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49ers vs. Cardinals: 5 questions with Revenge of the Birds

The 49ers travel to face the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17. We've got five questions with Jess Root from Revenge of the Birds. New to Niners Nation? Sign up here and join the discussion!

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 regular season comes to a wrap this weekend, and the 49ers draw a tough opponent to close it out. They travel to face the Arizona Cardinals with playoff positioning on the line for the 49ers, and just a playoff spot potentially on the line for the Cardinals.

Much has changed since the 49ers beat the Cardinals 32-20 in Week 6. We took a few minutes to chat with Jess Root from Revenge of the Birds to get a better idea of the Cardinals current situation.

Niners Nation: Michael Floyd and Andre Ellington appear to be the biggest breakout stars on offense. Let's start with Floyd. What has allowed him to break out in year 2?

Revenge of the Birds: Floyd had the talent. You all saw it in last year's season finale when he lit up the San Francisco defense. The mental side is coming around. He was lost for much of last season and everyone was to start this season. His route running is improved and he is taking good care of his body. The success is coming as a result of the trust Carson Palmer has in him. The last 25 receptions Floyd has made have gone for a first down (or touchdown). For a stretch, you could almost definitive say that he is the best receiver on the team.

Floyd aspires for the Hall of Fame -- he said it himself before this season. He is a younger, faster version of Anquan Boldin.

NN: 49ers DC Vic Fangio compared Ellington to Darren Sproles. Is that the kind of role Ellington will play for the foreseeable future, or could he become a No. 1 running back?

RotB: The front office and coaching staff do not see him as a feature back. They compare him to Darren Sproles. He plays as much receiver as he does running back. In fact, Carson Palmer even said that Ellington has the talent to be a number two receiver on any team if he put in the work. Perhaps he will get more work in the running game if he puts on a little weight and strength, but more and more he is seen as a Sproles/Percy Harvin type player.

NN: How is the team compensating for the absence of Tyrann Mathieu? How is the secondary as a whole looking?

RotB: Mathieu's loss is a big blow to the defense. However, the team is very deep in the secondary. Rashad Johnson was the starter at free safety to start the season and, assuming he is healthy, will fill in nicely. The team doesn't lose anything there from Mathieu to Johnson. Mathieu's biggest impact was at nickel corner in the slot. The team has compensated by sliding Jerraud Powers to the slot and bringing in Antoine Cason outside for nickel packages. The result has been good. Cason has been solid and had two key interceptions in the team's win over Tennessee, returning one for a touchdown and taking the ball away from the Titans in overtime, leading to the team's winning field goal.

Powers is not as dynamic as Mathieu in the slot, but he is solid. If Cason is playing as he has, then there is no real dropoff because of the depth. If Rashad Johnson is out again with his ankle injury, then undrafted rookie Tony Jefferson steps in. He is not as good as Johnson in coverage, but he is very good around the line of scrimmage (he played some linebacker in college) and tackles well.

Overall, the secondary is in great shape. There is a dropoff, but not a huge one. They just lose some of the dynamic playmaking. It is solid, just less dynamic.

NN: PFF rates Calais Campbell as the top defensive player for the Cardinals, and the No. 2 3-4 defensive end. Tell us what Campbell is bringing to the table.

RotB: What doesn't he bring? He has a high motor. He has strength. He has no real weakness. He gets to the passer (eight sacks so far) and he makes tackles (53 on the season). Because of his height, he will sometimes lose leverage, but he is a player that gets far less recognition than he deserves.

NN: What are the key matchups to watch this Sunday?

RotB: The biggest matchup to me is the Arizona front seven against the San Francisco running game. Frank Gore and the running game was mostly bottled up in the first contest until the deciding 18-play drive. Since that game, the Arizona defense has gotten even better against the run.

After that, there are two other matchups that will be key -- Patrick Peterson on Michael Crabtree and Bradley Sowell against Aldon Smith.

Peterson has had struggles with Crabtree in previous meetings. Peterson and Bruce Arians have said recently that the Crabtree they see on film is not quite the guy he was before his injury. Even still, that could be fun to watch. Peterson completely took Anquan Boldin out of the game. Moving Peterson to Crabtree will put a lesser guy on Boldin, so that could impact the game. But Peterson and Crabtree are talented and motivated. My guess is that we will see wins from both players.

Sowell missed Smith the first time. He is bearable at his position, at best. Smith has not quite been the wrecking ball he was last season, though, even with a pair of two-sack games. That matchup will be key as Carson Palmer will need to be comfortable in the pocket to play well.