Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers: Matchups, prediction for the NFC West showdown

    The Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers game is full of exciting matchups to watch. What is our prediction for this NFC West showdown?

    Based on their records, the Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers might not appear incredibly intriguing, but there is playoff seeding and divisional interest in this NFC West contest. Plus, watching Kyler Murray is enough to tune into any game for — if he plays. Add in the intrigue surrounding the quarterback situation in San Francisco, and there are some juicy storylines to follow adjacent to the actual game.

    Arizona Cardinals offense vs. San Francisco 49ers defense

    Unsurprisingly, the Cardinals’ offense is third in offensive EPA/play (Expected Points Added). They also rank sixth in success rate. However, their weighted DVOA (Football Outsider’s efficiency metric) is significantly lower, ranking 12th overall.

    That’s probably because they don’t run the ball well according to DVOA, ranking 23rd in the metric compared to their 15th-ranked success rate and sixth-ranked EPA.

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    Meanwhile, the 49ers rank 20th in EPA/play defensively and 15th in DVOA. They’re significantly better defending the run than they are the pass. It comes down to allowing big plays through the air with this defense.

    San Francisco is not bad at defending the pass from a success standpoint. They’re 15th in the league in dropback success rate but are only 22nd in EPA/play. They have the seventh-ranked run defense, according to DVOA. This should make for an aerial display on Sunday.

    Kyler Murray/Colt McCoy vs. 49ers defense

    Murray is dealing with an ankle injury. Reports say he is a game-time decision, and he will test out his ankle pre-game to determine if he will play. We’ve seen enough of Colt McCoy throughout the years to know we’re probably going to get well-below-average quarterback play, but nothing so bad that it destroys the team. If DeAndre Hopkins can go, he could make a massive impact on a quarterback with limited NFL success.

    The 49ers’ defense lost several troops over the past few weeks. Jimmie Ward won’t play Sunday, meaning both starting safeties are out. This doesn’t give anyone an advantage in particular, but the 35-year-old McCoy shouldn’t have too many mental mistakes against this secondary.

    Advantage: Push

    Cardinals skill position players vs. 49ers secondary

    Much like the high-tier quarterback versus a defense, highly skilled weapons on offense hold an inherent advantage over even the best defenses.

    The 49ers aren’t that. They especially aren’t that, given how utterly banged up they are right now. Josh Norman has flashed his old playmaking ability, but he’s not athletic or consistent enough at this point to be counted on as a starting cornerback. Talanoa Hufanga is giving it his best go, but he’s still a rookie Day 3 pick adjusting to the NFL.

    Fred Warner patrolling the middle makes a huge difference, but the Cardinals don’t necessarily frequent the area he patrols due to … limiting factors based on their personnel. In short, Murray is short, and it’s more difficult for him to create throwing windows over the middle. He can do it, but they probably won’t test it much against Warner.

    I could list the depth chart for the Cardinals, but that would be overkill. We know their weapons. Even if Hopkins and A.J. Green can’t play in Week 9, they have more than enough firepower.

    Advantage: Cardinals

    Cardinals offensive line vs. 49ers defensive front

    Nick Bosa played on the right side of the defensive line almost exclusively over the first six games of the season. However, in Week 8, he played most of the snaps on the opposite side. That’s what I’d look for in Week 9 also because the 49ers should aim to get him across from Kelvin Beachum and not D.J. Humphries, although Bosa has an advantage against either.

    In fact, the whole defensive front has the advantage here. This is the only sore spot on Arizona’s offensive side of the ball, depending on how you feel personally about the man calling the plays. Losing Rodney Hudson was a significant blow to the Cardinals. With the addition of Charles Omenihu, I expect to see San Francisco put Arik Armstead on the interior more often.

    Advantage: 49ers

    San Francisco 49ers offense vs. Arizona Cardinals defense

    Sometimes analytics can be a funky thing. For instance, the Denver Broncos offense is awful. We’ve seen that for about four weeks now. But they performed so well in the first few weeks that they still rank 11th in EPA/play, which could lead the nerds down a very dark path were they to try and claim that offense is sufficient.

    The 49ers rank 12th in offensive EPA/play. Yet, they’re only 18th in points per drive, and their success rate is the same. San Francisco’s run game has improved as the season’s progressed, but they still lack juice in the passing attack unless Deebo Samuel makes a massive run after the catch.

    Meanwhile, the Cardinals have easily been the most over-performing defensive team in the league. By looking at their depth chart, one would assume they’ve simply played against bad QBs, which explains their defensive success. However, they’ve faced some very good teams and QBs and found success.

    Unfortunately, they also lost J.J. Watt for the season, which is a significant blow. They need a complementary pass rusher to Chandler Jones, and now, that piece is missing.

    Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Cardinals defense

    The Cardinals have been opportunistic defensively. They’re an average team in success rate (13th) but outstanding in EPA/play (second). Jimmy Garoppolo is prone to mistakes intermittently, making his inconsistent accuracy and lack of downfield passing ability all the more frustrating.

    However, if Garoppolo can avoid those mental errors, he could realistically make this offense work against Arizona. Garoppolo didn’t get a shot at them last time around. He may not admit it, but he must desperately want to put up a 30-burger against the Cardinals to prove to himself and San Francisco he’s a better option than Trey Lance currently. But that could also lead to him pressing, and in turn, making mistakes.

    Advantage: Cardinals

    49ers skill position players vs. Cardinals secondary

    Marco Wilson starting at outside cornerback is an interesting organizational decision, but the Cardinals really don’t have any other options. Robert Alford has played well, but seeing the 33-year-old playing well in his first significant role since 2018 doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Byron Murphy is playing some darned good football, though.

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    Meanwhile, Brandon Aiyuk appears to have at least one leg out of Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse, which is good for everyone involved. Samuel is one of the most dominant forces in the league at receiver, and Mohamed Sanu is playing well as another option in the 49ers’ passing attack.

    Advantage: 49ers

    49ers offensive line vs. Cardinals defensive front

    This is why I’m here. I am here to see Chandler Jones against Trent Williams. The only thing that truly matters aside from the scoring outcome is this battle of the titans.

    Jones is one of the most technically proficient pass rushers in the NFL. Williams is the best left tackle in the game. Let’s get it!

    Aside from that, the Cardinals don’t bring much to the table on the defensive front. Isaiah Simmons, Jordan Hicks, and rookie Zaven Collins are playing well, but they don’t help you get to the passer in their current form.

    Meanwhile, the 49ers’ offensive line is their biggest bright spot on the field aside from Samuel. They’re also beginning to dominate as a run-blocking team again, and Elijah Mitchell brings the juice that Shanahan loves in a runner.

    Advantage: 49ers

    Betting line and game prediction

    The 49ers vs. Cardinals game is a 3-point spread favoring San Francisco. That line makes a lot of sense, given the uncertainty surrounding Arizona’s offense without the high-powered Murray.

    The 45-point over/under feels like a good number, too. Even though we’ve seen teams win games with backup quarterbacks, in almost every instance, it’s been a defensive struggle. This feels like a low-scoring game, with the 49ers pulling out a close victory.

    Prediction: 49ers 21, Cardinals 18

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