SANTA CLARA — One of the 49ers’ better defensive efforts of the season went for naught less than a month ago, and there’s reason to believe they’ll be more than equal to the challenge of quarterback Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals the second time around.
If the 49ers are to reach .500 and have any hopes of a postseason, then keeping Murray in check is Job 1. When the teams played on Oct. 3 in Arizona, the 49ers lost 17-10 but through no fault of their defense.
Arizona, the fourth-highest scoring team in the NFL, scored more than 13 points under their average. Their 304 yards of total offense was their lowest output of the season. Murray was a respectable 22 of 31 for 239 yards and a touchdown, but was contained as a scrambler, gaining one yard on seven carries.
“I think that first game we did a good job knowing he likes to retreat in the pocket and kind of containing him throughout the game,” middle linebacker Fred Warner said Wednesday. “We’re going to need more of the same this week.”
It could be a different Murray this time around, one that is more hobbled. In a 24-21 loss to Green Bay, Murray threw an interception on the final play of the game when A.J. Green wasn’t looking for the pass and adding injury to insult, he hurt his ankle. Murray, Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters, may not practice at all this week but still could face the game.
If not, the backup is veteran Colt McCoy.
“We’re preparing like (Murray) is going to play,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “If he doesn’t, we’ll adjust to that.”
JUSTIN FIELDS MIRACLE TD
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It’s been hit or miss for the Niners against quarterbacks on the move, however. Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts had 10 carries for 82 yards against the 49ers in Week 2, and last week Chicago rookie quarterback Justin Fields had 103 yards on 10 carries including a 22-yard touchdown run in which he evaded several would-be tacklers.
“He probably surprised some of us, even though we knew going in the game what he could do,” Warner said of Fields. “He played a heck of a game. I think he did a great job.”
Murray doesn’t look to run as much as he looks to buy time and throw, although his quickness on the perimeter is frightening. The Cardinals spread the defense and attack with the run in space rather than in a phone booth.
“I think quarterbacks in general going to year one to two to three start to really learn defensive schemes, reading defenses and working your progression,” Warner said. “The game kind of slows done and I think that’s what’s happened with Kyler.”
The 49ers defended the Cardinals well in the first meeting, but couldn’t come up with enough offense to win as rookie Trey Lance started in place of an injured Jimmy Garoppolo.
It was far from the conventional 49ers attack, with Lance basically scrambling and trying to make things happen rather than your typical Shanahan precision offense with outside zone scheme running.
Garoppolo, assessing the offensive play calls when he’s in the game as opposed to Lance, said dryly it was “a little bit” different but stopped short of saying the Cardinals will get a whole new look as opposed to their first meeting.
“I mean there are advantages, disadvantages,” Garoppolo said. “It’s just a different style, I guess you could say. I think our guys feel good game-plan wise. We’re in a good spot. What we did last week so well was we executed the little details. We spent extra time on it — whatever it took — and that’s what we’re going to have to do moving forward.”
One of the 49ers biggest obstacles has been removed. Defensive end J.J. Watt, who had his way with right tackle Mike McGlinchey and disrupted their offense throughout, was lost to a season-ending shoulder injury Oct. 24 against Houston.
“His presence, it changes some things for us, but not tremendously,” Garoppolo said. “They’ve still got a good front. with (Markus) Golden and Chandler (Jones) coming off the edge.”