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Friday, December 11, 2009
NFC West: Final Word

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com


NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14:


Otto Greule Jr./Getty ImagesSan Francisco running back Frank Gore hasn't been used much for the 49ers recently.
Less is Gore. Frank Gore christened the Mike Martz era in San Francisco with a 41-yard touchdown run up the middle against the Cardinals in the 2008 opener. Gore somehow enters the 12th game of the Jimmy Raye era -- against Arizona on Monday night -- as an afterthought. He has 32 carries in his past three games, his lowest three-game total since his 2005 rookie season (not counting Week 3 this season, when an injury sidelined Gore after one carry). At least Gore will be fresh if the 49ers do decide to use him.

QB comfort zones key. The Cardinals, with 35 sacks and only 17 allowed, ranked tied for the NFL lead in sack differential (the Colts are also plus-17). The 49ers, though ranking only 18th at minus-2, have improved in that area after sacking Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck five times last week. With the Cardinals and 49ers both relying heavily on passing games, pass protection could be critical Monday night. The 49ers' defensive front seven has generally matched up favorably against the Cardinals' offensive line. San Francisco sacked Kurt Warner three times and picked him off twice in the season opener. Justin Smith and Parys Haralson enjoyed strong games for the 49ers. Cardinals left tackle Mike Gandy had two penalties. Arizona might start Jeremy Bridges in his place.

Arizona road warriors. The Cardinals are 5-1 on the road this season, including 5-0 when Warner starts at quarterback. They are allowing 15.2 points per game on the road, second only to the Colts' league-leading average (15.0). Arizona is on pace to allow only 121 points on the road this season, which would mark the Cardinals' best total since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978. The 49ers have won their past two home games despite totaling only 30 points in them. They surely must score more to beat Arizona.

Seattle offense on hold. The Seahawks have failed to exceed 292 yards on offense in any of their past three games after averaging 434.5 over their previous two. The playoffs are not a realistic goal, but it is important for Seattle to build some momentum offensively over the final month of the season. Week 14 opponent Houston has held its last nine opponents beneath 300 yards on average. The Texans collected four sacks against the Jaguars last week after managing only 15 previously this season.

Rams' run defense in peril. This could be the week Titans running back Chris Johnson, already on pace for 2,012 yards rushing this season, takes a huge step toward making that dream a reality. The Rams, allowing 146 yards rushing per game, are going to have a very difficult time stopping him. My mind flashes back to the time Tennessee rushed for 340 yards against the Rams in a 2008 exhibition game. That game was meaningless, but also instructive. The Titans' remain a physical team with a dynamic rushing attack. The Rams remain vulnerable on defense. Johnson leads the NFL with 19 carries of at least 20 yards, eight more than Adrian Peterson, who ranks second.