The fairest point to make after the Cardinals were outscored 21-0 in the second half Monday night after fighting gamely in the first two quarters but lost 38-10 is that the numbers don’t lie.

The other is that the 49ers are currently an infinitely more talented team than the Cardinals and they have gotten healthier after three of their losses in the first seven games came against the Bears, Broncos and Falcons, three teams that have a combined record of 11-21. The other loss was to the 8-2 Chiefs.

It’s a flight of fancy to wonder where the 49ers would be now had quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo not needed shoulder surgery last March, which would have resulted in an offseason trade.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ seven losses have been, in order, to the Chiefs (8-2), Vikings (8-2), Rams (3-7), Eagles (9-1), Seahawks (6-4) and the 49ers (6-4). Add those records up and it comes to 46-24 counting Seattle twice.

While vocal voices point fingers at general manager Steve Keim, coach Kliff Kingsbury and owner Michael Bidwill, who supposedly doesn’t care about winning, it makes me wonder how other teams would be faring having to play with a roster ravaged (Troy Aikman’s word) by injuries, especially on offense.

The Cardinals opened Monday’s game with four projected season-opening starters on offense and that includes wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who missed the first six games of the season because of a league-imposed suspension. The others were right tackle Kelvin Beachum, running back James Conner and wide receiver Rondale Moore. Then, it didn’t take long to lose Moore to a groin injury on the first play of the game after he had already missed time at the beginning of the season with a hamstring issue.

Yes, that was essentially the cast that played in last week’s game against the Rams, but that was a win fashioned against a team that is a shell of what it was nine months ago when they won the Super Bowl.

The Cardinals had two takeaways in that game, which led to points, and no turnovers. They were able to build a lead, a rarity this season.

The Rams and Cardinals, now a combined 7-14, are glaring examples of teams that bely the lazy narrative that “all teams have injuries,” an empty take that has no context.

In Mexico City, the Cardinals fell behind 14-3 in the second quarter and were able to cut the lead to 14-10, mostly thanks to a free play when quarterback Colt McCoy connected with wide receiver Greg Dortch on a 47-yard catch-and-run to the 49ers 13-yard line on a play where 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa was offside.

It was 17-10 at halftime, but everything came crashing down in the second half. Of course, we’ll never know what would have happened had Dortch turned the right way on a fourth-and-3 play that began at the 49ers 41-yard line with the score 24-10.

Then again, that’s been the story of this season.

As McCoy said afterward, “There were some timing things that he hadn’t had reps on during the week that Rondale had all the reps. But Greg Dortch is a great football player. I know Kyler trusts him. I know I trust him. He brings a lot of juice to our football team. And I thought he did a really nice job stepping up.”

San Francisco had touchdown passes of 32 and 39 yards to tight end George Kittle from Garoppolo and wide receiver Deebo Samuel ran 39 yards for another score. Those 110 yards accounted for 28.4 percent of San Francisco’s 387 total yards.

McCoy was an efficient 17-for-23 for 172 yards in the first half, although his lone interception led to a touchdown. However, in the second half, the beat-up McCoy was 7 of 11 for a mere 46 yards before being mercifully replaced by Trace McSorley for the final two possessions of the game.

If Kyler Murray is unable to play next Sunday against the Chargers, it was imperative that McCoy be protected and hopefully able to play after a short week against another talented defensive team.

The truth is, San Francisco’s offensive line wore down the Cardinals defense as Garoppolo utilized a variety of weapons. Running back Christian McCaffrey totaled 106 yards from scrimmage with seven rushes for 39 yards and seven receptions for 67. Running back Elijah Mitchell, who had one carry for four yards in the first half, had eight for 55 in the final two quarters.

Kittle had 84 yards on four receptions, while Samuel totaled 94 yards with 57 receiving and 37 rushing.

San Francisco had 33 rushing yards at halftime and added 126 in the second half.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “That’s a really good team. 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.”

Meanwhile, Conner had a pedestrian 42 yards rushing on 14 carries (3.0 average). Dortch’s 47-yard play helped him have 103 in the game and Hopkins had 91 yards on nine catches and reached 11,068 yards for his career.

