The football season is finally upon us, and the San Francisco 49ers kick-off their regular season against the Arizona Cardinals.
Though they beat the Cardinals twice last year, neither game was a cakewalk.
In Week 9, San Francisco squashed an Arizona comeback attempt in the fourth quarter to preserve a 28-25 victory.
Just two weeks later, they had to overcome an early 16-0 deficit to come away with the 36-26 win.
Despite the 49ers going in as seven-point favorites, fans should expect another hotly contested game.
The 49ers are significant favorites against the Cardinals, but most experts expect another close one between the NFC West rivals in Week 1 (via @Wittnessed)https://t.co/m3kgJf8LVu pic.twitter.com/Absjavv5nK
— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) September 12, 2020
A win against their rival will go a long way in establishing dominance in what many expect to be the best division in the NFL.
The 49ers will be missing a vital piece of their offense heading into Sunday.
Deebo Samuel, who fractured his foot in June, will not be eligible to play until Week 4.
The 49ers have placed WR Deebo Samuel on IR, per source. He’s out at least 3 games.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) September 12, 2020
There were rumors for a possible return this weekend, but the 49ers brass ultimately decided it was best to slow play his recovery.
Meanwhile, fellow wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk appears ready to make his debut.
He tweaked his hamstring a few weeks ago but should get some snaps for the first time as a professional.
Kyle Shanahan would not confirm his availability but expected to have him on the field.
“Right now, I feel he could get through it,” Shanahan said yesterday. “We’ve just got to decide what that risk is. That will be something that you constantly talk to the trainers about, but it’s also, at this point, something we’ve got to keep talking to Brandon about. But we’ll make sure we do what’s best for him.”
Backup center Ben Garland will also be a game-time decision after spraining his ankle in late August.
His presence is crucial for the 49ers, who are already without starting center Weston Richburg for the first six weeks.
Defensive captain Fred Warner was activated from the COVID-19 reserve list on Wednesday and should have zero restrictions.
Key Matchups To Watch
Jimmy Garappolo vs. Cardinals pass defense
Jimmy Garappolo threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns three times last season.
However, two of those games came against the Cardinals.
Arizona ranked 31st in pass yards allowed to opposing offenses, so the 49ers quarterback should be able to pick apart this unit once again.
Though he will not have Samuel at his disposal, Garappolo still has a strong bevy of pass catchers to rely on.
George Kittle vs. Budda Baker and Isaiah Simmons
George Kittle is the best tight end in the league and a focal point for this 49ers offense.
The Cardinals just so happened to finish dead last in yards and touchdown allowed to this position.
Despite fielding one of the best safeties in Budda Baker, he is too small to challenge Kittle on every snap.
— Coach Yac 🗣 (@Coach_Yac) August 25, 2020
To combat this issue, Arizona drafted Isaiah Simmons with the eighth overall pick, an athletic and dynamic hybrid linebacker out of Clemson.
Standing at 6’4″ and with 4.39 speed, Simmons has the size and speed to compete with Kittle.
Still, it is unlikely that either one of these players can contain Kittle, who is bound to receive as many targets as he can handle.
49ers running backs vs. Cardinals rush defense
The 49ers finished second in the league in rush yards last year with 153.5 yards per game on the ground.
“They see us as a team they were able to kind of shut down."
— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) September 12, 2020
Against Arizona, though, they mustered an average of just 67.5 yards per game.
At the time, Raheem Mostert had yet to command the backfield, so perhaps we will see more of him this weekend.
Regardless, it will be interesting to see what adjustments Shanahan makes to correct last year’s struggles.
DeAndre Hopkins vs. Richard Sherman
In one of the most shocking offseason moves of the last decade, the Cardinals traded for All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Hopkins is a mismatch nightmare, posting 100 receptions three times and 1,100 yards in six of his eight seasons.
The 49ers will counter with their own future Hall of Famer in Richard Sherman, who was once again one of the best cornerbacks in the league.
look at how Kliff Kingsbury adjusted his WR strategy from Week 9's meeting last year to the rematch just two weeks later.
Kyler went away from Sherman significantly more often in the rematch.
watching how he deploys WRs w Hopkins.
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 10, 2020
Hopkins will probably lineup against whoever plays opposite of Sherman, but when they do face each other, it is sure to be fierce.