The 49ers' defensive to-do list for the second half of the season looks a lot like their got-done…
Reading the keys: 49ers/Cardinals
YES: Frank Gore busted up the middle for six yards on the game's first offensive play, then ripped over left tackle for 12 yards two plays later. The tone of the game had been set. The Niners kept pounding the rock throughout the evening with Gore and Kendall Hunter, who combined to tote the ball 26 times for 98 yards rushing. The Niners didn't end up with the prolific yardage on the ground that they have in several other games this year, but they were effective in beating on the Arizona defense to soften its interior and set up play-action in the passing game.
Rattle the skeleton of John Skelton
YES: The Niners got some big hits on Skelton and kept constant pressure on him throughout the evening, never allowing the Arizona quarterback to get into a consistent rhythm even though he was forced to pass practically every down after the Cardinals abandoned the run. Skelton stood up to the pressure while throwing 52 times, but he was knocked around a lot in the process and was dumped for four sacks, two by Aldon Smith, who pursued him relentlessly as the game progressed. Skelton also was hit at least six other times by San Francisco defenders, who left him battered and flustered by game's end.
Get the passing game back on track
YES: After two subpar games, quarterback Alex Smith was in record form, setting a new NFL standard with a 94.7 completion percentage with a minimum of 15 attempts. Smith got it going with a sensational first half in which he completed 14 of 15 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns, and he was a perfect 4 for 4 in the second half to finish 18 of 19 for 232 yards with two short touchdown passes to Michael Crabtree and a 47-yard scoring strike to Randy Moss. Smith completed passes to nine different receivers and made good decisions and reads to put the pass back in San Francisco's offense.
Stuff Arizona's run game and force Cards to go to the air
YES: The Cardinals were completely stoned on the ground, finishing with just seven yards rushing on nine attempts. LaRod Stephens-Howling had an 11-yard run but was pushed backward just about every other time he touched the football to finish with six yards rushing on eight carries. Without that 11-yarder the Cardinals would have finished with negative yardage on the ground. As it was, Arizona had the franchise's lowest rushing total in a game since 1953 while the 49ers tied a franchise record for fewest rushing yards allowed in a game, matching an effort in 1972 against the New Orleans Saints.
Limit the impact of Larry Fitzgerald
YES: The Niners took Fitzgerald out of the game early – literally – and Arizona's big-play receiver was held in check throughout the evening. Fitzgerald finished with five receptions for 52 yards, but he had just one catch in the first half and had three of his receptions during Arizona's last-gasp drive in the game's final four minutes. His longest catch went for 16 yards, and more than half of the throws Skelton sent his way – Fitzgerald was targeted 11 times during the game – fell incomplete. Fitzgerald also was flagged early in the game for offensive pass interference to negate an Arizona first down.
Pin back Patrick Peterson on punt returns
YES: Andy Lee did a spectacular job of pinning Peterson into corners with his booming punts, and Peterson never could get out of them as San Francisco's punt coverage unit peeled its ears back and came after him with both ferociousness and disciplined angles. Peterson often was fielding punts near the sidelines and showed his frustration when he tossed the ball high in the air after being forced out of bounds following a six-yard return in the fourth quarter – Peterson's longest return of the game. Peterson was tripped up by gunner C.J. Spillman after a one-yard return earlier in the quarter when Peterson had plenty of open space in front of him. Peterson – who led the NFL in punt-return yardage entering the game – had just 15 yards on four returns, a paltry 3.8 average.
Better protection for Alex Smith
NO: Smith did have time to throw during the night as his record performance indicates, but he still was sacked four more times and hit on at least four other occasions, which are disturbing numbers since Smith threw only 19 passes. Smith might have been partly responsible for a few of the sacks by not getting rid of the football quickly enough, but San Francisco's quarterback still is taking way too many hits in the pocket. On this night, however, it didn't adversely affect the performance of Smith or his team. At midseason, Smith has been sacked 22 times, including 10 times in San Francisco's past three games.
Prevail in the battle of the best defenses
YES: For the second consecutive week against an ornery NFC West rival, the 49ers showed who's boss with one of the NFL's best defenses on the other sideline. San Francisco entered the game ranked No. 1 in the league in total defense and Arizona came in ranked No. 7, but there was no question here about which defense dictated the tempo and had the biggest effect on the outcome of the game. San Francisco allowed Arizona just 265 total yards despite throwing 52 passes, and the Cardinals got past the San Francisco 37-yard line just twice in the game. Two of Arizona's 10 offensive possessions ended with negative yardage, and five others ended after the Cards had gained 27 yards or fewer.
Get tight ends involved in the offense again
YES: Held without a catch for the first time this season the week before against Seattle, Vernon Davis was back in the mix with two catches for 34 yards, including a 25-yarder over the middle. Delanie Walker had season-high totals of two receptions for 38 yards, including a 23-yarder, with both catches setting up San Francisco touchdowns.
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