Final Word: NFC West

September, 30, 2011
9/30/11
1:30
PM ET
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Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:

Assessing the 49ers' chances in Philly. The Eagles, losers of two in a row, haven't lost three games in succession since a 2007 stretch played mostly without their starting quarterback. The 49ers, winners at Cincinnati in Week 3, have not won games in successive weeks since the 2009 season (a bye interrupted their lone two-game winning streak last season). They have not won road games in successive weeks since beating Carolina and Indianapolis in Weeks 10-11 way back in 2001. Beating the Eagles in Philadelphia would open eyes to just how much change Jim Harbaugh has affected in a short period of time.

Yakety YAC, help the quarterback. Three NFC West teams rank among the NFL's bottom five in yards after the catch on a per-reception basis, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Seahawks rank 31st at 3.7 yards. The 49ers and Rams are both in the 4.3-yard range. The 49ers have no receptions longer than 39 yards and none longer than 26 by a wide receiver. Michael Crabtree's longest catch this season covered 8 yards. The Arizona Cardinals are the exception within the division. They have five wide receivers and tight ends with at least five receptions and a 5.0 YAC average. Seattle's Doug Baldwin (8.0 YAC) is the only other non-running back in the division to meet that standard. The St. Louis Rams' Brandon Gibson has averaged eight-tenths of a yard after the catch.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Jeffrey G. Pittenger/US PresswireThe Cardinals' secondary will be tested by Eli Manning, who's coming off a four-TD performance.
Cardinals' pass defense in focus. Few teams push the ball down the field as aggressively as the Cardinals' Week 4 opponent. Giants quarterback Eli Manning ranks third behind Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger in how far past the line of scrimmage his passes travel on average. The Giants are one of five NFL teams averaging at least 8.8 yards per pass attempt. The Cardinals are one of eight teams allowing at least 8.0 yards per attempt. Manning, coming off a four-touchdown game at Philadelphia, tossed three scoring passes in his last visit to University of Phoenix Stadium (2008). He ranks tied for second in the NFL with eight completions on passes traveling more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage.

Sam Bradford's long-term health. The Rams' quarterback has taken 11 sacks in three games, a total he did not reach until Week 5 last season. He's facing a Washington Redskins defense that ranks sixth in sacks per pass play. Anyone else think former Rams coach Jim Haslett, now the Redskins' defensive coordinator, wouldn't mind introducing Bradford to pass-rushers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan? The pressure is on a not-quite-healthy Steven Jackson to give the Rams needed offensive balance.

Seahawks have choices on defense. Seattle was able to shut out the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald in the second half last week in part because Arizona's other weapons weren't all that threatening. Without Beanie Wells to worry about, Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas spent less time in the box and more time helping in coverage. Thomas would ideally provide similar support against Falcons receiver Roddy White this week, but doing so could carry additional risks against an Atlanta offense with more varied weapons. Falcons rookie Julio Jones caught six passes for 115 yards against Tampa Bay in Week 3, including a 49-yarder. On the positive side for Seattle, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has taken 13 sacks, the same total he took into Week 10 last season. That 49-yard strike to Jones marked the first time in eight tries this season Ryan has completed a deep pass (defined as one traveling more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage).

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