So, I guess we'll soon find out just how important the pre-season is as far as timing and rhythm.
Everyone knows that the final score, wins and losses means absolutely zero as far as the regular season is concerned.
Those who still aren't convinced can look no further back than last season, when the 0-16 Detroit Lions went 4-0 in the preseason.
Be that as it may, there is some concern among the masses as to whether or not the Cardinals are 'ready' after a preseason that showed little on the scoreboard. Especially from the (albeit injury plagued) first string offense.
It's still not known, and won't be until game time, whether or not WR Anquan Boldin will play or not. Boldin's hamstring, which kept him out of the final two preseason games, will be a game time decision. Both he and coach Ken Whisenhunt seemed to agree that it wouldn't make sense to chance losing a few games, just to play in this one. But anyone that knows either, knows that Q will be on the field unless he really can't play.
WR Larry Fitzgerald will be out here, even though there were murmurs that he strained something or another in practice. I think that was a rumor started by a 'Madden curse' promoter. Steve Breaston played a little against Denver in the final preseason game, and has practiced this week. It looks like he can start if Boldin can't.
Warner makes it clear that while he 'wished' the first team offense got into a rhythm in preseason, he's not too concerned by it. Ditto coach Whiz.
The guess here is that Whisenhunt and offensive line coach/assistant head coach/running game quasi-play caller Russ Grimm will (all together now) try and establish the run early.
One of the amazing things about the NFL is that, you could be a team that's in the top two in passing offense, the bottom 2 in rushing offense, have no backs from the previous season amassing more than 600 yards, and coaches will INSIST that you 'need a good/great running game to win in this league'.
Now don't get me wrong. A solid running game is wonderful! It certainly comes in handy if you want to hold on to fourth-quarter lead and/or take time off the clock. its great when you can get a guy (or in the Cards case, duo) churning out 4+ yards per carry and 150 or more yards per game. It's even nice to have if for no other reason than to set up play-action. But alas, expect to see the Cardinals try and establish the run early.
Tim Hightower will get the start. He's been practicing like his hair is on fire, and knows he has a fine young back behind him in the pecking order.
If Hightower and rookie Chris 'Beanie' Wells can get going,..and get the safeties to move up, it could get ugly in a hurry for the 49ers. Especially in 3 and 4 receiver sets. Larry Fitzgerald lined up on the right side throughout the preseason. He'll be moving around a lot now, and setting up matchup issues for the 49ers CB's, now that it's for real.
That's a good sized 'if', when you consider that SF All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis will be just beyond the DL, and he rarely misses a tackle. A tenacious defender and tackler, Willis will be mirroring whoever lines up behind Warner. That's not something either RB looks forward to.
As noted in my 49ers preview, the 49ers play conventional 3-4 defense. With Willis, former first-rounder Manny Lawson, former Bengals first-rounder Takeo Spikes, and Parys Haralson, who had 8 sacks last year, make up a formidable group.
Expect to see little passes in the flat to spread out those LBs, especially to the right side manned by Cards would be pulling guard Deuce Lutui and tackle Levi Brown.
Haralson played well against the Cardinals last year and had two sacks in one game going against Mike Gandy. You may see some two TE sets if Gandy cant keep him away from Warner.
Its hard to really say what to expect from the Cardinals passing game without knowing the availability of Anquan Boldin. Few in the league are better than Q at catching the ball over the middle, or just shooting across on a short slant, and tuning it into a big play. He may not make as big a difference as Fitz, but he does things that Steve Breaston just cant do.
The Niners have an improving secondary, but they aren't great by any stretch. I do expect that Warner and his receivers, ..whoever they may be, will get into that elusive rhythm they so missed in the preseason. Warner can put the ball pretty much anywhere he wants when he's 'on', and there's no reason to think he won't be unless he's having hip-related issues.
I don't see a 100 yard rushing game out of either RB, but I DO expect to see between 100-120 yards as a team. That may not sound like much to many teams, but it would be just fine for the Cardinals.
Afterall, this is a team that actually uses the pass to set up the run. Sometimes not by choice, and almost always when they're ahead.
In other words, the Cards are that rare team that 'needs to' establish the passing game.