Before we dive into some of the key matchups, we must first ask this: Did anyone expect the Cardinals and the 49ers to boast the same record heading into Week 6?
Of course, this question is rhetorical, but the shock factor still remains and is directed more towards the inconsistent play of the 49ers than the surprising fact that the Cardinals are above .500.
Nevertheless, this should still be a great match. Like most matchups in the NFC West, the focus will be on the two teams' defenses more so than the offensive side of the ball.
Without further ado, let's jump into some three key individual matchups in the 49ers-Cardinals Week 6 tilt.
The 49ers will look to exploit a Cardinals defense that has surrendered major yards to tight ends thus far in the 2013 season.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, they'll have All-Pro linebacker Daryl Washington in the lineup for the second consecutive game. Remember, Washington was suspended for the first four games of the regular season before making his return in Week 5 against the Carolina Panthers.
If you missed the game, Washington was a game-changer in just his first game back. This was already a stout Cardinals defense, but with the return of Washington, this unit resembled organized chaos.
Washington was everywhere on the field, and more importantly, he seemed to give a spark to this Cardinals team. As ESPN reports, Darnell Dockett is one of those teammates impressed by Washington's dedication:
The guy works hard. All the plays that you all see him make, the plays during the game, we’re blessed to see him do those plays in practice. We watch him all the time.
If the praise from his teammate isn't enough, just look at his last four performances against the 49ers.
What does this say? Simply put, Washington is a huge playmaker at inside linebacker for the Cardinals.
Washington has the lateral quickness and athleticism to cover, while also possessing impressive instincts coming off blitzes. For Pete's sake, he had nearly ten sacks as a 3-4 'backer last year.
In all honesty, Washington reminds me a lot of NaVorro Bowman from the 49ers. The Cardinals are lucky to have Washington and will desperately need him against Vernon Davis and the 49ers.
Now, Washington won't be asked to cover Davis full time, but we can expect that he will match up with the Pro Bowler on several plays in this game.
Davis isn't completely healthy, but as we saw last week against the Houston Texans, the Pro Bowl tight end can still be a factor with the deep ball.
Don't be surprised if 49ers rookie tight end Vance McDonald has a big day. With the Cardinals focusing much of its interior coverage on stopping Davis, McDonald could find himself open underneath when the Niners deploy "12" or "22" personnel sets.
Anquan Boldin (WR) vs. Patrick Peterson (CB)
Anquan Boldin has been a godsend for the 49ers. As I have stated countless times before, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke deserves huge props for acquiring the veteran receiver.
Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson will likely be tabbed to shadow Boldin in Week 6, and while many expect Peterson to have success, I actually see the opposite occurring.
Peterson isn't the shutdown corner we all presume him to be.
Is he a terrific player? Yes, but I wouldn't yet place him in the Darrelle Revis or even the Richard Sherman category. Peterson is a very good corner, but he can struggle against receivers with great route-running ability. If you want proof, check out how Peterson fared against Michael Crabtree in 2012.
You want more proof? Check out this clip (ends at 1:38).
I've said it before, Crabtree and Boldin play a similar game. Both guys aren't great at creating separation at the line of scrimmage, but both players are excellent route-runners. Not to mention, both Crabtree and Boldin have great hands.
Nevertheless, Peterson still might be able to make a big play or two, and the corner's ability to come up with an electrifying game-changing moment makes this one of the better matchups to watch.
Eric Reid (FS) vs. Carson Palmer (QB)
One of the league's more impressive defensive rookies, Eric Reid has made a name for himself amongst this loaded 49ers defense.
The 49ers drafted Reid weeks after they let Dashon Goldson leave in free agency for Tampa Bay. I didn't expect Reid to make an impact on this defense until later in the season, if at all during his rookie campaign. However, Reid instantly changed my mind once I saw him play in the preseason, and his performances during the regular season have fulfilled the promise he showed in August.
Reid will be a special player in this league.
He has already helped transform this secondary and from what I've seen thus far, Reid brings a dimension to this defense that was lacking with Goldson.
Reid, paired with Donte Whitner, has all but taken away the deep ball for opponents. Teams have had difficulty throwing downfield against the 49ers.
The 49ers are ranked second against the pass—fifth overall in total defense. This secondary has given up only 10 plays over 20-plus yards and just one play over 40 yards. Both stats are good for third best in the league.
Reid even has two interceptions in five starts.
It will be tough sledding for Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer to sling it deep this week, but I still expect the former first overall selection to test the rookie early on.
The formula to beat the 49ers is relatively simple. If you can beat them up in the trenches and not become one dimensional, San Francisco becomes mortal.
However, the Cardinals really have no running game to speak of, as they rank 23rd in rushing through five weeks. Rashard Mendenhall, who leads the Cardinals ground attack, is averaging a paltry 3.2 yards per carry on the ground.
In addition, Palmer has shown to be an interception machine the last few weeks, including three picks in Week 5 against the Carolina Panthers.
Reid has played with the explosiveness and intelligence you demand from your safety. Don't be surprised if the rookie makes a huge impact this Sunday against the turnover-prone Palmer.