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Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

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Film room: Breaking down the offensive miscues and stingy defense against the Cardinals

Oct 10, 2018 at 11:30 AM

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Today we examine the loss to the Cardinals, what went right and what went wrong.

Since losing Jimmy Garoppolo for the season, the 49ers' goals for the season were to remain competitive while playing sound fundamental football and allowing the younger players to develop. For the 49ers the last two games, remaining competitive has been a chore. Against the Chargers, the offense moved more fluidly while the defense sputtered up and down. Against the Cardinals, the offense struggled to score despite running 92 offensive plays and the defense held its own.

Ultimately the 49ers dropped their third straight game 28-18 in front of a barely-there home crowd in Santa Clara. The score doesn't reflect the overall effort and until late in the 4th quarter, the score remained 14-6 in favor of the Cardinals until quarterback C.J. Beathard found Trent Taylor in the front right corner of the end zone. The Cardinals held a two-point lead 14-12 after a failed two-point conversion.

The Cardinals would eventually break the game wide open with two late scores to make it 28-12 before the 49ers would add a final touchdown in garbage time. Any hope of a comeback stalled when tight end George Kittle dropped the second failed two-point conversion when he couldn't hold onto a perfect throw from Beathard.

The miscues were aplenty but this time they were mainly on offense. The defense held up its end of the bargain all afternoon.

Pass rush and generating pressure

Much has been made about defensive lineman Solomon Thomas' role as an edge rusher and being taken with the third overall pick in the 2017 draft. While the draft position is debatable, what's not debatable is his value as a pass rusher from the interior vice the edge. The 49ers have a significantly better pass rush when Thomas rushes from the inside. The proof is in the film since Week One, but the last two games in particular show this. Unfortunately, according to Pro Football Focus, he only rushed from the interior eight times against the Cardinals.

Against the Cardinals, moving him into the interior enabled them to put pressure on rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. The 49ers are showing a cover three shell in their pre-snap look but shift to a cover two after the snap.

Working from the interior here on this third-and-4 late in the first quarter, Thomas (no. 94) lines up over the center in a zero technique to the right of defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (no. 99). Buckner executes a quick swim move and beats the guard to the inside while Thomas rushes the A-gap to his right and pushes both the center and guard into the back field.

Rosen tries to throw to Larry Fitzgerald (no. 11) over the middle on a short curl route but both Buckner and Thomas have pushed the offensive line into Rosen's lap, causing him to sail the pass far above Fitzgerald's head. Cassius Marsh (no. 54) rushing from a wide-9 technique from the left also helps collapse the pocket into the throw.

With an average at best pass rush, the 49ers generated enough pressure on Rosen to make him uncomfortable.

Facing a third-and-9 here late in the middle of the third, the 49ers drop seven into coverage under a cover one "robber" pass defense against the Cardinals four receivers.

Thomas is lined up over center in the nose tackle position and at the snap rushes the A-gap. The guard and center combo slide to protect from Thomas' rush as Buckner drops back to rush around Thomas on a stunt.

As the guard and center double team Thomas' rush, Buckner loops around into the open gap untouched with a rushing lane at Rosen. Rosen is quietly the best rookie quarterback playing this season, but he's still a rookie and hasn't quite learned the timing of dealing with a free rusher. He barely misses Buckner and steps up into the pocket but the timing is already thrown off as he hitches three times before throwing into a rapidly closing window down the seam to Ricky Seals-Jones.

This is a great example of the pass rush not getting home, but still being able to affect the outcome of a play. These kinds of plays won't always show up on the stat sheet except to be logged as an incomplete pass.

The lack of a viable pass rush, though, means that the 49ers have to scheme up other ways to generate pressure. One of the ways defensive coordinator Robert Saleh generates this pressure is through the use of the fire zone blitz.

The "fire zone" blitz seeks to generate pressure and confuse a quarterback by dropping defensive linemen into short zone coverage zones and replacing their rushing assignments by slanting the other defensive linemen and bringing blitzers from other areas of the formation. Behind the rush, the pass coverage usually rotates to cover the side of the missing defenders.

The 49ers are essentially in a 3-3-5 with three across the defensive line, three linebackers, and five defensive backs. The Cardinals line up in a gun near trips right formation. Just before the snap, the 49ers shift their alignment to compensate for the blitz by Reuben Foster (no. 56) and K'Waun Williams (no. 24).

At the snap, Bucker and Ronald Blair (no. 98) slant across the defensive line to help pave the way for the fire zone blitzers. Marsh, in the two-point stance, drops into a shallow seam/flat zone down the hash.

Rosen immediately looks to the inside slot receiver in the trips bunch as the blitzers come free but shifts his progressions to the other side as Fred Warner rotates the coverage to cover the hot receiver. It's a perfectly executed blitz.

The coverage rotates and covers the receivers out on their routes, forcing Rosen to throw it away or risk taking a major hit. The ensuing punt would give the ball back to the 49ers for one final chance to take the lead.

Containing the run

The 49ers run defense has allowed only one 100-yard rusher this season through five games, Melvin Gordon in Week Four. It has allowed two games with over 100 yards rushing but in Week One, Minnesota's running backs rushed for a combined total of 82 yards while quarterback Kirk Cousins added 24 yards on scrambles. Against the Cardinals, David Johnson and Chase Edmonds combined for 54 yards on the ground.

It's no surprise how well they are playing against the run given that they've been drafting and signing defensive linemen who are better against the run in addition to adding Reuben Foster and Fred Warner in the middle.

The scheme's run defense is built upon individual defensive linemen winning their one-on-one matchups (primarily by two-gap rushing) and essentially creating a stalemate at the line of scrimmage where the offensive line gets no movement, clogs its individual gaps, keeps the linebackers clean, and allows them to make plays.

Against the Cardinals here, the 49ers line up in an under front in their base 4-3 defense. The strength of the formation is set to the right side of the offensive formation with the unbalanced line.

The Cardinals are running "duo" to the right. Duo is characterized as "power without the pull" as the two double team blocks on the front side by the guard and tackle and by the center and backside guard seek open the B-gap so the running back can read the middle linebacker. The running back will press the B-gap and bounce outside depending on where the middle linebacker plays.

The 49ers read this and Warner (no. 48) fills the front side B-gap.

Johnson tries to bounce outside but cornerback Richard Sherman (no. 25) comes up to contain and forces Johnson back inside. By this time, Earl Mitchell has beaten the double team and gets into the backfield while Warner scrapes around the edge. Mitchell and Warner make the stop.

Miscues on offense

The offense turned the ball over five times. Beathard threw two interceptions, had two fumbles, and running back Raheem Mostert fumbled once. Three turnovers produced three scoring drives with two of the turnovers late in the fourth quarter producing the scoring drives the Cardinals would need to put the game away. The game remained 14-6 through most of the fourth.

First interception

Beathard's first interception came on an abbreviated yankee concept where he likely made a presnap determination to throw the ball to Garçon due to the defensive formation. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk (no. 44) motions from a wide receiver spot into his fullback spot to an I-right strong formation. Victor Bolden Jr is split out to the left running the go-route and Pierre Garçon is out wide to the right running a slant over the middle.

Beathard fakes the handoff, turns and throws an accurate pass over the zone in the defense. The play action draws up the linebackers creating a void over the middle of the field for Garçon, who beat his defender to the inside.

Beathard's pass goes off his hands straight up into the air behind him (hello tip drill?) where it's picked off at mid field by safety Tre Boston. Fortunately for the 49ers, the Cardinals were stopped on a quick three-and-out on their next series.

Beathard fumble #1

Beathard's first fumble in the third quarter, the team's third turnover of the game, came on the 9th play of a drive that begin at its own 24 yard line. The 49ers moved into Cardinals territory at the 39 yard line after converting two third downs.

Beathard executes a hard play fake to Alfred Morris in 22 personnel (two running backs, two tight ends, one receiver). Receiver Richie James is running a deep curl route and behind, Jusczcyk leaks out of the backfield and down the numbers deep.

Beathard sees it late and never steps up into the pocket. Meanwhile, left tackle Joe Staley is doing what he is coached to do and that is push the defender wide and deep enough for Beathard to be able to step up into the massive pocket to the left this opened. I've mentioned previously that Beathard is a slow processor and to be successful he has to throw on time and with more anticipation than most.

On this throw he didn't and his 11-yard drop back made him vulnerable to a strip sack by the Cardinals' Chandler Jones. Jones would recover it. The Cardinals did not get any points on this drive but neither did the 49ers. They should've if Beathard had been able to see the play develop sooner and shorten his drop back.

Beathard fumble #2

The third fumble of the day, and Beathard's second, put the game away for the Cardinals as they scooped it up for a touchdown.

The defense forced yet another three-and-out of the Cardinals offense and began the drive with a first down pass to Kittle. After a one yard loss by Morris, the were facing second-and-11 near mid field.

The Cardinals bring a delayed blitz through the C-gap as the protection slides to protect against the rushers. Morris is responsible for Haason Reddick (No. 43) while Josh Bynes (no. 57) comes through the C-gap next to him on a delayed blitz.

Beathard drops back to throw to Taylor on the in-breaking route over the middle but gets held up against the coverage and can't make his cut in time. Beathard pumps and pulls the ball down and as he does, Reddick beats the block of Morris and strips the ball from Beathard.

Reddick beats Morris' block while Bynes comes on the delayed blitz through the gap and meets Reddick at the same time at the quarterback. Bynes scoops up the loose ball and rumbles into the end zone on a 23-yard fumble return. The ensuing extra point try made it a 21-12 game.

Beathard would throw his second interception of the game, a pass behind Bolden Jr going across the middle. The Cardinals added another touchdown to go up 28-12 after Bene

Benwikere returned the interception just outside the red zone in 49ers territory to the 26 yard line.

The 49ers added a late touchdown on a one-yard run up the middle by Beathard but any hope of a comeback stalled when Kittle dropped the two-point conversion try in the back of the end zone, capping off a twisted series of events.

Overall, it was a bad day for the offense, as it could not come away with more points on a day when it ran 92 offensive plays. This suggests, as does the film, that the offensive staff is putting the team in position to make plays but the offense wasn't able to execute. Things don't appear to be getting any easier with Matt Breida and Dante Pettis ruled out as the team heads to Green Bay to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Monday Night Football.

All pics and images courtesy of the NFL.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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