How I See It: NFC West Stock Watch

December, 1, 2009
12/01/09
11:00
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Falling

1. Steve Spagnuolo, Rams coach. The team's record is 1-10, worse than expected, and Spagnuolo invited criticism with his ill-fated decision to go for it on fourth-and-4 against Seattle. The Seahawks' Kelly Jennings broke up the pass. Teammate Josh Wilson intercepted it and scored on a 65-yard return. The potential 10-point or even 14-point swing turned the momentum in Seattle's favor. The Rams never recovered. The Rams are overmatched right now. That might naturally lead a coach to take a few fourth-down gambles. This one didn't make much sense and it cost the Rams.

2. Bill Davis, Cardinals defensive coordinator. Giving up 532 yards, including 99 on the game-losing drive, will drag down any defensive coordinator's stock. The Cardinals did not play horribly on defense, even though the yardage total would suggest otherwise. But Arizona's inability to close out an opponent in a critical situation recalled similar struggles against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. Life will not get easier for Davis in the short term. Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson and the Vikings are next on the Cardinals' schedule. Arizona must improve significantly on defense to hang with Minnesota.

3. Steven Jackson, Rams RB. Jackson has done nothing wrong to drag down his stock. But with center Jason Brown suffering a sprained knee Sunday, Jackson could have a harder time padding his already impressive rushing stats. The Rams are hoping Brown can practice at some point this week and play against the Bears, but the veteran center could conceivably miss time. The Rams could get right guard Richie Incognito back from a foot injury this week, but a concussion continues to sideline right tackle Jason Smith. A neck injury continues to bother fullback Mike Karney, who had developed an effective rapport with Jackson in recent weeks. The injuries are preventing the offense from developing continuity (the quarterback change following Marc Bulger's injury also contributed to the Rams' problems in that department).

Smith
Kyle Terada/US PresswireAlex Smith was solid in San Francisco's victory over Jacksonville on Sunday.
Rising

1. Alex Smith, 49ers QB. The fifth-year quarterback stood out as a primary reason for the 49ers' success against the Jaguars. That was important for Smith's confidence and for the team's confidence in him. The play Smith made when he rolled to the right, drew defenders to him and threw a scoring pass to Frank Gore demonstrated a feel for the position that hasn't always been apparent. The Jaguars' poor pass rush surely helped Smith get more comfortable. Smith still had to make the plays, and he generally did. The pass he threw to Vernon Davis for a 30-yard gain on fourth-and-1 also stood out.

2. Matt Leinart, Cardinals QB. Leinart needed some time to get going against the Titans and that was understandable after Kurt Warner took nearly all of the important snaps in practice last week. The 80-yard scoring drive he led in the second half represented a positive step for Leinart. The situation wasn't too big for him. He avoided costly mistakes and made plays when needed. The Cardinals need to get Warner back in the lineup to realize their full potential on offense. They were competitive with Leinart in the game, however, and that was a step forward for the 2006 first-round draft choice.

3. LaRod Stephens-Howling, Cardinals RB. This was a tough call in the third spot. Stephens-Howling had a clutch 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He downed one punt at the Tennessee 2 and another at the Tennessee 1. But several other NFC West players could have been worthy choices. The Seahawks' Justin Forsett topped 100 yards rushing for the second time in three weeks. The Cardinals' Darnell Dockett might have wrapped up a Pro Bowl berth with a three-sack game against the Titans. Seattle's Jordan Babineaux continued to make strides in his transition to safety.

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