49ers vs. Cardinals: John Skelton will be eyeing the middle of the field

Hannah Foslien

We look at the recent work of likely Cardinals starter John Skelton and what the 49ers defense can expect on Monday.

Earlier today, Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt informed Bay Area media that it would take Kevin Kolb "a lot of recovery in the next couple of days [for Kolb to suit up on Sunday]." Odds would seem high that John Skelton will make his second start of the season for the Cardinals,

I took a look back at last week's Cardinals-Vikings game, and also checked out some of Pro Football Focus' numbers from the last two weeks. It is safe to say the first ten yards after the line of scrimmage are going to be where much of the action happens in the Cardinals passing attack. Against the Vikings, Skelton completed 15 of 20 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown in that 0-9 yard range. These plays were generally over the middle, with with a few to the left and right sides of the field as well.

Skelton was 5 of 10 for 89 yards and an interception on passes that went 10-19 yards in the air, and 5 of 5 for 26 yards on passes behind the line of scrimmage. The Cardinals mixed in a fair number of quick quick receiver screens with modest success.

According to PFF's breakdown of QB deep passing, Skelton has one attempt (inclomplete) targeting a player at least 20 yards down the field. Through the first four and a half games before getting hurt, Kevin Kolb had completed 4 of 15 passes to targets at least 20 yards down the field. This is not a team that takes a ton of deep shots.

It will be interesting to see how closely the 49ers safeties play, and how much cushion, if any, the 49ers give the Cardinals receivers. Last year, John Skelton and the Cardinals burned the 49ers on one deep pass, connecting on a 46-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald. You may remember this:

Screen_shot_2012-10-24_at_5

Dashon Goldson went to make a play on the ball and whiffed pretty badly. This started the Cardinals comeback from a 19-7 deficit.

Most of the 49ers yards came on passes that went 10-19 yards in the air. The Cardinals receivers compiled 130 yards and a touchdown on those plays. That does not include the play above. The 49ers were torched by Larry Fitzgerald, but also saw Early Doucet find some success. This season has seen Andre Roberts step up and find some success as the No. 2 behind Larry Fitzgerald.

The Vikings admitted they were focusing on Fitzgerald last week, which helped LaRod Stephens-Howling get his 100+ yards, and Andre Roberts haul in seven receptions for 103 yards. How should the 49ers defense focus on Monday against the Cardinals? They've shown they have an uncanny ability to stop the run using their pass defenses, so I would not be surprised to see a bit more nickel than base.

Although Skelton is turnover prone and rather inconsistent, I think the 49ers will still focus their defensive effort on Larry Fitzgerald. The 49ers will look to get a ton of pressure on Skelton, but given Fitzgerald's ability to haul the most random of passes, I still think the 49ers have to keep him locked down however possible. If Andre Roberts or Early Doucet go off, so be it. They are inconsistent enough that the 49ers can see what happens early on and adjust accordingly.

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