SF 49ers Key No. 1: Defensive front containing Kyler Murray
Last season, the SF 49ers were one of the most prolific teams at rushing the passer, ranking third in the NFL in pressure rate at 39.2 percent behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers.
In their two matchups with the Cardinals, the 49ers defense sacked Kyler Murray seven times and pressured him frequently.
However, Murray was able to slip and slide his way around some of the pressure and make plays in the passing game buying time, as well as picking up yardage scrambling and running with the ball. Murray had 103 yards on 13 carries with a touchdown in the two contests, extending plays and drives in the process.
Defensive linemen Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Arik Armstead and Co. were able to put pressure on Murray, but occasionally lost containment on him, allowing those extended plays. In fact, as well as Bosa was at pressuring QBs last season, he struggled at times keeping his balance while in pursuit and lost edge containment in the process.
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After one full season and another offseason to work on his technique, chances are he will improve in this area, and it may be needed right out of the gate against Murray and Kenyon Drake.
Ford has also struggled on outside edge containment at times in his career, but perhaps that improves since he is healthier than he has been since joining the team in 2019.
In addition to the defensive line, the healthy return of linebacker Kwon Alexander could assist the defensive game plan against Murray and Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. Alexander has previously been used by defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to spy mobile quarterbacks. Alexander suffered a serious pectoral injury in the first meeting and was out for the second matchup in November.
In his absence, Murray nearly had double the rushing yards, going from 34 yards to 67 in that contest.
If the 49ers defensive front overpursues and loses containment on Murray, he will extend plays, pick up first downs with his legs or buy DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, and the rest of the Cardinals receiving corps more time to get open.
With a division game to start the season, both teams will be looking to come out of the gate strong and send a message. For the Cardinals, they want to establish that they are for real and ready to take the next step and challenge for a playoff spot and perhaps a division crown.
And for the SF 49ers, they want the Cardinals and the rest of the NFL to know they have unfinished business in their pursuit of a sixth Lombardi Trophy.