|Cards, 49ers go different directions since opener|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 06 November 2008 14:23|
Since that 23-13 win, the Cardinals have soared on the wings of their offense to take a three-game lead in the NFC West. The 49ers, on the other hand, are down and their coach is out.
``We've evolved,'' Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ``We've gotten a little more identity of who we are. We're operating very efficiently. ... We have more things that we can throw at them, and hopefully that makes us more difficult to prepare for.''
Whisenhunt was referring to an offense that ranks second in the NFL and is coming off perhaps its best game, last weekend's 34-13 victory at St. Louis. The Cardinals rolled up 510 yards: 333 through the air and 177 on the ground.
Their 37-year-old quarterback Kurt Warner completed 23 of 34 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. For the season, Warner has completed 70 percent of his passes.
``Arizona is playing with a tremendous amount of confidence and they're executing well,'' 49ers interim coach Mike Singletary said. ``Guys are flying to the football, all the things you need to do to win.''
San Francisco is coming off a bye week that followed Singletary's tumultuous head coaching debut in the wake of the firing of Mike Nolan. That 34-13 home loss to Seattle featured Singletary yanking tight end Vernon Davis from the field, sending him to the locker room, then trashing him at his postgame news conference.
``What happened in the first week, that's who I am,'' Singletary said. ``It's going to be one of those things where I have to continue to hone it and clean it up a little bit here and there, but for the most part that's who I am.''
Singletary also benched turnover-plagued quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan during the game and replaced him with journeyman Shaun Hill. Hill will get his third career start - in seven NFL seasons - against Arizona.
``I think Shaun comes in and gives us a little confidence, stability and leadership going forward,'' Singletary said. ``Not that J.T. doesn't do that. I just think where he is right now he just needs to take a step back and look at where we are and where he is and watch a little bit, and grow.''
With their quarterback troubles, the 49ers are sure to rely even more heavily on running back Frank Gore, who didn't do much damage in the opener largely because he rarely touched the ball.
``I just remember we didn't get the ball much in the second half,'' Gore said. ``We're trying to get better at grinding it out and playing hard every time we get the ball. They did a great job of that in the first game.''
Since then, Arizona has opened up the offense and given Warner more freedom to make his own calls. Steve Breaston has joined Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin as major receiving threats, then last week rookie Tim Hightower replaced Edgerrin James, and the Cardinals' running game came alive.
Hightower gained 109 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown run that was longer than any carry James has had in his 2 1/2 seasons with Arizona. The Cardinals also are using more three- and four-wide receiver sets to spread the field and allow Warner to find favorable matchups.
``I think we've learned a lot about our football team,'' Warner said. ``A lot of guys have stepped up. We've got some different players playing now and playing big roles for us.''
The Cardinals are playing the second of three in a row against NFC West foes. While Arizona is 5-3, its division opponents - San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis - all are 2-6.
With one winning season since 1984, the Cardinals are in foreign territory this late in the season, and they are trying not to get caught up in their newfound success.
``Last year we had Detroit come in here 6-2,'' Boldin recalled. ``They lost to us and didn't win a game after that. We don't want to be that team.''
Arizona has won five in a row at home and is 9-2 at University of Phoenix Stadium since Whisenhunt became coach. One of those two losses was to San Francisco.
The Cardinals are making their second Monday night home appearance since moving to their new stadium in 2006. The first was a wild 24-23 loss to the Chicago Bears on Nov. 16, 2006, a contest made even more memorable by then-coach Dennis Green's podium-pounding postgame tirade.
Singletary could undoubtedly relate as he works to instill some passion and turn things around in San Francisco.
``I believe very strongly in the spirit of the human heart and I believe things happen for a reason,'' Singletary said. ``The most important thing right now is to get this team focused and give themselves a chance to win some games.''