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That uneasiness in the gut of Cardinals fans occurred Friday afternoon when rookie right tackle Paris Johnson Jr. suddenly was on the injury report with an ankle injury and listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the undefeated 49ers.
Johnson participated in the portion of practice (stretching and individual drills only) open to the media, so it’s presumed the injury occurred at some point later in the remaining 45 minutes.
It’s also what happened on the Friday of Week 2 when safety Budda Baker suffered a hamstring injury, was inactive for the game against the Giants and was then placed on reserve/injured the following day.
We don’t know the severity of Johnson’s injury, so it will be a waiting game until the team takes the field for warmups at Levi’s Stadium and possibly for the inactive list that is submitted 90 minutes before game time.
It would be a tough blow for the line, which has been intact for the first three games with all five starters playing every snap except for the 23 percent played on two possessions by Trystan Colon at left guard against the Cowboys to give him some reps in place of Elijah Wilkinson. If Johnson is unable to play, Kelvin Beachum would get the nod and have the challenge of facing Nick Bosa, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2022.
On Wednesday, Johnson talked about going against Bosa, who, like him, played at Ohio State.
“I respect him as a pass rusher,” Johnson said. “He’s another guy I’ve been looking forward to going against. I looked up to him as an Ohio State guy when I was in high school as that all-world guy. So of course for me, I’m excited for this. He’s a good player. He’s strong. He’s athletic.”
Running back James Conner said what he has been impressed with has been Johnson’s “approach to the game; his physicality all across the board.”
General manager Monti Ossenfort was asked Friday about Johnson’s growth on ArizonaSports 98.7 prior to it becoming public that he was on the injury report.
He said, “From the day he’s come in here, he’s handled himself with a maturity, with a passion and with a focus on getting himself ready to play. That’s continued through training camp and he’s gone out there and he’s had some pretty tall tasks here the first three weeks of the season. All three of these teams that we’ve played have had very good defensive fronts and that’s going to continue this week. There’s no letup and he’s gonna be challenged. That’s life in the big city of the NFL as an offensive tackle. The guys that are on the other side of the ball coming off the edge are freaks. They’re some of the best athletes in this league.
“It hasn’t been perfect and there are things that Paris has to improve on just like the rest of our team, but we like how Paris has answered the bell and he’s gone out there and he’s accepted the challenge and he hasn’t backed down. It’s gonna be another great test for him this week.”
Coach Jonathan Gannon referred to the Cowboys’ Micah Parsons as a “war daddy” last week and did the same with Bosa.
“Psychologically, he knows that he plays a premier position and he has to block premier positions,” Gannon said. “He’s up for that challenge. He understands that every week in the NFL, they’re going to have a war daddy over there. And you gotta be able to block them one-on-one. But (offensive line coach) Klayton (Adams) gets him prepped. Each guy’s skillset is a little bit different. They’re different rushers; like to rush different ways.
“That’s where studying comes in and asking some vets: ‘Have you played this guy before?’ ‘Yeah, here’s my notebook on what he likes to do.’ Those things are critical components to getting prepared to play your best football on Sunday. He takes that to heart.”
Defense takes another hit
For the third consecutive week, the defense has been affected by injury, and it’s hit hard on the line.
Defensive end L.J. Collier suffered a biceps injury against Washington in Week 1 and is on reserve/injured. Nose tackle Leki Fotu injured his shoulder in that game and was inactive for the Week 2 game against the Giants.
Prior to that game, Baker suffered a hamstring injury in practice and defensive end Carlos Watkins also suffered a biceps injury. He and Baker have joined Collier on reserve/injured.
Fotu returned for last week’s game against Dallas, but defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter injured a finger, didn’t practice this week and was declared out on Friday for Sunday’s game.
Gannon said he hopes Ledbetter can play next week against the Bengals, while repeating the NFL mantra of that’s “life in the NFL. Guys got to be ready to step in and play. The practice-squad guys and acquisition periods going on throughout the year are critical because you gotta play winning football and you have to figure it out as a coach and they got to play well and be trained.”
With Roy Lopez added to the roster this week, he joins Fotu, Kevin Strong and Dante Stills as the only healthy linemen on the roster. On the practice squad are Ben Stille, Eric Banks and Jacob Slade. Banks was elevated from the practice squad Saturday despite Stille being elevated last week when he totaled four unassisted tackles in his 27 snaps (33 percent).
Defensive coordinator Nick Rallis said of Stille, “He is one of the smartest players I’ve ever been with. When he’s in there, he has a great sense of what plays are coming, and then when he comes off, (he says), ‘Hey, this happened. This is an issue.’ He’s very good with his communication to the coaches, what we need to do to adapt in the run game, in the pass rush, and to me he is a strong run defender. He came in and did a really good job there.”
