The Mild Mild West

Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahawks are in prime position to take the NFC West

By: Chris Ross

The first four weeks of the 2010-11 NFL season has left fans with feelings of confusion and wonder. There is still no clear-cut number one team, team’s hoping to move forward have been left stuck in the mud, and quarterback controversies have been front and center. Despite not being known as one of the best divisions in Football, the NFC West has no doubt disappointed with its sub-par play amongst each of the four teams. However, with the divisional structure of the NFL, one team is going to have to come out on top, so who’s it going to be?

In Sports Illustrated writer Don Banks’ most recent power rankings, not one of the 4 teams from the NFC West, San Francisco, St. Louis, Seattle, or Arizona is ranked higher than #24. Pathetic really. In fact, in probably the most unlikely scenario prior to the season, Banks has the St. Louis Rams ranked at #24, higher than the rest of the teams in its respective division.

As great a Cinderella story as it would be if rookie quarterback Sam Bradford could lead the previously 1-15 Rams to a post-season berth, I don’t see it happening, even in the terrible NFC west. Sam Bradford has looked very solid for a rookie quarterback on a weak team. What is most impressive in my opinion is his poise in the pocket. Bradford doesn’t seem jumpy or antsy back there to get rid of the ball; instead he stays calm and collected while going through his reads. Not typical for a rookie quarterback.

The problem I see for the Rams is not Bradford; it is the weapons that surround Bradford. The Rams offense includes mostly young, unproven talent. The only receiver with any considerable experience is wideout Mark Clayton, who throughout his career has been solid but not spectacular. Guys like 2nd year man Danny Amendola and rookie Mardy Gilyard could prove to be high-impact players in the future, but as of right now their impact is not going to be enough. Add to that, the fact that Steven Jackson can’t stay on the field for a significant portion of time, and there really isn’t much for Sam Bradford and Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to work with.

Moreover, the Rams defence is nothing to look in awe at. They rank 23rd in total team defence, while allowing 347 yards a game a quarter of the way into the season. A defence that can’t make up for a lack of offense is not the recipe for success.

Is Max Hall really Kurt Warner version 2.0?

I think it goes without saying that the Arizona Cardinals have some issues. Prior to the season their quarterback of the future, Matt Leinart, was cut, which forced them to put in the onetime fluke pro-bowler Derek Anderson behind center, who played as expected. Anderson, who has had noted problems with his accuracy, threw for a 51.8 completion percentage, 644 yards, 3 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, which accumulated a 59.5 passer rating in 4 games as the Cardinals starter. This has led Coach Ken Wisenhunt to announce undrafted rookie Max Hall, aka Kurt Warner 2.0 as Peter King has dubbed him, the starter for Week 5’s game. Even though Hall will have some legitimate weapons to throw to, including Larry Fitzgerald, there is no doubt going to be some sort of transition period for him to get accustomed to the much faster NFL game. Although there is much hype and potential surrounding this undrafted free agent, I can’t see this guy leading the Arizona offense to a playoff berth.

The Cardinals are the team that I would put in 4th spot by season’s end not just because of their quarterback situation. Their defence has more holes in it than a 4 pound block of Swiss cheese (how original). The Arizona defence is in the bottom of nearly every category. They have allowed 29.5 points a game (31st in NFL), 154.8 rush yards a game (30th), and 388 total yards per game, which is good for 29th in the league. Not a good omen for the inevitable struggle on offense in the coming weeks.

All the hopes and dreams of 49er fans entering this season were dashed as fast as you could say Mike Singletary. Alex Smith once again not showing any significant improvement, a defence that has not lived up to what you would hope for from a Mike Singletary led team, and utter disorganization among the coaching staff has led to a 0-4 start. The record could easily be 2-2, but 2 of their four losses have been embarrassing. They have already fired their offensive coordinator, and Mike Singletary is on the hot-seat only four games into the season.

Alex Smith and Frank Gore have not combined to form the offense that 49er fans had hoped for

Making the mistake to draft a quarterback who would not have been even close to a bonafide top pick in many NFL drafts is continuing to haunt the 49ers. Alex Smith has played decently at times, but costly mistakes have killed his team. He has thrown only 3 touchdowns compared to 7 interceptions and with weapons of tight end Vernon Davis and wide receiver Michael Crabtree only combining for 348 yards in 4 games, the optimism surrounding a comeback from a 0-4 start seems improbable. Furthermore, Frank Gore has not produced at the rate the 49ers would like him too. He is averaging 3.7 yards a carry compared to his career average of 4.7 a carry.

