Harbaugh says MNF game with Cardinals is “a big deal”

For the fifth time in the last six seasons, the 49ers and Cardinals will go to war on Monday Night Football this coming Monday, with a share of first place in the NFC West on the line.

The Cardinals are limping into the contest, having lost their last three games after a 4-0 start, so to say this game is big for them would be an understatement.

49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh knows this is a big game for both teams, as all eyes will be on Glendale, Ariz., on Monday night.

“Correct, that’s always been a big deal, since 1970, Monday Night Football,” Harbaugh said. “Your peers are watching you play at some point or other during the night.”

“I think all the players and coaches at least peak into the ballgame,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a division game, an important game, the next game.”

The dislike the two teams have shown for each other has grown over the years, and has manifested itself into one of the most heated rivalries in the NFL.

Harbaugh – who’s fairly new to the San Francisco/Arizona rivalry – tends to view the term “rivalry” in a much broader sense.

“I sense it every week with every team that we play,” Harbaugh said. “That’s why we take the approach that the next game is the most important game and that preparing for that game is paramount to put yourself in the best position to have a chance at being successful.”

An interesting stat: all four NFC West teams are currently ranked in the top-10 in overall defense.

Harbaugh talks about whether or not his defense – ranked No. 1 overall – sets the tone for the rest of the division when it comes to playing defense.

“I don’t know if that’s the perception, there’s really no bold statement to make about it,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve been watching, and there’s no doubt that the Cardinals are one of the top defenses in the league. I have a lot of respect for them, as we do for the Seahawks and the Rams.”

Harbaugh gets to the meat of why his defense is just as good, if not better, then they were last season.

“I think our defense does a great job of playing within the framework of the defense and playing together,” Harbaugh said. “They do a tremendous job of that, and sometimes that doesn’t show up in the low-hanging statistical fruit, but there’s so much more to it.”

“Really, I think you [can] tell a good defense by how they tackle,” Harbaugh said. “I think our guys do that well and they have contact courage.”

Harbaugh says he’s seen different teams try to emulate what his defense did last year, and is currently doing to be tops in the league.

The 49ers’ running game is superb. They’re currently ranked second in the league, averaging 177 yards a game.

Harbaugh says it’s not just about being the best at running the ball. He wants his team to be the best in all facets of the game.

“We aspire to be good at that [running the ball], and be good at throwing the ball as well and all those phases,” Harbaugh said. “Can we keep getting better? I think that’s how we’re defining success. Can we be better today than we were yesterday, better tomorrow than we were today?”