49ers vs. Cardinals: 3 Key Matchups to Watch for Arizona

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49ers vs. Cardinals: 3 Key Matchups to Watch for Arizona
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A strong start to the season for the Arizona Cardinals has quickly faded as they find themselves losers of three in a row.

A win on Monday Night Football would keep the Cardinals' playoff hopes alive, considering the Rams and Seahawks both lost today. Seattle is currently sporting a two-game losing streak and St. Louis has now dropped three in a row.

Defensively, Ray Horton's unit has been playing as expected during the teams three-game skid. With the rules favoring offenses in today's NFL, allowing 16.9 points per game is considered a win for any head coach.

Unless your offensive line is the worst in the league and your quarterback play rivals that.

This is the exact situation the Cardinals are in right now. It's unfortunate that their offense is as bad as it is because Horton's defense is just wasting away. 17.7 points per game on offense is atrocious—bad enough for sixth worst in the NFL.

If Arizona wants to taste victory on Monday night they are going to have to win one on one matchups. As I mentioned above, I know what I'm getting from this team defensively, so I will be focusing on the three biggest tests the Cardinals will face offensively.

 

Bobby Massie vs. Ahmad Brooks

When I said Arizona's offensive line was the worst in the NFL, I wasn't kidding. Offensive tackles D'Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie have a lot to do with the overall poor play of this unit. Injuries have forced both players into action, and I honestly expected the poor play from Batistebut not Massie.

Massie was a highly touted middle-round pick by many draftniks all over the Internet, yet I haven't seen anything from the rookie that convinces me that he belongs. So far this season he has allowed 12 sacks, two quarterback hits and 32 quarterback hurries according to Pro Football Focus

Not to mention PFF has him rated as their lowest-graded right tackle. Overall he is the second-worst offensive tackle behind his equally awful counterpart. How does it happen that one team sports the two worst offensive tackles in all of football? Talk about bad fortune.

By season's end Massie is on pace to allow 27 sacks—that has to be an unofficial NFL record.

Norm Hall/Getty Images

Unfortunately things don't get any easier for the rookie in Week 8. He will be squaring off against one of the best pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebackers in all of football. Ahmad Brooks has done a complete 180 since the end of last season.

At the end of 2011 Brooks was towards the bottom of the league in terms of production, and now he is on his way to a career year. Currently he has 26 total pressures, which is almost half of his production from last season. 17 of the 26 pressures have been quarterback hurries, six have been quarterback hits and three have been sacks.

One of the top outside linebackers in the game against one of the worst right tackles should make for an interesting turn of events.

 

LaRod Stephens-Howling vs. The 49ers' Run Defense 

When Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams were in the lineup earlier in the season Arizona never could get anything going on the ground, but as soon as LaRod Stephens-Howling stepped in the running game was immediately cranked up.

Is he better than Wells and Williams?

No he's not, but if you look at the numbers, he has gotten more of an opportunity than the other two backs. It took offensive coordinator Mike Miller a few games to realize that he needs to run the ball in order to be successful. Also, I think he realized he needed to run the ball more to keep the quarterback beatings to a minimum.

Over the last two games the Cardinals have ran the ball 56 times total—that's 28 carries a game. While Wells and Williams were in the lineup, Arizona averaged only 23 carries per game. Interesting as to why the current trend is for more carries, especially considering that the Cardinals played with more leads through the first five games than in recent weeks.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Regardless, the only thing the Cards can worry about right now is San Franciso's top-10 run defense. Even though the Marshawn Lynch broke the century mark last week on Thursday Night Football, the 49ers are still allowing only 3.8 yards per attempt and 98.9 yards per game.

Vic Fangio's defense is also tied for fourth as they've only allowed two rushing touchdowns all season long. Ahmad Bradshaw and Adrian Peterson are the only two running backs who punched it into the end zone against the 49ers.

Stephens-Howling isn't quite in the same category as Bradshaw and Peterson. However, his 104-yard, one-touchdown performance has his stock on the rise. If Arizona wants to keep the game close, they will run the ball with the purpose of shortening the game and controlling the clock.

 

Rob Housler vs. San Francisco's Pass Defense

While this may not be a matchup that everyone has in mind for Monday night's game, I think it may be one that has the potential to explode in Arizona's favor. Tight end Rob Housler is coming off of a career game in Week 7. He was targeted a career-high seven times and caught five of those targets for 54 yards.

The only thing he needs to do now is get in the end zone for the first time in his career. My bold prediction of Patrick Peterson getting his first punt return touchdown of the season fell flat on its face, so lets see if I can redeem myself.

My bold prediction for this week will be Housler scoring his first career touchdown against the 49ers. Even though San Francisco hasn't allowed much yardage to opposing tight ends, they have allowed plenty of touchdowns. The No. 1 pass defense has only allowed six receiving touchdowns all year—four of the six have been scored by opposing tight ends.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

That's the only reason I have hope for Housler. Every defense has one specific weakness and that's the weakness of Fangio's unit. With Todd Heap being listed as questionable, I have a feeling No. 84 will get plenty of opportunities.

If the Cardinals can indeed pull out the win at home they will find themselves back atop the NFC West at 5-3. Variables of the game are on their side. They are 3-1 at home this season and the Cards are 3-3 all time against the 49ers at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Not to mention the last NFC West team to beat Jim Harbaugh's squad was the Arizona Cardinals on December 11, 2011. John Skelton and company shutout San Francisco in the fourth quarter to pullout the 21-19 upset.

 

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