Friday, October 1, 2010
Final Word: NFC West
By Mike Sando
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:
The Rams will rely on rookie quarterback Sam Bradford with running back Steven Jackson battling injuries.
Sam Bradford's team.Steven Jackson's injury situation puts more pressure on St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford heading into the team's home game against Seattle. Bradford has broad shoulders. He appears ready for the opportunity. The Rams might or might not struggle Sunday without Jackson, but Bradford has shown he's big enough to handle various situations. Jackson is 27 years old and his body has broken down in recent seasons. Bradford is clearly the future -- and increasingly the present -- in St. Louis. Consider this game against Seattle as a sneak preview if Jackson isn't able to contribute.
Cardinals' shaky standing. The Cardinals have held or shared the NFC West lead for 31 of the past 36 regular-season weeks dating to the beginning of the 2008 season. Arizona will remain no worse than tied atop the division if the Seahawks lose in St. Louis. But if Seattle wins and the Cardinals fall in San Diego, the Cardinals will be looking up at Seattle in the standings for the first time since after Week 1 last season. And with a game against New Orleans looming on the schedule in Week 5 -- Seattle has a bye -- the Cardinals could fall further behind than they've been accustomed.
Seattle's road mentality. The Seahawks have a 9-15 road record since 2005 in 10 a.m. PT kickoffs, including 5-0 in early games against the Rams. Coach Pete Carroll has declared such history irrelevant. He's particularly correct in this case. The Rams are better this season and the Seahawks have changed over most of their roster since winning all those games at the Edward Jones Dome. Seattle still must prove it can function away from Qwest Field. The team that winds up winning the division will probably need a couple road victories to get it done. If the Seahawks can no longer win in St. Louis, where on the road can they win?
Taking it to the house. Arizona's LaRod Stephens-Howling and Seattle's Leon Washington returned kickoffs for touchdowns in Week 3. Stephens-Howling had one called back the previous week. He faces the San Diego coverage team Washington tore apart last week (injuries made the Chargers' coverage team even more vulnerable). Washington faces a Rams coverage team without top special-teamer Chris Chamberlain, who is on injured reserve. The Rams lost another top special-teams player, Dominique Curry, to a season-ending injury in Week 3. The Rams are allowing 26.1 yards per kickoff return, which ranks 21st in the league. The Chargers are allowing 32.6 yards per return, which ranks 31st. Return teams block better when they know their returner can take it all the way.
49ers on the precipice. The San Francisco 49ers have not opened a season 0-4 since the 2004 team went 2-14. This team is much better than that one, right? Of course. I think so, anyway. But a blowout defeat against Atlanta might shake this team to its foundation. Mike Singletary's leadership has already appeared ineffective at times. The current situation appears particularly daunting. Since 2005, the 49ers are 2-22 in 10 a.m. PT kickoffs outside St. Louis and they'll have an early kickoff at the Georgia Dome. Atlanta hammered the 49ers last season and just beat New Orleans on the road a week ago. The situation appears hopeless, except for this: These 49ers played their best game of the season against the best team they faced, nearly defeating New Orleans. Time to step up, or fall off.