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49ers-Cardinals preview: 4 matchups to watch

The 49ers are a home underdog against the Cardinals in Week 5. There are a handful of interesting matchups that could swing this matchup.

The San Francisco 49ers face against the Arizona Cardinals in a Week 5 home contest. The game kicks off at 5:30 p.m. PT on CBS, and the 49ers are once again a home underdog, getting around three points from the Cardinals. Both teams are struggling, sitting at 1-3 and sharing last place in the NFC West.

There will be plenty to watch on both sides of the ball. I thought we’d pull up a few potentially key matchups for the game. Some of these are player vs. player, but given the team nature of football, these are often going to be position unit vs. position unit, or position unit vs. player. What other matchups will you be watching?

David Johnson, Cardinals offensive line vs. 49ers run defense

The 49ers run defense has suffered two notable losses this season. Ian Williams was lost to injured reserve before the season even started, and NaVorro Bowman was lost for the season to an Achilles injury this past weekend. With Drew Stanton getting the start in relief of Carson Palmer, it’s safe to say we’ll see a heavy dose of the run game. This matchup, in particular, will likely fall on Michael Wilhoite and Nick Bellore, expected to start at ILB. Maybe Bellore builds on a strong preseason, but it’s reasonable to be skeptical that the long-time special teamer will be stout against first team run games. The Cardinals offensive line ranks No. 5 in adjusted line yards gained, while the 49ers run defense ranks No. 27 in adjusted line yards allowed.

Cardinals receivers vs. 49ers cornerbacks

Drew Stanton is not a great quarterback, but he’ll get his opportunities. He has had some limited success over the years, including a performance against the 49ers in which he completed 18 of 33 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns. He’s got some great receiving options and they’ll take on a young 49ers secondary. Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown will likely start outside, with Jaron Brown and Michael Floyd getting plenty of playing time as well. Rashard Robinson is likely to get a second straight start, which means he will get plenty of opportunities against quality receivers. On the other side, Tramaine Brock needs a big game after an awful day against the Cowboys.

Jeremy Kerley vs. Cardinals cornerbacks

The 49ers use Jeremy Kerley as their slot receiver, and given their extensive use of three- and four-wide receiver sets, he sees a lot of playing time. He is the only receiver Blaine Gabbert has been able to connect with on a regular basis. The Cardinals lost Tyvon Branch to a groin injury, and he had regularly come off the bench as the team’s fifth defensive back. The Cardinals rank No. 23 in defending third and fourth wide receivers, far and away their worst ranking against various pass catchers. Torrey Smith has not been able to do much of anything, so any development in the pass game could revolve again around Kerley.

Blaine Gabbert vs. Cardinals DC James Bettcher

I suppose this is a fairly generic matchup, but once again, it comes down to the 49ers quarterback against whatever game plan the opponent throws out there. Gabbert can make big mistakes on his own, but what will the Cardinals throw out there against them. Gabbert is more than willing to take the short stuff, so do they play off and leave that small under first down cushion? The Cardinals defense is off to an inconsistent start, but the talent is there in the pass defense. Can Blaine Gabbert show us anything different this week?