As for Fotu playing against the Cowboys, Rallis said, “Having Leki was obviously really important for us. Leki can push the pocket in the pass rush, he can hold double-teams, he can win one-on-one blocks in the run game. He’s doing a good job of playing a lot of different spots up front.”
Strong, who had three tackles against Dallas, is “versatile,” Gannon said, “so he can bump around different positions depending on who’s in there with him. He’s been playing really well and I’m excited for him this week.”
Despite having only this week practicing with the Cardinals after being signed to the practice squad last Saturday and then signed to the 53-man roster Monday, Lopez is expected to be active Sunday.
Gannon said “he was really good” in practice Wednesday and Thursday and added, “I was actually very pleased with where he’s at for his just being here. I like where he’s trending.” Prior to him practicing, Gannon said, “He’s quick, instinctive, has striking ability, smart. So I’m excited to get him out here today and get him going. I’ve got high hopes for him. And he was awesome in the meeting. He conceptionally understands what’s going on, playing a little different system than he’s played in coming here, but I like his skillset. And I like his brain.”
Lopez, a Phoenix-area native, is excited too. He played at Mesquite High School and his father, Roy, is the head coach at Desert Ridge.
After being released by the Texans on Sept. 4 with an injury settlement because of a hamstring problem suffered in the second preseason game against Miami, Lopez came home and continued his rehab at EXOS in Scottsdale.
While saying he was surprised to be let go by the Texans, he said, “Everything happens for a reason. I haven’t looked back on it. I’m fired up about being here. I can’t even put it into words this opportunity. JG is amazing. I love the energy.”
Being back with family, he said, “Everything fell into place. The first day I came home was the day I got the keys to my new house. And while I was rehabbing, I was able to go my dad’s games. Then the Cardinals called. It’s amazing. You can’t make it up.”
Meanwhile, Rallis has a unique way of dealing with the reality of injuries and planning for them. For Rallis, it’s all about the shoes. The shoes?
“Yeah, if you have something built very specifically for personnel you better have a backup plan going into the game,” Rallis said. “That’s always discussed. I always use the term, ‘If this guy’s shoe comes off’ because you don’t want to talk about injuries, but that happens.
“But it’s like, ‘What’s our plan if this guy’s shoe comes off?’ And so, you have a shoe plan. I’m going to start calling it ‘the shoe plan.’ You’ve got to have a shoe plan and sometimes it’s significant and sometimes it’s, ‘OK, here we go. Next guy’s in. These are the calls that we want in this situation. Feel great. Let’s go. Let’s go execute with who’s in the game.’ The key is you do have a plan when their shoe comes off.”
Aside from the defensive line, the coaches also had to deal with it last Sunday when outside linebacker Zaven Collins left the game in the third quarter with an eye injury and inside linebacker Krys Barnes exited with a finger injury. Barnes didn’t participate in the “team” portion of practice this week and is questionable.
He had his left hand wrapped heavily and during Friday’s early part of practice was working with a sled apparently to see if he is capable of playing. Barnes had been starting since Josh Woods suffered an ankle injury in Week 1 and won’t play again Sunday. Aside from Kyzir White, the only healthy inside linebackers are Ezekiel Turner and rookie Owen Pappoe. Tyreek Maddox-Williams, the scout team player of the week from Week 3, and recently added Davion Taylor, are on the practice squad.
When Rallis was asked about his shoe collection, it took him a moment to understand the question.
He joked, “My shoe collection this week? It took me a second to figure out what you were getting at right there. I started thinking about my shoes, maybe my shoes are dirty.”
He then said, “I feel good with the guys we have ready to go. I talk about this a lot. There’s good depth on this defense and I feel very comfortable with a lot of people stepping in to play. I’m confident.”
He credited Gannon for stressing the importance of adapting.
“I think we talk about being versatile, being adaptable. Personnel is a part of that,” Rallis said. “When we got here; figuring out what’s best for this defense. Now, do you structure it in a way that you change it week to week if you need to, depending on what your shoe collection looks like? That’s thought out in advance.
“I give credit to JG. He’s shaped my mind to think this way. You need to have a structure where you can change pieces around and it doesn’t feel like to the players, ‘Man, like what is this brand new defense?’ It’s, ‘OK, it’s being pitched to me like this, but conceptually I know exactly what I’m supposed to do in my job.’”
Defensive backs coach Patrick Toney said, “You begin with the end in mind. You know throughout the course of a long season, there’s gonna be people in and out of the lineup, so you always have pairs and spares ready to go as a coach, position coach and then Nick as the coordinator we’re always playing that game of if this happens who needs to go in there to make sure that we can still function.
“And how do we get those guys those reps in practice ahead of time to make sure we don’t miss a beat when it does happen so I think a lot of that happens in the forefront rather than after the fact when the injury occurs. I think you’ve seen we’ve had a lot of guys on our defense come in and not miss a beat, really. Stepping in and playing pretty well for us.”
