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Kyle Shanahan, Steve Wilks talk about Josh Rosen’s success in Week 4

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The 49ers pass defense needs to get in gear against the rookie.

The San Francisco 49ers host the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday, and that means their first look at rookie quarterback Josh Rosen. The Cardinals looked set to let Rosen sit behind Sam Bradford learning the ropes, but Bradford was so awful, he earned his first start last week against the Seattle Seahawks.

The Cardinals lost, but Rosen performed pretty well. He only completed 55 percent of his passes, but his completion percentage took a hit due to drops. PFF graded his passing near 90 (out of 100), and his adjusted completion percentage was 72 percent. If Phil Dawson doesn’t miss field goals of 45 and 50 yards, the Cardinals win this game. Of course, Seahawks kicker Sebastian Janikowski missed field goals of 52 and 38 yards, so we can flip that narrative as well.

The point being however, Josh Rosen is not the reason this team lost. And he presents a challenge to an inconsistent 49ers defense. They will likely be without Richard Sherman, but Adrian Colbert and Jaquiski Tartt appear on track to return.

On Wednesday, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks both got a chance to talk about Rosen. Shanahan met with 49ers media for his weekly Wednesday press conference. Shanahan offered up this scouting report on Rosen’s game tape.

“It was impressive. Similar to college. He’s a very good thrower. He made some very good throws in that game. They definitely, I believe, should have won that game. They had two big ones that were dropped, I think two touchdowns. It was impressive. So, as similar to college, we know we’re going against a good player. He definitely helps them.”

Wilks spoke with 49ers media for the weekly Wednesday opponent conference call. He talked about the team being close to taking the next step, and cited Rosen doing some “great things” to help the team improve.

“Well just, number one, just his accuracy with the ball. You can start with his leadership — nothing really seems to phase him, the guy is in complete control when he’s out there, does a great job commanding the huddle, running the offense, and really getting guys in the right position to be successful.”

A rookie quarterback is tough to sort out on a week-to-week basis, but there is one interesting note heading into this game. Last week, the Cardinals faced the Seahawks. This week, he gets the 49ers, which means he faces a similar defense in Robert Saleh’s scheme. There are plenty of differences, but the basic ground-level philosophy is similar. Wilks told 49ers media on Wednesday, “It’s always good when you start talking about a rookie quarterback being able to see some of the same looks.”

The 49ers have been very solid against the run for the most part, ranking ninth in DVOA. However, they rank 23rd against the pass, coming in part because of their poor pass rush — which ranks 24th in adjusted sack rate — and in part because of their atrocious third down metrics. They rank in the middle of the pack on third and medium success rate, but they rank 29th in third and long success rate, and 26th in third and short success rate. Third down has killed this defense with regularity, and until they find answers, this is not going to change.

A rookie quarterback can bring inconsistency, but Rosen appears like he might be turning into an upgrade over Sam Bradford. Robert Saleh does not bring a lot of blitzes, instead looking for his front four to get pressure. I wonder if the 49ers defensive coordinator tries to shake things up and confuse Rosen in his second career start. The chess match between Robert Saleh and Mike McCoy could make or break this game.