5 Burning Questions For Week 1
The San Francisco 49ers will open their defense of the NFC championship on Sunday when they take on division rival Arizona at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers were able to sweep the Cardinals last season, winning 28-25 on Halloween night in the desert and following that up with a come-from-behind 36-26 victory just two weeks later in Santa Clara. The 49ers come into the game as seven point favorites despite the Cardinals being a favorite among many prognosticators to improve this season.
With that as a backdrop, let’s take a look at 5 burning questions to which the answers will be key to the outcome on Sunday.
1. Can the 49ers get their run game going? This may seem like a no-brainer considering that the 49ers were one of the best running teams in the NFL last year but, when you look at the numbers, that changes. In their two games against Arizona last season the 49ers were able to manage only 2.7 yards per carry, a large drop from the 4.9 yards they averaged against their other regular season opponents.
Consider this as well: players that are still currently with the 49ers gained a total of 57 yards on 35 carries against the Cardinals, a whopping 1.6 yards per carry.
To make matters even more complicating for the 49ers run game, Ben Garland missed all of the camp practices due to injury since August 18 and the right guard spot has been in flux as well. Daniel Brunskill started in that spot last season, but he has spent much of camp playing center due to the Garland injury. The missed practice time could cause some problems for the offensive line.
2. Will Trent Williams be the same player he was before a year off? John Lynch was able to fill the hole at left tackle that the 49ers were faced with after the retirement of Joe Staley by pulling off a trade to acquire Trent Williams from Washington. Despite sitting out the entire 2019 season due to a contract dispute Williams is still regarded as one of the top left tackles in the game.
In Williams’ last season opener in 2018 the Washington Football Team took on Arizona. In that game Williams was matched up the majority of the time against the man who will line up across from him again on Sunday, Chandler Jones. Williams was able to limit Jones to a single pressure in that game. For the 49ers to beat the Cardinals they will need more of the same.
3. Can Jimmy Garoppolo stay hot? Garoppolo had two of his best statistical games against Arizona a season ago. In the two matchups against Arizona, Garoppolo completed 62 of his 82 pass attempts for 741 yards and 8 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions. His combined passer rating for those two games was 125.1, nearly 30 points higher than what he put together over the other fourteen weeks of the season.
If the Cardinals are able to contain the run game as they did a season ago, moving the offense will once again fall squarely on Garoppolo’s shoulders.
4. Can Richard Sherman keep up with DeAndre Hopkins? The last time DeAndre Hopkins went against a team with Richard Sherman in the secondary was week 8 of the 2017 season when his Texans met up with the Seahawks in Seattle. On that day Hopkins torched the Seahawks secondary with 224 yards and a touchdown on 8 receptions.
Fast forward three years and the two will once again meet up. This time, Sherman is older and no longer the player he was prior to tearing his Achilles tendon two weeks later. Yes, Sherman put up terrific numbers in 2019, but two plays in the second half of the last two games from a season ago may be a precursor for how we will see teams attack Sherman this season.
Late in the NFC Championship game, Packers wide receiver Davante Adams beat Sherman deep. And then in the Super Bowl, the Chiefs did the same thing with Sammy Watkins. If Sherman is forced to play man coverage on Hopkins, it could be a problem.
5. Can the 49ers play four full quarters? The 49ers didn’t play a full four quarters in either of their games against Arizona last season. In the first matchup the 49ers were outscored 18-7 in the second half and in the second matchup the 49ers were down 16 at the end of the first quarter. If the 49ers aren’t able to fix this, they could be in trouble on Sunday.
Prediction Time: 49ers 20 Cardinals 17