OK, maybe it's a little strong to say this is the John Wetzel game, but it's definitely the beginning of the John Wetzel-half season. Wetzel is the guy who is replacing left tackle Jared Veldheer (torn triceps) for the rest of the season. He isn't the only variable over which the Cardinals may or may not make the run they need to make, but he is definitely one of the biggest.
"The thing about Wetzel that you have to get over is every time you look at him, he looks freaking miserable," offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "Just miserable. Makes you upset to your core too, like 'What's the problem?' As long as he's got that miserable look on his face, that means he's ready to go, ready to play."
Wetzel has apparently looked absolutely down in the dumps this week, so optimism reigns.
His appearance, however, is the perfect proof of how this season is different than the fun run of 2015. Somebody as crucial as Veldheer didn't get hurt this early last season (Tyrann Mathieu's injury came as the Cards were wrapping up the division.) All the key guys were basically healthy. The offense had no question marks. Not like now. The Cards should get better offensively Sunday, because the 49ers defense is simply bad. Can they keep up something consistent through the rest of the schedule? Through the rest of a five-road-games-in-the-final-seven-weeks schedule?
-- Underscoring the injuries. The Cardinals have had 58 different players appear in at least one game this season. The Cards had only 56 players appear in at least one game all of last season.
-- David Johnson ran for a season-high 157 yards against the 49ers. The Niners have allowed a 100-yard rusher in seven straight games, a ignominious NFL record. Everything points to a lot of Johnson this week.
"If you're getting 5-to-10 (yards a try), you keep it up, but it's hard to get 5-to-10," coach Bruce Arians said. "If you're giving up five, you're not very good. Sooner or later, you're not going to get five and your quarterback's not in any kind of a rhythm to get a first down on third down. So, you've got to mix it up."
-- Granted, it's because questions are asked, but there has been a lot of positive things spoken about both Smokey Brown and about Michael Floyd this week. The Niners aren't exactly great against the pass either. Would it shock me to use Johnson sometimes as the decoy to open up the passing game? No.
-- The Cardinals are No. 1 in the NFL in total defense. It'd be nice to stay there against this opponent.
-- What's missing on offense, according to Goodwin? (Hint: It's no surprise): "Getting those explosive plays, which we have a number we want to hit, is key to our offense," Goodwin said. "As far as getting enthusiasm going, getting excitement going, getting chunk plays. We have to get back to that."
Goodwin said he wouldn't say how many the Cards want to hit per game, but it was more than five. Let's say an explosive play is at least 20 yards -- the Cardinals have 31 such plays this season in eight games. That's less than four per game.
-- No Tyrann Mathieu and no Tharold Simon mean a pretty big opportunity for either Brandon Williams or Justin Bethel. The season hasn't gone the way either of them have wanted, not at cornerback. This is an important moment for at least one to make a mark.
-- While I hope everyone got a chance to see the recent Pat Tillman "A Football Life" episode, I hope you also check out our most recent Zoom episode on Tillman. That's the full interview that Tillman gave in the summer of 2001 that gives an insight into Tillman the person. It's fascinating, especially in hindsight.
-- In each of his three previous Cardinals seasons, Arians has had his team with a winning streak of four games, six games and
eight nine games. The Cardinals have only a two-game winning streak this season so far.
-- Don't forget the annual food drive before Sunday's game. Volunteers from St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance and Cardinals Cheerleaders will be at collection points outside of all five stadium gates and the Great Lawn. Fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items and/or money for donation.
-- The second half has arrived. The Cardinals need it to be so much better than the first.