The Arizona Cardinals look for their second win of the season on Sunday. They face the San Francisco 49ers, the team responsible for the Cardinals’ only other victory in 2018. Arizona will be happy to see the football field as the team has gone through internal battle after battle following last week’s debacle on Thursday night. Can the new look offense put points on the board? Will Arizona get their second victory of the season? Today we take a look at three storylines to watch on Sunday’s divisional matchup against the 49ers.
Let’s Get Offensive
After the 45-10 loss at home to the Broncos, Arizona fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and promoted quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich to head the offense. Leftwich played nine seasons in the NFL for the Jaguars, Steelers, Falcons, and Buccaneers. He’s spent the past two season on the Arizona coaching staff. Arizona’s offense has struggled in 2018, currently ranked 31st in total offense and points scored. However, the Cardinals offense has been helped by a defensive touchdown and more than a few turnovers leading to short fields.
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Arizona needs to do better than the last time they faced off against the 49ers. A long touchdown throw opened the scoring for the Cardinals, but nothing else happened offensively. San Francisco’s defense has struggled against the pass. The 49ers are also without starting safety Adrian Colbert who was recently placed on the injured reserve list with an ankle injury. Arizona needs to find a balance on offense with getting running back David Johnson going on the ground and letting quarterback Josh Rosen play faster. Leftwich has talked about simplifying the game plan to help with the offensive execution. On Sunday the Cardinals need to show some progress or risk losing a very winnable game.
A Repeat Performance on Defense?
The last time these two teams faced off, Arizona forced five turnovers. Al Holcomb’s bunch had two interceptions and recovered three fumbles against the 49ers. Without the turnovers the Cardinals would have likely lost on the road in Santa Clara. The pass rush got to C.J. Beathard four times, including two strip sacks against the second year quarterback. One strip sack was recovered and returned for a score. The Cardinals defense will need to continue the trend of forcing turnovers on Sunday.
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San Francisco’s offense can move the ball on just about any defense. Where they struggle is holding on to the football. The 49ers lead the league in turnovers and fumbles lost. The key will to get pressure on Beathard. The 49ers quarterback has struggled with feeling pressure through his first two seasons. His lack of pocket presence often leads to opportunities to swipe the ball away prior to Beathard releasing the pass. Chandler Jones successfully did this in the first meeting. The Cardinals offense will need help, the defense can do that by creating turnovers.
Last time the Cardinals played at State Farm Stadium, the home crowd witnessed a drubbing at the hands of the Broncos. During the broadcast it sounded like a road game for the Cardinals rather than one at home. Denver fans nearly outnumbered home fans and were definitely louder throughout the game. The firing of McCoy and the promotion of Leftwich seemed to raise the spirits of the fan base. Then came news of a trade demand by Patrick Peterson.
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The week leading up to Sunday’s game has been a roller coaster for the Cardinals fan base. Peterson’s assurance that he would remain a part of the franchise which drafted him settled the fears of many. It will be interesting to see how the fans will react to Peterson. It will also be interesting to see how quickly the fans will turn on the team if the struggles continue. The Cardinals are looking to right the ship on Sunday against the 49ers. Will the team be met with a rowdy home crowd or be visitors in their own home?