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Three keys to a 49ers’ victory against the Cardinals

What will San Francisco need to do on Sunday to avoid their sixth straight loss?

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco is heading to Phoenix, AR in search of their second win of the season, looking to defeat rookie quarterback Josh Rosen and the Cardinals. Just a few weeks ago, the Cardinals visited Levi’s Stadium, but were able to escape with a victory, after quarterback C.J. Beathard and the 49ers’ offense committed five turnovers.

Kyle Shanahan’s offense out-played Arizona’s defense in all facets of the game, racking up nearly 450 yards of offense and 33 first downs — but five giveaways were the difference in the game. The 49ers will seek revenge on Sunday and here are three keys that will help them overcome Arizona.

1. Protect, protect, protect

Turnover issues have plagued the 49ers all season long, giving opponents’ 18 extra possessions in 2018. A couple of weeks ago, San Francisco gifted Arizona five extra cracks on offense and that was the difference in the ball game.

Two Beathard interceptions, two Beathard fumbles and a Mostert fumble were all game-changing plays against the Cardinals the first time around. The 49ers can’t afford to be that careless with the ball, especially on the road.

Shanahan and his offense have had ball protection issues all year, but if they’re to find their second win of the season, they’ll need to hold onto the football on Sunday.

2. Limit running back David Johnson’s effectiveness

With a rookie quarterback manning the Cardinals’ offense, all the defensive attention has been focused on running back David Johnson. As a result, Johnson’s numbers have slipped this season, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry, down from his career average of 4.1 yards per carry.

In the Cardinals’ first meeting against the 49ers, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh created a scheme to limit Johnson to 55 yards on 18 carries. The box score may show a pair of touchdowns for Johnson, but there were a lot of goal line carries that gave way for that.

San Francisco’s defense should play the same run defense against Johnson and force Rosen to beat them. If they’re going to lose on Sunday, it certainly shouldn’t come at the hands of the superstar running back.

3. Unleash running back Raheem Mostert’s speed on the Cardinals’ defense

With running back Matt Breida listed as questionable and still bothered by injuries, Shanahan and the 49ers have turned to third-string running back Raheem Mostert for backfield relief.

Mostert has delivered, rushing for 59 and 87 yards, against the Rams and Packers, respectively. The 26-year old has used his quick burst and speed to attack opposing rushing defenses and find gaping holes.

The Cardinals come into Sunday with the 32nd-ranked run defense in terms of yards, so the 49ers should let Breida and Mostert be the focus of the offense, not Beathard. In their first meeting, Beathard attempted 54 passes, while the running backs only rushed 34 times. Shanahan should avoid that imbalance and utilize Mostert to find holes in the Swiss-cheese like Cardinals’ rushing defense.