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    Dan Pompei - Prognosticators beware

    PART #1

    Prognosticators beware
    Don't even try to figure out the final ending to what could be NFL's most competitive division

    Dan Pompei
    August 22, 2007

    ST. LOUIS - If there is one division in football that is almost certain to spring a surprise or four on us, one division whose teams are as unpredictable as sparks from a bonfire, it is the NFC West.

    Just last season the last-place Cardinals went 4-2 against division opponents. The third-place ***** beat the first-place Seahawks twice. Although the Rams started the season by winning four of five and ended by winning three straight, they lost seven of eight in between.

    And thanks to an influx of men like ***** cornerback Nate Clements, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, Rams defensive tackle Adam Carriker and Seahawks safeties Deon Grant and Brian Russell, the NFC West has become less predictable than ever.



    "I think our division would be the most fun in football if you look at it from a fan's perspective," Rams coach Scott Linehan said. "Anybody can beat anybody. I think we all improved our teams. I'm not sure you can say that everywhere. In our division there were high-quality free agents signed by all four teams, and all four teams drafted guys who will help them this year, not just three or four years away."

    Whisenhunt has a similar perspective:

    "There are a lot of positive things going on with each team in the division, so it's an unpredictable division."

    Many fans believe a "surprise team" will emerge from the NFC West. But many disagree on who it will be.

    The Seahawks would be a surprise team only if they failed to play well. Expectations remain high for the team that has won three straight division titles and has the best record in the NFC over the last four years. The Seahawks won the division last season even though quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and running back Shaun Alexander missed 10 starts between them because of injuries. With both players healthy this season, Seattle looks better than a nine-win team.

    The Cardinals could surprise if the team takes to Whisenhunt's program and second-year quarterback Matt Leinart starts to fulfill the potential that allowed him to achieve the second-highest winning percentage in NCAA history. Whisenhunt has reason to believe Leinart will be a different player this season.

    Whisenhunt said Leinart has improved his footwork on drops, which is critical because Leinart's footwork was sloppy last season. He also said Leinart has become better at throwing with anticipation.

    "For him to get to the next level where he can be a really top quarterback, he has to make more throws in which he anticipates the holes, he trusts his receivers even if they aren't out of the break and he puts the ball in the air," Whisenhunt said. "It's what you see Peyton Manning do a lot of."

    The ***** are the sexy pick because they were aggressive with player acquisitions, adding Clements, linebacker Tully Banta-Cain and receivers Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie. Some believe quarterback Alex Smith, the first pick of the 2005 draft, is ready to emerge as a Pro Bowl-caliber player. And coach Mike Nolan finally seems to have his program humming in his third year on the job.

    "Everybody is making a big fuss about the *****, but all we can be concerned about is what we do," Rams left tackle Orlando Pace said. "And I feel really good about what we're doing."

    The Rams believe they can lay claim to the title of surprise team in waiting, and theirs is a compelling argument.

    With the off-season addition of receiver Drew Bennett, tight end Randy McMichael and running back Brian Leonard, the Rams have as many quality offensive weapons as any team in football -- and underrated Marc Bulger is a quarterback who finds the open man with accuracy.

    The issue in St. Louis is whether the Rams have improved a defense that allowed more points last season than all but five teams. The secondary remains suspect, especially with starting cornerback Fahkir Brown suspended for the first four games for a violation of the league's substance-abuse policy. But Carriker, the team's first-round pick, and free-agent defensive end James Hall have given the Rams some punch up front.

    "We felt we were right there last year but didn't get it done," Linehan said. "We know where we were good and where we fell short. We put a lot of time into getting over that hump."

    That makes the Rams one of four who could say that in the wild, wild NFC West.

    IMPRESSIONS

    Darrell Jackson might catch a lot of passes, but it speaks volumes that the Seahawks would rather have him play in San Francisco than in Seattle. Jackson is not known for being one of the league's more courageous receivers. Next time you see him with a defender closing in, watch how fast he hits the deck.

    PART #2


    ON THE NFL: Dan Pompei continues his trip around the league with a look at the NFC West

    Prognosticators beware
    Don't even try to figure out the final ending to what could be NFL's most competitive division

    Dan Pompei
    August 22, 2007
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    ST. LOUIS - Arizona tight end Leonard Pope has yet to establish himself. The Bears were criticized for not drafting Pope last season, but from the way it looks at this point, they will be better served by Greg Olsen at tight end than they would have been by Pope.

