Heading into week eight of the 2012 NFL regular season, the San Francisco 49ers should be very aware of the impending game plan by their opponents, the Arizona Cardinals. Judging by the offensive output that the Cardinals have demonstrated this season, the 49ers secondary is in for a very busy Monday night. On the year, the Cardinals have thrown the ball a total of 257 times, as opposed to just 174 rushing plays. And with a daunting 49ers defensive front line, the expectations for a large number of rushing plays is not likely. Especially with the Cardinals number one and number two running backs in the depth chart on the injured reserve list.
It should be stated that third string running back LaRod Stephens-Howling has performed very admirably in the absence of Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells. Stephens-Howling carried quite a load last week against the Minnesota Vikings with 20 total carries for 104 yards and one touchdown. And that was against a very good Vikings defensive line. However, it is probably a safe bet that he will not be expected to carry that workload night in and night out. He carried the ball 20 out of the 26 rushing plays against the Vikings. He is undoubtedly talented, but at 4-3 on the season there is still hope for the Cardinals to make a playoff run, which means that there is a good chance that the Cardinals will ease up on his touches to save him for the later stages of the season. The unfortunate part of doing that is, that the back up running backs behind him have only played in four games each this season. And between the two of them, they only have 20 total carries.
It’s really a double-edged sword that the Cardinals have to walk in the Monday night game against the 49ers. On one hand they will want to limit the carries of their starting running back. And on the other hand, they end up throwing the ball too often. Endangering their returning starting quarterback again. John Skelton is back under center after sustaining an injury during the first game of the season. And he is only back because Kevin Kolb suffered an injury. It is no secret that the Cardinals offensive line is in shambles at the moment; they have given up 35 sacks on the year. And 29 of those have come in the last four games. To make matters worse, in the two games that saw the Cardinals attempt over 45 passes; they have given up 17 of those sacks. So it’s quite a quandary, if they throw more, they risk losing another quarterback. If they run more, they risk losing another running back.
The lesser of the two evils is throwing more and rushing less. Strictly attributed to the fact that they still have a wealth of talent in the wide receiver and tight end positions. If Skelton is able to get the ball out of his hands to his playmakers in those positions, they stand a chance to be productive. It may call for a new offensive passing scheme, with shorter routes and screen passes to get rid of the ball before the pass rush is on top of him. One of the highlights of the year for the Cardinals offense is their ability to distribute the ball to multiple recipients in the passing game. In six of their seven games this year, they have connected with seven or more pass catchers. They are deep in talent at wide receiver and tight end, and they obviously have the faith in those positions to produce.
In the end, it does stand to reason that the cornerbacks and safeties of the 49ers defense will be put to the test come Monday. A lot will be riding on the shoulders of how they perform. If the 49ers defensive front line gets constant pressure to Skelton, and makes him hurry decisions, the 49ers defensive backs may just have a huge impact on how this game turns out. If the pass rush is not there, the 49ers secondary will still be on call to keep the yardage to a minimum. Either way, it will be the 49ers secondary that take the stage on Monday.
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