When the Arizona Cardinals take the field tonight, the team has a chance to do something it hasn't done in 34 years -- win two consecutive division titles.
Standing in their way -- the lackluster but troublesome San Francisco 49ers.
The two teams have met 36 times, with the Niners winning 20. Keep in mind, the majority of the games were in the post-Joe Montana/Steve Young glory years, and the Niners -- to put it politely -- sucked.
While the Cards, historically, have had trouble with San Francisco -- including a loss in week one of this season -- the Redbirds are a very different team than the one who fell to the feeble 49ers back in September.
After the week-one loss, Kurt Warner said the team just wasn't meshing. One look at the stat sheet from that game confirms Warner's assertion.
Kurt threw two interceptions and only completed 26 of 44 passes in the season opener. The running game was almost non-existent, with Beanie Wells getting 29 of the teams 40 total rushing yards.
Another factor in the loss in week one was Anquan Boldin. Boldin was coming off of an injury in the loss, and with only 19 total receiving yards, was not much of a factor.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, things have changed.
The Cards are more than meshing at this point in the season, and after last week's win over Brett Favre and Minnesota Vikings, the Cardinals should be considered one of the best teams in the NFC.
As far as the offense is concerned, Warner is at the top of his game right now, and the Cards have a stable of healthy receivers.
San Fran cornerback Nate Clements is out with a shoulder injury, which could open the floodgates for some deep Warner/ Boldin connections, as the rest of the 49ers secondary is trying to cover Larry Fitzgerald.
The 49ers have been successful against the Cards in the past because of the pressure the team puts on Kurt Warner. In the week-one loss, Warner was sacked three times and hurried almost the entire game.
However, over the last few weeks the Cardinals have been incredibly successful in using offensive backs as quick pass outlets for Warner when he's hurried -- something the team wasn't doing well in week one. Against the 49ers, a team that primarily plays its defensive backs in a deeper pass-coverage, short passes to a speedy wrecking-ball like Beanie Wells could lead to some big yardage if the linebackers collapse on Warner.
Defensively, the Cards are a little less sturdy. It can't be denied that the defense looked great last week against the Vikings, but you have to consider the previous week, when it allowed Vince Young and Tennessee to march 99 yards down the field and score a last-second touchdown to win the game.
That's been the story of the season for the Cards Jekyll-and-Hyde defense. One week they play great against a great team, and the very next week they get manhandled by an average-at-best offense at the most critical point of the game.
So the key to this one -- as is usually the case -- is defense. Can the 49ers contain the Cards air assault, and will the Cards defense show up? Let's hope so because the sooner the Redbirds clinch a playoff spot, the sooner games stop mattering. Then, Matt Leinart can have a few starts to get some much-needed experience. Let's face it, Kurt Warner's not gonna be around forever.
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