Amidst a five-game stretch where the 49ers play the Chiefs, Chargers, Packers and Rams, the most winnable game is this Sunday against the Cardinals. Arizona comes into San Francisco winless on the season, with rookie quarterback Josh Rosen making his second start. On the other sideline, quarterback C.J. Beathard suits up as the starter for the second straight week after Jimmy Garoppolo went down for the season.
Both teams are trying to find their footing after rough patches to start the season. Kyle Shanahan possesses the better roster and more experienced quarterback, so it’s time for the 49ers to go out and be the better team on Sunday. If they’re going to be successful on Sunday, here’s where San Francisco should start.
1. RB Matt Breida must have a season-high in rushing attempts
While 49ers’ running back Matt Breida is third in rushing yards in the NFL, he’s only attempted 11, 11, 10, nine rushes in the 49ers’ four games. What’s awaiting Breida and the 49ers’ rushing attack on Sunday? Oh, only the third-worst rushing defense in the NFL in the Cardinals. Arizona has given up 565 yards on the ground, just slightly ahead New England and Detroit.
Week 1 vs. Washington, running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 96 yards and one touchdown against Arizona. Last week, Seahawks’ running back Mike Davis rushed for 101 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, helping pave the way for a victory. So the 49ers aren’t going up against the ‘85 Bears on Sunday.
Other than Rams’ Todd Gurley II, Matt Breida’s likely the most talented running back that the Cardinals’ defense will be facing up till now. The second-year running back is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt on the ground, leading the NFL in that category.
If San Francisco can feed Breida the ball at least 15 times, then they’ll be able to move the ball, while keeping Rosen and the Cardinals’ offense — and the 49ers’ shaky defense — off the field. If Breida finishes the game with at least 100 rushing yards and 15 attempts, the chances of a 49ers’ victory is pretty high.
2. Cardinals’ WR Larry Fitzgerald needs to have a quiet afternoon
Despite various ailments, it looks like veteran wideout Larry Fitzgerald is going to suit up on Sunday, much to the disappointment of 49ers’ defenders. The Cardinals’ No. 1 receiver has absolutely torched San Francisco in years past.
Last season, Fitzgerald had 12 catches for 132 yards in one game, while he hauled in six catches, 81 yards and a touchdown in the other matchup. Two seasons ago, the Cardinals’ receiver had 19 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
Historically, Fitzgerald has been a thorn in the 49ers’ side and he has a chance to be a problem again. Rosen is known to be an accurate passer and nothing helps a young quarterback like a large target.
San Francisco is likely going to be without corner Richard Sherman, leaving either Ahkello Witherspoon, Jimmie Ward or Greg Mabin on duty. The trio of corners will need to slow down Fitzgerald, otherwise it could be a long afternoon for the 49ers’ defense.
3. 49ers need to get off the field on third downs
Well, duh Akash. Obviously, the 49ers’ defense needs to get stops on third downs and force the Cardinals’ offense off the field, this is mostly common sense. Let’s add some numbers to it, to spice it up.
Till this point in the season, Arizona’s offense has been the fourth-worst at converting third downs, only moving the chains 29 percent in a third-down situation. That’s only ahead of Dallas, Seattle and Buffalo.
On the flip side, the 49ers have been middle of the pack defending on third down. Their opponents are nearly converting 43 percent of the time — a number that’s not good enough on Sunday. They’re playing an offense that’s struggling on third down and they’re going to need to get off the field when they can.
San Francisco should — key word should — come away with the win on Sunday. They are the more talented team, playing at home and if they are to prove that this rebuild is on the right track, it starts Sunday.