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  1. #1
    Nick's Avatar
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    Ten Burning Questions: NFC West

    Ten Burning Questions: NFC West
    Thursday July 21, 2005
    By Jeffri Chadiha, SI.com

    As training camp approaches, SI.com goes around the league and asks 10 key questions for each division.

    1. Which coach will face more scrutiny: Mike Holmgren or Mike Martz?

    We'll go with Holmgren on this one, simply because he came to Seattle with heavy-duty hype. Six seasons later, he still has yet to win a playoff game in three appearances and his team continues to be dogged by questions about its mental toughness. In the past, the Seahawks responded to these problems by dumping prominent players and even an executive (team president Bob Whitsitt was canned after last season). But if the inconsistency continues, the Holmgren-bashing will commence.

    2. Can Kurt Warner succeed in Arizona?

    Yes, we know the numbers: Warner has 10 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions over the last three seasons, along with five wins in his last 16 starts. But we also know this: He'll have quality weapons at wide receiver in Arizona (Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald) along with an offense that will be more wide-open than what he found with his previous team, the New York Giants. The key is keeping Warner upright. If the Cardinals' suspect offensive line can do that, he'll be the next aging quarterback to thrive under head coach Dennis Green.

    3. What impact will running back Steven Jackson have on the Rams offense?

    The 6-foot-2, 233-pound Jackson provides a bruising element to the Rams' high-powered attack. He has the size and power to run inside and the speed turn the corner. Combine his talents with the quickness and speed of Marshall Faulk and the Rams have a potent 1-2 punch in their backfield. The question, however, is whether Martz will take full advantage of it. He tends to forget about his running game from time to time.

    4. When will No. 1 overall draft pick Alex Smith get on the field?

    The speculation is that Tim Rattay will start the season at quarterback for the *****, which makes little sense if it actually happens. This team will be so lousy that Smith would be best served if he took the field on day one. He certainly won't have to worry about setting the team back with his play. But given the Niners' desire to get Smith acclimated to NFL life, he might not get under center before midseason, at the earliest.

    5. How will Shaun Alexander's contract situation play out in Seattle?

    He's prepared to sit out training camp in order to land a long term deal but he has little leverage. The Seahawks tried trading him during the offseason and found no willing suitors. Holmgren also hasn't been pleased with Alexander's suspect hands or the player's disdain for blocking. This doesn't exactly sound like a man the Seahawks can't live without, even if he did finish one yard short of the league rushing title. He'll be back at some point -- and without a new deal.

    6. Will the Rams be any better on special teams this season?

    There isn't any reason to think so. Martz has never devoted enough time or energy to improving his return and coverage units and the Rams paid a heavy price for that deficiency in 2004. Last season they ranked 30th in the NFL in punt-return yards and kick-return yards allowed, 31st in punt returns and dead last in kick returns. The addition of new special teams coach Bob Ligashesky won't improve those numbers. More talented special teams players is the only way to fix this ongoing problem.

    7. Which player will have a breakout season?

    All indications point to Cardinals running back J.J. Arrington shining during his rookie season. The former Cal star already is the front-runner to be Arizona's feature back and he has the right skill set (speed, explosiveness, good hands) to excel in coach Green's offense. A second-round pick in a class loaded with running backs, Arrington could prove to be one of the biggest steals of this year's draft.

    8. Will dropped passes plague the Seahawks again?

    Seattle rid itself of at least one if its primary culprits in this area -- it dumped wide receiver Koren Robinson during the offseason -- so there is at least hope. The team's top wideout, Darrell Jackson, also had his struggles with the juggles, but the rest of the receiving corps is fairly steady. Despite a big drop in last year's playoff loss to St. Louis, Bobby Engram has reliable hands, as do free-agent acquisitions Joe Jurevicius and Jerome Pathon.

    9. Can the Rams stop the run this season?

    We'll see. The linebacking corps should improve with the addition of speedy outside linebacker Dexter Coakley and middle linebacker Chris Claiborne, who will bring more bulk to the inside position. A healthy Adam Archuleta also would be helpful, as a back injury plagued the fifth-year strong safety most of last season. If those three can be consistent playmakers this year, the Rams shouldn't finish at the bottom of the league in this category (they ranked 29th in rush defense in '04).

    10. Will Dennis Green make any strides with the Cardinals in Year Two?

    Yes. For those who haven't noticed, Arizona has established a promising defense that features unheralded talents like Pro Bowl defensive end Bert Berry (14.5 sacks in '04), linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Adrian Wilson. If the offense can match this unit's improvement, the Cardinals could challenge for a playoff spot. Don't laugh. After all, the NFC West is the weakest division in the NFL.

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  2. #2
    sbramfan is offline Registered User
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    Re: Ten Burning Questions: NFC West

    Good article. Can't really disagree with anything. I would like to think the special teams got some long over due attention, but we'll have to see if it translates on the field. At least we know it can't get any worse!

  3. #3
    r8rh8rmike's Avatar
    r8rh8rmike is online now Superbowl MVP
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    Re: Ten Burning Questions: NFC West

    6. Will the Rams be any better on special teams this season?

    There isn't any reason to think so. Martz has never devoted enough time or energy to improving his return and coverage units and the Rams paid a heavy price for that deficiency in 2004. Last season they ranked 30th in the NFL in punt-return yards and kick-return yards allowed, 31st in punt returns and dead last in kick returns. The addition of new special teams coach Bob Ligashesky won't improve those numbers. More talented special teams players is the only way to fix this ongoing problem.
    I gotta disagree here. Martz not only made special teams an off-season focus, he made them a priority by not only changing coaches, but by bringing in free agents and drafting players who have had success in the special teams area. Improvement is inevitable.

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    Re: Ten Burning Questions: NFC West

    [Special Teams] Improvement is inevitable. --r8rh8rmike
    Quite right. Even if viewed critically, our ST were so bad last year they can ONLY improve for 2005!

    Analitically, however, your observations are true:

    a) Priority
    b) Coach change
    c) New players with successful experience: free agents / draft
    d) LET'S DO IT!

    :football:

  5. #5
    coy bacon is offline Registered User
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    Re: Ten Burning Questions: NFC West

    "When you're at the bottom, the only way you can go is up!"

    Or, you can dig the hole deeper, thus going down!

    I don't think improvement is inevitable, I think we can do a little worse. I see no gar-en-tee from the NFL stating we'll do better. This ain't Billy Bob's used Special Teams lot, "Folks, ya'll come down to BB's and git yorself the best used ST money can buy! We got yer tacklin, we got yor kick returnin, we got yor puntin. You got my personal guarantee on that, or my name ain't Billy Bob Johnson!"

    Instead we're going up against people who know we are weak, and who will deliberately seek to expose our weaknesses. All good generals seek to expose their enemy's weaknesses. All we've done is and new factors, some unproven factors, to the mix.

    No sir, no inevitablility to improvement at all.


    That being said, I think we will improve because I think Martz is a smart enough and good enough coach to make it happen. :-)

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