Earlier this week, Alex Davidson from Revenge of the Birds took some time to chat with me on a Google+ Hangout. We had a chance to discuss a variety of things related to Monday's matchup between the 49ers and Cardinals and you can watch it above.
Since then, I've had a chance to chat with Jess Root of RotB and he was kind enough to answer five questions about the Cardinals. I returned the favor over at Revenge of the Birds. Head down below to read over what Jess has to say about his Cardinals.
Niners Nation: The Cardinals offensive line is struggling and receiving a lot of criticism. Where are the specific issues, and how do you think the Cardinals will attempt to improve the performance (beyond finding new players!)
Revenge of the Birds: Really, considering the situation, there is really only one thing that can be done. That is run the ball successfully. That will take the pressure off of the tackles. I'm not exactly sure what happened. Weeks 1-3 the line allowed only five sacks total. Granted, there was a lot of pressure, but they were keeping the quarterbacks clean for the most part. But since then, they have allowed at least five sacks in every single game. There has been a little more help given to the tackles, whether it be a back or tight end chipping the edge rusher. Also, in some shotgun sets, they have brought in fullback Anthony Sherman as the lone back for pass protection.
There is another issue -- continuity. With Levi Brown going down, only two of the linemen played together before. D'Anthony Batiste had not started at tackle, Adam Snyder was blocking for you all and Bobby Massie was in college. Part of the improvement will occur naturally, but the issue is what happens until then.
NN: LaRod Stephens-Howling surprised me (as a Williams Powell fantasy owner!) in getting most of the snaps last week. What happened and is he the guy going forward?
RotB: What happened was effectiveness. LSH once had a big running load -- last season in Week 17. He carried the ball 21 times for 93 yards. He showed he could do it. But against the Bills, it was his first game back from injury, so he was rusty. LaRod was always going to be the "starter," but the offensive workload will be predicated upon the hot hand.
NN: What can you tell us about the Cardinals pass defense? That seems to be the area of strength. Is it great play from the secondary, strong pass rush, or some combination?
RotB: It is very good, but it is balanced. The secondary now understands its assignments. They have two great safeties in Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes, a borderline superstar corner in Patrick Peterson and a guy who is well versed in the scheme in William Gay. Plus, the pass rush is good. They get sacks from all over the field. The biggest surprise has been the pressure up the middle from Daryl Washington, who leads the team with six sacks. He has done so while only rushing the quarterback 73 times, and he has three other hits and five other hurries. What makes the team good is that when the scheme is played correctly, you don't see big plays, and in the passing game, that is what kills you.
NN: Your rush defense seems to be a bit middle of the road right now. What can the 49ers expect from that group?
RotB: The rush defense is not elite by any means, but Adrian Peterson was the first back to get 100+ yards on them. A lot of that is because of how they play their nickel package. They play with two down linemen (Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell), taking out Dan Williams from the middle. Also, the players can miss tackles from time to time. They are, though good in the red zone and in goal to go situations.
NN: You guys had a post about the return of some help on special teams. Patrick Peterson's punt return numbers have been decent but not great this year. Is it those injuries in the blocking units, or something else?
RotB: Part of that is opportunity, part is on Peterson and part is the unit. teams are avoiding him, so he has less opportunities. However, I can recall, at least at home, three returns that were "that close" to becoming touchdowns. He has made a few mistakes and has pressed a little bit. He wants to make plays. The other factor is that when a year ago the return unit was great at finishing blocks and keeping assignments, they haven't done that. However, it is breathtaking to see him play. If there is any space at all, you can sense that something is about to happen.