SF 49ers Key No. 2: 49ers rushing attack versus Arizona defense
While Jimmy G and the SF49ers passing attack picked apart the Arizona secondary twice last season, they struggled running the ball against the Cardinals.
The 49ers managed just 150 yards on 50 rushes, a 3.0 yards-per-rush average combined in the two games. To put that in context, they averaged 144 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry on the season.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan is an excellent offensive play caller, but the offense operates much more efficiently when the team can run the ball and utilize play action. In fact, the Niners used it on 29 percent of their plays last season, which ranked sixth in the league. Behind the three-pronged attack of running backs Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, and Jerick McKinnon, the 49ers will look to devastate opposing defenses in the run game to set up big pass plays in the middle of the field and occasionally test them deep.
In contrast, Arizona ranked just 24th in the NFL last season in run defense. The team attempted to address that issue by adding a pair of defensive linemen from the 2020 NFL Draft in Utah’s Leki Fotu and LSU’s Rashard Lawrence. Combined with rookie first-round pick Isaiah Simmons of Clemson slated to start at inside linebacker, and the acquisition of the aforementioned Jordan Phillips from the Bills, the Cardinals should be improved up front in 2020.
While Garoppolo certainly has plenty of weapons at his disposal in the passing attack with pass-catchers Deebo Samuel (if available), George Kittle, rookie Brandon Aiyuk, and McKinnon out of the backfield, this game may very well hinge on how effectively they can run the ball, chew up some clock, and keep Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, running back Kenyon Drake and Co. off the field.