The San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals will face off in a game that will have a lot at stake for both teams. The Cardinals can clinch a playoff birth with a win and some help. The 49ers can position themselves to claim the NFC West division title with a win along with a Seattle Seahawks loss to the St. Louis Rams. Here are five things to watch for in this match up of physical football teams:
Crabtree has added another dimension to the 49ers offense. He gives them another option in the passing game. Last year, Crabtree was able to break the 49ers’ streak of seasons without a 1,000-yard receiver. He is a physical receiver that excels at winning at the line of scrimmage. He has given Peterson problems in the past. His ability to stay on the same page as Colin Kaepernick when the play breaks down is a testament to the chemistry that he has with his quarterback. This will cause Peterson to have to defend him for longer-than-normal periods of time. Crabtree has the rare ability to change direction which makes it that much harder to stay with him when plays break down.
If Peterson is able to shut Crabtree down, that will take away a true safety net for Kaepernick. Peterson will need to be able to defend Crabtree in the slot as well. That is always more difficult against a strong, physical receiver with the quickness of Crabtree. Crabtree is coming off of his first 100 yard receiving game of the season.
2) Superb Play By the Linebackers
The 49ers have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. The Cardinals have quite a duo themselves. Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington have played very well this season also. Dansby is back with the Cardinals after a stint with the Miami Dolphins and is back to playing on a Pro Bowl level. He has four interceptions, 18 pass break ups and more than 100 tackles this season. He also has 6.5 sacks on the season. Dansby will be a key part of the Cardinals attempt to limit the rushing offense of the 49ers. He comes up and fills the gaps with authority.
Washington is one of the more athletic linebackers in the NFL. He was suspended for the first four games of the season but his return sparked an upswing for the Cardinals defense. Washington will be relied upon to be a spy on Kaepernick because of his athleticism. This will play a key role in limiting the explosive plays that are generated when Kaepernick scrambles.
The greatness of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman was on display last week against the Atlanta Falcons. Willis did a very good job of covering Tony Gonzalez and had 18 tackles on the day. He was a force against the run as well. We saw this when he stuffed Steven Jackson on a third and short. We all know what Bowman did.
Look for these two linebackers to be relied more in zone coverage against the Cardinals. They will be relied upon to clog the passing lanes as the Cardinals try to get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald on slants and dig routes. The Cardinals will try to run the ball at times also, when they do, watch how Willis and Bowman go after the ball carrier like a heat seeking missile.
3) Will Calais Campbell Walk The Walk After He Talked The Talk?
It is rare that players hate another team the way that Campbell does and admit it freely. Campbell was on NFL AM recently and said that the Cardinals are the best team in the NFC. He feels that they will be able to stop Kaepernick and the 49ers offense. The last time these two teams played, Campbell was carted off on a stretcher with a scary neck injury. It is remarkable that he has come back. Campbell is a big body at defensive end and has been a force against the 49ers in the past. Look for him to be a disruptive player this week.
4) Frank Gore vs. The Cardinals Top Ranked Rushing Defense
This could very well be the last regular season game as a 49er for Frank Gore. The Cardinals are only giving up 84.5 rushing yards per game. Gore has topped 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season. He is the catalyst for the 49ers offense. The Cardinals will sell out to stop the run. Will Greg Roman stay committed to the run and keep pounding? That is the question. Gore is the type of running back that will get better as the game goes on. He is capable of squirting through the smallest hole and getting to the second level of the defense for a big gain.
Gore is fully aware of his contract situation and understands the business of the NFL. This could be the last go round for him as a 49er and you best believe that this already highly emotional player is going to leave everything that he has on the field every time he suits up.
5) Anquan Boldin Going Back To Arizona
This will be Boldin’s first time playing in Arizona since the Cardinals traded him back in 2009. Boldin is a very fiery player. He may not admit that this game is a personal one for him but I believe that it is. He has faced the Cardinals since the trade but never in Arizona. Look for him to continue to add onto his 1,000-yard season which is his first since 2009, his last year with the Cardinals. Boldin will see a favorable match up against Jerraud Powers. Watch how strong he is at the catch point and after he makes the catch. He has the ability to break tackles and gain extra yards after the catch.