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5Qs, 5As: Previewing Cardinals-49ers with Niners Nation

The Arizona Cardinals take on the San Francisco 49ers and we preview the game with Niners Nation.

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Happy Saturday one and all.

We are lucky enough to have Niners Nation answer questions about tomorrows matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals, and I actually double dipped and have Kyle Posey today and Ryan Bainbridge tomorrow.

Today, let’s take a look at what Kyle has to say.

1. Brock Purdy is putting up MVP level numbers, Brandon Aiyuk is already over 1,000 yards on the season, Deebo Samuel is on pace for over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and Christian McCaffrey is probably the most electric player in the game. So, who is the one player that the Niners cannot afford to lose as they head into the playoffs?

Brock Purdy

Expecting the 49ers offense to click on all cylinders with Sam Darnold isn’t fair to Darnold and is unreasonable. Most pundits will point out that Purdy has a star-studded cast to throw to but ignore how much different he is from previous signal-callers for the Niners. The 49ers played a game without Aiyuk and scored 30. They lost the games without Deebo, but one of those was a chip shot missed field goal and the other the difference in the game was an interception that went through a cornerbacks hands and resulted in a touchdown.

Purdy does little things like extend drives with his legs or pass up a checkdown route for a receiver 15 yards down the field. Would it suck not having McCaffrey to throw it to or hand the ball off to? Of course. But the offense has been maximized under the quarterback, and that’s difficult for people to grasp.

2. Explain what the difference is for the defense since the addition of Chase Young.

The 49ers numbers have skyrocketed defensively since Young has been on the roster. Sacks, pressure rate, points allowed, you name it, and there’s been significant improvements. I may be in the minority here, but Young is getting too much of the credit. Let’s take the last game, for example. Young played 29 snaps and had one pressure. He did not record a tackle. The 49ers defense had 22 as a team and were without one of their best players, defensive tackle Arik Armstead.

Young gives them another competent pass rusher and a player who is very good against the run, but his snap count has fluctuated enough during the past couple of games to suggest the coaching staff isn’t leaning on him like they initially might have hoped. The success defensively and specifically the pass rush is more about players being fresh after the bye and your old friend, Steve Wilks, getting more creative with his looks than anything.

3. Who has stepped up since the injury to Talanoa Hufanga?

Rookie Ji’Ayir Brown was drafted in the third round, and it looked like he wouldn’t be needed during his first year. Replacing an All-Pro is impossible, but Brown has been equally as impactful. He’s a plus athlete, but Brown sees the field like a veteran. It’s helped put him in a position to make plays. Brown has a couple of pass breakups and an interception since he’s taken over as a starter, but he’s taken away so many routes where he won’t get credit for.

Brown plays the single-high, centerfield role at free safety. Unlike Hufanga, Brown is better suited to play in this role. So, if anything, he’s helped Wilks run his defense the way he wants to with a true free safety to erase any deep mistakes, which is exactly what Ji’Ayir has done.

4. Are there any weaknesses that you would like to see worked out over the last four games?

The 49ers are awfully inexperienced in the secondary, so a good play-caller can play with their eye discipline and hit on an explosive play. If you have a receiver who can win 1-on-1 on the perimeter, especially if Charvarius Ward is out, the youth at cornerback could be a concern.

But I think it’s the offensive line and pressuring Brock Purdy. Teams haven’t struggled to put pressure on the 49ers. Left guard Aaron Banks was added to the injury report on Thursday and right guard Spencer Burford missed last week. The musical chairs have hurt the cohesiveness, and it’s shown up in pass protection when the opposing defense runs different games and stunts. Purdy has worked wonders behind an offensive line that’s left a lot to be desired, but that’s not what you want for your 23-year-old quarterback.

5. DraftKings Sportsbook has seen the line fall down to 49ers -12. This feels like a trap for bettors, but is this a week where the Niners just beat a team and not thoroughly dominate them from kickoff? Or is this more based on the injuries the Niners are dealing with?

It definitely feels like a trap. It opened at 13.5, which is high for any divisional game between any opponents. But it’s a road spot, and we’ve seen teams like the Cowboys and Steelers come to the desert and lose outright. The 49ers are leaps and bounds better than those teams, but gambling is more about the spot than the matchup. The 49ers are two weeks removed from their Super Bowl against the Eagles. They played their rivals, the Seattle Seahawks before and after Philly. Now, with a game looming against the Baltimore Ravens in a battle against the two best teams in the NFL, the 49ers are in a position where they might be without two starting defensive tackles, a linebacker, a cornerback, and an offensive lineman.

Arizona can also run the ball, and that’s not counting what Kyler Murray brings to the table. The 49ers held Jalen Hurts in check, but that’s a 4.5 QB and Kyler is easy 4.3. It feels weird to say this about a 3-10 team but I think the Cardinals are in a better position to score than the teams the 49ers have recently played. Shifty receivers like Hollywood Brown and Rondale Moore give this team more issues than a DK Metcalf. If Conner can give them four yards and a cloud of dust and Kyler can live in 3rd & 5, the Cardinals are in a position to score.

This doesn’t feel like a spot where the 49ers dominate. I think we see plenty of points, but Arizona ends up covering. 31-21.