The Cardinals’ offensive plan this season is to run the ball, both more often and more effectively, with Edgerrin James around.
But with Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald on the field, that may be difficult to stick with Sunday against San Francisco in the regular season opener.
The 49ers had the worst pass defense in the NFL last season and coach Mike Nolan acknowledged earlier this week his pass rush is lacking right now. Their cornerbacks, Walt Harris and Shawntae Spencer, are not considered exceptional and Spencer is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury.
Meanwhile, the statistics the Cards’ Pro Bowl-type receivers posted last season in two games against San Francisco were eye-popping: Boldin compiled 19 receptions for 272 yards and two touchdowns, while Fitzgerald had 15 catches for 231 yards and one score.
Neither one was making any bold pronouncements for the opener however, choosing their usual understated ways.
“We feel we can get off against any defense,” Boldin said. “We match up pretty well with them in the secondary,” Fitzgerald said.
In some ways, considering Boldin and Fitzgerald are each coming off 100-catch seasons, they have been largely under the radar during camp. They played little in the preseason, and they have been overshadowed with the arrival of James, Matt Leinart and the team’s new stadium.
“Man, if I don’t have to have my name in anything, that’s the way I like it,” Fitzgerald said. “I just want to go out and be productive and get on the winning track.”
Added Boldin, “As long as you get respect of the players around the league, that’s what you are looking for.”
The Cardinals were high on tight end Vernon Davis before the draft, and it wasn’t surprising when the 49ers took him sixth overall. He is expected to be a key safety valve for young quarterback Alex Smith. “I don’t think there has ever been a quarterback that was good that didn’t have weapons around him,” Nolan said. The Cardinals are very aware of Davis as he makes his NFL debut. New strongside linebacker Calvin Pace — himself making his first regular season start at his position — will likely draw Davis duty more than anyone.
“It would be a lot different if he wasn’t a rookie,” Pace said. “I think eventually he will become a (great) player, but I think things might come at him a little fast. It’s going to be a challenge. He’s a legitimate 4.3 (in the 40-yard dash), that’s no joke.”
The Cards added special teamer Hanik Milligan to the injury list with a sore Achilles tendon. Milligan skipped Friday’s walk-through and is listed as questionable for Sunday. Linebacker Karlos Dansby (toe) and tackle Oliver Ross (knee) will be out. . . . Newcomer Chris Liwienski will apparently be Ross’ replacement at starting right tackle, with Reggie Wells remaining at his normal left guard spot. . . .
In six career starts against San Francisco, Kurt Warner is 6-0 with 14 touchdown passes and a 98.9 quarterback rating, according to STATS, Inc. . . .
Nolan, on the 49ers-Cardinals rivalry spiced up first with the trip to Mexico City last year and then with the opening of Cardinals Stadium this season: “They’ve added another dimension to the game which is a good thing. We’re not on a Monday night or Sunday night, or Thursday, but it’s the next best thing I guess.”