Gary Plummer played 12 NFL seasons, including four years with the San Francisco 49ers. The former linebacker was also a member of the 49ers Super Bowl XXIX championship team, and has been the team's radio color analyst since 1998. 49ers.com will catch up with Plummer every week this season to find out what he believes will be the keys to the 49ers upcoming game. Enjoy his most recent "Points of the Game" column in which breaks down the keys to the 49ers Week 17 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.49ers Offense vs. Cardinals Defense**You saw what happened in late November on Monday night against Arizona in Arizona, the 49ers just took it to them. That was the blueprint for what the 49ers were supposed to be – smash-mouth football. There's no reason to believe that won't happen again on Sunday. It was all Brian Westbrook in that game, and not much else has changed for the 49ers offense except for the quarterback. But I see the 49ers being able to do that again offensively.
49ers Defense vs. Cardinals Offense
Arizona is struggling offensively, they have the 31st-ranked offense in the NFL. Tim Hightower will be running the ball for the most part because Beanie Wells has struggled with an injured knee all season. They have other injuries too, they put Early Doucet on IR just a few weeks ago. Steve Breaston has been dealing with a hamstring issue, and he is their deep threat.
Also, it seems like Nate Clements locks down Larry Fitzgerald better than anybody in the NFL, and Fitzgerald only had one catch last week. But it was a huge catch on a fourth-and-long and they went down and made a game-winning field goal. They don't have great productivity at the tight end position. The rookie Andre Roberts had a big game last weekend. Shawntae Spencer will likely match up against him a lot, and Spencer has been probably the most consistent player in the 49ers secondary all year, so I like that match up.
About 40-percent of their points have come off of returns from the defense and special teams, which is amazing when you stop and think about it. One area they have really struggled is with running the football. One reason for that is because they have been behind in most of their games and they've been forced to throw it.
Special Teams Key
LaRod Stephens-Howling, Arizona's return man, I believe he has two returns for touchdowns this season. That's the hidden yardage that is the reason Arizona's special teams is so dangerous. That unit has really played a big role for them this year. If the 49ers can out-gain them in the return game with Ted Ginn Jr. that should help tilt thing in the 49ers favor. Player to Watch
It will be fun to watch certain guys who will be playing more this week than they have all season. NaVorro Bowman is starting today for Joe Staley at middle linebacker and I'm curious to see how he performs with a bigger role in the defense. At outside linebacker, we saw Thaddeus Gibson playing a little bit on special teams last week in St. Louis. Is he going to get an opportunity to rush the quarterback on third downs? That's something I'm looking at in today's game. I think there should be opportunities for guys, who haven't played a lot of snaps, to get opportunities today. That's always a good thing from an evaluation standpoint.
These players are going to have to impress a new head coach and general manager. It's not for certain that your position coach will return, but it's important to send a message that you're holding on to your job. The players have an obligation to the owners, the fans and most importantly to themselves to play to the best of their ability. You have to remember, almost every player is in the NFL is because of their competiveness. Whether it's playing dominos, Monopoly or football – they want to win. Guys are going to play hard. The one thing I've noticed is that there's a great level of energy at practice which should carry over into the game today.
Being the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers is an attractive job for a lot of potential coaches. You look at some teams around the NFL where the cupboard is bare, and realize it's a much greater challenge to turn those teams into winners. This is not that challenge. This is a team that is a few players away from being able to be a consistent playoff team. Whoever the guy is that's targeted to be the head coach will have a great opportunity to have a great turnaround next season. I could see the 49ers going from one of the bottom teams in the division to first place in only one year.
The 49ers have a chance to pick up a top-10 pick in the draft next year and you expect that to be an impact player. That's another thing for the players to think about. That potential top draft pick might be a guy who plays your position and that means don't give them a chance to replace you with that incoming draft selection. Prove today how bad you want to be with the 49ers. A divisional game against Arizona is a great chance to do that.
To hear more from Plummer, tune in to the 49ers pregame radio coverage on 107.7 KSAN/FM "The Bone" starting at 10:00 a.m. with kick-off beginning at 1:15 p.m.