No one quite knew what to expect from the San Francisco 49ers or the Arizona Cardinals this season. Questions over the health and ability of Jimmy Graoppolo clouded judgement on Kyle Shannahan’s scheme and the eagerly awaited air-raid offence of Kliff Kingsbury was the biggest guarded secret in the NFL preseason.
After a slow start, Kyler Murray has found his feet. The rookie QB went three games without an interception before he met the might of the New Orleans Saints defence last week, though the loss of back-up running back Chase Edmonds didn’t help him much.
Carolina’s Kyle Allen went into Week 8’s match-up with the Niners having not thrown an interception since replacing the injured Cam Newton in Week 2.
60 minutes, three picks and seven sacks later, the Panthers’ second-year QB was sent into a spin.
Kingsbury won’t get much change out of the 49ers defence either, with the west coast side boasting one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL. If there were any more doubts over their legitimacy as one of the favourites for the NFC, they were banished as they destroyed the Panthers 51-13 on Sunday.
Christian McCaffrey managed 155 scrimmage yards, but the NFC South side were blown away by a strong running performance from Tevin Coleman, who posted three touchdowns, 105 yards on just 11 carries.
Now the Cardinals have to find a way to stop Shanahan’s offence. Ron Rivera couldn’t, and the Panthers defence was one of the better units across the board prior to last week’s humiliation.
The Cards have Patrick Peterson back now in the secondary, but it’s unlikely the home side will be able to snuff out the visitors’ threat.
San Francisco are averaging 387.3 yards per game and 29.6 points. Don’t back Arizona to stop them. They are dropping 27.9 points as a defence. They rank 29th worst in the NFL.
With 21/24 Field Goals and 13/13 Extra Points in eight weeks, Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez has scored 78 fantasy points this season. Only Josh Lambo has more (80), yet he has proven more valuable, according to ESPN, than Davante Adams, Michael Gallup, Nelson Agholor and Tyreek Hill.
No kicker has attempted more Field Goals, which says all you need to know about the Arizona offence. With the Niners conceding the fewest air yards per game, and the Cards only scoring a TD in 32.14% of their Red Zone visits, you can back Zane to get his opportunity to convert on Thursday.
In seven games, San Francisco’s exciting Tight End, George Kittle, has only one touchdown to his name. Only three TEs have more receptions, but 26 others have more catches in the end zone.
Last weekend may have been Tight End appreciation day, but Thursday should be George Kittle appreciation night. In only two fixtures this season have the Cards stopped a TE scoring against them. The Saints, who are still missing Jared Cook, and the Bengals, who are the Bengals.
Over eight weeks, they have conceded 702 yards of offence to Tight Ends. That run includes the aforementioned Bengals, the Falcons and the Giants.
Now they face an offence, with one of the best young TEs in the game. This is going to be Kittle’s night.