Ready for some predictions, including the first time I’ve guessed the score (in writing, anyway) this season? Alright, here goes …
Aldon Smith still holds the team lead in sacks with 4.5, but other 49ers could threaten that on Sunday. Ahmad Brooks has 2.5 sacks, and he goes up against Cardinals right tackle Eric Winston. Winston has allowed five sacks, five quarterback hits and 11 hurries this season. Next to Winston is right guard Paul Fanaika, who has given up two sacks, two hits and 13 hurries.
No. 38, Andre Ellington, has averaged 6.7 yards per carry in 18 attempts, but Mendenhall is the primary back and he’s been mediocre at best. He has 69 carries this season, and his longest run went for 11 yards. Eleven! His 3.2 ypc average is why the Cardinals rank 27th in that category as a team with a meager 3.5 ypc.
This is not the kind of rushing attack that should worry the 49ers at home, which means it’s going to be on Carson Palmer to pass Arizona to victory. Since Palmer is immobile and the 49ers know the Cardinals will try to get Larry Fitzgerald going — he only has 288 receiving yards, the lowest total through the first five games of his career — watch for more blitzes to pressure Palmer into some poor decisions. That’s where Bowman comes in.
The 49ers blitzed more often than usual in St. Louis, leading to two sacks for Bowman (also his total for the season). Whether or not Patrick Willis returns from a groin injury this week, watch for Bowman to take advantage of the Cardinals’ overmatched offensive line while they attempt to hold off Brooks, Justin Smith and Ray McDonald.
Sacks should come for Brooks and/or Bowman, as well as another guy with two sacks — Glenn Dorsey — who, according to Fangio, is “in the best shape he’s been in … since he’s been in pro football.” Even if the sack totals aren’t there tomorrow, the 49ers should be able to come up with at least an interception, perhaps more. Palmer has thrown at least one pick in every game this season, with seven over his last three games.
Tramaine Brock and Eric Reid are currently tied for the team lead in interceptions with two — that could also change on Sunday. The 49ers’ defense is top-10 against the pass in every category besides interceptions — they have six on the year, good for 13th in the NFL. Their rush defense hasn’t been quite as spectacular, but the Cardinals’ mix of below average blocking and lower-tier talent at running back shouldn’t give the 49ers any problems.
The 49ers are favored by anywhere from 10 to 11.5 points in this game, but the over/under sits at 41. That’s because the Cardinals’ defense isn’t too shabby either. Arizona has been crazy-stingy against the run so far this year, allowing just 3.3 ypc and only one rushing touchdown (the 49ers have allowed six, one fewer than they allowed during the 2012 regular season).
Tomorrow may be the time to not just unleash Bowman on Palmer, but to also let Colin Kaepernick show the world he can still throw the ball a little bit.
The Cardinals have a couple exciting young defensive backs in Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, and ILB Daryl Washington is strong all over the field. But the other two inside backers, Karlos Dansby and Jasper Brinkley, have been poor in coverage this season. This may be a good time for a breakout game from rookie tight end Vance McDonald.
Score prediction: 49ers 27, Cardinals 13