The San Francisco 49ers are riding high after a dominating victory on Sunday. Now the 49ers turn their focus to Halloween night. While most of us will be wearing costumes and collecting candy, the 49ers will enter their own house of horror, State Farm Stadium. The Arizona Cardinals hide behind the next turn, hoping to collect their ninth straight victory over San Francisco. Ahead of Thursday’s clash, we take a look at three major points to follow.
One vs. Two
When the Cardinals and 49ers face off on Thursday, it will be the first meeting between the 2019 first overall and second overall selections. Arizona snagged quarterback Kyler Murray with the top pick. Minutes later, the 49ers selected Nick Bosa. Both teams are better off with their selections and both rookies have already shown their ability to make an impact. Bosa has been a disrupting force on defense, tallying seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss. He began the season in a rotation that quickly morphed into the starting job. Bosa is a bonafide stud of a defensive lineman. He has the quickness and bend to run around blockers and the power to run through them.
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For Arizona, Murray looks the part of the franchise quarterback. Murray can use his elusiveness to keep plays alive, the speed to pick up yards as needed, and the arm to make any throw. To put it plainly, Murray will be the Arizona quarterback for the next decade. Murray is averaging just north of 260 yards passing a game with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. However, Murray has been sacked 26 times, tied for third-most in the NFL. The 49ers pass rush has focused on bringing pressure with the front four. Their success allows seven defenders to play in coverage. Murray has struggled with holding on to the football for too long. Expect the 49ers to keep a spy on Murray in the event he leaves the pocket in search of yards.
Keep it Churning on the Ground
The 49ers offense leans heavily toward the ground game. Arizona struggles to stop the run. It’s a perfect match for San Francisco. The 49ers put their run game on display against the Panthers. San Francisco ran for 232 yards against Carolina, averaging 6.1 yards per game, in addition to five touchdowns. Running back Tevin Coleman was the primary contributor on Sunday with his 105 yards on 11 carries and four touchdowns. However, the catalyst comes from the phenomenal run blocking. The 49ers are missing their starting left and right tackles, as well as their starting fullback. Kyle Shanahan has tweaked the scheme to accommodate for the losses while maintaining a high level of success.
Expect eight men in the box for the Cardinals. Arizona surrenders 4.7 yards per rush while giving up the fifth-most rushing yards per game. The 49ers are no strangers to eight-man boxes. San Francisco’s three leading rushers have faced eight in the box at least 25% of the time. Coleman leads the way, facing eight in the box on 35% of his carries. Raheem Mostert comes in at 27.78% and Matt Breida at 25%. The 49ers have the third most rush yards this season and average 4.7 yards per carry. Shanahan finds ways to get the ground game going. San Francisco has been held under 100 yards rushing just twice this season. The season opener against Tampa Bay and the trip to Los Angeles. Tampa Bay held the 49ers to 98 yards rushing while the Rams held them to 99 yards.
George Kittle is a Monster
Last Sunday was touted as “National Tight End Day” around the NFL. George Kittle was the catalyst for the celebrations. Fittingly, Kittle led the team in reception yards on Sunday with 86 yards on six receptions. Kittle is the de facto number one receiver for San Francisco and has been treated as such by opposing defenses. Kittle is averaging just 66 receiving yards per game and has accounted for just a single touchdown. However, Arizona could be exactly what the doctor ordered for Kittle’s 2019. Opposing tight ends have a propensity to have career games against the Cardinals.
Kittle’s breakout season in 2018 saw the then second-year tight end finish with 88 receptions for 1,377 yards and five touchdowns. Although he had already averaged about 75 yards per game, Kittle grabbed national headlines with a 210-yard performance against the Broncos in week 14. Kittle averaged 30 yards per receptions and had a long of 85 yards. He fell four yards short of tying the single-game receiving yards mark for a tight end. The Broncos could not cover Kittle without surrounding him with three or more players in coverage. Denver’s head coach on that day was Vance Joseph. The current Arizona defensive coordinator, also Vance Joseph.
The matchup against Arizona comes on a short week. It falls just before a major Monday night battle against the Seahawks. This has created a sense that this could be a trap game for the 49ers. Arizona’s offense has the potential to be explosive. What they have lacked is consistency. Murray has made a few incredible plays but gets himself in trouble in an attempt to make those plays. The offensive line has been significantly better than 2018 but continues to struggle against average defensive lines. Arizona’s defense can get after the passer but has been weak on the back end and has been unable to cover opposing tight ends.
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On a short week, the 49ers are ripe for the picking. The Cardinals have beaten up on the 49ers over the last few years, going 8-0 over the past four years. This is undoubtedly the best 49ers team during that timeframe. At the end of the day, if the 49ers are looking to make a run for a championship, they will need to put these games away early and decisively. The Cardinals are capable of pulling off the upset and take advantage of what has been a haunted house of a stadium for San Francisco. If the 49ers can focus on the task at hand, this should not be close.
Prediction: 49ers cruise, 33-13
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage 49ers. He also covers the Arizona Cardinals for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada