The Arizona Cardinals have lost three games in a row after starting 4-0. Their opponents, the San Francisco 49ers (5-2), have won three out of their last four games and are sitting pretty at the top of the NFC West. This is a must win game for both teams, as it is a divisional matchup – but especially so for the Cardinals. A win on Monday Night Football ties them for first place in the division, and gives them some momentum going into next week against the Green Bay Packers.
San Francico has a defense that can eat you alive, and the Cardinals have an offense that is just about as exciting as watching paint dry. This is usually not a recipe for success, but you just never know; If the Cardinals can stop Frank Gore, then they may have a chance to put all the weight on Alex Smith‘s shoulders. In the 49ers losses Frank Gore averages less than 50 yards a game and Smith has thrown 4 interceptions. Which means if the Cardinals stop gore, the 49ers will be in trouble.
The Cardinals have a very tough schedule coming up. The argument could be made that it’s one of the toughest in the league. The Cardinals still have the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Packers, 49ers again, Seattle Seahawks again, and the New York Jets. All teams that need to beat the Cardinals and have probably already chalked it up as a victory in their minds. With the way San Francisco is playing, I just can’t see the Cardinals winning this week. So, lets take a look at the probable starting lineups for Cardinals and 49ers and and highlight three key players from each team.
Quarterback: John Skelton
Running back: LaRod Stephens-Howling
Fullback: Anthony Sherman (Questionable)
Wide receiver: Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts
Tight end: Jeff King
Offensive line (from the left): D’Anthony Batiste, Daryn Colledge, Lyle Sendlein, Adam Snyder, Bobby Massie
Quarterback: Alex Smith
Running back: Frank Gore (probable)
Fullback: Bruce Miller
Wide Receiver: Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss
Tight end: Vernon Davis
Offensive line (from the left): Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone, Anthony Davis
Cardinals’ Defense (Base 3-4)
Defensive line: DE Calais Campbell, DT Dan Williams, DE Darnell Dockett (questionable)
Linebackers: OLB O’Brien Schofield (questionable), MLB Daryl Washington, MLB Paris Lenon, OLB Sam Acho
Secondary: CB Patrick Peterson, CB William Gay, SS Adrian Wilson, FS Kerry Rhodes (questionable)
49ers’ Defense (Base 3-4)
Defensive line: DE Ray McDonald, NT Issac Sopoaga, DE Justin Smith
Linebackers: OLB Ahmad Brooks, MLB NaVorro Bowman, MLB Patrick Willis, OLB Aldon Smith
Secondary: CB Carlos Rogers, CB Tarell Brown, SS Donte Whitner, FS Dashon Goldson
Cardinals’ Key Players
First, John Skelton needs to play better this week. He had pretty good numbers last week, but threw an interception that ended up being the deciding factor in the game. His number one job will be not to turn the ball over. Number two, throw the ball to his future Hall of Fame receiver, Larry Fitzgerald.
Next, the Cardinals are going to need to stop Frank Gore. He is a tank and nobody can deny that after he has racked up over 8,000 yards half way through his 8th season as a pro. It will be up to the inside linebackers, Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon, to prevent Gore from getting into the secondary. They need to hit Gore in the backfield and wrap up, so he cannot get a full head of steam.
Finally, Patrick Peterson, he needs to return a punt on Monday. The Cardinals cannot put so much pressure on Skelton, because if they do, they will lose. In addition, Peterson needs to cause a turnover. Whether it’s an interception or causing a fumble, he needs to have the game of his life or the Cardinals will fall to 4-4.
49ers’ Key Players
Picking key players for the 49ers is hard because they can beat you in a number of different ways. However, the best player on the Cardinals is Larry Fitzgerald, so they key player will be whoever is covering him, CB Tarell Brown. He will need to play Fitzgerald tough. Every once in a while jam Fitzgerald hard at the line letting him know he is there to play. If he tries to play him soft, he will get beat hard.
The second key player for the 49ers is obviously Randy Moss (at least to me). San Francisco needs to toss one up to the “old guy” every once in a while just to make sure the defense knows they have to guard him. Moss may be done with the prime of his career, but he can still beat you if you sleep on him for one play. That’s what makes him one of the best receivers to ever fake like he is mooning Green Bay fans.
Finally, QB Alex Smith is a key player because to win this game all he has to do is not lose. What do I mean by that? Well, if Gore can’t get going, Smith cannot throw the ball away like Michael Vick. He has to keep a level head, play conservatively, and let his tenacious defense win the game.
The Cardinals are in a situation where they have to play perfect football to win the game. The 49ers don’t, but they can’t look past this Cardinals team. They know too many teams have done that this year and that is why they won their first four games. Teams are playing the Cardinals straight up now and it’s making life miserable for them. The Cardinals are getting healthier, but without Kevin Kolb or Beanie Wells they just don’t have that game-finishing talent.
My prediction record for the Cardinals improved to 2-5 on the season with last weeks loss. I expect it to improve to 3-5 when the 49ers defense puts a whoopin’ on John Skelton and LaRod Stephens-Howling (aka “the hyphen”).
Prediction: Cardinals 10, 49ers 24