The Arizona Cardinals were riding high off a three-game winning streak before running into a tough matchup against the Saints. New Orleans presented a difficult matchup for Arizona. San Francisco presents an even tougher matchup for the Cardinals once you start to dig more into Thursday night’s matchup. Here are four mismatches.
George Kittle vs. whoever is trying to guard him
The Cardinals have allowed a league-worst eight touchdowns to tight ends this season. Arizona is 32nd in DVOA against tight ends this season. They are allowing 89 yards per game, which is the second most. Arizona allows the third-most passes completed per game to tight ends, at 8.8.
The 49ers have targeted their stud tight end on just under 33% of the teams passes this season. This matchup features an unstoppable force going against one of the most moveable objects(the Cardinals pass defense against tight ends) in the league. If you’re Arizona, what do you do?
Arizona’s offensive line vs. San Francisco’s defensive line
The Cardinals offensive line is 29th in adjusted sack rate. Quarterback Kyler Murray has been responsible for 11 of the teams’ 21 sacks. Murray loves to run around, and more often than not, it has gone poorly for Arizona’s offense. The Cardinals have improved their pass blocking in 2019. The 49ers have done a complete 180 with their pass-rush. Add calling the 49ers pass-rush an “improvement” from 2018 to our running list of understatements of the year.
San Francisco is first in adjusted sack rate by nearly 3%. The defense gets pressure at a middling rate, but they get home. Again, the difference between the 49ers being an above-average team compared to being the dominant defense that they are is their ability to end drives with sacks. The defensive line has done it all season against a couple of very good offensive lines. Arizona is not a very good offensive line.
Kyle Shanahan vs. Vance Joseph
Shanahan hasn’t lost a matchup yet this season. The Cardinals don’t have a ton talent on defense, and it shows. Arizona has given up the fourth-most explosive plays defensively both in the run and the pass. The 49ers haven’t generated many big plays through the air this season, but they have the third most-explosive plays on the ground. Tevin Coleman may not have the success he had against the Panthers, but it probably won’t be far off. Carolina was thrown off by misdirection. With Arizona, you can run right at them. The Cardinals are 22nd in adjusted line yards on defense. On average, running backs aren’t being challenged for 4.52 yards. Arizona is giving up 8.62 yards when offenses run to the right end. That’s last in the league by nearly two full yards. Maybe Coleman will have a similar week.
Thoughts on the game
All signs point to a 49ers blowout, which will have many fans worried this would be a close game. The Cardinals have beaten San Francisco eight times in a row. It’s a short week. It’s also a divisional game. This has all the makings of a “trap” game ahead of a showdown against Seattle.
Football is a game of matchups. Upsets happen when a team isn’t prepared that night, or there’s a matchup where the underdog can take advantage of. We haven’t seen a game since the opener where the 49ers didn’t look prepared. If you’re thinking the Steelers game, every team in the NFL has a funky game where wild turnovers happen. The Cardinals present challenges, but the streak ends Thursday night.