Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
That gentle breeze that was felt across America this week? That was the collective sigh of relief that the NFL offseason is finally over. The San Francisco 49ers open their 2020 campaign against division rival Arizona Cardinals, who spent much of the offseason adding talent to an already potent offense. Which matchups will be most important for Robert Saleh’s defense this Sunday?
DEs Nick Bosa and Dee Ford vs. Arizona OTs
Fresh off winning the Defensive Rookie of the Year, defensive end Nick Bosa will look to build on that success in his sophomore season. He and fellow DE Dee Ford must find success on obvious passing situations to negate QB Kyler Murray’s dual threat. One of the weakest groups on the Cardinals roster is their offensive line. Last season the 49ers racked up seven sacks in the two games against the desert dwellers. Keeping pressure on Murray from the edge and forcing him to step up into the awaiting arms of the defensive interior must be priority number one.
LBs Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander vs. Kyler Murray’s Legs
That dual threat that was previously mentioned gave the 49ers fits in 2019. Kyler Murray was able to squirm away from sacks and extend plays with his legs that resulted in big plays for Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. Linebackers Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander are extraordinary athletic, and one will likely be on QB spy duty nearly every play. Alexander left the first game against the Cardinals last year with what turned out to be a torn pectoral muscle and subsequently missed the second matchup. Having him back will allow him and Warner to share the duties and be less predictable.
49ers’ Cornerbacks vs. WR DeAndre Hopkins
There are no two ways around it: watching the Cardinals acquire WR DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans when free agency began was a tough pill to swallow. Hopkins is one of the best wide receivers in the league and presents a major matchup problem for the 49ers’ secondary. CB Richard Sherman is sure to start on one side of the field, but whether Emmanuel Moseley or Ahkello Witherspoon is opposite him for the game is still unknown. While Sherman still has the smarts to play with anyone, his lack of speed was exposed in the playoffs by both the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. He will have to prove that he can outwit Murray and stay attached to Hopkins. Moseley and Witherspoon have athleticism and talent in spades, but both suffer with inconsistent play. In a division game where every play counts, they will have to be infallible for the 49ers to come away with a victory.
You can follow Matt on Twitter here!
Stay tuned to 49ersHub for more great 49ers coverage and analysis!