    Look, Nate Clements is a solid cornerback, but he can't possibly live up to the contract he signed with the ***** in the off-season that calls for him to be paid $80 million over eight years. Then again, could anyone?

    Look for Darryl Tapp to come on as a pass rusher for the Seahawks. The second-year defensive end may lack prototype size but he has a big heart and a feel for getting to the quarterback.



    Rams rookie Brian Leonard isn't going to be a Pro Bowler, but he can be a very valuable role player in Scott Linehan's offense. Leonard will contribute as a blocker, receiver and runner.

    Russ Grimm is a fine, fine offensive line coach, but he can't turn water into wine. It would be unrealistic to think the Cardinals' offensive line is going to become a wall of granite in one season.

    If the Bears don't have the best set of linebackers in the NFL, the Seahawks do. Lofa Tatupu is as instinctive as any middle linebacker, Julian Peterson is a freak and Leroy Hill is a tackling machine.

    Cardinals cornerback Antrelle Rolle has had some ups and downs and it looks as if he's going to be benched, but he has everything it takes to be an excellent NFL defender. Rolle might have to switch to safety to realize his potential.

    BREAKOUT PLAYER VERNON DAVIS, *****

    Vernon Davis of the ***** is the most gifted tight end in football. This should be the season he starts to show it.

    He didn't do much as a rookie, in part because he missed six games with a broken leg, but Davis has come back with purpose as a second-year man.

    In training camp he has raised the level of practice with his intensity and his flash. While Davis has drawn attention for celebrating his practice catches, he also has drawn attention for staying on the field after practice ends every day to take extra reps.

    Davis spent a lot of time working on his route-running with receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, and he has spent as much time trying to improve his blocking techniques as he has on his receiving skills.

    Davis and ***** guard Larry Allen had to be separated when the two were arguing after the offense failed to score against the defense in a team scrimmage. But ***** coach Mike Nolan didn't get down on his young tight end for challenging the veteran. Instead, he took it as a sign that Davis cares.

    And that should show up on Sundays.

    SCOUT'S TAKE

    An NFL scout gives his views on the division.

    "Seattle is the lead dog in the NFC West. They'll be better on defense because safety was their Achilles' heel last year and they brought in Brian Russell and Deon Grant. Patrick Kerney gives them another quality pass rusher to complement Julian Peterson. On offense, Deion Branch will have to replace Darrell Jackson, and he'll give them better chemistry. They don't have a legitimate tight end who can stretch the field, but other than that their offense looks solid.

    "The Rams look like they are the next best team. They'll be improved on defense with the players in the second year of that system. With Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson and those receivers, they definitely have the weapons on offense.

    "I see Arizona as a .500 team. They'll take a step but probably won't be consistent. Their big issues are protecting the quarterback and stopping the run. Matt Leinart is good, and he'll play better this year.

    "The ***** are interesting. My question is will Alex Smith take a step up? If he doesn't, they won't be much better than last year. If he does, they are a potential playoff team. They will run the ball well. The other issue is if they can rush the passer on third down."

    Semper Fi!

  2. #2
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    Re: Dan Pompei - Prognosticators beware

    that is the key... can the niners rush the passer///.... i dont think so

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    Re: Dan Pompei - Prognosticators beware

    The issue in St. Louis is whether the Rams have improved a defense that allowed more points last season than all but five teams. The secondary remains suspect, especially with starting cornerback Fahkir Brown suspended for the first four games for a violation of the league's substance-abuse policy. But Carriker, the team's first-round pick, and free-agent defensive end James Hall have given the Rams some punch up front.
    I agree with this, I'm more concerned with the secondary then our ability to stop the run I believe we have done enough to get pressure and stop the run. Will we now give up big plays through the air? Bartell has to start looking better soon or we may see Wade at corner for the first four games.

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    Re: Dan Pompei - Prognosticators beware

    The front four will still be very important wether its stoppin the run or stopping the pass. If our secondary has become our biggest weakness then the front four can help by putting pressure on the QB. If they can consistantly put pressure on the QB, I think we will be ok. But if they don't, we could be in trouble.
    Sprtsmac :football:

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