The Cardinals must slow the 49ers' running game Monday night.
Secrets in the NFL are about as common as a positive political ad these days.
Everyone knows what everybody else is doing, no matter how hard teams try to disguise their schemes.
Take San Francisco for example. The Cardinals – and everyone else in the NFL – know the 49ers will run the ball Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium. And run the ball. And run the ball.
But the difference between the Niners and the rest of the league is how well they do it. San Francisco is ranked first in the league in rushing yards per play and second in rushing yards per game.
"It's what they do," defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. "It's their bread and butter.
"It's going to be a major challenge. That's kind of been our Achilles heel right now statistically."
The Cardinals are ranked 20th in the NFL in rushing defense.
Like a storm on the horizon, the Cardinals know what's coming and are bracing for it, but Horton said San Francisco's philosophy is simple.
"They put three big linemen in there and just come downhill," Horton said. "There's no mystery to what they're doing. They're just big guys. They're very physical. They just pound you and pound you and it's kind of a game of submission. At some point you're going to wear down."
Who cries "uncle" first will depend on how well the Cardinals can hold down the line of scrimmage. It's about matching the 49ers' physicality, being disciplined and meeting the ball with more than one defender, linebacker Paris Lenon said.
The fewer yards the Cardinals allow, the higher their chance of winning increases. In their two losses this season, to Minnesota and the New York Giants, the Niners ran for 89 and 80 yards, respectively. In their five wins, the 49ers averaged 213.4 yards.
"If we can stop the run, I believe our secondary is good enough to hold down the pass," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "They don't want to throw the ball too much. Their game plan is run the ball down your throat. Run the ball first, run it second, pass third."
Another reason for the Cardinals to slow San Francisco's running game is to regain possession, Horton said. With the exception of their win over Detroit, in which they held the ball for 29 minutes, 34 seconds, the Niners have held the ball for more than half the game in each of their wins this season -- and for 28 minutes or less in two losses.
"The run game, we definitely have to clean that up," safety Adrian Wilson said. "But we feel a lot more confident (as a defense) than where we were last year."
DOCKETT BACK AND READY
Darnell Dockett has been back in the lineup for three weeks since injuring his hamstring against Philadelphia in Week 3, but Horton said the defensive tackle could have his welcome back party Monday night.
"This is his playoff game," Horton said. "He wants this game. I expect a fantastic game from him."
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said it's hard to keep Dockett off the field.
"He's going to play through things but he's being unselfish and working hard," Whisenhunt said. "He's getting back to playing at that high level."
Dockett is listed as probable in the game, but six are questionable, including guard Adam Snyder (quad), tight ends Todd Heap (knee) and Jim Dray (knee), cornerback Jamell Fleming (back) and fullback Anthony Sherman (knee). Cornerback Greg Toler (hamstring) is doubtful and quarterback Kevin Kolb (ribs) is out.
For the 49ers, only tackle Joe Staley (illness) is questionable.
FOOD DRIVE MONDAY NIGHT
Fans are asked to bring a non-perishable food item or a donation to University of Phoenix Stadium before Monday night's game. The food drive will benefit the St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance and is sponsored by the Cardinals and Sagicor Life Insurance.
Fans can drop off their donations at five points around the stadium and the Great Lawn.