With Week 1 approaching, the SF 49ers need to stop Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.
It was a long and uncertain journey, but the SF 49ers will soon be playing their first game for the 2020 season as they look to defend their NFC crown and try to go one better in 2020 and win the Super Bowl.
In their way stand the much-improved Arizona Cardinals, a team that could very easily be one of the big upstarts in the NFL after a few successful years of building their roster.
In both games last season, the Cardinals played beyond expectations and were a true divisional challenge for San Francisco. Behind quarterback Kyler Murray, the team showed a lot of potential and actually matched San Francisco, offensively.
With star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins coming in from the Houston Texans, the offense is much stronger than last year and is close to becoming potent.
And with the expanded playoff format, it’s not out of the question the Cardinals could even challenge for a Wild Card spot.
So naturally, fans should not fall into the trap of thinking this is the same Cardinals offense from last season. With Murray more experienced and with a big weapon at his disposal, they’ll be looking to match the 49ers.
For the 49ers to get off to a winning start this season, there are two areas where they need to be able to shut down Murray.
SF 49ers must apply consistent pressure
Murray is an agile quarterback and the biggest issue the 49ers had was containing mobile signal-callers throughout the season, despite the fearsome defensive line it boasted.
Led by EDGE Nick Bosa, the 49ers should still be too powerful in the trenches against the Cardinals offensive line and, in turn, put pressure on Murray.
Murray is adept at using his legs to both scramble and avoid pressure. However, what the 49ers need to do better this year is to contain scrambling quarterbacks and stop them from extending plays.
Interior pressure should help. Arik Armstead has shifted over to the other outside defensive line spot to allow EDGE Dee Ford a limited snap count (although he will be kicked inside for obvious passing downs), which means the starting defensive tackle duo will be Solomon Thomas and D.J. Jones, per the 49ers depth chart.
Quarterbacks loathe interior pressure, and it can be more difficult to avoid pressure when it’s coming right at your face.
SF 49ers must play tight coverage
Hopkins might be the new and shiny toy for the Cardinals offense, but it shouldn’t be overlooked Arizona also has a solid No. 2 in Christian Kirk as well as the ageless Larry Fitzgerald in their wide receiving corps.
Add in running back Kenyan Drake, who is a decent safety valve, and the Cardinals have a very underrated crop of pass-catching weapons.
The 49ers defensive mantra is very simple: consistent pressure by the defensive line, which allows the back seven of the team to focus primarily on coverage to shrink the holes in zone coverage.
Hopkins will probably require safety help given how talented he is, while the other players need to make sure they don’t get off the leash.
If they don’t, Murray is a perfectly capable passer who can pick apart the 49ers.
Keep the receivers on a tight leash, however, and the team should be able to contain Murray and start the season at 1-0.