Frank Gore; Adrian Wilson
Last season, the Cardinals were one of the rare teams that could play awful, then flip a switch and be impressive the next week. Well, it's 2009 and the Cardinals hope they can find the switch again. They went 0-4 in the preseason and looked awful in the last two games against the Packers and Broncos.
Little they did in the last two weeks should give them confidence on Sunday when facing the 49ers in the season opener in Glendale. If the Cardinals sleepwalk through this one, they will be beaten.
And they seem to know it.
"We've been running our base stuff and that's the stuff you gotta be good at," strong safety Adrian Wilson said. "We haven't been good in the preseason running our base stuff."
Wilson said he was excited for the start of the regular season, "but at the same time I'm worried because of the things that have happened so far in preseason."
He's not the only concerned veteran. Quarterback Kurt Warner wasn't sharp the last two games, and while he didn't want to blame his receivers, he hinted that not all of them were running routes correctly.
Offensively, there were some bright spots in the preseason but you had to search a bit for them. The Cardinals ran the ball well and the pass protection held up for the most part.
"I think our offensive line played very well," Whisenhunt said. "To me that's a good indication of what we're trying to get done. We ran the ball well. We protected our quarterback well with our first line."
But the performances were wildly inconsistent, just as they were last year. The Cardinals started 7-3 but were blown out in three of the final five weeks. They righted themselves, got hot and advanced to the Super Bowl.
Whisenhunt hoped his team would mature this year and play consistently well each week. The Cardinals didn't do that in the preseason, and it's fair for fans to wonder if they will see progress this season.
The 49ers played the Cardinals close twice last season, and do as good a job as any team at defending Arizona's powerful offense. If the Cardinals aren't ready, the season will open in embarrassing fashion.
"I can't say the fans shouldn't be worried," Whisenhunt said. "Obviously, everything is about wins and losses. I think I had one of my friends say his son was torn up because we didn't win a game in preseason. He really didn't understand what preseason is all about.
"All I can say is I feel good about our team and I feel good about what we've done and where we are. It think we'll do well in the season and that's what I'm looking forward to."
SERIES HISTORY: 36th regular-season meeting. 49ers lead the series, 19-16. The Cardinals went 6-0 in the NFC West last season, including two games against the 49ers. Both games were close, however, with the Cardinals winning by 10 and by 5. The Cardinals have won six of the last eight games against the 49ers, but are 2-2 against San Francisco under coach Ken Whisenhunt. The series has been swept the last five seasons with Arizona doing the honors in 2005, 2006 and 2008.
--The 49ers haven't forgotten how they blew the game against the Cardinals in Arizona last year. The 49ers were on the Cardinals 1-yard line with no timeouts. Instead of handing it off to Frank Gore, the 49ers gave it to fullback Michael Robinson, who was stuffed as time ran out. The Cardinals won, 29-24, to take a four-game lead in the NFC West.
--After Arizona went 0-4 in preseason, coach Ken Whisenhunt was confident he would have his team's attention entering the first week of the regular season. He was right. At least he thinks he was right.
"With the way the preseason went, I'm a little hesitant to say anything," Whisenhunt said. "It was a little bit different focus, which is what you want to see. I don't think we had a ball on the ground (Monday), and that was nice to see."
--Backup center Ben Claxton has been trying to make an opening day roster since being drafted by the Broncos in the fifth round in 2003. This is the first time he's made it. He spent two years out of the league and has bounced around between eight teams. He almost quit in the summer of 2008 to prepare to go to law school.
"A guy like me, it seems like every day you're fightin', just trying to survive," Claxton said. "It's a double-edged sword I guess. You can never get complacent. It keeps you hungry."
--While Whisenhunt seemed unconcerned about the team's pre-season record, quarterback Kurt Warner didn't like how his team played. The Cardinals emerged from the exhibition season with little to show for itself other than embarrassment.
