Cardinals defense run out of Mexico City by 49ers ground game

Nov 21, 2022, 9:19 PM | Updated: Nov 22, 2022, 12:31 am

Elijah Mitchell #25 of the San Francisco 49ers rushes with the ball against the Arizona Cardinals d...

Elijah Mitchell #25 of the San Francisco 49ers rushes with the ball against the Arizona Cardinals during the second quarter at Estadio Azteca on November 21, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals (4-7) entered their Week 11 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers (6-4) needing a strong defensive performance against an offense that is known to run the rock.

Instead, it ran into a buzzsaw in a 38-10 loss on Monday Night Football in Mexico City.

Keeping it a one-score game at 17-10 at the half, the Cardinals were down but definitely not out, especially against a San Francisco squad that only ran the football 25% of the time in the first half. It marked the third lowest output on the ground since 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan took over in 2017.

Then the 49ers’ rushing attack went to work to kick off the second half.

“That’s a really good team,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters postgame. “We knew we had to play as good as we played all year and I thought they played really physical in the second half and found a way to make plays.”

Getting the ball to start the third quarter, San Francisco made a concerted effort to utilize its running game.

Scoring in three of their first four possessions to start the second half, the 49ers ran the football 14 times over 19 plays.

The only time the 49ers weren’t able to capitalize was when Jimmy Garoppolo took things into his hands during a three-and-out filled with only passing attempts.

After running back Christian McCaffrey handled a bulk of the first-half rushing attempts, it was Elijah Mitchell who finished things off in Mexico City. Seeing just one carry in the first half, Mitchell finished the game with a team-high nine rushes for 59 yards.

As a team, the 49ers racked up 159 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. San Francisco averaged 5.7 yards per rushing attempt. Three players ended the game with longs of at least 19 yards on the ground.

“They felt like they found something,” Kingsbury told Cardinals sideline reporter Paul Calvisi postgame. “Christian McCaffrey is a tremendous player and they did a great job getting him the ball in multiple ways.

“They played a really good game. Well-coached, well-played team that I thought played pretty much flawlessly in some areas.”

The same couldn’t be said for the Cardinals rushing attack.

Trailing for most of the game, Arizona couldn’t get its running game going, recording just 67 yards on 24 carries for a 2.8-yard average, a season low. Leading the way was starter James Conner, who finished with 42 yards and a score on 14 rushing attempts.

In mostly garbage time, rookie Keaontay Ingram tallied the second-most carries with five for 19 yards as the team’s No. 2 option following Eno Benjamin’s surprise release.

With the loss, the Cardinals’ chances at cracking a playoff spot got that much thinner. In the NFC West race, the Cardinals are now two games back from both the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, who also hold tiebreakers over Arizona.

Seattle also currently holds the final NFC Wild Card, with the New York Giants (7-3) and Dallas Cowboys (7-3) a game ahead of the Seahawks. Per ESPN analytics, the Cardinals have just a 6% chance to make the playoffs.

Wiggle room is nonexistent in the desert if the Cardinals have any hope of turning this season around and getting back to the postseason for a consecutive season.

“We got to flush it and we got a short week with the (Los Angeles Chargers) coming in,” Kingsbury said on the loss. “That’s what we talked about. We know we got to play a lot better, improve on a lot of areas in a short time.

“It’s going to be a lot of mental preparation for Sunday’s game before our bye, so we got to find a way to get it corrected.”

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