Cardinals vs. 49ers: Breaking Down Arizona's Game Plan

Andrew Nordmeier@@AndrewNordmeierContributor IIIDecember 26, 2013

Vernon Davis (left) scores behind Yeremiah Bell.
Vernon Davis (left) scores behind Yeremiah Bell.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Arizona Cardinals are in a must-win situation against the San Francisco 49ers in the regular-season finale at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET on Fox).

There was a way to beat the Seahawks in Seattle and the Cardinals found it last week. They’re going to need another excellent performance this week to get the win.

But how do they pull another rabbit out of their hat? Read on and see how Arizona can pull off one more win and do everything they can to snag a wild-card spot.


Shut Down Vernon Davis

Last time out, Davis tore through the Arizona defense for a career-high 180 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions. Let’s break down the film and find out how Davis did it.

He was able to get behind the defense on both touchdowns, and Yeremiah Bell was victimized on both of them. game film, draggable media in MS Powerpoint

On the first touchdown, the Cardinals are looking for a running play. San Francisco has three tight ends to the right of the formation including Davis (yellow circle). They wind up having 10 players in the box thinking it’s going to be a Frank Gore run, but the 49ers have other ideas. They fake to Gore, and Davis goes streaking down the middle of the field (yellow lines).

In the process, he runs through all four Arizona defenders with red circles on them. The Cardinals could have jammed him at the line of scrimmage or any point within the first five yards (white box), but they never do. Bell can’t come down and try to jam him because of his field position and the fact he has no over-the-top support should Davis break free.

Colin Kaepernick (yellow circle) backs out from under center and rolls to his left. He winds up with a nice pocket and lobs a strike to Davis for a 61-yard touchdown pass. game film, draggable media in MS Powerpoint

On the second touchdown, Davis is split out wide and has a one-on-one matchup with Bell. Bell didn’t jam Davis at the line which was part of the problem. Bell is able to keep up stride for stride with Davis all the way to the goal line. Bell takes a late leap to try and swat the ball away and misses, giving Davis the touchdown.

Last week against the Atlanta Falcons, he didn’t record a catch so he’s due to see more passes his way. The Cardinals have to jam Davis on the line each chance they get, and they clearly can’t afford to let him get behind the defense.


Adapt to a Healthy 49ers Team

Last time around, San Francisco didn’t have Michael Crabtree nor Mario Manningham in the lineup. Having those two receivers back takes pressure off of Anquan Boldin and Davis in the passing game.

San Francisco now has multiple threats in the passing game which makes Colin Kaepernick a serious threat. This is going to force Arizona to have solid man-to-man coverage which will be put to the test this week.

Crabtree poses a serious test, according to Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic. That’s going to put a lot of pressure on cornerback Patrick Peterson. In four career games against Peterson, Crabtree has racked up 427 yards and four touchdowns on 27 catches.

Peterson needs to have his best game of the season for Arizona to have a chance here. Not just for the on-field implications but also for the off-field ones, too. Peterson fired his agent, Patrick Lawlor, about a month ago, and with this being his third year into his rookie deal, the time is now to try and strike a big deal for a contract extension.


Run the Ball Like They Did Against Seattle

This is a pretty simple concept. The Cardinals ran the ball rather effectively against the Seahawks, racking up 139 yards on 43 carries. That also helped Arizona hold on to the ball for 37:24 of the game which was a big key to victory last week.

San Francisco has a reputation for being a tough team to run against. The more damage Arizona can do on the ground, the better the team’s chances for success will be.

When you put it together with obvious factors like limiting penalties and turnovers, this is how Arizona can beat San Francisco to get to 11-5. It might not be good enough to make the playoffs, but it would show Arizona did everything it could to get there.