Bernie Bytes: Analyzing NFC West
Bernie Bytes: Analyzing NFC West
BY BERNIE MIKLASZ
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Can the Rams capture the tattered, soiled flag of the NFC West?
Well, sure. Given the level of the competition, the Rams certainly are capable of pulling this off and going from 1-15 to a division title in a single year. Even if the Rams win a poor division, it wouldn't diminish the turnaround. I don't care that the NFC West is weak; a franchise that had a three-year record of 6-42 coming into this season would have every reason to be proud for winning this division or any division.
Let's take a snapshot of each of the four teams in the NFC West. This is not intended to be comprehensive, just a quick look. Please feel free to add your own observations in the comments section. Thanks.
ST. LOUIS (5-6)
Schedule: At Arizona, at New Orleans, home vs. Kansas City, home vs. San Francisco and at Seattle.
Strengths: Quarterback Sam Bradford has 11 TDs and 1 INT in his last six games and is playing at a Top 10 QB level right now ... Steven Jackson is averaging less than 4 yards per carry but his more unreasonable critics miss the point; defenses still respect him and that impacts strategy. The defense loads up to stop Jackson which opens up the passing game ... The defense is struggling overall but the pass rush is tied for 5th in the league in sacks ... the Rams make the fewest mistakes in the division, with only 13 turnovers in 11 games... they are the only team in the division with a positive number in the takeaway/giveaway ratio, at + 4...the team attitude and harmony is terrific. It's a highly motivated group.
Concerns: Over the last three games, the Rams defense has allowed an average of 437 yards and 30 points. In the three games they've been burned for 6 TD passes (with no INTs) and a passer rating of 109.2 The Rams have given up a league-high 10 pass plays of 25+ yards over the last three games ... the coaching staff needs to shake this tendency on offense of going into a safe shell late in games to protect leads ... on offense the disappointing running game lacks consistency.
Prognosis: Rams can do this if they find a way to patch the defense and get it back on track. And if the coaches put more trust in Bradford with the lead. And this team simply cannot lose games that it should win. It's happened twice already, at Tampa Bay and at San Francisco. The Rams can't afford to lose Sunday in Arizona, for example. The division could come down to a Jan. 2 showdown at Seattle.
Schedule: home vs. Carolina, at San Francisco, home vs. Atlanta, at Tampa Bay, home vs. St. Louis.
Strengths: The Seattle special teams can make things happen. The Seahawks rank 4th in the league in punt-return average and are 9th in kickoff return average, with two TDs ... on a given day, Matt Hasselbeck and the passing game still clicks; the Seahawks have thrown for more gross passing yards than any team in the NFC West ... the Seattle defense is falling apart but still can get after quarterbacks; the Seahawks rank 11th in the NFL with 26 sacks.
Concerns: With injuries a major factor, the defense is having an epic collapse. Over the last five games, Seattle is 1-4. And over those five games the Seahawks have given up 21 touchdowns from scrimmage, a passer rating of 108.2, an average of 172 yards rushing, and an average of 479 yards froms scrimmage. A sign of the times: the NY Giants and Kansas City each went into Seattle and dropped 40+ points on the home team; that just isn't supposed to happen there ... the tenacious Hasselbeck is playing with an injured (non-throwing) left wrist. And he's been taking a beating, sacked 25 times (and hit a lot more) in 10 games. Hasselbeck's age and injury history makes Seattle even more vulnerable; the backup QB is Charlie Whitehurst, and he looked awful in his one start this season.
Prognosis: The Seahawks are in trouble, because there doesn't seem to be much hope of solving the defensive issues. The smart approach would be to try and put an emphasis on running the ball. The Seattle run game hasn't produced as expected, even after Marshawn Lynch was acquired from Buffalo. (He's averaging 3.1 yards per carry.) But with the defense getting drilled, the Seahawks are playing catch-up football and can't run it frequently. Three of the final five games are at home, but Seattle's homefield advantage isn't as notorious as it used to be. The best thing that Seahawks can hope for is to still have a chance when the Rams come calling on Jan. 2.
SAN FRANCISCO (4-7)
Schedule: at Green Bay, home vs. Seattle, at San Diego, at St. Louis, home vs. Arizona.
