The San Francisco 49ers are set to kick off their 2020 campaign on Sunday, matching up with division rivals early in the year by hosting the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener. There are a number of storylines for the 49ers heading into this weekend's game. With sights set on defending their NFC Championship title, here are five things to look for in the Week 1 divisional matchup.
Replicating Jimmy G's 2019 Success
Jimmy Garoppolo proved he's not just a "game manager" in both of last season's wins against the Cardinals. In the Halloween night thriller, the quarterback rattled off 317 yards and four touchdowns, as San Francisco defeated Arizona, 28-25. The quarterback followed up two weeks later with a season-high 424-yard, four-touchdown performance in the 36-26 victory.
The 49ers aim to follow suit in the season opener against a Cardinals defense that ranked second to last against the pass in 2019, with an average of 281.9 yards allowed per game, and dead last in passer rating allowed (109.9). Arizona didn't make many notable changes to its secondary this offseason, however, did add talent up front with the additions of defensive end Jordan Phillips and linebackers Devon Kennard and Isaiah Simmons. A beefed up defense will be the first challenge for San Francisco's new-look O-line in 2020.
Jerick McKinnon's Anticipated 49ers Debut
Sunday makes 963 days since Jerick McKinnon last took a live in-game snap, which was during the Minnesota Vikings NFC Championship game in January of 2018. The running back, whose last two seasons have been marred by an ACL injury, is set to make his anticipated debut with the 49ers on Sunday.
McKinnon has been one of the team's standouts over the summer, looking like the speedy ball carrier the 49ers sought after two seasons ago. He adds another dimension to the 49ers offense with his pass catching abilities, which could be relied upon with San Francisco's questions at wide receiver heading into Sunday. Brandon Aiyuk made a return to practice on Wednesday in a limited capacity and Deebo Samuel has still been a non-participant ahead of Sunday's game.
McKinnon's debut in San Francisco, combined with Shanahan's offensive wizardry could make for an intriguing matchup to watch on Sunday.
D-line Without DeFo
The biggest question heading into the 2020 season is how will the 49ers defensive line look without Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner? The 49ers have emphasized that it will take more than one person to replace Buckner's talent along the D-line. Instead, the depth along the interior defensive line will be crucial if the 49ers plan to maintain their defensive dominance from last season.
Last year, the 49ers notched seven sacks across their two contests against the Cardinals. A healthy Dee Ford should benefit the group's production on Sunday, especially when trying to contain a mobile quarterback like Kyler Murray.
DeAndre Hopkins Makes His NFC West Debut
When the 49ers face the Cardinals this time around, there will be a new face on the offensive side of the ball. Following a blockbuster trade with the Houston Texans, the 49ers will be forced to defend All-Pro, Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Hopkins aims to test the 49ers second-ranked passing defense in 2019 as he looks to build a connection with Murray under center. The wideout is coming off a 104-catch, 1,165-yard and seven-touchdown season in Houston. One of the most talented receivers in the NFL, Hopkins is likely to face off with one of the top cornerbacks in the league in Richard Sherman.
Sherman allowed a passer rating of just 45.3 over the entire season, including in the Super Bowl. According to Pro Football Focus, he surrendered just 29 completions and 227 receiving yards in the regular season and led the NFL with 0.44 yards per coverage snap, with hopes to continue that trend in Year 10.
Kyle Shanahan said on Wednesday that he's expecting a few new wrinkles out of the Cardinals offense, but believes the 49ers defense will be ready to react to whatever Arizona presents on Sunday.
Levi's® Stadium was covered with an apocalyptic glow this week as the Bay Area is dealing with the effects of over 28 major wildfires that have spread across California, Oregon and Washington. The devastating wildfires have destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
Fires have filled the Bay Area with smoke, turning the skies into an eerie-orange color as the 49ers have continued preparations for Sunday at the SAP Performance Facility. The NFL prohibits teams from holding practices and games if the Air Quality Index reaches a level of 200. Despite the striking auburn skies this week, Santa Clara is forecasted to be between 60 - 127 during Sunday's kickoff. The team and the league will continue to monitor the situation heading into the season opener for the safety of all involved.