As I mentioned, the 49ers were spanked in two of their four losses by a couple of offenses that at times during their season have looked awful. The defence led by Patrick Willis, one of the best linebackers in the game, has fallen far short of expectations. They rank 25th in points allowed (25.8) and 21st in total yards allowed (335.8). Not too hot for a hard-nosed, defensive minded Mike Singletary team.

Speaking of Mike Singletary, there are also questions surrounding his ability to coach or lack thereof. Experts talk about the potential of Singletary in a few years being able to strategize with the best of them, but as of now he is not at the level needed for a quality NFL coach. I think the 49ers still have a fighting chance in the division because of how weak it is, but second or third place finish is most likely for this lacklustre team.

That leaves just one team that I feel should come out on top in the “wild” NFC West, which is the Pacific Northwest’s own Seattle Seahawks.

Yeah, they have a quarterback who is past his prime and doesn’t look to be finding it anytime soon and a defence that can’t stop the pass if their lives depended on it, but there are some serious positives when you look at this team.

First of all, their offense, regardless of Matt Hasselbeck’s mediocrity, has some real playmakers. Kick returner/backup runner Leon Washington has already proved his worth, having returned 2 kickoffs for touchdowns in a game against the Chargers in Week 2. Golden Tate, the rookie out of Notre Dame, has been a nice addition to the passing game and as a punt returner. Add in wide receivers Deion Branch, Mike Williams, as well as tight end Jesse Carlson, and the newly acquired Marshawn Lynch, and there seem to be enough quality players to make this offense somewhat successful.

The two sides of the Seattle defence are virtual polar opposites. The defence is ranked 29th in the league allowing 302.8 pass yards a game, but on the other hand they allow a meagre 72.8 rush yards a game that puts them 3rd in the NFL in that category. Under the new Seattle coaching regime, 2009 first round pick Aaron Curry is starting to thrive, while controversial 2010 pick, safety Earl Thomas out of Texas has established himself as a true defensive playmaker. Thomas already has 3 picks and is making Pete Carroll look like a genius for taking him over former USC Trojan Taylor Mays.

One thing that Seattle also has over their foes in the NFC West is Qwest Field advantage. The Seahawk’s have one of the loudest, if not the loudest stadium in the league, which appears to give them a serious edge against visiting opponents. Last season the 5-11 Seahawks were a solid 4-4 at home, while ending up an abysmal 1-7 on the road. That success at Qwest Field has carried over to this season so far as they have gone 2-0 at home but naturally are 0-2 on the road. A couple of key divisional games at home against the Cardinals and Rams could end up being the key for this team in their stranglehold over the division.

The NFC West champion may end up being as deserving of a playoff spot as a cheer for Lebron James when he returns to Cleveland, but nevertheless someone has to come out on top. It is apparent that none of these teams can make a legitimate playoff run, but for teams of their calibre I’m sure they won’t mind the playoff spot as a consolation prize.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. I’m now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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About Chris Ross
Questions, comments, suggestions? Send yours to cross_can15@hotmail.com. Follow me on twitter @paintstheblack

17 Responses to The Mild Mild West

  1. Definitely a weak division, but how’s this for a catch? None of these teams really wants to be in the playoffs because it drops their draft picks into the 20s. Could a division winner that is probably 6-10 have any motivation to NOT win the division in the hopes of actually helping the franchise?

    I get the feeling none will throw their games, but all will look as if they are due to overall poor play.

  2. 3rd and Goal says:

    Talent wise the 49ers are still the team to beat, and they’ll rue the missed opportunity if they fail to win the division this year, as the rams in particular are a coming team. Young and well coached, spags definitely has them on the right track. The cards, meanwhile, better hope hall is the answer or they will be drafting another qb in April. The Seahawks looked awful last week, but are so good at home. They could go 0-8 on the road and still finish 7-9. And remember, whatever team does win the NFC west will have a home playoff game, likely against someone like the falcons or Vikings, so a playoff win isn’t out of the question!

  3. unclemonkey says:

    I agree completely, in fact, if the 49ers can get a win this weekend, they will strongly contend for the division title even at 1-4. They do have the most talent. I agree with you that Seattle is probably the team to beat – while they can’t seem to get it together on the road, they look good at home. I think the addition of Marshawn Lynch does help a lot. If the Rams can beat the Lions this weekend, that will be a big step for them, but I think since they are in Detroit, the Lions will win. I think the Cardinals are one of the worst teams in the league, but like you say, that doesn’t matter so much in this division. The only chance they stand is to run the ball with Hightower and hope they can force turnovers.

