The Mild Mild West
October 8, 2010 17 Comments
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.