Strengths: Defense. The ***** rank 10th in the NFL in allowing 20.5 points per game. It's difficult to run on San Francisco; the 'Niners are giving up 3.6 yards per carry. And while the defense has been toasted for 14 TD passes, it also applies good pressure with the pass rush; the 'Niners have 23 sacks and lots of QB hurries .... the ***** have some momentum going, having won three of their last four ... QB Troy Smith has energized the offense ... there are very good receivers in TEs Vernon Davis and Delaney Walker and WR Michael Crabtree ... the ***** can run it, averaging 110 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry. But the loss of Frank Gore could change that.
Concerns: The exceptional Gore was lost for the season Monday night when he fractured a hip at Arizona. This is a substantial blow to the *****. Gore is traditionally one of the league's finest and most underrated RBs. The replacement, Brian Westbrook, looked great Monday at Arizona but the O-line opened huge holes against a bored Cardinals defense and so Westbrook's production could have been misleading. With his age and own history of injuries, can Wesbtrook hold up? ... Tampa Bay showed how to limit Troy Smith; take the perimiter away from him and force him to stay in the pocket and throw. Will other teams wise up? ... even with some better performances as of late, the ***** are averaging only 17 points per game; that's 31st in the league ... the ***** allow too many sacks ... the leadership of head coach Mike Singletary has been unstable so you never know how he'll respond to different situations when tested.
Prognosis: Having moved to within a game of first place with five left, the ***** have a fighting chance. There are some positive things happening for them. But: those road games at Green Bay and San Diego are imposing. The ***** would also have to win in St. Louis. And with Gore gone, the challenge has become much more difficult.
Schedule: home vs. St. Louis, home vs. Denver, at Carolina, home vs. Dallas, at San Francisco.
Strengths: It's not easy to find things to tout here. The primary wide receivers (Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston) are excellent ... special teams are dangerous; Cardinals have scored two TDs on returns ... the defense gets burned a lot but has also made 11 interceptions; the ballhawks are pretty good... DT Darnell Dockett is a force when healthy but he's not healthy; has a shoulder injury ... remaining schedule is definitely a plus; the Cardinals have the easiest slate in the division and could get within striking distance by winning the next three vs. the Rams, Broncos and Panthers.
Concerns: The Cardinals are 29th in points scored, 31st in points allowed. Their point differential is minus 125, which is awful. And they are minus 9 in the turnover ratio ... QB position is unstable; with Derek Anderson and Max Hall the Cardinals rank 31st in the league in completion percentage (52.5), 30th in TD passes (8), 31st in TD/INT ratio and 31st in passer rating (63.1). That represents an incredible waste of Fitzgerald and Breaston ... the running game has its moments but should be better than it is... Arizona defense is giving up 146 yards rushing per game, which ranks 31st. Teams have averaged 4.5 yards per rush against the Cardinals, with 14 rushing TDs... secondary has been beaten for 17 TD passes... injuries are piling up and morale is on the decline. The Cardinals didn't appear to be very interested on Monday Night while getting mauled by the *****.
Prognosis: Not good. Not good at all. The retirement of Kurt Warner and some questionable personnel decisions set this franchise into a freefall and it may be necessary to rebuild. However: if you want a miracle-run scenario, it's there -- a ridiculously easy schedule, at the very least, provides that longshot possibility.
Thanks for reading...
Re: Bernie Bytes: Analyzing NFC West
WELL SPOKEN AGAIN BERNIE!!
We control our own destiny at this point; there is an opportunity ahead of us and it starts this Sunday by beating the Cardinals in their own 'dome'.
This franchise is destined for potential greatness in the years to come!
Re: Bernie Bytes: Analyzing NFC West
I wouldn't say overall the defense is struggling but the true colors of the secondary are showing. Bartell at this points seems like the only legitimate starter at cb and there is a serious lack of depth behind him. The run D has done a pretty good job sure they gave up 130+ yards to Turner but if you take away his one big run late in the game they really shut him down. But before the season I never would have thought the Rams would have a shot a playoffs and right now they seem to be the favorites to win the division