The San Francisco 49ers are set to face the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale on September 21, and then again at Levi's Stadium on December 28. We don't know how the two teams will look for that final game, but we might be getting a better idea of how the Cardinals might look for the September game. It is still early, but the Cardinals might be without defensive back Tyrann Mathieu or nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu for that first matchup.
The Cardinals have been all over the place with their assessment of Mathieu's potential return. Their GM suggested a Week 1 return, and Bruce Arians first said he might miss the first week of training camp. Arians the one who has now said his personal prognostication is October 1. Given thart Arians is not a doctor, I suppose we should also take that with a bit of a grain of salt. Both players have said they're ahead of schedule, but that also is not something we take as hard fact.
Mathieu and Ta'amu are both recovering from ACL injuries, and they are part of a sizable list of defensive departures the Cardinals must address by the start of the season. They recently lost linebacker Daryl Washington to a season-long suspension, and Karlos Dansby left town in free agency.
The Cardinals will get Mathieu and Ta'amu back at some point, and they will add rookie Deone Bucannon to the secondary. However, with the losses, and the unknown return dates for Mathieu and Ta'amu, Arizona's defense will be on the list of potential regression candidates.
The defense still has some solid talent, but it will be interesting to see how they come out of the gate. The NFC West will be among the toughest divisions in the NFL, and a slow start will put the Cardinals in a hole that will be hard to escape. They open at home against the Chargers, on the road against the Giants, and at home against the 49ers before hitting their bye week. All three of those games are winnable for this team, but with their defensive question marks, this could become a problem for them.