49ers offense looks different this time vs Arizona

For months, Mike Singletary pounded home the notion that San

Francisco’s identity would be as a power-run offense, with Frank

Gore as the central figure.

Oh how that’s changed for the 49ers since they started the

season with a win at defending NFC champion Arizona. As Cardinals

coach Ken Whisenhunt prepared for Monday night’s rematch at

Candlestick Park, the gameplanning was much different – yet Arizona

is still counting on having to get through Gore if the Cardinals

(8-4) are going to clinch a second straight NFC West title by

winning this game.

“I know they made some changes offensively, but so have we. I

think that’s the natural part of the NFL season and how it goes,”

Whisenhunt said. “Just based on what I’ve seen the last few games,

they’ve thrown the ball a little bit more. They’re obviously doing

that well.”

So are the Cardinals.

Kurt Warner shined last Sunday night in beating Brett Favre and

Minnesota, throwing for 285 yards and three touchdowns in the 30-17

victory. He topped the 3,000-yard mark for the season and earned

NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors to boot.

Warner and Co. would like nothing more than to beat their

division rival on national television and wrap up the division.

This team believes it can make another special postseason run after

reaching the Super Bowl last season.

“It has the biggest implications,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald

said. “We’ve got to get this win to win our division and stamp our

ticket to the playoffs. That’s why it’s so important.”

San Francisco (5-7) has switched quarterbacks since the last

meeting. Singletary promoted Alex Smith at halftime against Houston

on Oct. 25. Rookie receiver and top draft pick Michael Crabtree had

yet to sign the last time these teams played, too.

Singletary finally relented about his offense upon seeing the

success Smith was having out of the shotgun and in a spread

offense, with a handful of talented targets to choose from.

“We’re basically trying to be a balanced team. At the beginning

of the season we started out wanting to be a power-running offense

but they did a great job on Frank the first game and we didn’t end

up doing that,” receiver Josh Morgan said. “We just go how the

game goes. We have the type of offense to do a lot of different

things. We’re adding another dimension. We’re still going to have

that basic power-running attack with Frank and he’s going to do

some big things in the run game for us.”

Gore carried 22 times for only 30 yards in the first meeting

with Arizona, yet he followed that up by running for a season-best

207 in a win over Seattle the following week. In his last three

games, he’s had seven, 16 and nine carries – for 59, 33 and 25

yards, respectively. But he’s also had 15 catches during that

span.

Tight end Vernon Davis has 11 touchdown catches, most in

franchise history at his position. He repeatedly said he could

produce this kind of big year if only given the opportunities.

With Gore and Davis and Morgan, even Crabtree, the Cardinals

could have their hands full. Smith is coming off a game in which he

threw for a career-high 310 yards in a loss at Seattle.

Arizona ranks 30th against the pass.

“I’m sure we’re going to run the ball. We’re not going to back

away from that,” Davis said. “We’ve definitely got to get Frank

Gore going. We’re going to pass the ball. We’re just pretty much

going to do everything it takes to win the game. We’re not going to

run from them.”

The Cardinals are still bitter about losing their opener 20-16

to the 49ers. San Francisco hasn’t won a road game since, going 0-5

with those defeats being decided by a total of 19 points.

“If no one else will say it, I’ll say it: Those guys

embarrassed us on our own field,” Arizona running back Tim

Hightower said.

After a 3-1 start, the Niners had hoped this game would be a

showdown for the division. Instead, the 49ers are just hoping to

win and make a good impression while in the national spotlight.

Smith had a poor game in his last Monday night performance, going

12-of-28 for 114 yards in a 24-0 loss at Seattle on Nov. 12,

2007.

Arizona safety Adrian Wilson doesn’t care how many times Smith

throws or what Gore’s numbers are, the Cardinals know they must be

ready for Gore to come barreling up the middle.

“Let’s not make a mistake. Frank is the focal point of that

team,” Wilson said. “Frank Gore is undoubtedly one of their best

offensive players. We’re not looking past the fact that they can

line up and they can run the football on us. We’re expecting him to

get the ball 30 times. That’s the type of mindset that you have to

have.”