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Friday, September 17, 2010
Final Word: NFC West

By Mike Sando

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

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 2:

Chris Long
The timing and venue may be right for Chris Long to have a breakout game.
Long time coming. Chris Long's development into a solid -- and potentially better than solid -- defensive lineman has been a process. We didn't see much from Long during his early days as a rookie in camp two years ago. For a while, Long seemed to struggle living up to expectations. Things began to change last season, when Long had more sacks (5) than Terrell Suggs, Julian Peterson, Shawne Merriman, Albert Haynesworth, Richard Seymour or Aaron Kampman. Long had clearly made strides, becoming a potential pass-rush sleeper for 2010. Long asserted himself more during training camp this summer. The Cardinals had trouble blocking Long in Week 1. I'm expecting Long to break through with a sack or two against the Oakland Raiders in Week 2. The Raiders have had issues on their offensive line. Long has downplayed his first game in Oakland, where his father began a Hall of Fame career, but the timing seems right for Long to find the quarterback.

Derek Anderson in perspective. The Arizona Cardinals' trip to Atlanta marks homecomings for coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive lineman Darnell Dockett. The challenge is clear. Arizona finds itself on the wrong end of another team's home opener for the second week in a row, this time against a better opponent. Quarterback Derek Anderson probably needs to show more consistent accuracy for the Cardinals to defeat the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. The rest of us could also use a little more accuracy at times. For as erratic as Anderson appeared when throwing eight consecutive incomplete passes in Week 1, his 85.1 passer rating for the game was better than eight of the 17 regular-season and postseason ratings posted by a certain now-retired Cardinals quarterback last season. Kurt Warner posted nine ratings between 100.8 and 154.1 last season. His ratings in the remaining eight games ranged between 44.9 and 79.2. Anderson might never play like Warner when Warner was hot. He could potentially be more consistent from game to game. At the very least, we shouldn't measure him against the very best Warner offered without giving at least some consideration to those other eight games.

The Jeremy Bates Show. Alex Gibbs' abrupt departure as the Seattle Seahawks' offensive line coach one week before the season left me thinking the team's offensive line might suffer an implosion reminiscent of 2009, particularly with rookie left tackle Russell Okung sidelined by injury. That might still happen, but it seems less likely after Bates, the Seahawks' offensive coordinator, put together such a successful plan against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1. Protection issues weren't an overriding problem. As much as the Seahawks respected and valued Gibbs, they've shrugged off his departure as if they weren't counting on him to be around that long anyway. Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck keeps crediting Bates by name when answering questions about the offense. In retrospect, Bates was the most important hire coach Pete Carroll made for his offensive staff. The early results appear promising. Bates, a coaching grinder known to sleep in the office, presumably will have a good plan for Denver, his former employer (the Broncos wanted to keep Bates after firing Mike Shanahan, but it wasn't an ideal fit for Bates once the team hired Josh McDaniels).

Sam Bradford's first career victory. The Rams believe in Bradford, and they should. He's shown the starting job isn't too big for him. Now the Rams need to win a game with him. The Raiders aren't a particularly good team. They couldn't stop Vince Young from completing 76.5 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and a 142.8 rating. Like Young, Bradford benefits from having a top running back on his side. Steven Jackson is hungry. Coach Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams lamented missed opportunities following their 17-13 defeat against Arizona in the opener. Losing to the Raiders would count as another one.

Breaker-breaker one-Nine(r). The 49ers' communication problems are getting lots of attention, as they should. Any team should be able to communicate plays from its coordinator to the quarterback without inducing panic. Let's not lose sight of the fact that San Francisco lost its opener because the team didn't block, tackle, throw, catch and cover well enough. I'm expecting better from the 49ers against the Super Bowl champions on Monday night. Largely the same 49ers team led the Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts on the road in the fourth quarter last season. Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis are cashing fatter checks after signing long-term extensions during the offseason. Safety Dashon Goldson wants one, too. Alex Smith is playing for his career this season. Time for those guys to produce.