SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers' coaching staff won't sleep much before Thursday night's game against the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale, considering it comes four days after San Francisco's Week 8 blowout win over the Carolina Panthers.
The Cardinals' revamped offense, run by rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and designed by first-year NFL coach Kliff Kingsbury, is going to keep 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh up over the next few nights.
"[It's] a challenge," Saleh said Tuesday of facing a new-look team for the first time on a short week. "This is not a simple offense. They've got a lot of cool designed plays and they do a lot of things. Having the quarterback in the run game is a problem. So, on a short week, you're actually more comfortable going against a system that's been in place for a while because you have a good feel for what's going to happen."
The Cardinals hired Kingsbury, who earned a reputation as an offensive wunderkind as Texas Tech's head coach, in January. They selected Murray, the 2018 Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma, No. 1 overall in April's draft. Arizona stumbled out of gate with no wins in its first four games but have won three of four since. Those victories came against teams with a combined three wins entering Week 9, but the Cardinals offense seems to be finding its stride in a somewhat surprising way.
Kingsbury's offense -- much like his at Tech -- ranks among the NFL's top 10 in passing attempts per game (36.6). While the Cardinals run the ball less than all but 11 teams, they're 14th in rushing yards per game (116.5) and ninth in yards per attempt (4.78).
"It's not what everyone talked about, how it's just gonna be the 'Air Raid' offense and stuff," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "They do spread it out a lot and use their speed very well. They also get under center at times. ... They're mixing in a lot of stuff and they've done a real good job with it, and they definitely take advantage of the quarterback's talents. It's been impressive so far."
Arizona acquired running back Kenyan Drake with David Johnson (ankle, back) and Chase Edmonds (hamstring) on the mend, so Murray could be called upon more Thursday. He has rushed about six times per game so far as a rookie, but has been up-and-down as a passer.
Murray has nearly as many games with fewer than 200 passing yards (two) as he does with over 300 yards (three). Only four quarterbacks have been sacked on a higher percentage of passing plays (8.2 percent) this season.
Yet, Murray still has flashed the dynamic ability that made him such a tantalizing prospect. 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman observed that Murray often scrambles in an effort to get a receiver open rather than running it himself, which isn't often the case with most young QBs.
"I'd say he's well-coached and been well-coached from an early age because you can see he's looking downfield," Sherman said. "He's keeping his eyes downfield a lot of times and ... a lot of young quarterbacks, they'll start to look at the rush. They'll start to keep their eyes down, especially after a sack or two. He hasn't done that. He's been disciplined in that regard and keeping his eyes downfield and trying to make a play."
The 49ers' dominant defensive line had plenty of success against an undersized Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma, dominating against Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield in Week 5. Murray's skill set is not a carbon copy, though, and San Francisco doesn't have the benefit of the bye week to prepare.
That shouldn't deter the 49ers defense, according to Saleh. They know Murray is going to get loose, but Saleh said it's crucial the 49ers pass rush treats Murray just as it would any other signal-caller and focuses on "keeping him in the pocket as much as possible."
"It doesn’t matter whether he’s a statue or a quarterback like he is, a runner," Saleh said. "You still always have respect to the pocket and how you rush.”