Week 9 of the NFL season gets underway Thursday night with an NFC West clash between the undefeated San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals. Despite being on the road, the 49ers are listed as 10-point favorites over the Cardinals, who have won eight straight games over San Francisco. There is also an over/under of 43 points.
As mentioned, the 49ers remain undefeated at 7-0 heading into Thursday’s game. Not only has San Francisco made a remarkable turnaround after going 4-12 last year, but just one of its seven wins has been a one-possession game. Perhaps no win this season was more impressive than last week’s 51-13 shellacking of the Panthers.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, have been hot and cold in Kliff Kingsbury’s first season. After earning a tie with the Lions in Week 1, Arizona proceeded to lose three in a row. However, the Cardinals responded with three straight wins, albeit against the Bengals, Falcons, and Giants. Of course, that winning streak came to an end last week with a 31-9 loss to the Saints.
Banged Up Backfield
Arizona’s biggest problem heading into Thursday’s game could be the injuries in its backfield. Less than two weeks after a breakout performance against the Giants, Chase Edmonds has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. David Johnson is also questionable to play because of an ankle injury. Things were so bleak that the Cardinals traded for Kenyan Drake earlier this week and might be forced to put him in the lineup right away.
Outside of Kyler Murray’s scrambles, the Cardinals have had a tough time establishing a running game this season. On top of that, pass protection remains a serious problem. Despite Murray being able to run away from pressure at times, the Arizona offensive line has allowed 27 sacks in eight games this season. To add insult to injury, they have to face a San Francisco defense that’s one of the best in the NFL at getting after the quarterback, with rookie Nick Bosa accumulating three sacks last week against Carolina.
No Such Problem
The 49ers might not have an explosive offense, but they’ve had no trouble running the ball this year. With over 180 yards per game, San Francisco is averaging the second-most rushing yards in the NFL. It’s been a three-headed monster in the backfield with Tevin Coleman taking the lead last week after missing a couple of games due to injury. However, Matt Breida has taken the lead at times, and Raheem Mostert has also had a productive season when called up. Both Breida and Mostert are averaging better than five yards per carry.
Meanwhile, the Arizona defense is giving up close to 28 points per game. Even terrible rushing teams like the Falcons and Bengals have been able to gain over 100 yards rushing against the Cardinals. That doesn’t bode well for Arizona’s chances of containing the San Francisco rushing attack.
At times, Murray has shown flashes of pure brilliance. At this point, that’s the only hope the Cardinals might have in this game. Arizona can’t run the ball, it can’t stop the run, and it can’t pass protect. Those would all be problems against an average team, but they’re gigantic problems against San Francisco. Bet on the 49ers to cover the 10-point spread on Thursday.