Cardinals @ 49ers: 5 Keys

The 49ers take on the 3-2 Arizona Cardinals Sunday in a game for second place in the division. Inside we break down five keys that will lead to a victory for San Francisco.

Don't Let Palmer Get Comfortable

Many forget Carson Palmer threw for 4,018 yards with the Raiders in 2012. And despite his early struggles with his new team, Palmer is still capable of putting up big numbers. Ask the Buccaneers and Ravens, who allowed a combined 782 yards in Week 8 and 9 a season ago.

Palmer has thrown just five touchdowns to nine interceptions while completing 58.9 percent of his throws, his worst mark since 2008 with the Bengals.

The Cardinals' offensive line has struggled in 2013, leading to a trade of former first-round pick Levi Brown to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The unit has allowed 12 sacks through its first five games and hasn't been good blocking for running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington.

Expect Arizona to throw a lot Sunday, giving Ahmad Brooks, Corey Lemonier, Dan Skuta and company plenty of opportunities to get to the quarterback. Palmer has completed just 46.8 percent of his passes and thrown four of his interceptions while under pressure.

But they might have to do it without blitzing. Palmer has an 82.3 QB rating when defenses send extra pressure, compared to a 62.5 rating - including eight picks - when teams do not blitz against him.

Avoid Allowing a Non-Offensive Touchdown

The Cardinals have a number of play makers on defense, including Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, Daryl Washington and Calais Campbell.

Arizona's offense ranks toward the bottom of the league in both scoring and yardage. Getting turnover returned or allowing a special teams touchdown would be a huge boost for the team given their struggles offensively.

The 49ers were last season 1-3 when giving up a non-offensive touchdown, including the Super Bowl.

Get the Passing Game Going

Sunday's game will be battle of strengths. The Cardinals have the No. 3 defense in the NFL against the run while San Francisco is has the sixth-best rushing attack.

Expect the 49ers to try to get the passing game going to take advantage of the Cardinals stacking the box with eight or nine men.

Colin Kaepernick hasn't thrown for more than 200 yards since Week 1, and desperately needs another outside weapon to step up while teams focus on Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis.

Jerraud Powers has allowed quarterbacks a 111 QB rating when throwing his direction. Look for Jon Baldwin to get plenty of opportunities to make big plays against Arizona's No. 2 corner.

Peterson, one of the league's premier corners, figures to spend most of the time covering Anquan Boldin. Kaepernick has a 26.79 QB rating when throwing to receivers other than Boldin.

Bottle Up Larry Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald is 50-50 to play Sunday with his hamstring injury, but he represents the Cardinals only real receiving threat.

Second-year wideout Michael Floyd already has 21 receptions, but Palmer has thrown three of his interceptions with a 50.8 rating when going his direction, worst among any of his receivers.

San Francisco might catch a big break if Fitzgerald doesn't play. But if he does, they will need to force other players to beat them in the passing attack.

Win the Battle of Field Position

Given the way the two defenses have played, Sunday's game figures to be a low-scoring affair, making field position paramount toward either team's success.

If the 49ers can force turnovers and get favorable field position like they did against the Texans, it could go a long toward determining the outcome of the game.

If the Cardinals hold on to the ball and force San Francisco to consistently drive the length of the field, they will have a chance at the upset.

*Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used in this report*


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