Five things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California:
Chosen Rosen, the sequel
With a rookie quarterback and a winless month, the story will almost always begin with how Josh Rosen is doing. He looked good in his first start. But now the 49ers have a whole game with which to dissect what Rosen does and how they might be able to attack the rookie. Rosen, not surprisingly, understands it but doesn’t seem worried, saying simply that he and the Cardinals will have to absorb whatever trickery the Niners might unveil and then adjust. But the hope Rosen provided last week, even in a loss, needs sustenance – in the form of yards, first downs and points – to remain healthy and active.
See the ball, catch the ball
You can argue a couple of the balls thrown to Larry Fitzgerald last week, whether they might be considered drops. You can’t argue the ones mishandled by Christian Kirk, J.J. Nelson or Ricky Seals-Jones. (And really, Fitzgerald needs to make those catches too.) The margin for error seems to have grown a little with Rosen at quarterback – the Cardinals still scored on the drive in which Kirk couldn’t bring in a 30-yarder, for instance – but the receiving corps still needs to convert when they are given the kind of passes Rosen was delivering. There will be times when Rosen struggles, and sometimes, receivers are going to drop a catchable pass. But it can’t be with the frequency of last week’s performance.
Not Jimmy G, but C.J.B.
Last year, the Cardinals missed out on playing Jimmy Garoppolo because coach Kyle Shanahan wasn’t quite ready to put Jimmy G on the field. The Cards saw C.J. Beathard instead. This year, Garoppolo won’t play in either of the games against the Cardinals because he tore his ACL, meaning it’s Beathard again. No one will confuse Beathard for an up-and-coming star, but he did pretty well last year against the Cardinals and looked solid last week against the Chargers until late. The injuries have piled up on the 49ers. Here is the key difference -- the 49ers have been able to run the ball, and run it well (133.5 yards a game, sixth in the league) while the Cardinals have not been able to stop the run (141.3, 31st). If you don't slow the run down, the quarterback doesn't have to be a factor, which benefits the Niners.
David Johnson, eat like Adrian Peterson
The Cardinals went into Levi’s last season and told Adrian Peterson to lead the way. So he did, amassing 157 yards on 37 carries as the Cardinals fed him over and over. Now the Cardinals come back to town with David Johnson, who is still looking for his breakout game on the ground. The 49ers are middle of the pack in run defense, giving up slightly more than 100 yards a game. Getting Johnson loose, of course, would change the complexion of the Cardinals’ offense – especially if Rosen can continue his steps forward as a passer.
More than zero
Big picture, the Cardinals want to get that first win. They want a win so head coach Steve Wilks can have that honor as a first-time boss. They want it within the division – after having beaten the 49ers in six straight meetings. But mostly it’s about making sure that zero isn’t there any longer in the victory column, a digit that inevitably grows in importance as the weeks go by. The last two games have been painful defeats – as bad as the first two games went, there was a way to be 2-2 at this point, even with all the problems on both sides of the ball. Finishing is what Wilks continues to bring up. We will see if the Cardinals can finish.