Five things to watch for in the Cardinals-49ers game Sunday at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California:
It's Stanton's turn now
Carson Palmer is on IR, and may be done for the season. At best, he'll miss seven games. That brings Drew Stanton – that polarizing backup quarterback for the fans – under center. The actual passing stats, even by Stanton's own admission, haven't been great. The win-loss record has been good, however. That's how Stanton sees himself, as a caretaker who wants to guide the Cardinals into some kind of playoff position if and when Palmer returns. Given the schedule, it's not an easy path, but at least Sunday comes against a bad team with a decimated defense. Stanton led the Cards to a win in San Francisco last season. Here's another chance.
An All Day dose of Adrian Peterson
Peterson may not be a guy who will get 134 yards a game like he did in his Cardinals' debut, but the Cards also don't think he's a guy who is getting 21 yards as he did in London. The Cardinals need to stick to the run more, something that had to happen anyway but that becomes that much more important with Stanton at quarterback. It'll help to have Andre Ellington return on third downs, but Peterson has to make an impact against the Niners.
Not Jimmy G, but a rookie
The 49ers made the big trade for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo this week, but there won't be enough time to get him ready to play the Cardinals. That means rookie C.J. Beathard, who took over for the released Brian Hoyer, will get at least one more start as Jimmy G gets up to speed. Beathard has struggled, not surprisingly, and the 49ers also have had offensive line issues that will only get worse now that Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley is out with an injury. The Cardinals must take advantage of all of this.
This is where the defense must make a stand
Of course, the defense taking advantage of a situation hasn't happened a lot this year. Shockingly, that unit has had much more trouble than anyone could have predicted. They are among the worst in the league in scoring defense and third-down defense. With Palmer down and Stanton in place, the Cardinals have to get the defense to a place is hasn't yet been this season. Stanton is 6-3 as a starter for the Cards in his career, but the Cards have given up just 12 points a game in those six wins.
Keeping hope alive
Sure, it's an uphill climb to get back in the playoff race. Yes, the schedule looks a lot harder going forward, with the Seahawks, Texans, resurgent Jaguars and Rams over the next month. But the 49ers are struggling and a win Sunday means the Cardinals are 4-4 and still breathing heading into a Thursday night home game against Seattle. Stanton said the other day that, with everything going on with the Cards and injuries and poor play, the focus has to be one game, and then go from there. The one game is the 49ers, and that's one the Cardinals can get.