It's not exactly a shocking statement to say that the 49ers defense has been atrocious. They can't generate a pass rush, the secondary gets beaten deep rather badly at least once a game. We can blame the quick exits of the offense as much as we want, but clearly the defense hasn't been performing up to par.
Monday night the 49ers defense squares off against one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Aside from New Orleans, the Cardinals might be performing better than anybody in the league. While their rushing game has been pretty weak, the passing game is 2nd in the league and they lead the league in points per game. Needless to say, a defensive performance like we saw against Seattle could lead to a blowout of epic proportions.
First a quick note on the Cardinals rushing attack. They've been pretty weak, whether you look at traditional counting stats, or DVOA. However, we are seeing a changing of the guard as Tim Hightower is taking over the starting job. Hightower put up 109 yards on 5.0 yards per carry last week against the Rams. Of course the Cardinals took care of business in that game so that opened up more chances to run the ball. In spite of the potential for Hightower to become a legit back in this league, the passing game is what the 49ers really need to worry about this Monday.
Kurt Warner has had great success against the 49ers in his career. He has faced the 49ers more than any other team in his career (11 times) and currently has a 98.4 QB rating with 3013 yards, a 65.1% completion percentage, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. This season Warner has had quite the rejuvenation in replacing Matt Leinart. He is on pace for over 4,800 yards and 32 touchdowns, both of which would be his highest totals since 2001. Things are clearly looking good for Warner.
In the season opener Warner only threw for 197 yards, with a running game that averaged a mere 2.8 yards per carry. The 49ers lost 4 fumbles and had 1 INT, which was enough to cap a 23-13 defeat. As I recall, the 49ers got a pretty solid amount of pressure in the first half, before losing it in the second half. The Cardinals circled the wagons and brought in more protection for Warner and the 49ers failed to adjust. A great second half for Boldin sealed the deal as the 49ers couldn't make anything happen.
So now we look to Monday night. What can the 49ers possibly do to contain an offense that has steadily improved this season and really seems to be clicking? It's not so easy to throw out predictions now that we're coming off a bye week with a new coach. While it's entirely possible the team comes out flat and the season is lost, I also think we could see big changes in performance on Monday. The optimist in me hopes that Singletary and Manusky have figured out something. Maybe the defense won't be the Monsters of the Midway or the Purple People Eaters. However, I think we all are just looking for a respectable effort. I realize the defense won't stop teams on every single 3rd down. I'm just looking for stops in some of those critical, momentum-changing moments.
Even a win will likely leave open plenty of questions. However, I also think a win will tell us a whole lot about this team and what Mike Singletary brings to the table as a head coach. Yes, he gets two whole weeks to figure something out and he won't have that much time in future games. But this game sets the tone for the rest of the season and the defense is where such a tone needs to be set. We may not have a phenomenal defense, but I do think we can have an effective defense. Monday night against the high flying Cardinals is as good a test as any.