Behind Enemy Lines: 49ers practicing in Colorado to prepare for Mexico’s altitude
Nov 19, 2022, 7:30 PM | Updated: 7:35 pm
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
The Arizona Cardinals (4-6) head to Mexico City for a Monday Night Football game against the San Francisco 49ers (5-4), the first meeting of the NFC West foes this year.
Behind Enemy Lines brings you the key storylines and latest news for the Cardinals’ opponents each week this season.
49ers practicing in Colorado to adjust to high-altitude environment in Mexico City
By Alex Weiner
Mexico City, the site for Monday Night Football between the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers, is approximately 7,300 feet above sea level.
Santa Clara, where the 49ers play their home games, is less than 100 feet above sea level.
To adjust, San Francisco is practicing away from home this week at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Santa Clara elevation: 72 feet
Colorado Springs elevation: ~6,000 feet
Mexico City elevation: 7,349 feet
The 49ers will be climbing the ladder over the next week. They fly out to Colorado Tuesday
— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) November 14, 2022
“Teams in the past have come here before the international Mexico game because of the altitude,” 49ers color analyst Tim Ryan told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke Friday. “I remember when, I think the Patriots played Denver and then stayed a week here and went down and played the Raiders in the international game in Mexico City and started in a no huddle. It was like 24-0 and their tongues were hanging out of their mouths, the Raiders.
“There seems to be an advantage to acclimating to the altitude, not to get all scientific, with the blood cells and the oxygen and everything else with the thin air.”
The Patriots won that 2017 matchup 33-8 over the Raiders a week after their Broncos matchup.
Ryan made the point that neither team will be in Mexico City long before the game starts Monday night. The Cardinals arrived on Saturday.
“That could be a challenge on the lungs and on the body,” Ryan said.
The Cardinals’ home in Glendale has higher elevation than Santa Clara at approximately 1,150 feet, but that is still a far cry from Estadio Azteca.
The 49ers have also already played the Broncos this season, albeit that was back in Week 3. Arizona still has a road game against Denver on the slate, a Dec. 18 matchup.
Monday’s game is key for the Cardinals staying alive in the division race. How fatigue enters the matchup could show whether the 49ers found an advantage before game day or not.
Balancing the workload of RBs Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell
By Jordan Leandre
Week 10 brought forth the inaugural game of the Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell duo for the San Francisco 49ers.
McCaffrey was three games into his 49ers tenure after a midseason trade from the Carolina Panthers. Mitchell, a second-year pro, was in his first game back after getting hurt in the season-opener.
The two dynamic backs combined for 37 touches and 165 yards and a touchdown in the 22-16 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.
But how will the Niners disperse the touches between the two now that they’re both active?
“Both of them can handle the load and do it all,” head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters. “Because the both of them are so good at it … that allows them to be a lot fresher.”
Nothing is forced in the Niners running back room, as both can be used on an as-needed basis.
“It’s not like we have a big, strong opinion on [the touches],” Shanahan added. “You might give an edge to over the other in some things but it’s almost splitting hairs.
“It’s a lot easier to rotate guys.”
For McCaffrey, he said it’s fun to share the backfield with Mitchell.
“He can run any run,” McCaffrey told reporters. “He’s good in protection, good in the pass game, a complete back.”
Sharing the load isn’t something McCaffrey grew used to with the Carolina Panthers. In 64 games, he played at least 70% of snaps in 50 of them.
Against the Chargers last week, he played 65% of offensive snaps, the lowest snap share of his season aside from his Niners debut.
“When you’re on a team with a lot of different weapons, [rotating] guys naturally happens,” McCaffrey said. “It’s good to stay fresh throughout a game and stay fresh throughout a season.”
The two will face an Arizona Cardinals run defense on Monday night that’s tied for ninth in the NFL in yards allowed per carry but tied for the sixth-most rushing touchdowns allowed.
Stock up, stock down for the 49ers
By The Associated Press
Third and long. San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been one of the best in the league this season converting on third-and-long. The 49ers have gotten a first down on 45.2% of his passes on third and at least 8 yards, second best in the NFL to Patrick Mahomes’ 46.9% for Kansas City.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Red zone offense. In a 22-16 win against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, the Niners moved the ball well but struggled to finish drives, settling for field goals on three of their five trips into the red zone. McCaffrey was stopped on third down from the 2 on the first drive, Aiyuk dropped a pass in the end zone on third down in the third quarter and Elijah Mitchell was hit for a loss on third-and-goal from the 1 late in the game.
San Francisco has scored TDs on 57.8% of red zone drives this year, down from a league-leading 66.7% in 2021.
“I do think there are a lot of things clicking,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “But you’re not going to get points if you move it and can’t score inside the 10. You’re not going to get enough points, that’s for sure.”
Mitchell’s looked sharp in his return from a knee injury that had sidelined him since the opener. He had a team-high 18 carries for 89 yards, generating six first downs on the ground.
LB Dre Greenlaw got ejected late in the second quarter when he was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Chargers QB Justin Herbert.
Greenlaw has been called for seven personal fouls since entering the league in 2019.
The Niners had no in-game injuries for a second straight game for a pleasant change. Rookie WR Danny Gray rolled his ankle in pregame warmups and didn’t play. He is day to day. … DT Arik Armstead (foot, ankle) could return for the first time since Week 4. Shanahan said he wouldn’t know until later in the week if Armstead will be able to practice.
0. San Francisco held the opponent scoreless in the second half for the second straight game.
The 49ers allowed 58 yards and no points after halftime to the Rams in Week 8 and then came back from the bye to hold the Chargers to 52 yards and no points in the second half on Sunday.
The 49ers flew to Colorado on Tuesday to practice at Colorado Springs as they try to acclimate to high altitude before playing Arizona in Mexico City on Monday night. San Francisco will practice in Colorado through Saturday before flying to Mexico on Sunday.