Finally, Ossenfort acknowledged on 98.7 how injuries can affect a team.
“Injuries are just a brutal part of the game,” he said. “Everybody deals with them. It tests a team’s depth, it tests everything about your preparation going into a game. And so, we’ve had a string of injuries that have hit there on the defensive line position. We’ve had guys that have stepped up, we’ve added some people to the group. It represents an opportunity for someone else to step up.
“The reality is, it’s hard. It’s hard to suffer injuries at any position and then when you start suffering multiple injuries at the same position, it’s a challenge. That’s something that we in the scouting department have to constantly focus on. Adding depth where we can, continually being aware of who’s available and how we create depth. Those guys are performing; they’re continuing to compete.”
The eyes have it
It turns out Collins wasn’t the only Cardinals defender poked in the eye by Cowboys left tackle Chuma Edoga, who was playing in place of the injured Tyron Smith.
It turns out linebacker Dennis Gardeck was also jabbed, but not nearly as badly as Collins, who had to leave the game and didn’t return.
Edoga was not fined for those plays, but was hit for a $6,847 fine after hitting a Cardinals player in the face on a false start in the first quarter. Dallas defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins was fined $7,319 for a facemask penalty on Conner on the final possession of the game.
Collins practiced fully with a visor on his helmet this week because of sensitivity to light and will play against the 49ers.
He said, “Sometimes offensive tackles flash their hands at your face to try and stop your charge or redirect you. I think he just got his fingertips down, so whenever he did that, it just hit me right in the face. It wasn’t like the eye, it was like the muscles above it. It wasn’t really so much the pain, it was like I couldn’t really see anything. It was really weird; it was a freak accident. All the doctors were like, ‘Yeah we’ve never really seen this before,’ so that’s when I went in, I stayed in.
“I looked in the mirror and I did not like what I saw. This eye was straight, this eye was like pointing straight up in the air. It was like all over the place. But after a few days, my vision started to come back, but it was doing its own thing, for sure. This right eye was all over the place. I was seeing double of everything (for the first two days).”
He wore a patch for those two days and then blood gathered in the right eye mid-week, but he said the only thing bothersome was itching.
As for the visor, he said, “It’s helping right now, for sure. And protecting me. Until I feel comfortable again, I’m definitely going to wear one.”
When jokingly asked if he talked like a pirate while wearing the patch, Collins said, “I did not, but I had a lot of people texting me and sending me emojis of pirates. It was funny.”
Quarterback Kyler Murray is eligible to begin practicing Monday, but only the Cardinals know if that will happen and they aren’t saying much publicly.
When asked Wednesday if that will happen next week, Gannon provided the same message he’s had for several months: “We will activate him when he’s ready to go practice. That’s what we’ll do.”
Friday, he was asked if the play of Joshua Dobbs will result in the team possibly being conservative and waiting at all to return him to the field. Gannon said, “No. When Kyler’s ready to start practicing, he’ll start practicing.”
Ossenfort was also quizzed about that Friday on 98.7 and first joked, “Kyler is a day closer than he was yesterday. I don’t know if that’s breaking news or not.” No, it’s not, but then again, there are a lot of things labeled breaking news these days that aren’t.
He then added, “Kyler is continuing to progress. We’re excited about where’s he’s at and where’s he going. He’s been involved in all the meetings. He’s been on the sidelines for every game and he’ll continue to be a support for his teammates.Kyler is progressing physically, he is continuing to prepare himself mentally. And we’re getting closer to that time when he’s going to be able to go out there and join his teammates in practice. When he’s ready to do that, we won’t hesitate to put him out there.”
Asked if he would say whether it’s sooner as opposed to later, “Ossenfort said, “I would say (that) we can see a light where we’re heading. I don’t think we’re quite ready to announce when that’s going to be, but we are very pleased with Kyler’s progress, where he’s going right now.”
The general manager was also asked about the buzz that occurred when he was on the sideline of last week’s game between Arizona State and USC, which has Caleb Williams at quarterback.
“Whenever we go out, there’s a lot of good players to look at,” he said. “I know a lot was made of I was going to see Caleb. Yeah, that’s part of the job. USC is loaded with a bunch of other good players; there’s a reason why they’re ranked a top-five team in the country. The week before, Fresno (State) had a couple guys to look at (and Ossenfort was there).
“Arizona State, I’ve seen them twice now and they have guys to look at. Tomorrow, I’m going to a game at Stanford, Oregon’s playing at Stanford. That goes with the territory of the scouting profession. We’re always gonna scout every draft-eligible player and we’re going to be ready to have an evaluation on all of those players.”
After completing 30 of passes for 403 yards with six touchdowns and one inetcpetion Saturday against Colorado, Williams has completed 105 of 141 passes (74.5 percent) for 1,603 yards, 21 touchdowns and two interceptions. Oregon just so happens to have quarterback Bo Nix, who, prior to its game against Stanford is 104-for-131 (79.4 percent) for 1,169 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception.
