How the NFC West Will Be Won

Posted: August 28, 2011 by Kodi in NFL

NFC West Preview

Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals were terrible in 2010 posting a record of 5-11 with a terrible offense and an equally bad defense. The Cardinals knew there needed to be big changes and there was, shipping off RB Tim Hightower to the Redskins and getting QB Kevin Kolb from the Eagles for a 2nd round pick and CB Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie. Arizona knew that they couldn’t succeed with Derek Anderson, John Skelton or Max Hall as their main man under Center.

Last year the Cards were ranked 26th in scoring offense, 31st in yards, first downs, passing yards, passing TDs, not to mention dead last in rushing attempts and yards. Hoping Kolb can fix their passing woes, Arizona drafter RB Ryan Williams in an attempt to fix a dismal running game. Williams went down in the pre-season and it looks like Beanie Wells will get his last chance to prove he can be a featured back. The Cards also lost WR Steve Breaston who left Arizona to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. Arizona also went out and signed 31 year old TE Todd Heap, in hopes of getting some sort of production out of that position.

The Cardinals Defense allowed 434 points ranking 30th in the NFL but the Cardinals were able to trade a talented young CB to get their franchise QB, but they were only able to do that because of drafting LSU CB Patrick Peterson. Peterson is a shut down CB and the most NFL ready rookie, but Richard Marshall will have to prove himself. The Cards ranked 29th in yards allowed and 1st downs, 23rd against the pass and 30th against the rush. Arizona is hoping that signing LB Stewart Bradley away from the Eagles may improve their LB Corps that are transitioning to a 3-4.

The Cards gave WR Larry Fitzgerald Jr. a new contract, an 8 year $120 million contract. Arizona also gave their newly acquired QB Kevin Kolb a new deal for 5 years $50 million, with $25 million guaranteed. Cardinals fans should get used to hearing the Kolb to Fitzgerald connection for many years to come. The Cardinals have an improved defense with a new scheme and could surprise some, especially playing in the weakest division in the NFL, the NFC West. I can see the Cards going anywhere from 6-10 to 9-7, either good enough for 3rd in the division or just squeaking by with a title and playoff spot. Most likely they will finish the season 8-8 good enough for 2nd in the division and just out of a playoff spot.

Key Arrivals: TE Todd Heap, CB Richard Marshall, WR Chansi Stuckey, OL Floyd Womack, LB Stewart Bradley, OG Daryn Colledge, TE Jeff King, QB Kevin Kolb, DE Vonnie Holiday

Re-Signings: S Matt Ware, OG Deuce Lutui, FB Reagan Maui’a, TE Stephen Spach, S Hamza Abdullah, OT D’Anthony Batiste, C ben Claxton, WR Early Doucet, OT Brandon Keith

Key Departures: CB Trumaine McBride, DT Gabe Watson, RB Tim Hightower, DE Alan Branch, CB Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie, WR Steve Breaston, QB Derek Anderson, LB Gerald Hayes, OG Alan Faneca (Retired)

San Francisco 49ers

The Niners had given themselves some lofty expectations and when San Francisco realized that Head Coach Mike Singletary couldn’t turn it around, the axed him with one game left in the season. Singletary would be replaced by interim Coach Jim Tomsula, who was then replaced by former Stanford HC Jim Harbaugh. The team fell into an 0-5 hole and couldn’t climb out finishing the season 6-10 good enough for 3rd in the NFC West. The 49ers will stay in that hole if they aren’t able to come to an agreement with disgruntled RB Frank Gore, who wants to get paid before he ends up getting injured again.

The 49ers offense has been in shambles because there hasn’t been a clear choice who will be their starting QB and Gore can’t stay on the field. Alex Smith started 10 games and finished 3-7 throwing for 2370 with a 59.6 completion percentage and 14 TDs with 10 INTs. Troy Smith started 6 games and was 3-3 with 1176 passing yards, with a 50.3 completion percentage, 5 TDs and 4 INTs, along with 121 rushing yards and another TD. Just to make things a little more competitive S.F. went out and drafted Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick as another viable option under Center. Frank Gore went down in the middle of the season forcing the Niners to rely on Brian Westbrook but they finished ranked 19th in rushing at the end of the year. San Francisco is hoping that Michael Crabtree gets it together and signed WR Braylon Westbrook just in case he doesn’t.

