Arizona Cardinals versus San Francisco 49ers: NFL Week 4 Preview
Divisional games are always tough in the National Football League. There is an element of familiarity between both coaches and players which eliminates scheming surprises. The Arizona Cardinals are coming off a frustrating defeat on Monday night and welcome the San Francisco 49ers to the University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday. The 49ers enter winless but with scrappy and tough showings against the Seahawks and Rams, are not to be underestimated. The Cardinals are looking to regroup and get some footing in the division. Who wins this matchup between familiar foes? Here are three keys to victory if the Cardinals want to reclaim their spot in the NFC West.
Bradford ruled out for third straight week
Get the Run Game Going
The Cardinals have struggled all season with getting the run game going. The loss of David Johnson has put the offense behind the eight ball and put pressure on quarterback Carson Palmer. Against the Colts it was Kerwynn Williams who got the starting nod. Last week against Dallas it was Chris Johnson who got the chance. This week may see the once-forgotten Andre Ellington get the starting role against the 49ers. Ellington has battled through injuries for most of his five-year career. Boosting the run game is the likely return of left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Mike Iupati. Both linemen have missed the last two weeks due to injury.
The San Francisco defense is entering Sunday’s game with 10 days of rest. They struggled against the Rams on Thursday night football but that may have been more a product of a quick turnaround than lack of ability. The 49ers are a young and talented defense who swarm to the football and focus on stopping the run first. The defensive line features three first round picks from the last three drafts, Solomon Thomas, DeForest Buckner, and Arik Armstead. The key to the run game for Arizona will be to control those three players. Thomas is slated to make his first start of the season but has shown flashes of being a top five pick this past draft. The three are all athletic, strong, and have high motors. The defense is missing rookie linebacker Reuben Foster due to an ankle injury. His speed and natural instincts will be a big hole to fill for the 49ers, one the Cardinals will look to exploit. The run game needs to find a way to get going; if not it could be a feeding frenzy for the 49ers’ pass rush.
Protect Carson Palmer
Against the Rams, the San Francisco pass rush struggled to put consistent pressure. As mentioned earlier, this was likely due to the five-day turnaround after a tough game in Seattle. The 49ers’ pass rush was much better in Seattle against a line that continues to struggle in pass protection. So far this season, the Cardinals offensive line has not fared much better than Seattle’s. In their loss against the Cowboys, the interior of the line struggled against the athleticism of Dallas’ defensive tackles. Center A.Q. Shipley was beat a few times as was right guard Evan Boehm. Thomas and Buckner will need to be kept under control. The duo has the speed and power to cause problems.
The best pass rushers for the 49ers are Aaron Lynch and Elvis Dumervil. Both men are quick off the ball and will pose problems for the returning Humphries and right tackle Jared Veldheer. Veldheer has struggled this season in pass protection, often being beaten with speed on the outside. Look for the 49ers to overload that side of the line to take advantage. The Cardinals will need to hit quick passes in the slot to offset any blitzes as well as limit the need for extended pass blocking. The Cardinals are going to need an explosive passing game to win on Sunday. This only happens if the line can hold up.
Contain Carlos Hyde
San Francisco running back Carlos Hyde is in the top three for rushing yards this season with 253 yards on 49 carries. He went over 100 yards against the Seattle defense and nearly did it again against the Rams, even while missing parts of the first half due to injury. Hyde is a bruising runner who enjoys contact and is difficult to bring down with just one defender. The former Ohio State Buckeye has averaged a bit more than three yards after contact. He may not have breakaway speed, but he is fast enough to hit the defense with big runs like he did against Seattle.
The defense will need to sell out to stop Hyde and the rushing attack. Nose tackle Corey Peters will be key in clogging the middle and slowing down the zone blocking run scheme. The weakest part of the offensive line for San Francisco has been their guard position. Any type of penetration must be under control as getting out of position against zone runs can mean deadly cutbacks and long gains. Outside linebackers Markus Golden and Chandler Jones will need to set the edge and funnel everything inside for the rest of the defense to swarm. It will be tough as left tackle Joe Staley has been ranked by Pro Football Focus as the best left tackle so far in 2017. Trent Brown is on the right side and is a mammoth tackle who can do damage against smaller defenders. If the Cardinals can keep the 49ers behind the chains and make them one-dimensional, quarterback Brian Hoyer has made plenty mistakes this season and will likely make more.
The 49ers have not played since September 21st. The Cardinals are on a short week. It will be another tough game for the Cardinals and one where the defense will need to pick up the offense as much as possible. The Cardinals have the better team on paper. Cardinals 23-17 final score.