As Murray waits, Dobbs just goes about his business on a daily basis.
Asked how it is to be in this position, knowing Murray will be ready to play at some point, Dobbs said, “I just don’t look ahead. I don’t look ahead at all. I just stay focused on this presser, next I stay focused on lunch, rehab, meetings, just moving through the day staying locked in and focused. I just have learned how to do that. I wouldn’t say that’s always very natural. I think all of us always have something that we’re looking ahead for in life, but I’ve learned just staying focused in the moment and maximizing the moment, you just enjoy your day a little bit more, you enjoy the little things of the day.
“For me, I just stay locked in on the moment. I trust my preparation as I’ve said, and I know things can play out however they’re going to play out down the road. Some things I can control and some things I can’t. The things I can control I will, and those I can’t, I won’t. I won’t lose sleep on them. I’ll keep playing good football and keep moving forward.”
More of Moore as a runner?
Wide receiver Rondale Moore exploded for a 45-yard run for a touchdown against Dallas in the second quarter and this season he has five rushes for 66 yards.
Often, it has to be at the right moment, but there’s a lot to be said for doing as much as possible with him.
Dobbs said,“As I saw from afar when he was in college at Purdue and then obviously here as I saw in person on Sunday, he’s a playmaker. Getting the ball in his hands; he’s dynamic with the football so he’s a big part of our offense in that. The more ways we can get the ball in his hand, the more ways I can get the ball in his hands as the quarterback to get him in space and take advantage of his matchup across the field, it only helps our offense go.”
Said Conner, “It was awesome to see. Rondale works real hard. Good for him to have a big play like that; explosive play. It adds even more juice to our offense with that play-making ability and it’s also a little change-up, too. Keeps defenses on their heels and we need more of that from him for sure.”
“He presents a lot of challenges for the defense,” offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said. “You’ve seen that in really every game that we’ve played. In different ways that he moved around the formation, used him in different roles. And on that given play, he took advantage of a really well-blocked play and a great look and he did the rest himself. And when he put his foot in the ground and took off, you could feel his speed and his power as he got through the hole.
“So, it was really well-blocked and anytime you get an explosive run you’re gonna have somebody on the perimeter doing their job. So it’s always good to see guys hustling down the field, blocking down the field, to finish that play and make sure it got in the end zone.”
As for seeing more of that, Petzing said, “You look at stuff he’s done in his past, the way he is with the ball in his hand and how dynamic he can be and we just say, ‘Hey, how many different ways can we get him in that position.’ Where he’s in space with the ball whether it’s in the passing game, in the running game, a little bit of both. We started emphasizing it a little bit in that first game and hit him on some different things and certainly that will continue moving forward.”
Moore also went in motion on the play that resulted in the crucial 69-yard pass play to wide receiver Michael Wilson in the fourth quarter. Moore motioned from right to left and Wilson was positioned close to tight end Geoff Swaim on the left side of the line. A defender let Wilson go and he ran across the field where he was wide open.
“Anytime you can move guys around, especially with some speed, it creates a lot of communication on defense,” Petzing said. One of the things we look for every week is, ‘Hey, how do we create confusion, how do we make them off balance, how do we get them in something they’re not comfortable doing’ and I think that motion certainly helped create that explosive play.”
Conner is fourth in the NFL with 266 rushing yards, while San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey is first with 353. Backuop running back Keaontay Ingram suffered a neck injury in practice Thursday and did not practice Friday. Listyed as questionable, Ingram is not expected to play after Corey Clement was elevated from the practice squad Saturday.
Scouting the officials
Last week, the Cowboys were penalized 13 times for 107 yards, including 10 for 72 in the first half. The Cardinals had eight for 69 in the game.
After the game, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said, “We do a breakdown of every official group and I told the team last night, you’re going to be frustrated. Certain crews call it differently than others. We knew that coming in here and that held very true in the first half. That’s just the history, it’s part of the game. Everything’s evaluated and everything’s part of your preparation.”
Gannon was asked if that is something the Cardinals do. He said, “It’s very important for your players to understand what the trends are of the crew that’s calling the game. We educate our guys, and we show plays from the crews that are calling like, ‘Hey, this is where they’re high, this is where they’re low, and this is where they rank. This is how this plays into the game.’ Yeah, we educate our guys on that.”
Numbers to know
–After seven games last season, the Cardinals and 49ers were each 3-4. For the remainder of 2022, the 49ers were 10-0 and the Cardinals 1-9. Including this season, the 49ers have won 13 consecutive regular-season games and the Cardinals are 2-11.
–The 49ers have scored at least 30 points in 10 of the 13 games, including six straight and eight of the last nine. There were only four one-score games in those 13.
