After organizing their final 53 man roster, the San Francisco 49ers welcome the crafty Cardinals to Santa Clara to prove a tricky opening game. Let’s kick off this 49ers Week One preview by breaking down five key matchups the 49ers need to win to ensure victory.
Per Football Outsiders, in 2019, the Cardinals offense ranked 13th in offensive DVOA and 20th in defensive DVOA. The crafty Cardinals finished fourth in the NFC West with a total record of 5-10-1. However, this season, the team is revamped and ready to fight it out in a ruthless NFC West.
5. Nick Bosa and Dee Ford vs. Cardinals Tackles
The fifth of the five key matchups sees the 49ers edge defenders go up against the Cardinals tackles.
In the previous two meetings, the 49ers defensive ends dominated the Cardinals tackles time and time again—especially Nick Bosa against D.J. Humphries. As a result, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was constantly under pressure.
Over the course of two games last season, Bosa and Ford combined for six quarterback hurries, nine pressures, and two sacks against the Cardinals. If Bosa has improved his ability to finish sacks, then expect it to be a long day for Kyler Murray.
4. Chandler Jones vs. Trent Williams
On the flip side, it’s a battle of the titans. Trent Williams will be making his debut for the 49ers with the job of shutting down Cardinals all-pro pass rusher Chandler Jones.
Jones, for the last few seasons, has been one of the few bright sparks on an otherwise dour Cardinals defense. In the two meetings between these teams last season, Jones combined for two sacks and four pressures.
Trent Williams will surely have his hands full on Sunday, especially after being away from real game action for so long. However, the future Hall of Famer has more than enough ability to ensure Garoppolo’s blindside is taken care of.
3. George Kittle vs. Isaiah Simmons or Budda Baker
Perhaps the most influential of the five key matchups between the Niners and Cardinals see George Kittle go up against the ‘Kittle stoppers.’
It will be interesting to see who Cardinals defensive coordinator, Vance Joseph, chooses to cover George Kittle. More than likely, it will be a combination of athletic rookie linebacker/safety hybrid Isaiah Simmons. Or safety Budda Baker, who just signed a lucrative contract extension with the Cardinals.
In the first meeting between the Niners and Cardinals last season, the first-half battle between Baker and Kittle was nothing short of the box office. Baker had a couple of nice pass breakups on Kittle in coverage. Using his raw size and power, Kittle ran Baker over before running into the end zone.
When the ball is in the air, Baker’s advantage as the safety can use his shiftiness and natural ball hawk skills to prevent Kittle from catching the pigskin. Yet, if the ball gets to Kittle’s hands and has room to run, it’s game over.
Simmons could match up physically with Kittle. Although, the rookie may not be up to that big of an assignment in his first-ever NFL game.
2. Jerik McKinnon vs. The Cardinals Defence
Sunday will mark the long-awaited debut for Niners running back Jerick McKinnon.
Supposedly, when McKinnon went down injured before the 2018 season, Shanahan had to completely readjust his playbook due to having several plays specifically designed for McKinnon. If you’re the type of player to be held in that high regard by Kyle Shanahan – you must be dangerous.
Shanahan’s offensive scheme is heavily based on artificially generating mismatches across the field. He already has one in George Kittle. Now, the Cardinals are going to have to find someone who can cover McKinnon. If Arizona chooses to cover McKinnon with Baker – that’s one less defender for Kittle. Same if they go with Simmons. If Arizona spends a lot of time in Nickel, expect the Niners to run the ball in crushing fashion.
McKinnon, although not a big name, is the type of player who can open up an offense and change the balance of a game just by being on the gridiron.
1. The 49ers Cornerbacks vs. The Cardinals Receivers
The final of the five key matchups sees the Niners cornerbacks go up against the Cardinals receivers.
The Niners secondary appears to be in limbo. Richard Sherman is the nailed on cornerback one. And rightly so. Last season, Sherman was ranked as the best coverage corner in the NFL by PFF. Nevertheless, you cannot ignore his struggles with speedy receivers. Last season, the Cardinals drew a big pass interference penalty against Sherman when asked to cover Christian Kirk.
With the addition of an x-factor type talent in Deandre Hopkins, the Cardinals crafty receiver corps is a lot more dangerous. If Sherman does require safety help against the likes of Kirk or Andy Isabella, then expect Hopkins to line up against the Niners cornerback two.
Sophomore starlet Emmanuel Moseley and veteran Jason Verrett have been duking it out in camp for the second corner spot. Verrett was winning the job early. That was before the veteran strained his hamstring. If Verrett is healthy, then expect him to be out there. If not, then the spot is Moseley’s.
Whatever the case, expect Murray to be throwing to right side of the field more often than the left.
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