The San Francisco 49ers only lost four games during the 2019 season, three of them came against teams with a mobile quarterback, something the Niners will face when they play their 2020 NFL season opener against Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals.
The former No. 1 overall pick gave San Francisco’s defense fits during their two matchups last year. In their first meeting, Murray was able to extend plays with his feet, frustrating the 49ers pass rushers.
“They became a very explosive offense towards the second half of the year. A guy like him and from everything you read about and hear about from people around the league is he’s just got an unbelievable mindset and an unbelievable work ethic, Niners’ defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He’s got weapons all over the place on the offensive side of the ball, and his head coach is a pretty darn good play-caller. You expect the guy to make a jump, and so with Kyler, I do think we’re going to get his absolute best.”
Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury gives defenses a ton of different looks. The Cardinals will run a mix of screens, short passes, and attack both the inside and the outside of the defense, something Saleh says is the result of having Murray as their quarterback.
“Usually you look at running quarterbacks, and they’re not really good throwers. This kid, the more he played quarterback, the better he got. There’s no doubt he could sit in the pocket and be [Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB] Tom Brady if he wants to,” Saleh Said. “Not to put him on that level yet, but he can sit in the pocket and be an unbelievable pocket passer, or he can be a scrambler. He can be a runner; he can be whatever he wants. He’s a very, very talented quarterback, and his sky’s the limit, in my opinion.”
The 49ers’ vaunted pass rush had a difficult time containing Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson and Seattle Seahawks signal-caller Russel Wilson last season, something Saleh wanted to focus on knowing his unit will face Murray and Wilson four times a year combined.
“We had Lamar Jackson. You get Russell [Wilson] a couple of times a year. You just have an understanding of the speed, and you can’t simulate the speed that Kyler has on the football field and all the different things that they do schematically to kind of stress you with,” Saleh said. “You have to defend the entire field, and they do as good a job as anybody in football, making you do that. It’s a challenge and it takes reps to really understand the speed at which they play and the space that they create and the mindset that you have to play as an individual.”
San Francisco gave up 284 yards to the three quarterbacks combined over four games, and at times made the 49ers defense look average. Arizona has a ton of speed on offense and will look to spread the field out to give playmakers like Murray, Kenyan Drake and DeAndre Hopkins space to make big plays.
“Give them credit. They’ve got a good system. They’ve evolved as the course of the year went on and they’ve just got different blocking combinations, different gap schemes, different zone schemes, and then you add the element of the quarterback, Saleh said. “They just do a really good job. So, it’s a challenge every week in the run game, but no doubt with these guys, it’s definitely a challenge.”