The 2017 San Francisco 49ers have lost defensive battles and are outclassed in shootouts, a case of the latter most recently displayed in their Thursday night, 39-41 loss to the Rams. If the 49ers are to win at all this season, they are going to have to play effectively in all three phases of the game.
This week, the Niners again seek their first win of the season when they travel to the desert to face the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals are looking to bounce back after a 23-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The Cardinals have not been able to keep QB Carson Palmer off the ground. Palmer was sacked 6 times against the Cowboys, and was hit much more than that.
The offensive focal point for the Cardinals with RB David Johnson mending from surgery on a dislocated wrist is future Hall of Famer WR Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald carved up the Dallas secondary for 149 yards on 13 catches.
Arizona was able to contain Dallas’ run game for much of the contest, and look to make the 49ers one dimensional in their upcoming tilt.
The division rivals square off Sunday at the University of Phoenix Stadium at 1:05 p.m. PT and can be watched on the FOX Network.
Essentials to win the game
The Niners have to play a complete game. In the first two weeks, they had two solid defensive showings, only to be let down by the offense. Against the Rams, the San Francisco offense showed up and performed admirably, but the defensive struggles were glaring. 49er opponents are 23 of 44 on 3rd down. Their inability of the defense to get off the field is alarming and disheartening.
If the Niners are to win, they have to get to and sack Carson Palmer. If they are able to exploit the pass protection of a porous Arizona offensive line, and manage to get off the field on 3rd downs, the 49ers can etch out their first win.
Navarro Bowman is going to have to prove that he is capable of being the Navarro Bowman of old, and not an old Navarro Bowman. With David Johnson injured, Bowman will have to contain Arizona RB Chris Johnson, whose speed has diminished.
A tall task lies ahead for San Francisco nickel cornerback K’wuan Williams. Williams will be responsible for limiting the damage that Larry Fitzgerald enacts on the 49er secondary. Dontae Johnson and Rashard Robinson need to limit the shock plays the Cardinals will seek if the Niners are to win.
Possible downfalls to avoid
If San Francisco allows the Cardinals to establish the run, Arizona will capitalize on it with play action passing when the 49ers commit extra defenders to the run game. Arizona head coach, Bruce Arians, will look to get 1-on-1 matchups with his running backs against LBs Navarro Bowman and Ray Ray Armstrong.
For three consecutive weeks, Brian Hoyer has afforded the opposing team with a short field with turnovers. If the Niners are to be successful, Hoyer has to protect the ball. Any combination of miscues, whether turnovers or blown coverages by the defense or special teams that afford Arizona a short field — it’s game over.
This game rests on the diminutive shoulders of corner K’wuan Williams. At 5’9” Williams will have to have a Goliath sized task of corralling 6’3” Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has had a resurgence and extended his HOF career by moving to the slot. If Fitzgerald is able to pad his stats against Williams, the Cardinals will win. If the Niners opt to play more zone coverage against the Cardinals to limit Fitzgerald, Ray Ray Armstrong and Navarro Bowman will need to be more sound in coverage if San Francisco is to win.
Arizona TE Jermaine Gresham looked stout against Dallas. Gresham hauled in 5 catches for 47 yards, but had a few catches called back due to penalties. Gresham will be leaned on heavily against San Francisco. Expect Arizona to create matchups throughout the day that place him in man-to-man situations against 49er linebackers. Armstrong struggles in coverage and Bowman’s skill has been warped by injuries. Containing Gresham will be a daunting task for the Niners defense.
The 49ers lack the requisite pass rush to cause trouble for the Cardinals. Carson Palmer will show his veteran savvy in the pocket and find Larry Fitzgerald for chunk plays throughout the day. JJ Nelson and Jaron Brown will consistently beat Dontae Johnson and Rashard Robinson down the field for huge gains. The defense will play better, but Arizona will be able to sustain drives due to their ability to convert on 3rd down.
The Cardinals will commit to stopping the run and force Brian Hoyer to beat them. Hoyer again will fail to see the linebackers dropping into coverage and force the ball into coverage and throw two picks on the day. San Francisco WRs Aldrick Robinson and Trent Taylor and TE Geroge Kittle will have decent outings.
The Cardinals are a 7 point favorite. Last week, the 49ers beat the spread against the Rams, and currently are 2-1 against the spread. Expect the Niners to beat the spread, but fall to 0-4 on the year.
The Cardinals will beat the Niners in a 24-21 game.