The San Francisco 49ers are set to wrap up the 2022 regular season with an NFC West matchup as they host the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's® Stadium. This Sunday, the 49ers will look to win their 10th-consecutive game heading into playoffs and sweep the season series against the Cardinals for the first time since 2019.
The last time the two teams matched up was Week 11 in Mexico City, where San Francisco defeated the Cardinals 38-10. Both teams enter the 2022 season finale looking much different from their International Series matchup. In the teams' mid-season contest in Mexico, Jimmy Garoppolo started under center for the 49ers and Colt McCoy was in at quarterback for Arizona.
This week, quarterback David Blough will start for the Cardinals. The quarterback arrived to Arizona in early December after being signed from the Minnesota Vikings practice squad. In his second start with the team, he'll be without a few key players on Arizona's offense. Here's a look at the Cardinals current injury statuses:
- Will not play: wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (knee)
- In question: wide receiver Robbie Anderson (back) and running back James Conner (knee/shin)
- Will play: wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown (wrist)
In Blough's first start with the Cardinals in Week 17, he lead the team to a close game against the Atlanta Falcons, losing by just one point (20-19). In that contest, he completed 24 passes for 222 yards, an average of 5.6 yards per attempt, one touchdown and zero interceptions. Rookie tight end Trey McBride was Blough's top target in Atlanta, totaling seven catches on 10 targets for 78 yards and his first-career touchdown. Brown also had a big impact in that game, catching six receptions for 61 yards and an average of 10.2 yards per catch.
Since the Cardinals will possibly be without their leading rusher, Conner, the 49ers run defense will likely have to keep their eye on veteran back Corey Clement, who had his biggest day this season in the run game last week against the Falcons. Clement rushed for 32 yards on seven attempts for an average of 4.57 yards per run in Week 17.
"(Blough) is getting a chance to go in real games and show what he can do, it's huge, particularly against the best team in the NFC and the best defense in the league," Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "It's going to be a great challenge but I'm excited for him, to see how he handles that. It's a tall task, for sure."
The Cardinals defense is also dealing with a few significant injuries. Last week, Arizona placed safety Budda Baker (shoulder) and defensive lineman Trysten Hill (knee) on the team's Injured Reserve list. However, a few key players on the Cardinals defensive side of the ball are looking to have a big day in their final game of the season.
Safety Jalen Thompson has stepped up for their defense, notching a team-high 10 combined tackles last week against the Falcons. And after 10 years in the league, defensive end J.J. Watt has announced his retirement and will have his last game in the NFL on Sunday vs. San Francisco. In his final year, Watt has notched 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss, making it his sixth season with 10.0 or more sacks. Offensive line and run game coordinator Chris Foerster said on Thursday that rookie offensive lineman Spencer Burford will be tasked with scouting Watt in preparation for the Week 18 matchup.
"We'll hear what (Burford's) takeaway is, we'll review it later in the week and make sure we solidify our plan," Foerster said. "J.J. is just a great, impactful player. He makes big plays at critical times in games, he has his whole career."
The Cardinals enter the regular season finale 4-12 on the year, however, the team has a history of success in Santa Clara. Arizona is 6-2 all time at Levi's® Stadium, and according defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, he's expecting the 49ers defense to "play their absolute best" in order to defend their home turf in the Week 18 contest and secure the highest-possible seed in the NFC playoff picture.
"Never underestimate anyone," Ryans said. "There's no room to underestimate anyone because you've got to go out and just play your best. It doesn't matter who you line up against... If you're not your best, you can get embarrassed each and every week. No matter what the team's record is, no matter who's on the other side. That's what this league is about. Each and every time you go out, you have to be at your absolute best."