Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR color commentator Gary Plummer previews the 49ers opponents every week of the 2009 season on 49ers.com. For this week's "Points of the Game" column, Plummer breaks down the 49ers week one opponent – the Arizona Cardinals.**
Opening day stands out to the players because of all the excitement. It's what you've been working for not just during the four weeks of preseason, but what you've been working for since the end of the previous season. This is pretty much a year-round job for these players now, so, this is the culmination of at least seven or eight months work. You're just glad that it's finally here.
Week one is very important. It's startling if you look at the statistics of teams winning game one versus teams losing game one and the percentage of those who make the playoffs. It's way above 60 percent. I think it's closer to 70 percent.
Statistically, it's extremely important to win that first one. Then, the fact that it happens to be a division opponent, as every coach who's been with the 49ers dating back to Bill Walsh has said, division games are worth two games against somebody else. Because, not only are you giving yourself a win but the opponent a loss.
I think one of the top matchups today will involve 49ers free safety Dashon Goldson. This is his first start against a Pro-Bowl and Super Bowl winning quarterback in Kurt Warner, who is absolutely a Hall of Fame type guy. One of the things that you know about Warner is 95 percent of the time; he knows where he is going with the football by the time the ball is snapped. He is just gifted when it comes to that. It's going to be very important for Goldson to trust his ability to anticipate and to break on balls.
You can't really disguise as much as you can with other quarterbacks. There are going to be some one-on-one matchups. A quarterback like Warner can exploit one-on-one matchups in most one-on-one situations. In a lot of one-on-one situations today, you are going to see Goldson as the lone safety over the top. That's the difference many times between a big gain and a touchdown, or a completion and an incompletion. It's based on those guys trusting that Goldson is going to be there. I think that's key.
There are so many one-on-one matchups up front that are important. In terms of units, it's going to be our offensive line versus their defensive front. Their defensive line and linebackers are good. Safety Adrian Wilson, when he comes up in the box, is another linebacker. This matchup is what the 49ers have been working on all offseason and all training camp. It's their identity. It's what Mike Singletary wants from the football team. This is a physical team. There is no better way to judge that then this Sunday and see if being able to dictate in the preseason is going to translate into being able to dictate against a formidable opponent.
The individual receivers for the Cardinals have been stopped by Nate Clements in previous meetings. He's done a fabulous job. Right now it's still 50-50 as to whether or not Anquan Boldin will play. If he plays I think that changes things dramatically.
He's obviously their possession receiver. He's the guy who runs a lot of quick slants and uses that big body of his. You have to limit his yards after the catch. The best way to limit that is to be physical. It goes back to that other matchup that we talked about with the safety. Larry Fitzgerald is very good at getting off press coverage. What happens is a lot of corners who understand that back off and give a free release, but then he can kill you that way too. It's kind of like pick your poison.
Even in one-on-one matchups, you have help and you have to trust that help. That's why these guys have worked together in all of these OTAs and training camps. It was to develop that sense of trust. I'm excited about seeing what Shawntae Spencer can do too.
He was a starter early in his career. To me it is one of the best feel good stories of the season. When players get injured a lot of times they don't recover from those injuries. If they do, they're never back to that same level. He's not only back to that same level, but he's become a better player than he was before. I think the reason for that, early on in his career, he relied on his physical skills. But now, he understands after being out of football for a year, he's become more of a student of the game and become a better technique player. A great example is a former cornerback from the Chargers in Eric Davis. Physically, probably not in the top ten corners in the league in terms of being physically gifted. Yet, he went to the Pro Bowl a bunch of times because he was a great technician. That's a big time complement to give to Shawntae Spencer, but I see him getting to that point.
In every game there is always the unexpected. You might see something like the Cardinals going no-huddle. They did that on occasion, but that's not a staple of their offense. The defensive coordinator, Billy Davis, who used to be a coach here, could come out and play exclusively a 3-4 defense or exclusively a 4-3 defense. It's ironic because he's not here, but they are running that hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense of Mike Nolan's. I'll be interested to see if he goes with one or the other exclusively, because I think it makes you a better football team to focus on one are. Instead of being good a two things, be great at one. There are a lot of story lines in this game. I could talk about them forever.
To me it's really just the culmination of nine months work for not just the players, but for scouts and coaches and all of the thousands and thousands of man hours leading up to this game that no one will ever know about. It all comes down to three hours on Sunday.