The Forty Niners will face backup quarterback John Skelton tonight at the University of Phoenix Stadium. The last loss suffered by the 49ers in the 2011 regular season was at the hands of John Skelton and the Arizona Cardinals in Arizona. After Kevin Kolb was sidelined in the first drive of the game John Skelton seamlessly took over and threw three touchdown passes against the 2011 49ers. That stretch for the 49ers was particularly hard as they had suffered an embarrassing loss in Baltimore in a Thanksgiving day Harbowl, rebounded against the St Louis Rams at home, only to lose an ugly battle in Arizona. In what will be the most painful loss of the 2012 season the 49ers failed to create the much anticipated and desired redemptive rematch against the New York football Giants, but went on to win a defensive battle against Seattle. As many know Jim Harbaugh does not make a habit of losing games, when tough games are lost Harbaugh encourages his players to “dust themselves off” and leave a loss behind them. That mentality has carried a Harbaugh era Forty Niners franchise without suffering two losses in a row.
In the suddenly and surprisingly competitive NFC West every divisional game is important. The days when an under .500 team late in the season was still in the hunt for winning the NFC West are over. Or at least have been since Pete Carroll lead a 7-9 Seattle Seahawks to the playoffs in 2010. With the Cardinals losing steam with three straight losses and the Forty Niners leading the division after a win over Seattle the favorite for experts and in Vegas are the Forty Niners, but unlike any normal relationship divisional teams know each other like an old girlfriend, a victory is never assured. Bitter words have already been shared between the two teams this week, particularly from the Arizona defensive players. Arizona is traditionally a very good home team, they simply play more inspired football at home, especially defensively. They have won three out of the four games played at home this season and their only loss came in overtime against the Buffalo Bills, a team desperate and due for a win.
While this may appear to play out as a defensive showdown I think there is little question that both defensives will play well and consistently. The win or loss for either team will come down to offense. The Arizona quarterback situation, a debacle and in constant limbo versus the underwhelming play of Alex Smith in San Francisco. Thankfully for the Forty Niners they can learn more from the Minnesota Vikings than just watching the film from their loss; the Minnesota Vikings beat the Arizona Cardinals on the ground, with Adrain Peterson down their throats. They had 166 rushing yards and only 43 in pass yardage. They beat the Arizona Cardinals the way that the Forty niners like to win games. Frank is ready to get 100+ yards and Alex Smith will need him to do it. When the Forty Niners run the ball, the Forty Niners win football games. Unfortunately in 2012 when the 49ers veer away from the run game, they lose. Alex Smith is at his best when both the play action run and pass games are efficiently working; look for Vernon Davis to become apart of the offense again tonight. In the loss against the New York Giants the Forty Niners only ran the ball 17 times, compounded heavily by the three interception day of Alex Smith. The result was ugly and a near shutout. If the Cardinals have a chance against the Forty Niners Larry Fitzgerald will need to be utilized, what a wasted talent. The O-line in Arizona is nothing short of terrible; they struggle against normal defenses. Look for Skelton to struggle on nearly every play; he will be hurried, rushed and sacked throughout the game if Aldon Smith has anything to do with it. An easy win will rarely come in Arizona, but after two disappointing weeks the Forty Niners are looking to do more than just dust themselves off.