If they score 30 Sunday, they would be the first team to do that in seven straight games since the 2012-2013 Broncos. It would also be the first time an NFL team has done that in the first four games of the season since … the 2021 Cardinals.
–In the last 10 games of 2022, the 49ers outscored opponents 305-144, 150-47 in the second half and 59-20 in the fourth quarter. In three games this season it’s 90-42, 36-12 in the second half and 23-6 in the fourth quarter. Overall, in the last 13 games, they have outscored opponents 395-186, 186-59 in the second half and 82-26 in the fourth quarter.
Opponents have been shut out six times in the second half and nine times in the fourth quarter. Only once were they outscored in the second half: 10-7 in a 21-13 win at Seattle last season and in that game, they were outscored 7-0 in the fourth quarter, the only time that happened. In a 35-7 win over Tampa Bay in 2022, it was 7-7 in the second half and 0-0 in the fourth quarter.
A big reason for that is turnover ratio. The 49ers led the NFL at plus-13 last season (30/17) and are tied for fourth this season at plus-4 (5/1). The Cardinals are tied for seventh at plus-three (5/2).
In the second halves of their 10 straight wins last season, they were plus-16 (21/5, which makes them plus-19 (26/7) in the last 13 games.
–In the two games between the teams last season, the 49ers outscored the Cardinals 76-23 (38-10, 38-13) and it was 38-0 in the second half. The Cardinals had six turnovers in the two games and the 49ers none.
–This season, the Cardinals have been outscored 47-18 in the second half and 30-7 in the fourth quarter. Last season, the 49ers outscored the Cardinals 76-23 (38-10, 38-13) in the two games they played. In the second half, it was 38-0 for the 49ers.
–The 49ers allowed no explosive plays (rush of 10-plus, pass of 20-plus) last week against the Giants. It was the first time the 49ers did that since Sept. 7, 2003 when they defeated the Bears 49-7. In three games, the 49ers have allowed only two running plays of at least 10 yards and three pass plays of at least 20 yards.
–McCaffrey has a touchdown in 12 consecutive games, including the post-season. That is tied with LaDainian Tomlinson all-time. If he scores this week, he would tie Emmitt Smith and Arian Foster with 13 for the second-longest streak since 1990. Smith is first with 14.
McCaffrey also has at least 100 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in the first three games. If he does that Sunday, he would be the fifth player to do that since at least 1970: DeMarco Murray, 2014; Emmitt Smith, 1995; Billy Sims 1981; O.J. Simpson, 1975.
–On opening day in the NFL, there were 29 first-round quarterbacks on rosters and 21 started. This will be the third game for the Cardinals where both quarterbacks were selected after the first round.
Washington: Josh Dobbs (fourth), Sam Howell (fifth)
N.Y. Giants: Dobbs, Daniel Jones (first)
Dallas: Dobbs, Dak Prescott (fourth) and both were the 135th overall selection in their respective drafts.
San Francisco: Dobbs, Brock Purdy (seventh).
–Dobbs and Purdy are two of four quarterbacks that don’t have an interception after three games. The others are Justin Herbert, Chargers and rookie C.J. Stroud, Panthers.
Dobbs has a 98.1 passer rating, which is ninth in the NFL. His rating on third down is 103.5 (seventh) and 99.0 in the fourth quarter (14th). Purdy’s rating of 106.3 ranks fourth.
Dobbs is one of five quarterbacks that have completed at least 70 percent of their passes: Herbert 74.4, Lamar Jackson 73.3, Josh Allen 72.7, Dobbs 72.0, Tua Tagovailoa 71.3. Purdy is at 67.0.
–Purdy is the only quarterback in history to have a rating of at least 90 in the first eight starts of his career. The 49ers record is 8-0 with him at quarterback, which ties him with Dieter Brock, Daunte Culpepper and Jimmy Garoppolo for most consecutive wins at the start of a career. Ahead of them are only Ben Roethlisberger with 15 and Mike Tomczak with 10.
–Cardinals kicker Matt Prater was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after hitting four field goals, including a 62-yarder, in the win over the Cowboys. He has won that honor 15 times in his career and three times with the Cardinals.
He extended his own record with the 73rdfield goal of at least 50 yards in his career. It was his third field goal of at least 60 yards and his second of 62 yards with the Cardinals. He had a 64-yarder, which was then a NFL record with the Broncos in 2013.
Purdy is respected
Count Gannon and Rallis in the impressed club when it comes to the second-year quarterback.
Gannon singled out coaching and playing. He said, “From the coaching part of it, you can tell Kyle (Shanahan) knows how to coach the quarterback. He doesn’t put the ball at harm’s risk. He knows where to go with the ball. He knows the stresses of the coverages and that’s where he delivers the ball. Then with Brock, he plays the game extremely fast so he’s not late trying to throw it through windows. He throws it through the correct window. The ball comes out on time.
