A glance at five top storylines for Sunday's Cardinals-49ers game in San Francisco:
- Niners run forward, Cardinals push back
The 49ers have reverted back to what brought them to prominence a couple years ago – pure power run game. Coach Jim Harbaugh insists his philosophy hasn't shifted, but with injuries at the wideout and QB Colin Kaepernick not as sharp passing the ball, why wouldn't San Francisco feed Frank Gore behind that huge offensive line? It's the sixth-best running team against the third-best run defense. May the best unit win. And in this game, that's exactly what could happen.
- Protecting Palmer
It's never a good sign when the offensive coordinator acknowledges the quarterback has been a "little nervous" because of the pressure he is getting from the opposition, because the pass protection isn't as good as it could be. Carson Palmer noted the defenses the Cards have faced, especially the fronts, have been pretty good over the past few games. That's just going to intensify in San Francisco (and against Seattle a few days later). Palmer said he may start checking down more often and letting his own defense change the game. But the Cardinals are going to need points against the 49ers, and that will likely need to come through the air. The blockers have to keep Palmer clean.
- Protecting possession
Not only do the Cardinals have to protect their quarterback, they better protect the ball. Palmer in particular has to cut down on this sudden and disappointing rash of interceptions. The 49ers blew out the Texans last week in large part because Houston quarterback Matt Schaub couldn't stop throwing it to the wrong team. The Cardinals were lucky – and blessed to have such a good defense – that Palmer's trio of picks against the Panthers didn't turn into a loss. The way the 49ers play, multiple turnovers, especially on the road, would likely doom the Cards.
- Dealing with Anquan
Since Anquan Boldin was traded from the Cards, he has played against his former team just once. He led a stirring comeback for the Ravens in Baltimore after the Cards built a big lead in 2011, finishing with seven catches for 145 yards. This week, Patrick Peterson – who as a rookie was put on Boldin late and had some success – will likely be put on Boldin, which will be interesting. Peterson won't see any receiver any more physical than Q. Peterson had all kinds of trouble with the now-injured Michael Crabtree last season. This would be a fascinating matchup.
- Don't let it get away
The Cards have lost four straight in San Francisco, in part because of the shift in both teams' rosters as the 49ers have gotten better and the Cardinals have struggled. But the Cards haven't even been able to keep it close, losing by 14, 16, 31 and 15 in that stretch. If the Cardinals don't make too many self-inflicted wounds and can make it a one-score game late, maybe they can steal an important division game.