A glance at five top storylines for Sunday’s Cardinals-49ers game at University of Phoenix Stadium:
- The Gore point
Only one rusher has cracked the 100-yard barrier this season against the Cardinals’ No. 1-ranked run defense. That’s San Francisco’s Frank Gore, who had 101 when the 49ers beat the Cardinals in October. Bruce Arians said the Cards’ defense learned something that day from Gore and the punishing drive the Niners used to salt the game away following
- Let’s get physical
If it wasn’t already clear that winning in the NFC West started with being physical, it was driven home with last week’s trip to Seattle. The Cardinals held up at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball against the Seahawks. And it’s what they couldn’t do for 60 minutes in San Francisco the first time the teams met. Arians challenged his team to be the more physical team last week, and there is little question the Cardinals have understood the concept of the new NFC “Best.”
- Keep your hands on the ball
The Cardinals have beaten the 49ers just once since 2009 began, and the theme to many of those losses have come through turnovers – including the crucial fumble by wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald one what should have been the go-ahead scoring drive back in their October meetings. The Cards turned the ball over four times (and had just two takeaways) and in nine games (and a 1-8 record) against the Niners, the Cards are a minus-21 in turnover ratio (28 Arizona turnovers to just seven for the Niners.) Painful anyway you slice it, and something that needs to be overcome. It’s probably safe to say the Cardinals couldn’t overcome a second straight week of four
- On second thought
As the Seahawks found, the Cardinals are a different team than the one they played in October. The 49ers are different themselves – it’s notable that wide receiver Michael Crabtree is playing again -- but the Cardinals now have settled down on the offensive line, have created a better run game and have without question upped the level of defense they are playing. The Cardinals started 0-3 in the division, but have a chance to finish 3-3 with a team wholly improved since the first time through.
- But it goes to 11
The Cardinals can still make the playoffs, as long as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are able to deliver a win in New Orleans no one expects. But that only works if the Cards can win – and in the end, that’s all the Cardinals can control is that drive for an 11th victory. It will be hollow to an extent if the playoffs aren’t reached, but for a franchise that has never won 11 games since moving to Arizona, it’s still a significant achievement. Few expected such a season in Arians’ first year. Beating the 49ers to do so would make it even more special.