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Friday Five: 49ers At Cardinals

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A glance at the top storylines for the Cardinals-49ers game Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium:

Keeping an eye on Kap

The Cardinals didn't expect Jay Cutler to run the couple of times the Bears' quarterback did run last week, and acknowledged later they were willing to give that up in the grand scheme of things. There is no question 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will run. Sometimes it'll be designed, sometimes it'll be when the play breaks down. Either way, Kaepernick is dangerous with his legs – and arguably, more dangerous than when he throws. Carlos Hyde is a good running back, but it's the QB who can mess up the plans.  

Protecting Palmer

As of this posting, the Cardinals still hadn't made a decision about their right tackle spot. But so far Carson Palmer has not been sacked, and it's safe to assume a parallel with that stat and the seven touchdown passes Palmer already has thrown. Palmer is an 'x' factor in these NFC West battles, since injuries cost him from playing in all four matchups against the 49ers and Seahawks in 2014. He can change the game with the way he has been playing; The Cards need to keep him clean to do so.

Running room against a better front

The Cardinals have been running the ball fine. They aren't one of the top rushing teams, but they have generated enough. Even with Andre Ellington down, the Johnson and Johnson backfield produced plenty in Chicago. The reality is that neither the Saints nor Bears have a very good front seven, and while the 49ers have been weakened by player defections, their defense is going to be the best the Cards have seen. Moving the ball on the ground is paramount, if for no other reason than to set up a play-action pass or two.

Attack the right with the left

The 49ers have a solid left side of the line with guard Alex Boone and Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley. But the right side, not so much. According to profootballfocus.com, new right guard Jordan Devey has already allowed nine quarterback pressures. Right tackle Erik Pears is rated as the third-worst run-blocking tackle. The Niners figure to run left a lot, but it may open opportunities for left defensive end Frostee Rucker, among others to make some plays.

Separation in the NFC West

For all the success the Cardinals have had the last two years, there is one area they are still trying to improve – division games. The Cards are only 5-7 the past two years in the division, compared to 18-4 against everyone else. Getting home wins against division foes is a must, especially against a San Francisco club that simply isn't the team it was a couple of years ago. The Seahawks have started 0-2, but they figure to get healthy with some home games. The Cards want to continue to keep as much space between them and the other division teams as possible.

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