The 49ers are 1-6 and have lost five-straight. They now travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals for the second time in four weeks after a 28-18 loss at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers committed five turnovers in that game and gave the Cardinals their first and only win on the season. It’s safe to say that this feels like a must-win for Kyle Shanahan’s squad.
Here are five players to watch when the 49ers battle the Cardinals on Sunday:
WR Dante Pettis
Pettis makes his anticipated return against the Cardinals after missing nearly four games due to a knee injury suffered during a punt return in the opening minutes of the 49ers’ Week 4 contest against the Los Angeles Chargers. In three games, the 49ers’ rookie reeled in three receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown while averaging 32-yards per reception. Pettis seemed like a big play waiting to happen during limited action.
Veteran receiver Pierre Garçon (shoulder/knee) was ruled out Saturday, increasing the likelihood we see plenty of Pettis against the Cardinals. The 49ers’ receivers have underwhelmed so far this season. Perhaps a healthy Pettis will add a new dynamic for struggling quarterback C.J. Beathard.
LB Reuben Foster
All eyes with be on the 49ers’ second-year linebacker when he takes the field Sunday. Foster was the topic of discussion this week after fighting through a shoulder injury that’s plagued him for weeks. Both Shanahan and coordinator Robert Saleh acknowledged the injury that Foster said won’t require surgery after undergoing an MRI.
Foster’s struggled so far this season, grading out as one of Pro Football Focus’ worst linebackers through seven games. It’s unclear if the shoulder is the sole cause for the massive drop in production, but it’s impact is evident on the field. We took a more in-depth look at Foster’s struggles here. Keep an eye on the 49ers’ second-round pick Sunday as he looks to regain his 2017 form.
DL Solomon Thomas
28 picks before the 49ers selected Foster at No. 31, they drafted Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas third-overall. So far, Thomas has underwhelmed in his limited role on the 49ers’ defensive front. Thomas’ success at Stanford was along the interior of the defensive line, but he's been relegated mostly to defensive end with the 49ers - until recently.
Thomas played more snaps along the interior of the 49ers’ defensive line against the Rams in Week 7 than he has in any other game this season. The results were a step in the right direction, receiving the third-highest game grade (77) of his career, per PFF. Thomas’ usage and alignment will be worth watching against the Cardinals.
QB C.J. Beathard
Beathard boosted his stock after an impressive Week 6 performance opposite Aaron Rodgers in the 49ers’ 32-30 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football. Unfortunately, Beathard followed that up with an abysmal afternoon against the Rams at Levi’s Stadium, completing 15 of 27 for 170 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and two fumbles. The 49ers’ 39-10 Week 7 loss to their NFC West opponent is currently the low point of the season.
Beathard’s worst game of the season prior to the Rams was against the Cardinals, also at Levi’s Stadium. He’ll have a chance to redeem himself as the 49ers head to Arizona for a rematch just three weeks later. Shanahan is already fielding questions as to when we may see the debut of backup quarterback Nick Mullens. Beathard must put together a respectable showing if he wants to maintain his leading role, and more importantly, give the 49ers a chance at their second win.
CB Richard Sherman
Sherman missed the 49ers’ Week 7 contest against the Rams with a calf injury. He’s remained questionable to play against the Cardinals all week, but he is expected to return to action on Sunday. Sherman’s calf injury has cost him three games so far this season.
Despite some missed time, Sherman has been everything the 49ers’ hoped for so far in 2018, essentially shutting down an entire side of the field for San Francisco’s secondary. His veteran presence is a welcome addition to a secondary that’s struggled with missed assignments. Sherman’s already said that if he plays Sunday, he’s unsure if he’d be able to go against the Raiders the following Thursday. His ability to maneuver on Sunday will be worth watching.