Line: A 0-4 team is traveling to a 1-3 team that looked somewhat competent and came close to beating the Chargers and the argument could be made that the Cards are slightly worse on a neutral field – therefore the line opener of 5/5.5 might have seemed pretty fair from the market perception. However, I think the Cardinals are underrated in this buy low spot after four tough games of which they should have won the last one and the Niners are overpriced. I give Josh Rosen a neutral rookie grade, which might be too conservative after last week. My power number is Niners -4, but that line includes data from the first three weeks when Jimmy Garoppolo and Josh Rosen had played and I might be a bit too low on the Cards defense. It would be a different line with Rosen and Beathard for the full season.
Analysis: Wow, what a performance by Chosen Rosen! You don’t recognize it when looking at the box score, but this young guy was super sharp against the Seahawks and they should have won that game. Rosen was throwing dimes all over the field, but his stat line of 15/27 for 180 yards and a touchdown is misleading. His receivers dropped four passes and caught one out of bounds that would have been an extra 123 yards, one touchdown, and two grabs right in front of the goal line. It would have been 22/27 for 303 yards and three touchdowns and an easy win on a different day. The Seahawks actually got the worst coverage grade by Pro Football Focus since 2016 in this specific game. And that was with Earl Thomas playing all but five snaps in coverage.
This week, Chosen Rosen will meet a Niners defense that is not good. SF got some interior pressure and two young studs at LB (Warner & Foster), but they have zero edge rush, mostly poor coverage ability on their secondary and they have tackling issues. Greg Mabin, who got some snaps last week, looked like the best coverage guy – remains to be seen whether it was just a one-hit wonder. The Cardinals offense is still limited in terms of pass protection and playmaking ability on their receiving corps and I don’t like their coaching, but it’s hard not to see Rosen orchestrating some scoring drives for six points in this one.
Kyle Shanahan and CJ Beathard got the best out of a bad Chargers defense for almost three quarters, before the Chargers defense started covering underneath routes and exploited the injuries on the Niners offensive line. LT Joe Staley, RT Mike McGlinchey, and C Weston Richburg are all questionable for next week whereas Staley looks rather doubtful as he hasn’t practiced on Thursday. Those are actually the best positions along the line as both guard positions are low-level quality. Even if all three will be able to play, it’s safe to assume that they are banged up.
Joe Staley hasn’t reached his 2017 level of play thus far, age might be catching up with him. He – or either one of Garry Gilliam or Shon Coleman (yikes) – is going to face Chandler Jones, arguably one of the best pass rushers in the game. DE Markus Golden, who is coming off an ACL injury, has played 12 snaps in week three and 34 snaps in week four when he collected a couple of pressures – the pass rush is slightly coming together. The Cards actually rank 6th in pressure rate and their coaches love to blitz as they have the 2nd-highest blitz frequency in the league right after Cleveland. They are going to get after Beathard – this is one of the key matchups in this game.
I don’t think Beathard is anywhere near an average quarterback. He was mostly throwing to open receivers last week and came down to earth after the Chargers started playing tighter. I would expect the Cardinals defense to dominate the trenches and win their matchups more often than not in order for the team to get the win done. I can see a 24-20 road victory.
The Pick: Arizona Cardinals +4.5 -110 (Bookmaker, 10/04 11.15 AM EST)