Whisenhunt cautioned that the Cardinals never game-planned for the preseason, which added to Warner's frustration. Warner often came to the sidelines with a handful of play suggestions.
"And I have to say, 'Kurt, look, we can't run that. That's great but we're not going to run those,'" Whisenhunt said. "To me, that's a great sign he's into what we're trying to do."
BY THE NUMBERS: 32 -- That will be the number of consecutive games Kurt Warner has started for Arizona when they play Sunday against the 49ers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Who? Who? Look, we're just going in and playing football. It's not about individual matchups. It's not about having me lined up on Vernon (Davis), or having Karlos (Dansby) on Frank Gore. It's about playing team ball." -- SS Safety Adrian Wilson on matching up with 49ers tight end Vernon Davis.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--The Cardinals signed offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges on Tuesday, and he should give them more versatility on the depth chart.
They released Elton Brown, whose strength was playing guard. Bridges can play both guard and tackle and could save the team a spot on game day.
--The release of safety Aaron Francisco on the final cuts not only hurts the special teams but leaves an opening in one of the team's dime schemes. Francisco and safety Matt Ware both played in the dime, with strong safety Adrian Wilson playing linebacker and free safety Antrel Rolle moving to cover the slot. The fourth safety is now rookie Rashad Johnson, who could fill Francisco's spot in the dime.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--WR Anquan Boldin hasn't practiced since suffering a hamstring injury the week after the second preseason game. Boldin has missed both workouts this week as the club prepares for the 49ers game, but coach Ken Whisenhunt said chances are "very good" that Boldin will play.
--WR Steve Breaston isn't 100 percent recovered from a bruised knee but he has practiced the last two weeks and plans to play Sunday.
--DT Alan Branch will be a reserve nose tackle and end. Branch started to play defensive end at the end of preseason and did well enough to allow coaches to keep just six defensive lineman.
--OL Jeremy Bridges was signed to a one-year deal. He can play both guard and tackle and should be a primary backup as the season develops.
--OL Elton Brown, a fourth-round pick in 2005, was released to make room for the signing of OL Jeremy Bridges. Brown never developed into more than a backup and had a tendency to gain too much weight. He played fairly well in the preseason, however, and could be a decent player if he maintains his conditioning.
--FB Dan Kreider is the only fullback on the roster. The Cardinals kept four running backs so they kept only one fullback. It's not a full-time position on this team, which favors formations featuring three and four receivers.
GAME PLAN: The Cardinals tried concentrating on the running game offensively when it played the 49ers in the opener last season. The results were mixed, and the Cardinals switched to a more open attack in the second half and won by 10. The 49ers defend the Cardinals well because they have decent corners and the ability to rush the passer. Defensively, the Cardinals must control running back Frank Gore, who has hurt them in the past with big plays.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Cardinals LT Mike Gandy vs. 49ers ROLB Parys Haralson -- Haralson played well against the Cardinals last year and had two sacks in one game. Gandy is a reliable player but can have trouble with elite pass rushers.
49ers RT Adam Snyder vs. Cardinals LDE Darnell Dockett -- Dockett is quick off the ball and has a powerful lower body. He can be disruptive if he gets in the backfield and this should be a decent matchup for Arizona.
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. 49ers CB Shawntae Spencer --Fitzgerald was quiet in the preseason, mostly because coaches kept him under wraps. The Cardinals will move him around the formation in search of favorable matchups. He should find one with Spencer.
INJURY IMPACT: WR Anquan Boldin hasn't practiced since suffering a hamstring injury almost three weeks ago. Boldin has worked out with an athletic trainer during practice and coach Ken Whisenhunt said chances are "very good" that Boldin will be able to play on Sunday. If he can't play, the Cardinals will go with Steve Breaston and Jerheme Urban as the second and third receivers.
WR Early Doucet is out for a few more weeks with fractured ribs. The fractures are high on the rib cage, so Doucet could be in danger of lung damage if he were to take a hit before he's healed. The Cardinals have six other receivers on the roster.