Game Preview: Niners and Cardinals primed for divisional Thursday Night Football battle

The San Francisco 49ers are 7-0 for the first time in a very long while -since 1990 to be precise. What is most impressive is that they have rolled through their first seven games with relative ease. They’ve won by multiple scores in six of their games and have outscored their opponents by 130 points, all while battling with injuries to key starters. This week, they face divisional foes the Arizona Cardinals. 

A stellar start

The Niners are certainly coming off their most impressive performance of 2019. Last week’s performance against the Carolina Panthers was expected to be a closely contested defensive showdown. Instead, San Francisco put on a dominant display, recording a 51-13 win. Those points equalled the 49ers’ best offensive performance since 1993 and the team was impressive on all fronts. 

The defense had three interceptions and seven sacks. Nick Bosa showed why he’s the best talent from this year’s draft class. Tevin Coleman had four total touchdowns. Emmanuel Sanders settled into the offense immediately, with an opening drive touchdown catch. It’s hard to pick out any faults. 

Yet, despite all of those positives, San Francisco knows that the second half of the season will offer a much greater challenge. They’ll have to continue to play at an elite level if they are to make the playoffs and seek a first-round bye. The positive, though, is that they’ll have five of their last eight games at home. Here is their schedule for the final eight games after tonight’s match-up: vs SEA, vs ARI, vs GB, @BAL, @NO, vs ATL, vs LAR, @SEA. 

That darn desert

This week’s opponent is one that the 49ers have struggled against mightily in recent times. Arizona has won eight straight games against the 49ers, dating back to December 2014. The Cardinals have also won five in a row in the desert. Kyle Shanahan knows that this needs to change soon. In an interview this week, Kyle stated: “We haven’t beat Arizona since I’ve been here, I don’t think we have a lot of guys in the room who have [beaten them].” 

Thursday’s match-up provides San Francisco with a great opportunity to end that streak and move to 8-0. On a short week, the Niners will travel approximately 750 miles from the Bay area down to Phoenix. In contrast, the Cardinals face a cross-country flight home that will take twice as long. Arizona had a three-game winning streak snapped, losing 31-9 to a New Orleans team that just welcomed Drew Brees back into the starting line-up.

Shanahan and his coaching staff took an unorthodox approach this week, by sleeping over at the team’s facility. They spent significant time watching tapes and preparing for the game. When interviewed on Tuesday, Shanahan said “Yesterday about halfway through the day I forgot that it was the day before. I’m still confused as to what day it is right now.” Meanwhile, the players did not practice Monday and had a walkthrough on Tuesday. 

Rushing concerns

Credit: Karl Mondon/Bay Area news Group

The 49ers and the Cardinals go into Thursday’s game with running back injury concerns. Two of San Francisco’s backs are questionable for the game: Matt Brieda and Raheem Mostert. Both players are averaging over five yards per carry and have contributed greatly to a rushing attack that is ranked second in the league, averaging 181.1 yards per game. Fortunately for the Niners, they still have Tevin Coleman and Jeff Wilson Jr. healthy.

The Arizona Cardinals, meanwhile, are expecting to suit up a running back committee that has limited familiarity with its playbook. Their franchise running back, David Johnson, is expected to miss the game. The dynamic second-year back, Chase Edmonds, has also been ruled out. This leaves Arizona with a trifecta of Alfred Morris, Zach Zenner and the newly acquired Kenyan Drake, who they brought in via trade from Miami this week. Regarding the match-up, Drake said “It’s actually funny – the longest-tenured running back here who is healthy has been here six days.”

Murray vs Bosa

A key match-up on Thursday will see the number one pick in this year’s draft take on the guy that was taken right afterwards. For a very long time, the Arizona Cardinals were expected to select Nick Bosa with their number one pick in the 2019 draft. However, things changed when they appointed head coach Kliff Kingsbury. They quickly moved on from former quarterback Josh Rosen and selected Kyler Murray with the first pick in the draft. This allowed the 49ers to take Nick Bosa with the second pick.

Both players have lived up to their expectations so far. Kyler Murray and the Cardinals offense has zero turnovers in its last four games. He’ll get to showcase his talent on prime time for the first time this season, which he appears to be looking forward to, stating “That should be fun. Wearing all black, Thursday night, real first prime-time game for us.”

Nick Bosa has been playing lights out, too. Bosa’s October has been one to remember. He was crowned both NFC Defensive Player of the Month and NFL Rookie of the Month this week. He’s already recorded seven sacks, 16 tackles, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery – with Thursday’s game remaining. Bosa should be licking his lips at Thursday’s opportunity, with Arizona having the 29th-best pass-blocking offensive line in the league.

Player to watch

San Francisco’s quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, is this week’s player to watch. He’ll have a great opportunity to gain air yards, going up against a tired defense that is already giving up 277 passing yards per game. With running back injuries, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the offense take to the air and showcase their ability to win games in different ways. 

Prediction: 49ers 31, Cardinals 20

Featured Picture – Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

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