Behind Enemy Lines: 49ers/Cardinals, Part III

Our Scout.com experts, Craig Massei of SFIllustrated.com and Amberly Richardson of AZRedReport.com. go Behind Enemy Lines to take a closer look at Monday night's matchup between the 49ers and Cardinals in Arizona. Let's conclude this three-part series with the key matchups, keys to the game, why each team will win and why each will lose, and final predictions from both Craig and Amberly.

Matchups to watch: Cardinals defense vs. 49ers offense

Cardinals S Adrian Wilson vs. 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill
Wilson had a big interception of J.T. O'Sullivan in the first game between the two teams, and how well he plays the defensive middle when Hill looks to go over the top will be telling in this game. The 49ers figure to make adjustments in their offense to accommodate Hill, which means they'll be looking to complete more intermediate passes and find holes in the Arizona secondary. That will mean receivers coming over the middle into Wilson's territory, and he also figures to be matched up against explosive tight end Vernon Davis, whom the 49ers plan to get more involved in their passing game during the second half of the season.

Cardinals' linebacker Karlos Danbsy vs. 49ers RB Frank Gore
Expect Dansby to put on a show Monday night. He was slapped with the franchise tag this offseason, and the Cardinals could struggle to keep him around next year because they have Anquan Boldin waiting for a lucrative deal as well. Dansby will be playing for new shoes with the nation watching. A Pro-Bowl worthy performance is in the cards for Dansby when he takes on Gore, San Francisco's most viable threat and a player the Cardinals have had difficulty containing in the past. Darnell Dockett and Gerald Hayes will also be counted on to close up Gore's shop, but Dansby has extra incentive to look good on Monday night. Overall, the trio has allowed less than 100 yards per game on the ground (92, for 11th in the league). Dansby has to be the leader in not letting Gore break through his tackles and get into the open field where he can reap havoc. If Gore is silenced, Dansby will be happy to go after the quarterback. His versatility is the highlight of his appeal. Dansby's physical presence alone should stir up the 49ers offense.

Matchups to watch: Cardinals offense vs. 49ers defense

Cardinals QB Kurt Warner vs. 49ers pass rush It's really pretty simple: With time to pass, Warner has both the skill and experience to eventually find his talented receiving targets enough times to carry Arizona's offense. That's what he has been doing all season, and when he had time against the 49ers in the season opener, he was able to hit several timely completions to keep Arizona's offense on the field in the second half. The 49ers sacked Warner three times in the opener, and that helped keep San Francisco even until the Cardinals pulled away in the third and fourth quarters. The 49ers need end Justin Smith to be in Warner's face much of the afternoon, and they also must turn up their pressure on the edges with outside linebackers Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson becoming factors getting at Warner on passing downs.

Cardinals WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin vs. 49ers CBs Walt Harris and Nate Clements
Monday will be the 49ers' chance to put their money where their mouth is. Harris and Clements will be given the daunting tasks of stopping Fitzgerald and Boldin. San Francisco is toward the bottom of the league in yards allowed through the air. Kurt Warner won't shy away from using his favorite receivers, but if need be expect him to play around Harris and Clements. The Cardinals can rely on wide receivers Steve Breaston and Jerheme Urban as well. Arizona's game plan will to be get points on the board early, so it will be an all out air attack that Boldin and Fitztgerald will lead the way in.

The Cardinals will win if ...
… they find a way to get Fitzgerald and Boldin involved early. The Cardinals will also need to maintain a focus that was lacking when they started to blow out St. Louis last week. Penalties must be kept to a low, the Cardinals can't afford to look foolish on Monday night and give up the easy yards. Tim Hightower must continue to be involved; the Cardinals shouldn't abandon the run. It's too effective when done right.

The 49ers will win if ...
... they pressure Warner and are able to throw him out of rhythm and keep the Arizona offense off the field. The Cardinals were able to control the game and clock with a well-executed offense in the opener, but San Francisco's offense can do some damage here if it gets enough opportunities. If Hill steps up and performs like he can in the first road start of his NFL career, San Francisco's offense can create some problems for Arizona and it could be the difference for the 49ers in a close game where the team that has the ball last wins.

The Cardinals will lose if ...
… they don't show up to play. Arizona has all the tools necessary to win this ball game. It's going to take something shattering from San Francisco to pick at the Cardinals' confidence. Arizona is a pillar of perfection at University of Phoenix Stadium, which shouldn't change on Monday.

The 49ers will lose if ...
... they fall behind early and continue to make mistakes and miss tackles on defense. The 49ers can't have the defensive breakdowns that have characterized their five-game losing streak, particularly in their last game two weeks ago against Seattle. If the offense struggles in Hill's first start of the season, San Francisco doesn't figure to have the firepower to keep pace with the Cards.

Final Predictions

Amberly Richardson: Arizona 35, San Francisco 14. Although the 49ers may be rested after their bye, I don't think they have what it takes to knock off the Cardinals at home. Arizona should be on point and ready to show up San Francisco.

Craig Massei: San Francisco 26, Arizona 24: I had to ask myself several times why I'm picking the 49ers to win and pull out an unlikely road victory. There is just a different vibe around the team right now, and something tells me the 49ers are responding to new coach Mike Singletary and are ready to step up and perform in a game that could define the remainder of their season.

Amberly Richardson covers the Cardinals for www.AZRedReport.com

Craig Massei covers the 49ers for www.SFIllustrated.com



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