Perfect no more, the 49ers’ undefeated run came to an end Monday night.
Following their first loss, overtime hear-breaker tot he Seahawks, the 49ers (8-1) turn around on a short week to face the Arizona Cardinals (3-6-1) for the second time in seventeen days. The first time, Kyler Murray and the Cardinals put up quite the fight against the then-undefeated 49ers. This Sunday, San Francisco will look to get back on track and remain atop the NFC.
The 49ers need to do a better job at stopping the Cardinals running game
When the two teams faced in Week 9, the Cardinals gashed the 49ers on the ground, specifically with newly-acquired running back Kenyan Drake. Losing both D.J. Jones (groin) and Ronald Blair (ACL) Monday night, the 49ers will be more vulnerable in defending the run, which will likely result in a run-heavy game script for Arizona.
The Cardinals running back group is intriguing because of the battle that is going on for the starting running back role. Against the 49ers, Drake got the start because former Pro-Bowler David Johnson was inactive.
Johnson returned last week, and only got five carries for two yards, while Drake got double the carries. Drake was originally brought in to complement Johnson, but now it looks as if he has leapfrogged him. The Cardinals should have both running backs available for Sunday, but it remains unclear who they will start, and how they will utilize the duo.
Jimmy Garoppolo needs to regain rhythm with his receivers
The loss to Seattle could have been prevented if a few of Jimmy Garoppolo’s passes had been caught in the 4th quarter and overtime.
The 49ers have had difficulty establishing any sort of consistency with any of their pass catchers not named George Kittle or Emmanuel Sanders. Dante Pettis has had a rough season, to put it mildly, and Kendrick Bourne has dropped numerous passes of his own. Marquise Goodwin has not looked like himself when he’s on the field. The only wide receiver who has impressed so far has been the rookie, Deebo Samuel.
On Friday, Kyle Shanahan talked about his receivers dropped passes Monday night, and what he tries to instill his pass-catchers during the week after such a sloppy game:
“It’s just to get your mind right. I try to tell them to go through that again. Don’t sit there and just picture everything is going to go perfect this week. Picture yourself having another drop again, know how bad that feels and then think of how you’re going to react to that because if you go out there being, ‘Man I’ve got to be perfect this week and I have another drop,’ you’re going to go into a shell the rest of the game and we’re going
to need you. You’ve got to be able to go out there and play your game. People do have drops. We have good receivers who don’t drop it a ton. In terms of drops, they had a bad game last week and you’ve got to go out there and not think about that. Every game is a new week. Just because we had a lot last week, doesn’t mean, I know the first one, if you do have a first one in this game, it’ll be huge and everyone will think about last week, but that will affect how you play. You can’t worry about that stuff. Our guys have good hands, you can’t let one drop lead to another. You’ve got to go out there and be mentally very strong with it.”
It’s clear that the 49ers passing game is a lot better with both Kittle and Sanders on the field, but that may not be the case Sunday.
Going up against the Cardinals, who have one of the worst pass defenses in football, Garoppolo and his wide receivers will need to establish some sort of chemistry if they have hopes of beating a stingy Cardinals team.
In regards to the drops on Monday night, Garoppolo did not put the blame on his young receivers. Instead, he took it upon himself:
“Well, whenever there’s drops, it takes a guy throwing the ball and catching the ball. Obviously, I could throw it better to make it easier on those guys. Those guys work their ass off, they really do. They come in everyday with a good mindset, and it’s just when your number gets called, you’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities. In this league, we all know, you don’t get many of them. When you do, you’ve just got to take advantage of it.”
Bourne had a rough night Monday night. He caught a touchdown pass early in the game but later tipped a pass into the arms of a Seahawks defender for an interception. On top of that, he had a couple of drops down the stretch that really could have altered the 49ers field position, with a better chance to win the game. The 49ers receiver tweeted this Monday night:
It was falsely reported Wednesday that George Kittle was already ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, but was corrected due to miscommunication between Kyle Shanahan and the Cardinals media. It is still very likely that Kittle will not play Sunday, but he has not yet been ruled out for the game. Kittle has been seen working with the 49ers strength and conditioning staff, but the team is exercising caution in order to have Kittle available for the long haul.
Emmanuel Sanders suffered a rib injury in Monday nights loss, which will end up being a day-to-day injury heading into Sunday’s matchup. It remains unclear whether Sanders will play, but if he can, it will soften the blow of Kittle potentially sitting out another game.
Running back Matt Breida is expected to miss a week or two. With Breida out, Tevin Coleman will get the bulk of the carries, with Raheem Mostert filling in behind him. … After returning to the field last week, Joe Staley suffered a finger injury. He had surgery this week and will be out for a couple of weeks. Rookie Justin Skule is expected to fill in for him. … Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon did not play against Seattle. Shanahan and the 49ers want Witherspoon to practice fully for a whole week’s worth of practices before inserting him into a game. Shanahan said Friday that Witherspoon will likely play Sunday against the Cardinals, but how much? That remains to be seen.