Cardinals Prepare for 49ers

The Cardinals kick off the 2008 campaign as they travel to San Francisco to square off against the 49ers. While there is a much greater sense of stability in the desert than in years past, San Francisco made numerous changes following a 5-11 record last season. Brad Wilbricht previews Sunday's matchup and provides a scouting report on the 49ers new look.

The Cardinals look to avenge a pair of losses to their division rival, including a 20-17 opening day loss a year ago. Despite outgaining the 49ers 261-194 in total yardage, San Francisco managed to score the go ahead touchdown with only 22 seconds remaining. In the second matchup of last season, the Cardinals exploded for 552 yards of total offense yet lost 37-31 in overtime. Although veteran QB Kurt Warner threw for 484 yards passing, his overtime fumble led to the 49ers game-winning touchdown.

Arizona enters this year returning most of its nucleus from last season. Meanwhile, the 49ers feature a revamped look. Mike Martz was brought in as offensive coordinator and journeyman QB J.T. O'Sullivan will lead the new look San Francisco offense. O'Sullivan beat out former first-overall pick Alex Smith and third-year QB Shaun Hill during the preseason. Hill burst onto the scene last season with a 101.3 QB rating over the 49ers final three games, but was unable to secure the starting spot this year.

In addition to the quarterback position, the 49ers overhauled their wide receiving corps. Included in the new stable of receivers is former Cardinal Bryant Johnson. Johnson beat out Arnaz Battle and Jason Hill to win the starting position opposite of veteran WR Isaac Bruce. Martz and the San Francisco offense will look for more production from athletic TE Vernon Davis. Davis caught 52 passes for 509 yards last year and will once again be a valuable weapon in Martz's offensive scheme.

RB Frank Gore
(Gregg Trott/Getty)

On the ground, the Cardinals will recognize the familiar face of RB Frank Gore. Gore was held to only 55 yards rushing in the first matchup last year, but broke out for 214 total yards and two touchdowns in the two teams Week 12 tussle. Joining Gore in the San Francisco backfield this year is former Carolina Panthers RB DeShaun Foster. Like Gore, Foster is not only a threat to run the ball but is also a reliable target in the passing game.

The San Francisco defense is led by Pro Bowl LB Patrick Willis. Willis is the reigning NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year after racking up 174 tackles and four sacks last season. While the 49ers defensive line struggled a year ago, the addition of former Cincinnati Bengals DE Justin Smith and first-round draft pick Kentwan Balmer should make for a much improved unit in the trenches.

Veterans Nate Clements and Walt Harris return in the 49ers secondary to form a sufficient cornerback tandem. The two combined for eight interceptions and 27 pass deflections last season. Michael Lewis and Mark Roman are back to patrol the safety positions and will prove to be the last line of defense for San Francisco.

Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at

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