Arizona returns from a much-needed bye week, as the defending NFC West champions currently sit at 3-4-1 on the season. The Cardinals have been a roller-coaster ride of a team to watch as they have had flashes of brilliance along with some very inconsistent play on both sides of the ball.
Back on Oct. 6, Arizona knocked off San Francisco 33-21 at Levi’s Stadium as Drew Stanton filled in well for the injured Carson Palmer, who missed the game due to a concussion. Stanton, completed 11 of 28 passes for 116 yards while throwing two touchdown passes and zero interceptions. The defense also was very opportunistic, forcing three 49er turnovers, collecting seven sacks and recording a safety.
San Francisco continued its fast track toward one of the top picks in next spring’s draft following last week’s 41-23 home loss to New Orleans. Colin Kaepernick did show a bit of a pulse against the Saints, throwing for 398 yards and two touchdowns. Nevertheless, the defense once again proved why it is arguably the worst in the NFL as Drew Brees shredded the 49ers for 323 yards and three touchdowns. Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower also combined for 245 rushing yards (on 38 carries) and two scores as the 49ers’ losing streak reached seven games. It will be very interesting to see if San Francisco comes out and plays with great effort on Sunday with basically just pride (and draft positioning) left to play for.
San Francisco at Arizona
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 13 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Cardinals -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Arizona offensive balance
David Johnson has done a very nice job of running the ball this season for the Cardinals and he had 157 rushing yards on 27 carries in the first game against San Francisco back on Oct. 6. With the 49ers boasting the NFL’s worst rushing defense (193.0 ypg), you can expect another steady of diet of Johnson this afternoon. Carson Palmer shouldn’t need to force the ball down field, so as long as he takes care of it and doesn’t get greedy, Arizona should have little trouble establish a rhythm on offense. Coming off of the bye, this may be the matchup Palmer and the passing attack need to get on the same page moving forward.
2. Colin Kaepernick vs. Arizona defense
In order for the 49ers to be able to compete in this game they have to get another strong effort from Kaepernick in the passing game. Arizona is going to bring the heat all game long. Therefore, it will be up to Kaepernick to take advantage, make big plays with his arm (or his legs if he’s forced out of the pocket), not be gun shy about committing turnovers, and just play loose and confidently. The last time Kaepernick played at University of Phoenix Stadium, he struggled mightily, completing just nine of 19 attempts for 67 yards and four interceptions. That resulted in a paltry 16.7 passer rating.
3. Turnover battle
The ability to take care of the football is going to be very important for both teams in this matchup as neither has done a great job in the turnover department. Arizona has 15 takeaways, but boasts a modest plus-3 turnover margin because the offense has turned it over 12 times. San Francisco has fared even worse, with 17 giveaways (tied for third most in NFL) and just 11 takeaways for a minus-6 turnover differential. These numbers make it clear that opportunities to make game-changing plays will be available for both teams. In particular, if the Cardinals can get Kaepernick to get careless with the ball then they should be able to set up short fields for the offense to put the game away early.
Arizona needs this game badly with just two more home games remaining after this one. The Cardinals also need a win to help them in not only the NFC West race, but also to improve their playoff positioning. Right now, Washington (4-3-1) currently owns the second wild card spot, so even at 3-4-1 Arizona is by no means out of the picture. As for this game, the Cardinals will need to get off to a fast start and not let up, as San Francisco simply does not have the firepower to battle back from a large deficit. As long as Arizona doesn’t beat itself, the Cardinals should win fairly easily and build some confidence heading into the rest of their schedule.
Prediction: Cardinals 38, 49ers 17
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum.