Five 49ers who face especially difficult challenges
Nothing has come easy for the 49ers this season. After a 28-0 win in the season opener over the Los Angeles Rams that set unrealistic expectations, the 49ers have been thoroughly overmatched for seven consecutive games.
The 49ers have surrendered an average of 37 points per game during their losing streak, while being outscored by an average of 17.3 points. It will not get any easier on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1). Here are five 49ers who have particularly difficult assignments against a team desperate to remain in the playoff picture...
5) LG Zane Beadles
Beadles was the 49ers’ only veteran free-agent acquisition of the offseason. He has started every game and has been OK. He will face one of his biggest tests of the season against Cardinals defensive tackle Calais Campbell.
The Cardinals move Campbell (6 foot 8, 300 pounds) all around the line. There are times when he even stands up in pass-rush situations. But he lines up mostly at the right defensive tackle position, and could look to overpower Beadles. Campbell has earned two consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl and is third in franchise history with 50.5 sacks.
4) DT DeForest Buckner
The 49ers selected Buckner at No. 7 overall, thinking that he could be similar to Campbell. That certainly has not happened, yet. Buckner has been a liability in the run defense, but the 49ers are going to continue to play him a lot so that he can learn on the job.
Arizona left guard Mike Iupati, who started all 95 games in which he appeared for the 49ers over his first five seasons, signed a five-year, $40 million last year as a free agent. His forte is the run game. He is a mauler – just the kind of powerfully built guard that figures to give Buckner all kinds of problems at this stage of his career.
3) CB Jimmie Ward
Ward starts on the outside, but he moves into nickel back when the opposition deploys three-receiver sets. Veteran Larry Fitzgerald is one of the top slot receivers in the business, as he uses his size and ability to find creases in the middle of the field to ward off defenders.
While lined up in the slot, Fitzgerald has 36 catches this season for 334 yards and two touchdowns. Ward is at a distinct size disadvantage, and the Cardinals could look to exploit the matchup in the red zone.
2) QB Colin Kaepernick
The Cardinals’ pass defense had its way with Kaepernick last season, and they boasted loudly about how they had the book on the 49ers quarterback. Kaepernick completed just 9 of 19 pass attempts for 67 yards with four interceptions – two of which were returned for touchdowns within the first six minutes of the game.
Arizona will be without its top play-maker in the secondary. Tyrann Mathieu is not expected to play due to a shoulder injury. That’s a bit of a break for Kaepernick. But he still faces the stiffest challenge of his season. The Cardinals have recorded nine interceptions and allowed opposing quarterbacks to compile a passer rating of just 69.1.
1) LB Nick Bellore
In the four full games the 49ers have played after NaVorro Bowman’s injury, the run defense has allowed 245.5 yards per game. Bellore has stepped into the lineup at middle linebacker to start on defense for the first time in his career.
“Nick Bellore’s really grown at the inside backer position,” 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said. But the drop-off from Bowman to Bellore is significant. And it could really show on Sunday, as the 49ers try to slow down Cardinals running back David Johnson, who has rushed for 705 yards and eight touchdowns while also catching 35 passes for 407 yards.