Niner Noise went behind the scenes with Raising Zona to talk about the 49ers’ rivalry with their NFC West foes, the Cardinals, entering a turning-point 2022 season.
When one thinks of classic San Fransico 49ers rivalries, usually the teams that come to mind are the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants or, at least in more recent years, the Seattle Seahawks or Los Angeles Rams.
Not necessarily the Arizona Cardinals, although now-retired wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald sure made life hell on Niners fans.
That said, the Cards have been a proverbial “thorn in the side” of head coach Kyle Shanahan the last few years, and San Francisco has gone 3-7 against this NFC West rival ever since Shanahan arrived in 2017.
Yeah, not exactly the best record.
How these two teams fare against each other in 2022 could have dramatic ramifications on the division’s outcome this season.
So, to help fans of both teams prepare for this upcoming campaign, we went behind enemy lines with our FanSided partnering site, Raising Zona, with site expert Aarron Van Buren.
49ers vs. Cardinals: A 2022 Q&A with Raising Zona
NN: Both the Cardinals and 49ers understand what it’s like to have a high-profile player dealing with contract disputes, Arizona with Kyler Murray and San Francisco with Deebo Samuel. With regards to Murray, what’s the latest on that standoff, and how do you envision this getting resolved?
"RZ: Ever since Kyler Murray got his fifth-year option exercised, it’s been quiet on all fronts. It could be that way as Kliff Kingsbury said the equivalent of “You won’t hear from me” and went off on vacation somewhere. Maybe, Kingsbury has some say in the negotiation (highly unlikely, but who knows at this point).Regarding Murray’s contract, Kingsbury is on record saying that he’s “praying” it gets done by camp. Let me tell you that when Cardinals fans saw that specific word in there, it didn’t do much to put out the fire of something going wrong. Hopefully, this sentence is null and void in a few weeks. Arizona can’t afford to let Murray go, and botching contracts is something the Cardinals have historically done with tons of players.The Cardinals veterans report to camp on July 26. Time is running out, but I see a deal getting done."
NN: The NFC West might not be the gauntlet it was a year ago, but it’s still tough. What are your divisional power rankings heading into 2022?
"RZ: The obvious is that the L.A. Rams are in first place, no question about it. I still see the Cardinals just ahead of the 49ers based on their quarterback play, but the potential retirement of Rodney Hudson could cause seismic problems for Murray. The 49ers are ranked behind them in third place on a technicality, although the 49ers seem to have that gritty toughness that just doesn’t go away.I wouldn’t be surprised to see if the 49ers have a bounce-back year and finish second in the NFC West. Finally, Seattle is last because of two people: Pete Carroll and John Schneider. Thanks for trading Russell Wilson out of the conference!"
NN: We’ve watched the Cardinals collapse late in each of the last two seasons, and 2021 had to be particularly frustrating for Arizona after such a red-hot start. What do you think happened there, and how do you think it’ll be rectified this season?
"RZ: In 2020, it was blasphemous decision-making by Kliff Kingsbury. The pinnacle of this can be seen in the matchup with the Miami Dolphins, where Kingsbury went for it on fourth down multiple times early in the game, which they went 2-of-3 on. However, late in the fourth quarter, with the game tied 31-31, Kingsbury opted to go for a 4th-and-1, but Chase Edmonds didn’t convert. The Cardinals later on once again had a 4th-and-1 with the score 34-31 with less than two minutes to go.Instead of going for it when it really mattered, Kingsbury sent out Zane Gonzalez for a 49-yard field goal. He missed, game over.In 2021, the lack of adaptability hampered the Cardinals severely, along with no depth on the offensive line. No one will ever forget the primetime matchup late in the year when the Cardinals hosted the Rams. In the very first series, Aaron Donald lit up Max Garcia so bad it’s still embarrassing to this day. The league caught up to Kingsbury and the Cardinals, whose college offense is going to need a massive change to survive in the NFL.This year, I, unfortunately, don’t expect anything to be changed. I don’t think Kingsbury could put any new wrinkles into the offense outside of more 12 personnel with Trey McBride, but this isn’t an offense for tight ends. Murray will have to do what he’s always done: make Kingsbury look really darn good."
NN: Many a Niners fan has questioned the capability of Kliff Kingsbury as the Cardinals’ head coach. What’s the general consensus from Arizona fans in general about Kingsbury?
"RZ: It’s a mixed bag, as a lot of fans wanted him gone after the Wild Card round loss to the Rams. Nobody was hoping for a five-year extension, but one or two more years would’ve left a more positive outlook on Cardinals fans. If he doesn’t succeed this season, expect that five years to shrink."
NN: Who are some under-the-radar Cardinals players whom 49ers fans should be watching closely this season?
"RZ: Byron Murphy Jr. had a breakout season of sorts in terms of interceptions, but he still has a lot of work to do. If he can bat down a handful of more passes and lower his completion percentage when targeted, then he’s one guy to watch this year. The offensive version of this answer goes to the guy I mentioned earlier, Trey McBride.McBride was the first tight end off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft and had a stellar career at Colorado State. He can block just as well as he can catch, and he has a somewhat decent chance of becoming the Cardinals’ version of George Kittle. We’re desperate for a good tight end here in Arizona. To simply put how bad it’s historically been for the Cardinals?Zach Ertz’s stats from last year, even with the shortened amount of games he played with the team amounted to one of the top 10 years by a tight end in Cardinals history. This is what McBride was meant to do, so keep your eyes out for No. 85 on Sundays."
As is the case with every inter-division series, the Niners will play the Cardinals twice in 2022, the first time in Week 11 in what’s technically a road game for San Francisco but will be played at a neutral site in Mexico City.
Finally, the Niners wrap up their regular-season campaign against the Cards in Week 18 at Levi’s Stadium.
Read More: Predicting 49ers record vs. NFC West in 2022
The folks over at Raising Zona do some excellent work, so we encourage you to head over and check out our sister FanSided site on Twitter (@RaisingZona), and you should also give Van Buren a follow on Twitter, too — @_AVBSports.
A big thanks to the group over at Raising Zona for providing us with some insight for 2022.