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 14 opponent – the Arizona Cardinals.**
The Arizona Cardinals would like to clinch the division with a win tonight and have a lot of motivation to win the game. They also are motivated from losing to the 49ers in the season opener. The Cardinals are certainly ready from that loss.
With that said, the 49ers are going to have to play one of their best games of the season to win. They're going to have to play like they did in Indianapolis and in Minnesota, but be able to finish the game off. The only difference in those games were just a couple of plays and so the 49ers are going to need play up to that level, except making sure to make the plays that tilt the favor of the game in their way.
The problem is you never know when those plays are going to be.
It's going to be tougher for the 49ers in this meeting, now that Arizona has healthy receivers, including Steve Breaston. He didn't play in the opener. But not to say they can't match up well against the Cardinals. The 49ers in the past have done well against Arizona's receivers. But the 49ers will miss Nate Clements' physical style against their wideouts. I see Shawntae Spencer being matched up frequently with Larry Fitzgerald and that will be a fun matchup to watch because they went to school together at Pitt and they've played against each other before in year's past.
I think that Spencer will be better against him in previous meetings as a starter, because he's playing with a lot more confidence now. Having said that, what you do on the other two receivers, Breaston and Anquan Boldin, is important too. Dre' Bly and Tarell Brown will need to be ready to go, and so will other guys like Reggie Smith and Keith Smith. Everyone is going to have to be ready to play. Everybody is going to have to play physical too.
In my opinion, a major reason the 49ers got to Kurt Warner in the first game was because the secondary was screwing up the timing on the routes. And the only way to do that is if you're physical. It'll be interesting to see how the 49ers adjust without Clements. For the most part they've played without Clements, but this was one of the reasons he was signed by the 49ers. They needed him to be physical against the NFC West receivers.
The first time around, the 49ers had an excellent game plan against Warner. I thought it was a great job by Greg Manusky and his staff. He changed things up throughout the game. Whether it was having Joe Staley dropping back to make an interception 26 yards down the field, or dial up a few corner blitzes – there was a lot of pressure on Warner. Even from edge rushers like Justin Smith and Parys Haralson – they were all getting hits on Warner.
I think the 49ers three-man rotation with Haralson, Manny Lawson, and Ahmad Brooks, has been a huge addition to the 49ers. The sack numbers are up exponentially.
It's because they are getting rest. When you are rushing the passer, it's no joke. It takes a ton of effort. It's important that those guys are fresher. And I've mentioned many times in the past, competition makes better players. I'm sure Lawson isn't happy that snaps were given to Brooks, but it's helped him a lot in recent weeks. He has a sack in three straight games since Brooks has been rotating in more.
It's definitely an area the 49ers have improved since their first meeting with Arizona and it's going to have to happen again in this game. The 49ers will need to put pressure on Warner. The statistics show in his last four games, he has a passer rating of over 120. That's just unheard of in the NFL.
Offensively for the 49ers, I think the key to this game is getting Frank Gore involved more. In the last three games he's had 32 carries for 117 yards. The 49ers simply can't win games without one of their best players being involved more.
It came out last week that the 49ers used audibles at the line to go from run plays to pass plays and I think you have to be careful when you do that. Teams will adjust to what you are doing and so you'll have to make your own adjustment and know that you're throwing the football too much.
One area the 49ers have been improved before last week was not turning the ball over. In the first game against Arizona, the 49ers only had four penalties for 31 yards. The Cardinals had 12 penalties for 82 yards. That was a big deal in that game. It was all part of Mike Singletary's formula for playing smart football.
They have to get back to that.
I'm also interested to see how Alex Smith performs. But first and foremost, let me say, there's been a ton of pressure on him throughout his time in the Bay Area.
After his first game where he came in to relieve Shaun Hill in Houston, there's been even more pressure on him. It's come down to can he have success in throwing the ball as many times as some of the other veteran quarterbacks around the league.
Having said that, I've been really impressed with how he's been able to handle as much responsibility that's been put on his shoulders since the Houston game.
I think an x-factor to this game for the 49ers is handling the penetration from Darnell Dockett. He was very disruptive in that first game and kept Gore from having his typical success. It was tough to run because of the penetration he was getting. This time around, the 49ers will have to keep that to a minimum especially if they want Gore's production to increase.