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49ers mailbag: What are the keys to beating the Cardinals? Can Arizona run on SF? Is Steve Wilks better than his predecessors?

Marc Adams
Sep 27, 2023 at 11:38 AM--

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A week ago, it seemed like the Arizona Cardinals would easily fall to the San Francisco 49ers. But after the Cardinals handled the Dallas Cowboys to notch their first victory last Sunday, the 49ers will have to work hard not to overlook Arizona. In the NFL, you really shouldn't overlook any team. That especially goes for teams in your division.

So what are the keys to the 49ers beating the Cardinals and moving to 4-0? Let me give you four quick thoughts:

Don't let Arizona run on you. The Cardinals ran the ball 30 times against the Cowboys and gained 222 yards. They weren't quite as dominant in the two games before that and lost both, but they still had some success, especially against the Giants. According to Steph Sanchez, "Arizona's offense has run the ball 49.12% (5th-most) of their plays. They've been largely successful with it so far." The 49ers need to shut down the Cardinals' run game like they do every other team.

Put pressure on Joshua Dobbs. The Cardinals QB won his first NFL game last Sunday. And so far this season, Dobbs has been pretty efficient. Sanchez writes, "Joshua Dobbs has been extremely efficient through the first 3 weeks of the season with a 72% completion percentage. Due to a strong balance on offense that's working for AZ so far, Dobbs is averaging the lowest amount of pass attempts per game (27.3)." So the Cardinals aren't throwing the ball often, but when they do, they connect.

Don't beat yourself. The 49ers should win this game convincingly, as long as they don't make critical mistakes. Last week, Dallas only turned the ball over once, but they committed 13 penalties for 107 yards. Arizona capitalized on the Cowboys' mistakes and stole a win. If the 49ers are going to get to 4-0, they need to be crisp and not let the Cardinals hang around.

Make the Cardinals tackle. Arizona doesn't tackle well, which is bad news for a defense playing Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, and Christian McCaffrey. According to Nick Wagoner, of ESPN, "Tackling remains an issue: AZ has given up 299 yds after 1st contact, 3rd most in NFL entering tonight (Monday)."

Not only has Arizona had some success offensively, but they also haven't been too bad on defense either. Wagoner said the Cardinals' defense "has been middle of the pack in most areas so far, but they have been able to generate pressure (8.6% sack rate is 8th in NFL)." And they've done this without blitzing.

If they are able to pressure Brock Purdy without blitzing, that leaves more defenders in passing lanes, potentially presenting more problems for Purdy. Against the Giants, who blitzed on almost 85% of the 49ers dropbacks, Purdy was able to make New York pay. But a defense that can get pressure without blitzing creates different problems for a quarterback. That's what the 49ers defense does every week.

Wagoner added, "What's interesting is the Cardinals are very successful when they do blitz. They have a 60% pressure rate when blitzing, which is 2nd in the NFL." So Arizona blitzes less than anyone, but when they decide to, they make it count. It will be interesting to see how this affects Purdy.

Alright, let's get to the 49ers Webzone Mailbag and answer your questions.

Are the 49ers going to regret not signing Javon Kinlaw to his 5th year? -DoctorWDS

That's a great question. The 49ers may very well regret not exercising Javon Kinlaw's fifth-year option, especially if they end up losing him after this season. They're certainly hoping Kinlaw has the kind of season that makes teams pay a lot for his services next year.

And though I wouldn't want to take anything away from what Kinlaw is doing, we do need to remember that he's rarely been healthy—until now. And he's also not being double-teamed like he has in the past. So yes, Kinlaw is playing much better, but he should be. He's healthy and he's not a focal point anymore. He's free to just be a guy on the defensive line that gets after it. He doesn't have to deal with being the unhealthy bust who couldn't replace DeForest Buckner.

That has to be a load off his shoulders.

The Cardinals ran for over 200 yards against the Cowboys. Any chance they'll be able to do this against the 49ers?

It's true that the Cardinals ran the ball very well against the Cowboys. But I don't think they'll be able to replicate that against the 49ers. For one thing, that's the Cowboys' weakness on defense. And it was a good strategy, especially since it worked.

And although we should expect Arizona to take a similar approach, run defense is not a weakness of the 49ers' defense. So it's not likely the Cardinals will have that same level of success.

