Early control of the NFC West is on the line when San Francisco and Arizona get together this afternoon on FOX. The 49ers (1-1) will try and rebound after last week’s discouraging loss to the Bears in the first-ever game at their new stadium. The Cardinals (2-0) have gotten off to a hot start, as they have been able to succeed despite dealing with a rash of injuries on both sides of the ball.
San Francisco has won the last four meetings between these division rivals and holds a 28-17 lead in the series.
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: San Francisco -3
Three Things to Watch
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1. Kaepernick’s Mulligan?
At 26 years old, Colin Kaepernick is in just his second season as San Francisco’s starting quarterback yet he’s already accomplished quite a bit. He’s played in one Super Bowl and consecutive NFC title games. He holds the record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game when he ran for 181 (on 16 carries) against Green Bay in a 2012 playoff game. He also signed a six-year, $126 million contract extension in June, cementing his status as one of the top young quarterbacks in the league and a franchise player for the 49ers. But like any other signal-caller still learning his craft, Kaepernick has experienced his share of struggles. One of his lowest points of his career came last week when he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in a 28-20 loss to Chicago. To make matters worse, the 49ers led 17-0 at one point and it was the first game played in brand-new Levi’s Stadium. Turnovers fueled the Bears’ fourth-quarter comeback and to his credit, Kaepernick claimed full responsibility for his mistakes, describing his play as “terrible.” But that was last week and fortunately for Kaepernick, he has been successful in his previous starts against Arizona, going 3-0. In those games he has completed 58.2 percent of his passes with six touchdowns, one interception and one lost fumble. As poorly as he played last week, Kaepernick’s in no danger of losing his job. However, now’s the chance for Kaepernick to show both his team and his critics his toughness and resolve by bouncing back and not letting one poor game carry over to the next, especially since this is a divisional contest.
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2. Playing D Out in the Desert
Even though they missed the playoffs last season, the Cardinals won 10 games despite playing in the tough NFC West. Part of the reason for their success was a defense that finished seventh or better in the NFL in five major categories, including leading the league in rushing defense (84.4 ypg). The hope was that this defense would be a team strength yet again and that has been the case through two games, although not under “normal” circumstances. Before the season even started, the Cardinals experienced three major losses. Linebacker and leading tackler Karlos Dansby departed via free agency, fellow linebacker Daryl Washington was suspended for the entire year for another violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy, and Pro Bowl defensive end Darnell Dockett tore his ACL during training camp. Despite these key personnel losses, Arizona’s defense has stood strong, ranking third in rush defense (66.5 ypg) and yielding a total of 31 points in wins over San Diego and the New York Giants. San Francisco will present a new challenge with a strong running game and a potentially potent passing attack, but thus far the Cardinals’ defense has been up to the task, despite being shorthanded.
3. Cardinals’ Offense Ready to Take Flight?
Arizona has relied heavily on its defense through the first two games, as the offense has had to deal with some injury issues of its own. While the Cardinals have allowed 15.5 points per game, the offense has managed just 21.5. Running back Andre Ellington, a popular breakout candidate entering his second season, has been playing with a partially torn tendon in his foot, while quarterback Carson Palmer missed last week with a nerve issue in his shoulder. Ellington has still been effective, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, but the injury has limited his touches (34 total in two games). Meanwhile backup Drew Stanton did his job filling in for Palmer against the Giants, but he finished with just 167 yards passing and no touchdowns (albeit no turnovers either). Stanton will get the start again this afternoon, as Palmer has been relegated to backup duty (if he plays at all) because of what is being described as a bruised nerve in his throwing shoulder. Stanton did what was necessary to help his team win the the game last week, but San Francisco figures to be a tougher opponent. Arizona's shorthanded defense has been able to get the job done thus far, can the offense follow in its footsteps this afternoon?
Arizona is undefeated and San Francisco is licking its wounds after a tough opening loss in its new stadium. Neither team is at full strength, as the Cardinals have weathered injuries to key players on both sides of the ball and the 49ers are without two All-Pros on defense. Arizona’s shorthanded defense has gotten the job done to this point, but with Carson Palmer unable to start a second straight game because of a nerve issue in his shoulder and Andre Ellington’s lingering foot issue, I’m worried the Cardinals are just outmanned against the 49ers. San Francisco’s defense has held up well thus far too and the offense has not yet found its rhythm. This will be a typical NFC West tilt in that it will be hard-fought, physical and most likely go down to the wire. But in the end, I like Colin Kaepernick to bounce back from last week’s turnover-marred performance and help lead his team to an important divisional win on the road.