed for a yard. Trey Lance had a higher QB rating than Murray.
Arizona went 3-for-10 on the third down. San Francisco even found some turnover luck after Dontae Johnson forced a fumble. When you hold an opponent at 17 points in the NFL, you have to win.
There were seven games in Week 5 where the teams failed to score 20 points outside of the Cardinals / 49ers game. Each of these teams lost. Sunday was another game in a long list where the defense did more than enough to win.
They offered an offensive possession around the midfielder, which did not bring in any points. Excluding the final drive, the Cardinals scored two touchdowns on nine drives. It took two defensive penalties for Arizona to hit one basket over another. Of the other six drives combined, Arizona made 28 plays for 110 yards. That’s 3.9 yards per play for one of the NFL’s most electric offenses.
Well done, DeMeco. I know no one wants to hear this, but we should give Trey Lance credit as well as the attack has only been played once. They stayed on the pitch which gave the defense plenty of time to rest and stay cool.
Failed conversions made the difference in attack
The 49ers were 4 for 16 in the third and fourth downs on Sunday. Their offensive EPA fell from -0.01 in the first and second to -0.72 in the third and fourth, according to RBSDM.com. The Niners’ ineffectiveness was also not due to one person. You can’t blame just one person.
Lance missed a few shots. The sanctions were brutal. You can’t ignore the drops, and the early play calls left a lot to be desired.
Five second-half sustain calls seem like a good place to start. Lance found Kyle Juszczyk to move the ball into Arizona Territory, and Trent Williams, of all people, was signaled to do it 3rd and 7. After Lance picked up the first with his legs, Mike McGlinchey was was called up for a catch to make it 3rd and 17. Lance found Ross Dwelley for 12 yards and Mohamed Sanu for six yards to convert a third and fourth down despite two penalties.
On practice for the Niners, they overcame another pending call and converted a 2nd and a 25. Their next practice? You guessed it, another call waiting. It was the training where Juszczyk failed to gain a yard on the fourth try.
After the game, Shanahan said, “There were a few options on this game, and we didn’t end up doing the one we liked the most.” It was the longest one meter, and it didn’t seem that a “snake” was the right way to go. If you didn’t like the look the defense gave you, then call time out.
It’s important to point out a few pending calls and even bags on Lance. If Lance cuts the ball inside instead of bouncing it wide, Travis Benjamin is not flagged for a strike. Lance hit a bag on the same road.
When you’re behind the chains as often as the 49ers’ offense, scoring is nearly impossible. They’ve gone to great lengths to overcome every penalty, but this team can’t seem to get out of its own way.
No turning back for Lance
Trey has to be “the guy” to move forward. I mentioned above how he single-handedly overcame several long distances and distances. But, first, let’s eliminate the evil.
Lance’s four slaps (most QB 49ers in the past ten seasons, by ESPN Stats & Info) tell you that Lance was setting his targets.
There were times you would watch the game telling Lance to “throw the damn ball” as he jostled himself and a catcher was open in the middle half of the field. Missing a Benjamin wide open on the first ride was a killer. You write Lance to convert the 4th and 1st of the meter line. Benjamin’s failed conversion and failure take at least ten points off the board.
After the game, former 49ers Donte Whitner, Patrick Willis and Joe Staley all said Lance was not the reason the offense didn’t score and went so far as to say that Lance was the offense.
The average depth of Lance’s target on Sunday was 10.8 meters. Jimmy Garoppolo in the first three games was 6.9 yards. The attack is easier when you stretch and use all the terrain. It also opens your racing game.
The 49ers offensive in Weeks 2, 3 and the first half of Week 4 with Garoppolo: 4.84 yards per game. The last six quarters with Lance: 6.12 yards per game. The Eagles and Giants are tied for ninth in the NFL in yards per game at 6.1. The Texans and Colts are 28th and 29th in the NFL, averaging 5.0 yards per game.
You can’t blame Lance for three drops. But, Shanahan said, “Overall I think we could have done a little better with him. I thought he had done well enough to win.
We see a more confident Lance and better offense if Sanu catches his laser on the 3rd and 11th. It was the only three-and-out for the attack. Complementary football has not existed this season for the 49ers. It may not have given points, but the offense lived on Sunday in Cardinals territory. If this is the worst version of Lance, knowing that the only way to improve is to play, I would be shocked if he wasn’t named the starter to move forward.
Shanahan drives victory
Shanahan was more aggressive than I have ever seen. Of course, you can attribute part of that to Kyler Murray being on the sidelines. But, it should not be ignored that, with Lance under the center, Shanahan spared his efforts in fourth position.
We shouted from the top of the mountains for Shanahan to go on the fourth descents. He did it, almost obnoxiously, on Sunday and coached to win.
Especially with Lance under the center, we need to focus more than ever on the process, not the results. After an interception, Shanahan returned to Lance on the Arizona 34-yard line on the 4th and 2. He knocked the ball out of the void in the middle, which gave him a headache.
You lose your power play in the box with the quarterback as the runner when he doesn’t have a master tackle. So, again, this was the right process.
A 13-play, 93-yard practice that took nearly six minutes on the clock stalled when Lance couldn’t hit it from the one-yard line. Everyone celebrated, thinking they scored. It wasn’t Kyle’s fault. If Lance goes up or down and stretches the ball, he scores.
After the defense forced a fumble, Shanahan said, “I know our defense just got a turnover. I thought it was our chance to take this game. It was unfortunate ”on the decision to go there in fourth position.
It’s the kind of mindset that will make this 49ers team dangerous in the long run. The 49ers had a higher pass EPA per game on the first and second downs than the Cardinals, yet it seemed those early throws were rare.
Two of Brandon Aiyuk’s four targets arrived on the record. Lance missed Aiyuk on the first try. It doesn’t change the fact that the process was correct. The results haven’t gone in the 49ers’ favor, but those types of decisions pay off in the long run.