Behind Enemy Lines: Cardinals-49ers Week 5 Q&A preview

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·5 min read
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The Arizona Cardinals will try to push their unbeaten start to 5-0 on Sunday when they take on the San Francisco 49ers at State Farm Stadium. They will face rookie quarterback Trey Lance, who is making his first NFL start due to the calf injury to Jimmy Garoppolo.

As we anticipate this big NFC West matchup, we go “behind enemy lines” with Niners Wire managing editor Kyle Madson, who answers some questions and gives us some insight to the Cardinals’ Week 5 opponent.

The questions and his answers are below.

Listen to the latest from Cards Wire’s Jess Root on his podcast, Rise Up, See Red. Subscribe on Apple podcasts or Spotify.

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Niners' wins and losses

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The Niners are 2-2. What has been the biggest reasons for their wins and the biggest reasons for their losses?

This is a loaded question, so I’ll quickly go game-by-game. Week 1 against the Lions they won because the Lions stink. Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t spend much time under pressure, and rookie running back Elijah Mitchell got loose against a bad Detroit defense.

In Week 2, their defense was lights out in Philadelphia and Eagles coach Nick Sirianni botched a goal-line series.

Week 3 they lost because Garoppolo wasn’t good enough early and then, after clawing back to take the lead with 37 seconds left, their defense fell apart and let Packers WR Davante Adams get loose for a couple of big plays.

In Week 4, it was the quarterback play again that stagnated the offense early and then a couple of special teams mistakes gave the Seahawks enough life that they took an insurmountable two-score lead in the fourth quarter. The common thread is inconsistent quarterback play and shoddy performances from their banged-up secondary.

Trey Lance

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Assuming Trey Lance gets the start this weekend, what do you expect to see from him? What has he done in his early playing time during the season and in the preseason?

I think we’ll see an offense that looks a lot like the one Kyle Shanahan ran as the Washington offensive coordinator with Robert Griffin III. They’ll strip the offense to its bones and do a ton of read-option stuff from the pistol and try to create some easy throws off of play-action. He’s displayed some playmaking ability with his legs through his early regular-season work, and in the preseason he showed a very strong, but sporadic arm. That inaccuracy was on display in his one half of play against Seattle, but that wasn’t an ideal situation with him getting thrust in to start the second half after Garoppolo went down with a calf injury. He’s an exceptionally talented player though who should be able to produce with a full week of reps as a starter and a game plan catered to his skill set.

New contributors

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As the Cardinals and 49ers play twice yearly, there is always some familiarity. But who are new players making significant contributions this season?

Honestly, there’s not a great answer here. The 49ers have a ton of returning players, their rookies aren’t major contributors, and they didn’t make any huge veteran additions. Center Alex Mack has done a pretty nice job shoring up the middle of the 49ers’ offensive line, and rookie running backs Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell have both had a good game each. One player to keep an eye on though is wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who’s in his third year, but he’s a totally different player this season. He has 490 receiving yards to lead the league, and he’s attacking down the field far more than he did in his first two years. He’s a threat in all three levels of the passing game and by far San Francisco’s best player through four weeks.

49ers offense and defense

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

How does the 49ers defense match up against the Cardinals‘ No. 1 offense in the league? How do you like the 49ers offense against Arizona’s defense?

I’m going to keep this one tight. Unless their pass rush wreaks havoc and keeps Murray from getting outside the pocket (haha), their secondary is going to get torched. They don’t have enough high-quality players in the back end to slow down the Cardinals offense when it’s rolling this way. San Francisco’s offense should have a better day though, especially if it’s Lance and an option-heavy game plan. There’s just not a ton of tape on Lance that even with a couple of hiccups the 49ers should have enough wrinkles to throw at Arizona to keep them on their heels. Their best course of action on offense may be to play the ball-control game and run it 40-plus times to try and keep Murray on the sideline and as far away from cornerbacks Josh Norman, Dre Kirkpatrick and Dontae Johnson as possible.

Matchups

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What individual matchups will you have your eye on?

DE Nick Bosa against LT DJ Humphries is going to be a fun one. If Bosa can get into the backfield with any frequency and get the Cardinals in second and third-and-long, the 49ers defense might have some kind of chance. Humphries is having a nice year though so this will be a good battle. Another one I would have had an eye on is TE George Kittle against CB Byron Murphy, but Murphy is out and Kittle is doubtful to play. That pair has had some really awesome duels over the last couple years and they’re both excellent players. Any time they clash will be must-see TV.

Prediction

Game prediction: What will be the final score and how will it go down?

Part of me thinks this will be closer than some might think. Division games are weird, the Cardinals are coming off a huge win and the 49ers are desperate at 2-2. Throw in the Lance wrinkle and there’s a path to victory for San Francisco. All that being said, Arizona’s offense is locked in and I just don’t think the 49ers have the horses to slow them down if they get rolling. Cardinals 38, 49ers 20

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