The NFL schedule makers struck gold when they decided to turn the last game of the season into rivalry week. There is a lot at stake for the Arizona Cardinals when they host the San Francisco 49ers in the last game of the season. The 49ers can position themselves to get the NFC West divisional title with a win and a Seattle Seahawks loss. The Cardinals can clinch a playoff birth with a win over the 49ers and a New Orleans Saints loss.
The Cardinals are coming off of a game in which they went into Seattle and beat the Seahawks. Their defense is playing really well, only giving up 84.5 yards rushing per game. Calais Campbell has rebounded from a neck injury and has been very disruptive at the line of scrimmage. He was on NFL Network and said that he feels that the Cardinals are the best team in the NFC. Campbell had two sacks last week against the Seahawks. That’s a pretty bold statement but Campbell will have the chance to back it up this week.
The Cardinals have two of the better linebackers in the NFL in Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington. Both of them had an impact on the win over Seattle. Dansby had an interception while Washington recorded a sack of the ever elusive Russell Wilson. Washington is one of the more athletic linebackers in the game and he is likely to be used as a spy against Colin Kaepernick. This will be the Cardinals plan to limit the big gains for Kaepernick when he scrambles. Dansby has been a force coming up and stuffing the run. Sterling Sharp has actually identified Karlos Dansby as a candidate for Defensive MVP.
Offensively, the Cardinals continue to struggle to run the ball. Andre Ellington is a big play threat and he is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He had a 15 yard touchdown run against the 49ers earlier in the year. Rashard Mendenhall has been the feature back but has struggled to get going. That trend should continue against the 49ers this week.
Michael Floyd has emerged as a big play receiver as shown by his 16.1 average yards per catch and he had a 31 yard touchdown to clinch the win. Larry Fitzgerald remains a threat to the 49ers third ranked pass defense. The problem for the Cardinals is Carson Palmer. Palmer is prone to throw interceptions. That is why I call him a double agent. He keeps both teams in the game. The 49ers were able to force him to throw two against them in their previous meeting. He also threw four interceptions last week against the Seahawks.
As for the 49ers, they will look to get Frank Gore going against the Cardinals top ranked rushing defense. Gore rushed for 101 yards in their previous meeting. The trap game will be difficult to run against the Cardinals. Dansby is ferocious in run support and their defensive ends are good at pressing from the outside and condensing the running lane created by the trap block. The key for running the ball will be getting a push at the line and the pulling guards getting a helmet on their targets. They will also need their fullbacks to blow up the aggressive linebackers that will come up to fill the gaps on lead dives.
Vernon Davis had a career game against the Cardinals earlier this season. Greg Roman was able to create favorable match ups via motions and shifts. Davis ran past the Cardinals zone coverage for a 61 yard touchdown and he ran past Yeremiah Bell in man coverage on the outside for a 35 yard touchdown as well. The Cardinals may use Patrick Peterson to cover Davis at times in man coverage. That will surely open things up for Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin. If the 49ers can run the ball effectively, watch how they work the play action passing game, especially with Kaepernick on the move.
The 49ers defense is playing very good football as well. Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are coming off of very good games. Ahmad Brooks has been a force as well. Aldon Smith is back to his disruptive ways and has made numerous plays in the backfield. Both Aldon Smith and Brooks will need to set the edge especially when the Cardinals try to run the stretch runs with Ellington. Justin Smith, Glenn Dorsey and Ray MacDonald have held it down against the run.
Michael Crabtree vs Patrick Peterson Crabtree has had some pretty solid games against Peterson. He had eight receptions for 172 yards and two touchdowns against the Cardinals in the season finale last year. Not all of that was against Peterson but Crabtree did beat Peterson a few times. Many analyst are saying that Peterson is the best cornerback in the NFL not named Richard Sherman. Peterson will need to prove that against the 49ers if the Cardinals are to have any shot at winning this game.
Karlos Dansby vs Will Tukuafu The collisions between the 293 pound Tukuafu and Dansby will be extremely violent. I can’t wait to see them clash when the 49ers run lead dives. This will be a major factor in the 49ers running game. They like to run that lead dive and the key is knocking out the first defender that comes to fill against the run. This is likely to be Dansby on most plays.
John Abraham vs Joe Staley Staley specializes in blocking fast defensive ends. This is because of his elite athleticism. Abraham has 11.5 sacks on the year. He had one hit on the quarterback against the 49ers earlier in the season. Staley will need to take advantage of Abraham’s pension for using the speed rush to the outside. He needs to get into is drop and walk Abraham down the line so Kaepernick can step up into a clean pocket and make the throw or take off.
Calais Campbell vs Anthony Davis This is another epic match up. Size really matters here. Both of these players are really big guys. Campbell has been a problem for the 49ers in the past. Davis will need to control the line against this big, brute defensive end.
This game will feature two strong candidates for Defensive Player of the Year. Karlos Dansby has quietly had a very good season for the Cardinals. He has 18 pass break ups, four interceptions, over 100 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Dansby also has two touchdowns on the season. Navorro Bowman is the candidate for the 49ers. He has had some very impactful plays this season, including the touchdown last week. Bowman has stepped up when players such as Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith were gone.
This is the second time the Cardinals and 49ers will meet to close out the season. Last year Michael Floyd had one of his best games of his career as he had eight receptions for 166 yards and one touchdown in a 27-13 loss to the 49ers.
Michael Crabtree is coming off of his first 100 yard receiving game on the season. He is hitting full stride. Despite that, Bruce Arians is on record as saying that this Crabtree that they see is not the same as the one that they saw last year. Crabtree did have eight catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Let’s see if they decide to have Patrick Peterson take on Crabtree as his assignment. Crabtree has been a problem for Peterson over the past couple of years.
Mario Manningham has been placed on injured reserve and may have played his last game as a 49er. He is a free agent after this season. Quinton Patton will be the number three receiver.
This will be the first time that Anquan Boldin returns to Arizona to face the team that drafted him. Boldin is having his first 1000 yard receiving game since he was traded to the Baltimore Ravens. He has said that this is just another game and was rumored to have wanted out of Arizona back in his days with the Cardinals.
Here is your injury report:
OLB John Abraham (Groin) LP
OG Daryn Colleedge (Back) LP
S Rashard Johnson (Ankle) LP
DT Darnell Dockett (Shoulder) FP
TE Rob Housler (Groin) FP
RB Rashard Mendenhall (Finger) FP
QB Carson Palmer (Right Elbow/Ankle) FP
T Nate Potter (Ribs) FP
OLB Matt Shaughnessy (Groin) FP
QB Drew Stanton (Knee) FP
LB Daryl Washington (Ankle) FP
WR Mario Manningham (Knee) DNP
OLB Dan Skuta (Foot) DNP
LB Navorro Bowman (Wrist) FP
CB Tarell Brown (Ribs) FP
WR Michael Crabtree (Wrist, Ankle) FP
C Jonathan Goodwin (Not injury related) FP
RB Frank Gore (Knee) FP
OG Mike Iupati (Knee) FP
TE Vance McDonald (Ankle) FP
WR Kassim Osgood (Shin) FP
DT Justin Smith (Shoulder) FP