Dialing up pressure. The San Francisco 49ers must do a better job getting pressure when they send five or more pass-rushers. Quarterbacks have completed 30 of 40 passes for 359 yards, four touchdowns and a 124.9 rating when San Francisco has brought more than four rushers. No defense has allowed a higher passer rating in those situations, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Travis LaBoy hit Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan when the 49ers sent five last week, but Ryan still found Roddy White for a 20-yard gain. The 49ers can watch the Eagles to see how it's done. Philadelphia has held passers to a league-low 42.2 rating in those situations.
Dropping passes has been an issue for Michael Crabtree and several other NFC West receivers.
Dropping the ball. NFC West quarterbacks need all the help they can get. Surer hands would rank high on their wish lists. The division has suffered from 36 dropped passes through four weeks, more than any division. The AFC East has a slightly higher drop rate (7.1 percent to 6.6 percent), but that is little consolation. Drops could play a role in games involving NFC West teams in Week 5. The 49ers' opponent, Philadelphia, ranks tied for the league high with 13 drops, same as the Rams' opponent, Detroit. The Rams rank third with 12 drops. The Seahawks rank fifth with 10 and the Cardinals are tied for eighth with eight. NFC West wide receivers Mark Clayton of the Rams (3), Michael Crabtree of the Niners (3), Mike Williams of the Seahawks (3) and Deon Butler of the Seahawks (3) rank among the league leaders this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The great outside.Sam Bradford plays home games indoors and he'll be in a dome against Detroit in Week 5, but the Lions should worry about him doing damage outside. Outside the pocket, that is. Bradford ranks seventh among NFL quarterbacks with a 100.7 rating on passes thrown from outside the pocket (minimum four attempts), according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has completed 15 of 24 such passes. Both figures are league highs. One potential concern for Bradford was that he might prematurely and unnecessarily bail from the pocket, where quarterbacks generally must do most of their damage. Bradford still must do better from within the pocket. He has four touchdown passes, six interceptions and a 68.2 rating from there. That figure ranks 31st in the league among players with at least 20 attempts (Alex Smith is 32nd and Derek Anderson ranks 39th, which is last).
Winning one on the road. Arizona owns the only road victory by an NFC West team this season, and that one came against St. Louis in Week 1. The Rams have shown improvement lately, but are they good enough to win a road game against a below-average team? They did win at Detroit last season. Beating the Lions on the road Sunday would help the Rams make up for ground lost when they fell to the Cardinals at home. It would give them a 3-2 record overall and 1-1 record on the road, with a trip to Tampa Bay in two weeks. This is the sort of game the Rams should win if they're going to transition from merely competitive to contending within the division.
Beanie Wells Watch. The last time an NFC West team tangled with the defending Super Bowl champs, San Francisco amassed more than 400 yards against New Orleans in Week 2, led by a punishing ground game. The Cardinals should try to follow a similar plan against the Saints, who allowed 344 yards rushing over a two-week period in games against Atlanta and San Francisco. Arizona has the personnel with running backs Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells. The latter hasn't done much this season and he spoke out about his role, a move that probably didn't help his standing with coaches. But everyone knows Wells has talent. The offense seems to perk up when he gets a chance to run the ball. One question is whether Arizona's defense can keep the Cardinals close enough to stick with the ground game. Given the quarterback situation in Arizona, however, a strong rushing attack seems imperative. The Saints allowed at least 132 yards rushing in half their 2009 regular-season games.