Game breakdown: 49ers vs. Cardinals

Taking a look deep inside Sunday's pivotal season opener between the 49ers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, with snapshot game details, series history, game plans, matchups to watch, injury impact, personnel updates and a look inside both camps before the big game between NFC West rivals.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:15 p.m. Pacific
SITE: University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale
2008 RECORDS: Cardinals 9-7, 6-0 in NFC West; 49ers 7-9, 3-3 in NFC West
TV: FOX (Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Nischelle Turner)

SERIES HISTORY: 36th regular-season meeting. 49ers lead series 19-16. The Cardinals went 6-0 in the NFC West last season, including two games against the 49ers. Both games were close, however, with the Cardinals winning by 10 points and by 5. The Cardinals have won six of the last eight games against the 49ers, but are 2-2 against San Francisco under coach Ken Whisenhunt. The series has been swept each of the last five seasons, with the 49ers bringing out the brooms in 2004 and 2007.

KEYS TO THE GAME: There's no secret to the 49ers' attack - it's a physical approach with RB Frank Gore leading the way and complemented by rookie backup Glen Coffee. San Francisco needs a strong outing from its offensive line so it can jump out to an early lead and attempt to wear the Cardinals down on both sides of the ball. If Arizona gets a lead, the Cardinals could be off to the races. San Francisco hasn't displayed much improvement in its pass rush. Meanwhile, the 49ers must account for an improved Cardinals ground game that includes rookie Beanie Wells teaming starter Tim Hightower.

BY THE NUMBERS: 32 -- That will be the number of consecutive games Kurt Warner has started for Arizona when he takes the field against the 49ers. 7 Number of different offensive coordinator the 49ers have employed in the past seven seasons as Jimmy Raye takes over as this year.

"Who? Who? Look, we're just going in and playing football. It's not about individual matchups. It's not about having me lined up on Vernon (Davis), or having Karlos (Dansby) on Frank Gore. It's about playing team ball." --- Cardinals safety Safety Adrian Wilson on matching up with 49ers tight end Vernon Davis.
"We're not trying to build superstars. We're trying to build a team." -- 49ers coach Mike Singletary on the team's offensive philosophy.

49ERS GAME PLAN: Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said his idea of a balanced offense is 60 percent running plays. The 49ers have made no secret of the fact that they want to be able to run the football at will behind Frank Gore. The 49ers will try to pound the Cardinals' front seven with their run attack. The interior of the 49ers' offensive line, guards David Baas and Chilo Rachal, and center Eric Heitmann, must control the line of scrimmage against Cardinals inside defenders, Bryan Robinson and Darnell Dockett. The 49ers then expect to use play-action pass to help quarterback Shaun Hill to get the ball down the field. Defensively, the 49ers showed that their pass rushers have a very difficult time winning one-on-one matchups, so defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is going to have to scheme up some blitz package to create mismatches.

CARDINALS GAME PLAN: The Cardinals tried concentrating on the running game offensively when they played the 49ers in the opener last season. The results were mixed, and the Cardinals switched to a more open attack in the second half and won by 10. The 49ers defend the Cardinals well because they have decent corners and have rushed the passer well against the Cards. Defensively, the Cardinals must control running back Frank Gore, who has hurt them in the past with big plays.

--- Cardinals LT Mike Gandy vs. 49ers ROLB Parys Haralson: Haralson played well against the Cardinals last year and had two sacks in one game. Gandy is a reliable player but can have trouble with elite pass rushers.
--- 49ers RT Adam Snyder vs. Cardinals LDE Darnell Dockett: Dockett is quick off the ball and has a powerful lower body. He can be disruptive if he gets in the backfield and this should be a decent matchup for Arizona.
--- Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. 49ers CBs Shawntae Spencer and Nate Clements: Fitzgerald was quiet in the preseason, mostly because coaches kept him under wraps. The Cardinals will move him around the formation in search of favorable matchups. He should find one with Spencer. Clements was beaten in coverage in each of the team's four exhibition games, but Fitzgerald struggled against Clements' coverage last season with a combined 77 yards receiving in the two meetings. The 49ers will look to have Clements cover Fitzgerald in most situations.
--- 49ers FB Moran Norris, who will see a lot of action in the 49ers' two-back offense as a lead blocker, vs. Cardinals LB Karlos Dansby, who led the Cardinals with 128 tackles last season.
--- 49ers LB Manny Lawson, whose ability rush the passer might play a big part in the 49ers fate this season, vs. Cardinals TE Stephen Spach, who has worked his way into the starting lineup.


S Michael Lewis sustained two concussions in 11 days, but he has been cleared medically and will start Sunday's game. WR Brandon Jones is out with a fractured right shoulder. He is expected to miss games through the end of the month. LB Ahmad Brooks underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last month and won't play against the Cardinals.

