NFL: 49ers-Cardinals preview

The Examiner breaks down the 49ers-Cardinals game.

THREE KEYS TO A VICTORY

1. We’re not sure what type of Frank Gore we’re going to get (the one who burst onto the scene with 1,695 yards last season, or the one who may need to shake off some cobwebs due to not playing in any exhibition games because of a broken right hand). Either way, unless he spent the entire preseason munching on corn chips, there’s no reason why Gore can’t have a solid outing against a Cardinals run defense that allowed 118.6 yards per game in 2006.

2. This could be a make or break season for 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. Yes, the No. 1 overall pick in 2005 is beginning the season with his third offensive coordinator (Jim Hostler) in as many years. But with a revamped set of weapons (trading for receiver Darrell Jackson, drafting Jason Hill and signing Ashley Lelie to go with Gore and Vernon Davis), Smith should have plenty to work with.

3. While Smith is looked upon to bring the Niners back to the playoffs, sophomore Arizona quarterback Matt Leinart is looking to bring the Cardinals back to respectability. And he’s got plenty of weapons to choose from as well.

KEY MATCHUPS

Larry Fitzgerald vs. Nate Clements

Fitzgerald: Anquan Boldin is the team captain. But make no mistake — Fitz is The Man in ’Zona.

Clements: Niners’ eight-year, $80 million man is going to get tested right away in WR-heavy NFC West.

Gerald Hayes vs. Vernon Davis

Hayes: Linebacker led Cardinals with 93 tackles despite missing two games. But had just one sack.

Davis: Loud and rowdy tight end wants to “abuse” Cardinals. Let’s see if his hands are louder than his mouth.

Edgerrin James vs. Patrick Willis

James: With minor upgrades in O-line, running back still wants to prove he’s worth the big contract.

Willis: Was considered best linebacker in this year’s draft. Interesting to see just what he can do.

COACHES' CORNER

As much as we poke fun of the Cardinals, they are the only team in the NFC West that the 49ers’ Mike Nolan has yet to beat in his young career. Don’t think that Nolan doesn’t want this game badly. He does.

If the preseason means anything, then the Cardinals’ Ken Whisenhunt should like this: Arizona was tied for the league lead (with Jacksonville) in offense, racking up an average of 346 yards per game.

THE EXAMINER PREDICTS …

We love the matchups between two teams filled with young and exciting players. But if Nolan wants to beat the Cardinals for the first time in his career, he might have to wait until Week 12. Ken Whisenhunt gives the Cards a legit coach. CARDINALS 24, 49ERS 23

CARDINALS at 49ERS

Monday, 7:15 p.m.

TV: ESPN, KPIX (Ch. 5)

Radio: KTCT (1050 AM)

NFLSan Francisco 49erssports

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