The San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals will face off in an important NFC West matchup on Sunday. The two teams are tied for second place within the division, trailing the Seattle Seahawks, who suffered their first loss this past week.
Arizona is coming off a strong 22-6 victory over he Carolina Panthers, their second-straight win, and will be looking for momentum to carry them. The 49ers responded to back-to-back losses to Seattle and Indianapolis to dominate both the St. Louis Rams and Houston Texans and now have Seattle back in their sights.
It should be a great matchup, so we'll get to talk about both teams below:
Meet the 49ers
San Francisco got the season started off right with a win over the Green Bay Packers, but things went downhill from there. The possibility of 1-1 was always something 49ers fans thought could happen, but they were dominated in the game. The following week, they were dominated again. While they've picked things up since then, the confidence in San Francisco making it back to the Super Bowl has dropped considerably.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick hasn't looked like such an elite quarterback through five games. He's led San Francisco to the No. 31 passing offense in the league, and has thrown four interceptions to his six touchdowns. It's not the end of the world, given that he's only now nearing a full season's worth of games as a starter, but it was a rough start to be sure.
Fortunately, the 49ers still have Frank Gore, who is still one of the top running backs in the NFL. They also have allowed the second-fewest passing yards in the NFL, with opponents averaging 188.8 yards per game through five weeks.
Meet the Cardinals
Arizona has been decent this season, beating some generally poor teams and falling to the St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints. The win over the Detroit Lions was solid, but besting the 49ers would be the high point of the season thus far. With the No. 3 rushing defense in the NFL, they may have a shot at doing it, as well.
The Cardinals allow just 79.0 rushing yards per game on average, which is a good start to stopping the 49ers. Their 225.2 passing yards per game will have trouble being productive against San Francisco's tough pass defense, however. It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals try and get their No. 23 rushing game going, given San Francisco's struggles defending running backs thus far.
Arizona was supposed to be the worst team in the NFC West this season. They still might be, but beating the 49ers at Candlestick Park would be a good start to showing that they're for real. With a matchup against Seattle on Thursday, winning here is important.
Local Takes: 49ers
David Fucillo of Niners Nation thinks getting to Carson Palmer is the way to win this one:
On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers pass rush needs to take advantage of the matchup edge they hold against the Cardinals offensive line. The 49ers have done a solid job stopping the run thus far, so the key in this game will be forcing Carson Palmer to make quicker decisions, or simply putting him on his back as much as possible. The Cardinals have dangerous receivers, but if the quarterback doesn't have time to let them develop their routes, they can be neutralized.
Local Takes: Cardinals
Shaun Church of Revenge of the Birds thinks Fucillo is right, and that the matchup between Bradley Sowell and Justin Smith is the most important:
New left tackle Bradley Sowell passed his first test last week when he faced former college teammate Greg Hardy and held him in check throughout the game. Sowell allowed three hurries and two QB hits, but he kept Palmer upright.
That's all the organization is asking of him: Keep Palmer clean back there.
This week is a different challenge entirely. 49ers defensive end Justin Smith is among the strongest players in the NFL, and that's an area where Sowell struggles.
If the vertical passing game is to work, Sowell must keep Palmer's blind side clean. No one is expecting perfection. Just hold down the fort.
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Should Carson Palmer be benched? http://t.co/n6k1JJmRZ6— Revenge of the Birds (@revengeofbirds) October 8, 2013
All five of SB Nation's experts picked the 49ers to win this one at home. Find the rest of the Week 6 picks here.
The 49ers opened as 7.5-point favorites to best Arizona, according to OddsShark. The line has only moved in their favor throughout the week, too. On some books, they can be had for as high as 12.5-point favorites.
The 49ers will hit the road to take on the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 20. Arizona will return home to host the Seattle Seahawks before that, on Oct. 17 for Thursday Night Football.