“That’s what I mean by timing and rhythm which you’ve got to get on people. They scheme guys up and with the run and pass game, there’s a lot of guys running open, which at times depending on what coverage structures you’re playing, that can happen. We’ve got our work cut out for us. What makes him special is he’s a quick decision-maker. He’s accurate; knows where to go with the ball. He’s got a good command. Plays fast. Has good people around him and a good scheme with a guy that can coach him up. He’s taken to that.”
Gannon coached at the Colts with Tom Manning in 2018, who coached Purdy at Iowa State. Gannon said, “I kinda got the rundown on him. He’s a highly intelligent, competitive kid that can win games and that’s what you see him doing.”
Rallis said, “As far as being able to process and throw the ball on time, he’s as good as it gets. When he’s going through his progressions and he knows that they have his first progression up versus certain coverage, he has it and the ball’s getting out of his hand. And if he doesn’t have it, to the naked eye you would have never thought he even looked to that side because he read the coverage that fast.
“And what it does is it keeps that offense in rhythm to where he’s getting the ball out of his hands, he’s not taking a lot of sacks, he’s not getting strip-sacked, and what it does when you’re going through your progressions and you get the ball out on time, is on that second and third progression, the ball is hitting his receiver’s hands in stride, which is what they’re really good at — the yards after the catch.
“He’s doing a great job of staying on time within that offense. Being able to read where he’s gotta go with the football and getting it to guys where it’s in the right spot on them so that they can continue up field and split too. He does that very well along with being an accurate guy and also a guy when stuff goes bad and it breaks down, he can escape. He’s mobile and you have to account for all that when you’re playing him.
“I think he fits exactly what they’re trying to do very well.”
What’s around Purdy
Rallis said he has examined the 49ers offense every season even if they weren’t on his team’s schedule. Now, he has to worry about them two times a year.
“I put a study together on them in the offseason because anything they’re running and it’s working, you’re going to see it around the league anyway,” he said. “Just my understanding of what they do, that carries over into this week. When an offense like them is very multiple and can do a lot of things, you have to keep things simple for yourself and be able to execute your staples.”
Gannon went so far as to say the 49ers scheme is “probably the best in the world, truthfully.”
He added, “You’ve got to be physically, mentally and emotionally sharp because they’re going to make their plays. They’re going to hit you in the mouth, and you’ve got to be able to respond. Alignment, assignment, key technique is one of our principles to defense and you’ve got to do that faster than they do that on offense.”
As for explosive plays, he said, “It’s how they generate them. They’ve got guys in every group that are really, really good with the ball in their hands. The schematics of how they play the game. They get the guys the ball in space. A lot of the times Purdy plays at a very high level where an explosive is a little thing, but because the ball’s on time, now it becomes a catch and a run and not a bang-bang. Or a catch that goes for 10 and now goes for 20 because it’s on time in rhythm and the DB’s not connected. You don’t have color on color; that plays into that too.”
Rallis said, “They do a really good job overall of using their personnel in multiple ways. The offense allows different guys to get touches from different spots. They do a good job of getting the guys who can really make it go get their touches, but you see other guys getting touches as well. They present issues structurally because you don’t know where guys are going to be.
“You can say you want to take away a guy, but you have no idea where that guy is going to align. They do a really good job of just changing their pieces around, but I’m sure to their players it’s simple in their mind, if I had to guess, because you can judge that based on how they execute at a high level. You gotta be able to adapt to how they’re deployed differently. You definitely have to not let those playmakers get going. They got a lot of them.”
Rallis concluded, “They’ve done a good job of building their personnel to what they want to do offensively. Good players across the board coupled with a really good scheme; it definitely presents a challenge. Not only is their scheme good, but they’re good at blocking, they’re good with the ball in their hands, they play hard.
“I know they pride themselves on playing hard, playing physical playing violent, just like we do, so there’s multiple layers to playing these guys that you have to bring your A game at all those spots.”
When Gannon was asked if their consistency in personnel over recent seasons helps the Cardinals’ preparation, Gannon said, “No. I think that gives them an advantage because even with the new quarterback coming in, those guys, if you look at Deebo (Samuel), (Brandon) Aiyuk, McCaffrey and ‘Juice’ (Kyle Juszczyk); they have a little bit of movement with the O-line, but consistency of playing with each other for an extended period of time helps.
“That’s why what you see is they play extremely fast when the ball is snapped. They play faster than the opponent typically, and that’s what I mean. That’s one of the challenges for us. We’ve got to get lined up. We’ve got to know what we’re doing. They make you play in a way that you can’t junk it up. You can’t have a bunch of new calls, or you will get gassed. You’ve got to play your staples, you’ve got to be sound, and you’ve got to tackle.”
Collins said Samuel is “one of the hardest guys to tackle,” although he is questionable with injuries to his knee and ribs. McCaffrey “always has something new and he’s definitely going to try to make you miss,” while left tackle Trent Williams “if he gets beat, he can re-position his feet. He looks like a linebacker or a DB sometimes the way he can move his feet retreat and get back.
