Game snapshot: 49ers vs. Cardinals

Taking an inside look at the 49ers and Cardinals and tonight's game between the two teams at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

KICKOFF: 7:30 p.m. CST


TV: ESPN, Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann, Paul Maguire, Suzy Kolber

SERIES: 28th meeting. The 49ers lead series 17-10, including victories in the last three meetings. The 49ers' only two wins last season came at the Cardinals' expense.

2005 NFL RANKINGS: 49ers: offense 29th (27th rush, 27th pass); defense 32nd (19th rush, 32nd pass). Cardinals: offense 18th (28th rush, 9th pass); defense 22nd (28th rush, 16th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Conditioning will play a major role with Mexico City resting over 7,000 feet above sea level. So will turnovers and penalties, which have plagued Arizona's offense. QB Josh McCown starts for injured Kurt Warner, and his mobility could prove beneficial with the 49ers expected to use plenty of blitzes in an attempt to protect their battered and bruised secondary. Offensively, the 49ers want to run the ball to control the clock and limit how much time their defense spends on the field. The Cardinals are allowing 4.7 yards per carry and will be without their top run stopper DT Russell Davis. If the game is close late, the 49ers will need better clutch play from QB Tim Rattay, who has thrown 11 of his 16 career interceptions in the fourth quarter.

FAST FACTS: Estadio Azteca held an NFL-record 112,376 fans for a 1994 preseason game between Houston and Dallas, but now holds a maximum of 85,000. 49ers: First three opposing quarterbacks have combined for a 109.3 passer rating. ... Have won the past three meetings and eight of the past nine. Cardinals: McCown had a career-high 307 passing yards in the last meeting. ... DE Bertrand Berry has 28 sacks in his past 35 games.



--- CB Mike Rumph is out for the season after sustaining a torn plantar fascia. Rumph had moved this week from free safety to cornerback as coach Mike Nolan tried to shake up the defense after a poor start. Rumph was going to challenge rookie Derrick Johnson to take over for Ahmed Plummer, who is out for several weeks after undergoing arthroscopic ankle surgery. Johnson, the team's sixth-round draft choice in April, is likely to start tonight's game. He tied for the NFL lead with three interceptions during the exhibition season.

--- CB Willie Middlebrooks, who was signed this week, will see a lot of action as the 49ers find themselves short-handed in the defensive backfield. Middlebrooks will probably split some time with Johnson at left cornerback, and he will also see action in the nickel and dime packages.

--- OT Anthony Clement appears likely to start tonight at left tackle in place of Jonas Jennings, who is doubtful with a right shoulder strain. Clement spent his first seven seasons in the league with the Cardinals. He has not played left tackle since his rookie season.

--- LB Corey Smith is expected to see more action at outside linebacker as the 49ers plan to rotate a lot of different players into the action because of the altitude in Mexico City. Smith's increased role is one of the reasons the 49ers decided this week to part ways with Jamie Winborn.


--- QB Josh McCown will start in place of Kurt Warner, but he needs to play well to hold on to it while Warner is out. If McCown struggles, coach Dennis Green won't hesitate to play John Navarre. McCown is 7-9 as a starter.

--- The club signed QB Rohan Davey this week to shore up the position. With Warner out with a groin pull, the team was down to two quarterbacks.

--- RB J.J. Arrington appears to have lost his starting job to Marcel Shipp, who has given the team a spark. Shipp has been effective the past two games but needs to get the ball more. He had 95 yards on 22 carries the past two weeks. He needs to carry the ball that many times in a game.

--- The Cardinals are the only team in the league with two receivers who have more than 250 yards receiving each. The problem is, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald have just one touchdown. In fact, the Cardinals offense has scored just one touchdown.

--- KR Reggie Swinton needs to show something to hang on to his job as a kick returner and punt returner. He's been tentative and receiver Bryant Johnson returned two kicks late in last week's loss to Seattle.



Nolan came to the conclusion this week that he had no spot on the 49ers for Winborn, who started the first two games at right outside linebacker in the team's 3-4 defense.

Nolan strongly recommended to Winborn that he pack his belongings and leave the team while Nolan tries to trade the fifth-year pro. Nolan said his decision to get rid of Winborn was not a disciplinary action. He said he was merely doing Winborn a favor.

"Jamie has been relegated to a backup role for us, and he sees himself as a starter," Nolan said. "And in respect to that position, I'm certainly entertaining thoughts of a possibility of a trade."

Winborn, 26, a second-round pick in the 2001 draft, lost his job to Andre Carter last week. Even backup Smith was taking playing time away from Winborn.

"We didn't even know until the defensive meeting," 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson said. "But the coach was very up front with us. I think he just wanted to go in his own direction right now. He knew Jamie had a lot of talent and he didn't want to hold Jamie back, either. It's part of the business."

The move was the first major shakeup that Nolan foreshadowed. Following the 49ers' discouraging 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, Nolan spoke at length about some players whom he believed do not "trust" the system.

"We will find a place for those that think they have a better idea," Nolan said.

Winborn is scheduled to make $1.75 million, which is guaranteed because he was on the roster for the first week as a vested veteran.

"Jamie loved playing for the 49ers, but if he's not in their plans, it's probably better for him to be in a place where he has a chance to make a difference," said Steve Baker, Winborn's agent.


The Cardinals enter tonigth's game dangerously thin on defense

Nose tackle Russell Davis is out for the year after suffering a torn left biceps tendon last week. That leaves the team with only six defensive linemen, including a backup at tackle and one at end. Former 49er Ross Kolodziej moves into the starting lineup, and Langston Moore is the only backup.

The team entered training camp thinking that depth on the defensive front would be a strength. But a wrist injury to Kenny King and the injury to Davis changed that.

Depth at cornerback is also lacking. Starter Antrel Rolle likely will have knee surgery that will keep him out at least a month.

He's out for tonight's game and will be replaced by Raymond Walls. David Macklin, the other starting cornerback, has been limited in practice this week by a strained hamstring.

If Macklin can't play, he'll be replaced by rookie Eric Green. With rookie Lamont Reid the only other corner on the roster, the club re-signed veteran Robert Tate on Thursday.

That forced them to cut Lester Towns, their top middle linebacker the past two games. He was made expendable by the return of James Darling, who had missed two games with a sprained knee ligament.

The offense is hurting, too. Warner is expected to miss at least a month because of a torn groin muscle.

Warner, however, is optimistic that he'll return sooner than that. He reported great progress this week, but then, he is an optimist by nature.

LT Oliver Ross is expected to miss at least a month after suffering a broken bone in his right hand last week. The injury required surgery.

Ross replacement is expected to be Fred Wakefield, in his first year on the offensive line after three years at defensive end.

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