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Getting Behind The Line

Posted Dec 12, 2009

Notebook: Offensive unit improved since last 49ers meeting; Gandy should return

The offensive line has led the way for the Cards to have averaged more than 400 yards of offense over the last five games.
 
 
Earlier this week, coach Ken Whisenhunt praised his offensive line for playing “one of our better games as a whole” in the win over Minnesota.

The line has been playing well for a while, now, even sidestepping the problem of injured left tackle Mike Gandy last week. The Cards’ offense is “operating,” as Whisenhunt likes to say, and the effectiveness of the run and pass traces back to a line that had its rough moments earlier in the season.

That’s why the 49ers, who were able to pressure quarterback Kurt Warner in the opener more than expected, should have trouble repeating such a performance Monday night.

“We’ve been through some battles and we know we are capable of doing some great things when we operate when we can,” guard Reggie Wells said.

After the opener, Whisenhunt said the line needed to work on cleaning up technique.

“Were there mistakes? Of course,” guard Deuce Lutui said. “But as each game came on, we played better and better. A lot of people don’t really recognize the Arizona Cardinals have a (good) offensive line.”

Gandy is expected to play this week, Whisenhunt said, although the coach added Gandy’s status as a starter will depend on how he feels on game day. If not, Jeremy Bridges already proved himself capable to start.

Like the rest of the Cards, the line would like another chance to face the 49ers, after San Francisco sacked Warner three times in the opener. In that game, the 49ers held the Cards to just 40 rushing yards and had an easier time covering receiver Larry Fitzgerald because Steve Breaston was out with a knee injury and Anquan Boldin could barely move because of a bad hamstring.

The receivers are healthy now, and the running game has turned into an above-average threat. With the line playing as it has, it is difficult to slow the Cards.

“(The Vikings) were frustrated,” Warner said. “I can’t say enough about those guys up front because when they allow us to do what we need to on the back end, we are a pretty good team.”

INJURY UPDATE

The illness going around the team claimed another player Saturday, when nose tackle Bryan Robinson was forced to sit out because of a bug. Linebacker Bertrand Berry, who had missed Friday’s work because of the illness, was back on a limited basis.

Nevertheless, Robinson is listed as probable for Monday night’s game. Other than linebacker Will Davis (out after knee surgery), three players are listed as questionable for the game: Berry, tight end Stephen Spach (knee) and defensive end Kenny Iwebema (thumb). Everyone else is considered probable.

TAKING ON FITZ

One significant difference between the last time the Cards and 49ers played will be the absence of San Francisco cornerback Nate Clements, who is out with a shoulder injury. Clements has been the main cover man on Fitzgerald since Clements was signed as a free agent before the 2007 season.
 
In the five games between the teams since then, Fitzgerald – who sees a healthy dose of double- or bracket coverage from the Niners – has averaged less than 65 yards a game.

With Clements down, his replacement will likely be Shawntae Spencer, a former teammate of Fitzgerald’s at the University of Pittsburgh and the guy who used to cover Fitzgerald before Clements arrived.

“He’s a scrapper, works his butt off all the time,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s fun to compete against.
 
“We used to get into it all the time at practice. He’s a talker in practice, but he never says anything to me in a game. It’ll be like old times.”

WORK TO THE MUSIC

The park next door to the Cardinals’ facility is often used for high school bands or drum groups who are practicing their craft. Saturday, the Cards heard plenty of beats while practice was going on.

“The only problem is half our guys are dancing to it,” Whisenhunt said. “I saw all different facets of our team getting into it, from Alan Branch and Karlos Dansby and Clark Haggans, to, of course, the guy who does it the most, No. 29.”

“No. 29” is cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who seems to dance to just about anything, including silence.
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