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Understaffed Arizona Cardinals Run Over San Francisco 49ers

Despite going in as underdogs, Colt McCoy and James Conner led the understaffed Cardinals past an underwhelming Niners team on Sunday
Understaffed Cardinals

In the space of just a few days, the Arizona Cardinals slid from dominant favorites to floundering underdogs ahead of their divisional clash with the San Francisco 49ers. It began with A.J. Green, missing after testing positive for Covid-19. However, Cardinals fans spent much of the week stressing over the health of both Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. The pair struggled with ailments all week and were amongst the inactive prior to kickoff. Yet, the somewhat understaffed Cardinals still ostensibly steamrolled an underwhelming Niners side.

On the back of veteran Colt McCoy, Arizona’s offense demonstrated that they’d lost none of their dynamism. McCoy managed the game well, allowing Arizona’s playmakers to win the game. James Conner dominated on the ground. With Arizona’s defense quietly having a great game too, the Cardinals recovered from their first loss last week to sweep the season series against an admittedly poor 49ers team.

Colt and Conner Shine For Understaffed Cardinals Against San Francisco

Reliable McCoy Buoys Understaffed Cardinals

Cardinals fans might be used to the excellent play of Texas football legend Kyler Murray, but this week, it was Texas football legend Colt McCoy who impressed for Arizona. After the disaster against the Los Angeles Rams in the final regular-season game last year, fans were right to fear the loss of Murray. However, the Cardinals brought in a stellar backup in McCoy; ahead of the game, the Cardinals were in a far better spot than many thought. Lauded largely for his role in Murray’s development this season, McCoy was able to prove his worth as a player to the organization this Sunday.

McCoy put the Cardinals in a position to succeed. Completing 22 of 26 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown, his performance was nothing to write home about. It was reliable, efficient, and just what the understaffed Cardinals needed. Schematically, Arizona’s offensive system protected McCoy; the Cardinals utilized the short game to great effect, getting the ball out of McCoy’s hands quickly and sharply. There was a handful of downfield tosses, to keep the defense honest. For the most part though, Arizona’s success came from getting the ball into the hands of their playmakers early and often.

That his only touchdown pass of the day came on a screen pass to Conner is indicative of McCoy’s role in the offense this Sunday, but he helped the Cardinals to win the game and reestablished faith in Arizona’s ability to win without Murray.

James Conner Is Arizona’s Run Game

McCoy did just fine, but James Conner ruled the day for the Cardinals. His rushing total of 96 yards isn’t breaking any records, but his three touchdowns were ultimately the difference in the game. The first three-touchdown performance of his career, Conner now leads the NFL in touchdowns with 11 and is only one shy of his career single-season high of 12, set in his 2018 Pro Bowl season.

Conner was effective in the conventional run game, especially against the stars of San Francisco’s intimidating defensive front. But, he was most electric in the screen game. With Arizona missing so many significant offensive pieces, and with running mate Chase Edmonds getting knocked out of the game early, Conner was the most important offensive weapon for the Cardinals on Sunday. Adding 77 receiving yards to his 96 on the ground, he was effective in several facets of Arizona’s offense and carried much of the load for the understaffed Cardinals. There were doubts about the ability of Arizona’s run game to support McCoy. However, Conner’s performance made it an easy day for Arizona’s stand-in quarterback.

Arizona sports fans also caught a promising glimpse of ASU product Eno Benjamin, who saw some time with Edmonds out. Not only was he a significant contributor on special teams, but Benjamin also logged his first NFL score, running over former Cardinal Dre Kirkpatrick on his way to the paint. Arizona’s run game is overshadowed by the passing attack, but, by necessity, the ability of Conner and the depth of the room bodes well for the mercurial nature of Arizona’s offense overall.

Defense Had Underrated Performance

Given their staffing issues, Arizona’s offense overachieved somewhat and deservedly earned much of the praise. However, Arizona’s defense balled too. They held it together while the ramshackle offense figured it out early on. Creating two turnovers in the first half, fumbles recovered by Jordan Hicks, helped Arizona’s offense to establish what was an insurmountable lead early.  Down the stretch, Budda Baker’s late interception effectively ended the game.

There were some standout performances, not least from Markus Golden. Over the last month, Golden has arguably been Arizona’s best defensive player. He continued his fine run of form with three sacks against San Francisco. True to his Junkyard Dog moniker, he’s up to nine sacks on the year.

Meanwhile, a wild Chandler Jones reappeared. The star edge rusher got his first sack since his five-sack day in Week 1.  The sack earned him ownership of Arizona’s all-time sack record, which now stands at 67. Jones passed the late Freddie Joe Nunn for the record and paid homage with a t-shirt worn under his uniform.

The Cardinals got it done without some of their biggest stars, albeit against an underwhelming Niners squad. Ultimately, they bounced back from TNF and beat their close rivals, regaining the best record in the NFL. 8-1. On to Carolina.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images


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