Cardinals-Lions Preview: NFC West Crown Still Pending

Chris FarmerCorrespondent IDecember 19, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - DECEMBER 14:  Wide receiver Anquan Boldin #81 of the Arizona Cardinals makes a catch in front of cornerback Dre' Bly #31 of the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on December 14, 2009 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

You have to like the Cardinals chances to bounce back after losing on Monday Night Football to the 49ers despite the short week and having to travel East. They haven't lost two games in a row this season and have won five of their eight games on the road.

They are facing a Detroit Lions team that not only has just two wins, but is without their starting QB, RB and possibly WR. Matthew Stafford is still out with an ailing shoulder, Kevin Smith is on IR, and Calvin Johnson is questionable.

There are some Cardinals injuries of note that will most definitely affect the outcome of this game and maybe more. While it appears Larry Fitzgerald is healthy enough to start and play after suffering what looked like a bad knee injury last game, Safety Matt Ware will not.

Ware has officially been placed on IR with a knee injury, paving the way for third round draft pick Rashad Johnson to make an impact. To date, most of Johnson's action has been on special teams. We will get to see how prepared the rookie is to spell Ware when the Cardinals go to their five and six-DB sets.

With kicker Neil Rackers nursing a partially torn groin and now ruled out for Sunday's matchup with the Lions, new acquisition Mike Nugent is thrust into an important role. Not only is Rackers adept at forcing touchbacks with his long kickoffs, he has only missed one field goal all year, and is arguably the best onside and pooch kicker in the league.

Nugent was signed primarily because of his familiarity with Punter Ben Graham, who was his holder when both played for the Jets.

Nugent's accuracy to date may be a source of concern for fans. The second round draft pick in 2005 never lived up to his lofty selection. He has a career accuracy percentage of 78.6%, and was released earlier this year by the Buccaneers due to misses.

Starting Tackle Mike Gandy has been ruled out for the Lions game as well. He has been battling a pelvic injury that hasn't healed properly, and you could tell as much in his limited participation against San Francisco. Jeremy Bridges will start in his place once more.

Finally, one of the biggest questions on the tongues of many Cardinals fans is can our young running backs play a game without fumbling the ball? Bob Baum calls it fumble fever, which is fair given the fact that all three backs that touched the ball last game fumbled, and there were five fumbles in all.

Workload twins Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells have now combined for nine total fumbles on the year with six of them lost. Even wideout Anquan Boldin has struggled, with three fumbles and two lost on the season.

Maybe this is the game the Cardinals regain their focus and get themselves prepared for another postseason run.

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