SANTA CLARA -- The Arizona Cardinals' slumping offense looks like a pass rusher's dream. Arizona's quarterbacks -- yes, plural -- have been sacked 29 times in the past four games.
Talk about a golden opportunity for the 49ers to increase their sack total in Monday night's NFC West encounter in Arizona.
"It means we have a good chance of getting to the quarterback," said Aldon Smith, whose 51/2 sacks account for half of the 49ers' total.
That quarterback is expected to be John Skelton, who hurt his ankle in the season opener and didn't return until two weeks ago, once Kevin Kolb sustained rib and chest injuries.
The Cardinals' offensive line is a patchwork unit because of injuries, and they've had an open-door policy when it comes to pass rushers the past month.
They overcame eight sacks in a Sept. 30 win over the Miami Dolphins that extended their undefeated start to 4-0. Then came a three-game losing streak, and along with it were nine sacks against the St. Louis Rams, five against the Buffalo Bills and seven against the Minnesota Vikings.
"That's good then," 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. "It puts more pressure on their offensive line from stopping us, and when that's the case, we smell blood."
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has maintained for weeks there's nothing wrong with the 49ers' pass rush and that sack totals are misleading. They've tallied 11 sacks in seven games, which is tied for the
Backing up Fangio's claim: The 49ers are allowing the league's fewest yards per game (272.3) and fewest passing yards (173.4), along with the second-fewest points (14.3; the Chicago Bears are first at 13.0 points per game).
The Cardinals' defense counters with the league's fourth-best averages in terms of scoring (16.9) and passing yards (191.3). They haven't allowed more than 21 points in any game, and that's offset their offense's deficiencies after a 4-0 start that caught many off guard.
"I was surprised," Brooks said, "because I was like, 'Dang, we've got competition.' "
The 49ers needed only to look back to their last meeting with the Cardinals to confirm that statement. Unable to hold a 19-7 lead, the 49ers tallied only two sacks in a 21-19 loss at Arizona on Dec. 11.
It's the Cardinals who are fearing mistakes heading into this rematch, especially coach Ken Whisenhunt.
Asked if the Cardinals offensive line has shown any signs of progress, Whisenhunt somehow stayed composed to offer a realistic review.
"It's hard when you give up that many sacks," Whisenhunt said. "We play better for a little while and then have breakdowns."
The Cardinals tried addressing their line in free agency by signing former 49ers lineman Adam Snyder, who's lined up at right guard and is questionable for Monday's game because of a leg injury.
With offensive tackles Levi Brown and Jeremy Bridges on injured reserve, the Cardinals are on pace to give up 80 sacks this season. Only the 1986 Philadelphia Eagles allowed more sacks (104) since the league began recognizing that stat in 1982.
Offensive tackles D'Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie have yielded 22 of the Cardinals' 35 sacks, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
The 49ers' defense helped spark the Cardinals' shuffling of quarterbacks last season. Kolb got knocked out early of their Dec. 11 game with a concussion, caused by Brooks' inadvertent knee to the back of Kolb's head as Justin Smith pulled down the Cardinals' higher-priced quarterback. Skelton entered and pulled off a surprising comeback, starting a trend.
Aldon Smith doesn't care whom he's sacking as long as it's contributing to the defense's dominance.
"Selfishly we'd all like more sacks," Smith said. "Teams are a little more prepared, and quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball faster. But we're still getting pressure and doing OK."