San Francisco went 2-0 against Arizona last season. Let’s examine the division rival closer and see how the 49ers can keep their winning streak going against a surprisingly competitive Cardinals squad.
The Niners are expected to win this game by two touchdowns on DraftKings Sportsbook, with the total of the game sitting around 44. Will this be a sneaky high-scoring game?
SF O SKILL (QB/WR) VS. AZ SECONDARY
Even with Brandon Aiyuk out last week due to injury, the 49ers skill group had an impressive outing against the Giants, led by Deebo Samuel who grabbed six catches for 129 yards and a touchdown.
Aiyuk and Samuel didn’t put up enormous numbers against the Cardinals in 2022 as he had a combined 15 catches, 156 yards, two touchdowns in two games. But both of those contests were out of reach fairly quickly and the Niners relied on the running game early and often.
Marco Wilson returns as a starting cornerback for the Cards. In his single active game against San Francisco a year ago, he allowed only two catches on seven targets for 17 yards.
One of those receptions was a touchdown, back when Jimmy G was still under center. Opposite Wilson is rookie sixth-round pick Kei’Trel Clark (Louisville) who hasn’t given up a touchdown this season but was the victim of a nine-catch, 114 yards receiving outing last week guarding Dallas’ pass-catchers.
One of the best players on the Cardinals roster, safety Budda Baker, will be out for this game with a hamstring injury that has stranded him on IR. His running mate, Jalen Thompson, has been a consistent defender in his last two years as a starter in Arizona but has mostly moved into a nickel role this year.
The 49ers will find a lot of ways to attack the two replacement safeties, K’Von Wallace and Andre Chachere, who have both logged career high snaps in coverage already this season.
This will be Brock Purdy’s second start against Arizona. In their last contest, the rookie had only 20 attempts but threw for three scores. Through three contests, the Cardinals defense looks more improved from a year ago, but still not better than league average. PFF grades their coverage as the 21st best in the NFL so far this season.
SF O COMBO (RB/TE) vs. ARZ 2ND LEVEL DEFENDERS
Newcomer Kyzir White has been an immediate upgrade for the Cardinals' linebacker unit and notched a game-sealing interception on Dak Prescott in the end zone in their upset win over Dallas last week.
But the group as a whole has been depleted as Zaven Collins (who has been lining up more at Edge this season) and Krys Barnes left the Cowboys' victory with injuries and are currently questionable for week four. If they don’t play, 49ers fans can expect a big game from the RB and TE rooms as backup Josh Woods is currently the lowest graded player on the Arizona defense.
There’s no question the 49ers should have their way on the ground in this game. The Cardinals are allowing 134.7 rushing yards per game. Kyle Shanahan has shown a commitment to the running attack against Arizona in the past, totaling 169 and 159 yards in their last two contests.
SF O LINE vs. AZ D LINE
Arizona is surprisingly fifth in the league with 11 sacks this season. It’s an impressive start, especially considering they are one of only six teams that are blitzing less than 20% of the time and lack any true number one pass rusher. It’s a balanced rotation of edge players with Collins, Cameron Thomas, Dennis Gardeck and Victor Dimukeje seeing equal snaps.
The Cardinals are starting two veteran UDFAs on the interior, Jonathan Ledbetter and Kevin Strong, who are both on pace to log career-high snaps this season. Arizona’s pass rush win rate is 24th and run stop win rate is 29th overall this season. This should be a great game for the 49ers unheralded offensive line to get a boost of confidence after low-graded performances in the first three weeks of the season.
AZ O LINE vs. SF D LINE
It’s a blend of familiar faces and new talent on the Arizona offensive line. DJ Humphries and Will Hernandez return to cement an admittedly underrated left tackle-guard duo. Center Hjalte Froholdt is on his third team in the last three years. Right guard Elijah Wilkinson is on his fourth team in the last four years. They are both in the bottom 20 players in PFF pass block grade this season. Javon Hargrave should feast.
It’s obvious Arizona’s front office feels like they need to reset the roster and that was evident in their maneuvering in this past draft. Ultimately, the team drafted Ohio State tackle Paris Johnson Jr. sixth overall with the expectation he will be a stalwart protector of whoever is playing quarterback for the next decade. After some rumors about Johnson starting out at guard, the former Buckeye has experienced some growing pains at the early start of his career. It’ll be his matchup with Nick Bosa that could decide this rivalry for the foreseeable future.
AZ O COMBO vs. SF 2ND LEVEL DEFENDERS
The Cardinals have been much more efficient on offense than anyone had expected prior to the season. They currently sit eighth in offensive DVOA. Running back James Conner has been a big component to their hot start. He leads the league in rushes over 20 yards (4), is fourth in the league in rushing yards (266) while averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and is tied for fifth in rushing first downs (14). It doesn’t feel like Conner gets much praise, but I am sure Steve Wilks’ focus for stopping this offense begins with limiting the seven-year vet and the ground game.
Head Coach Jonathan Gannon announced Josh Dobbs as the starter merely two weeks after trading for the Browns quarterback. This was met with a lot of scrutiny, but the Arizona game plan has helped Dobbs play without much error through three weeks. However, the passing game has been far from explosive. Tight end Zach Ertz is tied for first on the team with 14 catches, but has averaged less than six yards per reception. This is a big advantage for San Francisco, as Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw won’t be challenged by this matchup in the passing game.
ARZ O SKILL vs. SF SECONDARY
As mentioned, Josh Dobbs is the Cardinals starting quarterback as Kyler Murray continues to rehab his knee injury on IR. Dobbs had less than 100 career dropbacks before this season and despite putting together back-to-back strong performances, the odds are stacked against him as he faces the number one graded defense in the NFL.
No team in the league has thrown the ball less than the Cardinals. As a result, their receiving core hasn’t seen a heavy volume of targets. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is the only wideout with more than 10 catches on the season, but he hasn’t had much space to work with the ball, only averaging 10.2 yards per reception.
If the Niners cornerbacks were looking for a chance to really have a chance to shadow opposing wide receivers, this week would be the opportunity. If I were a betting man, I would think Dobbs’ lack of turnovers comes to a crash against this secondary. Give me the over 0.5 interceptions for some easy money.