It’s been a little over two weeks since the San Francisco 49ers beat the Arizona Cardinals. Blake Murphy from Revenge of the Birds joins us to fill us in on what we can expect during Sunday’s matchup.
What has changed from Arizona’s offense in two weeks?
The biggest change the last two weeks was the explosive connection of Kyler Murray to Christian Kirk and the feeble play of David Johnson in his return. In a distant third has been the increased snaps and playing time for Andy Isabella, which is likely connected to the fact that the Cardinals have had 4.3 speedster Damiere Byrd as a healthy scratch the past two weeks and have been playing Trent Sherfield and Keesean Johnson over him.
However, last week against a porous Bucs defense, both had six targets for 0 catches and 0 yards. It’s possible that they are regressing, which has also led to more deep shots for Kirk on the outside as well as more time for Isabella playing either outside or in the slot.
However, he still isn’t seeing a ton of targets throughout the rotation. The bigger issue is that Arizona’s run game, while Chase Edmonds is out now, seems to be fully reliant on Kenyon Drake and Kyler Murray, with a big run on an RPO from Murray being what jumpstarted Arizona’s offensive efforts. Finally, Arizona’s likely to have RT Justin Murray back, which will allow Justin Pugh to move back inside to Left Guard rather than right tackle, which may help the interior pressure, although Pugh has seemingly outplayed Murray on the edge the last two weeks in terms of surrendering pressure.
How confident are you in Arizona’s defense knowing there isn’t Kittle to guard?
Kittle’s a big target who ran all over Arizona (and poor Budda Baker) and is the #1 receiver on the Niners, but there’s not a lot of confidence anywhere in the desert about the job that Joseph is doing. His approach of “bend but don’t break” led to multiple 3rd and long conversions for the Buccaneers last week, and in the most clutch points of needing to hold their opponent, he let the Bucs drive down for two game-leading touchdowns with multiple blown coverages and no pass rush. Stevie Wonder could be the offensive coordinator for an NFL team, and it wouldn’t matter against this passing defense; yards will happen. Add in a limited/hurt Patrick Peterson, and it might not matter if Emmanuel Sanders misses or not.
That said…as we saw against the Seahawks last week, this Niners team does have some vulnerability if they surrender pressure. I think that’s got a chance to be the difference in the game. While Arizona’s defense the last few weeks has needed the offense to play almost perfectly in order to compete or win games, that’s also contingent on the opposing offense consistently playing at a high level as well in the passing game, so it’s definitely a possibility to me that if the Niners skip over Arizona and look to the upcoming nationally televised Packers game, if Arizona can finally punch a team in the face to start with and avoid keeping off schedule they have a shot for the upset.
I won’t call it or say it will happen, but this is arguably the most vulnerable SF has looked all season coming into a game off a short week.
What is the Cardinal’s biggest advantage in this game?
Like above, the biggest advantage for Arizona is they’re coming in with a healthy offense overall, and the Niners are not, not to mention a missing Kwon Alexander for the season and 14 limited or not practicing players. Yikes.
Who is the X-Factor in this game?
The Niners need to force the Cardinals to keep their yardage down and get off the field on defense and capitalize on scoring drives knowing that Arizona’s bound to settle for a field goal or two. I think the X-factor comes down to Garoppolo being able to, with limited talent around him, stave off Cardinal efforts and make fewer mistakes than the rookie Kyler Murray. If the Niners can force Kyler to throw and get off schedule, apply pressure, Arizona has seen quite a few games turn quickly on them, such as the Panthers game.
My gut tells me that it’ll be close, but this is a series in which I give the Niners the advantage at home, given that Arizona’s defense has been unable to trust in any game this season minus the Giants game.