The San Francisco 49ers had to fight tooth and nail in order to come out with a 13-6 win over the stingy Seattle Seahawks last Thursday night. Frank Gore carried the offense with 182 yards from scrimmage, while the defense came up with crucial stops. After throwing for 293 yards and three touchdowns against the New England Patriots, Russell Wilson was limited to just 122 passing yards and an interception. Seattle had their chances to capitalize, but in the end, the Niners held firm.
Standing atop the division at 5-2, the Niners travel to the desert where they will take on the Arizona Cardinals. After starting off 4-0, the Cardinals have gone cold and dropped three straight. During their three-game skid, Arizona scored an average of 11 points while struggling to run. Larry Fitzgerald and the offense may have difficulty moving the ball, but their defense can keep them in games.
The Cardinals' mix of youth and established veterans make them one of the top defenses in the NFL. Defensive end Darnell Dockett and All-Pro safety Adrian Wilson have been the longtime leaders on defense, but Daryl Washington and Patrick Peterson are carving their own niche. With a dominating front line and a secondary that covers a lot of ground, it is no surprise that Arizona ranks fourth in pass defense. On the flip side they have trouble stopping the run, allowing 120.9 rushing yards per game. Keeping those numbers in mind, Gore should be prepared for another heavy workload despite his bruised ribs. After his impressive performance against a tough Seahawks' front seven, there's little reason to stray away from that formula. In two games against Arizona last year, Gore ran for 160 yards and a touchdown. His efficiency will be a crucial element in protecting Alex Smith, who was sacked five times and held to just 175 passing yards in their last meeting together.
Even after seven weeks of action, the Cardinals remain unsettled at quarterback. For the most part Kevin Kolb has played well through six games, but sustaining a rib injury in their loss to Buffalo will keep him out for at least several weeks. Taking his place once again is third-year signal-caller John Skelton. Dating back to 2010, Skelton has won seven straight games as a starter under the University of Phoenix Stadium roof. His numbers don't jump off the page, but the Cardinals rally behind him, especially at home. Last time Skelton faced the Niners in Arizona, he threw for three touchdowns (and two interceptions), helping the Cardinals sneak out with a 21-19 win.
However, Skelton has an uphill battle to climb come Monday night. Not only will he need to find ways to get past the Niners' No. 1 pass defense, but his offensive line is very suspect. While he has only played in two full games this year, his line has allowed the most sacks (35) and quarterback hits (53) in the league. Lacking depth and talent at running back is another obstacle working against him. As long as Justin and Aldon Smith can stop the run, the burden will be placed on Skelton's arm to make the big play. If you are Arizona, that's a scary proposition as he has thrown at least one interception in 10 straight games. By all accounts, the Niners defense has a distinct advantage.
With two stout defenses taking the field, this matchup is setting up to be another slugfest. The Niners and Cardinals may not play the prettiest games, but they find ways to pull out wins, and quite frankly, that's all that matters. Playing in front of a national audience with a bye week approaching, San Francisco hopes to conclude the first half of the season on a high note.
Sources:nfl.com Yahoo! Frank Gore Player Profile
Travis Chan is a longtime fan of the San Francisco 49ers, Giants and Golden State Warriors. He is also a contributor for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Travischan1.