By C.J. Peterson
Special to S.F. Examiner
The San Francisco 49ers return home for the first time in two weeks to take on the visiting Arizona Cardinals.
In quarterback C.J. Beathard’s first home appearance since taking over for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers will look to get their first win over Arizona since 2015 after losing six consecutive games to their NFC West rivals.
Along with that, here are five things to watch for as the 49ers take on the Cardinals.
Three seasons of losing is enough
Having played six games against Arizona between Sept. 27, 2015 and Nov. 5, 2017, the 49ers are 0-6, making the pair’s NFC West rivalry particularly lopsided as of late.
San Francisco has a chance to end that losing streak on Sunday, however, as the Cardinals will step into Levi’s Stadium with an 0-4 record — their worst start since 1986.
“I don’t look that far back,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “I know they got us the two games last year. So, we definitely remember those two well — me, personally, and the guys that were here last year.”
In Shanahan’s first season as an NFL head coach, all but two teams got over on his 49ers. As he referenced, though, the Cardinals were able to do it twice, including one of San Francisco’s most heartbreaking losses: An 18-15 overtime loss in Arizona in Week 4.
While the sting of those defeats still clearly linger, San Francisco will prepare to turn the page on their days of losing history to the Cardinals on Sunday.
“Players change every year,” said Shanahan. “You don’t go too much into that, but definitely would like to change that.”
A defense’s dream scenario
Something that will surely help the 49ers finally hang a loss on the Cardinals will be the fact that they are facing the worst statistical offense in the NFL.
Through four weeks of play, Arizona is averaging an abysmal 208.5 yards and 9.3 points per game.
In addition, the Cardinals have a rookie quarterback, Josh Rosen, who made his first NFL start last week against the Seattle Seahawks.
“As far as Rosen is concerned, he’s a very, very talented quarterback, incredibly accurate.” said 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. “I know their numbers on offense don’t look as good as what people think it is, but, all you have to do is watch that tape from last week and they probably should have had over 400 yards offense and 28 points. So, we’re excited for the challenge.”
The 49ers defense has not been great this season, giving up 380.5 yards and 29.5 points per affair. Considering the fact that they’ve faced four of the NFL’s top-15 offenses in their first four games, taking on a statistical bottom-dweller may be just what the doctor ordered.
49ers may be thin at wide receiver
The 49ers will have to dig into their depth on Sunday as they may be without two of their top wide receivers.
According to Shanahan, rookie wideout Dante Pettis (knee) has been officially ruled out, while the 49ers No. 1 passing option Marquise Goodwin (hamstring) is listed as questionable. On Saturday, San Francisco activated Victor Bolden Jr., lending more credence to the theory that Goodwin will not play. On Friday, Shanahan said Goodwin was “50-50,” and would be a gametime decision.
In Pettis’ case, a sprained right knee, suffered in San Francisco’s Week 4 loss to the Chargers, will keep him out of Sunday’s game.
For Goodwin, however, this is the second injury that may keep him out of a game this year after the San Francisco speedster missed Week 2 due to a quad contusion.
In the event that both do not play, Shanahan says there is a plan to get other receivers worked into the team’s offensive game plan.
“Richie James will definitely be involved,” Shanahan said.
Staley working to return against Arizona
Shanahan was surprised to see veteran left tackle Joe Staley at the 49ers facility early this morning.
After leaving midway through the 49ers’ Week 4 loss to the Chargers with a knee injury, the three-time All Pro offensive lineman hit the gym on Friday morning as he attempts to get his body ready for a start on Sunday.
“Today was [Staley’s] first day of practice.” Shanahan said on Friday. “I got in pretty early and it’s rare you see a player in the weight room at 5:40 just doing stuff to try to get ready for practice.
“I know today was important to him just to give himself a chance to get out there because very rarely if you can’t show anything on Friday in practice, very rarely is it even an option to play on Sunday.
Considering the struggles on offensive line, San Francisco will need Staley to make the start as one of the lone bright spots within the group.
According to ProFootballFocus.com Staley is the 24th-best tackle in the NFL this season with a 67.8 rating. San Francisco will need that stability this week as they work to get their season back on schedule.
Breida’s status up in the air
Along with Goodwin and Staley, who are listed as questionable ahead of Week 5, 49ers running back Matt Breida status is also in question.
In what seemed to be a hail storm of knee injuries, Brieda — along with Staley, Pettis, left tackle Mike McGlinchey and center Weston Richburg — was hobbled in Week 4’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, leading to some doubt regarding the second-year back’s ability to play on Sunday.
The injury is not new, only aggravated, as the Georgia Southern product suffered a hyperextended knee in the 49ers’ 38-27 loss to the Chiefs the week prior.
Through the first four weeks of the season, Breida has been off to a stellar start as the NFL’s third-leading rusher with 313 yards on the ground.
Taking over as San Francisco’s primary ball-carrier following the loss of Jerick McKinnon to a season-ending knee injury before the season, Breida has been a constant in the 49ers offense this year after a strong rookie campaign in 2017.
With second-year quarterback C.J. Beathard making his second start of the 2018 season, the 49ers will need Breida out on the field to take some of the pressure off of the 24-year old QB.