A number of factors will come into play Sunday to determine the outcome of the 49ers-Cardinals game.
But No. 1 on the list is 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Will he be the bad Kaepernick who turned the ball over four times in a loss to the Bears this past Sunday night? Or the good Kaepernick who was so efficient in a Week 1 victory on the road over Dallas?
Though the Cardinals are 2-0, atop the NFC West, and the 49ers are 1-1 and on the road, NFL oddsmakers are betting that San Francisco and Kaepernick will rebound for the game, which kicks off at 1:25 p.m. Sunday. They’ve made the 49ers 3-point favorites.
Though Kaepernick had major problems against the Bears in the second half, the Cardinals are preparing for the strong-armed, quick-footed Kaepernick who can take over a game.
To contain him, Arizona’s defensive coaches are preaching responsibilities and containment. They want to put pressure on Kaepernick, but not so much that they forget about his running ability.
“He’s a tall, fast, rangy guy,” said Arizona defensive end Kareem Martin this week. “Watching film, I’ve seen where guys collapse the pocket and even get a hand on him, but he still finds a way to escape. When you have a guy like that, you have to rush as a team. Everybody has to be where they’re supposed to be, so if he’s flushed you’re where you need to be.”
In fact, the Cardinals cite stats that show how dangerous Kaepernick is when flushed from the pocket. In 2013, he threw 12 TDs and 10 interceptions from the pocket, but had 12 TD passes and just one interception when he was outside the pocket.
The 49ers have won their last four meetings with Arizona, including the regular-season finale of 2013 when they needed a last-second field goal by Phil Dawson.
The 49ers are likely to face backup quarterback Drew Stanton on Sunday. No. 1 QB Carson Palmer is still dealing with a shoulder injury. Stanton was solid last week, committing no turnovers, in completing 14-of-29 throws for 167 yards in a victory over the Giants.
But the 49ers have their own injury issues, too, with tight end Vernon Davis looking unlikely to play because of an ankle injury sustained against the Bears.
But even without Davis, Kaepernick will have plenty of options to throw to against Arizona. With a full stable of wide receivers, a solid running game and an offensive line that now has Aaron Boone back, the 49ers should be able to move the ball.
The question is, will Kaepernick have trouble with turnovers again? If he does, the 49ers could be in trouble.
But if he tightens his game Sunday, San Francisco should be able to come away with victory No. 2.