Three Must-Win Positional Battles For 49ers Against Cardinals

GETTY Safety Budda Baker #36 of the Arizona Cardinals walks off the field before the NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona.

Even with just a handful of days away, the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals season opener can’t come soon enough.

Both sides, as well as the rest of the NFL’s franchises, are excited to see exactly how their 2020 renditions look on the field, and for San Francisco and Arizona, the opener is also of great importance with it being a conference matchup.

Arizona has aspirations of reaching the playoffs behind second-year quarterback Kyler Murray and the 49ers are hoping to repeat their NFC West championship and run to the Super Bowl.

But before the winter and postseason arrives, the 49ers have to handle business in Week 1.

OLB Chandler Jones vs. T Trent Williams

There isn’t much to say about Chandler Jones that hasn’t been said already. He’s simply dominant. In four seasons with the Cardinals, Jones boasts a league-high 60 sacks, with 19 last season.

Keeping quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo clean will be imperative. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense loves to get the ball out as quickly as possible, but even with scheming, if left tackle Trent Williams and right tackle Mike McGlinchey don’t perform, there will be trouble.

The good news is that McGlinchey and Williams are arguably San Francisco’s best two lineman, and ought to be able to at least earn a draw most of the time with Jones and Devon Kennard, depending on how the Arizona defense rotates and lines up.

Williams’ 49ers debut will be a tall order, but the seven-time Pro Bowler should be up to the task. That being said, even Williams knows he’s dealing with one of the NFL’s best.

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WR DeAndre Hopkins vs. CB Richard Sherman

Who didn’t expect this? Two guys that are in the “elite” conversation at their positions meeting each other for the first time in a divisional matchup.

The 49ers will likely be focusing on the bigger picture rather than this battle, just due to the fact that San Francisco’s defensive line will need to consistently win to force Murray to his back foot and limit the Cardinals’ rushing duo of Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmunds.

However, on the plays that Nick Bosa or Arik Armstead are unable to get after Murray, Hopkins will be the first read, and Sherman will have to be there.

Hopkins is so good that it’s unreasonable to think Sherman will completely lock him down, but solid coverage against Hopkins will limit the Cardinals’ capability for big plays.

George Kittle vs. Budda Baker

The Cardinals are going to follow a similar defensive gameplan to their two games last year, which is stuffing the run on every occasion. Limiting the 49ers to under three yards a handoff in both games last year was a legitimate accomplishment, and Arizona will look to repeat that.

That means Garoppolo and the passing offense, whether it includes Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk or not, will need to execute, and tight end George Kittle is an obvious key to that.

His primary matchup will be the tenacious Arizona safety Budda Baker, who will get the nod to guard Kittle on man-to-man coverage.

George Kittle vs Budda Baker (2019 wk 9) | TE vs S MatchupMore Tight End vs Safeties: youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtgKfr6wMueuhSo09ias0eokhBJGgQwJ- More George Kittle: youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtgKfr6wMuetu0960e-jeMpsRECfgvH112019-11-01T16:18:44Z

Baker, as seen in the video above, has proven to be a decent option to put on Kittle, although Kittle still gets receptions and separation despite Baker’s impressive play.

With a new contract and an All-Pro selection behind him, the 49ers tight end needs to put a stamp on the season early, and he can do that by beating Baker.

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Evan Reier is a sportswriter covering the NFL for Heavy.com and local sports for the Montana Standard in Butte, Mont. Reach out to him on Twitter at @evanreier and join our 49ers community at Heavy on 49ers on Facebook.