Conner steps up for Cardinals in 31-17 win over 49ers

Liz Loza and Matt Harmon examine the key factors that helped a Colt McCoy-led Cardinals to victory over a struggling San Francisco team.

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Video Transcript

LIZ LOZA: You want to talk about coaching your ass off. Let's talk about Kliff Kingsbury.

MATT HARMON: Kliff, baby.

LIZ LOZA: This match-up was like the head coaches-- if you look at Kliff Kingsbury and Kyle Shanahan, they're like the Spider-Man meme pointing at each other across the sidelines. Like I don't know-- I can tell which one is Kyle Shanahan because he's got a flat-brim hat on.

I will say this was impressive. Obviously no Kyler Murray. No DeAndre Hopkins, and yet Colt McCoy had the game that I thought Jordan Love was supposed to have. James Conner had the game that I expected Aaron Jones was going to have.

MATT HARMON: Ugh. Yeah.

LIZ LOZA: James Conner-- Chase Edmonds goes out in this game, and James Conner is like no problem. I am not just the mop-up duty, goal-line running back. In fact, I'm going to carry the ball 21 times for 96 yards, find the end zone twice. And then in the passing game-- here's the key. Ready? Nobody likes this stat. He converted all five of his looks for 77--

MATT HARMON: Yeah.

LIZ LOZA: --and another touch. That is efficiency. You can't call James Conner inefficient, at least in this one, against a 49ers crew, by the way, that, like, looked alive last week.

MATT HARMON: And this game too is exactly why I thought Conner has, like, a huge amount of upside. Like, to be clear, I didn't think it was going to come in the Colt McCoy game, but it was like James Conner has a history as a pass catcher too. You know, like, if Chase Edmonds was to ever get hurt like he did today, it's not as if they're just going to be like, OK, let's toss old-- you know, some other goofball running back out there. Like, no, it's just going to end up being like James Conner is an 80% snap player because he has a history as a pass catcher, and he can take that role from old-- you know, from Chase Edmonds if and when he does get hurt.

So I don't know. Like, I don't know what Edmonds's status is, but, like, if James Conner was to own this backfield all to himself, I think he'd be like a top-15 back rest of season because this offense is cooking.

LIZ LOZA: Yeah, and they get the Carolina Panthers, a squad that's fallen apart or has been falling apart, next week.

But we're burying the lede here, Matt. Like, why don't you just take your victory lap because I don't have to whisper Brandon Aiyuk's name anymore. We can say it out loud.

MATT HARMON: All the indicators were there that he was back last week, you know, running a route on 97% of the drop backs, team high in routes run overall, 25% target share. He had the 2-point conversion. You can tell I've got these, like, tattooed on my arm here.

This was a pretty big statement game for him too. He did lose a fumble on a rushing play but won a great pass in the end zone for a touchdown. Eight targets. Was right there with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and-- yeah. I think this is the-- look, the 49ers' offense was problematic in this game, obviously.

LIZ LOZA: It's interesting that they were problematic because if I told you that George Kittle coming back from injury put up a hundred-- over a hundred yards and scored and Aiyuk put up nearly 90 yards and scored and Deebo Samuel saw nine targets, you wouldn't think that the score was 17.

MATT HARMON: What I think has become clear with the 49ers-- and I'm just, like-- I am so sick of being, like, invested in this team in the way that I am. Like, George Kittle loses a fumble. I mentioned Aiyuk loses that fumble. And that was killer for them because they end up giving up points to the Colt McCoy-led Arizona Cardinals.

And that's what's become clear about this team is that they do not have, like, a margin for-- a big margin for error on offense because their defense is legitimately bad. Like, their secondary is bad. They are-- they give up explosive plays on the ground. Like, this is three weeks in a row. You know, Khalil Herbert rang them up, and Justin Fields obviously rang them up last week too and then Jonathan Taylor in that slop-fest game.

And those like-- their explosive run rate allowed has been ticking down every-- well, ticking in the negative direction every single week, and this was just another one. Like, James Conner goes crazy on them today.

Their defense is legitimately bad, and I think that was-- I think it's weirdly, like, promising for the 49ers' offense that, you know, it was a concentrated unit in the passing game between those three guys. That was kind of the hope if you were in on this team in the preseason that like, you know, the goofballs like Mohamed Sanu and Trent Sherfield and stuff weren't going to get a bunch of targets. It was just going to go through Kittle, Aiyuk, and Samuel. That was how it went today. Just the problem is the two turnovers really ended up killing them.