We take a look at the 49ers-Cardinals Week 17 matchup, through the eyes of a Cardinals blogger.
Earlier this week, I had a chance to chat with Jess Root from Revenge of the Birds and he provided some thoughts on this weekend's matchup between the 49ers and Cardinals. You can discuss the game in here, and we also have an Ask Cardinals fans FanPost on NN, as well as an Ask 49ers fans FanPost on Revenge of the Birds. Thanks to Jess for taking a few minutes to chat.
Niners Nation: Brian Hoyer was just named starter for Sunday. Can you give us the lowdown on him? Strengths, weaknesses, some background?
Revenge of the Birds: Hoyer has been with the team almost three weeks. There isn't much to know about him yet, other than he was the backup to a couple of good quarterbacks -- Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. He's bald and has a very good arm and a quick release. We know that because of his time with the Steelers and Todd Haley, he is at least familiar with the offense that the Cardinals runs.
He had a little bit of playing time last week against the Bears. He was quick with the ball and cares about turning the ball over. Postgame comments indicate that he takes mistakes like that hard.
In short, he is a bit of a mystery to everyone in Arizona right now. And the fact that he is starting instead of one of the other quarterbacks on the roster is very telling about the QB situation here.
NN: The Cardinals started 4-0, and then basically fell off a cliff. What was going right during the early streak, and what has gone wrong during the subsequent struggles?
RotB: The big difference between 4-0 and 5-10? It is the offense. During the winning streak, the offense was producing just enough and taking advantage of scoring opportunities with a short field that the defense or special teams units gave them. In the first three wins, while there was pressure on the quarterback, the offensive line only allowed five sacks. After that, the floodgates opened and the flaws of the team's tackles were on film, and then it was sack after sack after sack. Once Kevin Kolb went down, everything compounded. The offense was not getting first downs, the quarterbacks were getting sacked and then there were turnovers.
The QB numbers? Kevin Kolb threw for eight touchdowns and three interceptions. The other quarterbacks combined? Only two touchdowns and 17 interceptions, three that were returned for touchdowns.
Defensively, they have been great except for the game in Seattle. They have stopped teams and made quarterbacks look bad. They gave up a few plays, but that would not have been such a big deal had the offense been able to produce anything.
In all, the defense has been consistent. The offense, which was below average at best to start, became abysmal.
NN: By a variety of metrics, the Cardinals pass defense has been considerably better than its run defense. Can you give us your thoughts on the two parts of the Cardinals D?
RotB: At the start of the season, pressure on the quarterback was a big factor. They have not gotten as much pressure as of late, but the secondary has been spectacular. Part of the difference is schematic. The defense plays a lot of nickel packages and that involves pulling the defensive tackle in favor of a defensive back. That leaves Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett to hold the line. There also have been missed tackles, which have hurt against the run.
The defense also has suffered from some missed tackles, which has affected the stats against the run. But based on what we have seen, it is something they are willing to sacrifice a little bit because the trend in the league is to run less. But it is why more balanced offenses like San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis and Chicago have had more success overall than other teams. However, if you can really stop one or the other, it is a better statistical risk to stop the pass because there are less big plays when running the ball.
NN: What under-the-radar Cardinals are worth watching?
RotB: This is funny. Offensively, there isn't much to watch. However, take a look at right tackle Bobby Massie. He has not given up a sack since the last time the Niners and Cardinals played. He really has improved. He still has allowed more sacks than any other tackle, but he has been almost dominating for the past few weeks.
He isn't so much under the radar, but you will be familiar with Adam Snyder. Because of injuries, he is now starting at center. That is new.
Defensively, most of the players are known. Kerry Rhodes is having a fantastic year. But if he is healthy, watch Rashad Johnson, who replaces Adrian Wilson in nickel packages. He has picked off a couple of passes, picked up fumbles and make a ton of plays on special teams. Also, watch Quentin Groves off the edge. He has shown to be one of the better players at getting pressure this season, although he has a ways to go in other facets like run defense and coverage.
NN: What are the Cardinals trying to do as they wrap up their season? How do they look at this year and ahead to next season in their building process?
RotB: There is one word to describe the season -- disappointment. It looked so promising to start. They have huge questions to answer. There may be changes in the front office and coaching staff. Even if Ken Whisenhunt stays, his staff will certainly be shaken up. Ray Horton might not be around if he gets a head coaching job, which is not unreasonable to think. Offensively, there will HAVE to be changes. Who knows what will be with the quarterbacks. There are questions at running back. Defensively, the key pieces are all under contract, so don't expect much turnover there. But this offseason will be marked with major changes....we just don't know what yet.