By Jerrell Richardson

As they have all year, the San Francisco 49ers started this game strong. In fact, the team has scored a touchdown on their opening possession in every game this season. But the problem has been finishing strong, penalties and turnovers. This week was much of the same, although turnovers were not an issue, it was pretty much the same story and same result. San Francisco raced to the early lead then watched their opponent come back take the lead and snuff any attempt of a 49er comeback. The end result being a 23-14 Cardinal victory and a 49er team under .500.

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Offense: D+

Colin Kaepernick’s numbers were not bad at all. While his per pass average was low, he went 27-35, completed his first 9 passes and totaled 218 yards and one touchdown. He didn’t commit a single turnover and was efficient for the most part. He found five different receivers and was taking what the defense gave him. In fact, it’s a great sign that tied for the team lead in receptions was newly acquired Stevie Johnson with nine. The problem with No. 7’s performance is that 14 points the team scored is simply not getting it done. He was without Vernon Davis who is a difference maker, but Kaepernick he still had plenty around him to get his defense at least 21 points, or at least some points in the second half.

Michael Crabtree continues to be the team’s most consistent receiver. He hauled in 10 balls and a touchdown on route to his 80-yard day, but it was not enough. Speaking of not enough, for whatever reason, the 49ers refuse to run the ball, at least with their running backs. Frank Gore had six touches and Carlos Hyde had just three. Colin Kaepernick did have 13 carries, due to the read option and the Cardinals daring him to run, but some of those runs were not by design and off pass plays. As a team they were not committed to the run (24 total carries) and it certainly contributed to the final outcome.

Defense: C+

The defense is actually playing well. They obviously could be better, but with who they have on the field and who they have gone against, they have no reason to hang their heads. This week they went against a Cardinal offense with plenty of weapons and held them to 20 points. Not great, but they put it on the offense to score 21 points, and kept it close in the second half. In fact they handed the ball back to the offense in the 4th quarter with a chance to win and ice the game all on the same drive.

The only asterisk next to this defensive performance is that leading the Cardinals was their backup quarterback Drew Stanton. He played like a starter though completing 18 of his 32 attempts for 245 yards and most importantly no interceptions. He threw 2 touchdown passes, both going to wide receiver John Brown, and like Kaepernick had no problem taking what the defense gave him spreading the ball around. He refused to force the ball to Larry Fitzgerald was kept quiet with only 3 catches, but was still able to move the chains to the tune of 23 points.

Despite Stanton playing relatively well, the San Francisco secondary has to like the play of Perrish Cox who did an excellent job in coverage and not committing penalties. He had 2 tackles, 2 passes defended and a fumble recovery. He was the only member of the secondary though who can say that they played well.

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The best job defensively was done against the run. Linebackers Patrick Willis and Michael Wilhoite both finished with six tackles and did an effective job stuffing Andre Ellington for most of the night. Ellington did break a late 20-yard scamper, but holding him to 62 yards is certainly a win for the 49er defense that has struggled to stop the run this season.

Special Teams: D+

When it rains it pours. The 49ers’ usually solid special teams even let them down this week. The Arizona Cardinals are known for blocking kicks, and struck again blocking Phil Dawson’s attempt to cut into a 4th quarter deficit, leaving him 0-1 on the day. Even Andy Lee had an off day. He was called into action four times and his per average punt of 43.5 was made respectable by his final punt going 56-yards. The return game was uneventful as Bruce Ellington had a single punt and kickoff return, neither doing anything for the team’s field position. In fact, his 26-yard kickoff return was due in large part to him taking the kick 9-yards deep in the end zone, so was actually hurt the team.

Not So Easy Fix

The 49ers have to figure out the bonehead penalties that have plagued them the past two weeks first. The concerns around the offensive struggles in the second half start there so they will be killing two birds with one stone, if able to solve the problem.

The reality is that they have played well enough on offense and defense to be undefeated. The difference has been the countless self-inflicted mistakes. The good news is that the season is still early and one would think this is an easy fix. The bad news is that these mistakes have already cost them two wins and should have already been fixed. Whatever the problem is the team must figure it out before next Sunday as up next is another

For more 49ers news and updates, visit 49ers Central.

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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.