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Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Continued: Best DL in NFC West

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

The earlier item sizing up the Arizona Cardinals' chances in the NFC West generated quite a bit of discussion. One aspect of that discussion -- whether the Cardinals or San Francisco 49ers own the best defensive line in the division -- gave Matt Williamson and I something to talk about Wednesday.

Mike Sando: Would you say the Cardinals have the better d-line?

Matt Williamson: Yes, but not by leaps and bounds. I would take Darnell Dockett over all of them, but Justin Smith is a real good player. If you were just looking at the d-ends, I would take Arizona's over San Francisco's. It would go Dockett, Smith, Calais Campbell, dropoff. All three of those guys are fine players. I think Dockett is a pretty special player. If you listen to the podcast, I wasn’t blowing smoke. He is the difference. But you have to give Aubrayo Franklin a noticeable edge over a rookie nose tackle (Dan Williams). He has done it. Not many defensive linemen come in and make a huge impact as rookies. Dan Williams has to learn how to read double teams.

I would probably give Arizona's depth an edge. Gabe Watson, Alan Branch and Bryan Robinson can all contribute limited snaps. Maybe Kentwan Balmer steps up (for the 49ers), but that is speculation.

Mike Sando: One question I have is whether the Cardinals make the most of the talent they do have up front. This has not been a consistently solid defense even with good talent. Even if the Cardinals have an edge on the defensive line, does it really matter in the bigger picture?

Matt Williamson: I think San Francisco is on the cusp of having a great defense and I think they are more solid, maybe have more upside than just about any spot except for maybe corner than Arizona has. I like the outside backers, especially Ahmad Brooks. Patrick Willis speaks for himself. He is the best player for either team by far. The secondary in San Francisco is good enough, especially if the pass rush steps up. They are well coached. They have Mike Singletary's persona. I like Arizona, but they had a lot of turnover. They cannot replace Karlos Dansby. Greg Toler might be ready to be a full-fledged starter. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is good. But I do not really like their depth. I'm not sure why they got rid of Bryant McFadden.

Mike Sando: Right, and the Cardinals will be counting on some older players at outside linebacker. Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, etc.

Matt Williamson: Are those outside linebackers dynamic enough to help the secondary? I am not a big believer. I would probably put both defenses in the upper half of the league and the others in the division in the lower half. But I might put San Francisco in the top half-dozen or so. They are primed to take a big step forward, especially if they control the ball better on offense.

Mike Sando: Let's talk about the offenses another time. I thought we could make the case that Arizona's offensive line could be better than the 49ers' offensive line, at least in the short term. But there's a lot to talk about on that front as well.