Two weeks ago the 49ers defense held the Seahawks to 12 points. Last week, the Niners were shredded for 41 points by the Rams.
So which defense will show up this Sunday in Arizona when the 0-3 49ers take on the 1-2 Cardinals?
Coordinator Robert Saleh believes it will be the unit that contained Seattle in Week 2, not the group that gave up 418 yards and four long touchdown drives in Week 3. With the extra time for preparation from that Thursday night game, Saleh says the 49ers defense has been regaining its focus on the basics.
“It goes back to fundamentals and the things that we always talk about,” Saleh told reporters this week. “I felt like we let a few things get away from us from a technical standpoint. Even myself, going back and evaluating us as coaches from a defensive standpoint, what we could’ve done better from a play-calling standpoint.”
The Cardinals come into the game with the 11th-ranked offense in the NFL, averaging 343 yards per game. Arizona’s rushing game, which has been strong in the past, is suffering because of inconsistent play by the offensive line and an injury to star David Johnson, who went down in Game 1. But the air attack is flying and ranks third in the NFL at 284 yards per game.
The 49ers might be able to slow down quarterback Carson Palmer with more pressure, but San Francisco has just three sacks, the second-worst total in the league. This Sunday, however, lanes may be open for the likes of Elvis Dumervil, Solomon Thomas, DeForest Buckner and Aaron Lynch, because Arizona already has allowed 11 sacks and gave up six in a Monday night loss to the Cowboys.
Still, Saleh expects the Palmer-Larry Fitzgerald-led offense to provide the 49ers a major challenge Sunday. Fitzgerald has consistently had big games as a receiver against San Francisco through the years. If Palmer gets time, Fitzgerald will get open.
“Carson is still a hell of a quarterback and coach (Bruce) Arians is a great offensive mind and puts his players in a position to be successful,” he said. Even without Johnson in the backfield, Saleh says the Cardinals “pose a lot of problems.”
Yet Saleh says he’s eager for Sunday to come.
“I cannot wait,” he told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I cannot wait for Sunday to see what we’re made of.”
The Cardinals are 7½-point favorites. The game is set to kick off at 1:05 p.m.