Take a quick glance at the tale of the tape for Monday night’s showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals.
The 49ers put up 79 points in consecutive blowouts of the Jets and Bills, but they've scored just 16 points in their past two games. Quarterback Alex Smith's inconsistency has resurfaced with two straight lackluster efforts. Look for the 49ers to feed running back Frank Gore against a Cardinals defense that has been much better against the pass than the run.
The Cardinals won their first four games, but they've fallen flat the past three weeks with losses to St. Louis, Buffalo and Minnesota. Arizona has averaged just 11 points during the losing streak. John Skelton is expected to make his second straight start at quarterback. Skelton is 6-0 at home as a starter, including last year's win over the 49ers in which he had a career-best 106.5 rating. Injuries have decimated Arizona's offense, which is leaning on LaRod Stephens-Howling - who started the season as the third-string back - to carry the load.
San Francisco leads the NFL in total defense (272.3 yards per game) and ranks second in scoring defense (14.3 points per game). The 49ers pass rush will look to take advantage of a Cardinals' line that has given up 35 sacks in seven games, including 29 in the last four, and is on pace for 80 sacks -the second-most in NFL history.
Arizona's pass rush has been strong, producing 22 sacks (third in the NFL), and getting pressure on Smith will be key to the Cardinals' success. The defense has yielded 331 rushing yards in the past two games, but surrendered only 14 points in each of those losses.
49ers punter Andy Lee earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors, after pinning the Seahawks inside their own 20-yard line on four of five punts in the 13-6 victory last week.
The Arizona Cardinals should get a boost to their special teams squad with the return of Anthony Sherman (knee) and Reggie Walker (concussion). Return man Patrick Peterson leads the NFL in punt return yards -- 229 of them through seven games. But his average, 8.8 yards per return, puts him in the middle of the pack and his longest return this year is just 26 yards.
Word on the street
“When you think of the Cardinals you’re going to think of Larry Fitzgerald, obviously, And he’s one of the top receivers in our league, if not the best receiver in the league. Future Hall of Famer and justifiably so, and he’s a tough guy to handle. He’s big. He’s fast. He’s strong. He’s tough to tackle after he catches it. So, him in and of himself is a tough chore.” --49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on Larry Fitzgerald.
"They're not giving me a chance, really, honestly, they're (the opposition) putting the ball close on the sidelines so they can ... kind of bottle me on the sideline and vise me in versus giving me the whole field to work with." --Peterson on why he hasn’t returned a punt or kick for a TD yet this season.