Gameday Primer: Cardinals vs. 49ers

The regular season has arrived as the Cardinals attempt to get the season started in the right direction against the 49ers. A division victory would undoubtedly give the Cardinals an early season boost, but they must first put last year's demons against San Francisco behind them. AZRedReport.com breaks down the action as both teams stand to gain an immense amount of confidence from this contest.

When the 49ers Pass:

What do the Cardinals and the 49ers have in common? How about former first-round quarterbacks sitting on the bench behind well-traveled veterans. Mike Martz was the ignition switch behind the "Greatest Show on Turf" during Warner's MVP season in St. Louis. The Bay Area hopes he can rekindle that magic with another underrated passer named J.T. O'Sullivan. After enduring a string of losing seasons following the departure of Steve Young and Jerry Rice, the 49ers are looking to get back on track in 2008. Spoiled by having 15 years of quarterbacks named either Montana or Young, the relapse of Alex Smith has frustrated the coaching staff as well as fans.

Martz's pass first offense should benefit the stats of O'Sullivan and his receiving corps, but it is unlikely to translate into many victories. Former Cardinal Bryant Johnson will try to continue the progression of his career away from the desert. Isaac Bruce is attempting to finish his career with dignity and reuniting with his old coach Martz will certainly help.

The Cardinals wide variety of blitz schemes should make for a difficult day for O'Sullivan. If he is unable to stand in the pocket and allow Martz's complicated routes to develop, the 49ers offense will be unable to move the ball through the air. However, if the Cardinals cannot provide enough pressure, then O'Sullivan may just claim the title of "Warner 2.0".

When the 49ers Run:

Frank Gore and DeShaun Foster will provide a formidable running attack for the 49ers. Foster has been incredibly injury prone, even while splitting time in Carolina. To expect anything more than 10 games is unrealistic. Gore is a powerful back who would be considered an elite runner if he were not stuck on such a poor team. Even with defenses stacking the box regularly, he has still etched out multiple 1,000-yard seasons.

The success of this tandem would be even greater if it weren't for two factors. First, Martz hates to run. He is pass first mentality threw his way out of Detroit and could do the same in San Francisco. Second, the 49ers offensive line has no consistency. The unit has gone through quite a bit of shuffling over the past few months, and as Cardinal fans know, a revolving door anywhere on the offensive line can lead to serious problems. Most likely, Martz will run just enough to keep the defense honest, but establishing the run has never been one of his priorities.

Just For Kicks:

The 49ers will need all the help they can get against a resurgent Cardinals team. If they are going to claim their third straight victory in this match up they will need their special teams to be up to the task. Being able to kick accurately in a windy stadium like Candlestick Park is no easy feat. Joe Nedney was perfect from 50 yards or less last season and 17-19 overall. Nedney and punter Andy Lee need to combine for a solid performance if the 49ers are going to have a desirable outcome to the game.

When the Cardinals Pass:

Kurt Warner is the man in the desert (for now) and his goal is to get the Cardinals off to a fast start. The heated competition during training camp ended when Matt Leinart started mistaking Larry Fitzgerald for anything dressed in silver and black. Warner knows Martz's playbook inside out and he should be able to provide some valuable information to Arizona defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

Warner has shown great poise and leadership during his long career. By naming him the starter coach Whisenhunt clearly believes that he has something left in the tank. For Warner to be successful, he must protect the ball and minimize his penchant for turnovers. With weapons like Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, he should have no problem dissecting the 49ers secondary. With the Niners focusing on Boldin and Fitzgerald look for Edgerrin James to make a few catches to keep the defense guessing.

When the Cardinals Run:

San Francisco LB Patrick Willis has lived up to the hype and that could mean a poor start for James. A versatile linebacker who conjures up images of the original LT, he can wreak havoc on a run game while still helping in coverage. James should get his customary 20 carries, but don't expect a large output of yardage. Tim Hightower did not lose a fumble in four years in college, but has put the ball on the ground two weeks in a row. With coach Whisenhunt's emphasis on ball protection, it will be interesting to see if that hurts his playing time.

Warner is probably the least mobile quarterback in the NFL, so the defense will be able to bear down on run plays and then drop back into coverage without using a player to spy the quarterback. This could create match up issues throughout the game.

Look for Hightower to chip in an addition five to seven carries throughout the course of the game. Hightower is widely regarded as the Cardinals goal line back, but if his fumbling issues do not subside, Whisenhunt will not want to risk losing the ball close to pay dirt.

Just For Kicks:

Neil Rackers needs to start the season on a positive note. Any damage done to his fragile psyche could lead to another disappointing season. The Cardinals have been looking for a solid punter and unless Dirk Johnson steps up soon, the search will continue. Johnson and Rackers must adjust their kicking to deal with the uncertain weather conditions of Candlestick Park. Hopefully, the time spent in Flagstaff, AZ during training camp will help. Rackers powerful leg will almost guarantee touchbacks if the wind is blowing in the right direction.


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