Cardinals’ Top Cornerback Will Miss Matchup With 49ers

Byron Murphy - Arizona Cardinals

Getty Cardinals CB Byron Murphy (center) celebrates an interception with Robert Alford (left) and Antonio Hamilton.

The Arizona Cardinals will be without their top cornerback — and possibly two other key players in the secondary — when they host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, October 10.

Byron Murphy will miss the game and Marco Wilson is a game-time decision as both cornerbacks recover from rib injuries, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. Cornerback Antonio Hamilton also has been limited in practice with an ankle injury and is listed as questionable to play against the 49ers.

“It doesn’t look like (Byron) Murphy will be available,” Kingsbury told reporters Friday, October 8.

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Murphy, who ranks second in the NFL with three interceptions this season, injured his ribs in the first half of the Cardinals’ 37-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, October 3. Murphy left the game shortly after picking off Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford but later returned.

Murphy Has Been Dominant in 2021

The Scottsdale, Arizona, native and former Saguaro High School star has been stellar in his third NFL season, bringing credibility to a secondary that entered the 2021 campaign as an area of concern. He was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week following his two-pick performance against Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Wilson, the Cardinals’ fourth-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft, also has performed better than expected, helping Arizona’s secondary answer some of those early questions created in part by Malcolm Butler opting to suddenly retire prior to the start of the season.

“For Marco to come in as a rookie and to play the way he’s played, with such poise and with such a high football IQ, it’s been surprising for all of us,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph told reporters Thursday, October 7.

So how will the Cardinals replace Murphy — and perhaps Wilson and Hamilton — against the 49ers?

“You’ll have to tune in,” Kingsbury said.

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Cardinals Corners Have Held up so Far

The injuries in the secondary will put additional pressure on Robert Alford and whoever else is healthy enough to play against a 49ers receiving corps that includes Deebo Samuel, the NFL leader in receiving yards through four games (490), and former Arizona State star Brandon Aiyuk.

So far this season, Hamilton and Alford have better overall PFF defensive grades than both Murphy and Wilson.

Hamilton, the former Kansas City Chiefs CB now in his first season with the Cardinals, is the team’s top-graded corner at 76.2 and ranks third on the defense overall behind Chandler Jones (79.2) and J.J. Watt (76.8).

Alford, who played six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons before signing with the Cardinals in 2019, ranked second at 67.2, followed by Murphy (64.4) and Wilson (53.3).

In pass coverage, Hamilton ranks second on the team with a 70.9 grade behind Murphy’s 72.2. Alford is third at 68.9, with Wilson at 53.8. Hamilton has played 51 defensive snaps this season compared with 200-plus for the other Arizona corners.

If neither Murphy nor Wilson are able to play, rookie Tay Gowan also could see action against the 49ers. The sixth-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft has not played yet this season. Arizona also could activate cornerback Luc Barcoo from the practice squad.

The Cardinals (4-0) will be facing a rookie quarterback making his first start for the 49ers (2-2).

Veteran Jimmy Garoppolo strained his calf in the first half of the 49ers’ 28-21 home loss to the Seattle Seahawks on October 3, paving the way for Trey Lance to get his opportunity to start against the Cardinals. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m. MST at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

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