The 49ers made most of their roster moves this off-season on defense, as they ranked 24th in pass defense, but were 6th in rush defense. LB Patrick Willis led the team with 101 tackles, but the Niners second leading tackler, LB Takeo Spikes, was cut by the team. They may have felt they could release the grizzled veteran after drafting LB Aldon Smith with the 7th overall pick. S.F. decided it was a mistake to draft USC S Taylor Mays and traded him to the Bengals for a bag of balls and a 2012 draft pick. Surprisingly enough, Nate Clements was cut by the Niners and will be joining Mays in Cincinnati. OLB Manny Lawson heard that there was a former Niners party in Cincy and decided to sign with the Bengals as well. The key is going to be watching Smith transition from DE to OLB. Plus seeing how well CBs Carlos Rogers and Shawntae Spencer handle the passing game with Donte Whitner and Reggie Smith/Madieu Williams over the top.

I know that the Niners could have the talent to be one of the top teams in the division, but I think that HC Jim Harbaugh would really like to be reunited with his QB from Stanford, Andrew Luck. The only way he is able to do that, is if he locks up the 1st overall pick and S.F. could pack it in early. I think that the Niners will give some young players a good opportunity to get some action and see how well they assimilate to the pace of the NFL. San Francisco will probably find themselves at the basement of the NFC West and will likely be in the running for Andrew Luck and that 1st overall pick, finishing the 2011 season 4-12 or 5-11, The 49ers are taking a step backwards before being able to take two steps forwards.

Key Arrivals: WR Braylon Edwards, SS Donte Whitner, LB Blake Costanzo, C Jonathan Goodwin, CB Carlos Rogers, S Madieu Williams, OLB Antwan Applewhite, K David Akers

Re-Signings: FS Dashon Goldson, OG Tony Wraggs, DE Ray McDonald, QB Alex Smith

Key Departures:  K Jeff Reed, DT Aubrayo Franklin, OLB Manny Lawson, DE Travis LaBoy, K Joe Nedney, C Eric Heitman, CB Nate Clements, ILB Takeo Spikesk, and QB Troy Smith, RB Brian Westbrook, OT Chris Patrick and DE Demetric Evans all remained unsigned.

Seattle Seahawks

Pete Carrol left USC in the nick of time to take control of the Seahawks and he was able to go 7-9 and squeeze by the St. Louis Rams to become the NFC West Champion and the first NFL Playoff team with a record under .500. We all remember Marshawn Lynch going into “Beast Mode” and single handedly put the Seachickens on his back and beat the defending SB Champ New Orleans Saints. There really shouldn’t be much else said, they were a bad team that surprised the country when they beat out an overly confident Saints squad.

This years team isn’t going to look much like last seasons, as they let QB Matt Hasselbeck go and signed former Vikings QB Tarvaris Jackson and WR Sidney Rice. They also brought in a pair of ex-Raiders TE Zach Miller and OG Robert Gallery. Seattle wants to re-establish the offensive line and along with signing Robert Gallery they also spent their 1st round draft pick on OL James Carpenter. The Seahawks ranked 23rd in points scored, 28th in yards, 19th in total passing and 31st in rushing yards. Carrol and Seattle would love to get a more balanced/proficient offense. I think it is going to be really difficult for the Seahawks to flourish, simply because I don’t trust Tarvaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst and Sidney Rice is their star player, but has just one good year in his career.

The Seattle defense can be summed up by one stat, their leading tackler was LB David Hawthorne who had just 74 tackles. Their leading pass defender was S Earl Thomas who had 5 INTs and their sack leader was DE Chris Clemens. As a team Seattle ranked 25th in post allowed, 27th in total yards, 27th in pass defense and 25th in rush defense. Seattle has some reliable players like CB Marcus Trufant and LB Aaron Curry but lost some key role players like LB Will Herring and S Jordan Babuneaux. There aren’t any players that are going to blow you away on the Seahawks defensive staff, but rather their ability to get productive play out of the players they do have. It was a bend but don’t break mentality in the great northwest, but if they want to stay atop the NFC West they must solidify their defensive play.

Realistically the Seahawks are a mediocre team with a low ceiling, I find it highly unlikely that they are able to win this weak division back-to-back. They don’t have a solid option at QB, their WRs are young and/or unproven, their RB is known for a single play and that’s just their offense. On defense it is very rarely that a NFL Playoff team is a defensive scramble full of who’s that, with no full-fledged star. Seattle could very well go 7-9, but this year that won’t be good enough for the division, but I think they are more likely a 6-10 team and finish 3rd in the NFC West.

