Rested Cardinals return to action against reeling 49ers
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Rested Arizona faces reeling San Francisco on Sunday, and a Cardinals loss would be the biggest pratfall yet in a season already crowded with disappointment.
The Cardinals (3-4-1) came out of their bye week insisting that their season still can be a success. But they've lost one more game than they did all of last season and, after facing the 49ers (1-7), Arizona plays five of its final seven games on the road.
"I know people don't want to hear it and probably won't believe it," Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said, "but I like where we are. We're the underdog. We're going to come out fighting, and I'm excited to watch us on Sunday nights and what happens these eight weeks."
Arizona certainly won't be an underdog Sunday. The Cardinals are double-digit favorites against a San Francisco team that hasn't won since the season opener.
"I lost seven games when I was in college (in four seasons at Oregon)," 49ers coach Chip Kelly said, "but every one of those losses is a gut-wrenching one. We've lost seven games this season, and every one of those losses is a gut-wrenching one.
"So, you approach it very clear, very kind of analytical, in terms of what you did well, and we'll continue to build upon that, and what we did poorly and find out the solution to correct it."
Here are some things to look for when the 49ers face the Cardinals.
IMPROVING OFFENSE VS. TOP DEFENSE: San Francisco ranks 29th in the NFL in offense (314.5 yards per game) and will go up against an Arizona defense that leads the league, allowing 297 yards per game. But the 49ers offense had its best day of the season last Sunday in a 41-23 home loss to New Orleans, rolling up 486 yards, most by a San Francisco team in three seasons. Colin Kaepernick, in his third start since taking over from Blaine Gabbert, threw for 393 yards, second most of his career.
"I think it's getting back into a rhythm," Kaepernick said. "It had been almost a full year since I had been back really in live action in games. So it just took a little bit to get comfortable really. Now that comfort is starting to come back."
BAD SCENE: Kaepernick will be returning to the scene of what he called "probably the worst game of my career." That was Sept. 27 of last year, when two of his first four passes were intercepted and returned for touchdowns, one by Justin Bethel, the other by Tyrann Mathieu.
In all, Kaepernick was intercepted four times in a 47-7 Arizona romp.
"It's a good opportunity to go back, redeem myself and try to help this team get back on track," he said.
RUNNING WILD: Arizona running back David Johnson should love this matchup. Not only are the 49ers last in the NFL in run defense, they've allowed a 100-yard rusher for seven consecutive games. That's the longest streak ever in the NFL, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Johnson ran for 157 yards and two TDs in a 33-21 Arizona victory at San Francisco on Oct. 8. Johnson leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage and was the NFC offensive player of the month for October.
HARRIS' CHANCE: San Francisco running back DuJuan Harris is making the most of his opportunity to play. He shuttled among eight teams since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2011, and bounced on and off the practice squad and active roster earlier this year in San Francisco.
But Harris has gained 195 yards from scrimmage the past two weeks with starter Carlos Hyde slowed by a shoulder injury.
"I think he's dynamic as a runner," offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins said. "I think he's strong, he's shifty, he's got good lateral quickness. I think he sees it well. He's got to still learn, like all of them, patience. When to be patient and when not to, but the kid no doubt has a lot of ability as a runner. A lot of natural run instincts."
LINE QUESTION: Palmer sat out Arizona's earlier game against the 49ers with a concussion and is coming off his best passing game of the season, throwing for 363 yards and two touchdown in Arizona's 30-20 loss at Carolina two Sundays ago. But he was sacked a season-worst eight times.
Now he must survive without left tackle Jared Veldheer, out for the season with torn triceps. John Wetzel, who never played in a game as a pro before this season, will get his second NFL start.