There has been some really good discussion going on here between San Francisco 49ers fans and our own Arizona Cardinals fans. To continue with the discussion and as we have been doing almost every week, David Fucillo (Fooch) and I got together via email for the "five good questions" series all of the team blog people like to do.
The questions I answered will be up sometime today over at Niners Nation. Read on to see what I asked and how he responded.
The 49ers offense has put Alex Smith in a position where he doesn't have to be "the guy" for the most part. He was a key part of the offense against the Giants and has stepped up in other situations, but for the most part he is in a position of less pressure. He is being put in a position to succeed. More importantly, there is room for him to continue growing in this offense. Given that there was a very limited offseason, the team is still working to implement the playbook. They implement a little at a time based on the matchup of a given week.
It's not like Alex Smith is suddenly putting up 300+ yards and three touchdowns every game. He is just doing the basics and staying within the offense. It sounds incredibly cliched but it applies to the situation. It really is just that basic.
Is the SF defense EVER going to give up a rushing TD? If so, what are the chances it happens on Sunday?
I suppose eventually it has to happen. But for now with such a strong red zone offense it hopefully will be a while. From an outsiders perspective, with a banged up Beanie Wells I would be a bit surprised to see the Cardinals get a rushing touchdown. It could very well happen, but if Beanie is slowed by his injuries, the 49ers defense is athletic enough to contain him.
One of the big reasons for the 49ers success against the run is that even when players get past the defensive linemen, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are gifted athletes that can get to the backs with relative ease. They have been arguably the best inside linebacker tandem in the NFL this season and are two of the top ten players in terms of tackles.
Who was the best offseason acquisition for the team so far this year? Who just hasn't worked out yet?
In general it would have to be Jim Harbaugh. But in terms of just the players, the best acquisition has been cornerback Carlos Rogers. The 49ers were reportedly in the hunt for Nnamdi Asomugha and fans were disappointed when it didn't work out. The 49ers were very quiet early in free agency and when they finally signed Rogers and some other folks it was kind of anti-climactic.
However, I would make the argument that Rogers has been the best free agent signing in all of football. After years of struggling to hold onto interceptions, Carlos Rogers is currently tied for the NFL lead in interceptions and is playing at a Pro Bowl level. The 49ers move him around a lot so I wouldn't necessarily expect to see him on Larry Fitzgerald the entire game. He moves into the slot in their nickel defense so he could be a mix of players.
As far as offseason acquisitions that haven't worked out, GM Trent Baalke has hit on just about every move he has made. They did release 2011 sixth round draft pick Ronald Johnson and they also signed OLB Antwan Applewhite from the San Diego Chargers in late July and released him in early September. Other than that, you could make the argument the 49ers hit on every single move they made this offseason.
What player/s should Cardinals fans expect to surprise us when we watch on Sunday?
NaVorro Bowman was a backup linebacker in his rookie season last year behind Takeo Spikes. The 49ers let Takeo Spikes walk in the offseason and in his second season, Bowman is among the league leaders in tackles. He made a start last season against the Cardinals in the season finale and had eight tackles on the game, but over the course of this season he has emerged as a significant playmaker for the 49ers and along with Patrick Willis makes up what might be the best ILB tandem in the league.
Rookie Kendall Hunter is Frank Gore's backup. Gore has been dealing with some ankle and knee issues and only rushed six times against the Giants. I would expect him to get a decent amount of touches on Sunday, although for now Gore is expected to start. Hunter is a speedy back that can get to the next level pretty easily at times.
Keep an eye out for rookie Aldon Smith when the 49ers go into their nickel defense. The 49ers start Smith as their right defensive end in the nickel and he has shown incredibly natural pass rushing skills. Keep an eye out for him when you see the 49ers in a four-man front.
Just how good is this team?
That's a good question. The defense is reaching its peak at this point. There are some question marks in the secondary, but the defense as a whole is playing quite well. They struggle at times against the better QBs in the league, so there is definitely some room for improvement.
The special teams might be the best unit in the league. David Akers is leading the NFL in field goals and is 5-for-5 from 50+. Andy Lee remains a great punter and Ted Ginn has done good work in the return game.
The question as has often been the case is in the offense. The 49ers offense is much improved, but "how good" this team can be will probably come down to how much more the offense can improve. They are in the top ten in scoring, but consistency is the issue. The team is still struggling on third downs and getting touchdowns in the red zone. If they can improve in those areas, this offense could move to the next level.
If that happens, this team could reach an impressive level. Right now I don't know if there is any team that can dominate in all three phases of the game. Even the Packers have a defense that is questionable from time to time. If the 49ers could add a consistently strong offense to the mix, they would have to be one of the favorites to win it all.