The Cardinals enter Week 9 fresh off their first loss in 2021, looking to secure a 7-1 start when they battle the 49ers Sunday in San Francisco. It's the second matchup between the NFC West foes this season. The Cardinals won round one in Week 5, but Jimmy Garoppolo will take snaps this time instead of rookie Trey Lance.
Ahead of the Sunday division rival showdown, here are five Cardinals to watch for in this week's spotlight.
Byron Murphy Jr.
Murphy was on the wrong end of a couple of touchdowns Thursday and his task this week won't be easier. 49ers wideout Deebo Samuel is having a breakout season. Samuel ranks second in the NFL with 819 receiving yards; no 49ers receiver has had more receiving yards through seven games to start the season, and Samuel's 117 yards per game leads the NFL. Murphy held Samuel to three catches for 58 yards on nine targets in Week 5. With Garoppolo under center instead of Lance on Sunday, Murphy faces a different chore.
Hopkins' injured hamstring limited him to just 15 playing snaps on Thursday, and his absence was noticeable in the passing offense that looked sluggish most of the night. When it picked up, Hopkins was on the field. His status for Sunday is uncertain, but it helps that Hopkins had extra days off to rest and heal the hamstring. The 49ers have the fourth-ranked defense in total yards allowed. Having arguably the best receiver in the NFL available – and fully recovered – would be ideal.
Milestone Watch: With a touchdown reception, Hopkins would have eight through nine games in 2021. In franchise history, only Sonny Randle (11 in 1960), Anquan Boldin (10 in 2008), Bob Shaw (10 in 1950), and Mal Kutner (10 in 1948) would have more in the first nine games of a season.
Humphries did not allow a sack on Thursday, but the left tackle will need to fend off pressure whether he is protecting Kyler Murray or Colt McCoy. Humphries will have to contain defensive end rising star Nick Bosa, who registered an outstanding 86.1 Pro Football Focus grade Week 5 against the Cardinals. Bosa has seven sacks through seven games, so Humphries will have his hands full.
Hudson has a chance to return Sunday assuming everything goes to plan this week in practice. Hudson landed on Injured Reserve soon after suffering ribs and shoulder injuries in Week 5. Max Garcia and Sean Harlow have been solid protecting Murray in his absence. According to Pro Football Focus, Murray has been pressured on 33 of 103 drop backs in Week 6-8. Hudson is still arguably the best center in the NFL and the centerpiece of a top-tier offensive line when healthy. A return against the 49ers defensive line Sunday will only make life easier for Murray – or McCoy.
In the Week 5 divisional matchup against the 49ers, wide receiver Christian Kirk had five receptions for 39 yards on five targets. The passing offense might feature Kirk more in Sunday's second round matchup between the division rivals in 2021 since DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green are uncertain to play. The 49ers' pass defense ranks third in the NFL, allowing only 196.9 yards per game.
Images of the top players to watch Sunday versus San Francisco: WR DeAndre Hopkins, OL D.J. Humphries, OL Rodney Hudson, CB Byron Murphy, and WR Christian Kirk.