As far back as week 5, the San Francisco 49ers (5-2) and Arizona Cardinals (4-3) topped the critic’s lists of buy or sells. Though the 49ers dipped slightly after a tough loss to the New York Giants, growing expectations again commence with the team considered in the top-three in the National Football League according to many power rankings. On the other hand, the downward spiral of those football Redbirds started after week four possibly approaching consecutive loss number five on Monday night in Phoenix.
For the Niners, few questions resound, though some still reside. Despite the offensive explosion against Buffalo earlier this month, Alex Smith and company rank 29th in passing offense. Can the 49ers be explosive? Sure, but several variables must participate. Great calls from the box, favorable match-ups and mistake-free play are just a few. If ever there is a pivotal loss, the Giants gave it to them.
Jim Harbaugh and his staff know without a doubt that they must not overlook Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and their second-ranked (in the NFL) rushing attack. Expect sure attention in that area for the duration of the season and until further notice.
Though the Niners stand near the bottom of the league in sacks, their defense is sure-enough. They are 2nd overall, 1st against the pass and 10th versus the run. The numbers do not lie. This game will be another blowout win for the Niners. Back as the starter at quarterback, John Skelton will struggle. He has yet to find a rhythm this year where he was named starting quarterback to begin the season only to watch his back-up execute a game-winning drive in week one’s victory versus Seattle.
Kolb then beat the Patriots, Eagles and Dolphins in consecutive weeks. Returning from a left ankle sprain, Skelton exited the pen when Kolb went down with a rib injury against Buffalo; an eventual 19-16 loss against a team the 49ers lambasted 45-3. Following last week’s loss to Minnesota, Skelton’s accuracy is below average (55%) and he has more interceptions than touchdowns (1-3). Skelton is expected to win a game with his arm, but how? The Cardinals offense is a dismal and unconcerning 27th in rushing. Expect San Francisco to check Larry Fitzgerald and keep Arizona out of the end zone as they did three of their previous opponents.
Considering the Cardinals are 4th against the pass and in the top-5 in sacks, Alex Smith will not have a super night, but Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter should dominate behind a big, athletic and bruising group. The Cardinals have allowed more than 150 yards on the ground the last two games (Buffalo, Minnesota). The 49ers will eclipse both marks rushing for close to 200 yards. Harbaugh will press the rush attempts to offset the Cardinal’s heavy, active and effective pass rush. Watch the Niners attack take advantage of Arizona’s soft rush defense behind Joe Staly, Mike Iupati, Jonathan Goodwin, Alex Boone and Anthony Davis.
All swagger will be lost after this loss by the Cardinals. They will no longer be a factor in reference to the NFC playoff hunt or the fight for the division title in the NFC West. At this point Arizona is debatably the worst team in the division and this game will solidify their place at the bottom of the standings for this season. Despite Kevin Kolb’s return, the team has hot teams (Green Bay, Atlanta) on the way and divisional games on the road (SF, Seattle). Sure, this team may fight to the end, but the not-so-good end is in sight. 49ers win 30-12.