The Cardinals' defense is ranked 12th in the NFL heading into the season finale at San Francisco.
With a game left in the season and the Cardinals 12th in the NFL in total defense and fourth in turnovers, coordinator Ray Horton gave his unit a grade of B-plus for the season.
"If we were in the playoffs it would have been naturally an A," Horton said. "But we're not far."
Horton said he would have liked to see a "couple of shutouts" and some more scoring chances to help out the Cards' offense. "Over the season I'd probably take back no more than five plays, less than a handful, that I would love to call again," Horton said.
Generally, though, it's hard to argue with the results the defense had. The playoffs long absent as an option, holding on to various statistical rankings remains motivation.
"It shows what we are about," linebacker Paris Lenon said. "Obviously we want to win, we want to go to the playoffs, we want to go all the way. But that's not reality for us. A goal underneath that is to be one of the top defenses in this league.
"Overall, we have done a great job. We had some games where we didn't play the way we wanted to play, but we are still right up there. To finish on a strong note and be recognized as one of the top defenses in the NFL, that's a big deal."
The Cards lead the league in opposing passing rating and are second in opposing completion percentage and third in total pass defense. They are second in interceptions and tied for 10th in sacks.
Horton often lists the Cards' rankings in certain categories with his team, pointing out not only where Arizona ranks but what they'd need to do to raise that ranking.
"Within the grand scheme of things, there are your small victories," defensive end Vonnie Holliday said. "Going into the season it was important for this defense to take a step. We took a step last year, but I think before Ray got here, the defense was ranked pretty low.
"When you put that kind of work in the offseason, in training camp, the season, and you have those stats to back up what the coaches are saying, it makes the defense better. You have a lot of young players growing up in this defense, Daryl Washington, Patrick Peterson, guys who have taken this defense from where we were to where we are now. It's a gauge of where we have come from and how much better we can be."
Horton wanted his unit to at least match the highest-ranked defense in the quarter-century of the Cardinals since moving to Arizona. That won't happen, since the Cards once were third in 1994 (and eighth in 2005).
"But there are other categories still up there," Horton said.
POTTER QUESTIONABLE, DOUCET REMAINS OUT
Starting left tackle Nate Potter (ankle) was able to do some limited work Friday for the first time this week and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game as the Cards prepare to take on pass rusher Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks).
Wide receiver Eearly Doucet is out with a concussion. Fellow receiver LaRon Byrd is doubtful with a bad knee. Questionable to be available are guard Mike Gibson (calf), fullback Anthony Sherman (knee) and defensive end Ronald Talley (ankle).
For the Niners, defensive tackle Justin Smith (elbow) is officially doubtful but he will not play. Tight end Vernon Davis (concussion), linebacker Clark Haggans (shoulder) and defensive tackle Will Tukuafu (neck) are all questionable.
ZASTUDIL WORKS TO HANG ON TO RECORD
Thanks to back-to-back weeks of six punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line, punter Dave Zastudil is the current owner of the NFL record for total punts downed inside the 20 with 44.
But with one game left, there is still suspense. Kansas City's Dustin Colquitt has 42 as he goes into his game against Denver. Zastudil called it a "cool honor" after Sunday's game but acknowledged he isn't thinking a lot about it.
"The only time I know about it when people tell me," Zastudil said. "It just happens. If you play 16 games and the majority of your punts are around the 50, you're supposed to do that."
There is some pride from the gunners that make it happen too.
"I guess takes all of us," said Michael Adams, who along with Justin Bethel form the trio (with Zastudil) most responsible for the make. "A lot of time we have tackled guys inside the 20, and Dave has been doing a great job, hang time, making guys fair catch it.
"I guess you have pride in it. You feel good during the season. Afterward it isn't as much, because your name isn't there – If I look in the (record) book, it's going to say 'Dave Zastudil.' But it's cool."
LENON, WASHINGTON ARE PFWA AWARD WINNERS
The Arizona chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association named its two award winners this week. Lenon was given the Steve Schoenfeld "Good Guy" award for the player who is professional, accessible and insightful in dealing with reporters.
Linebacker Daryl Washington won the Lloyd Herberg MVP award.
Herberg was the Arizona Republic's first Cardinals' beat writer who passed away in 1994. Schoenfeld was another long-time writer covering the Cardinals until his death in 2000.