The San Francisco 49ers defense faces a significant challenge this week. They face an Arizona Cardinals offense led by a strong rushing attack under David Johnson. More importantly, they face this ground game without NaVorro Bowman or DeForest Buckner. And of course, previously injured nose tackle Ian Williams will be absent as well.
The loss of Bowman is a huge loss for a linebacking corps that already lost Ray-Ray Armstrong. While Armstrong was better as a coverage guy, Bowman’s all-around game was a key cog. The team is likely going to roll out Michael Wilhoite and Nick Bellore at ILB. Gerald Hodges could get some work as well, but odds are pretty good it will be Wilhoite and Bellore.
Bellore actually put together a really impressive preseason, showing up all over the place against both the run and the pass. The problem is that often happened after reserves had entered the game. I don’t doubt that Bellore will give the proverbial 110 percent, and be racing all over the field. However, I am worried that he will be easily overwhelmed by superior blockers.
The 49ers enter this game struggling in a variety of run defense metrics. They are giving up 4.3 yards per carry, which is tenth worst in the NFL. Football Outsiders ranks their defensive line No. 27 in adjusted line yards. And now, they face David Johnson averaging 4.7 yards per carry thus far.
Drew Stanton is starting for the Cardinals. He has some great weapons at wide receiver, to go along with Johnson out of the backfield. I find myself wondering, how will they attack this 49ers defense? Will we see more of Eric Reid, Antoine Bethea, and/or Jaquiski Tartt into the box? I think we see the Cardinals run the ball a lot, but the 49ers have to be careful in what they leave open for Drew Stanton. He’s not a particularly good quarterback, but he’s a solid enough plug-and-play for Arizona that he could still hurt the 49ers.
The 49ers defensive game plan and Cardinals counter will be a big thing to track on this game.