Last season the 49ers were in a great spot heading into Week 9. After losing four straight games, they had come from behind to beat the Bears on the road in Chicago and were now headed home to take on their division rival Arizona Cardinals in the Bay Area.
Not only were they going to be in their own stadium taking on a familiar foe, but they were also going to be doing so against a Cardinals team without its starting quarterback and best skill position player as Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, both sat out with injuries.
This was shaping up to be the perfect way for the 49ers to continue their bounce back and get back to .500, right? WRONG.
To the surprise of everyone, and I mean everyone, the Cardinals came into Santa Clara with backup quarterback Colt McCoy. They put a beat down on the 49ers to a tune of a double-digit victory that they controlled the entire way essentially.
McCoy is now expected to be the starter tonight as Murray continues to deal with a hamstring injury, which brings everything from that Week 9 matchup last season back to the forefront of the minds of 49ers fans everywhere.
So what can the 49ers do to prevent another stunning defeat in a game they enter as 8.5-point favorites? For starters, being healthier than they were last year in their Week 9 matchup is already a leg up.
In that game last season, the 49ers were missing both of their starting safeties, which played a significant role in Arizona’s ability to throw short of the sticks and force the backup players on the field to make tackles in the open, field, which was something they struggled with.
This time around, the 49ers will not be without any frontline starters whose absences have not already been accounted for and adjusted while they’ve missed time. This sets the 49ers up much better to just make fundamentally sound plays, which was an area they lacked in that meeting last season.
Arizona was able to decimate the 49ers by getting the ball out quickly and allowing their players to make plays in space. The Cardinals threw for 282 yards in that game, with 194 of those yards coming after the catch.
Running back James Conner, in particular, was a nightmare, as Arizona utilized the screen game with him to combat the 49ers' pass rush’s ability to pin their ears back and get downhill. Conner finished the game with 81 yards on five receptions to go with two rushing touchdowns.
McCoy looked very comfortable operating in the short area of the field, completing 20 of his 22 passing attempts within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. However, this time around, the 49ers' defense has to be more diligent about forcing McCoy to hold the ball and throw downfield, something he only did a total of three times on his 25 passing attempts the last time these two teams met.
The Cardinals and McCoy will always present a challenge and should be respected as such, but this is a game the 49ers should handle, no excuses. The formula for victory is simple in theory, rally to the football and make tackles in the open field, and force McCoy to throw the ball downfield regularly.