Most troublesome is that the Cardinals remain inept on first down. They entered the game last in the NFL with an average of 4.37 yards and in the first half had 10 yards on 16 first-down plays. One was Conner’s 2-yard touchdown and another a 12-yard sack on the final play of the half. Even without those, it was 14 plays for 20 yards. On McCoy’s three second-half possessions, it was 6-for-27.

On one first-half possession, Conner had minus-1 yard on three consecutive first-down attempts. Of the 16 first-half, first-down plays, six were for negative yardage and another five were for one or two yards including Conner’s touchdown.

Conversely, the 49ers ranked eighth in the league with an average of 6.06 yards on first down through Week 11 and gashed the Cardinals Monday night.

In the first half, they totaled 121 yards on 14 plays (8.64 average) and were 10-for-77 in the second half before Brock Purdy replaced Garoppolo. A striking 198 yards were on 24 first-down plays (8.25 average).

As McCoy concluded in the most simplest of terms, “When you play a team like the 49ers, there is little room for error.”

The reality Monday night is that there weren’t an overwhelming number of errors. The 49ers are just simply better.

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com

Author

Howard Balzer is in his 47th year covering professional football as a writer, editor and broadcaster and has covered 41 Super Bowls. His connection with pro football began in 1976 with College and Pro Football Newsweekly, and since then he has been a featured columnist for The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, USA Today Sports Weekly and The Sports Xchange. Balzer moved to St. Louis in 1978 to work for The Sporting News, where he became Pro Football Editor in 1979. He was an analyst on ESPN's initial broadcast of the NFL Draft in 1980 and continued in that role through 1988. He has won seven writing awards in the Professional Football Writers of America competition, won an Emmy for commentaries on KPLR-TV in St. Louis in 1986 and was nominated for an Emmy in 1988 and 1990. He was named the 2016 winner of the Bob Broeg Media Award presented by the St. Louis/Tom Lombardo Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The award is for enthusiasm, integrity, professionalism and devotion to the game of football and is reserved for individuals whose contributions to football in the St. Louis area have made a significant difference. Balzer was an officer (secretary and secretary/treasurer) for the Professional Football Writers of America for 33 years and was inducted into the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Balzer relocated to the Phoenix area in 2020 as the publisher of the FanNation AllCardinals site and is now the Cardinals reporter for PHNX. He is entering his 19th year as one of 49 voting members on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is also on the Hall's Seniors Committee. He is the co-host of the weekly Pro Football Hall of Fame radio show on SiriusXM NFL Radio and is a part-time host at ArizonaSports 98.7 FM.

2 Comments

  1. According to “Spotrac” here are the listings for the teams posting the current “top five” most injuries in the league:

    Denver Broncos 20
    Los Angeles Chargers 14
    Washington Commanders 16
    Tennessee Titans 20
    Arizona Cardinals 16

    So, Howard, THREE of the top five “injury” teams have .500 or BETTER record right now, leaving them all still in playoff contention. Why not the Cardinals? Could it be those three (good) teams have DEPTH on their line and other key positions UNLIKE the Cardinals? Could it be the GM and Coach on THOSE teams stress the need for depth in a league that now has a 17 game regular season schedule? Inquiring minds (and those that are tired of how ridiculous an apologist you’ve become for the Cardinals) want to know.

  2. Howard Balzer

    First, I’m not sure what Spotrac considers injuries, so I wonder how they come up with that number. How many are starters? How many are backups? Also, I would think they don’t include the loss of Hopkins as an injury. However, the Chargers are .500 and have won one more game than the Cardinals. Washington is 6-5, one game over .500. But I’m sure none of those teams have played games without seven or eight projected starters on offense, including four on the offensive line. When a team is forced to start 12 different players on the offensive line (as the Rams also have), where does that depth come from? Some off the street because teams usually keep only 8 or 9 linemen on the roster at the start of the season plus the practice squad. The Cardinals currently have five OLinemen on reserve/injured, including three starters. Those are simply facts, which I believe are important to point out because many don’t. Call that being an apologist, but there are reasons (not excuses) things happen the way they do. There can be outliers, but usually when a team struggles for consistency on offense, many of the issues begin on the offensive line. That’s why I often refer to other teams in my writing to provide some perspective. Like the Eagles having one missed game the entire season from their starting offensive linemen. The Cardinals have 18 . . . and counting.

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