The San Francisco 49ers defense was easy to run against last week after NaVorro Bowman went down with an injury. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Can Chip, 49ers coaches save overmatched defense?

The San Francisco 49ers host the Arizona Cardinals tonight in a prime time game that will be tough to watch.

Most Thursday night games are rough due to limited time to prepare, and — making matters worse for this particular matchup — the Cards will be without starting quarterback Carson Palmer while the Niners will be with Blaine Gabbert.

Expect both teams to pound the ball in the run game as they’re both equipped with solid backs. David Johnson and Carlos Hyde are ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, for most rushing yards through four games. Johnson is averaging an impressive 4.7 yards per carry and gets the privilege of facing a last-place San Francisco defense that has allowed a 100 yards to a back in each of their last three contests.

And they built this dubious reputation before losing their best linebacker, NaVorro Bowman, for an extended period of time to an achilles injury.

“I can’t overemphasize what it’s like to lose Bo,” veteran safety Antoine Bethea told the Sacramento Bee. “That’s a big loss for us. You can’t replace Bo. But we can’t go into panic mode. We’ve still got to grind. We’ve still got to fight. And we still have technique that we play. This game is still about running and hitting and making plays.”

The most startling development after Bowman’s injury last Sunday: The size of the running lanes allowed by the depleted unit. Dallas Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott had to break just one tackle despite running for 138 yards on 23 carries, according to Pro Football Focus.

That’s an issue, and not one that’s going to go away soon, because they aren’t even close to clamping down on the running game.

Arizona will also be without Chris Johnson, but it really won’t matter. The 49ers’ injuries are more substantial, and it’ll be up to head coach Chip Kelly to significantly out-maneuver Bruce Arians if the Niners are going to take a short-week victory.

And, if they aren’t able, it won’t be for a lack of dedication from the coaching staff.

“I think everybody slept here last night,” Kelly said on Monday. “So, we’ll probably be close to the same tonight. … I guess they think because we don’t have to do anything on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We can catch up on sleep then.”

The bottom line for this game: The 49ers have nothing to lose. They projected to be an overmatched team before the season started, and they’ll be remembered as such when it ends. But they do have an opportunity to maim a formerly formidable divisional rival with a win.

And since actual wins will be hard to come by this season, those of the moral variety should be fully welcomed in Santa Clara.

Divided now more than ever

A Bleacher Report straw poll found that 22 of 22 white NFL players reached intend to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

Less shocking: Noted bully and racial slur aficionado Richie Incognito counts himself firmly in the Trump camp, expressing all of the political acumen of a guy who is constantly hit in the head.

“Where I think he could help is putting us first again and having that — it’s my mentality, too — having that tough attitude where you put America first and everyone’s thinking we’re the greatest nation in the world. Don’t mess with America.”

So if you’re looking for the real reason why locker rooms are divided, it’s not different than any other work environment in this country right now: It’s this dreadful, disheartening, despair-inducing campaign.

(If you’re still undecided — how could that possibly be the case at this point? — consider this: Bruce Springsteen said he admires 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and will vote for the Democrat. So when you look at it that way, with whom would you rather align: a middling offensive lineman with tribal tattoos or The Boss? Only one of them made “Born to Run.”)

Tales from when the 49ers were good

Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young shared a funny story in his new book “QB: My Life Behind the Spiral,” about a Thanksgiving he spent with then-rival and coworker Joe Montana:

While we were at the dinner table, Joe and I were talking when Joe’s daughter, who was probably around

3 years old, raised her hand.

“Dad,” she said. “Dad.” Joe kept talking to me. “Dad,” she repeated. “Dad.”

“What?” Joe said sweetly.

“Is this the guy we hate?” she said innocently. It was all I could do to not burst out laughing.

“No,” Joe told her. “That was someone else.”

A note for the Niners’ receiving corps: Prep your kids to not repeat what you said about balls being thrown at your ankles before inviting Blaine Gabbert over for dinner.

Arizona CardinalsChip Kellyjacob c. palmerSan Francisco 49ers

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