The 49ers had the weekend off after playing last Thursday night, and many of the players and coaches settled in on Sunday to watch their next two opponents square off against each other.
Of course, the then-unbeaten Dallas Cowboys had the attention of the 49ers.
But it was the Arizona Cardinals who rolled to a 28-16 victory over the Cowboys in the biggest upset of the young NFL season.
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The Cardinals’ impressive win certainly caught the attention of the 49ers. Arizona might be lacking in star power, but they have shown plenty of flashes in the first three games of the season.
The 49ers (3-0) put their unbeaten record on the line Sunday at Levi’s Stadium against the Cardinals (1-2).
Here are five players who can ensure the 49ers do not meet a similar fate to what the Cowboys experienced a week ago:
5. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk
San Francisco 49ers
Each one of the 49ers’ five eligibles has experienced at least one big game through three weeks.
All except for Juszczyk, that is.
The seven-time Pro Bowl selection's contributions to the 49ers’ 3-0 start have been primarily as a blocker. He has played more than 50 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, but has just one rushing attempt for 3 yards and no receptions.
In his past nine seasons, Juszczyk has averaged nearly 30 catches a year, so it’s about time quarterback Brock Purdy finds him in the passing game.
But even if Juszczyk does not touch the ball, he is still a huge part of the team’s offensive game plan with his lead-blocking for running back Christian McCaffrey.
4. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw
Greenlaw should be a busy man on Sunday against the Cardinals.
Arizona will want to get their running game going behind 233-pound running back James Conner.
But Greenlaw’s biggest challenge could come against quarterback Josh Dobbs, who can break out of the backfield on designed runs or scrambles.
Greenlaw has been flagged for borderline unnecessary roughness penalties in both of the past two games. Since the beginning of the 2021 season, Greenlaw has been called for seven unnecessary roughness penalties (including an ejection for a hit on sliding Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert) and three face-mask penalties.
“I definitely never want to take away his aggressive play,” 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. “That's who he is as a player.“
This game against Dobbs could be one in which Greenlaw’s aggression could be beneficial to the team.
“You get a fine line with some of these quarterbacks that run the ball sometimes, they're sliders, sometimes they stay up,” Wilks said. “Dobbs is a guy, if you watch him on tape, he's not sliding. So, we've got to be ready to hit him.”
3. Running back Christian McCaffrey
The reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Month looks to pick up in October where he left off.
McCaffrey has been phenomenal since coming to the 49ers in a midseason trade a year ago. He carries a streak of 12 consecutive games in which he has scored a touchdown, tying Jerry Rice for longest such streak in franchise history.
Everything the 49ers do runs through McCaffrey with his ability to excel in every style of run play, as well as his proficiency at running routes out of the backfield.
If the Cardinals do not fully account for him, he will have a big day. If they place too many resources into slowing him down, he will open the door for others.
2. Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir
The Cardinals can throw some speed onto the field with Marquise Brown and Rondale Moore. If Dobbs sees either of those players matched in single coverage against Lenoir, he can be expected to take a shot down the field.
Lenoir has been targeted 26 times and he has surrendered 19 pass completions for 186 yards, per PFF. He has also been flagged for two pass interference penalties. But Lenoir has not given up a touchdown and he has one interception.
Lenoir will make his 20th consecutive start at cornerback, but opposing offenses still might view him as a player to attack on the 49ers’ offense.
1. Quarterback Brock Purdy
Purdy grew up in a Phoenix suburb. His dad is from Florida, where he became a Miami Dolphins fan. He passed that long to his eldest son.
Somewhere, Purdy has a Cardinals jersey, which was given to him for being the Arizona Cardinals High School Player of the Year. Of course, the Cardinals — like every team in the NFL — passed on Purdy multiple times in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Purdy has done little wrong since taking over as the 49ers’ quarterback. There is nothing any reasonable person can concoct to criticize Purdy at this point. All he’s done is make plays and avoid critical mistakes.
And if he continues to do that Sunday, the 49ers will do what they’ve done any time Purdy takes the majority of the snaps in a game: Win.