Game snapshot: 49ers vs. Cardinals

It all starts right here for the 49ers and Cardinals, two NFC West bottom dwellers of the past two seasons who each have a different kind of vision of how they're going to rise in the division this year. In the regular-season debut of the new Cardinals Stadium, the 49ers must find a way to combat Arizona's prolific passing game while coming up with a few offensive breakouts of their own.

KICKOFF: 1:15 p.m. Pacific
TV: FOX, Josh Lewin, Bill Maas
2005 NFL RANKINGS: 49ers: offense 32nd (17th rush, 32nd pass); defense 32nd (18th rush, 32nd pass). Cardinals: offense 8th (32nd rush, 1st pass); defense 8th (10th rush, 12th pass)

SERIES HISTORY: 30th meeting. 49ers lead series that dates to 1951, 17-12, but the Cardinals swept the battle of relatively new NFC West foes in 2005 by a combined score of 48-24 despite not playing either game at home. They beat the 49ers in Mexico City and in the Bay Area. It was their first divisional season sweep since the 2002 realignment. Prior to that, Arizona had dropped seven of eight. In Arizona, the Cardinals hold a 6-4 edge, but those games were played at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. This is the first meeting in Glendale in new Cardinals Stadium, with a retractable roof that is expected to be closed today. Most historic meeting between these teams was in 1988. Trailing 23-0 in the second half, the Cardinals rallied for a 24-23 win on Nov. 6 under coach Gene Stallings during the Big Red's initial season in Arizona.

KEYS TO THE GAME: 49ers coach Mike Nolan said he wants to run the ball 60 percent of the time, and it's not a bad goal with LT Jonas Jennings healthy to play alongside new LG Larry Allen in front of RB Frank Gore. But it's also to protect QB Alex Smith and an inferior defense. The Cardinals have questions to answer in the secondary, and Smith will have to connect on a few plays downfield if San Francisco is to pull the upset. That's because Arizona WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin present matchup nightmares for the 49ers, who can't offer the extra coverage protection Cardinals opponents used to enjoy because of the addition of RB Edgerrin James. The offensive line still leaves much to be desired, but the 49ers don't have the pass rushers to put consistent heat on QB Kurt Warner.

FAST FACTS: 49ers - Gore was the first player to lead the 49ers in rushing (608 yards in 2005) since Dexter Carter in 1990. Cardinals - Warner's 94.1 career passer rating is second all-time (Steve Young, 96.8).

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 - Times in 18 seasons in Arizona that the Cardinals will have opened a season at home when the 49ers visit today. 18 - The number of 49ers players who remain from when coach Mike Nolan took over in January 2005. The 49ers had 78 players under contract at the time Nolan was hired.


"I think the one thing about it more than anything else is guys are excited about going in there to play. The fans are great and noise is just an added bonus, but just walking into the locker room and knowing we've got our own home, there is a little more hop in everybody's step." --- Cardinals QB Kurt Warner, on opening the season at home in new, $455 million Cardinals Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., which is sold out for the season.

"This is going to be very good offensive team someday. I don't know if it's going to be tomorrow or eight weeks from now. I have no idea, but it's going to be good - I'll bet my life on that. This is going to be a very, very good offensive football team" -- 49ers backup QB Trent Dilfer.


--- LG Larry Allen, who is listed at 325 pounds, has been fined an undisclosed amount for being overweight, Nolan said. Nolan said losing weight will not affect Allen's strength because that weight is excess. Despite his weight, Nolan has been pleased with what Allen has brought to the team.
--- CB Shawntae Spencer, who sustained a pulled right hamstring on Aug. 16, practiced throughout the week and is expected to start against the Cardinals.
--- TE Vernon Davis, who caught two passes for 20 yards and a touchdown in the exhibition season, will start his first career game. Davis has tremendous speed and is expected to create matchup problems for the Cardinals' defense.
--- DE Roderick Green has been quickly assimilated into the 49ers' defense and is expected to see some action as a situational pass rusher. Green was claimed off waivers from the Ravens last Sunday.
--- CB Walt Harris is starting on the right side and has shown so far to be a very good off-season acquisition. Harris begins his 11th season in the NFL and is looking to solidify a position opposite Shawntae Spencer that was a problem last season.

--- RB Edgerrin James had just seven carries in the preseason, but he's ready for the start of the regular season. James said he has worked enough in practice to be in tune with his offensive line, even if he barely broke a sweat in the preseason.
--- QB Matt Leinart, Kurt Warner's backup, has practiced this week and is probable. He suffered a sprained right shoulder in the preseason finale against Denver.
--- DE Bertrand Berry proclaimed himself to be fully recovered from a knee sprain suffered in the second preseason game. Berry missed the final two games of the preseason. He'll start at right end. He's the team's premier pass rusher. Without him, the club has to resort to scheming to create a rush.
--- OLB Karlos Dansby is at least a week away from beginning practice. Dansby has missed all of preseason with a toe injury. His absence has frustrated coach Dennis Green, but the coach has been encouraged by Dansby's recent progress. When Dansby returns, he could move to the weak side from the strong. Calvin Pace has played well on the strong side.
--- TE Leonard Pope should become a primary weapon in the red zone. At 6-foot-8, Pope is a large target for quarterback Kurt Warner. The key will be developing a running game that makes defenders bite on play-action fakes.

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