Alex Smith has been sacked 18 times in the last three games, including five times Sunday against the Cardinals. The 49ers seem to have a hard time with stunts and picking up odd blitzers like safeties and cornerbacks. That was the case in their nine-sack outing against the Ravens. And the trend continued Sunday. What's ominous is that the Cardinals run essentially the same 3-4 defense as the Steelers, only the Steelers have been doing it a lot longer.
Here's how the five sacks broke down:
2nd&9, AZ 29 - The Cardinals rush five defenders, including both inside linebackers. Center Jonathan Goodwin picks up one of those linebackers, Paris Lenon, but the other, Daryl Washington, loops underneath Lenon and hits Smith untouched. Smith wants to go to Vernon Davis in the flat to his left but can't get the pass off on time. Loss of six yards
3rd&15, AZ 34 - The Cardinals rush five. Safety Adrian Wilson comes on a delayed blitz, hits Smith and forces him to step inside where he is sacked by defensive end Calais Campbell, who has gotten past both left guard Mike Iupati and Goodwin. Running back Kendall Hunter does a good job picking up Lenon up the middle. Wilson, however, grabs Smith's face mask on the play and the Cardinals are hit with a 15-yard penalty, negating the sack.
3rd&7, AZ 24 - The Cardinals rush five. One of the blitzers is cornerback Patrick Peterson, who lines up to Smith's left opposite receiver Ted Ginn. Smith flushes to his right but is hauled down from behind by Peterson. Loss of four yards.
1st&10, AZ 47 - The Cardinals rush four. At the snap, Iupati initially blocks the right defensive end. When he turns to his right to block nose tackle Nick Eason, Eason has already gotten past Goodwin. Smith fakes to his left, then tries to go right. But Eason's sticks out a hand and drags the quarterback down. Loss of eight.
1st&10, SF 20 - The Cardinals rush four. Left defensive end Darnell Dockett first beats right guard Adam Snyder, then beats Goodwin to get to Smith. Loss of six yards.
• On the final offensive play for the 49ers, Smith bolts the pocket immediately and runs to his right. It's difficult to see why. The Cardinals only rush four defenders and none of them breaks free. It seems as if Smith was spooked by a phantom breakdown. He does a great job of buying extra time, and you get the sense that it could have turned into a huge play because he has so much room to throw. The team's fastest receiver, Ted Ginn, is on that side of the field. But he stops at the sideline instead of going deep and is well covered. Smith fires the ball to Hunter, who can't hang on.
• Hunter played more than he has all season and did a very good job in pass protection.
• Two fill ins, left tackle Alex Boone and inside linebacker Larry Grant had very strong games. Grant led all tacklers with nine. He also had a tackle and an assist on Cardinals return man Patrick Peterson. Boone, meanwhile, is not as athletic as Joe Staley and does not get down field like Staley can on running plays. But he had no big lapses in pass protection.
• Kyle Williams continued to make plays at receiver. He was targeted six times and came up with four catches. One of the incompletions was tipped at the line. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Braylon Edwards, who was not close to the two passes that went his way. There is clearly a lack of chemistry between him and Smith.
• In addition to the five sacks, Smith was hit another nine times after the throw.
-- Matt Barrows