Mired in a three-game losing streak, and with the Packers and Falcons on the horizon [and both on the road mind you], this is the very definition of a must-win tonight for the Cardinals.
The recent history of wins and losses between Arizona and San Francisco has been one-sided toward the 49ers. They’ve won five of the last six in the series. The Cardinals did beat them last December at University of Phoenix Stadium, which was one of the 49ers three regular season losses.
How do the Cardinals hand the 49ers yet again their third regular season loss this season, and grab a share of the division lead?
John Skelton will need to have as much protection as possible from his offensive line in order to make the offense move against the No. 1 defense in the league in the 49ers.
The 49ers have some killers on defense [Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Ray McDonald] among others, who will pressure you until the cracks become holes in your offense. This defense will be the biggest test of the season so far for the offense. If the line can’t hold for Skelton, and he goes down multiple times tonight, then it could be a LOOONG night for Arizona.
The running game needs to be at its level best tonight, in order to make the offense as multi-dimensional as it can be.
LaRod Stephens-Howling ran with power and determination last weekend in Minnesota. He’ll need to come with that same energy against a 49ers defense that doesn’t like to give up much on the ground. The 49ers are giving up 3.8 yards per rush this season.
The key to me is, if holes don’t open up for Stephens-Howling, William Powell and Alfonso Smith, continue to pound the ball until they do. The second you show that you’re moving away from the run, the 49ers will eat you alive, because they know that you’re not confident in that part of your game, and they’ll let the hounds loose even more.
Offensive coordinator Mike Miller needs to find a way to get Larry Fitzgerald the ball more.
Your No. 1 wide receiver, and arguably the best wide receiver in the game, cannot have four catches tonight, like he did against the Vikings last Sunday, he just can’t. Fitzgerald needs to be targeted at least 15-18 times tonight, because you know he’ll pull in at least 12 of those.
The Cardinals can’t have Fitzgerald quiet on the stat sheet tonight. They have to have his numbers as loud and vocal as Fitzgerald is after he makes a big catch [something we’ve all seen a lot over the years].
The Cardinals defense will have a test on their hands tonight, as Alex Smith and the 49ers and the league’s eighth ranked offense invade Glendale, Ariz.
The 49er passing game isn’t the most deadly in the league [it’s ranked 28th overall], but it doesn’t need to be, because they run the ball better than any team in the NFL. They’re No. 1, averaging 177 yards per game on the ground.
This could be a problem for the Cardinals, whose defense is giving up over 120 yards per game from opposing rushers.
The Cardinals front seven knows how to play aggressive, yet maintain their lanes, which is exactly what they’re going to have to do against Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter tonight.
The 49ers running game can be stopped…just ask the Giants how they did it a few weeks ago, holding them to just 80 yards rushing as a team.
The Cardinals need to play about a perfect game tonight as you possibly can play, because the 49ers will take advantage of any and all miscues they make.
As a defense, in seven games, the 49ers have 29 tackles for loss [Aldon Smith has 7.5 by himself]. This is why I said offensive line cohesiveness is paramount for any type of Cardinals offensive flow against the 49ers defense.
The 49ers are +2 on the turnover ratio. The Cardinals are +4 on the turnover ratio. In other words, these are two teams who aren’t careless with the football.
The Cardinals need to maintain their discipline in everything they do, because the 49ers sure will [they had a total of five penalties last Thursday night against the Seahawks].
If they can limit their penalties and not turnover the ball, while forcing Smith and the 49ers into penalties and turnovers, then it’ll give Skelton and the offense that many more chances to wear down the 49ers defense, make them vulnerable and get scores, which will hopefully guide them to victory on Monday Night Football.