Cardinals vs. SF 49ers: Raising Zona gives insight to Week 1 NFC West bout

Defensive lineman Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers with Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Defensive lineman Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers with Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

With the SF 49ers ready to host the Cardinals on Sunday, Niner Noise went behind enemy lines with Raising Zona to preview this NFC West matchup.

The SF 49ers‘ 2020 regular-season campaign is slated to begin this upcoming Sunday with a Week 1 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, a team coming off a 5-10-1 record and last-place finish in the NFC West last season.

But despite Arizona’s woes, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad still had trouble with its division rivals in both games last year, surviving a late push by the Cardinals in Week 9 on Halloween before engineering a come-from-behind victory in Week 11 where quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hit running back Jeff Wilson for a clutch fourth-quarter go-ahead touchdown.

Needless to say, Arizona had no trouble giving the Niners fits last season and could be poised to do so again right out of the gate in 2020, especially after nabbing three-time first-team All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins during the offseason.

While it’s easy for Niner Noise to speculate and analyze what could happen during this Week 1 bout, it’s also beneficial to get the insight and analysis from behind enemy lines.

To do so, we contacted our friends over at FanSided’s Cardinals site, Raising Zona, to chat with site expert Scott Allen about this upcoming matchup.

NN: After trading for DeAndre Hopkins during the offseason, it appears the Arizona Cardinals are moving beyond the rebuilding phase and into a legitimate playoff-contender mode. What are the general expectations for Arizona this season among the fanbase?

"RZ: It’s all over the place. For the most part, it appears Cardinals fans believe this team will be better. Some are real homers and think they can win the division and even further. I love the passion but I also like to live in reality. The reality is they can certainly win 12 games and go 12-4, however pretty much everything would have to go right for them this season. More realistic is a 9-7 or 10-6 record and contend for a Wild Card spot. The worst-case scenario is 6-10, but they had a chance to win 10 last year, finishing 5-10-1. They need to learn how to close games out, stop offenses more often, and convert field goals into touchdowns more often."

NN: Kyler Murray showed why he was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft last season. Heading into year two, what are some of the ways you would like to see Murray build upon his rookie season, and what are the next necessary steps for his maturation and development?

"RZ: Certainly being patient is key. Maybe take more time for a play to develop, but that is also on the offensive line to give him time. He doesn’t always need to scramble. Also, don’t give up on plays so easily, don’t take unnecessary sacks by laying down."

NN: The Cardinals offense was in the middle of the pack last year, but their defense was something of a liability, giving up the fifth-most points (442) and most yards (6,432) in the NFL. Which offseason changes and roster additions do you think improve Arizona’s defense the most this season, and what do you think the team needs to improve upon from last year?

"RZ: This, without a doubt, is the biggest reason for winning just five games and not closer to 10 last year. The biggest addition is [Clemson linebacker] Isaiah Simmons. We’ll see how much he’ll contribute early. He’ll be a backup but should get a lot of playing time, mostly in the middle as a linebacker, though he does possess the versatility to move around, something the Cardinals coaching staff has said may not happen much. Also, they get a full season of Patrick Peterson.Let’s face it, he was awful for most of his 10 games he got last year after his suspension. He looked like he gave up in the first Cardinals-49ers game last season in Glendale.I think he comes back strong this year."

NN: From an outsider’s perspective, what are you thinking will be the SF 49ers’ greatest challenges they’ll face this season? And if you were head coach Kliff Kingsbury, how would you go about attacking some of the Niners’ weaknesses? Are there any areas you think the Cardinals could exploit in Week 1?

"RZ: The biggest challenge I see is getting back to the Super Bowl. Only eight teams that lost the Super Bowl returned to the game the following season. Certainly, they didn’t change a whole lot, personnel-wise. They will win 10 to 12 games I believe. I think the Cardinals have a pretty good idea of what they will see.Both games last season were decided in the final minutes. Both games were lost by the Cardinals thanks to their defense. They could not get a third-down stop in Glendale and, well, the ridiculousness we saw in the SF 49ers winning the second game in Santa Clara. It’s hard to pinpoint any glaring weaknesses up and down the roster.I believe it will come down to seeing if the Cardinals can make a few more stops on defense."

NN: What are some of the individual matchups you’re looking forward to when the SF 49ers host the Cardinals to kick off the regular season?

"RZ: Murray against the 49ers defensive line. Will he be able to move around like he did against them last season? Of course with it being the first game of the season, most Cardinals fans are excited to see the Murray-DeAndre Hopkins dynamic. We are excited to see how it matches up against the 49ers secondary."

Murray scrambling is certainly something the Niners need to anticipate on Sunday, and Shanahan’s defense surely had issues containing mobile quarterbacks last year. On one hand, it’s somewhat beneficial San Francisco will be fully rested and as healthy as can be when facing off against Murray.

On the other, though, the lack of a preseason and abbreviated offseason could pose some problems with defensive breakdowns, opening up the increased chances of Murray hitting Hopkins for chunk yardage.

Yet Arizona’s defense, which was problematic last year, also figures to be something of a liability again in 2020, meaning the SF 49ers shouldn’t have a shortage of opportunity in moving the ball.

Either way, this NFC West bout should be nothing short of exciting and telling for both squads.

Be sure to check out Raising Zona on FanSided, and also give Scott Allen — @azsportsguy — a follow on Twitter.

Next. Cardinals vs. 49ers: 5 battles to watch in season opener. dark

The SF 49ers and Cardinals kick off on Sunday, Sept. 13 at 4:25 p.m. from Levi’s Stadium.