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Wednesday, September 15, 2010
How I See It: NFC West Stock Watch

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

Mike Singletary
49ers coach Mike Singletary and his staff have to work out communication issues before their next game.
1. Mike Singletary, 49ers coach. The 49ers looked impressive marching onto the field in rows of five, arms locked and moving with near-military precision. They did not appear so organized during the game, however, and the head coach is ultimately responsible. This wasn't the first time the 49ers have had problems getting plays from coordinator Jimmy Raye to quarterback Alex Smith in time to operate smoothly. Singletary needs to make sure the problems get fixed right away or his stock won't be the only thing falling. He'll lose credibility with players even as they respect him personally.

2. Alex Smith, 49ers QB. The 49ers aren't asking Smith to carry the offense. They still want to run the ball with Frank Gore and let others -- Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, specifically -- make the big plays. The running game isn't going to be effective every week, however, and in those times it's important for the quarterback to step forward. Smith completed a high percentage of passes early against the Seahawks, but he showed zero ability to spark the offense when the team needed a jolt. Converting only one time in 15 third-down chances will always drag down a quarterback's stock.

3. Rookie receivers. Seattle's Golden Tate and Arizona's Andre Roberts weren't active in Week 1 even though both teams had uncertainty at the position heading into the season. Tate was a second-round choice. Roberts was a third-rounder. I spoke with Tate in Seattle's locker room Wednesday and he said the experience has reminded him to take nothing for granted. He knows he needs to work on the little things -- the way he drops his weight at the top of a route, for example -- to earn the trust of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and the coaching staff. Tate will make plays for Seattle at some point this season. But nothing will be handed to him. A shoulder injury set back Roberts during camp.

RISING

1. Pete Carroll and staff. The Seahawks' performance against the 49ers validated everything Carroll had been talking about all offseason. Hanging a 31-6 defeat on the favored division-rival 49ers showed, at least for a week, that rebuilding and winning aren't always exclusive. The Seahawks appeared be more talented and better equipped following an offseason filled with roster moves and a couple high-profile subtractions (that of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, primarily). Carroll and staff outcoached their San Francisco counterparts through their initial plan and through adjustments. This was a great start.

2. Steve Breaston, Cardinals WR. It's time to recognize what the Cardinals have known for some time. Breaston is a legitimate starting receiver, but he still benefits from the mindset he needed while breaking into the league as a fifth-round draft choice. That makes Breaston a perfect fit in Arizona, where Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt values what Breaston represents. In Week 1, Breaston caught each of the seven passes thrown to him, gaining 132 yards. He made a touchdown-saving tackle during one St. Louis Rams fumble return. He saved another Rams touchdown by forcing a fumble.

3. Mark Clayton, Rams WR. Not many receivers could catch 10 passes for 119 yards while avoiding assignment errors one week after joining their new teams. Clayton did that because he works hard and understands concepts, meaning there's more real learning than mere memorization when he applies himself. Clayton and Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford are only beginning to build a rapport. They should remain productive and become even better together over time.

Note: Breaston's teammate, Adrian Wilson, easily could have landed in one of these three spots following his performance against the Rams. I chose to recognize the others in part because Wilson already enjoys elevated stock value as a Pro Bowl regular. Seattle's Hasselbeck was another consideration, but the format allows for only three choices in each category.