A week ago, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made the 49ers pay for all of their mistakes.
And defensive coordinator Eric Mangini knows this week the 49ers will not catch any breaks, either.
The Carson Palmer-led Arizona Cardinals lead the NFL with 79 points in two games. They have scored touchdowns on each of their seven trips inside the red zone. Palmer, returning from a torn ACL that limited him to just six games last season, is picking up where he left off since joining the Cardinals.
He is second in the NFL with a 124.4 passer rating, and the Cardinals have won 15 of Palmer's past 17 starts, including eight in a row.
“He’s probably in the best shape of his life after coming off that rehab and doing all the work he did on his body,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “His arm’s in great shape. But, mentally, he went through and stayed with it –- stayed with the process, as far as getting prepared and took all that film.
“He’s a film-watchin’ fool.”
Mangini will try to push all the right buttons to slow down Palmer on Sunday in the first NFC West matchup for both teams this season. The Cardinals (2-0) are the only unbeaten team in the division. They were 6-0 last season before Palmer's injury.
The 49ers might have tried to get too tricky against the Steelers last week. Twice Roethlisberger took advantage of a 49ers defense that tried to bluff him into thinking a blitz was coming. Roethlisberger, as it turned out, had time to throw and burnt the 49ers’ deep before safety Eric Reid could get back into position to play his designed cover-2 defense.
Palmer said he knows the 49ers will clean up those mistakes. He said he also expects Mangini to show a few wrinkles on Sunday that the 49ers did not unveil in either of their first two games.
“You’ve got to expect something that you haven’t seen on film,” Palmer said. “Coach Mangini, one of the greatest things he does is just focuses on your protections and finds ways to get two guys on one guy, where you either got to get hot (read), or you’re going to get sacked and you should have gotten rid of the ball.
“They do a ton of disguising, they line up one way and they finish another and you really got to see the field and really understand that anything can be coming from anywhere and just because you haven’t seen it on film ... you’ve got to be prepared for that to happen. Coach Mangini is so smart and really has a great feel for protections that he’s going to find a weakness.”
Palmer, 35, a two-time Pro Bowl performer, is playing at perhaps the highest level of his career in his 12th NFL season after entering the NFL as the No. 1 overall selection of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2004. Palmer is on the same page as his wide receivers and has fully grasped the intricacies of the Cardinals playbook while beginning his third season in the system, Arians said.
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Mangini faced Palmer four times in 2009 and ’10 when they were both in the AFC North. Mangini was the Cleveland Browns’ head coach, while Palmer was playing his final two seasons with the Bengals.
“I’ve always liked Carson,” Mangini said. “He’s got a great, great arm. You watched in the early games, he’s coming off the injury, he’s got the brace, things like that. But, he moved around well in the pocket.
“I think the thought process that he’s a statue, that’s not the Carson I’ve experienced. And, his arm strength is impressive and he throws a really nice ball.”