One thing to watch is that the Cardinals gave up 185 yards on the ground to the Cowboys. I would think Kyle Shanahan will want to run the ball early and often against that defense.

Is there any NFC team equipped enough to handle the 49ers when they are healthy? - Josh

I certainly think the Philadelphia Eagles are good enough. And the Cowboys are, too, when they play like they're capable of playing. But they are a little Jekyll and Hyde. That said, when the 49ers don't beat themselves, and when they're healthy, they are the best team in the NFC.

Are the 49ers the best team in the entire NFL? Maybe so. I think they're a more complete team than the Kansas City Chiefs, but Patrick Mahomes always seems to find a way to pull out the win. The Buffalo Bills are good, but I don't think anyone is afraid of playing them. The Miami Dolphins could end up being a little scary, though. That offense is elite, and with Vic Fangio calling the defense, this could be the year the Dolphins make it back to the Super Bowl.

Wouldn't it be a great story if Mike McDaniel gets his team into the Super Bowl and has to play Shanahan's 49ers? That would be a lot of fun. And we all remember what happened the last time a great 49ers defense met a high-powered Dolphins offense in the Super Bowl.

The 49ers now have a target on their back as if they had won the SB last year. Do they have the mindset to win as the hunted rather than the hunters? - Doc

I'm not sure the 49ers have a target on their back like a defending Super Bowl Champion would. But they are consistently talked about as one of the best teams in the league, if not the best.

Do they have the mindset to handle being the hunted? I believe so. They have a lot of strong, veteran leadership, and this team is filled with players who have played in a lot of big games. I think they'll be fine.

I'll be in the house on Dec 10th. Never been so what should I see at Levi's beforehand? -Teri P.

You definitely need to take some time and go see the 49ers Museum. It's really amazing and is a must-see for every 49ers fan. And there's so much to see. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time. I went during the offseason a few years ago, and it wasn't busy. I know the museum is open on gamedays, but I don't know how crowded it is on those days. If that's the only time you'll be at Levi's Stadium, then don't worry about the crowd. Go tour the museum. It's worth it.

My three favorite parts to see were:

  • The 49ers Hall of Fame- this room was incredible and gave me chills.
  • Bill Walsh Innovation- you get to see a re-creation of Walsh's office, which includes some things that were actually on his desk when he was the coach of the 49ers.
  • Super Bowl Gallery- being in the same room with five Lombardi trophies is an incredible experience.

You should also visit the 49ers team store. There are plenty of things to see (and buy) in the team store. I had never been in any kind of store that was completely full of 49ers gear, so that was a cool experience for me.

And you can't visit Levi's without going to see two particular statues outside of the stadium, one of Joe Montana, and one of Dwight Clark, commemorating "The Catch." The two-part piece features Montana with his arms raised in celebration on one end, with Clark leaping into the air and making the catch 23 yards away. There's even a diagram of the play, along with Clark's signature, inscribed on a glass backing that holds up Clark's statue. It's a must-see.

Wilks makes better halftime changes than Robert or DeMeco...Am I nuts? - DoctorWDS

Steve Wilks has made good halftime adjustments the last two weeks, and that's been the difference between a couple of wins, and possibly a couple of losses. But is he better at making adjustments than Robert Saleh or DeMeco Ryans? I'm not ready to say that.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Wilks get off to a better start than Saleh. In 2017 and 2018, the 49ers roster wasn't anything like what it is now. And it wouldn't surprise me to see Wilks start off better than Ryans either. After all, Wilks is a much more experienced coach and has been a defensive coordinator before. Ryans had not been in that role. And if you recall, fans weren't very happy with Ryans at this point in his first season as defensive coordinator (2021). Remember the Detroit game, where the Lions almost came back and won? Or how about the Packers game, when Aaron Rodgers hit Davante Adams for two big gains to get into field goal range and beat the 49ers as time expired?

It's only been three games, and the defense hasn't played the most dynamic offenses in the league. And Wilks still hasn't had much time to put his own stamp on this defense. But I like the adjustments he's made so far.

Ask me after the season is over, when they've played some really good offenses and have even played into the postseason.

That's all we have for this week. We'll be back next week with an all-new 49ers Webzone Mailbag.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

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