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.