No. 1: Either 49ers or Cardinals winning the run-stopping battle
The No. 1 goal for both Kyle Shanahan and Kliff Kingsbury in this contest should be winning the ground game, and on both sides of the ball, too.
For Kingsbury, the fact Colt McCoy is likely to take snaps under center means a bigger emphasis must be placed on the Cardinals’ top two running backs, James Conner and Chase Edmonds. Edmonds, in particular, is tearing up the league with 427 rush yards while averaging a whopping 5.7 yards per attempt.
This won’t be an easy assignment for a San Francisco defense that has struggled against interior runs and is currently allowing opponents to rush for 4.4 yards per carry.
Yet the advantage might actually shift in the 49ers’ favor on the flip side, particularly when factoring in running back Elijah Mitchell’s torrid pace to start the season. Mitchell, the sixth-round rookie out of Louisiana-Lafayette, has already tied a franchise record with three 100-yard rushing games in his first season as a pro. Last week, Mitchell gained 137 yards on the ground plus a touchdown, and he’s currently averaging an impressive 5.3 yards per carry.
Hoping to stop this, Arizona’s defense enters the fray with an average of 4.9 rush yards against, 31st in the NFL.
Either way, whichever team stops the opponent’s rushing attack will be in a good position to come away with the win.