Tuesday, September 13, 2011
NFC West Stock Watch
By Mike Sando
1. St. Louis Rams' mojo. Rams fans are advised to skip ahead to the third item in the "rising" section below. This item could be too painful for them. The Rams' early schedule was going to be tough enough already without subtracting key players from the lineup. Sure, quarterback Sam Bradford (finger), tackle Jason Smith (ankle) and cornerback Bradley Fletcher (toe) could be healthy enough to play against the New York Giants in Week 2. None figures to be full strength, however, and there's little or no chance the Rams will have running back Steven Jackson (quadriceps), cornerback Ron Bartell (neck) or receiver Danny Amendola (elbow). The Giants are also riddled with injuries, but at least they'll be at home.
2. Seattle Seahawks special teams. The Seahawks pulled within 19-17 in the final four minutes against the Niners when their coverage units imploded, allowing two quick return touchdowns. Losing fullback Michael Robinson and cornerback Byron Maxwell to injuries weakened Seattle on special teams, no question. But those personnel losses could not excuse allowing a 102-yard kickoff return and a 55-yard punt return to Ted Ginn Jr. Seattle return specialist Leon Washington was already having a tough game when he ran down on the kick coverage team as Ginn gathered momentum for his 102-yarder. Washington tried to get around 49ers linebacker Blake Costanzo, and when he did, there was room. Ginn: "The guy that really gave it away to me was Leon."
3. Arizona Cardinals cornerbacks. Rookie Patrick Peterson and former wide receiver A.J. Jefferson were making their first regular-season starts at cornerback for the Cardinals. By the time their day was done, Cam Newton had passed for 422 yards, a record for a rookie making his first start. Peterson and Jefferson were not solely to blame, of course. Effective coverage requires trust and coordination throughout the secondary. Still, coach Ken Whisenhunt was diplomatic when he said: "I think if we can get these two young guys to keep improving and getting more time in these games, we're going to be OK."
Ted Ginn Jr.'s two touchdowns were the difference in San Francisco's win over Seattle.
1. Ginn and the San Francisco 49ers' special teams. The 49ers entered Week 1 as the only team in the league featuring a snapper, kicker and punter with at least one Pro Bowl appearance apiece. Brad Seely, in his first season with the 49ers, is a two-time special-teams coach of the year. Costanzo, Colin Jones and Bruce Miller earned roster spots largely for their strength on special teams. Coach Jim Harbaugh says he thinks the 49ers spend more time than most practicing special teams. Get the idea? Beyond Ginn's returns, the punt that Andy Lee dropped at the Seattle 1-yard line was also pivotal. The 49ers won the field-position game, critical to the outcome. Lee set a franchise record for gross average (59.4) among players with more than one punt. His net average (54.2) was sensational.
2. Ray McDonald, 49ers defensive end. It's tough to believe McDonald hadn't started a game since 2008 before Sunday. The 49ers gave him a $5 million signing bonus as part of a five-year, $20 million contract during the offseason. McDonald was a problem for Seattle from the beginning. He finished the game with six tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage. He had one sack and three total quarterback hits. The 49ers felt as though McDonald had shown signs in the past that a breakthrough could be on the way. This performance showed they might have been right.
3. Cadillac Williams, Rams running back. As promised, Rams fans, there was a reward for you in the end. Williams' 19-carry, 91-yard performance validated the Rams' decision to sign Williams for veteran depth behind Jackson. The team previously did not feel as though its backups could carry a full workload from game to game. It's looking like the Rams will need Williams to fill that role for at least one game, and it's looking like Williams will be ready.