49ers – Cardinals: What to watch for

Second place in the NFC West is on the line this Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers (3-2) face the Arizona Cardinals (3-2) at Candlestick Park.

Both teams have won two straight, but the 49ers are an 11-point favorite after outscoring opponents 69-11 the past two games.

Here are a few things to watch for on game day.

Zona-O vs Niner-D

The Cardinals are ranked 30 out of 32 teams in total offense averaging just 81 rushing yards per game. Yes, that’s as horrible as it sounds.

It will be even worse going against the 49ers fifth-ranked defense.

Arizona’s offensive line has allowed 29 hits and 12 sacks on Carson Palmer, so expect him to be under constant outside pressure from pass rushers Ahmad Brooks, Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier.

Palmer’s penchant for throwing picks — nine interceptions in five games this season — may translate into a feeding frenzy for ball-hawks Eric Reid and Tramaine Brock. Brock remains the No. 3 corner after earning the Defensive Player of the Week award for his two-pick performance against Houston.

Patrick Willis and Nnamdi Asomugha are also due back from injuries deepening the defensive depth.

This match up doesn’t look good for the Cards.

Pound the rock

Arizona’s 15th-ranked defense sees the field a lot because of their bad offense. They’re destined to get a heavy dose of running backs Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon who’ve combined for 61 carries, 330 yards and five touchdowns in back-to-back wins.

The 49ers shouldn’t go away from this successful recipe.

The importance of the ground game also increases as the Cardinals have solid secondary that can stifle the pass. Give the ball to the backs and let them tire out the defense to set up some high percentage pass plays.

San Francisco again has the advantage here.

Vernon Davis

With shutdown corner Patrick Peterson covering Anquan Boldin, expect Colin Kaepernick to target his favorite tight end often as the rest of the receiving corps has produced little.

At 6-foot-3 and 250 lbs. with top-flight speed, Davis poses a match-up nightmare even for Arizona’s linebackers and defensive backs.

Davis is averaging 16 yards per catch on 14 receptions and has four touchdowns in five games. Get him the ball.

Notes

Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin is the older brother of 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin. … Cardinals linebacker Dontay Moch was a college teammate of Kaepernick at Nevada when they won the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park.


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