With only two returning starting offensive linemen from previous years (T Joe Staley and G Alex Boone), the once menacing 49ers line is at an unfamiliar crossroad. As one of the worse pass protection group in the NFL, the 49ers rank dead last in Pass Blocking Efficiency rating of 66.3, according to Pro Football Focus. Through two games San Francisco has allowed seven sacks, tied for 7th most in the NFL; including five last week versus the Steelers. It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals will take advantage of a dubious right side of the line, which ranks as one of the worst in the NFL this season. According to PFF, C Marcus Martin (minus-2.1), G Jordan Devey (minus-3.4), and Erik Pears (minus-6.4) were all given negative grades and rank among the worst at their respective positons. If DE Calais Campbell can continue his high-intensity play and LB Alex Okafor can repeat his performance against the Saints, the Cardinals will make the 49ers regret of ever letting G Mike Iupati go.
TE Vernon Davis vs Deone Bucannon, safeties -
Cardinals fans know very well how deadly Vernon Davis can be as he accumulated 55 catches for 820 yards and nine touchdowns in 17 career games against Arizona. However, unlike in years past, the Cardinals did not have dynamic play making safeties in the passing game, with Deone Bucannon, Tyrann Mathieu and company. The Cardinals' defense has been one of league's premier defenses at limiting Tight Ends. Through two games, the Cardinals have held opposing TEs to only nine receptions, 81 yards, and zero touchdowns. It will be interesting to watch if Vernon Davis will continue his ways of torching the Cardinals or if Arizona's up-and-coming safeties can claim a new reign in the passing game.
RB Carlos Hyde vs Cardinals Front Seven -
Exploding onto the scene with 168 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings in Week 1, Hyde came back down to Earth in Week 2, rushing for only 43 yards and zero touchdowns. Contrastingly, after giving up numerous big plays against to the Saints RBs in Week 1, the Cardinals were able to hold premier running back Matt Forte in check for majority of the game in their Week 2 contest. This may be the most imperative matchup of this rivalry, determining the outcome for both teams. Will Carlos Hyde continue his slump or will he be able to return to his Week 1 form against a formidable Cardinals defense.
QB Carson Palmer vs 49ers Pass Defense -
Carson Palmer is still looking for his first win against the 49ers as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Palmer, who won 15 of his last 17 starts, has not been able to accomplish that feat as he missed last year's victory due to injury. However, after being picked apart by veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger for 369 yards and three touchdowns, the 49ers' defense is not as intimidating as they once were. And having faced new Defensive Coordinator Eric Mangini when Palmer played for Cincinnati and Mangini was the head coach for the Cleveland Browns; Palmer being successful three out of their four meetings, throwing for 920 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Palmer's success versus Mangini combined with a depleted 49ers' pass defense could be the perfect combination to allow Palmer to earn his first victory versus the 49ers, as a Cardinal.
WR Larry Fitzgerald vs 49ers CBs -
Fitzgerald continues to impress even at the ripe age of 32; his latest victim was the Chicago Bears, reeling in eight receptions for 112 yards and three touchdowns. Similar to last week, Fitzgerald will be lined up against noticeably smaller CBs and like last week look for Fitzgerald to take full advantage of that. The 49ers defense has given up the 7th most receiving yards this season, allowing opposing teams 300 yards per game. To make matters worse for the 49ers CBs, with a healthy Carson Palmer, Fitzgerald has been dominating with 92 catches for 1,167 yards and 10 touchdowns in 16 games. Will Fitzgerald continue to play at his Pro Bowl-esque level or will the 49ers finally make Fitzgerald play resembles his age.
Are there other matchups you will be watching?