Key Arrivals: LB David Vobora, K Jeff Reed, TE Zach Miller, DE Jimmy Wilkerson, WR Sidney Rice, QB Tarvaris Jackson, OG Robert Gallery, DL Alan Branch

Re-Signings: DE Raheem Brock, CB Kelly Jennings, DT Brandon Mebane, LB Leroy Hill, RB Michael Robinson, LB Matt McCoy

Key Departures: WR Ruvell Martin, DT Ryan Sims, DL Amon Gordon, OT Ray Willis, S Jordan Babineaux, QB Matt Hasselbeck, LB Will Herring, K Olindo Mare

St. Louis Rams

In 2009 the Rams were 1-15 under Kyle Boller and Marc Bulger who threw for 2686 yards, good enough for 26th in the league. They drafted Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford number 1 overall and last year he led them to a 7-9 record and had thrown for 3512 yards, ranking 21st in the NFL. The Rams looked to secure a playoff spot during their final game against the Seahawks, but laid an egg scoring just 6 points, only their 2nd game all season scoring less than 13. Seattle stole the game from Bradford and the Rams and finished just percentage points ahead of the Rams to secure a division title and playoff birth. This scenario may turn out to be extremely beneficial for St. Louis because they were so close and will learn from their experience.

The Rams offense has been centered around RB Steven Jackson ever since Kurt Warner left town and he has produced 1,000+ rushing yards and 250+ receiving yards for the past 6 seasons. The Rams made a splash in the offseason by bringing in a big target for their franchise QB and if Mike Sims-Walker can stay healthy that’s exactly what he is. The Rams also drafted a big TE from Wisconsin by the name of Lance Kendricks and picked up Boise St. WR Austin Pettis while they were in New York. They also picked up some RB help just in case Jackson begins to wear down, signing Jerious Norwood and Cadillac Williams. St. Louis looks to improve the weapons around Bradford in hopes of improving the offense as a whole and it should work as long as the young QB isn’t tossing balls just to Laurent Robinson, Brandon Gibson and Danario Alexander, like he was forced to last year. Do you remember how good Bradford looked throwing the ball to Mark Clayton and Danny Amendola early in the year???

The Rams weren’t spectacular on defense, but they were good enough, ranking 19th in total yards and pass defense, while ranking 17th in rush defense. It wasn’t that the Rams have a stellar offense, but rather that they play 6 games against below average offenses last season. St. Louis understands that their defense needs solid improvement to be a playoff contender and that’s why they brought in a bunch of parts through the draft and free agency. They used their first round selection on North Carolina DE Robert Quinn and signed LBs Ben Leber, Brady Poppinga and Zac Diles in attempt to lock up the front half of the field. In the secondary the Rams already have some talented young CBs in Bradley Fletcher and Ronald Bartell, but with the addition of former Eagles S Quintin Mikell the Rams are hoping to be a top 15 defensive team.

The Rams have been making all the right moves and they seem to be the front-runners of the NFC West. Although this is a notoriously weak division the Rams could put the right team together that could surprise somebody in the playoffs. They are not even close to being a lock to win their own division, but they have put the right pieces in place and hopefully their team will blossom. I think that the Rams could go 9-7 this season, sweeping the 49ers and Seahawks and splitting their series against the Cardinals. It will be interesting to see who wins the NFC West, but in my mind it’s Arizona/St. Louis and everybody else.

Key Arrivals: LB Ben Leber, OT Quinn Ojinnaka, RB Cadillac Williams, LB Brady Poppinga, RB Jerious Norwood, DT Justin Bannan, WR Mike Sims-Walker, CB Al Harris, OG Harvey Dahl, S Quintin Mikell, OLB Zac Diles

Re-Signings: OG Adam Goldberg, DT Gary Gibson, OG John Greco, OT Renardo Foster, LB Chris Chamberlain.

Key Departures: Long-Snapper Chris Massey, CB Kevin Dockery, OLB David Vobora, TE Derek Schouman, WR Laurent Robinson, TE Daniel Fells, as well as unsigned players: WR Mark Clayton, RB Kenneth Darby, DT Chris Hovan, S Michael Lewis





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