Tonight will be a rare occurrence for the Arizona Cardinals' franchise. First they're not only playing on Monday night (only happened 18 times) but their also playing at home on Monday Night Football (only the 10th time). Secondly they're ten point favorites as the San Francisco come to town. The 2008 Cardinals have had a great first half of the season and they can take another big step to locking up the NFC West tonight, but it won't be easy. The Niners aren't going to roll over or concede defeat. The Cardinals must take the field intent on proving that they're the better team. Here's what the Cardinals must do to improve to 6-3 and open up a commanding four game lead over the rest of the NFC West:
Attack: I might be oversimplifying this game but I think the most important part of the game plan on offense and defense should be to attack. On offense, I hope that Ken Whisenhunt doesn't fall in love with his new found running game too much. Tim Hightower had a very good first start but the strength of this offense is the still the right arm of Kurt Warner and the hands of Fitz, Q and Breaston. There's no reason to try and grind out a win against the Niners. This offense is built to fly, let Warner get started fast and the running lanes will be wide open for young Timmy. On defense, the Niners are starting a QB with 4 games of NFL experience. The Clancy Pendergast game plan should be simple: attack, confuse and disrupt Shaun Hill. If he's creative and aggressive with the defense, there's no reason that they shouldn't have Hill's head spinning by halftime.
Don't Let Frank Gore Beat You: The Niners have one offensive weapon that the Cardinals should fear, Frank Gore. If he get's off to a quick start finding running lanes and picking up yards, it'll open up the entire offense. He'll take pressure off of Shaun Hill and the passing game. The Cardinals are very familiar with Gore and they've seen his big play abilities first hand (41 yard TD run in week 1). They have to limit Gore's impact on this game and force Hill to throw the ball. There's two ways that they can do that, overload the box or jump out to an early lead (or my personal favorite, both). I'd be pretty surprised if Adrian Wilson doesn't spend almost the entire game around the line of scrimmage. He's almost a fourth linebacker when he's supporting the run and having eight guys in the box should be enough to shut down the running game. The Cardinals offense can also help out the defense by putting points on the board early. If they can score early and put pressure on the Niners offense to keep up, they'll be forced to abandon the run. Either way, the Niners offense is a better unit when Gore is leading the way.
Play 60 Minutes: One thing is clear, the Arizona Cardinals are a better team than the San Francisco 49ers. There's no reason that the Niners should beat the Cardinals in Arizona, but that doesn't mean that they can simply show up and go through the motions. The Cardinals need to come out of the tunnel focused on one thing, playing solid, smart football for 60 minutes. If they come out and play their game from start to finish, they will not lose this game.
That sounds awful simple and straight forward but in my mind, it should be that simple. The Cardinals should hit the Niners in the mouth early and this game should be over by the third quarter. Agree/Disagree? What are your keys? Is it that simple or will this be a tougher game than I'm making it out to be? Predictions?