Coach Kliff Kingsbury has instituted a phrase called ‘Move On Mondays,’ which encourages the Cardinals to quickly put the previous game in the rearview mirror.
There was no need for that reminder this week with a frightening sight dead ahead.
Four days after playing a Super Bowl contender, the Cardinals will face another one as they host the 49ers (7-0) in a Halloween edition of “Thursday Night Football.” San Francisco, fresh off a 51-13 thrashing of the Panthers last week, is one of two undefeated teams remaining in the NFL.
The Cardinals (3-4-1) hung with the Saints for a while last week before unraveling, but there was no time to dwell. By Monday, quarterback Kyler Murray was saying how badly he wanted to return to the field, and he gets his wish in this nationally televised affair.
“It should be fun,” Murray said. “Wearing all black, Thursday night, real first primetime game for us. Just trying to go out there and put on a show and protect home.”
Kingsbury said it was a new experience game-planning in such a small window, and he had the added difficulty of incorporating three inexperienced running backs into the strategy.
Kenyan Drake, Alfred Morris and Zach Zenner are the newcomers expected to play against San Francisco with David Johnson (ankle) questionable and Chase Edmonds (hamstring) ruled out.
Johnson and Edmonds had emerged as two of the Cardinals’ most potent playmakers, and their absence in this game could loom large.
“It’s tough, but everybody deals with it,” Kingsbury said. “Offensively, we had gotten a good rhythm going, a good groove with both those guys, and when you lose them both, you have to find other ways to move the football. That’s what we’re working through this week.”
The personnel losses are an issue, and an even bigger one is the opponent. The 49ers are allowing only 11.0 points per game this season, which is second in the NFL, and are on pace to be one of the best defenses of the past 35 years, per Football Outsiders.
The 49ers chose Nick Bosa with the pick after Murray went No. 1 in April, and like the Cardinals’ quarterback, the rookie edge-rusher has lived up to the hype. Bosa had three sacks and an interception to spearhead last week’s rout of the Panthers, earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
San Francisco added Bosa and Dee Ford this offseason to a defensive line that already boasted first-round picks DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas and Arik Armstead, and it has resulted in greatness.
“We’ve been trying to build some guys here for a few years now, which we think gave us a pretty strong foundation,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We already had some pretty good guys here, and then add two difference makers like that. We knew we had an idea just going against it as an offensive coach throughout OTAs and training camp. I felt very strong about it, and the whole goal was just to get them to the season healthy. Hopefully we can maintain that.”
Offensively, the 49ers have leaned on a running game that averages 4.7 yards per carry and is second in the NFL in yards per game (181.1) and first in touchdowns (13). The Cardinals need to take advantage of any mistakes by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who has averaged a solid 7.9 yards per pass attempt this season but has only nine touchdowns against seven interceptions.
The Cardinals have forced four turnovers in the two games since Patrick Peterson returned from suspension – including a pick by the Pro Bowl cornerback last week – and winning the turnover battle seems a prerequisite to pulling the upset.
The schedule-makers pulled a trick on the Cardinals by putting two elite teams within four days of each other, but that’s why a win would be such a treat.
“It’s exciting getting to play at home on Halloween,” Kingsbury said. “Great atmosphere, the roof is going to be open, all-black unis. There are a lot of positives. Our players are excited, so there’s been good juice in the building, and there’s been good focus. I’m excited to see what we do.”
Images from practice at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center