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MNF: Cardinals vs. 49ers

Coming off a hard-fought defensive-minded win against another division rival in Seattle last week, the San Francisco 49ers (5-2) will look to extend their NFC West lead to two games this week as they take on the 4-3 Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals began the season as the NFL’s biggest surprise, starting 4-0, but since have dropped three games in a row. Was their early showing just smoke and mirrors and have they been truly exposed in recent weeks? Or can they prove themselves again against the division leaders and grab a share of the division lead? We will certainly find out tonight on Monday Night Football, the biggest NFL stage of the week as the entire nation will be watching.

It should be another war in the trenches tonight

Based on the numbers coming into this contest, it looks to be another NFC West defensive slugfest. The 49ers are the best in the NFL when it comes to total yards allowed and second in points allowed, giving up just 14.3 per game, but the Cardinals take pride in themselves on that side of the ball as well. Arizona is giving up just 16.9 points per game, which is good for fourth best in the league and 312.1 yards, which ranks seventh. Not surprisingly, the over/under for this matchup is set at 38.5 and if these two defenses are at the top of their games, it could be a good idea to go with the under.

However, while the Cardinals are clearly having offensive issues, the games in which the Niners have struggled to score points, like last week, have been more so a product of facing good defenses than San Fran playing poorly on offense. Of course, for the 49ers, it all starts with the running game and last week Frank Gore rushed for a season-high 131 yards and that was before coming out of the game early with bruised ribs. He’ll be ready to go today though after resting for 10 days since Thursday’s win. The Cardinals have been pretty good against the run this season, allowing 121 yards per game, but they will have their hands full with Gore and with a team that loves to pound the ball on the ground.

After establishing the run game, look for Smith to go to play action to catch the Cardinals napping

If the 49ers are able to run the ball even somewhat successfully, this then sets up their passing attack led by quarterback Alex Smith, who is off to a fine start this season. Smith has thrown for nearly 1500 yards and nine touchdowns to just five interceptions so far, but failed to connect with his favorite target, tight end Vernon Davis last week. Davis was taken out of the game by double coverages, but in doing so, Seattle gave more room for Gore to run. It will interesting to see what Arizona does today. It seems like they trust their secondary guys to cover well one-on-one, so they may commit more to the run, which could open things up for Smith and Co.

The Cardinals will need to find a semblance of an offensive attack to match them, but this is a team that has struggled to find rhythm on that side of the ball, averaging just 89 yards on the ground as a team and against the 49ers run defense, that number is not likely to improve much if at all. If the 49ers control the ball like they should, expect them to win today and extend their division lead.

I do like San Fran in this one, but I do think it will be a grinding trench war type game that will be low-scoring, allowing the Cardinals to cover +7 points. Also, the fact that the Cardinals are at home will help them cover that spread. Take the Niners to win, but Zona to cover tonight.




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