As our weekly matchups approach, I think one of the best sources for informtion on an opposing team is their SB Nation blog. ESPN and the other big networks will provide plenty of insight about individual teams, but a blogger will have the day-to-day insight we crave.
So, I spoke with cgolden from Revenge of the Birds and we came up with something a little different than what we did last season. In the past I'd exchange 5 questions with the opposing blogger, we'd get some useful information and that would be that. This season, I'm going to try some different things to mix it up a little bit. This week, cgolden and I came up with a list of eight matchups that will be important in the outcome of the game. They're not the traditional RB vs. MLB you often see in the paper, but rather unit-based as that's how the game is played. Here are the first four matchups, with the remaining four to appear tomorrow.
Match-Up #1: Clements/Harris vs. Fitzgerald/Boldin
: Advantage: Cardinals - With Kurt Warner at the helm, I won't rank any two corners over Fitzgerald and Boldin. Even with two very good corners like Clements and Harris, not secondary is safe with this receiving duo. I would expect the rest of the Niner secondary to give the corners some help but it'll take a conglomerate effort to shut down both Fitz and Q.
Fooch: Advantage: 49ers - Last season's two matchups were a tale of two extremes. The 49ers shut down Fitzgerald and Boldin in week 1 and then were torched by them in Week 12. The difference between the two games was Leinart started Week 1 and Warner started Week 12. That would indicate the 2008 Cardinals would have the edge with Warner getting the nod. However, the 49ers overall defense has improved and the secondary should be a strength this season. I'd expect FS Mark Roman, backup safety Dashon Goldson and nickel back Shawntae Spencer to provide help in this matchup. Clements is likely to get Fitzgerald by himself, but as Harris is getting up there in years, a little help is necessary. The depth of the 49ers secondary should be the difference-maker.
Match-Up #2: 49ers pass rush vs. Cardinals offensive line
CG: Advantage: Cardinals - There isn't much doubt that the Cardinals' pass game is explosive and should put points on the board. Whether or not the front line can keep Warner upright is another question though. Warner is about as immobile as they get but the offensive line is some what accomplished in keeping the quarterback clean. The offensive line is bringing back four of the same five from last season and they should be able to be pick up any kind of blitzes that the Niners throw at them.
Fooch: Advantage: Cardinals - The pass rush is the 49ers biggest question mark on the defensive side of the ball heading into 2008. They added Justin Smith and get a returning Manny Lawson, but neither is a traditional pass rusher. If the 49ers are going to generate a pass rush, second year defensive end Ray McDonald will need to be that guy. If the 49ers pass rush resembles the 2007 pass rush, Kurt Warner will have all day to make things happen. The pass rush is the major x-factor for whether this defense can step up from decent to very good.
The remaining two matchups follow the jump...
Match-Up #3: 49ers receivers vs. Cardinals secondary
CG: Advantage Cardinals - The Cardinals have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the Niners recievers. Not only do they have a great deal of experience with Bruce and Johnson, they've also got a more experienced secondary with Hood and Green. Hood and Green were both first year starters in 2007 so they should be better this year with a year of experience under their belt. Green is also playing for a new contract and many think that he's on track for a career year. The safeties should be much better this year with a healthy and "money-motivated" Adrian Wilson and converted corner, Antrel Rolle.
Fooch: Advantage: 49ers - While the 49ers still don't have a true #1 receiver, the Mike Martz offense will allow the 49ers to showcase a whole host of receivers. Isaac Bruce and Arnaz Battle are likely to be the two most consistent threats, but former Cardinal Bryant Johnson was brought in to become a big play threat. The preseason also saw rookie Josh Morgan and second year WR Jason Hill really shine. Morgan went from competing for a roster spot, to competing with Bryant Johnson for the starting split end position. A nasty illness (I think the flu) kept him out of commission the last two exhibition games and cost him that chance, at least initially. If Morgan and Hill can translate their preseason performances into the regular season, the 49ers receiving corp could be very dangerous.
Match-Up #4: Cardinals pass rush vs. 49ers offensive line
CG: Advantage 49ers: It'll be very interesting to see how quickly the Cardinals can put together their pass rush considering that there are several new faces to the Clancy Pendergast system. Travis LaBoy is a new to the team and Chike Okeafor has a year in the system but all of his learning has been limited to the classroom since he was injured last season. Darnell Dockett and Antonio Smith are solid veterans but the offensive line should be able to key on them with the injury status at nose tackle. Bryan Robinson isn't a prototypical nose and could get pushed around later in the game as he starts to wear down. If this game is later in the season and Gabe Watson is back, I'd give the Cardinals the edge but there are to many unknowns right now.
Fooch: Advantage: 49ers - The 49ers offensive line was a major weakness in 2007. Eric Heitmann was trying to return from a broken leg and Larry Allen realized 36-year old men might struggle in trying to throw aside young pass rushers. Most people think the line will be a weakness in 2008, but I think it will actually be a strength. Heitmann has completely recovered from his broken leg and looked quite impressive in the preseason. Joe Staley is looking to settle in for the next decade at left tackle. If Jonas Jennings can remain healthy he is still an extremely talented tackle. And if he can't, Barry Sims was brought in for insurance. The guard situation is still fluid as original starter David Baas was out most of camp with a torn pec and proceeded to lose his job to Tony Wragge. Now, Baas and Adam Snyder are competing for the left guard spot, which has yet to be decided. The 49ers have depth and talent across the line and should be able to keep J.T. O'Sullivan in one piece.
We'll have the final four matchups tomorrow morning.