Matchups that Will Make or Break Niners vs. Cardinals

By: Ethan Labouisse

This Sunday at 1:05 P.M. Pacific, our (1-1) San Francisco 49ers face off against a division rival in the (2-0) Arizona Cardinals. These two teams are coming off polar opposite performances, as the 49ers were decimated by the Steelers 43-18, while the Cardinals destroyed the Bears 48-23. Nonetheless, this should be an exciting and physical matchup, as the Cardinals look to continue their dominance while the 49ers attempt to bounce back.

This matchup will start and finish up front, as QB Colin Kaepernick’s play has been historically dependent on that of his offensive line. In 2012, the 49ers went to the Super Bowl, eventually leading acclaimed analyst Ron Jaworski to famously proclaim Colin Kaepernick could be “one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.” Not coincidentally, Pro Football Focus rated the 49ers offensive line as the best in the league in 2012. The year the 49ers went 8-8 and fired their head coach (Jim Harbaugh), Pro Football Focus gave the unit the 28th best pass blocking grade in the league. Given these stats, it is clear that Joe Staley and co. need to dominate the trenches this weekend in order for the ‘Niners to come out on top. One particular matchup of interest is 49ers journeyman RT Erik Pears vs. former Pro Bowler Calais Campbell. The ‘Niners should have little confidence in that 1 on 1 matchup, and need to give him help over the course of the game.

The Cardinals’ heralded secondary is a nightmare matchup for any team, but especially against one with such an average receiving corps. The 34 year old Anquan Boldin has clearly lost a step, and is solely a possession receiver at this point in his career. One-trick-pony Torrey Smith can stretch the field, but not much else. These two receivers are opposites, but neither is versatile enough to give All-Pro Patrick Peterson and speedster Jerraud Powers any real issues. Tyrann Mathieu and Deone Buccanon have impressed so far this season after disappointing 2014 campaigns, as the safety duo  has combined for 23 tackles and 1 forced fumble in 2 games. All told, the Cardinals’ secondary should know what to expect, and I predict that they will win the battle in the air this upcoming Sunday.

On the other side of the ball, the 49ers defense should match up well against the Arizona offense. NaVorro Bowman is a once-in-a-decade type of player, being awarded AP First Team All-Pro all 3 of the seasons in which he started every game. Veterans Antoine Bethea and Tramaine Brock lead an otherwise young secondary, and this defense should overall be able to contain the likes of Michael Floyd and Chris Johnson (starting for an injured Andre Ellington).

The X-factor for San Francisco this weekend is Carlos Hyde. If he plays like he did in Week 1, (26 attempts for 168 yards and 2 TDs), then the ‘Niners should be able to overcome their lack of threats in the passing game and win. If Carlos Hyde only produces 43 yards on 13 carries like he did last week against the Steelers, then the 49ers offense will be stunted, and they will lose this game. Jim Tomsula and offensive coordinator Geep Chryst need to commit to running the ball this weekend against a strong Cardinal’s defense if the 49ers are to come out on top against division leader Arizona Cardinals.

Cover Image: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015. The Steelers won 43-18. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)