Cardinals still show progress despite lopsided loss to 49ers
Oct 1, 2023, 7:07 PM | Updated: 8:39 pm
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
The Arizona Cardinals for three weeks into the 2023 season more than exceeded expectations.
The offense had taken noticeable steps forward after being held out of the end zone in a season-opening loss. The defense went from big question mark to anchor of the team led by general manager Monti Ossenfort and head coach Jonathan Gannon. Together, they were stringing together momentum and progress.
That early trend culminated into an impressive 28-16 win over a tough Dallas Cowboys squad in Week 3 and with it, additional expectations that a turnaround was closer than many expected.
But while the Cowboys are tiers above some, the San Francisco 49ers are in a league of their own, as seen in the Cardinals’ 35-16 loss to the home team on Sunday.
The 49ers were a cohesive football team through all three phases, highlighted by 396 yards of total offense and 16 points allowed. They put their superstars in the best place to succeed and they did just that.
San Francisco was quick to flex its muscles and made sure to keep the foot on the gas to ensure that any whiff of a potential comeback was lost to the coastal winds.
The scoreboard read in favor in of the 49ers, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still positives to take away from Arizona’s third loss of the year.
“I told them after the game that I’m proud of them,” Gannon told Cardinals sideline reporter Paul Calvisi postgame. “We fought, that’s a good football team, and they beat us today. We got to play a little clearer execution-wise, penalty-wise but the fight was there. There’s no doubt in my mind. We’ll fix the things we need to fix but I’m proud of the way they battled today.”
A look at some of the things that went right for the Cardinals in the Week 4 defeat:
Michael Wilson is that dude
Much like Arizona’s offense, Wilson entered Week 4 having improved his output in each passing game, so much so that he paced the team in receiving yards (161).
Even more impressive was how he was doing it, seeing just seven catches on nine targets. For comparison, Hollywood Brown and Zach Ertz each sat ahead of the rookie in receptions (14) on 20 and 22 targets, respectively, while running back James Conner went into the matchup tied with Wilson in catches and ahead in targets (eight).
When it comes down to it, the biggest negative to Wilson’s game has been his target share from game to game.
At least for one tilt, though, that wasn’t the case.
Complimenting Brown on the other side of the field, Wilson reeled in career marks for receptions (seven), receiving yards (96) and touchdowns (two).
He did it all over the field, too, catching his first score lining up out wide before working out of the slot on touchdown No. 2.
“Some days you can just feel when you’re going to have a good game. I had that feeling the whole week,” Wilson told Calvisi. “When I got here, when I woke up this morning, there’s something about playing in a familiar area that just gives you good mojo. I woke up just feeling great. It’s nice to come back here and have a pretty decent game.
“My parents were here, my freshman roommate from Stanford, one my best friend to this day, (was here) so it was cool being in a familiar place and I guess put up a decent show.”
Fight didn’t waver
The Cardinals were thoroughly punched in the mouth for most of the first half. At one point, they trailed 21-3 with under six minutes to play.
For the Cardinals of old, there would be no inkling of a comeback.
That wasn’t the case in Santa Clara on Sunday, however.
Looking to answer a 49ers touchdown with one of their own, quarterback Joshua Dobbs and the Cardinals offense turned in their most complete drive of the first half, finding pay dirt behind a 13-play, 92-yard drive to cap off the first 30 minutes of action.
That success poured into the second half.
After Arizona’s defense effectively forced a San Francisco punt, Dobbs and the offense didn’t blink despite beginning the drive on their own one-yard line.
Needing 11 plays and a 49ers penalty, the Cardinals offense went 99 yards for another score.
The catalyst in both drives was Dobbs, who used a mix of his feet and arm before connecting with the rookie Wilson for the pair of touchdowns.
Despite a slow start Sunday, Dobbs managed to find a rhythm behind 265 passing yards and the two strikes on 28-of-41 passing. He also ran the rock a team high 12 times for 48 yards.
The 49ers took this one, but Dobbs and the rest of the organization continue to move the needle the right way.
“I’ve definitely seen it all coming here my rookie year in 2018,” linebacker Ezekiel Turner told Calvisi postgame. “Just been through a lot of the ups and downs.
“JG definitely has this team moving in the right direction. A great, great culture holding everyone accountable and we’re going in the right direction. … I’m just proud of us with how we’ve been fighting.”
The barbarian life
There hasn’t been a more consistent presence from a pass-rushing standpoint for the Cardinals defense than linebacker Dennis Gardeck.
Registering Arizona’s lone sack in the loss to San Francisco, Gardeck has now tallied four through four games to go along with five tackles for loss, six QB hits and a forced fumble.
Following Sunday’s showing, Gardeck needs just three sacks to tie his career mark of seven from 2020.
An easy fix?
Among the areas to improve upon is limiting penalties, especially early on.
At one point in the first half, Arizona picked up more penalties (seven) than first downs (six).
And even though the Cardinals committed just two more penalties the rest of the way, that kind of split cannot happen for the Cardinals or any other team looking to turn the page.
“We got to play cleaner,” Gannon told Calvisi. “That starts with the coaches educating our guys and making sure we’re making the proper decisions on those bang-bang plays. We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit against a good football team. You can’t do that.”