Week eight’s Monday Night Football match up features the San Francisco 49ers (5-2) and Arizona Cardinals (4-3) doing battle at the University of Phoenix Stadium with NFC West bragging rights on the line. This one should be a defensive struggle as both teams are amongst the top of the NFL in several defensive categories and I don’t see that changing when they face off against one another.
The 49ers defense is currently ranked first in the NFL in total offensive yards allowed per game (272.3 yards) as well as passing yards allowed per game (173.4 yards), second in points allowed per game (14.3 points) and tied for tenth in rushing yards allowed per game (98.9 yards). Their offense is also doing a solid job this year ranking second in rushing yards gained per game (176.6 yards), ninth in total offensive yards gained per game (376.4 yards), 15th in points scored per game (23.6 points) but just 29th in passing yards gained per game (199.9 yards).
Frank Gore is the key ingredient in the San Francisco offensive attack and with his 601 rushing yards (5th in NFL) and four touchdowns on 103 carries along with 15 receptions for 110 yards why shouldn’t he be. The Niners all-time leading rusher in franchise history will once again be key this week as the Cards only glaring weakness on defense is against the run so expect Gore to get the ball around 25 times versus them. Alex Smith must keep from turning the ball over because in all honesty that will be the only way that the Cards will have a chance in this game. When Smith has held on to the ball this season he has played pretty well passing for 1,427 yards, nine touchdowns, five interceptions and completed 66.8% of his attempts. The San Francisco is the main attraction on this team and NaVarro Bowman (67 tackles), Patrick Willis (58 tackles), Aldon Smith (5.5 sacks) and Dashon Goldson (who in my opinion may just be the most underrated defensive player in the NFL) all lead the way for this spectacular unit. All four of these players can make a huge play and change the complexion of the game in a heart beat.
The Cardinals defense is currently ranked fourth in both passing yards allowed per game (191.3 yards) as well as points allowed per game (16.9 points), seventh in total offensive yards allowed per game (312.1 yards) but are 20th in rushing yards allowed per game which could be a huge issue in this game. The Arizona offense has been completely futile this year ranking 27th in the league in passing yards gained per game (204.1 yards), rushing yards gained per game (89.3 yards) and points scored per game (17.7 yards) not to mention they are 31st in total offensive yards gained per game (293.4 yards) and 32nd in sacks allowed (35). Protecting the quarterback is a must in this game if Arizona fails to do so then it will almost be pointless for them to even show and compete in this game.
That quarterback will be John Skelton who has passed for 456 yards, just a single touchdown, three interceptions and is completing 55.4% of his attempts this season in limited action. Skelton must get protection and figure out a way to get the ball into the hands of his two best playmakers Larry Fitzgerald (40 receptions for 459 yards and 3 TD) and Andre Roberts (29 receptions for 389 yards and 5 TD) in order for them to make plays and produce points on the scoreboard. The Cards got a unexpected, yet much needed boost last week in their running attack with the performance of LaRod Stephens-Howling who rushed for 104 yards and a score on 20 carries and also caught four passes for 45 yards, if he can produce something similar this week then the Cards may have a slight chance to remain competitive in the game. The Arizona defense will look to Daryl Washington (62 tackles, 6 sacks, 4 tackles for a loss, 2 forced fumbles and a pass deflection) and Patrick Peterson (3 INT and 8 pass deflections) to make stop the Niners offense while also attempting to force some turnovers to equalize the playing field.
The 49ers have too much fire power in their running game and defensive unit for the Cardinals to keep up with. This game will probably get ugly early due to the fact that the Arizona defense struggles against the run. Frank Gore will have another huge game and lead the Niners to a 27 – 10 victory.