Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire- last week, missed opportunities and head-scratching turnovers allowed the Arizona Cardinals to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and this week, they face a division foe fresh off their first loss (in overtime, no less) of the season. Last time these teams matched up Arizona kept it close, scoring what was then the most points of the season on a vaunted San Francisco defense (the Seahawks beat the Cardinals' point score by two). The 49ers would love nothing more than a statement win after that loss to rinse the taste of defeat from their mouths, but will they find that as Arizona comes to town?
Let's get into some bold, and I mean bold, predictions.
1. A known weakness
Tight ends have been a sore spot for the Arizona Cardinals defense this season. It isn't known whether or not star tight end George Kittle will play for the 49ers on Sunday, and if he isn't, look to backup tight end Ross Dwelley to make some plays down the middle for Jimmy Garropolo. They'll need all the help they can get, with several key pieces on offense sitting out of practice on Wednesday, according to the 49ers injury report.
Last time Jimmy Garropolo managed to make the throws he needed when he needed them, and because of that, he was able to put up over 300 yards and 4 touchdowns in the victory. He gashed the Cardinals secondary on 3rd and long several times, and twice on the last drive. This time, he may rely more on his tight ends to move the chains. I predict the starting 49ers tight end (be it Kittle or Dwelley) will finish with 100 yards and a score on the day.
2. It's turnover time
When last the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals played, the visiting 49ers protected the football exceptionally well. However, it may not be the case this time. Arizona's defense, while still not great, is beginning to generate more and more turnovers, with three last week against Tampa Bay. While Jimmy Garropolo protects the football fairly well, he is still young and can be baited into mistakes by savvy vets such as Patrick Peterson.
However, the main turnover machine for Arizona is Chandler Jones, who has been the stalwart of this defensive line. And his signature strip-sack/fumble-recovery may be on full display in Santa Clara this Sunday. I predict the Cardinals to intercept Jimmy Garropolo once, and recover a forced fumble.
3. Kyler Murray does Kyler Murray things
I don't think it gets said enough: Kyler Murray is really, really good. Boasting over 2,500 passing yards, 12 passing touchdowns to only 5 interceptions, and a completion percentage of 63.8%- over his first ten games on an NFL roster, much less as a first-year starter. But the most important thing he brings to the team is his quiet confidence, his unwavering swagger.
Kyler Murray played very well against the 49ers when last they met, and I believe that trend will continue. I predict Kyler will finish with 250+ passing yards, 3 touchdowns, and 50+ rushing yards.
4. Low scoring affair
It's no secret that division rivalries in the NFL often result in bloodbaths. These teams often know each other inside and out, and often with such close knowledge comes intense hatred. That holds true for this game, where the stakes are high for both teams (though higher for the 49ers, who surely don't want to lose two straight).
I think it's fair to say that at 3-6-1, the Cardinals are likely missing the playoffs this year. That said, I've taken heart from what I've seen on the field. These Cardinals have stayed in games for the most part, and have impressed me immensely with their grit. I think the Arizona defense overall could have a better performance this Sunday than the numbers will indicate.
I predict the total score will not exceed 40 points.
5. A welcome surprise
So, what, in totality, will happen when the Arizona Cardinals take on the San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara? I'll be up front with the score. I predict the Arizona Cardinals to score a major upset, beating the home team 21-17 in a tight thriller.
The 49ers are a bit banged up, and they may not have the offensive firepower they did last time. The Cardinals defense has been gelling somewhat of late, and even though they allow tons of yards and points, they're beginning to generate turnovers. If Kyler Murray and company can score off a turnover or two, they have a real chance at winning.
To this point in the season, Arizona hasn't quite put together a complete performance, where both sides of the ball perform at a high level consistently throughout the game (think of the Atlanta game- the offense was clicking nearly all game, while the defense struggled late). It's kind of a scary thought, just how talented this team could be if they clicked and sorted out some of the first-year kinks with Kliff Kingsbury's playcalling and Vance Joseph's defense; with how they've already been in games, it's not out of the realm of possibility for this team with everything to prove to knock off a division rival which might press too hard to make a statement.
Is it bold? Yes, it's very bold. But that's the point of what we're doing here, after all.
Need more Cardinals content? Check out James Bassil's great piece on who deserves blame for the Cardinals state of affairs, or check out what Jimmy Garropolo thinks of the Arizona Cardinals ahead of their week 11 matchup.