Our 49ers.com staff writers break down San Francisco's next matchup, a Week 10 road game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Let's dive into the keys to the game in this "Four Downs" preview of the 49ers upcoming divisional matchup, presented by SunPower.
1st Down: Which 49ers defender will force a turnover?@Joe_Fann: Tramaine Brock
Arizona loves to air it out. That's why the Cardinals high-powered offense is always a big-play threat. But it's certainly a game of risk versus reward. Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton have combined for eight interceptions this season. Palmer has six in seven starts. That's why I'm picking Brock to have a chance at a takeaway on Sunday. Of the 49ers five interceptions on the season, only one has come from a defensive back (Antoine Bethea in Week 2). The other four picks have been courtesy of the linebackers. San Francisco's secondary will be tested relentlessly in Week 10, so there will be ample opportunity to make a momentum-shifting play.
@TaylorPrice: Eric Reid
The 49ers have 11 takeaways, coincedentally tied for 11th in the league. San Francisco has recorded five interceptions in eight games this season. I believe Reid will add to the interception tally. Why? Reid stays on the field regardless of the 49ers defensive formation. He's played safety, slot cornerback, dime defensive back and even mixed in as a pseudo linebacker at times. Cardinals quarterback Palmer has six interceptions and threw one in Arizona's last game on Oct. 30. The Cardinals have only lost two fumbles in 2016. So if a turnover does occur, it's more likely to happen through the air. 2nd Down: Which Cardinals playmaker is most important to stop?
@Joe_Fann: Larry Fitzgerald
Every season pundits suggest, "Maybe this is the year Fitzgerald loses a step." It certainly hasn't happened in 2016. The future Hall of Famer leads Arizona in targets (81), catches (56), receiving yards (554) and receiving touchdowns (five). San Francisco has been the victim to some of Fitzgerald's biggest games the past two seasons as well. In a Week 5 loss to Arizona, the 49ers surrendered 81 yards and two touchdowns to the 33-year old. Last season in Week 3. Fitzgerald posted nine receptions for 134 yards and another pair of scores. It's time to force another pass-catcher to carry the load in Week 10.
@TaylorPrice: David Johnson
The numbers are what Larry David would call, "Prettay, prettay, prettay ... good." Johnson has 705 rushing yards and 407 receiving yards. Do the quick math and thats 1,112 yards from scrimmage in eight games. Most people would be pleased with the production in an entire season. Johnson also gets into the paint. He has eight rushing scores, including two against the 49ers in Week 5. Johnson picked up 157 rushing yards and added 28 receiving yards that day on "Thursday Night Football." All of this means that defending Johnson is paramount to San Francisco's chances of pulling off a road upset against a divisional opponent, which would curb the enthusiasm of football fans in the Southwest.
3rd Down: What is the 49ers key to victory?
@Joe_Fann: Keeping Johnson "in check"
I used the quotation marks because keeping the talented running back in check is all relative. Johnson is a lock for more than 20 touches, so he's going to get his to a certain degree. The focus however, will be eliminating the home-run plays. San Francisco held New Orleans Saints ball-carrier Tim Hightower to 87 yards on 23 carries. That would be a desirable outcome for the 49ers on Sunday. The problem is the variety of ways that Arizona deploys Johnson. The second-year 'back is heavily used in the passing game as well. I'll go ahead and use the cliché that it will take all 11 to contain the Northern Iowa product.
@TaylorPrice: Colin Kaepernick's redemption
With the 49ers defense being decimated by injuries (Arik Armstead being the latest to join NaVorro Bowman and others on Injured Reserve), the team will only go as far as Kaepernick can throw or run them. All eyes will be on Kaepernick as he makes his return to Arizona. Kaepernick threw a career-high four interceptions in a 40-point road loss to the Cardinals last season. The sixth-year pro said he's out to redeem himself this week. The Cardinals will be without safety Tyrann Matheiu, one of two Arizona defenders to record a pick-six against Kaepernick last year in the lopsided defeat. Kaepernick will have his work cut out for him. Arizona's defense ranks first in the NFL, allowing the fewest yards per game.
4th Down: What is your bold prediction?
@Joe_Fann: The 49ers score a third-quarter touchdown
My pick is admittedly less bold than Taylor's. But if we're talking about odds, this is an area where San Francisco has struggled to a similar degree. The 49ers have scored just 13 points in third quarters this season. That's significant given the fact that San Francisco has held a first half lead in each of its last five games. The 49ers lone third-quarter touchdown in 2016 did come in Week 5 against the Cardinals on a 1-yard run by Pierre Garçon. Especially on the road, San Francisco can't afford to come out of the halftime locker room sluggish if it hopes to end the current seven-game losing streak.
@TaylorPrice: The 100-yard rushing streak ends in Arizona
Glenn Dorsey played 46 snaps and recorded seven tackles last week against the Saints. A healthy run-stuffing nose tackle like Dorsey will go a long way in the 49ers looking to snap a seven-game streak of allowing 100-yard rushers. On paper, the matchup against Johnson tips the scale in Arizona's favor. But with a healthy Palmer, the Cardinals could challenge the 49ers with a pass-heavy attack. Johnson won't likely see 27 carries like he did in Week 5. If this is the case, the 49ers could be in position to keep Johnson in check on Sunday.