What Did We Learn?

The Cardinals are a work in progress. For all the high expectations and excitement surrounding the team, they were still 5-11 last season, and still looked shaky against a 49ers team that will likely finish dead last in the NFC West. So what did we learn from game one?

Clancy Pendergast's Defense Is Exactly What We Thought It Would Be

That is, young, quick, and vulnerable to misdirection and the and a punishing back.  On three different occasions in the first half the 49ers ran misdirection plays that netted big gains, and Frank Gore, certainly talented, but far from a star, beat the Cardinals D-Line down.

You Can't Spell DISCIPLINE With This 'D'

The Cardinals led the league in personal fouls last season, and look to do it again in '06-'07.  While the aggressiveness is actually a good thing, at crucial times in the second half late hits and stupid penalties allowed the 49ers to stay alive, which allowed them to come back, which made the game far more exciting than it should be.

The Offense Looked Great...Sometimes

Three first quarter touchdowns, three more than the Cards scored all last season, got us off to a nice start, but then the offense went flat.  Still, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin may not drop as many passes the rest of the season as they did on Sunday (two apiece), and if those catches are made (and they will be) the game could have been drastically different.

The Stadium Is Still the Story

The Cardinals were good, but even during a first quarter when they looked dominant, the announcers of the game continually let into and out of commercials with some variation on, "The Stadium is the story here in Glendale."  Until the Cardinals put together a winning streak, or at least beat a team that had more than six wins last year, the glowing orb of Glendale will continue to upstage this team.

Willing And Schable

Backup defensive end A.J. Schable, an undrafted rookie from South Dakota contributed on special teams and has become the defacto full back on short yardage situations.  While no one is going to confuse him for Daryl "Moose" Johnston he answered one of the biggest questions for the Cardinals, who use a single back set almost exclusively.

Troy Walters May Be The Next Brandon Stokley

One of the most impressive things about the offense on Sunday was how well Kurt Warner spread the ball around.  Larry Fitzgerald had the big game, and Anquan Boldin got his touches, but when the Cards run that four receiver, single back set with Bryant Johnson and Walters along side the dynamic duo the 49ers looked shell shocked. 

Edge Has Already Proven Worth the Investment

So what if Edgerrin James only finished with 73 yards and a 2.8 yards per carry average.  He kept at least seven in the box (even against those four receiver sets), helped pick up the blitz and during the crucial fourth quarter drive that ate more than seven minutes he touched the ball seven times, keeping the clock going.  When the Niners backed the Cards up to their own two yard line, it was the Edge who dug them out of the hole with 11 yards on two carries.  Even more impressive, on the 4th quarter third down play where Boldin picked up a first down to extend the drive there were two defenders shadowing James, even though Kurt Warner never looked at him. 

Kurt Warner Is Auditioning For Dancing With the Stars

Warner hasn't moved that well since he was still bagging groceries.  On at least three occasions in the first half, including two touchdown passes Warner slid out of the pocket and bought his receivers enough time to find a seam.  While we don't anticipate Denis Green putting any Michael Vick style naked bootlegs in the system any time soon, the offensive line is still the weakest link on the Cardinals, and if Warner can buy time, from time to time, it can make all the difference.

New Stadium, New Bounces

In the first quarter Warner hit 49ers CB Sammy Davis in the numbers.  Last year Davis returns it for a TD, this year it was an incomplete pass.  When Warner fumbled in the 2nd Chris Liwienski fell on it, last year that's the 49ers ball.  When Gerald Hayes scooped up the ball and nearly took it to the house, Cards fans everywhere kept waiting for him to fumble it back.  Maybe its the rolling sod, maybe it was the crowd noise, maybe the 49ers really are that bad, but whatever it was, the ball was bouncing the Cardinals way for the first time since Jake the Snake was piloting the offense.

Adjustments May Cost Cards Down the Line

Late in the game the Niners started putting pressure on Warner, and Denis Green and the Cardinals decided to go to two and three step drops, allowing Warner to get rid of the ball quickly.  Nice idea, once.  Twice even.  Sure we'll give it up three times, but the Cardinals ran two step drops with Warner on five of six consecutive plays in the fourth, and if Walt Harris turns around on number four, when the ball hit Harris in the head instead of Anquan Boldin's hands, the score might have been tied.

J.J. Arrington May Have An NFL Future After All

Arrington looked like exactly what you would expect when he came in to spell Edge, quick and well rested.  But what was really impressive about the diminutive back from Cal was his kick returns.  His lack of size and amazing quickness appear perfectly suited for the job, and give the Cards kick return team a threat they have never really shown before.  Arrington will bring at least one back this year.  He's not Dante Hall or Eddie Drummond, but Arrington has the tools to make a living returning kicks.

Maybe They Just Couldn't Find the Field At Sun Devil Stadium?

Last season the Cards didn't score a single first quarter touchdown.  They got three on Sunday.  The ability to actually start playing from the first snap will be crucial to a team that suddenly has a running back you can trust to eat clock, and when they get ahead it allows the defense to go for the big plays without fear that a mistake will leave them 21 points down five minutes in.

Ultimately We Didn't Learn That Much

This was still the 49ers.  A vastly improved 49ers team (Vernon Davis made rookie mistakes, but he is a beast, and that means the Niners have two of the 10 best tight ends in the league), but still the 49ers.  The defense has holes you could drive a bus through, even a retired Bus, and the offense is still being piloted by a second year quarterback who once looked in the mirror and saw David Carr.  The Cardinals offense was explosive in the first quarter, and ho-hum the rest of the game, but a different kind of ho-hum than last season.  First quarter success is huge, and while they only put 13 more points up in the subsequent three quarters, in the fourth they were able to eat clock and keep the chains moving, instead of depending on Fitzgerald and Bolding to make spectacular catches, and then still have to make four guys miss.  Nobody watched Sunday's game and said, "Now THAT is a Super Bowl contender!" but nobody watched the game and said, "Same thing as last year" either.

 


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