The San Francisco 49ers are taking the international stage this week in a matchup against the Arizona Cardinals on "Monday Night Football," live from Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. This contest is also a rematch of the first-ever regular season game played outside of the United States, when the Cardinals and 49ers squared off at Estadio Azteca in 2005.
"There's an excitement when you're playing on an international stage," general manager John Lynch said. "We talk a lot about playing on a national stage like we did this past Sunday night, but playing on an international stage is something that gets our players excited."
As the 49ers prepare for the "Monday Night Football" game in Colorado Springs, there are quite a few unknown variables that San Francisco must account for regarding the status of key players on Arizona's offense:
- The Cardinals Week 11 starting quarterback position is expected to be a game-time decision. Kyler Murray was sidelined with a hamstring injury in Week 10 and was a limited participant in the team's practices on Thursday and Friday. Cardinals backup quarterback Colt McCoy is dealing with a knee injury, he was also limited in his team's practice on Thursday but was back to full participation on Friday.
- Who's in for wide receiver is also questionable for the Cardinals. Marquise "Hollywood" Brown was designated to return from Arizona's Injured Reserve list on Wednesday and his gameday status is questionable. DeAndre Hopkins has been dealing with a hamstring injury, and his status for "MNF" is also questionable, as he did not practice with his team on Thursday and was limited on Friday.
The 49ers and Cardinals are both coming off of big wins in Week 10 – Arizona over the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco over the Los Angeles Chargers. The Week 11 showdown is pivotal to the NFC West standings. Due to the Seattle Seahawks heading into a Week 11 Bye, a win in Mexico City would put the 49ers in first place in the division.
Arizona's defense will need to prepare for a load of 49ers offensive weapons. Coming off a second-straight win, San Francisco's offense put up a total of 387 net yards, including 157 rushing yards on 41 carries. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed 19-of-28 passing attempts for 240 yards and scored a one-yard rushing touchdown. Running back Christian McCaffrey recorded 77 combined yards and notched his second rushing touchdown in three games with the team. Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk is a player to watch for on Monday night. Aiyuk has registered at least 80 receiving yards in four-straight games, notching a total of 27 catches for 330 yards and three touchdowns in that time span. Should Aiyuk record 80 more receiving yards on Monday, he'll become the first 49ers player to do it in five-straight games since Terrell Owens in 2000.
For the 49ers to see success on offense, they'll need to find a way to make it past the Cardinals pass defense – the key to Arizona's win over the Rams. In Week 10, the Cardinals secondary limited wide receiver Cooper Kupp to five targets, three receptions and a loss of one yard. The Cardinals pass rush has also been improving as of late. Headlined by defensive end J.J. Watt, who has recorded 5.5 quarterback sacks on the season, Arizona's defensive unit notched 3.0 sacks on Rams quarterback John Wolford in last week's contest.
"This is a talented, talented defense and they present a great challenge in the run game," offensive line/run game coordinator Chris Foerster said. "They are very physical and they play a physical brand of football and we have to be ready to match it."
We'll likely need to wait until gameday to know who will start at quarterback for the Cardinals on Monday. However, both Murray and McCoy have found recent success against the 49ers – both quarterbacks have started against San Francisco last season. Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is tasked with preparing the 49ers defense for both scenarios. In Arizona's game last week, McCoy recorded 238 passing yards and a touchdown, earning a 96.5 passer rating. If Murray is cleared to play, the 49ers will be up against one of three quarterbacks in the league with 2,000 passing yards and 300 rushing yards. One player to look out for on Monday is running back James Conner, who was crucial to Arizona's success against the 49ers in 2021. Last season, Conner notched 210 total yards and four touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving) in the team's two contests.
Defensively, the 49ers have held the Chargers and Rams scoreless in the second halves of both games. The unit is entering the "Monday Night Football" contest with the No. 1 overall defense; first among the league against the rush and fourth in total points allowed. Defensive linemen Nick Bosa, Charles Omenihu and Jordan Willis each registered a sack in the Week 10 game. Safety Talanoa Hufanga intercepted Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert once, giving him his fourth interception of the season. Linebackers Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner each registered a team-high seven tackles.
"Guys are just playing really good in the second half and that's when it counts," Ryans said. "That's when you have to step up and close the game out if we want to be a great defense... That's what has allowed us to win these past two games because of the effort, the mindset and the technique guys have finished with these past two weeks."