Double Coverage: 49ers at Cardinals
December, 27, 2013
Getty Images, AP PhotoColin Kaepernick and the 49ers will face Karlos Dansy and an improved Arizona defense in a game with playoff implications.It doesn't get much bigger than this.
The Arizona Cardinals need to take care of business with a win over the San Francisco 49ers and need the New Orleans Saints to lose in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. While San Francisco has already clinched a playoff spot, it needs to win and needs the Seattle Seahawks to lose in order to clinch the NFC West title.
A lot is on the line, so don't expect anyone to lie down in this one.
ESPN.com's Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson discussed Sunday's big game in Glendale.
Weinfuss: It seems like the 49ers are finally hitting a groove this season. How has this team changed from the first half of the season, and are they peaking at the right time? If so, how far can it take them?
Williamson: This team has been pretty solid all year long. They've won 10 of their last 12 games and they've won five straight. The 49ers did stumble early when they started 1-2, but for the most part have been among the best teams in the NFL.
Josh, do you think the Cardinals are better equipped to beat the 49ers than they were in October when San Francisco won 32-20 at Candlestick Park?
Weinfuss: I do and mainly because they have a better understanding of the offense, and the defense has improved since Week 6. This offense finally gets the nuances of the scheme, which has allowed quarterback Carson Palmer to mix up short and long passes with a running game that's changed how the Cardinals are playing. The offensive line is giving Palmer more time and it's paying off.
With Michael Crabtree back, what does he add to this Niners' offense?
Williamson: He changes everything. Crabtree has been back for the past four games and his impact was immediate. And he may not even be 100 percent healed after tearing his Achilles in May. Still, Crabtree and quarterback Colin Kaepernick have a great chemistry. It also makes fellow receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis more dangerous because teams have to worry about Crabtree.
Josh, speaking of Davis, he had a monster game against the Cardinals in October with eight catches for 180 yards. Do you think the Cardinals can contain him Sunday?
Weinfuss: Contain might be the best word here. They're not going to flat-out stop him. But as the Cardinals' defense has shown in recent weeks, it's been able to contain tight ends, limiting players like Jared Cook, Zach Ertz and Delanie Walker to about 50 yards per game against Arizona. The defense has grown and become better than it was in the first half of the season, as was proved Sunday against Seattle.
What needs to happen for this 49ers team to make another run back to the Super Bowl? Are they built for that type of January again?
Williamson: I think so, yes. Many people think this is a deeper team, particularly on defense, than the 2012 NFC champions. The key for the 49ers is winning at Seattle in the postseason. For the 49ers to get to the Super Bowl, they will very likely have to go through CenturyLink Field.
Josh, speaking of winning at Seattle, do you think that win Sunday will push the Cardinals against the 49ers or could they suffer a letdown?
Weinfuss: That's a great question, but the one thing about Arizona this season is that it's stayed steady no matter how good or how bad the Cards are playing, which is a direct reflection of coach Bruce Arians. The Cards know what's at stake, and to them, beating Seattle was just another hurdle to clear. In reality, they didn't need to beat Seattle to make the playoffs, but it was better that they did. Arizona has known San Francisco is the game it needs to win in order to really give itself the best shot at making the postseason.