Gameday for the San Francisco 49ers is already around the corner thanks to their Thursday night slot. The 49ers will matchup with division rival Arizona Cardinals in hopes of increasing their win total to remain undefeated. It is short weeks like this where elite teams start to slip up, even if their opponent is not top-tier.
Such a quick turnaround is draining on these players and coaches because of the scarce time to rest and prepare. Nevertheless, it is just another challenge for the 49ers to overcome. They have proven to overcome adversity already with so many of their key players missing in action due to injury.
If the San Francisco 49ers want to improve to 8-0, then they must follow these three keys to victory when they pay a visit to Glendale, Arizona.
Keep Kyler Murray Contained
The most obvious talent about Kyler Murray is his ability to scramble and take off with the ball. He’s easily the most dangerous quarterback the 49ers will have faced thus far just because he is a dual threat. One of the first steps to ensuring Murray doesn’t kill the 49ers with his legs is by containing him in the pocket. By doing so, Murray will have to convert to a pure passer in the pocket, which isn't his ideal play-style.
Nick Bosa and Dee Ford must set the edge so that he doesn’t roll out and break containment. Otherwise if they go too far up-field, then Murray will have wide open lanes. The 49ers typically just rush with their four down linemen and play coverage, so there will be lanes for Murray to take advantage of and gash the 49ers’ defense.
Robert Saleh could adjust by having Fred Warner or Kwon Alexander spy him and make him pay for scrambling. If the 49ers want to sack Kyler Murray, then they’re going to have to work for it. Murray is very fast and elusive, which could limit what the stat line looks line for the 49ers’ pass rush. They certainly have their work cut out for them with Murray. By no means should he be overlooked just because he is a rookie.
Stay disciplined in coverage
It isn’t so much that Kyler Murray will tuck away the football and run with it. It’s more so that he will escape the pocket and have his wide receivers break off their routes. Murray’s utilization of the scramble drill to replicate backyard football is difficult to stop. That is why the 49ers must stay disciplined in coverage. The secondary and even linebackers are accustomed to the pass rush disrupting the quarterback within seconds.
However, Murray is capable of evading or at least keeping a pass rush at bay. They’re not going to consistently have that luxury of being in coverage for a limited time. Of course Murray could just completely get hammered for the majority of the snaps, but I’d like to think that Murray is talented to enough to make some plays of his own. If the pass rush can’t get to Murray and he is flushed out of the pocket, then the secondary must not get lost in coverage.
It’s pretty easy to lose track of a wide receiver as a defender because they suddenly break off of their route to find openings in the defense. Even if a receiver is open on the opposite side of the field, Kyler Murray can easily sling it to him in seconds. The guy has an incredible arm, which makes him so lethal when he rolls out of the pocket. The 49ers' secondary has proven to be elite even when their pass rush doesn't get there, but they will be tested with a dual threat quarterback like Murray on Thursday night.
Continue to run the rock
The bread and butter of the 49ers' offense is their ability to run the football. The gameplan should remain the same Thursday night against the Cardinals. Continue to run the rock. It is why the Niners have been so efficient on offense. Just the different concepts of running styles and play-designs that Kyle Shanahan has in his playbook drives defenses mad.
It really feels like there is no shot for the opposition to outright shutdown the running game of the 49ers. I sincerely doubt that the Cardinals will be able to do so, let alone slow them down. Once they get the run going, then that is when Kyle Shanahan is at his best by dialing up play-actions or counter concepts.
He gets the defense sliding one way, while the ball is going the other way. That is why the 49ers have are ranked third in points per game (29.6). If the 49ers can get ahead early and largely, then they will force the Cardinals to go to the air. That is exactly what they want Murray to do because if he wants to run, then he will drain the clock, which is another benefit to running the ball for the 49ers.