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49ers 2019 opponent preview: Arizona Cardinals

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It’s time to start scouting the 49ers opponents for 2019. Today it’s the Arizona Cardinals

If there was anything more frustrating in 2018, it was the San Francisco 49ers’ inability to close the Arizona Cardinals out. Even without Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers were a much better team, or at least that’s what we thought. The problem was the 49ers couldn’t hold a lead if their lives depended on it, let alone finish a game with one.

The away game in Arizona had to be the worst of the two. That one the 49ers blew with 34 seconds left. A lead blown to Josh Rosen and Christian Kirk of all things.

Losing to the Cardinals is even more infuriating when you realize where they picked in the 2018 NFL Draft. First. They got the first pick, yet they managed to beat the 49ers twice. How’s that feel everyone?

The 49ers were some of the few highlights to the Cardinals. The only other win came against the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay. The win was so strong it cost Packers coach Mike McCarthy his job.

The win total was so bad it cost head coach Steve Wilks his. Three wins were not enough for a first-year head coach. Was it all on Wilks? His roster was below average and he was saddled with a rookie quarterback who had no offensive line. That offensive line also didn’t help their running back David Johnson who has proven he can play.

If you want some numbers, here you go; the Cardinals O-line gave up 52 sacks and 109 QB hits. Their running game is also ranked dead last in yards with 1,342 yards.

Back to Wilks, as a defensive minded coach, his defense wasn’t making any top-10s. His defense wasn’t even making it into the top half of the league. They were in the back 20s in several categories. One of the harshest is having the fifth-most first downs allowed. There is a silver lining, they allowed the third-fewest yardages by penalties. So bonehead moves didn’t cost them. Outside of that, there’s just nothing special about the defense.

Offensively, the Cardinals are worse. They have the least yards for the season (3865), the least points (225), and the second least offensive plays ran (902). It was the worst offense in football any way you look at it. Yet...they beat the 49ers. Le sigh.

We can argue whether it was fair to fire Wilks, but those numbers get anyone fired.

So in is Kliff Kingsbury, and the Cardinals gave him a shiny new quarterback to run this offense to boot. Wilks is out and General Manager Steve Keim is looking over his shoulder because if this doesn’t work, he’s going to be going out the door with everyone else.

Draft picks

Round 1: Kyler Murray (QB)
Round 2: Byron Murphy (CB)
Round 2: Andy Isabella (WR)
Round 3: Zach Allen (DE)
Round 4: Hakeem Butler (WR)
Round 5: Deionte Thompson (S)
Round 6: KeeSean Johnson (WR)
Round 6: Lamont Gaillard (C)
Round 7: Joshua Miles (OT)
Round 7: Michael Dogbe (DE)
Round 7: Caleb Wilson (TE)

Notable free agent acquisitions

Jordan Hicks (LB)
Robert Alford (CB)
J.R. Sweezy (G)
Terrell Suggs (LB)
Charles Clay (TE)

For the first time since the 1980s, an NFL team has picked back to back quarterbacks in the top-10. The thing is, the Murray pick makes sense from a coaching perspective. While it makes sense, the Cardinals need to be prepared to have a rough season. Kingsbury and Steve Keim both have mortgaged their jobs on this pick since they had Josh Rosen jettisoned after one sub-par season (one that wasn’t on his shoulders). In two seasons, they better see improvement or both of them may be looking for jobs.

That aforementioned trade got the Cardinals a late second and a 2020 fifth rounder. Wow. It’s surprising that Rosen couldn’t get anything better. I do like Byron Murphy and hoped the 49ers may find a way to get him (though not disappointed given the unproven, but capable group they have). Not too sure about Andy Isabella as a wide receiver. Some are high on him, I just don’t see it. It’s not a bad pick, he’s just not a wide receiver I’d prefer. Zach Allen needs development before he can help the defensive line out.

I do like Hakeem Butler. He needs work on route running, but this was a guy I thought the 49ers could have utilized in the redzone to make fits. Jalen Hurd could prove to be a better option, but Butler is going to cause issues for the 49ers defense. Deionte Thompson was a steal and should help things with that defense.

All in all, there’s a lot of potential with this boatload of picks. The Cardinals are a small step above the 2017 49ers, meaning they are overhauling everything. The difference is Keim has been through a few coaching regimes, so they won’t have the patience that Jed York has with the 49ers and John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan. Especially after that one and done Wilks firing.

The matchups

As unproven as the 49ers are, you want to say “They should beat the Cardinals.” Every time I say that, however, I get burned with last-minute touchdowns, busted coverage, bad tackling, and Larry Fitzgerald

On paper, the 49ers are better than this. Murray is an up-and-comer with the potential to be a huge problem with the 49ers—and the NFC West by extension.

Just not this year. This isn’t a shared series. If the 49ers have this improvement we keep seeing and hearing about, they shouldn’t just be able to beat the Cardinals, but there should be a game where they beat the Cardinals with little trouble. The Cardinals have had a decent draft, but that roster is young and the team still stinks, that’s why they picked first in the draft. They are where the 49ers were in 2017. The difference is the front office in Arizona has much less patience.

Again, on paper, the 49ers shouldn’t have trouble with either of these games. But there is that wide receiver named Larry Fitzgerald, and until proven otherwise the Cardinals own the 49ers no matter what they do.

Do you think the 49ers can get it done?