There’s only one win separating these division rivals, but the current momentum and the overall talent disparity on both sides of the ball makes this one almost impossible to win for the Arizona Cardinals, while all the usual advantages the San Francisco 49ers have should be enough to pull them through another game that could turn into a slug-fest.
The Cardinals do have a shot, just like the Seahawks in the previous week. Their defense needs to be at 100%. Daryl Washington has emerged as the best defensive player on this team, playing as an inside linebacker. He can simply get away from blockers with his speed but is also immensely strong. The 49ers love using heavy blocking schemes to get Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, both averaging over 5 yards a carry, and the Cardinals are going to have to find a way and avoid getting run over.
In any other angle you try and look at this game, and it’s hard thinking how Arizona are going to put up points. They can get stops, especially against Alex Smith who has lost a lot of confidence since the loss to the New York Giants, but with John Skelton at quarterback; with no running game (27th in the NFL) and no protection on the edges unless they play max protection schemes (quarterbacks sacked 35 times this season, 1st in the NFL), the Cardinals haven’t scored more than 16 points in their 3 consecutive losses.
And while Alex Smith is facing a defense that likes using five pass rushers schemes and are heavy blitzers, with 22 sacks so far this season (5th in the NFL), he completed nearly 70% of his passes under that kind of pressure, getting a lot of protection and a lot of time from his excellent offensive line, usually executing the short passing game the 49ers tend to stick to. The Cardinals keep opposing quarterbacks at 40.9% during these blitzes, the best in the NFL.
Smith has stopped using the deep ball, which is something that teams tend to struggle with against the Cardinals. Since week 5, Smith has gone 5-of-13 (38.5 percent) on throws more than 10 yards downfield his last two games – the third worst in the NFL. The quarterback he’s facing, John Skelton, is quite a mistake prone player, despite trying to keep it simple as well with short passes. Skelton completes just 55.4% of his passes (456 yards) and has thrown just one touchdown to 3 interceptions.
Prediction – While Thursday night games have rules of their own because of the bye weeks, Monday night games are a bit easier to predict. There isn’t a single aspect and position on the field in which the Cardinals have an advantage. Too much of a mismatch to not pick the 49ers in this one.