Breaking down the game

Analyzing and categorizing the 49ers' 38-28 win over the Arizona Cardinals that left San Francisco alone in first place atop the NFC West division:

Jeff Garcia has clearly returned to his Pro Bowl level of the past two seasons and seems to be getting better every week. He tied his career high with four touchdown passes, and three of them came when he was on the run and scrambling away from the pocket. Garcia also displayed some nice zip on his passes down field. His 47-yard touchdown throw to Tai Streets was an impressive strike that was perfectly thrown over a defensive back's outstretched hands. Doing most of his damage in the tempo-setting first half, Garcia finished 18 of 28 passing for 252 yards and was very sharp on a day the Niners needed to put up some points to get out with a victory. Bottom line: Garcia's sterling passer rating of 132.7 was his best in a game this season.

 

 

 

RUNNING BACKS

 

With Garrison Hearst nursing a strained hamstring, Kevan Barlow took over the brunt of the workload. Barlow needed 18 carries to produce 51 yards rushing – averaging just 2.8 a carry – but he scored touchdowns on a five-yard run and a nine-yard reception in a nice display of his versatility. The Niners spotted Hearst, and he produced 35 yards rushing on just five carries and also caught three passes. Fullback Fred Beasley provided his usual solid blocking and produced a first down on his only carry. Bottom line: Solid effort by unit that took a back seat to passing game on this day.

 

 

 

RECEIVERS

 

Terrell Owens is warming up. That's bad news for the rest of the NFL. Put the ball in this guy's hands in the open field, and he cannot be stopped. Owens had his best day of the season with eight receptions for 132 yards, including touchdown catches of 21 and 61 yards during which the total package of his tremendous talents was on display. Tai Streets showed some breakaway ability of his own on a 47-yard touchdown catch. Third receiver Cedrick Wilson had just one catch, but he made it count by picking up a first down on a third-down play. Bottom line: Spectacular big-play touchdowns from both starting receivers means this unit isn't missing the injured J.J. Stokes.

 

 

 

OFFENSIVE LINE

 

Rookie guard Eric Heitmann had a few plays where he flattened Arizona defenders to spring San Francisco ball carriers. That was good news for the Niners, since he ostensibly is the weak link in their veteran line. There wasn't the usual room to roam for the running game, which leads the NFL in average per carry but picked up only 3.6 yards an attempt on this day, but the pass blocking for Garcia again was excellent. Bottom line: Steady unit keeps rolling along with quality efforts.

 

 

 

DEFENSIVE LINE

 

Andre Carter set the tone on the game's first play when he raced around the edge and forced a fumble that led to San Francisco's first score. Chike Okeafor also recorded a sack, and both of the Niners' young ends applied good pressure throughout the game. Tackle Dana Stubblefield recovered a fumble, and tackle Bryant Young recorded his first sack of the season before leaving the game with a strained shoulder. Bottom line: Each member of starting front four produced at least one huge play.

 

 

 

LINEBACKERS

 

Derek Smith blitzed right past Arizona quarterback Jake Plummer in the third quarter, and that allowed Plummer to race up the middle for a 34-yard touchdown run. But Smith otherwise was solid and flew to the ball for a game-high nine solo tackles, though he did have trouble getting off blocks a few times. He wasn't the only linebacker who had that problem as the Cardinals scored each of the four touchdowns on the ground. Starters Jeff Ulbrich and Julian Peterson each had six tackles – Ulbrich's all coming in the first half before he re-injured  his left knee. Bottom line: Inconsistent effort saw unit make some plays, miss some others.

 

 

 

DEFENSIVE BACKS

 

After struggling in his first start for injured Zack Bronson last week, Ronnie Heard came up huge with the first three-interception game by a 49er in five years. They were consequential interceptions, too – one came in the end zone and another at the San Francisco 6-yard line. Left cornerback Ahmed Plummer established himself early against David Boston by getting physical and knocking down a third-down pass intended for the star receiver on Arizona's fourth offensive play. He was beaten by Boston on a few other plays, but held his own, as did the other players in this unit. Cornerback Jason Webster had nine tackles and two passes defensed, and safety Tony Parrish had five tackles, one pass defensed and one forced fumble. Bottom line: Lots of big plays made by unit that was active all day.

 

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

 

Jimmy Williams displayed some explosion and some aggressive, daring running with his kickoff and punt returns to record by far the best game by a 49ers' returner this season. He took hits and bounced off tackles for several big returns, including a 40-yard punt return – the longest by a 49er in four years – and a 50-yard kickoff return. Jose Cortez drilled a 45-yard field goal – his longest of the season – and the coverage teams were solid. Bottom line: Williams' performance best by a 49er kick returner in at least three years.

 

 

COACHING

 

Niners had great plan to expose Arizona defense, and they never let up while building huge lead by halftime. There are still some problems on defense that need to be corrected – particularly on third down, where the 49ers go soft – but this was one of San Francisco's best games of the season in several areas. Bottom line: Niners bounced back in big way from bitter loss last week, and now rule the NFC West.

 


Niners Digest Top Stories