Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Cardinals

Game plans, matchups to watch and injury impact for the 49ers and Arizona Cardinals heading into Sunday's season opener between the two teams at the new Cardinals Stadium.

49ERS GAME PLAN: Coach Mike Nolan said he expects his team to run the ball 60 percent of the time this season. The 49ers believe their offensive line is a strong run-blocking line. The addition of left guard Larry Allen and the return of left tackle Jonas Jennings could help the 49ers run the ball effectively this season. The 49ers also like the style of running back Frank Gore, who is a more aggressive runner than Kevan Barlow, whom the club traded several weeks ago. The 49ers need a good running game to help take the heat off quarterback Alex Smith, as well as the team's questionable defense. If Smith is able to get a lot of one-on-one matchups on the outside with receiver Antonio Bryant, he might be able to make a dramatic improvement from his rookie season when he struggled with just one touchdown and 11 interceptions. Smith also will look for rookie tight end Vernon Davis, who should be able to use his speed to create mismatches with linebackers. The 49ers would like to be able to string together first downs and help keep the team's defense off the field. The 49ers have some serious questions about who will be able to rush the passer. If the 49ers don't get some pressure on Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, it could make for a long day with the team's corners, Shawntae Spencer and Walt Harris, trying to run with Cardinals wideouts Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.

CARDINALS GAME PLAN Offensively, the temptation will be to throw because it has been so easy for the Cardinals to do that against the 49ers recently. And with Boldin and Fitzgerald outside, what QB wouldn't want to put it up? But the team must build a rushing game to complement its 2005 league-leading passing attack. Edgerrin James wasn't signed to be a decoy. He needs 20 carries a game, and the 49ers' rushing defense presents a good opening challenge to begin the task. Defensively, there has been talk of the team backing off some of its exotic pressure up front so as not to place a so-so secondary in greater jeopardy. That can be argued both ways. Coordinator Clancy Pendergast loves to take his multitude of pieces and concoct blitzing schemes. No matter what has been rumored, Pendergast changing his M.O. would have to be seen to be believed. The 49ers' rushing game is average and QB Smith had a shaky rookie year. This is an offense that could be smothered with pressure.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--- Cardinals WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, each of whom was a Pro Bowler in his first two years in the league, vs. 49ers CBs Walt Harris and Shawntae Spencer. Veteran Harris comes over from Washington and hasn't had more than 2 picks since 1998. Youthful Spencer grew into position as 2005 went on but he is listed as questionable with a hamstring strain. They face a load. Boldin tortured the 49ers for 11 catches and 156 yards, including a 54-yard, game-winning scoring play in which he broke numerous tackles when last they met in December in San Francisco. In that game, Fitzgerald caught 8 balls for 129 yards. Fitzgerald and Boldin combined for 34 catches for 503 yards and three TDs in two games against the 49ers last season.
--- Cardinals DE Bertrand Berry, a 2004 Pro Bowler coming off chest and knee injuries, vs. 49ers QB Alex Smith. Berry had 14.5 sacks two seasons ago and had six in eight games last season before being sidelined by a chest injury. He is capable of rattling young QB Smith, whose final two drives vs. the Cardinals in their last meeting ended in interceptions, possibly costing his team a close game. And Berry wasn't on the field then to harass Smith.
--- Berry vs. 49ers LT Jonas Jennings, who missed all but three games last season with a shoulder injury, vs. Berry, who missed the preseason with a knee injury. Jennings must protect Smith's blind side to give him time to set up in the pocket.
--- 49ers WR Antonio Bryant, who looks to be Smith's top offensive target, vs. Cardinals CB Antrel Rolle, who is looking to bounce back strong after an injury-plagued rookie season.

INJURY IMPACT
49ERS: Spencer sustained a right hamstring pull during practice Aug. 16 and did not play in the final three exhibition games. Spencer returned to practice this week. Although he was listed as questionable on the preliminary injury report, it looks as if he'll be ready to go against the Cardinals. ... TE Delanie Walker (separated right shoulder) is expected to miss up to four weeks of the regular season. Walker sustained his injury in the 49ers final exhibition game Sept. 1. ... LB Parys Haralson (left foot strain) is expected to be out two weeks, and might be available for the Sept. 24 game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Haralson sustained the injury Aug. 15 in practice.
CARDINALS: QB Matt Leinart, whose right (non-throwing) shoulder popped out of its socket in the final preseason game, has no structural damage and is expected to be available as the backup in the opener following a dazzling preseason of work. … SLB Karlos Dansby (toe) has not participated in practice through all of preseason and training camp and Wednesday was ruled out of the opener. Calvin Pace, a converted DE, has won the job in Dansby's old spot and coaches are so happy with Pace that Dansby may be moved to the weak side to bolster a shaky position upon his return. Danby's absence does take one more piece out of a scary-thin linebacking corps. The team kept only six others. … OT Oliver Ross' surgery (knee) will keep him out at least another week, and maybe as many as three more, and has caused general chaos at the spot. Initially, veteran Jeremy Bridges filled in. He did not survive final cuts. Fred Wakefield was used there, but this week he was converted to TE. Brandon Gorin, a former starter in New England, was acquired in a trade two weeks ago and was believed to be the likely starter. Now, LG Reggie Wells is working at RT, perhaps opening the door for rookie Deuce Lutui to step into Wells' LG spot as the starter. It keeps a shaky unit that is being counted on for big improvement in limbo the week of the opener, which must be disquieting to new RB Edgerrin James. … WR LeRon McCoy's surgery (thumb) caused the team to keep only four wideouts, a big surprise given the level of competition among McCoy, Carlyle Holiday and Todd Watkins for jobs in a pass-happy offense that led the league in yards through the air a year ago. McCoy was expected to be the fifth WR.


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