Bernie Bytes: Monday Morning Backup QB

BY BERNIE MIKLASZ
November 8, 2010 11:30 am

Reading Time 5 Minutes:

* As they go back to work following the bye week, the Rams have to know that they are absolutely capable of winning the NFC West, and that they could not ask for a better opportunity than the one that awaits them over the final eight regular-season games. The division is collapsing around them. The Rams -- even with their injuries -- have the most stability in the division. They are the most solid on both sides of the ball. And even with some inconsistent stretches that have hurt them, you just don't see the Rams have these dramatic swings in effort or performance. Compared to the Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco, the Rams are steady.

* It's a mess in Seattle. The Seahawks may be 4-4 and tied with the Rams for the NFC West lead, but they are headed the wrong way. Injuries have caused serious damage to the Seahawks' front lines on both sides of the ball. In the last two games, losses to Oakland and the NY Giants, Seattle has been outscored 74-10 and outgained 932 to 327. They have allowed 436 yards rushing and 5 TD passes in the last two games. Charlie Whitehurst made his first NFL start Sunday (Matt Hasselbeck is concussed) and threw two red-zone INTs against the Giants. There was no zip or flair to his game. He was just a guy. He did not seize the moment, as it were.

* The Arizona Cardinals, 3-5, don't have a QB. In 2008-2009, with Kurt Warner in charge, the Cardinals threw 58 TD passes with 33 INTs, which was the NFL's 9th-best TD/INT ratio over the two seasons. And this year? With the QB Carousel of Derek Anderson and Max Hall, the Cardinals rank 29th in the NFL in TD/INT ratio. Only three teams have thrown fewer INTs (13) than the Cardinals so far this season. And the Cardinals are tied for last in the NFL in the number of TD passes thrown (6). The Cardinals are averaging 19.6 points per game, but that's misleading. Arizona has scored 8 TDs on returns this season -- and only 11 TDs from scrimmage. And the Arizona defense is falling apart, as evidenced by the collapse at Minnesota on Sunday. (The Cardinals had a 24-10 lead with 5 minutes left in the 4th Q and lost the game in overtime.)

* That's another advantage the Rams seemingly have: defense. Take a look at these basic NFL rankings of each NFC West team in the two key categories:

-- Points Allowed Per Game: Rams 7th (at 17.6), San Francisco 19th (at 22.2); Seattle 20th (at 22.6), Arizona 28th (at 28.1).

--Yards Allowed Per Game: Rams 11th (at 334 yds); San Francisco 14th (345 yds), Seattle 29th (400 yds), Arizona 31st (407 yards).

--Third Down Conversions Allowed: Seattle is 6th (34.5 percent), the Rams are 8th (35.8%), San Francisco is 16th (38.1%), Arizona is 21st (39.8%).

* San Francisco, even at 2-6, is intriguing for this reason: the talent seems to be there to make a run. The talent in some spots is elite. The ***** should control this division but dysfunction has brought this team down. The ***** are basing part of their hope that Troy Smith will be the answer at QB. He played well in his start against Denver, completing 12 of 19 for 196 yards and a TD with no picks and a rating of 113.5. But how will the former Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State play over the long haul? He's been in the league since 2007. The Ravens decided to sign Marc Bulger to be their No. 2 QB behind Joe Flacco; Smith, who had been No. 2, was released. Smith has made only three starts in his career; the first two came in 2007. He's played well as a starter, with a 91.0 rating in three games. But that's a small sample size. The ***** have issues, but Smith is the "X Factor" in the second half of the NFC West.

* We all know this to be true: this will be a very important game Sunday when the Rams travel to San Francisco. The Rams have to earn some credibility by proving they can win on the road. Even in this weak division, some road wins are mandatory. And the ***** have to win this one. They'll be a desperate team. If they lose, the 'Niners will be 2-7 and will find it hard to get back up. If they win, the ***** will be 3-6, and have some positive momentum going -- and they can use that to pull off an extended run and steal the division. I have to think that for the Rams, this is their most important game against the ***** since the 1999 season. The Rams had better buckle up; they're going to see a lot of Frank Gore running at them Sunday.

Thanks for reading...

-Bernie