“They can attack you from a lot of different angles. They can exploit your weaknesses in certain areas. Sometimes on the field it looks a little bit different, but when you’re looking at it on the field, you can’t really tell what that guy’s doing. Is he going to block you, is he going to pass you up, is he going out for a route? It puts you in sometimes a pass-run conflict and I think they do a really good of that. And obviously they have a great operator (Purdy) back there.
And now the defense
Just like the offense, the accolades flow for the 49ers defense.
Petzing said, “They’re going to do what they do. They’ve played that defense at such a high level for such a long time, I don’t think we’re gonna see a different San Francisco defense. “Certainly they’re going to have their game-plan adjustments and some of the things they want to do against us that maybe didn’t apply to other teams, but for the most part the talent level, the coaching details; it’s been a part of that organization really since Kyle has taken over. So don’t expect that to change this week or any week for that matter.
“It’s going to be a big challenge. It’s a great front, really a great 11, but certainly a great front four, great front seven so our guys are going to have to prepare hard, be ready to go and make sure they know what’s coming because it’s going to be a fight.”
Said center Hjalte Froholdt, “It’s a great front seven. We’ve played a bunch of great front sevens, so I think this just comes down to ourselves. What can we do to do the fundamentals right? How do we get our combos done? Where do we go with our pass pro, where do we get the right IDs? It comes down to our own technique and matching their physicality if not exceed it because you know these guys are coming out running; offense and defense. They’re flying to the football. That’s all they preach up there so we gotta take it one more step further. And I know our group can do it.”
There’s very little weakness if any.
“They play really good run defense,” Gannon noted. “The front four is a unique challenge for us because of how they play, who they have, the linebackers. They’re very, very athletic, they’re violent, they can strike people, they outrun people. It’s a big-time challenge for us.
“But you’re going to get some un-scouted looks. You gotta be able to handle it with your rules and talk about it and correct things on the sideline because you can’t practice for everything in four days. Defensively, they’ve got star power on all three levels. Their D-line train-wrecks the game. They’ve got linebackers that flow fast, and they can take the ball away. They’re good in coverage and they’ve got a back end that plays connected with star power. That’s a reason they’re 3-0. It’s a reason they’re one of the better (teams). We’ll see what happens, but our team knows very well the challenge that lies ahead on Sunday.”
From the players, Dobbs said, “They’re really good, man. It’s either high-paid guys or first-round draft picks over there. They’re really talented and they’ve played a lot of football together. Similar to the last three weeks, we keep getting defenses that have played a lot of football together. They play a really good scheme. They know what they’re doing. They’re fast, and they have really good players. The onus is on us as an offense to match their intensity, match their talent with our talent and execution, and go out and still play good football.”
Said Conner, “They got top dogs all over the place on their defense. D-line, linebackers, secondary’s no secret. They play ball. You gotta bring the fight to them. We know what we’re in for.”
What they say about the Cardinals
Coach Kyle Shanahan on looking past the Cardinals even after the win over Dallas: “All you have to do is watch the two games before that. They had every chance to win versus Washington in Week 1. It was like 28-7 in the third quarter versus the Giants and they had every chance to win that and it got away from them at the end. Dallas was very similar, but they didn’t turn it over there at the end and they kept finishing and keeping them out of the red zone and ended up not being close. So, they’re a team that really should be 3-0 right now.”
Shanahan on similarities between the Cardinals and Eagles where Gannon was before this season: “It’s real similar because it’s the scheme he runs, just the fronts and the coverages. He had such a sound, good scheme at Philly and that’s what it’s been so far in these three games. So, we’ll see on tendencies and stuff, how that changes up. It’s still early in the year how he’s going to use his personnel and stuff like that, but you can still see he’s doing what he does and it’s a very tough scheme.”
Shanahan on Dobbs: “I think he’s playing real good quarterback play right now. He’s one of the reasons they’ve been in every game. They’re really committing to the run, try not to give up explosives and keep guys out of the end zone on defense and he’s not turning it over. He’s been extremely decisive. When it’s there, he consistently makes it, when it’s not there, he plays it smart, doesn’t turn it over. He has been able to scramble and makes some plays. He’s been very competitive in the quarterback run game when they haven’t honored him.”
Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks on the Cardinals offense: “After watching the tape, impressed with every facet of their offense when it comes to running the football. They do it well. A lot of respect for James Conner; respected him when he was with the Steelers, and he’s still running the ball hard. Dobbs, when you look at his play, hasn’t turned the ball over. Does a great job protecting the ball. Can put it in the right spot. They have two great receivers in Hollywood (Brown) and Rondale that can take the top off and do a great job getting on the perimeter with the jet sweeps. The offensive line doesn’t get enough credit up front with D.J. Humphries. I’m very impressed with their tight ends being able to block as well as get down the field and stretch the field in the passing game.”
