As the San Francisco 49ers (1-1) try to bounce back from their embarrassing road loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1), it will be a game in which winning time of possession will be key.
The Arizona Cardinals (2-0) currently lead the NFL in scoring averaging 39.5 points per game, while possessing a very fluid yet balanced offense, so the 49ers defense will need to set the tone early and often, if they have any hopes of stealing a win on the road.
And that’s exactly how this game needs to play out for the 49ers.
Cardinals HC Bruce Arians does an exceptional job of mixing up his personnel packages to disguise run verse pass. At times he will start big with 13 personnel (one running back and three tight-ends) to draw up a nice play-action pass while then switching it up to four wide-out sets to up the run — so the 49ers will have their hands full on Sunday as their personnel package may be exposed at some point during the game.
However, 49ers DC Eric Mangini acknowledged he is well aware of Arians’ tactics as he alluded to this strategy in yesterday’s press conference. “I think he does a really nice job of generating problems with coverages,” Mangini said. “Whether it’s formations or personnel groups.”
So how will Mangini counter this attack? By devising a game-plan that encompasses a disruptive pass-rush while setting the edge on the outside. A task easier said than done, as the 49ers secondary was exposed last week, look for that to change on Sunday, as Mangini focused on the team’s pass-rush all week in preparation for this upcoming game.
Not to mention, 49ers FS Eric Reid and SS Antoine Bethea should provide more help on the back-end as Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald presents a mismatch for any 49ers defensive back, expect Mangini to take on a Fangio-approach this week as he plays a soft cover-2.
Aside from the Cardinals passing game it’s their 1-2 punch in the running game that should have Mangini worried. Led by seasoned veteran RB Chris Johnson and promising rookie third-round pick (No. 86) RB David Johnson— both have the speed to take it to the house on any given play.
That’s why setting the edge will be crucial for the 49ers defense as backside containment will need to come from second-year phenom OLB Aaron Lynch and OLB Ahmad Brooks. If Lynch and Brooks can rebound from their porous performance in Week 2, that should do wonders for the struggling defense.
While the 49ers defense looks to do their part, expect their running game to return to Week 1 form as the NFL’s leading rusher RB Carlos Hyde strings a few big plays on Sunday. The Cardinals front seven is not as formidable as in year’s past which makes Hyde a borderline fantasy stud.
At 6-0, 230, Hyde carries a heavy frame which makes tackling him extremely difficult one-on-one. If Hyde can hit the second-level with ease, look for him to lower his shoulder while dishing out a few blows to Cardinals defensive backs as he makes his presence felt. One player who would welcome the contact is Cardinals SS Deone Bucannon, so it will be interesting to see how he holds up if the two were to ever go heads up.
But as you know the running game all starts up front, so it will be imperative that the offensive line controls the line of scrimmages while opening up lanes for Hyde to hit.
If the running game can keep the defense honest, look for 49ers TE Vernon Davis to then score his first touchdown of the 2015 season. A player who I continue to be extremely high on, expect Davis to see at least six targets on Sunday while becoming QB Colin Kaepernick’s security-blanket down the seams and posts.
With the 49ers looking to get back in the win-column, they will simply need to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Whether bringing safeties down in the box or using extra offensive lineman in their heavy-run packages, the 49ers will need to win their battles down in the trenches, if they hope to win this game on the road.
In what I predict to be a defensive struggle, look for the 49ers to come out on top with a 23-20 win.
NinerFans.com 1-1 (Over/Under)
With the total points set at 44, I would stay slightly take the over. This game may be a defensive struggle all around where time of possession will play a key role in the outcome.
NinerFans.com 1-1 (line)
With the 49ers being -6.5 point underdogs, I would slightly take the 49ers.
Fantasy Football (2/6)
As you know we select three players each game who we think will score touchdowns (quarterbacks omitted). Here are this week’s picks.
RB Chris Johnson
TE Vernon Davis
WR Larry Fitzgerald
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