Last week, I got some negative feedback as I said that the San Francisco 49ers (1-1) secondary needs to contain the Chicago Bears wide-receivers (1-1). The argument was that the 49ers contained Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant and that an encore performance would ensue. However, I was quick to point out that this time would be different as the 49ers face not one but two Pro Bowl wide-receivers while playing with a banged up secondary. What were the results? Well let’s just say that if you had Bears QB Jay Cutler on your fantasy team you came out a winner, as he completed 23 of 34 passes for 176 yards and four touchdowns.
Now, with the 49ers facing another tough receiving unit led by eight-time Pro Bowl WR Larry Fitzgerald, the question remains how will the secondary fare? Well considering the Cardinals receivers lit up the 49ers last season as Fitzgerald and WR Michael Floyd combined for 23 catches for 365 yards and two touchdowns, I would expect more of the same this time around.
Floyd continues to be QB Carson Palmer’s primary deep-threat. In the season opener, Floyd ran a simple go-route that translated into a big 63-yard gain. A play that needed trust as the Cardinals were backed up on their own 4-yard line, Palmer made a nice catch as Floyd hauled in the catch in stride. If the 49ers secondary is to stop the mid-to-deep routes, it will be up to players such as CB Chris Culliver and CB Perrish Cox to set the tone.
Whether or not CB Tramaine Brock comes back as he recovers from an ankle injury, the 49ers will still need to win their battles in zone coverage. A tough task for any defensive unit as the Cardinals have an array of weapons at their disposal including speedy rookie third-round pick (No. 91) WR John Brown, it will be interesting to see how the 49ers stack up.
Last week saw first-round pick (No. 30) DB Jimmie Ward get picked apart as he was clearly overmatched going against Pro Bowl WR Brandon Marshall in the slot. And while Brown may be a better matchup, there’s no guarantee Ward will have success. Brown ran the third fastest 40-yard time at the NFL scouting combine as he ran a 4.34 while also running the fastest 20-yard split with a 2.46, so you know Brown can stretch the field. And despite him being a 24-year old rookie, Brown will likely be targeted on those deeper routes as Palmer loves to throw the deep ball.
However, will Palmer be ready this week? That remains to be seen as QB Drew Stanton got the starting nod last week due to Palmer dealing with a right shoulder injury. And with Stanton filling in nicely while picking up a victory in the process, the 49ers must do a better job in pass coverage regardless of who’s behind center.
If the 49ers defense is unable to establish a pass rush, look for the Cardinals to have their fair share of big offensive plays as the Cardinals have a plethora of weapons at their disposal. And while Palmer may or may not be ready, the Cardinals still have Fitzgerald, Floyd, and Brown and that alone will make any defensive coordinator cringe.