GAME PLAN: The Cardinals need to connect on pass plays early. They thought they had opportunities three weeks ago in San Francisco, and didn't take advantage of them. The 49ers don't have many breakdowns on defense, so it's important to convert on the plays the Cardinals do have.
Defensively, the Cardinals need to continue to play well on third down. The 49ers love long drives that consume considerable time. The Cardinals need to force QB Alex Smith into some mistakes, or at least keep him from making plays on third down. The 49ers hurt the Cardinals three weeks ago with critical passes to Kyle Williams and Michael Crabtree.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson vs. 49ers WR Michael Crabtree -- Crabtree caught 7 passes for 120 yards three weeks ago, most of that coming against Peterson. Peterson gave Crabtree considerable cushion that day and needs to play tighter.
Cardinals DE Calais Campbell vs. 49ers LG Mike Iupati -- Iupati is a physical player and Campbell is the Cardinals' best lineman. At 6-8, Campbell has a tendency to get too high coming out of his stance. Iupati is strong enough to move him out of the gap if Campbell does that.
49ers TE Vernon Davis vs. SS Adrian Wilson -- Davis had five receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting. Wilson won't be on Davis all the time, but a lot. This is always a fun matchup.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Safety Kerry Rhodes returned to practice this week after missing seven games with a broken foot. It's questionable if Rhodes will play this week. When he does return, the Cardinal will have interesting decisions to make. The secondary has played well in recent weeks. Rashad Johnson replaced Rhodes in the base defense, with Richard Marshall moving from cornerback to safety in sub packages.
Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling has caught just eight passes this season, but he's gained 192 yards on them and scored twice. Stephens-Howling is dangerous in the open field, but the Cardinals haven't been able to get him the ball enough because of failures on third down. Possessions have ended too quickly, minimizing opportunities for Stephens-Howling.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- That's the number of touchdowns the Cardinals defense has yielded in the past five games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "At this level it's hard to do, and I want to do it this year. I didn't have a goal to get 1,000 yards, it's just something I wanted to do. I'm just excited." -- Beanie Wells on possibly hitting the 1,000-yard mark in rushing this season. He's 84 yards away entering this week.
Cardinals: Game Plan & Matchups To Watch
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