By Gabe Schapiro
This Sunday at 1:25 PM the San Francisco 49ers (3-2) will be facing off against the Arizona Cardinals (3-2) at Candlestick Park. Both squads have won two straight and are tied for second in the NFC West, one game back of the Seattle Seahawks and one game up on the St. Louis Rams.
Last week the Cardinals, thanks in large part to an impressive showing from their defense, defeated the Carolina Panthers 22-6. They racked up seven sacks, three interceptions, and a forced fumble. On that side of the ball they are led by Karlos Dansby, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, and shut-down corner Patrick Peterson. On offense they have struggled a bit this year, as QB Carson Palmer is very turnover prone, with nine interceptions and a fumble already, and WR Larry Fitzgerald has been hobbled by injuries and hasn’t looked like the big playmaker so many are used to seeing.
San Francisco is coming off an even more impressive win, a 34-3 drubbing of the Houston Texans. For the second straight week they relied heavily on their run game and stout defense. As a team they ran for 177 yards, 81 of those coming from Frank Gore, who also scored a touchdown. On defense they had three interceptions, two from Tramaine Brock, one of which he returned for a score, and another from Tony Jerod-Eddie. The newly dubbed Donte “Hitner” also chipped in a forced fumble.
This week the 49ers will likely try a similar approach, although they may run into more difficulties, as the Cardinals have allowed the third fewest yards on the ground so far this season. Against the pass they are ranked 19th, but San Francisco only managed 107 yards through the air last week. Colin Kaepernick has struggled since week one when asked to win the game with his arm, so the big question will be whether he can get something going if the run game is stifled.
Palmer has at least two turnovers in four of five games this season, and the 49ers are sure to try and keep the pressure on him to ensure that trend continues. Even if San Francisco’s offense runs into problems, their defense should keep them in the game and give them every chance to pull out a win in this one.
For the first time in a few weeks the injury news is largely good this week. Vernon Davis, one of the few reliable weapons Kaepernick has at his disposal, has resumed fully participating in practices. It was feared DL Ray McDonald had suffered a severe injury in the third quarter in last weeks win, but was diagnosed with just a right biceps strain. His status for this Sunday is in question, but he shouldn’t miss an extended period of time.
In more long-term news, Mario Manningham is expected to be ready to begin practicing with the team when first eligible in Week 7, and Michael Crabtree is on track to return in mid-November.
Finally, there was one minor transaction this week, as the revolving door that is the 49ers third-string QB keeps spinning. The recently signed John Skelton was waived, and McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who had recently been released by the Minnesota Vikings, was claimed off of waivers.