Arizona Cardinals: Anquan Boldin

Colin Kaepernick/Daryl WashingtonGetty Images, AP PhotoIf 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick wants to run, he'll have to contend with Cardinals LB Daryl Washington.
A battle of 3-2 NFC West teams is on hand as the San Francisco 49ers welcome the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. ESPN.com's Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson discuss the key division game:

Weinfuss: Has Colin Kaepernick hit any form of a sophomore slump?

Williamson: I can see why you'd think that -- his numbers are down. However, he is not playing terribly. The big issue is the 49ers really miss injured receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham. Frankly, other than Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis, Kaepernick is not throwing to NFL-quality receivers. So the 49ers are relying on the run game. Still, Kaepernick is the long-term prospect we all thought he was after his Super Bowl run last season.

Do you get the sense the Cardinals think they can shut down Kaepernick?

Weinfuss: After what the Cardinals were able to do last Sunday against Cam Newton -- all but shutting him down in the second half -- their confidence is sky-high right now, especially the defensive line. There’s no shutting down a quarterback as good as Kaepernick, but with linebacker Daryl Washington back, the Cards have someone athletic enough to put on spy patrol, which could limit some of the things Kaepernick can do running-wise. Arizona saw what Kaepernick did last year, but the Cardinals are feeling good about their chances.

What has Boldin, a former Cardinal, added to the 49ers' offense?

Williamson: Oh, the 49ers would be lost without Boldin. Acquiring him for a sixth-round pick from Baltimore was a potential season-saver. He is Kaepernick’s safety net. He had a whopping 13 catches in the season-opening win over the Packers, and though he hasn’t made quite that big an impact since, he has been vital to this offense. I think he will be even more dangerous when Crabtree and Manningham come back because of the matchup issues he'll present.

Do you think the Cardinals’ secondary can contain Boldin?

Weinfuss: Yes, I do, but only to a certain point. If cornerback Patrick Peterson lines up on him, Boldin could have a tough day just based on what Peterson has done to guys like Calvin Johnson. Expect to see the Niners run Boldin over the middle, because in their last few games the Cardinals have left that part of the field wide open. If cornerback Jerraud Powers is on Boldin, expect the receiver to get some big yards before contact. But with Arizona’s recent success against wide receivers, I can see Boldin being limited.

Can the 49ers repeat in the West and the NFC and head back to the Super Bowl?

Williamson: The 49ers trail Seattle by a game in the division. They simply want to stay on the right track after their 1-2 start and get into the playoffs, and then try to repeat as conference champions. But if the 49ers can get all their injured players back, and Aldon Smith can come back from his treatment for substance abuse, there is no reason to think this team can’t make a serious Super Bowl run.

Do you think the Cardinals can get in the way of the 49ers’ and Seahawks’ plans?

Weinfuss: That’s a great question. Not sure if they can get in the way, but the Cardinals have the potential to be nipping at their heels -- if only they could get their offense going. Coach Bruce Arians seems to think they’re getting closer, and to his credit, they are eliminating more mistakes every game. But the offense still has a way to go. The only way the Cards can get in the way of the Niners -- I don’t see them bothering the Seahawks -- is if the defense starts scoring points and lessening the load on the offense. Then we might see the Cardinals making a race out of the second spot.

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#NFLRank: A full NFC West accounting

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
1:40
PM ET
Fifteen San Francisco 49ers and 13 Seattle Seahawks helped the NFC West account for a disproportionate number of players listed in the #NFLRank project from ESPN.

Sixty-three voters helped rank 100 top players on each side of the ball. NFC West teams accounted for 20 players on defense and 16 on offense. The 36-player total works out to 18 percent representation for the NFC West, above the 12.5 percent expectation for any division.

The chart shows where NFC West players ranked on each list. I shaded offensive players in gray to better distinguish the rankings.

The 49ers' Patrick Willis and the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald have long been perceived as the best players in the division. They've got additional competition, but those two ranked higher than anyone else in the NFC West.

There were sure to be oversights in a project of this scope. Defensive end Calais Campbell of the Cardinals stands out to me as the most glaring one. I might have placed him between Patrick Peterson and Chris Long in defensive rankings as they stood for this project.

Three Seahawks cornerbacks earned spots on the list even though one of them, Antoine Winfield, reportedly could be released by the team Saturday in the reduction to 53 players Saturday.

A quick look at ranked players by team:

San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Willis (3), Aldon Smith (10), Justin Smith (11), Vernon Davis (18), NaVorro Bowman (18), Joe Staley (25), Mike Iupati (32), Frank Gore (37), Colin Kaepernick (42), Ahmad Brooks (56), Anthony Davis (60), Donte Whitner (64), Michael Crabtree (78), Anquan Boldin (83) and Jonathan Goodwin (92).

Seattle Seahawks: Richard Sherman (8), Earl Thomas (17), Percy Harvin (26), Marshawn Lynch (27), Brandon Browner (46), Russell Wilson (47), Russell Okung (49), Kam Chancellor (49), Max Unger (57), Bobby Wagner (67), Winfield (70), Cliff Avril (74) and Chris Clemons (85).

St. Louis Rams: Long (40), James Laurinaitis (57), Jake Long (61), Cortland Finnegan (63).

Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald (7), Patrick Peterson (19), Daryl Washington (59) and Darnell Dockett (79).
The NFC West complied with the 75-man roster limit Tuesday by releasing some players and placing others on various reserve lists.

The chart shows how many players each team from the division is carrying by position. Note that figures for defensive lineman and linebacker can be tricky, so a generic "front seven" figure could be more relevant in some cases.

One observation per team:
  • Arizona Cardinals: Injury concerns have led the Cardinals to carry additional players at tight end. Starter Rob Housler suffered a high-ankle sprain and might not be ready for the opener. Veteran Jeff King has not yet played during preseason. The team added Richard Quinn as short-term insurance. Housler and King both passed physicals and have practiced during camp, making them ineligible for the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Both are expected back sooner than PUP rules would allow, anyway. For now, though, their injuries are creating roster challenges. Guard Jonathan Cooper is also ineligible for PUP. He could go on the injured reserve list with a designation for return later in the season.
  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers have 10 wide receivers on their 75-man roster, tied for most in the NFL even after placing Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham on the PUP list. Four or five of their remaining cuts figure to come at that position. The 49ers' wide receivers are the oldest in the NFL by average age thanks to Anquan Boldin (32) and Kassim Osgood (33). If Osgood sticks on the 53-man roster, special-teams contributions will explain why. Boldin, Jon Baldwin, Kyle Williams, Quinton Patton and Marlon Moore would be by picks if the team kept five.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Defensive end Chris Clemons remained on the roster instead of shifting to the reserve/PUP list, another indication the team thinks he could return from knee surgery sooner rather than later. The PUP designation would allow Clemons to resume practicing between Oct. 15 and Nov. 19, but all signs point to Clemons being ready before that. Seattle needs him, too. Bruce Irvin faces a four-game suspension. Cliff Avril has a hamstring injury that could affect his availability for the opener. Keeping Clemons in play for Week 1 makes sense as long as there's a chance he could be ready by then.
  • St. Louis Rams: The Rams are a little heavy at tight end while Cory Harkey recovers from injury and Lance Kendricks gets back to full speed following knee surgery. The Rams' roster appears pretty normal overall. The decisions looming appear straightforward. That could change as the team continues to build its depth.

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