Five things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the 49ers at State Farm Stadium:
The Left turn of the offense
There’s a new offensive coordinator in Byron Leftwich. Now we will see exactly how much of a new offense there can really be. (Hint, straight from Leftwich’s own mouth: There really can’t be a ton, not in such a short window of time.) The focus will be on getting David Johnson loose – running and passing – as well as the pass protection and development of Josh Rosen and maybe a little more Fitz sprinkled in. It’s an intriguing situation, with the Cards and Rosen having already faced the 49ers’ defense recently, and then having two weeks to prepare for a rough road game (but a bad defense) in Kansas City.
Patrick on the prowl
Patrick Peterson said he wants to put the trade talk behind him, and the Cardinals would like to do the same. But it is inevitable that the cornerback will draw eyeballs Sunday, not necessarily with who he might cover but how he performs. Will the frustration leak out? Will he able to snare a couple of one-handed interceptions, as he half-joked about this week? Teams rarely throw his way anyway, but it will be interesting to see Peterson back on the field.
Takeaways versus turnovers
The Cardinals got their one win against the 49ers because they grabbed five takeaways, scored on defense, and generally made life miserable for quarterback C.J. Beathard. The Cards were beat up in their last meeting against the Broncos in part because rookie quarterback Josh Rosen turned the ball over five times. It makes for a pretty simple recipe for success – take, don’t give. Beathard is prone to such things. Rosen has a chance to prove he is not.
You need me on that wall, you want me on that wall
The question is, can the Cardinals finally produce that defensive wall against another team’s run, or will there still be holes for the 49ers to exploit? For all their injuries, the Niners have run the ball well (second in the league) and did so against the Cards in the first meeting. If it wasn’t for the takeaways, the defense would’ve been in trouble on that San Francisco trip. Robert Nkemdiche has been officially benched for Rodney Gunter. The linebackers have been mixed and matched all season. Defensive coordinator Al Holcomb is still chasing the thus-far elusive consistent run defense.
Seeking the beautiful bye
The Cardinals go on the bye after this game – and have a rough back half of the season, with five road trips in eight games. Getting a second win, to both generate some hope and pay off some of the changes the Cards have been through, would be welcome. Going into the bye 2-6 isn’t ideal. But it is better than a three-game losing streak.