How Cardinals QB Kyler Murray challenges 49ers' defense on short week

How Cardinals QB Kyler Murray challenges 49ers' defense on short week

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."

[RELATED: 49ers' key injured starters unlikely to play vs. Cardinals]

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.”

Why Cam Newton is unlikely to join 49ers as Jimmy Garoppolo's backup

Why Cam Newton is unlikely to join 49ers as Jimmy Garoppolo's backup

It doesn't seem to make a difference who the free-agent quarterback is. There simply is no end to the rumors or suggestions that Jimmy Garoppolo could be replaced.

For years, pundits have argued that 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan would prefer Kirk Cousins over the incumbent, but that is all moot now that Cousins has signed a two-year contract extension with the Minnesota Vikings. Recently, there was no shortage of rumors that San Francisco was considering swapping Garoppolo out for Tom Brady, who has since signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Teddy Bridgewater was never suggested as a potential Garoppolo replacement, but he is now the starter for the Carolina Panthers after signing with them in free agency. The man -- and former MVP -- he is replacing, however, is currently without a team.

And thus begin the Cam Newton-to-49ers rumors.

Though numerous current and former 49ers have come out in support of Garoppolo, NFL Media's Bucky Brooks feels as though Newton would be a fit in San Francisco -- not necessarily as a Jimmy G replacement, or at least not right away.

"If I'm Cam Newton, and I can't go to the L.A. Chargers because they love Tyrod [Taylor], I go to San Francisco," Brooks said on KNBR's "The Mark Willard Show" on Thursday. "And the reason why Cam Newton in San Francisco would work is because I just believe that there may not be this great sense that Jimmy Garoppolo is the guy there.

"And let's just say that he may not be the guy, so you put Cam back there behind him, and Cam gets to learn from one of the best quarterback gurus that we've seen in the league. And maybe, just maybe, Kyle Shanahan is intrigued on having an explosive athlete running the stretch bootleg concept, putting the ball in the perimeter, throwing it out there."

Alright, where to begin?

First and foremost, none of the QBs rumored to be potential replacements for Garoppolo are verifiably superior. In fact, between Garoppolo, Cousins, Brady and Newton, Jimmy G threw for the most touchdowns, averaged the most yards per attempt and posted the best adjusted quarterback rating last season. He's also the youngest by at least a year-and-a-half, with Newton -- who turns 31 in May -- the next closest in age. Garoppolo turns 29 in November.

Then there's the financial aspect. Brooks seems to think the 49ers would be able to fit Newton into their salary-cap space.

"I'm just saying, from the Niners' standpoint, you would be able to get Cam at his cheapest," Brooks continued. "So if you think about a value proposition, just to bring him in, in case Jimmy Garoppolo gets hurt or falters, it would just be an interesting thing to think about if I'm the San Francisco 49ers, and I'm looking to add value and pop to my offense."

What Brooks is forgetting, however, is that a large portion of San Francisco's cap space has already been set aside in order to sign standout tight end George Kittle to a record-breaking contract extension, not to mention approximately $7 million that will be needed to sign the 49ers' 2020 draft class. 

[RELATED: Lynch promises 49ers will be ready for April's NFL draft]

Yes, Newton isn't exactly in a great negotiating position, but it's extremely hard to envision him signing somewhere on the cheap. He is unquestionably superior to Taylor, for instance, and the Chargers would seem like the likeliest destination for him. But even if Newton goes somewhere else, it's highly unlikely it will be for a salary that San Francisco could absorb without throwing a huge wrench into the construction of the rest of the roster.

From a talent standpoint, there's no doubt that Shanahan would love to have Newton on the 49ers, and while the team has confidence in Nick Mullens as Garoppolo's backup, he has never won a league MVP award. That said, Mullens comes significantly cheaper than Newton, and also won't create a circus through his presence at training camp. Newton surely would if he was there -- and rightfully so -- but unless he feels like taking the bare minimum, don't count on him coming to San Francisco.

GM John Lynch promises 49ers will be ready for April's 2020 NFL Draft

GM John Lynch promises 49ers will be ready for April's 2020 NFL Draft

The NFL draft will proceed as scheduled in a month, and 49ers general manager John Lynch promised on Friday the club will be ready.

Lynch posted a video on social media from his home office, as the team’s draft preparation continues with members of the organization working separately due to NFL guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The scouting department and coaches have been taking part in regular video conference meetings, Lynch said.

“This draft is absolutely huge for us, so there’s no excuses, no explanations,” Lynch said on the video. “We got to get our work done, albeit from home.”

Lynch said he is thankful for the hard work of the personnel department, scouts, coaching staff, and IT and video staffs. Lynch singled out vice presidents of player personnel Adam Peters and Martin Mayhew, and director of college scouting Ethan Waugh.

“We will be ready for that draft,” Lynch said.

The 49ers own the Nos. 13 and 31 picks in the first round of the draft on Thursday, April 23.

Lynch said he always looks for the blessings in any situation. Lynch and his wife, Linda, have four children, including two in college. The whole family is spending time a lot of quality time together as a result of the shelter-in-place guidelines.

[RELATED: Goodell tells NFL teams to prepare for 2020 draft off-site]

Then, Lynch offered some words of encouragement to the 49ers’ fan base.

“Make the best of the situation,” he said. “We appreciate your support always, faithful. Go Niners. Stay at home. Stay safe, and I’ve got your back.”

The 49ers also started a resource page at 49ers.com/IGYB and are asking people to take photos of their home offices and show their Niners spirit and tag their posts #IGYB (I Got Your Back).