I am currently working on previewing games 9-12 of the 2008 season and should have it posted shortly however I could not let this one go without posting it first. Enjoy.
So yesterday I was having a civilized discussion with a co-worker who is an avid Kurt Warner fan from his years in St. Louis. Mostly because he is an even bigger Marshall Faulk homer. He has never really expressed his affection for the team that resides here in the desert, at least not to me until yesterday.
As I was engaged in conversation with another fellow employee regarding the 49ers home and season opener, let’s call him, ummm… Derrick for kicks, decided to chime in with this little gem. The dialogue between us is as follows;
D: “You guys are going down on Sept, 7th!”
J: “How do you figure that?”
D: “Because we’re going to whip that a** with Warner at quarterback!”
D: “That’s right man you have nothing to say, we have better players at every position then the lowly 49ers!”
J: “Ha-ha… are you being serious?!!! That’s laughable man; for starters name me one linebacker on the Cards who is better then Patrick Willis.”
D: “Patrick Willis, he’s alright man, but Dansby blows him away.”
J: “Dude are you kidding me? We are talking about the same Willis here right? Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, led the league in tackles… the league man, not just rookies, the entire league???”
D: “Yeah man we blow you away in the secondary and the line backing position, quarterback and running back too.”
That was it for me as I literally ran back to my desk to begin typing. As I left his aisle I commented back that I was going to educate him on the finer points of NFL football. I did just that with this next analysis.
Let’s be truthful here, as of this moment Warner is the better QB of the two and that would be the same if Alex Smith was starting. O’Sullivan however has never started an NFL game in his eight year career so there really is no telling what he is capable of. Looking back on his high school days at Jesuit in Carmichael, CA and then onto college at UC Davis and the last three weeks in Mike Martz’s offense one might surmise that he is due to blow the hell up. Again though there is no basis for comparison here from his previous years in the league, so for now Warner, even though he is 73 years old wins this battle.
This is a position that is going to define the 49ers offense much more then it will that of the Cardinals. Gore is going to be the Marshall Faulk in Martz’s scheme, which is not to say that he is going to surpass or even equal the production that Faulk brought to the Rams in his heyday, just that Gore is going to be utilized in much the same way that his predecessor was. James while still managing to post good numbers in his own right has fallen short on the ground the last two seasons gaining a combined 2,381 yards to Gores 2,797. Pundits talk about the fact that Edge gained over a 1,000 yards his first season in the desert with a suspect offensive line but the truth is that Gore did the same last year while playing in the second worst offense in league history. The backups here are both good and should do well in spelling the two starters and in Hightower’s case might actually take over the position as the season wears on.
Yes the Cardinals have a very good receiving corps, quite possibly the best in the league with Fitzgerald and Boldin starting. I also believe that Breaston is going to fit in nicely as the third option there. The 49ers on the other hand have their most talented unit at the position since Terrell Owens left in 2004, that might not mean much to some but when you consider who this team has had to work with in that time it’s a significant difference. Even with that fact Arizona is the hands down winner here as there are not many teams in the league who can boast the same skill set at this position.
In terms of potential the 49ers have the edge here with Davis and Walker over Pope and Tuman. In terms of reality this is a tight race for superiority at the tight end position. Davis is unequivocally the most talented of all the tight ends on either team, there should be no qualms about that. He caught 52 passes last season for 509 yards and four touchdowns, the closet Cardinal to him in terms of production was Pope with 23 catches for 238 yards and five scores. Sure Pope had one more touchdown then Davis but when taking into consideration that the moribund offense the 49ers fielded in 2007, Davis’s numbers are that much more impressive. Delanie Walker is a better second option then anyone Arizona has behind Pope and since Martz will be running quite a lot two tight end sets when the offense takes the field look for both players to have good production this season.
These are both very good lines on paper and should not have much trouble opening holes for their running backs and protecting their QB’s in 2008. For Arizona they are finally getting some continuity in terms of players and coaching with Russ Grimm bringing in his hardnosed style of offensive line play. They are returning all five players on the line from last season, an offensive attribute that many people tend to overlookespecially at the offensive line position. They should only get better as the season presses on and they all get more time under their belt. By the bay the 49ers are also returning all five starters from 2007 and have even made the bold move of switching second-year tackle Staley to left tackle where he will be protecting the quarterback’s blind side. The 6’5, 315lb lineman should have little trouble doing so since he played this position throughout college and many draft analysts predicted that he will end up having a more productive career then the Cardinals Levi Brown who was taken 23 picks ahead of him. Snyder and Heitman along with Baas and Jennings should form a cohesive line and perform well in Martz’s vertical offense. Gandy and Wells will provide good protection on the left side with youngsters Lutui and Brown still finding their bearings on the right. One last factoid and again I am sure we are all in agreement that preseason games shouldn’t be considered a great indicator of the regular season; the 49ers have given up only two sacks in three games while the Cardinals have surrendered 10 thus far.
So far the 49ers have a 3-2 edge after viewing the offensive position comparisons. I will be covering the defensive side of the ball in the coming days.