CAR­DI­NALS (3-4) VS. 49ERS (0-8)


USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - LEADING OFF - Scott John­son

An­nounc­ers: Chris My­ers, Daryl John­ston, Laura Ok­min

About the Car­di­nals: They strug­gled to hold off the hap­less Nin­ers in a home game five weeks ago, and now the Car­di­nals will try to do it with­out QB Car­son Palmer. Work­ing in the Car­di­nals’ fa­vor is the fact that they were able to use the bye week to re-ad­just to Palmer’s long­time backup, Drew Stan­ton. The shutout loss to the Rams be­fore the bye week served as another low point for the Car­di­nals, and then came the news that Palmer was ex­pected to miss at least eight weeks be­cause of a bro­ken left arm. Can Ari­zona re­cover? The easy an­swer is that if the Car­di­nals can’t beat San Fran­cisco this week, it’ll be cur­tains for the 2017 sea­son. Ari­zona’s off­sea­son moves to add vet­eran tal­ent, along with the re­cent trade to ac­quire aging RB Adrian

Peter­son, sig­naled a now-or-never ap­proach for the fran­chise. About the 49ers: Hav­ing stum­bled to the first 0-8 start in fran­chise his­tory, they have all the in­cen­tive in the world to keep los­ing this sea­son. But as poorly as the 49ers have played, par­tic­u­larly in back-to-back losses by an ag­gre­gate score of 73-20, there is rea­son to be­lieve this might be the week San Fran­cisco gets in the win col­umn. The 49ers al­ready gave the Car­di­nals quite a test in Ari­zona, and now they’re play­ing an of­fense that doesn’t have Palmer. To get it done, San Fran­cisco is go­ing to have to get a lot more out of the quar­ter­back po­si­tion. Rookie C.J. Beathard hasn’t been the an­swer but maybe newly ac­quired Jimmy Garop­polo is. The pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing with­out

WR Pierre Gar­con (neck) this week could add to the is­sues.

Matchup to watch: Car­di­nals S Tyrann

Mathieu vs. Beathard. San Fran­cisco’s rookie quar­ter­back strug­gled in the Week 8 loss to Philadel­phia, and Mathieu was all over the field in the 49ers’ 18-15 loss to Ari­zona in Week 4. Mathieu had 12 tack­les and a sack in the game, and he’s the most dan­ger­ous player on the Car­di­nals’ de­fense. Beathard will need to be aware of Mathieu’s where­abouts when­ever he drops back to throw the ball.

Player to watch: Peter­son. The Car­di­nals had no ground game in the first meet­ing be­tween th­ese two teams, and the ad­di­tion of the vet­eran run­ning back has given Ari­zona a spark. The loss of Palmer makes Peter­son an even more im­por­tant piece of the of­fense.

Num­ber crunch­ing: 6. Sacks by the 49ers in the first meet­ing with the Car­di­nals this sea­son. Vet­eran LB Elvis Dumervil had two sacks as the 49ers ha­rassed Palmer all af­ter­noon. KEYS TO THE GAME 1. The man be­hind cen­ter: Ari­zona’s of­fense has strug­gled in re­cent years when Palmer hasn’t played, and the Car­di­nals have done lit­tle to im­prove their backup sit­u­a­tion. The shutout loss to L.A. in London served as a frus­trat­ing re­minder as Stan­ton couldn’t get any­thing go­ing. 2. Keep the score low: It’s not a typ­i­cal game plan for of­fense-ori­ented coach Bruce Ari­ans, but Ari­zona might have to win this one with de­fense — again — con­sid­er­ing who’s play­ing quar­ter­back.

3. No big plays: San Fran­cisco’s de­fense had some suc­cess in the first meet­ing by stay­ing be­hind the dan­ger­ous Ari­zona re­ceivers. The Car­di­nals had 357 pass­ing yards in that game but couldn’t get into the end zone un­til the ex­tra ses­sion. 4. Get the ground game go­ing: Partly be­cause of some big early deficits, the 49ers haven’t been able to run the ball in re­cent weeks. Beathard’s 40 rush­ing yards were the most on the team last week.

JOE CAMPOREALE, USA TO­DAY SPORTS Car­di­nals’ Tyrann Mathieu

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