The San Francisco 49ers are coming off their first loss of the season. Kyle Shanahan’s team dropped a heartbreaker, succumbing to a last-second field goal that gave the Seattle Seahawks the overtime win. The 49ers are still atop the NFC West, though, and a win against the Arizona Cardinals is essential to maintaining their lead.
Here are five players to watch in the 49ers’ third-straight divisional matchup:
Emmanuel Moseley or Ahkello Witherspoon? The competition for the starting role opposite Richard Sherman has reached a boiling point, which is great news for the 49ers. Witherspoon has missed the last seven weeks with a foot sprain but is now healthy and ready to return to action. Shanahan said Witherspoon would be given his starting role back, so long as he shows out in practice. In three games to start the season, the former third-rounder racked up five pass breakups, and an interception returned for a touchdown. In his absence, Moseley’s totaled five pass breakups and an interception of his own. Whoever starts against the Cardinals will need to perform well, knowing the player on the sideline is capable of stepping in on a moment’s notice.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Outside of the Week 7 Mud Bowl against Washington, Monday’s loss to the Seahawks was far-and-away Garoppolo’s worst performance of the season. Injuries to key playmakers, a porous offensive line, and unreliable wideouts didn’t help, but the 49ers quarterback struggled against Seattle’s lackluster defense. Garoppolo fumbled twice and threw one interception that could’ve been three or four. He’ll get a chance to redeem himself at home this week against the same Cardinals defense Garoppolo set career-highs against just two weeks ago.
LB Fred Warner
The 49ers were gashed by newcomer Kenyan Drake the last time they faced the Cardinals. The former Miami Dolphins running back racked up 110 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, adding four receptions on four targets for 53 yards. Warner is going to play a huge role in limited that type of productivity in their second meeting, no matter who is in the backfield. Warner was outstanding against the Seahawks on Monday night, totaling ten tackles, two sacks, one pass breakup, and a forced fumble. They need more of that on Sunday, along with rookie Dre Greenlaw.
WR Deebo Samuel
The 49ers were without star tight end George Kittle (knee, ankle) against the Seahawks. The offense also lost wideout Emmanuel Sanders (rib) in the first half. Samuel was the only player to step up in their place. The rookie receiver totaled eight catches on 11 targets for 112 yards against the Seahawks. Samuel showed a welcomed grit among a group of wideouts that have been mostly disappointing throughout the season. With Sanders’ injury putting his Week 11 status in question, the 49ers are going to be relying on Samuel to be the same player he was on Monday night.
WR Dante Pettis
Normally we’d avoid highlighting two players from the same position group, but it’s impossible not to list Pettis among the players to watch after how the week unfolded. Shanahan was clearly frustrated this week with the second-year receiver after another disappointing outing against the Seahawks that featured drops that’ve plagued Pettis this season.
“The more he doesn’t take advantage of his opportunities, the less opportunities he gets,” Shanahan said of Pettis this week.
If he’s going to redeem himself, it has to start now. Pettis is firmly in the proverbial doghouse, and only consistency and reliability will pull him out. Keep an eye out for a step in either direction for Pettis against the Cardinals.