Pressuring QB Kevin Kolb
The 49ers defense has not given up a rushing touchdown in the last 13 games dating back to last season, which is the longest streak since 1970. The 49ers will certainly take away RB Beanie Wells and the running game, so the Cardinals will have to go to the air often to move down the field. The 49ers D have made a name for its self by pressuring quarterbacks. It won’t be any different this week against QB Kevin Kolb and the Cardinals offense. The 49ers lead the league in turnovers with 28 (16 INT’s, 12 fumble recoveries) with rookie LB Aldon Smith leading the way with 9 ½ sacks.
Kolb missed the last meeting with the 49ers due to a toe turf injury. The 49ers heavily pressured backup QB John Skelton so much that the third-string quarterback entered the game. The 49ers can similarly pressure Kolb into mistakes but it will be a taller task than the previous match-up. Kolb played well in his game back in the overtime win over the Cowboys last week. The Cardinals QB finished with 247 passing yards and the game-winning touchdown. Easier said than done but if the secondary can keep WR Larry Fitzgerald in check, pressuring Kolb will not be a problem.
WR Kyle Williams
The 49ers receiving corps have suffered through injuries all season with Michael Crabtree, Braylon Edwards and Joshua Morgan all missing games this season. Kyle Williams started the season as the fifth receiver on the depth chart and had to fight for a roster spot in the preseason. Williams won a spot on the roster by leading the 49ers with seven receptions for 105 yards. With Morgan out for the season and Edwards missing multiple games, Williams has become a reliable option for Alex Smith.
Williams started the season on the inactive list but in week two he recorded his first NFL touchdown catch with Edwards and Crabtree out of the game with injuries. Williams’ three TD receptions this season lead 49ers receivers followed by Crabtree with two and Morgan with one. Edwards, who has zero TD’s this season, is starting against the Cardinals but count on seeing plenty of Williams with plays getting him in the open field. Edwards is at his best inside the red-zone with his size and ability to jump over defenders in the corner of the end zone. Expect another long TD reception by Williams in the game.
Offense Scoring Early in the Game
Alex Smith has proven this season he can be a reliable quarterback with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. However when it comes to scoring early and putting away teams, Smith cannot get his offense into the end zone. The offense not scoring early in a game has a lot to do with problems inside the red-zone. One way around the red-zone issue is by throwing for long touchdown passes like the two 50-plus yard TD’s last week. Smith and the 49ers receivers should be able to score early against CB Patrick Peterson and Cardinals secondary. The Cardinals will be playing the run trying to stop RB Frank Gore which will give the receivers one-on-one match-ups multiple times in the game. With the speed of 49ers receivers they will be able to get behind the Cardinals secondary to score for a long touchdown.
Crabtree vs. Peterson
Rookie Patrick Peterson has played like a top corner for the Cardinals defense with 52 tackles and two interceptions this season. On special teams he has returned four punts for touchdowns with two of them giving the Cardinals a win.
Peterson has taken on the task of defending number one receivers and that was the case in week 11 against Crabtree. Crabtree responded in the game with a career high 120 yards and seven receptions as Peterson could not stop the offense.
Crabtree is having his best season with the 49ers after two average seasons. In the last the three games he has 17 catches for 270 yards. The offense will need Crabtree to have another big game like he did in the week 11 win over the Cardinals. Crabtree is at his best making moves and running after the catch. Expect offensive coordinator Greg Roman to call a lot of quick slants to Crabtree so he can run after the catch.
LB Larry Grant
With LB Patrick Willis out with a hamstring injury backup LB Larry Grant will start in his place. We will not see any changes from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as Grant fit right in replacing Willis last week with six tackles and one sack against the Rams. Grant has similar speed but he is not the skilled tackler nor has the anticipation Willis brings. Grant will be wearing the radio receiver normally worn by Willis and calling out the plays. He is a former seventh round pick and has a chance to show off his skills this Sunday. I would not expect any lapses with the defense but Willis will be missed and the Cardinals offense will try to exploit his absence.