Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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49ers vs Cardinals: Five Keys to Victory and Score Prediction

Matt Andruscavage
Sep 11, 2020 at 2:48 PM


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Week 1 of the 2020 season is upon us! It's been just over seven months since the San Francisco 49ers suffered a heart-breaking defeat in the Super Bowl to the Kansas City Chiefs. This offseason has been branded "The Revenge Tour" and after several moves, the 49ers are ready to take that first step towards their ultimate goal of a sixth Super Bowl championship.

Up first are the Arizona Cardinals, who made plenty of moves of their own by drafting linebacker Isaiah Simmons and trading for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Kyler Murray enters into his second season and figures to lead the Cardinals to another improved season in the difficult NFC West.

In both meetings last season, the Cardinals gave the Niners all they could handle, but Jimmy Garoppolo was able to lead San Francisco to victory in both contests while posting some of his best numbers of the season. The 49ers were banged up in both of those contests and have some injuries headed into Week 1. Second year receiver Deebo Samuel missed practice again today and is ruled out. Cornerback Jason Verrett is still dealing with a hamstring issue after having a strong training camp and is also ruled out.

On the positive side, rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk and backup center Ben Garland practiced two straight days and both should play. Garland's presence is the most important as he figures to stabilize the offensive line and allow Daniel Brunskill to start at right guard. Both could be game-time decisions, but their chances are good.

Here are five keys to winning this game for the 49ers:

Where and When: Sunday September 13th at 1:25 PM PST at Levi's Stadium

1) Get the run defense off to a great start


Last season, the 49ers ranked 16th in the league against the run, giving up 112.6 yards per game. Yes, they were banged up along the defensive line and lost Kwon Alexander for half the season, but the defense needs to see improvement against the run if it wants to see defensive success in 2020. Nose tackle D.J. Jones is back and ready to step into an expanded role. First-round pick Javon Kinlaw will also get opportunities to contribute in the run defense, as will rejuvenated tackle Kentavius Street and Solomon Thomas, who will also primarily play inside this season.

Kenyan Drake was a thorn the 49ers' side last season and it will be important to not allow the Cardinals to have a balanced offensive attack. Keeping Kyler Murray one-dimensional will be big key to winning this game for the Niners.

2) Protect Jimmy Garoppolo


The most underrated move of any team this offseason was the trade that brought in left tackle Trent Williams. He isn't just an upgrade over longtime star Joe Staley, he also makes the offensive line as good as any unit in the league. The duo of Williams and right tackle Mike McGlinchey anchors an offensive line that has been deep and stable for the last few seasons.

Though Weston Richburg will miss the first six games as he recovers from his patella tendon injury from last season, Ben Garland has proven that he is a very reliable backup. Laken Tomlinson has improved every season he has been a Niner and the versatile Daniel Brunskill looks ready to be a full time starter at right guard.

Protecting Garoppolo will not be a given, however, as Arizona has a very good pass rush, led by Chandler Jones. Though it will be a challenging day against the Cardinals' pass rush, expect the 49ers to win the battle in the trenches, allowing Garoppolo time to find open receivers and opening up running lanes for the backs. If it goes the other way, the Cardinals could steal this game.

3) Win the time of possession


Kyler Murray did a lot of damage last season in those two games, but the best way to limit him is to keep him on the bench. The 49ers were able to sustain a lot of long drives last year, but 2020 could see a big improvement in that area with two key players coming back from injury. Running back Jerick McKinnon is finally healthy and could be the threat out of the backfield the Shanahan offense has been missing. He is a matchup nightmare, has great hands and could see himself open a lot as teams focus on George Kittle.

Also returning to the fold is slot receiver Trent Taylor. Taylor was spectacular, especially on third down, during the final five games of the 2017 season when Garoppolo broke into the starting lineup. He is difficult to cover and, like McKinnon, has great hands. Expect Taylor to have a huge impact on the 49er offense and be a major reason for long drives.

4) Score in the red zone


2019 saw an improvement in the red zone and it reflected in the 49ers' record. Expect it to jump again if tight end Jordan Reed stays healthy and contributes. The 49ers' ground game is dangerous enough, but with Kittle, Reed, Taylor, Aiyuk, and Kendrick Bourne, San Francisco could have one of the top red zone offenses in the league.

When the 49ers hit the opponent's 20 yard line, you can bet coach Shanahan will have several plays to call that will leave at least one of those targets open. If San Francisco can put up touchdowns instead of field goals consistently, it will win the game on Sunday.

5) Force Kyler Murray into third and long


The Cardinals were at the most dangerous last season when they faced second-and-short, as well as third-and-short. They can run the ball, allow Murray to complete a short throw, or let their elusive quarterback pick up the first down on the ground. The Niners were able to get Murray off the field when they forced him to make a throw on third-and-long.

The key to this is winning on first down and stopping the run. If Robert Saleh can dial up the right calls to prevent the Cardinals from getting into manageable third downs, Arizona will find itself punting often.

Expect Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford and the rest of the pass rush to get after Murray and not allow him time to make big throws. This time, the defense will also be ready for those quick throws that it used to limit the pass rush, as it got used to that late in the 2019 season against Murray, Lamar Jackson, and Russell Wilson.

Prediction


The 49ers are going to be better than they were last season. This team knows how to win and has the talent to get the job done. San Francisco is going to show up, make some big plays on offense as well as force at least one turnover on defense and frustrate Kyler Murray.

George Kittle and Jordan Reed will both have good days and will open up the field for the rest of the offense. Jimmy Garoppolo will look better as well as he enters into full season year two in Shanahan's offense.

49ers 27, Cardinals 17
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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