The San Francisco 49ers begin a stretch of very winnable games as they square off with the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6. The Niners, who survived a rash of injuries and a very difficult early schedule, come into the game with a mark of 3-2. After the Cardinals, they will travel to Tennessee to play a Titans team that is missing it’s starting quarterback followed by a trip to London to square off against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. They then return home to host the Carolina Panthers after the bye. If San Francisco can continue to play well, it’s likely they can come out of this set of games with a record of 7-2 before the stretch run begins.
In 2012, the 49ers dominated the season series with the Cardinals winning both games by a combined score of 51-16. On a Monday night in Week 8, a slumping Alex Smith broke out in a big way by completing 18-of-19 passes and throwing for three scores. It was the last full game Smith would play in a 49er uniform before sustaining the concussion that helped pave the way for Colin Kaepernick the following week. On the defensive side of the ball, the Niners held Arizona to only seven yards rushing as the Cardinals could only manage three points on the night.
The two teams also closed out the 2012 season in Week 17 in a game that saw the Cardinals basically pull Brian Hoyer off the street to play quarterback. The 49ers’ offense took a little while to get going in this one but eventually ran off 27 straight points behind a huge game from Michael Crabtree who had 172 yards and two touchdowns.
Players to watch
The 49ers are clicking on all cylinders in every facet expect the passing game and they desperately need to show the ability to move the ball consistently through the air. While he has done a good job of managing the game the past couple of weeks, Kaepernick is still having trouble getting into any kind of rhythm. His 113 yards passing in Week 5 marked the lowest total he’s had in 15 career starts and that line was helped immensely by a late 64 yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis. Over his last four games, Kaepernick has only thrown for 557 yards (139 per game) and has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in three of those four.
Arizona will need it’s star offensive players to step up against San Francisco as they have struggled to find their niche so far this season. Quarterback Carson Palmer has only thrown five touchdown passes in the early going and has been picked off nine times. His 67.0 quarterback rating is the second to last in the league for a quarterback who has started all five games.
Palmer, who has been sacked 12 times, has also had a tough time finding a rapport with franchise receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Four of Palmer’s nine interceptions have come when throwing Fitzgerald’s way and the wide out is only averaging 57.6 yards a game. His 24 receptions were tied for 35th in league going into Week 5. If this trend holds up, 2013 will mark the second year in a row Fitzgerald had failed to get at least 80 receptions and 1,000 yards.
Game changing factor
The 49ers have re-established their identity as a power running team and have dominated the line of scrimmage the last two weeks. The run first approach has netted 396 yards and ball carriers have averaged 5.2 yards per carry during that time. San Francisco has attempted 76 rushes in comparison to only 41 drops backs in those games. That return to form has led to two lopsided victories as the 49ers have outscored opponents 69-14. While Arizona is only giving up 3.3 yards per rush this season, they are yet to face a team that will provide the challenge on the ground that the 49ers will.
Stats to know
After five weeks, the Cardinals sit at 28th in the NFL in scoring at 18.5 points per game. They rank 30th in total offense with 306 yard per contest have struggled to get any kind of a running game. Their leading rusher, Rashard Mendenhall, ranks 24th in the league with 219 yards and is only averaging 3.2 yards per carry. Arizona, as a team, is only averaging 3.5 yards per rush.
They meet a 49ers defense that has allowed a mere 14 points over their last two games and has only given up 3.7 yards per attempt on the ground for the year. The 49ers’ defense had six takeaways combined in Weeks 4 and 5 which helped their struggling offense put up over 30 points in both of those contests.
While the Cardinals record would indicate they are off to a good start, their level of competition has not been overly difficult. The team’s last two wins have come against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers who are a combined 1-7. They are also only 1-2 on the road so far and the one win was against a Tampa Bay team with a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start. The 49ers are starting to round into form and if they can get anything out of their passing game, this should be a relatively easy win at home for San Francisco.
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