Setting the stage:
An NFC West week six matchup between 3-2 teams will see the Arizona Cardinals travel to Candlestick Park to take on the defending division champion San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco has been their usual selves in victories against Green Bay, Houston and St Louis. But in losses to Seattle and Indianapolis, Jim Harbaugh’s team has looked vulnerable to say the least, losing a combined 56-10. The ship seems to be righted for the moment, however, as their most recent victory was in dominating fashion over the Texans.
The Cardinals on the other hand are coming off a game where they flexed their defensive muscles at the expense of the Carolina Panthers. The offense still has a lot of improvement to do, and it’s unreasonable to expect the offense to explode against what could be the best defense Arizona has seen so far this season.
Here are some matchups to look out for in the Cardinals week six matchup:
Matchups to watch:
Cardinal linebackers vs Colin Kaepernick
Last week, when faced with defending a dual threat quarterback, the Arizona defense responded with their best overall performance to date. Kaepernick and the 49ers have a lot more going for them, so it’d be unreasonable to assume that the Birdgang will turn in an identical performance against San Francisco.
Kaepernick has been a polarizing quarterback to say the least so far in 2013; in wins, he sports a 117.5 passer rating but in the two 49er losses, that mark drops all the way down to 32.2, with all four of his interceptions this season coming in those two losses.
So essentially, San Francisco goes where their quarterback goes, and if Arizona can flush him out of his comfort zone, that’s a lot of pressure off of the shoulders of the offense.
Carson Palmer vs 49ers blitz
After starting the season strong in St Louis, Carson Palmer has been nothing short of mediocre, throwing at least one interception in every game and two or more interceptions in all but two of them. This is not the quarterback Arizona thought they were trading for in the offseason. Even more telling, eight of his nine interceptions have come when Arizona was either tied or trailing the opposing team.
Palmer’s struggles haven’t been exclusively against the blitz, but his play under pressure early will determine just how often extra defenders will be in his face. Ideally, Arians will keep the run game involved to help out with this, but the 49ers could see themselves up a few touchdowns early.
Cardinals tight ends vs 49ers coverage
Arizona needs to bring it all offensively, because San Francisco’s defense (especially the secondary) is one of the deeper units in the NFL. There is little room for error for the Cardinals, who could benefit from some production out of their tight ends Sunday at Candlestick.
Housler and Dray thus far in 2013 have had splashes of good play, but have yet to put a full game together. Especially Housler, whose presence was expected open up the field for Arizona’s talented receiver corps. For a tight end that supposedly has 4.4 speed, two receptions for 36 yards is far too little.
Dray has ten catches for 75 yards, which is better, but Arians and company would still love see more pressure taken off the wide receivers.
Andre Ellington vs Rashad Mendenhall
I don’t think I’m the only person who thinks this, but Andre Ellington has outplayed Rashad Mendenhall so far in 2013. And it’s not even close.
I understand why Arians is adamant in giving Rashard Mendenhall a bulk of the carries. The six-year veteran in theory has much more experience and is far more adapted to the NFL game then the young Ellington. The problem is he hasn’t been playing like it, as Ellington has rushed the ball better (Ellington’s 6.7 yards per carry dwarfs Mendenhall’s 3.4), caught the ball better (Ellington’s 13 receptions compared Mendenhall’s nine), and even pass blocks a lot better.
Due to the degree of Ellington outplaying Mendenhall, I expect this to be Mendenhall’s last chance to get in good graces with the coaching staff, as Ellington has earned some extra playing time, and promises to be a huge impact in this game for the Birdgang.
Arizona’s defense can keep up with San Francisco, plain and simple. The offense, on the other hand, has done nothing to convince me they can do their part. San Francisco wins a tight one, SF 17 – ARZ 14.