  4. tacklethespread says:

    I actually picked Seattle for NFC West winners before season start, and in the first three weeks I was pretty happy about it. SF was 0-3, Sea 2-1, and I couldnt care less about Ari and Stl. Then all of the sudden Seattle shows me nothing but home field advantage and St Louis starts to click. I’m worried now and I think they will beat the Lions this week and move to 3-2.

  5. Thank you for sharing Fine. I look forward to new articles.

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  8. No way is Hall considered Warner 2.0. More like Matt Leinart 2.0. And yes, The NFC West blows. I have to believe Seattle will be the one-and-done “division champion” in 2010. Nice post man.

  9. Hey Chris, thanks for the comment you left over at my blog. I’m glad you enjoyed my latest post. It’s been a little bit difficult in developing a solid following so I appreciate the input. (also, feel free to subscribe or even consider guest-writing a post as an experiment)

    I enjoyed your post and assessment of the ill-fated NFC West. Though I do carry a significant Seattle bias, I agree that they are looking to be the team best suited to make a playoff run (even if that means a 7-9 1st place finish). The fact that every division requires a playoff team does not necessarily mean that every division produces a playoff-worthy team. This division is so “Mild” (as you put it) I would think that the West teams would end up in last or close to last in almost any other division. Though it is still early, I feel 4 weeks is a large enough sample-size to get a feel for how the rest of the season will unfold in the NFC West; It will no-doubt, be both intriguing and painful to watch as four gimpy, dysfunctional teams slug it out.

    -Sean (http://seanquinton16.wordpress.com/)

  10. Its sad, that all of the teams in this division were good not that long ago….ok the niners longer then the rest but three of them have been to a superbowl not that long ago. I really have no idea who will be the one to come out on top. The Cardinals win today had nothing to do with Max Hall, it has to do with the Saints playing bad. I really like your writing style. Thanks for checking mine and I will continue to check yours. I am adding a a third of the way there summary for each division. But most of my stuff comes out on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

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  12. tophatal says:

    Chris

    The AFC West and NFC West just might be two worst divisions in the entire NFL . What purports to be football is so putrid that one could derive more excitement from watching paint dry .

    tophatal :)

  13. Tom Donlan says:

    Another good read

    Entirely possible that this division is won with a losing record – won’t be the Rams now Clayton is out and Bradford has noone to throw to, struggling to back to Seahawks as they still have holes everywhere and the 49ers are 0-5 but could still come back but will take a hell of a lot of work.

    Cardinals, seems they are my team, I will talk about them individually. It’s not been a great opening to the season but we’ve still found ourselves at 3-2 heading into the Bye Week…the defence showed what they are capable of in the Saints game; on paper they are decent (especially in the secondary – no team in the division has a better back four than DRC, Wilson, Rhodes and Toler; the latter is showing just how good he can be across from the Pro-Bowler) but they need to do that a lot more often.

    Hall looked good in his debut. Definitely room for improvement with him but signs are that he’s not a one-trick pony like Anderson before him – need the line to start opening holes for the backs though as it was appaling in the last game.

    It’ll be interesting how the NFC West pans out over the remainder of the season.

  14. Joe says:

    Hey there. Thanks a lot for reading and commenting on my blog! I think your blog is great! Your articles are in-depth and very insightful. Once the fantasy football season is over, I’d like to take on more of a format similar to yours, where I’d write about all different topics. But for right now, I’m locked in fantasy football mode. Anyways, keep reading and writing! I’ll be doing the same.

  15. tymeout3 says:

    great article i feel the same way about the rams..bradford will be good but he’ll need some help… Max Hall is anything like last sunday they’re probably in best shape in the division…8-8 maybe 9-7 wins this division

  16. bryantgehring says:

    Very good post, Chris. I agree with you that Qwest Field may just end up being the determining factor in who wins the NFC West. If the Seahawks can manage to scrape just 3 road wins, they might be able to secure the playoff berth. I think that the only sure thing in the NFC West this season is that it’ll be interesting to watch…even if that’s only in the same way that watching a drunk fall out of a bar and try to pick himself up and stumble down the sidewalk is interesting to watch.

    Thanks for your comment, by the way, it’s much appreciated. My group is new to blogosphere land, but we hope to have a steady stream of material that will bring in more readers like yourself. Your readership definitely a boost for our confidence.

    - Bryant (http://scbnetwork.wordpress.com)

  17. Football Outsiders have Seattle ranked at #14, or right at about the league average, based mostly on the strength of their ridiculously good special teams. You might find them to be a little more accurate and insightful than Don Banks ;)

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