By Jerrell Richardson

Arizona Cardinals (2-0)

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Head Coach: Bruce Arians

Players to Watch: Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Patrick Peterson, Larry Foote, Andre Ellington

What A Difference A Loss Makes

Before Sunday Night, this week’s game between the 49ers and Cardinals figured to be for the top spot in the NFC West. While if they win, the 49ers could still find themselves in first place, but instead of in control they will be tied with both the Cardinals and Seahawks. This is due to San Francisco’s unexpected loss at the hands of the Chicago Bears this past Sunday Night.

While the outcome has slightly changed, the importance has not. In fact, when considering the circumstances, and clouded NFC playoff picture, it’s not hard to fathom that the 49ers, in week 3 essentially have their first must win of 2014.

The Arizona Cardinals have been nipping at the heels of the 49ers and Seahawks the past two years and will show Sunday if they have finally drawn even with at least one of their division rivals. Thus far, Arizona has looked impressive this season, beating the Chargers and Giants. Add to their level of play that they will be at home, and the Cardinals figure to give the 49ers all they can handle. Even after the 49ers loss a week ago, Arizona figures to be not only the hardest, be the most important test this season for San Francisco.

When Arizona Has the Ball: Advantage Cardinals

Assuming that Carson Palmer will play, for the third week in a row, the 49ers are facing a quarterback who they know is going to throw the ball, and a lot. In fact, despite facing Tony Romo and Jay Cutler, one can argue that Carson Palmer will be the 49ers secondary’s biggest test thus far. Yes, Cutler carved up the San Francisco defense, but he finished the game with only 176 passing yards. This does not figure to be the case against Arizona and Palmer who totaled over 300 yards in week 1.

It’s not that Palmer is better than either of his NFC counterparts, it’s that his running back, Andre Ellington, while a quality back, is no Demarco Murray or Matt Forte. By default this makes the Cardinals a pass heavy team.

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After having to deal with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, the 49er secondary has to breathe a sigh of relief that this week they have only one real threat in the passing game to be concerned about. Larry Fitzgerald for some reason was not a big part of the game plan in week 1, but led the Cardinals in catches and yards in week 2 and will be the first and last player the San Francisco defense has to be aware of. While just one man, Fitzgerald is healthy and will be just as big of a matchup nightmare as the Bears tandem.

The problem with Fitzgerald is the 49ers can’t cover him one on one. What this means is that the pass rush which was a no show against Chicago will have to amp it up. If Palmer is given time to throw, then the secondary will again be in for a long day.

Andre Ellington will try and find running room, but his afternoon will also depend on the play of his quarterback. If the Cardinals are able to move the ball through the air, than it will open up the room Ellington needs to have an effective day. But if they are unable to make the 49ers respect the pass, than Ellington will be limited much like Matt Forte was.

When San Francisco Has the Ball: Advantage 49ers

San Francisco has looked impressive offensively, but just at times, and will need to up their level of play against a very good Cardinal defense. Arizona relies on their defense, and who has yet to let the team down in 2014. They have allowed just 31 points this season, and have done so with great play up front lead by Larry Foote, and have in Patrick Peterson and Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie, two physical corners that will be able to at least stay with 49er receivers on the outside.

Despite facing a vicious pass rush, featuring Calais Campbell, and having to deal with a dangerous secondary, the 49ers offense will still have the advantage. They have too many threats for the Cardinals to cover up, and Colin Kaepernick’s ability to run will at least slow down the pressure from the edges. Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde will not find it easy to run, but if the team sticks to the run, and if the score is close, than they will at least be able to poise a running threat that will be very important in the final outcome of this game. As long as they can stay balanced, the 49ers offense should be able to do just enough to keep them out of the loss column.

49ers Win, But Just Barely

While they should have the upper hand at all times, this week’s game will certainly test the 49ers talent and will. Arizona has some questions at the quarterback position, but have an elite defense, and last week got a big punt return from former 49er Ted Ginn Jr. What this means is that it will take another complete team effort for San Francisco to go on the road and win their first division game of the year.

The Cardinals continue to improve as a team the past two season, but they are playing a 49ers team that has done the same, despite the egg San Francisco laid in their home opener. While there are a lot of things that go into winning a football game, talent is a major part, and the bottom line is that top to bottom, the 49ers are the better them, and the reason they will be 2-1 and tied atop the NFC west and not 1-2 looking up at the Cardinals and Seahawks come Monday.

For more 49ers news and updates, visit 49ers Central.

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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. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.