Top 5 storylines to watch in 49ers-Cardinals Week 5 matchup
No rest for the weary
The 49ers will fashion their all-black “color rush” uniforms for Thursday night’s game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium. That’s appropriate, because the mood around Santa Clara has been especially dark with the losses and injuries piling up. It’s a quick turnaround for both teams. “Regardless, short week or not, you can’t skip any part of your normal preparation,” 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. “If anything, you have to do more especially from the physical aspect to get your body feeling the way it should by Sunday, which happens to be Thursday this week.”
5) Elimination game?
Not much was expected from the 49ers when the season opened. Meanwhile, the Cardinals where hailed as Super Bowl contenders. Both teams enter Thursday’s game with 1-3 records. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman is out for the season with a torn Achilles, and the 49ers do not have many playmakers at key positions. The Cardinals have already lost as many games through four games than they did all of last season. Their offense figures to feature large doses of running back David Johnson. Neither team can afford another loss at this stage.
4) Expect more Dorsey
The 49ers lost nose tackle Ian Williams for the year with a recurrence of his ankle injury/surgery in the offseason. Mike Purcell started the first four games in the middle of the 49ers’ defense. But Purcell has experienced his share of difficulties. The 49ers have surrendered more rushing yards than any team in the league. Glenn Dorsey is listed as questionable with a knee condition. If he’s healthy, this appears to be the time to get Dorsey back into a more significant role.
3) O-line in control
The 49ers’ offensive line has played well through the first four games. And while the 49ers have improved to 22.5 points per game (15th in the NFL), the unit must do a better job of controlling the ball and moving the chains. Running back Carlos Hyde is the league’s eighth-leading rusher, but he must be more consistent. The Cardinals’ defense is a stiff challenge, but Gabbert must trust his protection to hold the ball long enough to allow downfield options to develop.
2) Lynch in shape
Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch dropped 30 sympathy pounds that he piled on during his wife’s pregnancy. He is in shape and, now, he’s eligible to return to action after serving a four-game suspension. The 49ers need his contributions. Neither Eli Harold nor Tank Carradine contributed much as pass-rushers. The 49ers need to pressure Drew Stanton and disrupt his timing, as he makes his first start since 2014 with Carson Palmer out with a concussion. Lynch recorded 12.5 sacks in his first two NFL seasons.
1) Bum-like performance for Blaine
Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner showed Gabbert the blueprint for success – albeit in a different sport. Gabbert has to pitch a complete game. He has been good in stretches. But he has also been woefully inconsistent. When he needed to make an important throw to a wide-open Torrey Smith against the Cowboys, Gabbert had his worst play of the day. Gabbert needs to make the throws an NFL quarterback must make and avoid turnovers. Otherwise, the calls for Colin Kaepernick will only get louder.