If one word were to be used to describe the 49ers mindset and performance heading into Week 9, it would be "resilient."
Each week, members of the 49ers say that they look at their schedule one game at a time. Each teammate committed to the same mindset, doing whatever it takes to win. Even if it takes the entire offense to push into the end zone – quarterback included.
This week's focus is on one of the top teams in the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals. Quarterback Kyler Murray has led his team to an almost perfect start to the season, taking their first loss last week against the Green Bay Packers.
Week 9 will be the second time the two NFC West teams battle as the Cardinals defeated the 49ers, 17-10 in Week 5. However, the rematch between the division rivals will present a much different game. The 49ers return home looking to secure their first victory at Levi's® Stadium, possibly with the help of returning key players such as Robbie Gould, George Kittle and Jeff Wilson Jr., who made their first returns to practice this week. All three were inactive in the first meeting between the two clubs and could be a game changer for San Francisco in their rematch.
Also inactive against the Cardinals in Week 5 was Jimmy Garoppolo. Rookie quarterback Trey Lance stepped in for his first NFL start against the Cardinals, while Garoppolo dealt with a calf injury. This time around, the veteran quarterback, who boasts a 3-1 record against Arizona, will lead the team.
Garoppolo is also coming off of a gritty win in his hometown of Chicago. The starting quarterback recorded a season-high 322 passing yards while averaging 11.5 yards per attempt for a 100.6 quarterback rating. He also added two rushing touchdowns to seal San Francisco's win.
"I thought that he was decisive. He was in command of the offense," former 49ers defensive back Donte Whitner said on KNBR Monday. "I'm not just talking about throwing the football. I'm talking about when he escaped the pocket, when he understood that guys were covered downfield ... He was saying, 'I'm going to play with grit and I'm doing it with my legs and that includes the two rushing touchdowns in the red zone.' I loved it."
In Week 8, Garoppolo's success came against a Bears defense without the likes of star pass rusher Khalil Mack (foot). This time around, San Francisco's offense will look to find similar relief against a Cardinals defense void of All-Pro, Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt, who is expected to miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury.
Arizona's quarterback situation is still up in the air, with questions surrounding Murray’s availability to play on Sunday. Murray has missed three-straight practices this week after suffering a sprained ankle in the final drive of the Cardinals Week 8 loss to the Packers. Both teams still expect Murray to start, but backup Colt McCoy will step in for the Cardinals if needed. In addition to Murray, wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) and A.J. Green (COVID) were also absent from practices this week.
With gaps in the Cardinals roster alongside their first loss of the season, the 49ers hope to capitalize off of Arizona's situation. Handing Arizona another loss will need to be carried out by continuing to improve the "little details."
"What we did last week so well was we executed the little details," said Garoppolo. "We spent extra time on it. Whatever it took last week we did it and that's just what we have to do going forward."
Some of those refinements include limiting penalties, extending offensive drives and creating turnovers on defense. In Soldier Field against the Bears, San Francisco wasn't flagged for a single pass interference, one of the biggest improvements made since their loss against the Indianapolis Colts. In Week 6, the 49ers had the most pass-interference penalties in the league, drawing four PI flags in their 30-18 loss. Eliminating these mistakes was a step in the right direction to getting back on track. Overall, San Francisco's defense is allowing 196.9 passing yards per game in 2021, ranking third in the NFL.
While both teams are at two different places than what was displayed four weeks ago, Sunday's match will be no different. A high-powered team who has seen a glimpse of reality and a team who is looking to claw itself back to NFC West relevancy. But notably, how each team rebounds from its success (and failures) last week will be very telling heading into yet another tough divisional outing.