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Top 10 Spotlight: 49ers vs. Cardinals

Posted Oct 11, 2013

The top 10 storylines to track for the 49ers upcoming Week 6 matchup against the Cardinals.

A heated rivalry will be renewed this weekend when the Arizona Cardinals visit the San Francisco 49ers. The NFC West teams are both currently 3-2, tied for second place in the division. A win on Sunday will be critical, as the victorious team will leave Candlestick Park with a three-game winning streak.

Here are the top 10 storylines to track when the 49ers-Cardinals meet on Sunday.

10. The Badger
Tyrann Matheiu has caught the eye of San Francisco’s coaching staff. Arizona’s rookie free safety is the second-leading tackler on his team and was praised this week by 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Matheiu slipped to the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft because of character concerns, but he has quickly become a play-maker on the Cardinals. Size and speed are two things working against Matheiu, but the rookie defensive back always finds his way to the football.

9. T-Brock's Encore
The NFC’s reigning Defensive Player of the Week is expected to resume his role as San Francisco’s third cornerback in nickel personnel groupings. Brock recorded a pair of interceptions and returned the first for an 18-yard touchdown. He became the sixth cornerback in franchise history to win the conference’s weekly honor. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Brock’s play will keep him in the No. 3 spot and it’s “possible” veteran Nnamdi Asomugha will be inactive. Arizona has been balanced on offense this season, ranking as the NFL’s No. 22 passing attack (225.2 yards per game) and No. 23 rushing attack (81 yards per game). Brock should expect to face two physical wideouts on Sunday. Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald have 21 and 24 catches, respectively. Slot receiver Andre Roberts has 13 receptions on the year.

8. McDonald's Pain Tolerance
Ray McDonald injured his bicep right before sacking Matt Schaub in last week’s blowout win over the Texans. San Francisco’s standout defensive tackle plans on playing with a partial tear in the muscle this week. McDonald did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday, but he was spotted at Friday’s session. If McDonald is able to play, expect second-year lineman Tony Jerod-Eddie and third-year lineman Demarcus Dobbs to see more playing time as part of a rotation. Jerod-Eddie has come up with turnovers in consecutive weeks. The athletic defensive lineman recovered a fumble in St. Louis and intercepted Schaub last week at home.

7. Campbell vs. Staley
For those looking for a one-on-one matchup to highlight in the trenches, look no further than Arizona’s right defensive end and San Francisco’s left tackle. Staley made no bones about his feelings on the matchup – he respects Campbell, but that’s where it ends. Staley’s ascending play is key in the 49ers keeping a clean pocket for Colin Kaepernick. The athletic tackle also creates running lanes for Frank Gore and is considered to be the leader of the offensive line, a unit that has stepped up its play in recent weeks with five rushing touchdowns in two games.

6. Harbaugh at Home
When the 49ers face divisional opponents at home under Jim Harbaugh, the team has not lost. The only blemish, however, was a 24-24 tie with St. Louis last season. Besides that game, San Francisco has won five divisional games with a physical brand of disciplined football. The 49ers were able to minimize penalties last week and were plus-four in the turnover battle. It’s a recipe for success under Harbaugh and the 49ers will look to find that formula Sunday against Arizona.
 
5. Palmer and 'Fitz'
Arizona’s new quarterback can still make all the throws needed to succeed in the NFL, but Carson Palmer has run into trouble when trying to force the ball to his receivers. The 11-year veteran has thrown five touchdowns and nine interceptions this year. Palmer has a 67.0 quarterback rating, the fourth-worst rating among starting quarterbacks through Week 5. Fitzgerald remains as Arizona’s biggest perimeter threat. He leads the Cardinals with three touchdown catches. The veteran wideout has been hampered by a hamstring injury and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
 
4. Willis Health Watch Part. 3
Patrick Willis (groin) doesn’t want to risk further injury. He’s oh so close to returning to the field, but he will likely be a game-time decision again for the 49ers. Willis said the two weeks off the field has allowed him to rest other nagging injuries, but the time away is not sitting well with him. Willis wants to compete. In his absence, Michael Wilhoite has been solid in his place, totaling 20 tackles in two games. The bright news for Willis is that he wore shoulder pads for the first time since his injury. Depth on the 49ers defense has been crucial in the two-game winning streak. If Willis is unable to go, the depth will be relied on once again.
 
3. Kap Managing Wins
Stats are for losers. That’s the mindset around 49ers headquarters. If your fantasy football team is suffering, too bad. Kaepernick, Harbaugh and Anquan Boldin all stressed that statistics are meaningless at this stage of the game. San Francisco is looking to stockpile wins to keep pace in a competitive division and conference. So while Kaepernick has thrown for less than 200 yards in each of his last two outings, the 49ers have still won those games. Kaepernick has not turned over the football and has led the offense on long scoring drives. Last week’s win over Houston didn’t allow San Francisco to dive deep into the offensive bag of tricks, but that could all change on a weekly basis. Right now, Kaepernick and the offense is all about doing whatever’s necessary to win ballgames.

2. Keep Gore Rolling
Frank Gore has taken the offense on his back in recent weeks. San Francisco’s franchise leader in carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns ranks No. 8 in the NFL with 376 yards. After a slow start to his ninth season, Gore has been a force behind an improving offensive line. Gore leads the NFL with six carries of 20-or-more yards. Arizona’s rush defense ranks No. 2 in the NFL, but San Francisco’s offense won’t back down from the challenge of running at an improved defensive unit. With Gore showing no signs of falling off, the bell cow of the 49ers offense will be in play this week.

1. Boldin vs. Arizona
Boldin, San Francisco’s leading wideout, began his career in Arizona, but he said he doesn’t know many of the faces on the Cardinals defense. Boldin keeps in touch with Fitzgerald, but that’s about it. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said his star cornerback, Patrick Peterson, will primarily face Boldin on Sunday. It should be a quality matchup between a savvy veteran and a young cornerback with impressive athletic tools. Boldin faced Peterson when he was a rookie in 2011, but he will now compete against a much improved defensive back who has three interceptions on the year.

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