Arizona fans weren’t happy with PFF when despite their hot 4-0 start, we still thought the team was not very good and would eventually come down to earth. All of a sudden they enter a Monday Night Football encounter with the 49ers as seven point underdogs at home with seemingly no logical area of advantage. We might not say we told you so, but we’ll probably be thinking it.
Arizona’s biggest problem is clearly in pass protection, and in the 49ers they will run up against a team that can shut down the run without thinking about it, and bring heat when they want to. It could be a long day at the office for John Skelton, as he was sacked seven times by the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday.
What are the areas we should be focusing on in this game, and is there anywhere the Cardinals do have the edge?
Strength on Strength
The 49ers ranked at the top of our O-line rankings released during the week, and Mike Iupati at left guard is currently our top ranked left guard, behind only the right guards of his teammate and Marshal Yanda overall. Iupati will go up against Calais Campbell, one of the league’s best rushers from his 3-4 defensive end spot. All interior pass-rushers’ numbers this year are looking a little insignificant thanks to the performance of J.J Watt, but Campbell has notched 22 total pressures, which is the next best mark at that position. His Pass Rushing Productivity score of 6.8 is similarly at the sharp end, though the entire field is trailing in Watt’s wake. He may not be in the Texan’s class, but Campbell is the next best thing in the NFL and the battle with Iupati will be a fascinating one to focus on, regardless of how the rest of the lines get on.
The Cardinals may be getting torn apart elsewhere, but Larry Fitzgerald remains one of the league’s best wide receivers. He goes up against a trio of cornerbacks for the 49ers who are playing at various levels, making for some intriguing matchups. Tarell Brown is the poorest of the three, and though his numbers aren’t looking too healthy (allowing a QB rating of 106.8 and 71% of targets to be complete), his grade in coverage is actually only barely below average for the season and he has made some good plays. The veteran of the bunch is Carlos Rogers, who isn’t quite living up to his 2011 form, but is allowing only 9.3 yards per reception and has surrendered just one touchdown so far. The star is youngster Chris Culliver, who has yet to surrender a touchdown, is allowing just 40.7% of targets to be caught and is holding quarterbacks to a rating of just 40.5 when targeting his coverage. Culliver looks like a star in the making at the cornerback position but Larry Fitzgerald is a tough test for any corner, even if he doesn’t have the quarterback play to get him the football reliably.
It’s not possible to look at this game without talking a little about how bad the Arizona pass protection is. If I was trying to construct a five man line of the worst starters in the NFL, three of them would come from this one unit, including both tackles. If you are looking for an IDP player to make a move on in any given week, just check out which pass rushers will be facing Arizona and book them a spot in your lineup. This week Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks will be getting a chance to tee off on some inept pass protection. Brooks tends to be feast or famine in his pass rush, either getting pressure quickly or not at all. Now going against Bobby Massie, who has already allowed a dozen sacks through seven games, you can bet the farm on Brooks getting home at least once in the game. Aldon Smith may have come down slightly from his devastating rookie form now that he is a full time player rather than just a situational rusher, but he can still get after the passer, and should prove far too much for D’Anthony Batiste on the left side. Justin Smith will face off against the only member of the line not performing poorly in LG Daryn Colledge, but Ray McDonald will get to work against our worst ranked OG in former teammate Adam Snyder. If Snyder picked up any tips on defending against McDonald’s rush when they were teammates he’ll need to pull them out of the bag, because on paper this looks like an easy win for the 49er.
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