What We Learned From 49ers vs. Cardinals

Select images from the San Francisco 49ers first NFC West matchup of the 2014 regular season.

GLENDALE, Ariz. – We saw new personnel groupings from the San Francisco 49ers offense and defense on Sunday.

We also saw Arizona Cardinals rookie receiver John Brown catch two third-quarter touchdown passes from backup Drew Stanton to spearhead a third consecutive double-digit comeback for the NFC West's first-place team.

The deflating touchdowns helped the Cardinals overcome a 14-6 first-half deficit and win 23-14 and stay undefeated.

San Francisco's four-game winning streak over Arizona was snapped on Sunday. The 49ers also fell a game in the NFC West standings and are now tied for last place with the 1-2 St. Louis Rams.

Here's what we learned, including the significance of the new personnel groups, in the defeat.

Five-wide, No Huddle Offense Produces Points

San Francisco started the game with an up-tempo, no-huddle offensive attack. Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd and Bruce Ellington were the receivers in a five-wide attack.

The wideout-heavy scheme opened up running lanes for Colin Kaepernick, too.

Crabtree got the 49ers in the end zone with a 2-yard catch on a 3rd-and-goal rollout to finish off a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive.

It was Crabtree's fifth touchdown catch in his last four games against Arizona and his seventh career touchdown against the Cardinals, his most against any team in the NFL.

Kaepernick was a perfect 7-for-7 for 61 yards with three carries for 19 rushing yards on the opening drive.

The series also marked the third consecutive game that the 49ers scored a touchdown on their opening drive. The last time San Francisco scored touchdowns on opening drives in three consecutive games was in 2003.

With the game 20-14 in favor of the Cardinals, the 49ers went back to the spread passing attack in a crucial situation. Johnson caught a pair of first-down passes, including a 32-yard reception into the red zone.

It seemed like the 49ers were in position to get back on the scoreboard, but a clipping penalty took the 49ers momentum away. Arizona defense tackle Tommy Kelly blocked a Phil Dawson field goal to give the Cardinals the ball at midfield.

Kaepernick finished the game 29-of-37 with 245 passing yards and a 103.3 quarterback rating. He also led the 49ers with 54 rushing yards on 13 carries. It was the first time the 49ers were defeated with Kaepernick having a 100-plus quarterback rating as a starter. San Francisco is now 14-1 when Kaepernick has a 100 rating or better.

Johnson led the 49ers with nine catches for 103 receiving yards. Crabtree caught 10 passes for 80 yards; Boldin added six catches for 36 receiving yards.

Six-DB Scheme

Arizona went to a multi-receiver set on a 3rd-and-5 on the opening drive. Backup quarterback Drew Stanton, making a second consecutive start for injured starter Carson Palmer, completed a 36-yard deep ball to Michael Floyd down the right sideline at the expense of strong safety Antoine Bethea.

What was most interesting about the play was San Francisco's six-defensive back alignment. Chris Cook and Jimmie Ward joined the team's four starting defensive backs: Bethea, Eric Reid, Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver. Bethea was singled up on Floyd when Ward, the rookie, blitzed off of the right slot.

The big passing connection set up a 51-yard field goal by Cardinals rookie Chandler Catanzaro to give Arizona an early 3-0 lead.

The 49ers mixed defensive back groupings throughout the game, but did not make timely plays in the second half as Stanton engineered multiple scoring drives. San Francisco also did not register a sack in the game despite sending a variety of blitzes Stanton's way.

Penalties, Again

Three defensive penalties on Arizona's second drive allowed the Cardinals to march down the field. Reid was flagged twice, Ahmad Brooks, was the other guilty party.

San Francisco's secondary, however, made up for it in the final two plays of the drive. Ward broke up an end-zone pass to Michael Floyd and Chris Culliver broke up a 3rd-and-goal pass to Ted Ginn Jr. Arizona settled for a 32-yard Catanzaro field goal.

Dan Skuta and Joe Staley were also flagged for roughness penalties on Stanton in the third quarter. Both penalties allowed Arizona to move the ball down to San Francisco's 25-yard line.

Stanton found Brown again the end zone, this time, it was a 21-yard touchdown pass to give Arizona its second lead of the game, and first since the 12:23 mark in the first quarter.

The 49ers were penalized nine times for 107 yards on Sunday. It wasn't as much as the 16 flags against the Chicago Bears in Week 2, but the penalties were costly in a close game.

80-yard Drives

Pierre Garçon scored a 6-yard touchdown run to give the 49ers a 14-6 lead in the second quarter. 

It was also San Francisco's second 80-yard scoring drive of the game. Kaepernick completed his first nine passes of the afternoon, setting a career-high to start a game. His previous record was seven straight completions at Tampa Bay on Dec. 15, 2013.

46 for 85

Derek Carrier hauled in a 23-yard reception on 3rd-and-1 on the 49ers opening drive from inside of Arizona territory. It would be his only catch of the game and only reception by a 49ers tight end.

Vernon Davis (ankle) and Garrett Celek (knee) were both inactive. 


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