Game Preview: Five Things to Watch When the 49ers Visit the Cardinals

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A road matchup against the Arizona Cardinals awaits the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3 of the NFL season.

The 49ers will look to bounce back from last week's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and get a big win in their first of six NFC West contests. Arizona enters the game as one of the league's nine remaining unbeaten teams following back-to-back wins against the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears.

San Francisco holds a 29-18 overall advantage in the all-time series against Arizona and have won 10 of the last 12 meetings between the two clubs. The Cardinals did pull out a victory last season in Arizona, topping the 49ers, 23-14, from University of Phoenix Stadium. Milestones on the horizon

  • Anquan Boldin (950 career receptions) needs two catches to pass Andre Reed for 13th on the NFL's all-time receptions list.
  • Vernon Davis needs 47 receiving yards to become the NFL's active leader in receiving yards against the Cardinals. Davis enters the game with 820 yards against Arizona while Baltimore Ravens receiver Steve Smith, Sr. has 866.

5 things to watch

  1. Defending the deep ball

Per Rotoworld's Evan Silva, the 49ers defense allowed four completions of 40-plus yards against the Steelers after allowing only eight such pass plays all of last season.

That means this weekend will be a good barometer to see if Week 2 was merely an anomaly or a legit cause for concern.

San Francisco's secondary is sure to get tested against a Bruce Arians offense that loves to throw the ball downfield. Arizona's pass-catching trio of Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd are all capable of getting behind a defense.

Fitzgerald caught three touchdowns in Week 2. Brown has already drawn five penalties in two games, including three pass interference calls in the red zone that directly resulted in Cardinals touchdowns.

  1. More chunk plays in the passing game

Seven of the 49ers 10 biggest plays offensively came in the second half. In those final two quarters, Colin Kaepernick threw for 274 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers and will look to continue that second-half rhythm into this weekend's divisional matchup.

It's imperative to avoid getting in a hole early and a few early scores by the offense would help quiet the road crowd. Converting on third down (the 49ers were 7-17 in Week 2) and turning red zone trips into touchdowns (just 1-4 against the Steelers) will be key.

  1. Get to Carson Palmer

There are two noteworthy stats about Arizona's quarterback. Let's start with the bad. Palmer has won each of his last eight starts and 15 of his last 17. And now for the good. Palmer has never beaten the 49ers and sports an 0-3 record against San Francisco.

So whether the quarterback is due for a loss in general or due for a win against the 49ers, San Francisco's ability to put pressure on Palmer will be a key factor in the outcome. The 49ers recorded five sacks and eight total quarterback hits in Week 1 but failed to get a hand on Ben Roethlisberger last Sunday.

Palmer is yet to be sacked through two games, so Aaron Lynch, Ahmad Brooks and the rest of the team's pass-rushing corps will play a vital role against the Cardinals.

4. A mindset to be special

Close games are often decided by which team makes an impact play on special teams. If divisional games in year's past are any indication of future results, Sunday's matchup could very well go down to the wire.

It's only been two games, but the 49ers are yet to produce that game-changing play on special teams.

It could be a kickoff return that gets past the 40-yard line, a punt downed inside the five, a blocked kick or a punt return to give the team great field position. There are a number of ways to make it happen, but especially on the road, San Francisco could use a big play from the third phase of the game.

5. The wordload for Hyde

Pierre Garçon has been a full participant at practice this week, but it's fair to assume he gave 49ers coaches quite a scare when we walked off gingerly following a low hit from Steelers safety Mike Mitchell.

Hyde will obviously remain a centerpiece of San Francisco's offense, however it wouldn't be surprising to see him spelled more often. The running back is simply too important to this offense to risk overusing him.

With Reggie Bush listed as doubtful for the game, it will likely be rookies Mike Davis and Jarryd Hayne who have to pick up the slack behind Hyde.

Between carries and receptions, 20 total touches is still likely for the talented second-year running back, but the coaching staff will probably keep him below the 26 carries Hyde had in Week 1 if they can help it.

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