The three biggest things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara:
Kyler Year Two And That 49ers Pass Rush
The expectations were always going to be high for Kyler Murray this season, and that was before national pundits started dropping him into potential MVP talk, before DeAndre Hopkins arrived in trade, before the hype train really started moving downhill. Murray ended up playing two of his most efficient games against the eventual NFC champion 49ers. The Niners want to be able to pinch him inside so he can't escape the edges, but that is easier said that done. And the addition of Hopkins should mean that an open option for Murray on pass plays will come quicker. Murray couldn't ask for a stiffer test right away.
Here, Kittle, Kittle, Kittle
The best tight end in the NFL right now is George Kittle. And there is no defense that struggled against the tight end position last season more than the Cardinals. So they signed linebacker De'Vondre Campbell as a free agent. They drafted linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who made a point back at the Scouting combine in February that one of his strengths would be an ability to cover the tight end. And the Cardinals still have Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker, who did OK against Kittle the one time Kittle played against the Cards (he was injured in the rematch in San Francisco.) With the top 49ers receivers banged up, they may lean even heavier on Kittle and newcomer tight end Jordan Reed, who is healthy for now. How defensive coordinator Vance Joseph crafts a response to the engine that makes the Niners' passing game go will determine a lot of how Sunday plays out.
A New Left Tackle, And Chandler's Quest
Chandler Jones isn't big with the boasts, so when he said last month he wanted to make a push to break the NFL single-season sack mark, it was easy to take notice. One game doesn't make the season, of course, but there could have been an easier way to start than against Trent Williams. The 49ers had their long-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley retire and observers think they got better at the position with Williams. One thing that will be in Jones' favor – the addition of the equally versatile Devon Kennard means Jones will be able to be moved around. It's like not going to be Jones vs. Williams on every snap. But when the two do duel, it'll be worth the watch.