|Arizona looks to continue 'Niners skid and go to 6-5 for season|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 23 November 2007 14:32|
No one can remember when oddsmakers made the Cardinals a double-digit favorite, but Arizona is a 10 1/2-point pick to win its third straight by beating the reeling San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
A win would improve the Cardinals to 6-5, something they haven't been since 1998, the only season they've had a winning record or made the playoffs since moving to Arizona 19 years ago.
The franchise's history suggests no opponent should be taken for granted, though, and the Cardinals insist they have plenty of motivation for this one because of their season-opening loss at San Francisco.
``I don't think anybody cares what happened to them since that game we played,'' Cardinals defensive end Antonio Smith said. ``This game is personal. The reality is they beat us. Ain't gonna be no letdown.''
While the Cardinals, under first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt, have regrouped from a three-game losing streak and survived the loss of starting quarterback Matt Leinart, San Francisco has lost eight in a row and brings a gasping, wheezing offense to Glendale.
The 49ers (2-8) haven't scored a touchdown in 11 straight quarters and are last in the league with 113 points.
They also rank at the bottom in yards per game (218.6), plays from scrimmage (503), yards per play (3.9), third-down percentage (28 percent) and time of possession (25:58).
``I can't remember a situation like this,'' said Trent Dilfer, who took over for injured Alex Smith at quarterback. ``I've been on offenses that struggled before, but never as consistently as this one.''
Coach Mike Nolan brought in veteran coach Ted Tollner this week to help embattled offensive coordinator Jim Hostler.
``Ted has an awful lot of NFL and college experience,'' Nolan said. ``He's got experience as a coordinator as well as a head coach. I believe along those lines utilizing his experience he can help Jim, whose a guy that's in his first year as coordinator and going through some difficult times.''
Smith returned from a separated right shoulder to play in three games, but sat out last week's 18-11 loss to St. Louis and is questionable for Sunday, even though a 49ers spokesman said Tuesday the quarterback would miss the next two games.
The 49ers face an improving Arizona defense that has given up yards but has compensated with big plays, especially lately. The Cardinals have six interceptions in the last two games, four against Carson Palmer in last week's 35-27 victory at Cincinnati.
Antrel Rolle, the extra back in Arizona's ``nickel'' defense, picked off three passes, returning two for a score. He brought the third back for a touchdown, too, but the score was negated by a disputed penalty.
Arizona had a 5-0 advantage in turnovers against the Bengals.
``They're an active bunch of guys that run to the ball well,'' Nolan said. ``They've got some playmakers that I think every team would love to have.''
The Cardinals could be without Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson, whose string of 59 consecutive starts ended last week because of an injured heel.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, enter Sunday's play one game behind first-place Seattle in the NFC West. With four of their final six games at home, they like their chances.
``You can feel the whole vibe is just different,'' Antonio Smith said. ``Everybody's looking forward to the next game and then the next game, instead of knowing that you haven't got a chance, that you're so far behind there's no way you can come back.''
Sunday's game is another sellout at University of Phoenix Stadium, site of this season's Super Bowl. The big crowds at the 2-year-old stadium have been loud, and mostly cheering for the Cardinals, giving Arizona its long-sought home-field advantage.
``Since the last two weeks, there's been a lot of excitement,'' Whisenhunt said. ``Our guys are feeling very confident in the way they're playing, and it's carried over not only in the game but on the practice field.''
Quarterback Kurt Warner will play his fifth game in a row with a bulky brace on his left elbow protecting a torn tendon. He was hurt in his first start after Leinart went down with a broken collarbone. Before that, Warner was playing, but only in ``no-huddle'' situations.
He is getting more comfortable with Whisenhunt's offense, which is far different than the pass-oriented game he directed in St. Louis and under Green in Arizona.
Warner has completed 42 of 64 passes for 470 yards and five touchdowns, with one interception, the last two games, victories that made the Cardinals, believe it or not, a playoff contender.
It's been a while since Warner - and a lot longer since Arizona - could say that.
``It's a great place to be, knowing that everything still matters,'' he said. ``It's nice to be 10 games in and still be playing for something.''