Matchup: 49ers @ CardinalsMonday, October 29, 2012
Monday Night Football
San Francisco @ Arizona
If the Giants are fielding 2012's premier pass-blocking line, the 49ers are their equal in terms of run blocking. This is a beastly front five that kicks the tar out of opponents in two-tight end jumbo sets. The Niners lead the NFL in rushing yards per game, and no team could match San Francisco's team yards-per-carry average (5.89) or volume of 20-plus-yard runs (10) entering Week 8. Frank Gore also happens to have a favorable Monday night matchup. Fully recovered from his rib scare two Thursday nights ago, Gore will square off with a Cardinals defense that has surrendered 331 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 62 carries (5.34 YPC) over its last two games. The Niners do have perhaps the NFL's toughest run-defense schedule for the fantasy playoffs (vs. MIA, @ NE, @ SEA), so Gore will remain a recommended sell-high candidate over the next few weeks. ... 49ers No. 2 tailback Kendall Hunter continues to impress on his change-of-pace opportunities, averaging 5.16 YPC with six catches for 73 yards. Hunter isn't a fantasy option as long as Gore is healthy, but he's squarely on the radar as a lottery-ticket, late-season stash. Gore is 29 with over 2,000 career touches worth of wear on his tires.
Be it due to a mysterious finger injury or waning confidence as Jim Harbaugh increases backup Colin Kaepernick's game-day contributions, Alex Smith has taken a major step back since his hot start to the year. He's completed 33 of his last 55 passes for 340 yards (6.18 YPA) and a 1:4 TD-to-INT ratio. Smith is dinking and dunking again. Regardless of whether he's playing well -- and he isn't right now -- Smith is no more than a back-end QB2. The Cardinals are playing top-four pass defense, so look for Harbaugh to attack them with the run. ... Vernon Davis laid a Week 7 goose egg in large part because he spent most of the Seattle game as an in-line run blocker. Not even targeted, Davis' reduced pass-catching role appeared to be specific to that week's game plan. Look for Davis to get back on track this week. ... Mario Manningham returns from his shoulder injury as a low-end WR3 on Monday Night Football. He is clearly ahead of Randy Moss and Kyle Williams on the depth chart, but figures to draw Patrick Peterson in primary coverage and can be taken out of games with physical jamming at the line. ... Michael Crabtree ate up Peterson's off-coverage cushion for a 7-120 line in November of last season. The Niners and Cards met again in December and Peterson got the better of their matchup, holding Crabtree to 63 yards on seven catches. San Francisco has more receivers this season to occupy Peterson's coverage, and Crabtree can be a PPR asset on Monday night. He's just never a good bet to score touchdowns. Including January's playoffs, Crabtree has found pay dirt once in his last eight games.
Cards scatback/returner La'Rod Stephens-Howling's Week 7 stat line (20-104-1, 4-45) is awfully deceptive. Plenty of fantasy owners will "chase" last week's points into Week 8. Don't be one of them. As acknowledged after the game by coach Leslie Frazier, Minnesota's defense sold out to eliminate Larry Fitzgerald (4-29), and in exchange allowed Arizona to run the ball with success. "Take away Number 11," Frazier said, when quizzed about his game plan. "They might get some runs, but can't give them big plays over the top." The strategy worked in Minnesota's 21-14 win. 49ers DC Vic Fangio is a more conventional thinker, rarely designing game-specific defensive plans. San Francisco can take away Arizona's run game by simply winning the trench battle. And they should do so handily in this contest. ... Coach Ken Whisenhunt had planned to ride the "hot hand" entering Week 7. Stephens-Howling had it, so William Powell finished with just five touches. This is an incredibly difficult matchup for an Arizona team that can't run block. Avoid the Cards' backfield in Week 8.
John Skelton is a streaky passer with major shortcomings as an athlete and placer of the ball. He faced this 49ers' defense twice last year and was picked off three times without a touchdown in the first game. Skelton threw for 289 yards, three scores, and two interceptions in the second go-round. Skelton isn't even on the two-QB league radar Monday night, but all is not quite lost for Fitzgerald despite last week's 29-yard game. Fitz found pay dirt in both of his 2011 meetings with San Francisco. ... The 49ers rank No. 1 in both total defense and pass defense. The statistics say Arizona is highly unlikely to enjoy success from a passing standpoint in this matchup. If Fitzgerald is going to get "his" on Monday night, there probably won't be much left over for the likes of Andre Roberts, Rob Housler, Early Doucet, and rookie Michael Floyd. ... Roberts is a clear-cut WR4, and nothing more. He can have solid games when opponents sell out to eliminate Fitzgerald. I think the 49ers will do what they normally do on defense in this game, and Roberts will come away with something more like his two 2011 lines against San Francisco: 3-51, 2-8-1.
Score Prediction: 49ers 20, Cardinals 13