This week it’s another divisional rival in the form of the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers head down to the desert to continue a rivalry that has been recently one sided with the Cardinals winning the last three. Starting 0-3 has not been ideal but this is a matchup the 49ers coaching staff will see as winnable.
The Cardinals are coming off a short week where they suffered defeat to the Dallas Cowboys and there were signs in the game to make Robert Saleh and his defense salivate. The Cowboys’ defensive end Demarcus Lawrence sacked Carson Palmer three times and the Cowboys used just three defensive linemen at times to collapse the pocket, a bad sign for any team. The 49ers could well look to echo that three man rush on occasion, with defensive standout DeForest Buckner looking to create maximum disruption whilst having more players in coverage to compensate for QB Carson Palmer’s knowledge of the offense. Buckner has been excellent in every contest so far and I expect him to make his mark here against former 49er Mike Iupati who has not had the best of times in Glendale. Buckner is one of the best young Defensive linemen around and is undoubtedly eager to sack the quarterback and I expect him to get it right in this game.
The three man rush could also be used due to the 49ers’ struggles the last time they played. In Thursday night’s matchup vs the Rams, the 49ers struggled to sack Jared Goff and they were unable to pressure him enough in key moments like 3rd downs. This week should provide them with an opportunity to bounce back, going up against a weak Cardinals offensive line. Jared Veldheer the former left tackle is now on the right side and has had a poor start to the year. He will be facing Arik Armstead, whose sheer power and speed will be another formidable test for a tackle who was manhandled by Lawrence almost every snap on Monday night. The Cardinals offensive line as a unit gave up six sacks and Veldheer one of the main culprits has given up two sacks fifteen hurries and two hits in three games this season per Pro Football Focus.
We’re still waiting for Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to provide us with a few more blitzes to help out this defense. Saleh did use a safety blitz which caused an incompletion late in the fourth quarter against the Rams, hopefully there’s a few more to come.At times, 49ers’ players who were originally designated as man coverage players have come on blitzes when their assignment stayed in to block, and delayed pressure like this from Jaquiski Tartt in particular has pressured quarterbacks. I think this week might be a good week for him to try more blitzes however going up against a suspect offensive line with an aging pocket passer in Carson Palmer. Palmer is no major threat to run and his mobility within the pocket itself has been poor this year. Add that to the fact that the Cardinals are without elite running back David Johnson through injury, I expect the 49er to Blitz a few times and the defensive front to get back to stuffing the run here.
The Cardinals will, as is their way, look to air it out again after they threw it forty-eight times against Dallas. The 49er secondary was picked on repeatedly by Jared Goff and Sammy Watkins and this could be another challenging game for the 49ers’ corners. Jaron Brown, Larry Fitzgerald and J.J Nelson will provide a test as “Fitz” has always done vs the 49ers. It will be interesting to see if the coaching staff keeps K’waun Williams in the slot vs Fitzgerald or tasks the safety Tartt who is bigger and more physical to keep the veteran in check. Will we see some big nickel defenses as a result or perhaps even see the 49ers stay in base against 3 receiver sets due to Fitzgerald’s blocking capabilities out of the slot?
The 49ers defense also needs to get turnovers and I’m hopeful and optimistic that Jimmy Ward will have opportunities vs this deep passing attack of Bruce Arians who is known for his aggressive play calling. Germaine Gresham is the Cardinals main Tight end and he should not frighten this defense that has handled Gregg Olsen and Jimmy Graham reasonably well over the pass few weeks.
The hunger of this defense and the entire team needs to come to the forefront on Sunday, it’s time to get that win. There’s two sides to this coin though, as I touched on earlier the 49ers secondary will be matched up against Larry Fitzgerald a fourteen year veteran and future Hall of Famer who has torched the 49ers in previous contests throughout his career. Fitzgerald who moved ahead of Marvin Harrison in all time receiving yards now does his damage in the slot and has size, hands, toughness and route running ability. When combined together, you get a matchup nightmare to slot corners. Fitz is still performing at a high level, he caught thirteen passes for one hundred and forty-nine yards on Monday night. He has always been a willing blocker and I expect them to utilize him in the screen game vs the 49ers aggressive Defensive line.
He’ll be complemented by Jaron Brown and J.J Nelson who’ll test the 49ers cornerbacks deep. When this offense click it’s a beautiful thing to behold, the relentless pressure placed of defensive backs by Bruce Arians scheme. He looks to exploit defensive backs with his speedy receivers stretching the field, usually drawing big penalties or huge pass plays. They will miss David Johnson who provides Carson Palmer with a check down option and his ability to win matchups with defensive backs and linebackers was a valuable asset to this offense.
It is worth noting that Palmer started well against the Cowboys, moving well in the pocket hitting his targets and getting an early touch down. Palmer is a different Quarterback when pressured though; his offensive line doesn’t look good and there’s no apparent help on the way. Arians who normally ties his run game and deep passing attack together has to rely on veteran Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington to carry the ground game against a front that will be eager to sack their Quarterback and stop the run after struggling with Todd Gurley. The 49ers can make the Cardinals one dimensional and their passing attack is not as threatening as it has been in past years. Regardless however, it is a threat that must be respected.
This game has a few storylines with many former 49ers on the opposing sidelines namely Blaine Garbbert, Andy Lee, Mike Iupati and Phil Dawson let’s hope this is not a happy reunion for them. GoNiners!
Image courtesy of 49ers.com