The San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals square off on Sunday in the first NFC West divisional matchup of the season. The NFC West was the best division in the NFL last season, and is off to a solid start in 2014. The Cardinals are off to a strong start, sitting at 2-0. The 49ers, Seahawks, and Rams are all 1-1. We kind of know what to make of the 49ers and Seahawks, but the Rams, not so much.
I spoke with Jess Root from Revenge of the Birds, as we start to get ready for the upcoming matchup. Today, we both took a look at under-the-radar players. Tomorrow we will discuss why each time might lose over at RotB, and on Friday we'll have 5 questions at each site. First up, under-the-radar players:
Considering the hype that players have gotten and the familiarity in the division, the offensive player going under the radar will be tough. Everyone knows Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald. John Brown was the talk of the offseason. Big things are expected from Andre Ellington.
Who is that player? Let's go with tight end John Carlson. Carson Palmer called the signing of Carlson the best thing the team did all offseason. He has three catches in two games, but he is on the field almost every play. He is an adequate blocker and has been fantastic in the passing game, at least in the preseason.
His issue has always been health. In terms of talent, he is right at the top of the list following the elite guys like Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski.
Look for him to make some plays.
On defense, early on, it has to be Antonio Cromartie. Patrick Peterson got the contract and gets the attention, but Cromartie has quietly been very good. He has only been targeted seven times in two games and has given up only three catches for 20 yards. He only has given up one yard after the catch, Against San Diego, he was beaten on one play, but the pass was incomplete. Outside of that, he has been money.
San Francisco 49ers
The team has dealt with various injuries, with tight end being one such position. Vernon Davis (ankle) and Vance McDonald (knee) missed Wednesday practice. Both think they can play on Sunday, but their statuses remain to be seen. Even if they play, third string tight end Derek Carrier will be a guy to keep an eye on this Sunday. Carrier came out of college as a wide receiver, but has learned the tight end position. He is a solid pass catcher, but there were questions about his run-blocking. In Week 2, he finished the game with 3 receptions for 41 yards, looking fairly solid across the board. Expect to see some of him.
On the defensive side of the ball, outside linebackers Corey Lemonier and Aaron Lynch will be the guys to watch. They along with Dan Skuta are replacing Aldon Smith while the latter serves his suspension. Lemonier is in his second year. He got off to a strong start as a rookie, but he has struggled in his sophomore season. Per Pro Football Focus, he has no pressures in 50 pass rushes. The talent is there, but he is not putting it together right now. He remains the primary OLB in nickel situations for the time being.
Lynch is a rookie, who slipped to the fifth round because of off-the-field concerns. He has shown incredible raw talent, which has gotten him a bit of work each week. He played in 20 snaps in Week 1, and 18 snaps in Week 2. In Week 2, he was a key reason Justin Smith got his sack. I don't know if Lynch will get additional snaps this week, but keep an eye on him. His primary move is a bullrush, as he has some serious physical strength.