Last Sunday, the 49ers faced what was believed to be their biggest test yet: the Carolina defense. They not only passed said test, they destroyed the Panthers moving to 7-0.
After dropping 51 points on a team that might be battling for a playoff spot, the 49ers now travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals under the Thursday night lights.
Having less time to prepare can be somewhat of a disadvantage for teams and their coaching staff. Kyle Shanahan said that the challenges of playing on a short week are both physical and mental.
“Physically is the obvious part. There’s a reason people don’t play football this close together all the time. It takes a while for the body to recover, so that’s what the players are doing and working with our guys on. I think sleep is huge. But the mental part is huge also. If you just think about the physical part, and we usually do this stuff over six days and you’re doing it over two days, that’ll catch up to you in the middle of the game if you don’t find a way to sit and focus. You’ve got to find a way to focus, get stuff out of it, or you’ll make mistakes on Thursday.”
49ers D-Line faces a new challenge
The 49ers defensive line has been utterly dominant through seven games. Opposing quarterbacks have yet to escape the overwhelming pass-rush from all angles. Thursday’s matchup with the Cardinals will be a new test for the 49ers front-seven, containing Kyler Murray. The first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft is known for his elusiveness, resembling Seattle’s superstar signal caller Russell Wilson.
49ers Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh said that he doesn’t teach his team to rush quarterbacks differently considering their skill set:
“To me, you’re always respecting the level of the quarterback, you’re always trying to keep them in the shoot, you’re always trying to make them play quarterback. You never want to just run past a quarterback to give them wide open B-gap lanes. You never want to take underneath and lose contain. There’s always a respect to how you rush every single passer and making sure that the four D-Linemen are in concert together, making sure that you keep him in the pocket as much as possible.
Speaking directly to Murray’s abilities though, he added:
Obviously, he is going to escape, but when he does escape how much are we pursuing on the front, staying alive, making sure that we’re on edges so that way we can get off blocks easily so we can pursue also. It doesn’t matter whether he’s a statue or a quarterback like he is, a runner. You still always have respect to the pocket and how you rush.”
The 49ers have recorded the second-most sacks in the NFC (27), which has been a big part of their success.
And Murray has not been as elusive as many may have thought. Heading into Week 9, Murray has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the NFC (26). This is not a knock on Murray’s ability to escape pressure more than it is about his bad offensive line. The 49ers defense should have plenty of opportunities to bring down Murray.
49ers offense should fare well against mediocre Cardinals defense
The Cardinals were expected by many to be pretty bad this season, but that’s not the case. Through eight games, Arizona is 3-4-1 and have played opponents pretty tough, hanging around in games when they had no business doing so.
This Cardinals team has exceeded expectations thus far, and should not be overlooked. With the being said, there are reasons for their losing record.
Currently, the Cardinals defense allows the fourth-most points-per-game in the NFL (27.9), while allowing the fourth-most passing yards-per-game (277.0) and the eighth-most rushing yards-per-game (130.1). Intercepting opposing quarterbacks only twice this season, the Cardinals takeaways (14) have come mostly from forced fumbles. It will be key for the 49ers offense to hold onto the ball, going up against a Cardinals defense that is notorious for knocking the ball out.
“I know it’s a huge challenge. I never look at the numbers right away, I just watch the tape and I thought they were ranked very high in a lot of areas. Teams have gotten some yards and stuff and some big plays and things like that, but when you turn on the tape, I see as good of a defense as we’ve played this year. Chandler Jones is rushing the quarterback as good as anyone in this league; Patrick Peterson is the best corner if not tied for the best. He’s been doing that for a while and he’s back. Vance [Joseph] does a lot of things schematically. That game versus the saints, they came to play and they played very well against the Saints. That was a very low scoring, tight game until the end and then just a couple things that happened that made the score look a little bit different. When you watch the silent tape, you realize it is a very good defense.”
The 49ers should have plenty of flexibility in terms of offensive play-calling, but one area they know they can rely on is at tight end. George Kittle is having another great season and will be happy to know that his opponent this week is not looking forward to seeing him.
There was hope that left tackle Joe Staley could return this week after practicing last week, but that does not seem to be the case. Staley is doubtful for Thursday night’s game. Kyle Shanahan explained why it’s difficult to get Staley ready to plan on a short week:
“Probably pretty close to last week. I know he was limited all last week, limited this week. Without us having a full-speed practice, it’s going to be kind of tough to simulate some stuff here in this day and a half. So, we’ll see how he feels. I put him more in doubtful whenever I have to do that, but there’s still a chance.”
Running back Matt Breida suffered an ankle injury in Sunday’s game, and it was expected to be minor. Breida was held out Tuesday and limited in practice on Wednesday. With his performance on Sunday, the 49ers may lean on Tevin Coleman in Thursday’s game. … Right tackle Mike McGlinchey and fullback Kyle Juszczyk are on the mend, and getting close to returning. Shanahan and the 49ers are targeting November 11 and the Seahawks for their returns.