49ers vs. Cardinals predictions: We believe in Trey Lance, and so should you

by 24USATVOct. 10, 2021, 11 p.m. 16
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It’s almost showtime. Today will mark Trey Lance’s first start. While it may only be one as Jimmy Garoppolo could return after the bye week, it’ll be challenging to go back to Jimmy G if Lance lights it up against the Arizona Cardinals. The excitement surrounding the quarterback scenario makes Sunday’s game must-see TV.

According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, the Niners are +5 underdogs against the undefeated Cardinals.

This is the game where the Cardinals turnover luck runs out while the Niners regresses to the mean. With Josh Norman back, the secondary takes a step forward. Dee Ford and Nick Bosa help slow down Kyler Murray just enough while Lance and the running game have a statement game that’ll make the next week and a half intolerable as we “debate” who should start.

Welcome back, Brandon Aiyuk. Today, Aiyuk will score two touchdowns. Deebo Samuel does Deebo Samuel things. The rookie running backs complement each other as the 49ers have their most efficient offensive performance to date against a lackluster Cardinals defense that’s propped up by its turnover numbers.

I haven’t picked against the Niners this season, and even going up against an undefeated Cardinals team, I’m sticking with San Francisco. Each of the 49ers’ two losses was defined by unforced errors, and I have faith in rookie Trey Lance giving them the big-play potential to give them more room for error.

Despite their record, I’m not a big believer in the Cardinals, who have benefitted from an easy start to their schedule and tremendous turnover luck. Quarterback Kyler Murray has been playing the best football of his NFL career, and he could make up for Arizona’s deficiencies once again. However, he’ll probably have to be exceptional once again. The Niners have been on the wrong end of great quarterbacks the last couple of weeks, but I’m betting Lance can come out on top in his first NFL start.

Frankly, I don’t think Kyle Shanahan will come out with a game plan aggressive enough to keep up with Arizona’s offense. With Trey Lance making his first career start, I think Shanahan will try and hide him. Kyle will look and see that Arizona is allowing more yards per carry to running backs than any team in the league, and he’ll have a run-first, pass-if-we-have-to game plan. Eventually, he’ll try and open it up when the team is down later in the game, but until then, he’ll just try not to lose.

On the other side of the ball, I don’t believe Kliff Kingsbury has changed his playbook all that much. Instead, I think the Cardinals have finally upgraded their offensive personnel to the point where their plays are now more effective. Instead of a screen pass to the ghost of Larry Fitzgerald, it now goes to 4.2-speed wide receiver Rondale Moore. Nick Bosa will still do Nick Bosa things, but he’s only one man. Kyler Murray will escape enough to do damage down the field and give the Cardinals all the points they need.

It’s time for Kyle Shanahan to work his magic. The 49ers used major draft capital to draft Trey Lance. Lance will provide a spark to San Francisco’s offense, which has been stagnant the last three weeks. Lance getting around 15 quarterback-designed runs and Elijah Mitchell returning should help the run game.

Before the season, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury was ranked the third coach most likely to be fired first in the NFL. Now, Arizona is the lone undefeated team in the NFC West. Kyler Murray and his complementary receiver group posses a great threat to the Niner defense. San Francisco still has one turnover on the season. I’m predicting the defense to come away with at least two of them Sunday.

Lance’s mobility will extend drives when the play isn’t there. However, the Cardinals will have to account for his running ability, which opens the window for big plays through the air. My main concern is when Arizona’s offense goes no-huddle out of 10 personnel. DeMeco Ryans will have to match personnel while keeping his aggressive nature.

Kyle Shanahan finds a way to manufacture points by exploiting Arizona and their 31st ranked run defense, which I predict will have a hard time slowing down Trey Lance as he makes his first NFL start. Arizona has looked beatable for a good portion of the season despite their 4-0 record, and I think the 49ers win the battle in the trenches and establish the tone physically en route to an upset on the road as they head into the bye week.

I distinctly remember watching the 49ers-Cardinals matchup in December 2020, when San Francisco had nothing to play for but pride while Arizona was vying for a Wild Card berth, and picking my jaw up off the floor when Kyle Shanahan called an RPO for C.J. Beathard. C.J. Beathard! And it worked! Not to mention, Jeff Wilson Jr. had absolutely gone off in his typical smashmouth style, amassing 183 yards on the ground.

A thought popped into my head, and it stuck with me all the way up until draft day. Imagine this offense running that with an actual mobile quarterback. Funnily enough, Trey Lance’s first career start comes this Sunday against an equally dire Cardinals’ run defense. Now that’s some serendipity.

This just has the makings of a get-right game for the Niners and a back-to-Earth game for the Cardinals. Of course, Kyler Murray could go out there and absolutely shove, securing his place in early MVP talks, but the Niners have the horses on the defensive line, too, at the very least, slow him down. If the rushing attack can come alive thanks to Lance’s ascendance and Mitchell’s return, then that might just be enough to put a chokehold on the time of possession and squeeze a win out.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.

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