When Kyler Murray broke out his highlight-worthy 18-yard scramble on third-and-16 against the Rams, Murray's speed and start-and-stop ability were a big reason it worked.
But the quarterback probably wouldn't have gotten the first down without a downfield block of a defensive back by wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
"Locking in on my job, it's not just catching the football, but blocking also," Hopkins said. "Things like that aren't on the stat sheet but that's what great receivers take pride in."
Blocking isn't what Hopkins gets paid for, of course. But while Hopkins' receiving statistics aren't anywhere near their totals after four games last year – Hopkins has 17 catcehs for 225 yards, one of six Cardinals' pass-catchers with between 15 and 20 catches – the spreading around of the passes has helped the Cards to a 4-0 start.
"I feel great about it," Hopkins said. "This is my first time I've been on a team where there are receivers that are reliable consistently. For me, that's great. That's championship football. You got four other guys who can go out and take that pressure off of me and make plays when they are one-on-one."
Distributing the ball around – and the continued threat of it – can only help the Cardinals, coach Kliff Kingsbury said. He called it "ideal" for the offense.
"If you are just pushing the ball to one guy they can do different things to take him away," Kingsbury said. "When you have five or six guys stepping up, it definitely opens up my play sheet."
Last season, Hopkins had a franchise-record 115 catches for 1,407 yards and six touchdowns, and his 160 targets were 29 percent of Murray's passes. This season, he's been targeted 19 percent of the time.
Hopkins does have three touchdowns this season, but the fact he has not been targeted in double-digits yet has been noticeable after what the Cardinals looked like in 2020.
"That's not what we're focused on," Murray said. "Like I've said before, I wish I could throw him the ball every play. I wish I could throw each and everybody the ball every play. That's just not how this game works. He is not a selfish guy. I know he wants to go crazy every weekend, but that's just part of it.
"He's going to have his days, and I know he'll have his days. But as of right now, it's getting pushed around and every guy is doing their thing. I'm happy for everybody."
With the team 4-0, it seems Hopkins is happy too.
"I don't really look at numbers," Hopkins said. "I don't look at numbers until the end of the year. Until you guys (in the media) all tell me."
CORNERBACK MURPHY OUT; KITTLE DOUBTFUL FOR 49ERS
The Cardinals have some issues at cornerback for Sunday. Starter Byron Murphy Jr. (ribs) is out, and fellow starter Marco Wilson (ankle), along with key reserve Antonio Hamilton (ankle) are game-day decisions.
As for the cornerback roles if neither starter plays, "you'll have to tune in," Kingsbury said.
Running back Chase Edmonds (shoulder) was limited Friday, but Kingsbury said he too was a game-day decision, as will be right tackle Kelvin Beachum (ribs), tight end Maxx Williams (shoulder) and running back Eno Benjamin (hamstring).
As expected, the 49ers will start rookie quarterback Trey Lance with starter Jimmy Garoppolo (calf) officially out. Cornerback K'Waun Williams (calf) is also out, and in a another important development, Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle (calf) is doubtful. Defensive linemen Javon Kinlaw (knee) and Samson Ebukam (hamstring) are questionable.
WATT KNOWS RUN-DEFENSE NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
Asked what part of the defense needs work, veteran defensive lineman J.J. Watt did not hesitate.
"Stopping the run," Watt said. "That's the No. 1 thing we want to continue to work on and improve. That's the one area we are not overly proud of at the moment that we want to work on and been focusing on."
The Cardinals are only giving up 21.3 points a game, which is ninth in the NFL. But they are allowing 135.8 rushing yards a game (26th) and 5.38 yards a carry (31st). The Niners are 12th in rushing offense (114.5 yards a game) but 20th in rushing yards per play (3.95).
"We've got to play it better," Watt said. "It's gap assignments, it's tackling, it's finishing plays. We've just got to be better, that's all."