Wilks on the running game success: “I think No. 1, Conner runs the ball hard, very determined guy, makes a lot of people miss after contact. And again, the offensive line doesn’t get enough credit. They do a great job with their gap schemes, opening up holes, getting on the perimeter, getting to the second level. So, they create a lot of problems. When you break down the tape as a whole, you see it in each and every game. They were two plays away from beating Washington, they were up on the Giants and lost that football game. So we’ve talked as a staff; this unit right here could easily be 3-0, so we’re definitely not taking these guys lightly at all. It’s going to be a good football game.”
Wilks on the experience of tight end Zach Ertz: “I just really think the balance, the consistency. He’s good in the run game as a blocker and can do a great job creating matchups and can stretch it down the field. Good seam ball, guy runs a great seven route. They do a great job with the tight-end screens, hiding him at times and he’s a red-zone threat as well.”
Offensive line coach/run game coordinator Chris Foerster on the lack of blitzing by the Cardinals after the Giants did that around 85 percent of the time: “Last week, it was almost like every single play we had to have an answer for some kind of blitz or all-out. This week, it’s a little different. They do show some pressures in certain scenarios. But for us, it’s like, ‘All right, here’s what they do defensively and we’ve got to attack that.’ It is different than all the pressures and whatnot from last week, but still it’s going to be a solid defense. What they do, they do it well. They’re consistent in what they do and they’re very well-coached, so it’s a new challenge. But still, there’s some things that are similar in terms of like we’ve just got to be ready for some things just in case.”
Foerster on ball security: “As a team really, it’s all about the ball. So obviously the turnover battle’s huge for us. We’ve got a good defense, we’ve got a great offense, and it’s like how can we eliminate the errors and be smart with the ball, even if that means punting and letting our defense do their thing. I feel like all the games that we’ve played in so far, like it’s come down to turnovers. How can we create momentum and not waste time by giving the other team the ball freely and allowing them to have good field position or momentum and put up points.
“I feel like NFL games can go either way based off of giving the ball up or not. So that’s something that we pride ourselves on here a lot, is just trying to win the turnover battle every single game. All the other stuff, the yards per pass or rush, like all that stuff, we just try to game-plan and getting first downs and score and all that stuff just sort of comes along with it.”
Gannon on rookie cornerback Garrett Williams, who is eligible to be activated from the non-football injury list next week as he seeks to return from a torn ACL suffered with Syracuse last season: “We’ve got to make that decision collectively with all our guys, but he is doing a really good job. He has advanced some things that he needs to be able to do. I think that in the last couple of weeks here, I like where he is trending, but that’s a case-by-case and day-by-day basis. We’ll make those decisions when we need to, but I like where he is trending right now.”
Ossenfort on his post-game enthusiasm after last Sunday’s win over the Cowboys: “It was an exciting time and a lot of people have put a lot into this here over the last six, seven months. A lot of players, coaches, trainers, scouts, support staff around the building, so just to see the guys rewarded with a hard-fought victory and I definitely got caught up in it and so I wanted to show those guys that I appreciate it, everything they’ve done.”
Linebacker Kyzir White on how the win over Dallas was achieved: “Execution. We’re locked in. Everybody played together. That is how it happens. It just gives us validation of what we already know about ourselves. In the NFL, you can lose closely, and you can win closely. We know that we are a team that can win in this league.”
Petzing on the team’s league-leading eight runs of 20-plus yards this season, including four against the Cowboys, after the Cardinals had only nine all last season: “A lot of it speaks to the players. Those guys work extremely hard on the run and the pass game. And there’s so many people that go into every one of those plays. It takes everybody on the field during the week, understanding the scheme, getting great looks from our scout team. And then going out and executing. I think that’s hats off to those players because they made it work.”
Dobbs on being interception-free: “I just try to take care of the football. I try to go where my reads tell me. As you guys have probably seen, it’s not like we’re out there playing scared. We’re letting it rip. We’re playing good football. I understand turnovers are part of the game, but my job as quarterback is to keep those as low as possible and none if possible. We looked back at our first game of the season, and we said if we just didn’t turn over the ball twice, that game outcome could have been a little bit different. Each game the ball is so important. It holds your dreams, your goals, your aspirations of not only me as a player, but literally every single person in this organization. We take care of the football, the people that make our lunch, they keep their jobs. It goes a long way to take care of the football, so it’s very important and we treat it as such.
“The way we practice, and then obviously the way we play, it’s important. Me as quarterback, taking care of the ball, being smart with my decision making and not being careless with the football is extremely important. That just goes into my preparation. Being able to see the looks that the defense is going to give me, then guess the un-scouted looks I’m going to see on a Sunday and have a place to go with the football quickly and decisively. It not only helps us take care of the football, but also helps us play good football and score a lot of points.”
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