By Jerrell Richardson
It’s hard to call the 49ers’ defense elite after allowing 76 points in the last two games. Although the opponents in both games were not exactly inferior teams, the recent play of the defensive unit has been poor, to say the least. There have been uncontrollable circumstances that help explain the amount of points surrendered, but the bottom line is that the defense will need to play significantly better if they hope to improve on last year’s success. Playing in the team’s favor is their opponent, the Arizona Cardinals.
Why They Should Win
As they have proved all year, there is no such thing as an easy win. San Francisco has suffered head scratching results, twice against the St. Louis Rams, who despite their dominance of the 49ers this season, is as mediocre of a football team as there is. So although San Francisco is facing a team that has no business beating them, the home team will need to treat this game as the most important game of the season, playing as if their playoff lives depend on the outcome, as to a certain extent it does.
Arizona is a mess at the quarterback position, recently naming Brian Hoyer as the starter. Hoyer will be the 4th quarterback this season for the Cardinals, and was claimed off waivers early this month. For those not familiar with Mr. Hoyer, he is not some random guy off the streets, despite not being a household name. He spent the majority of his career in New England behind Tom Brady, where he of course he never needed to play, but the fact that he was trusted as the next man up for the Patriots, at such an important position proves that he can play. On the other hand though, he is not a starter and was waived by several teams for a reason.
Although he is no scrub, Hoyer will have the deck stacked against him going against the very talented San Francisco defense. He has only one real option to throw to, and will be forcing the ball into tight windows, as his only hope is to get the ball in the hands of Larry Fitzgerald. The defense will need to exploit this huge advantage, either taking Fitzgerald out of the game with double coverage, or forcing turnovers on ill advised throws. If they can win the turnover battle that will take pressure off the offense, and the result will be a resounding win. However, if the 49ers lose or even have problems with Arizona, there will be an understandable raise in the level of concern around 49er nation.
A Must Win
The playoffs are just as much about momentum and confidence as it is talent. San Francisco has the talent, has already booked their reservation in the post season, and if Green Bay falls to Minnesota, the 49ers could even capture a first round bye. As nice as a bye would be, the team needs to focus on getting back to the brand and style of football that had them ranked at the top of the NFL power rankings the entire season. The confidence of the team can’t afford to take the hit that would come with losing two straight games, especially with the latter coming against a non playoff contender in the Arizona Cardinals. A defeat would not take them out of Super Bowl consideration, but they will go along way in making their path a little easier if thy are able to beat the worst team in the NFC West on Sunday. The 49ers have the better team, have more to play for, are at home, and going against a quarterback who is not very familiar with his new team. To regain their confidence they not only need to win, but they need to do so in dominant fashion.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.