With a 1-7 record at the halfway point of the 2016 regular season, the San Francisco 49ers aren’t going to the postseason this year. Seven straight losses have put a damper on the promise of the first game of the season, a shutout win over the Los Angeles Rams at Levi’s Stadium that gave hope early on.

Reality has set in now, and the 49ers are on the road this weekend for the first time in a month. The Arizona Cardinals won the NFC West Division last year with a 13-3 record, and even though they’re not going to match that mark in 2016, the Cardinals are still a team to be feared with eight games to play this season.

Season Record

It’s been a strange year already for 3-4-1 Arizona, with wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the New York Jets and the 49ers. Those victories came by a combined 70 points. Three of the Cardinals’ losses have come by a combined 16 points, and then, of course, there was the tie against the Seattle Seahawks a few weeks ago where neither team could make a chip-shot field goal to win the game.

Arizona is a better team than its record indicates. Based on its scoring differential (plus-39), the Cardinals should be 5-3, so that’s the level of play fans should expect to see from this club on its home turf Sunday against San Francisco.

Cardinals On Offense

This is where the Arizona squad has dropped off a bit from 2015. The offense is scoring just 22.4 points per game, which is 19th right now in the NFL. That is down from the 30.6 points per game the Cardinals scored last season. Quarterback Carson Palmer hasn’t been bad, but he also just hasn’t been as good as he was last fall.

With the passing game suffering a bit of a drop, more pressure has been put on the Arizona running game. Running back David Johnson has responded with 705 yards on the ground and eight touchdowns so far. He is on pace for an outstanding season, and Johnson also has caught 35 passes for 407 yards. Needless to say, he’s been fantastic this year.

Cardinals On Defense

No team has given up fewer yards per game (297.0) so far this year. Arizona also is fourth in the league right now in scoring defense, giving up just 17.5 points a contest. Linebackers Markus Golden and Chandler Jones have combined for 11 sacks, and overall, the Cardinals have forced 15 turnovers so far this season.

What this means is that Arizona is sporting the best defense in the league. It is third against the pass (194.9 yards per game), which means if the 49ers fall behind early in this game, it will be next to impossible for San Francisco to catch up. The 49ers had just 135 passing yards against the Cardinals in a Week 5 loss.

Cardinals Players To Watch

If Palmer manages to find holes in the San Francisco secondary, it will be another long day for the 49ers. It’s safe to assume that Johnson will run wild against S.F., since the 49ers have given up seven straight 100-yard games to opposing running backs so far this season. Toss an effective Palmer into the mix, and it’s a bad combination for San Francisco.

Arizona’s other two linebackers, Deone Bucannon (59 tackles) and Kevin Minter (46 tackles), are ball-chasing machines, so the 49ers offense will have to get some blockers on pretty much everyone in the Cardinals’ defensive front seven if San Francisco wants to move the ball in this game.

Outlook

The problems the 49ers have on defense can’t be solved on a week-to-week basis right now. When facing any team with a good running back, San Francisco is going to be in trouble stopping the ground game. That’s the case this week with the Cardinals and Johnson. When it’s so easy to run the ball, even bad QBs can look good against the 49ers.

Arizona has had two weeks now to get mad and get ready for the second half of the season. San Francisco just doesn’t have the answers to stop any opponent, especially one with as much talent as the Cardinals posses. Look for the 49ers to play a similar game to the one against New Orleans: San Francisco will keep it mildly close in the first half, but Arizona will pull away in the second half for an easy 20-point victory.

 

Post Author: Sam McPherson.

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