The Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers have a very important game this weekend at University of Phoenix Stadium. It is the first divisional game for both teams. Both teams have suffered key losses in the offseason and have been affected by the wave of domestic violence charges.
Today we look at why each team could lose this game, with help from Niners Nation's David Fucillo.
Why the Niners could lose:
The San Francisco 49ers offense got off to a strong start this season, with a pair of quick strike scoring drives against the Dallas Cowboys, and then jumping out to a 17-0 lead against the Chicago Bears. However, the wheels fell off in the second half against the Bears, as they rode three Colin Kaepernick interceptions and a fumble to a 28-20 win.
The key to the 49ers is forcing Colin Kaepernick into situations where he will make mistakes. While pressure might seem like the answer, the stats indicate otherwise. Against the Bears, when blitzed, Kap was 5 of 8 for 46 yards and a touchdown (117.7 passer rating). When not blitzed, Kap was 16 of 26 for 202 yards and 3 interceptions (46.2 passer rating). The way I see it, if you don't blitz Kap, you can potentially avoid leaving a running lane open, and it forces him to make more decisions in the passing game. He has shown he can make those decisions, but he is inconsistent. He will stare down receivers, and his arm strength gives him confidence on throws where maybe the check-down would be better.
None of this guarantees Kap will make these mistakes, but it potentially puts Arizona in a position to capitalize if he does.
The 49ers defense seemed to set up a blue-print for success, at least in the red zone. The team left 5'10 Jimmie Ward on 6'4 Brandon Marshall down near the goal line, and it was not pretty. I'm curious to see how much the Cardinals put 6'2 Larry Fitzgerald on Ward, and whether or not the 49ers move in a taller cornerback in such situations.
Other than that, the 49ers have shown they cannot get anything remotely resembling a consistent pass rush. If the Cardinals can keep Justin Smith at bay, they are likely to have enough time for Drew Stanton (or Carson Palmer) to look for open receivers. Corey Lemonier and Ahmad Brooks rank among the worst outside linebackers in the league right now, according to Pro Football Focus. Aaron Lynch provides some help, but as a rookie he still has a lot to learn. The key right now, with Aldon Smith sidelined, is to stop Justin Smith. That is easier said than done, but if the Cardinals slow down Justin Smith, they can potentially open up the passing game.
Why the Cardinals could lose:
There's a backup quarterback playing
Because of the uncertainty of Carson Palmer's shoulder, there is a real chance Arizona will enter this weekend's contest with Drew Stanton at the helm. He got the win over the Giants and was able to put up 10 points the team's first two drives, but his play was anything but impressive.
Considering the Cardinals have lost nine of the last 10 meetings against the Niners, doing so without their starting quarterback is definitely a tall task.
Arizona has struggled with tight ends, and it seems that Vernon Davis is the biggest troublemaker for the Cardinals defense. Since Davis could play on Sunday, even though not at full speed, he will present a challenge to the Cardinals defense.
Michael Crabtree seems to have Patrick Peterson's number. He is the receiver that appears to cause Peterson the most trouble. Once again healthy and at full speed, this could be a problem again. Of course, this year the Cardinals have Peterson and Antonio Cromartie, so perhaps Cro will see time against Crabtree.
Too many important defensive losses
San Fran improved their offensive talent. They have had some questions on the offensive line, but the Cardinals defense has suffered loss after loss. Karlos Dansby left in free agency. Daryl Washington is suspended for the year. Darnell Dockett was lost for the season. Tyrann Mathieu has played only five snaps. John Abraham might not be able to play because of a concussion.
Arizona's defense lost speed and playmaking. It has not been able to get pressure consistently. Colin Kaepernick could have lots of time to pick apart the middle of the defense, where Arizona is vulnerable.
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