How I See It: NFC West Stock Watch

December, 15, 2009
12/15/09
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Falling

1. Richie Incognito, Rams OL. The Rams are in a tough spot because they lack enough depth at guard to release a starting-caliber player at the position. If any starting-caliber player has earned his walking papers, however, it has to be Incognito. The two personal-foul penalties he committed during a 47-7 defeat to the Titans had to push him closer to the point of no return with Rams management. Incognito has committed 11 personal fouls since making his regular-season debut in 2006. The Rams cannot count on him to keep his cool in key situations. They knew this coming into the season -- see Incognito's issues during the closing minutes of a narrow victory at Washington last season -- and they have to know the volatile guard will erupt again if allowed to keep playing.

2. Marcus Trufant, Seahawks CB. The former Pro Bowl cornerback does not look right. Sure, the Seahawks' weak pass rush would make life tougher on any cornerback. Trufant isn't supposed to be any cornerback, however. If healthy -- and that might be a big 'if' in his case -- the 2003 first-round choice should be rounding into form at this point in the season after spending the first six games on the physically unable to perform list. Instead, Trufant allowed a 64-yard touchdown to Andre Johnson on the Seahawks' first defensive play Sunday. Johnson caught 10 passes in the first half as Houston blew out Seattle.

3. Tim Hightower, Cardinals RB. His first-quarter fumble deep in Cardinals territory set an ominous tone for Arizona. The team committed six more turnovers and couldn't sustain much of anything. And while fellow Cardinals running back Beanie Wells also lost an important fumble, 49ers safety Dashon Goldson made it happen with a perfect hit, pressing helmet to football in a manner that might have separated anyone from the football. With Hightower benched for stretches, Wells ran effectively against the 49ers' tough run defense, carrying 15 times for 79 yards and a touchdown. Wells looked like the team's best option on the ground.

Rising

[+] EnlargeGore
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesFrank Gore had one of his best games of the season Monday.
1. Frank Gore, 49ers RB. Remember him? The once-productive runner had fallen off the face of Jimmy Raye's game plans in recent weeks. Gore was back Monday night with one of his more impressive performances. His 25-carry, 167-yard effort was critical for the 49ers on a night when quarterback Alex Smith did not play well consistently. Gore's performance should convince the 49ers to reincorporate more plays from their base offense featuring fullback Moran Norris. Gore is most comfortable from that personnel grouping. Perhaps the burden will now fall on Smith to succeed within an offense that also suits Gore.

2. Ahmad Brooks, 49ers OLB. The Bengals castoff has become a reclamation project for the 49ers' coaching staff. So far, so good. Brooks beat Cardinals tackles for 3.0 sacks Monday night. He forced two fumbles as San Francisco forced seven Arizona turnovers. Brooks has gotten off the ball quicker in recent games. The Seahawks also had serious problems with him. If Brooks can sustain this level of performance, the 49ers can feel much better about the state of their pass rush heading into the offseason.

3. Mike Singletary, 49ers coach. The 49ers played a tough, physical game on defense. They rediscovered their identity on offense, handing off to Gore repeatedly. Making a statement against Arizona was important for the 49ers after the team's recent struggles. Singletary isn't the only 49ers leader whose stock rose this week. Include general manager Scot McCloughan in this one, too, after 49ers president Jed York expressed confidence in coach and GM before kickoff Monday night. The 49ers do appear to be developing good young talent. Vernon Davis leads the NFL in touchdown receptions with 11, one more than Larry Fitzgerald and Miles Austin. Brooks has become an impact player in recent weeks. Quarterback Alex Smith has made strides. Even right guard Chilo Rachal, seemingly a lost cause earlier in the season, has become more effective.

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