Here are five things to watch out for in tomorrow’s divisional game between the Cardinals vs. 49ers:
Cardinals Wide Receivers:
For years the 49ers had to deal with Cardinals WR’s Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. With Boldin now in Baltimore the task of defending Cardinals WR’s is not any easier. The emergence of WR Early Doucet as a threat has opened the field up for Fitzgerald this season the same way Boldin did. This season Doucet has 36 receptions for 461 yards and four touchdowns. Fitzgerald had his best game of the season last week in the win the over the Eagles with seven receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns. This season Fitzgerald has 45 receptions for 792 yards and five touchdowns.
CB Carlos Rogers will cover Fitzgerald and should be to handle the wide receiver. However Rogers and the secondary could get burned on the deep pass like last week against the Giants. Fitzgerald and QB John Skelton have connected on deep passes during their two game win streak. and they will try to exploit the 49ers 26th ranked passing defense. Skelton is expected to make his third straight start in place of Kevin Kolb who is injured.
Starting cornerback Tarell Brown is listed as questionable for the game which means rookie CB Chris Culliver may get the start. With a rookie going up against Doucet, the wide receiver will see plenty of targets.
When you compare the Cardinals and 49ers defenses they are complete opposites. The 49ers are ranked 11th in total defense while the Cardinals are near the bottom ranked 27th. In the win over the Eagles the Cardinals looked like the 49ers defense by limiting Michael Vick’s offense to 289 total yards, 15 first downs, zero touchdown passes and had two interceptions. The Cardinals will come out confident they can stop the 49ers offense.
Many of the Cardinals players on defense have multiple games of experiencing against the 49ers. Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett has four sacks, two forced fumbles and an INT in his career against the 49ers. In the secondary safety Adrian Wilson has three INT’s, six forced fumbles and three sacks against the Niners. The 49ers offense will have their hands full with both players, as well as linebacker Daryl Washington who this season has 55 tackles, three sacks and one INT, and cornerback Richard Marshall who has 41 tackles, two sacks and two INT’s.
Pressuring John Skelton:
John Skelton is capable of playing well but if the 49ers can get constant pressure on the quarterback they will take the Cardinals out of their game plan. The 49ers defense is built to cause turnovers and the pressure on Skelton will go a long way in helping him make mistakes. After throwing a pick six early in the game against the Eagles, Skelton showed poise the rest of the game leading a fourth quarter come back. If the 49ers go up by a lot early in the game don’t count the Cardinals offense out.
Frank Gore’s Health and the Running Game:
Gore was noticeably absent from the second half against the Giants last Sunday with a knee injury and missed his first practice of the season on Wednesday. The running back returned to practice Thursday and Friday but he is clearly not 100%. Gore has also been dealing with an ankle injury all season so expect to see a lot of RB Kendall Hunter. Hunter has proven to be a good backup for Gore in his rookie season. Hunter provides speed to the running game and a reliable option on the outside on passing plays. The 49ers will come out with a two headed running attack game plan which means Gore and Hunter could get 15 carries each.
A big factor for both teams will be the weather at Candlestick Park. There is a 70% chance of rain on Sunday with most of the rain coming in the morning. By game time it is forecasted to let up with a 30% chance of rain during the game. It will be windy, cold and wet. The wet conditions will affect both teams as they will be forced to go to the run over the pass to limit turnovers.
Larry Fitzgerald has 83 catches, 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns in 14 career games versus the 49ers.
San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh became the third rookie head coach to start 8-1.