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Can the 49ers keep it up offensively, or was the Bears game a mirage?

Taking a look at how the 49ers and Cardinals have done since Week 5

San Francisco 49ers v Chicago Bears Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked if it was a big challenge not knowing the status of Cardinals QB Kyler Murray: “Not much, because we’re preparing like he’s going to play, so we’re not looking at it any differently. If he doesn’t, we’ll adjust to that.”

Linebacker Fred Warner added the defense would spend “a little bit” of time getting familiar with Arizona’s backup QB Colt McCoy.

On Wednesday, Arizona placed A.J. Green and TE Demetrius Harris on the Covid list. As a result, both players' availability for Sunday is in serious doubt. Here’s a look at the Cardinals' practice report from Wednesday, as they were without DeAndre Hopkins as well:

Needless to say, Arizona won’t be at full strength Sunday, even if Kyler is active. So let’s look at some of the numbers from the past few games for each team.

The line over at DraftKings Sportsbook now favors the 49ers by two points. To me, that’s telling us Murray, Hopkins, and Green will all be inactive.

Since we’re in Week 9, those early-season numbers don’t tell the story of who teams are today. So, I’ll only include numbers from Week 5 and on.

Arizona’s offense is seventh in EPA per play and success rate since Week 5. They are first in dropback success rate and 23rd in rushing success rate. The 49ers' goal should be to make Murray and the offense one-dimensional. A hobbled Murray means he cannot run around for five seconds and extend plays.

If Murray can’t run and the Cardinals are without their top threats on the outside, it would make sense for defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans to be even more aggressive than he usually is on obvious passing downs. Arizona’s offensive line paired with Kyler running into sacks has led to them being 16th in adjusted sack rate.

During the same stretch, the Niners' defense has fallen victim to the big play. They’re 18th in EPA per play but fifth in success rate. So that tells you on a down-to-down basis, the 49ers' defense has been lights out. But, when you factor in Justin Fields running, the Colts pass interference calls, etc., you see how there’s such a disparity in the number.

Big plays are what the Cardinals depend on. Kliff Kingsbury rolls the ball out there and tells Kyler to go make a play. Since Week 5, Arizona has had the seventh-most explosive passing plays. The 49ers have given up the third-fewest passing plays of 20 yards or more during that same span. But, again, that total doesn’t include pass interferences.

Last week fell on the defensive line, and Nick Bosa came through. This week, much the first matchup, will fall on the secondary if Murray is getting the ball out of his hands quickly. There’s a fine line between the cornerbacks being cognizant of penalties and giving too much space to receivers underneath for easy throws.

It’ll be interesting to see how Kingsbury goes after a Niners defense that will start a new safety in Tavon Wilson.

Can the 49ers keep it up?

If you watch the first half against the Lions and the second halves of the Packers and Bears game, you’d think the 49ers' offense was among the best in the league. Then, you watch a few other halves and wonder how they’ve won a game.

Arizona is a step up in class defensively. Since Week 5, they’re first in EPA per play (by a wide margin) and first in success rate by three percentage points. Opposing offenses haven’t mustered much of anything against the Cardinals during the past month.

For context, they saw Trey Lance in his first start, a Browns offense that’s been out of sorts, the Texans, and a short-handed Packers offense. Elijah Mitchell should continue to shine on the ground as Arizona has allowed the fifth-most runs over 15 yards since Week 5.

The numbers aren’t kind to San Francisco during the past month as they are 24th in EPA per play and 27th in offensive success rate. There’s no team with a lower dropback success rate than the 49ers since Week 5.

Can Jimmy Garoppolo replicate last week’s performance where he was in control, pushed the ball down the field, and extended plays with his legs? He’s the key to this game. We haven’t said a peep about Mike McGlinchey in quite a while.

The 49ers are 12th in rushing EPA, despite an inconsistent passing attack. Brandon Aiyuk emerging from the doghouse could give the offense a significant boost — especially if Deebo Samuel isn’t 100%. On Wednesday, Shanahan said this about Samuel: “No, he couldn’t go today. Hopefully, he’ll be able to go tomorrow. I’d be surprised if he can’t go by Sunday, but he definitely can’t go today.”

Garoppolo said George Kittle had “fresh legs” during practice Wednesday. Kittle didn’t play against Arizona the first time these teams met. The Cardinals will get a different version of Aiyuk as well as one of the best tight ends in the NFL.

Let’s hope last week instilled confidence in the entire offense, and Garoppolo plays the game as if he has 100 friends and family in person watching him again as he did in Chicago — where Jimmy played his best game of the season.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.