Cardinals, 49ers desperately seeking win
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If desperate times call for desperate measures, what do desperate NFL teams call for when their seasons are conceivably on the line as early as Week 4?
The struggling Arizona Cardinals (1-2) and equally distressing San Francisco 49ers (0-3) are each desperately in need of a positive jolt. The problem is, one of them figures to be headed back to the drawing board wondering if there's enough time to turn things around after the teams meet Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Can a desperate team play better because of its desperation?
"I think that every week in the NFL is a big week and is tough. I don't really look at it that way. I think sometimes if you get desperate, you could play worse," 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer said. "I think you look at it, you try to take every week as the same, and know that it's always going to be a challenge. It's the NFL. That's why they say 'Any given Sunday.'
"You just know that you've got to prepare the best you can and then go out and execute the best you can, and then when the game is over, see what the score is."
Both teams are struggling to score -- the Cardinals are averaging just 18.6 points per game, the 49ers 17.0.
Making things more difficult for the Cardinals, they are playing on a short week after Monday night's 28-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers will have had 10 days of rest after their 41-39 loss to the Los Angeles Rams a week ago Thursday.
It might not be the most watched game on the schedule, but how big is this game to the two combatants?
"Huge," Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said. "Their record does not matter. Every time we play San Francisco, they give us their best shot. They've always played really, really well against us -- really, really hard against us. They're playing hard on film, and this is a very good defense.
"I don't know what's on the other side of the ball, but this is a very good defense. We're in a difficult spot, as you said, coming off a loss on a short week with a team that's got 10 or so days' rest. This is a huge game for us."
Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco's first-year head coach, said he has been pleased with the effort and competitiveness and thinks the 49ers probably deserve a better fate and a better record.
San Francisco lost 12-9 to Seattle in Week 2 and had their share of chances to topple the Rams.
"I feel like we're going in the direction that I hoped we'd be going," he said. "Obviously, I wish we were 3-0, and we're 0-3, so that's disappointing, but I feel like our guys are competing. I feel like we're playing the right way. I feel like we've gotten better in each game.
"I'm proud of what I see on tape, even though I know it's not always the best. But I feel proud that guys are trying their best, and the main thing for us is that we continue to get better."
The Cardinals are starting to really feel the absence of star running back David Johnson, who is out indefinitely after suffering a dislocated wrist in the season opener.
Arizona ranks 29th in rushing yards (59.0 per game) and none of the running backs that coach Bruce Arians has trotted out as replacements, be it Chris Johnson, Kerwynn Williams or Andre Ellington, have distinguished themselves from the other or helped make a dent in the run game.
Where it is affecting the Cardinals the most is in their red zone offense, which is operating at a shoddy 27 percent clip. That's not going to get it done and the lack of a rushing attack is a big reason why.
"Yeah, we spent so much time on it, it's kind of disappointing," Arians said. "We've run, probably, too many RPOs down there and didn't execute them properly or didn't make the catch or the throw, like the fourth-and-1 in Indy. We've got to run the ball better, for sure."
The good news for the Cardinals is they're starting to get some of their injured starters back, particularly on offense.
Left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) and left guard Mike Iupati (triceps) are both expected to play after missing the past two games, as is speedy wide receiver John Brown (triceps).
"It's been great to see," Palmer said. "I'm looking forward to getting them back in the fold."
The 49ers are relatively healthy, although there were some concerns about the availability of rookie linebacker Reuben Foster (ankle) and safety Eric Reid (knee).
Running back Carlos Hyde, who ranks third in the league with 253 rushing yards, has been dealing with a sore hip, although it wasn't expected to keep him out of Sunday's game.
Even at less than 100 percent, Hyde is a load and a difficult running back to contain, says Arians.
"He has always been a challenge because he's a big back, but he's got really light feet and can jump cut," Arians said. "He's powerful, runs behind his pads. He, again like Zeke (Ezekiel Elliott), will be a heck of a challenge."
Updated September 28, 2017