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I think we can expect plenty of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd in the slot vs. 49ers

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San Francisco 49ers rookie defensive back Jimmie Ward struggled on Sunday against 6'4 Brandon Marshall. How might he fare against 6'2 Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd?

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

NFL games can be fairly unpredictable in certain respects, but as the San Francisco 49ers prepare to face the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, there is one thing we can say with some certainty. If Jimmie Ward is in the slot, particularly in the red zone, the Arizona Cardinals are going to challenge him with their two big wide receivers, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.

Jimmie Ward struggled against the Chicago Bears last Sunday, getting beaten three separate times in the end zone by Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Although Ward was on the defending end of Marshall's three touchdowns, the problem struck me almost exclusively as one of size and scheme, as opposed to Ward's own technique. Jimmie Ward measured in at the 2014 Combine at 5'10 and a half. Brandon Marshall measured in at the 2006 Combine at 6'4 and 4/10. I use the Combine height for Marshall because that's the last formal measurement where we know it is what it says it is.

Larry Fitzgerald came into the NFL at 6'2 and 7/10, while Michael Floyd was 6'2 and a half. Bruce Arians spoke with Bay Area media earlier today, and he discussed Jimmie Ward's struggles against Brandon Marshall. He recognized that it was clearly a matter of height, but he also did not expect big adjustments from the 49ers.

"Well, it's hard unless that guy (Ward) is going to grow four or five inches. Because it's hard to replace your nickel back. If he's your starter, he's your starter."

I spoke with Jeff Deeney from Pro Football Focus, and he provided some quick snap count information for Fitzgerald and Floyd in different locations on the field:

Larry Fitzgerald

2013
Outside: 57.4%
Slot: 39.0%
TE: 3.6%

2014
Outside: 61.7%
Slot: 36.7%
TE: 1.7%

Michael Floyd

2013
Outside: 76.1%
Slot: 20.3%
TE/RB: 3.6%

2014
Outside: 67.5%
Slot: 29.2%
TE/RB: 3.3%

For comparison sake, last season, Brandon Marshall spent 23 percent of his 2013 routes coming out of the slot, and has spent 53.6 percent of his 2014 routes coming out of the slot. I fully expect to see a decent amount of Fitzgerald coming out of the slot this weekend. Even if Drew Stanton starts, I have to think the Cardinals attack Ward in the slow.

The question then becomes if the 49ers adjust in some way. The adjustment is more about those tighter situations in the red zone. A big receiver can have an advantage anywhere on the field, but down inside the red zone, it becomes an even bigger issue. Do the 49ers stick with Ward as the red zone nickel back, or do they move one of their bigger cornerbacks in to deal with Fitzgerald and/or Floyd?

I get not wanting to take away a rookie's confidence, but aside from holding and occasionally getting lucky with a bad pass or a well-timed jump, Ward seems to be at a perpetual disadvantage. I suppose seeing a 6'2 receiver instead of a 6'4 receiver helps, but height remains a bit of an issue.

How would you handle it?