Cardinals face rookie QB Trey Lance, 49ers run game in Week 5

Oct 8, 2021, 5:28 PM

TEMPE — It’s official.

“Trey Area” is headed to the desert in Week 5, with San Francisco 49ers rookie quarterback Trey Lance making the first start of his NFL career Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.

But before the Cardinals pass rush starts licking its chops at the thought of another rookie signal caller under center, the 49ers still present a tough divisional matchup that doesn’t have to kill you through the air to come out victorious.

“You get excited as a pass rusher rushing against a rookie, but at the same time, with this team particularly we playing, you gotta stop the run first,” linebacker Markus Golden said Friday. “I feel like If they don’t have to pass with him, they won’t pass with him. They’d run the 100 times if they could, so you gotta get out there and stop the run.

“That’s gotta be the No. 1 focus. Gotta stop the run, do your job, set the edges, be in your gap every play, because they got the type of run game where if you’re not doing your job, if they see one hole open, the running back gonna hit it, man.”

Despite injuries to multiple 49ers rushers, including starter Raheem Mostert, San Francisco still sits 10th among the NFL in carries with 116 and tied for sixth in rushing touchdowns with five. The 49ers are averaging 114.5 yards per game, good for 11th in the league.

There’s also the fact that there really isn’t much tape of Lance in 49ers head coach Kyler Shanahan’s offense, something defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said can make it harder to game plan for.

Lance was used sparingly in certain packages over the first three weeks of 2021 before getting an actual taste of running the offense in the second half of last Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks after starter Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a calf injury that would eventually rule him out for Week 5. The rookie completed 9-of-18 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. He also rushed seven times for 41 yards.

Any film is film.

“There’s a lot that you can get from that” outside linebacker Isaiah Simmons said Wednesday. “They’re not going to reinvent the wheel based on having a new quarterback.

“Teams will run their bread and butter, what the coaches believe works with the other personnel. There’s differences that come with new quarterbacks, but there’s still a lot of carryover as well.”

The Cardinals’ primary objective this season has been to stop the run. Once that’s halted, its’s hunting season for Arizona’s pass rushers.

And against a rookie with about a half of NFL experience, the bounty is there for the taking.

But while San Francisco’s offense is shrouded with question marks like the Golden Gate Bridge on a foggy morning, its defense remains one of its strong points.

The 49ers enter Week 5 with the 10th-best passing defense in the league, allowing 218.3 yards per game. No other team the Cardinals have faced this season sit higher than San Francisco, with the Minnesota Vikings the next closest at 18th.

A lot of that can be credited to the defensive ends Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, who have seven sacks combined to go along with eight tackles for loss. Linebacker Fred Warner leads the team with 36 tackles.

“We know what type of team and culture San Fran has,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Friday. “They’ve got great players. Their culture is tough and physical and very competitive, so it’s gonna be a heck of a game. Our guys understand that.”

San Francisco’s defense may present a tough challenge for Arizona’s offense, but it’s not as ironclad as it used to be when it comes to the run. The 49ers have allowed five touchdowns so far this season, tied for the third-most scores allowed on the ground. The defense is also middle of the road in rushing yards per game (118) at 17th.

Much like their game against the Los Angeles Rams, if the Cardinals offense can come out with a balanced attack, that should open the doors for the running game to get rolling.

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