Tale Of The Tape: San Francisco 49ers At Arizona Cardinals
- QuarterbackThe 49ers have been rather ordinary on the offensive side of the ball this season, but they have won five games in a row since losing back-to-back games against Carolina and New Orleans. If the Niners can win this game and the Seahawks get upset by the Rams, they can take the NFC West title. Colin Kaepernick has had some ups and downs this year, but he has the athleticism to turn this game in the Niners’ favor.The Cardinals have had a remarkable season and they are coming off a remarkable win at Seattle that keeps their playoff hopes alive. If they can beat the Niners and the Bucs upset the Saints, the Cardinals will make the playoffs. Carson Palmer will make errors when pressured by the defense, but he has kept his cool when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter.
- OffenseThe 49ers depend on running back Frank Gore to set the tone for the offense. He will try to attack the Arizona front with his hard-charging style, but the Cardinals will likely have an answer for him. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin needs to have one of his best games because the Cardinals will be tough against the run. Tight end Vernon Davis should be able to stretch the defense.The Cardinals have gotten a bit more from their running game in recent weeks with Andre Ellington doing a much better job than Rashard Mendenhall. If they can get any production on the ground, that will make life much easier for Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald. Floyd caught the game-winning TD pass at Seattle, and he has shown he can make the tough catch in pressure situations.
- DefenseWhile the 49ers have had some problems with their offense this season, the defense has been consistent and dominant. The Niners have an excellent combination of speed and nastiness on defense, and nobody personifies this more than NaVorro Bowman. He is the Niners’ leading tackler and he is also solid when asked to cover running backs or tight ends. Ahmad Brooks can pressure and sack the quarterback.The Cardinals have the best run defense in the league and if they can shut down Gore, they have an excellent chance to remain competitive in this game for 60 minutes. Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby has had a sensational year with a team-high 117 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Defensive end Calais Campbell has power and speed and has recorded 8.0 sacks.
- Special TeamsThe Niners have been solid in their special teams coverage this season. Opponents are averaging 8.4 yards per punt return and 20.5 yards per kickoff return. Placekicker Phil Dawson has made 27-of-30 FG attempts.The Cardinals have done a solid job in their punt and kickoff coverage this season, but they have been disappointed with their return game. They thought they would get more from Patrick Peterson and Javier Arenas. Jay Feely has made 28-of-32 FG attempts and is one of the best clutch kickers in the game.
The Cardinals are one of the best stories in the league this year and after beating the Seahawks on the road, it would not be shocking to see them come up with the win over the 49ers in the season finale. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor