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

Previewing the Arizona Cardinals game against the San Francisco 49ers

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

We saw what Kyle Posey had to say yesterday about the San Francisco 49ers heading into the game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Now, let’s see what Ryan Bainbridge 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?

All those players are so great it may look hard to pick one. BUT I think the easy choice is Trent Williams. Without Williams this season the Niners offense looked far less efficient. The offensive line in general has been the team’s weakness. They rank 15th in pass block win rate and 23rd in run block win rate. PFF ranks them 28th in pass block grade. Especially in their last game against Seattle, the Niners struggled to run the ball to the right side. But when they attempt plays to the left, especially behind Trent, they are nearly impossible to stop. With Trent on the bench, the passing game is hindered and Purdy has much less time to throw before pressure. All the other guys have backups that might keep the offense on schedule, albeit less explosive. But with Trent, there are no options to replacing a perennial all-pro.

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

Chase Young is a game wrecker. There’s no doubt his presence has been felt in the pass rush and in setting the edge against the run. Nick Bosa especially has flourished with his former Ohio State teammate starting at the opposite edge. Teams simply cannot double team Bosa every play. They can’t double team any of their defensive linemen at this point, especially with the depth now behind Young. The Young trade coincided with a two other noticeable changes to improve the defense. First, they have benched Isaiah Oliver from the nickel position in favor of Deommodore Lenoir, who has bumped inside with Ambry Thomas filling in on the outside. Secondly, Steve Wilks has moved from the box to the field for play calling. Having Chase in the rotation has allowed Wilks to also play more five man fronts and interchange players inside and outside, making it so difficult for opposing offensive linemen to handle down after down.

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

Rookie Ji’Ayir Brown has stepped in in Hufanga’s absence and has played incredibly well. Recently Richard Sherman had this to say about the third-rounder: ““The greatest compliment that I think I can give you, is that you don’t notice you out there. You don’t notice you’re a rookie, you don’t notice you in the best possible way.” It’s true, the secondary doesn’t appear to have missed a beat since the injury. Brown has a PFF grade of 73.9, 68.6, and 88.3 in his three starts since Hufanga went down. He is playing fast and has shown he has already caught up to the mental side of the game.

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

Ideally SF would blow out all of their opponents the way they have over the last two games. But there would be tremendous value in seeing the team play from behind, especially in the second half. Getting out to a comfortable lead is great and the number one seed is more important, but right now that’s the only question with the team as a whole. In terms of weaknesses, as mentioned the offensive line isn’t ranking highly in a number of metrics. Seeing them dominate a bit more the last few games of the season should provide them the confidence they need to handle the advanced pressure in the post-season.

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?

The Niners are playing with a lot of confidence after two straight dominant performances. But to keep it up, they will have to keep their eyes on this game. They cannot look past it to what is waiting next week. Arizona played them tougher than the box score indicated in the first contest and that was without Kyler Murray. I worry about the interior defensive line against the Cardinals rushing attack with Hargrave and Armstead out. But I don’t think it gives Arizona enough of the advantage to cover. I think Niners win by at least two touchdowns and Purdy propels his MVP levels even further.