A breakdown of today's season-opening game between the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. It's the first-ever regular season game at Cardinals Stadium.
Kickoff: 1:15 p.m. today at Cardinals Stadium TV/Announcers: Ch. 10/Josh Lewin and Bill Maas
Radio: ESPN (860 AM) Records: Cardinals 0-0, 49ers 0-0 Line: Cardinals by 8 Series: The 49ers hold a 17-12 all-time lead in the series, but the Cardinals swept two games in 2005, beating San Francisco 31-14 in Mexico City and then topping the Niners in San Francisco, 17-10.
Tickets: The game is sold out.
CARDINALS KEYS TO VICTORY -
1. Ride the emotion: The crowd will be there today at Cardinals Stadium, 63,400 strong. The building has already proved noisy. If the Cards get any kind of momentum, the fans will blow the roof off, and the team in turn will get even more energized. This is what they have been waiting for.
2. Live on the Edge: This is where the Cards need to unveil the new running game by unleashing Edgerrin James. Since the day James signed in March, the Cards have said their run game woes were solved. Against a young defense like the 49ers, the Cardinals desperately need to prove it.
3. Rattle the youth: The 49ers have some young potential stars in quarterback Alex Smith, tight end Vernon Davis and running back Frank Gore, but they are still learning the game. With the crowd on their side, the Cards’ defense has a chance to mess with their heads and gain an advantage.
OUT: LB Karlos Dansby (toe), T Oliver Ross (knee); QUESTIONABLE: S Hanik Milligan (Achilles); PROBABLE: QB Matt Leinart (shoulder).
OUT: TE Delanie Walker (shoulder); DOUBTFUL: DE Parys Haralson (foot); QUESTIONABLE: CB Shawntae Spencer (hamstring).
Given the hype heading into this season and into their new stadium, the Cardinals have to win this game. A loss would be crushing despite being just one game of 16. The 49ers, decided underdogs, are expected to lose so an upset would be a huge benefit and a defeat probably wouldn’t hurt as much. The pressure lies squarely on the Cards’ shoulders.
WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL
It’s safe to say the Cardinals aren’t going to average 71.1 yards rushing a game this season, not with Edgerrin James toting the ball around 25 times. But coach Dennis Green isn’t going to give up the No. 1-ranked passing offense, especially against a 49ers’ defense that isn’t that good. James will get his carries, but don’t be surprised — if the 49ers try and crowd James near the line — the Cardinals throw it early with shots downfield to star wideouts Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.
Key matchup: Cardinals LT Leonard Davis vs. 49ers ROLB Manny Lawson —
The 49ers don’t have much of a pass rush, something Lawson — one of the 49ers’ first-round picks — is supposed to help. Davis, in a contract year, has had a good preseason and must play well given the instability on the rest of the line. In theory, he should have his way with Lawson, who remains raw.
WHEN THE 49ERS HAVE THE BALL
Young quarterback Alex Smith is still learning, and with a Cardinals’ defense that likes to blitz, the 49ers should try and keep it simple. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner likes to throw the ball downfield, but Smith’s best playmakers are probably rookie tight end Vernon Davis and running back Frank Gore. Receiver Antonio Bryant is their deep threat, but the Cards should be able to pressure Smith if he holds the ball too long.
Key matchup: 49ers TE Vernon Davis vs. Cardinals S Adrian Wilson — Davis is just a rookie but is already expected to play a major role in the San Francisco offense. The blitzing Cardinals’ defense could have a field day on Alex Smith unless Smith can find Davis quickly. Wilson is big and physical enough to battle Davis — and his blitzing may force the 49ers to use Davis to help pass block.
SCOUTING THE 49ERS
The 49ers had the No. 1 pick two years ago as the worst team in the NFL and just missed out this past season. Many think coach Mike Nolan’s squad remains young enough that they could be the worst team again. They have some quality youth in Vernon Davis and Frank Gore, but the defense lacks any guys ready to be playmakers. The jury also remains out on quarterback Alex Smith, who must prove he is starter-worthy in the NFL.