GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — One thing for certain about Sunday’s game between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals: No team in the NFL will have a worse record than the team that loses this one.
The 49ers and Cardinals stagger into the game at 1-6. San Francisco has lost five in a row since its lone win of the season, a victory over Detroit on Sept. 16, back before quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a season-ending knee injury.
It’s been a particularly tumultuous week for the Cardinals. They fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy last Friday, replacing him with quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich. And three-time All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson asked to be traded, only to back off the request following a meeting with Cardinals President Michael Bidwill.
When times are tough, San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said, coaches learn a lot about their players.
“Everyone is motivated when things are easy,” he said. “When things get really tough is when you find out who people truly are. Sometimes that is a necessity when you are trying to build a team and build an organization the right way. We went through a lot of it last year, and I thought we did have some pretty strong guys because we were able to start out 0-9 and finish 6-10.”
Arizona’s first-year coach Steve Wilks made the change at coordinator with his team ranked last or nearly last in the NFL in virtually every offensive category. But how much can be done in one week of practice with a new coordinator?
“I think he is trying to ease in,” Wilks said. “He’s not trying to, he says, ‘go cold turkey on it’ and switch everything. I think it’s going to be a slow, gradual process.”
When Arizona beat the 49ers 28-18, San Francisco dominated the game statistically but turned over the ball five times to zero for the Cardinals.
Here are some things to consider when the 49ers face the Cardinals:
PROTECT THE BALL
No team has been worse at protecting the ball than the 49ers and no team has been worse at taking it away. That has added up to the five straight losses. The Niners rank last in the league with three takeaways — tied for the fewest after seven games since the 1970 merger — and have committed the most with 18. San Francisco has committed 14 giveaways since its last takeaway on Sept. 30 against the Chargers.
“We can’t run away from it,” Shanahan said. “We keep talking about it, keep harping on it. We just go back to work and keep trying to get better.”
Leftwich is the fifth coordinator that Arizona rookie quarterback Josh Rosen has had in the past five seasons.
“It’s not fun. If I could prefer it, I would have one offense, but that’s not really how it all worked out,” he said. “So, I’m just going to do the best I can with what I’ve got.”
Rosen is coming off his roughest outing, throwing three interceptions and fumbling twice in last Thursday night’s 45-10 loss to Denver. He continues to talk positively, though.
“I think what I have right now is a really good football team,” he said. “We are all underperforming a bit, but like I said in the past, I am very happy that we’re a really good football team playing not so well, as opposed to hitting our potential as a team take maybe doesn’t have as much potential.”
WHERE ARE THE WIDEOUTS?
The 49ers have struggled to generate much production from their wide receivers this season, with the group combining for just 64 catches for 798 yards through seven games. Several San Francisco receivers have been slowed by injuries, with Marquise Goodwin, Pierre Garcon, Trent Taylor and Dante Pettis all dealing with various ailments that have kept them out at times from practice and games.
“It definitely makes it a little bit tougher just not having the same guys getting the same reps every week,” quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “It’s nice to have a routine, same guys in there. Obviously, it would help to have everyone healthy as it would at any position, but that’s part of football and you’ve just got to go with the guys that you have in there and trust in them.”
While Arizona’s offense has been awful, Christian Kirk is off to a good start to his NFL career.
Kirk, a second-round draft pick out of Texas A&M who grew up in suburban Phoenix, leads NFL rookie wide receivers with 28 catches. He is on pace for 64 receptions, which would be second most in Cardinals history: Anquan Boldin caught 101 passes as an Arizona rookie in 2004.
Leftwich has made a rapid rise to coordinator in his coaching career. He was a coaching intern under Bruce Arians two seasons ago and was promoted to quarterbacks coach by Arians last season.
When Wilks replaced Arians, he kept Leftwich in the QB coaching job.