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Wednesday Five: Cardinals At 49ers

A look at some of the top storylines from Thursday's game


A glance at the top storylines for the Cardinals-49ers game Thursday at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.:

**Stanton on deck

Short week and a Carson Palmer concussion means Drew Stanton is likely to play quarterback Thursday night. This is 2014 revisited, although that year the Cardinals only had one loss through 10 games, not three through four. Because Stanton has that experience, he knows what to expect – although he steps into an offense that has been struggling to put up points. Leaning on the running game makes sense, but the Cardinals will need for Stanton to make some plays as they try to emerge the funk.

Waiting for communication cleanup

Again against the Rams, it looked like the secondary had a couple of communication mixups when it came to pass coverage. Why that still remains a problem is a mystery. But to leave players wide open down the field – especially in close games – costs wins. Against the Patriots, a blown coverage was a touchdown, and the Cards lost by two. Against the Rams, a blown coverage lead to a field goal, and in a game lost by four, trying to get a late field goal would have changed the complexion. They aren't the only mistakes made, but they are the ones that never should happen.

Running to finish

The 49ers are last in the league in rushing defense and have lost their best tackler in linebacker NaVarro Bowman. The Cardinals, even with their missteps Sunday, ran the ball well (118 yards, 4.7-yard average) against a very good Rams defense. The goal would seem to grind the ball on the ground, especially if Stanton needs to start. David Johnson is off to a nice start this season. Yes, the Cardinals won't have Chris Johnson, so we'll have to see what Andre Ellington can do to fill in. But steadying what has been an inconsistent offense on the ground may be wise in this short week.

We've seen Chip before

It's no unknown what a Chip Kelly offense will be. Quick passes, many in the flat, some Carlos Hyde mixed in, and definitely a high-tempo in which the defense needs to get off the field or risk tiring early. What helps is that the Cardinals know it well, after playing Kelly's Eagles the past three seasons – in Philadelphia in 2013 and 2015 and at home in 2014. It might not be the ideal matchup on a short week, especially for a team that's had communication issues on defense. But the Cards won't be able to say they didn't know what was coming.

Just Win or Must-Win?

Bruce Arians stressed the need to stick together this week. All the Cardinals need to do is win, is the message. One win, and things can change. But given the gulf between a team that is 1-4 and a team that is 2-3, and the pressure seems to increase. As GM Steve Keim said earlier this week, while there is still time to turn the season around, "we can't mess around." The 49ers are struggling, but then again, a similar argument can be made about the Cardinals.  

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