49ers news: The key to beating each NFC West team in 2021

Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks is tackled by Dre Greenlaw #57 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks is tackled by Dre Greenlaw #57 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /
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Kyle Shanahan, SF 49ers, Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan (left) with Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury (right) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The 49ers play in a gauntlet of a division, the NFC West, in 2021. Yet there’s one key for the Niners pulling off wins against each of their opponents here.

The San Francisco 49ers probably wouldn’t mind being temporarily relegated to a lackluster division like the NFC East or the AFC South in 2021.

Especially with the NFC West projected to be such a gauntlet this season.

It’s possible all four teams — the Niners, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams — all make it into the playoffs this year, thanks to the seventh seed added to each conference. Yet it’s also possible a 9-8 record also generates a fourth-place finish within the division, too.

Simply stated, there’s a good chance all four NFC West squads beat themselves up this season.

While suggesting San Francisco goes a perfect 6-0 against its divisional opponents this year would be both premature and potentially irresponsible, a 4-2 record against the rest of the NFC West might be enough to secure a division title and a home playoff game in January of 2022.

For that to happen, though, the 49ers would need to follow at least one key for beating each of their divisional opponents this season.

Starting off by taking advantage of Arizona’s head coach.

49ers vs. Cardinals (Weeks 5 and 9): Force Kliff Kingsbury into bad decisions

The Cardinals have a playoff-caliber roster. There’s not too much to doubt about that. And as the Niners’ Week 1 loss last year showed, All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is as dangerous a weapon there is.

But Arizona’s head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, was still bit by poor decision-making late in the year, which included an upset loss to San Francisco in Week 16 with (gulp) an effective C.J. Beathard starting at quarterback.

In addition to Kingsbury’s squad boasting a league-high 113 penalties last year, his in-game management and maturation of the offense with quarterback Kyler Murray under center were abysmal down the stretch, as SB Nation’s Revenge of the Birds pointed out:

"Despite Kyler Murray’s ascension in year two, the intermediate passing game never developed under Kingsbury. The running game, which was increidbly effective a year ago, seemingly disppeared as the weather turned. Penalties were an issue from start to finish and unless Kyler Murray was playing at an elite level, the unit’s margin for error was incredibly slim. Keep in mind that Kliff Kingsbury is suppose to hang his hat on consistent offensive production. If he’s not doing that, what is he good for?"

Kingsbury is the weakest NFC West coach by a wide margin, so the 49ers forcing him to make key decisions is the prime way they can effectively neutralize players like Hopkins and Murray.