CARDINALS: WR Anquan Boldin hasn't practiced since suffering a hamstring injury almost three weeks ago. Boldin has worked out with an athletic trainer during practice and coach Ken Whisenhunt said chances are "very good" that Boldin will be able to play on Sunday. If he can't play, the Cardinals will go with Steve Breaston and Jerheme Urban as the second and third receivers. WR Early Doucet is out for a few more weeks with fractured ribs. The fractures are high on the rib cage, so Doucet could be in danger of lung damage if he were to take a hit before he's healed. The Cardinals have six other receivers on the roster.



--- WR Micheal Spurlock won a spot on the 49ers' 53-man roster with his versatility. He can be a factor in the return game. He also has a role in the 49ers' version of the "Wildcat," which they call the "Taser" formation. Spurlock was a college quarterback at Mississippi before making the transition to receiver in the NFL.

--- TE Vernon Davis had a strong offseason and figures to have the most productive season of his NFL career because of the importance offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye places in the position. Davis was kept into block on a lot of third downs last season. The team plans to feature him as a receiver on short and intermediate routes.

--- FS Dashon Goldson was informed early in the offseason that he would be a starter this season. He replaces veteran Mark Roman, who will enter the game when the 49ers go with six defensive backs. Goldson was elevated to the starting lineup because of his playmaking ability. Roman went more than two full seasons without an interception.

--- WR Josh Morgan entered training camp with high expectations of emerging as the team's No. 1 receiver. Morgan will start at split end this season, but he only showed flashes of his ability in training camp. He must improve his consistency. Morgan caught 20 passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games (one start) last season.

--- OT Tony Pashos signed a one-year contract that will pay him $1.2 million in base salary and $500,000 in incentives this season. Pashos, who started 47 of 48 games the past three seasons with the Ravens and Jaguars, joins the 49ers as a backup to right tackle Adam Snyder.


--- WR Early Doucet participated in a large portion of Thursday's practice but is still expected to miss Sunday's game with fractured ribs.

--- WR Anquan Boldin hasn't practice fully since suffering a right hamstring injury on Aug. 25. Boldin did some light practicing on Thursday and worked out with an athletic trainer later. He likely will be questionable for Sunday's game.

--- QB Kurt Warner appears fully recovered from hip surgery last spring. Warner struggled with some pain during camp but recently has said his hip is feeling much better than it did a month ago.

--- RB Tim Hightower will start on Sunday but look for rookie Beanie Wells to get plenty of action, too. Wells has recovered from a sprained right ankle and has looked quick lately.

--- RB Beanie Wells isn't likely to challenge Tim Hightower for the starting job for at least several more weeks. Hightower is a better blocker and a proven receiver. Wells has to prove himself in those roles before taking over.



When it came time for the San Francisco 49ers to name a starting right cornerback, veteran Dre' Bly was surprised he did not get the call.

Shawntae Spencer was also surprised. He did not expect to draw the starting assignment for the 49ers' season opener Sunday against the Cardinals.

Spencer, who missed the final 14 games last season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, will not ease his way back into the starting lineup, either. His first assignment will come with a lot of coverage against Anquan Boldin, if Boldin plays, and the other talented receivers in Arizona's high-powered passing game.

"It would fall that way," Spencer said, laughing.

Spencer said he has been really concentrated on the fundamentals and technique during his rehabilitation. Spencer said he knew it was important for him to concentrate his rehab on staying low, bending his knees and being able to change direction quickly.

"If there was a chance I might be losing some speed, I knew I had to gain technique," he said.

And that's exactly what he did to win over coach Mike Singletary and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.

"He did his job consistently week-in and week-out in the preseason and in practice," Manusky said. "We like what we saw as a player and as a coaching staff, knowing the calls, doing his job and making a couple plays here and there. Just really playing clean and smooth, and that is what we liked about him."

Spencer is also three inches taller than both Bly and Tarell Brown, who was also considered for the starting job opposite Nate Clements.

"I think Shawntae is a physical player," Manusky said. "He has quickness, he has speed and he has great eyes. He can jam guys at the line of scrimmage. With all those combinations of what you look for in a cornerback, he has those, and that is why he earned the starting position."


The Cardinals are among the deepest teams in the NFL at receiver, but that depth could be tested in the season opener Sunday against the 49ers.

Anquan Boldin hasn't gone through a full practice since suffering a strained hamstring on Aug. 25. He did some light running on Thursday, but that was mostly to make sure he knew the game plan and his play-to-play assignments.

Steve Breaston, the third receiver, admitted he's not 100 percent recovered from a knee injury suffered in the first preseason game. Early Doucet, in his second season, is out with fractured ribs.

As a result of the injuries, quarterback Kurt Warner hasn't worked with two of his top three receivers as much as he would like. Warner's strength is his accuracy, and he places a heavy emphasis on timing and precise route running.

The changes at receiver played a part in Warner's struggles this preseason. He completed just 52 percent of his passes, didn't have a touchdown and had three throws intercepted.

Boldin hasn't been available to the media in the locker room this week, but has told some people he's intent on playing. On Wednesday, coach Ken Whisenhunt said the chances of Boldin playing are "very good."

On Thursday, he indicated that Boldin's availability could be a game-time decision.

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