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Friday, September 23, 2011
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 3:

Larry Fitzgerald road show resumes. The Arizona Cardinals' Pro Bowl receiver caught a combined 23 passes for 251 yards in road games against Seattle over the 2008 and 2009 seasons. His production at the former Qwest Field dropped to three catches and 30 yards without a viable quarterback last season, but Kevin Kolb's addition puts Fitzgerald in position to pick up where he left off two years ago. The key variable this time is whether the Seahawks' improved size in the secondary can help them better combat Fitzgerald. Cornerback Brandon Browner, all 6-foot-4 of him, needs to fare better against Fitzgerald than he did against Pittsburgh's speedier Mike Wallace.

Frank Gore
49ers running back Frank Gore hopes to get on track this Sunday against the Bengals.
Frank Gore search party targeting Ohio. If tight end Vernon Davis was not happy with his production in the San Francisco 49ers' first two games, imagine what running back Frank Gore must be thinking. Gore hasn't disappeared from the 49ers' offense, but he's not getting the usual results. Gore has now gone five consecutive games without reaching 100 yards rushing, tying his longest streak since 2007. He has failed to exceed 2.68 yards per carry in consecutive games for the first time. He has failed to exceed that average three times in his past four games, another career first. The Bengals are allowing 3.5 yards per carry.

Sam Bradford's red zone adventure. The Denver Broncos scored touchdowns on 10 of their final 11 red zone possessions under Josh McDaniels last season. The Rams have one TD in five red zone trips with McDaniels as their offensive coordinator in 2011, good for a No. 31 ranking in red zone TD percentage. Quarterback Sam Bradford is tied with McDaniels' former quarterback in Denver, Kyle Orton, for the most goal-to-go pass attempts without a completion this season. Both have four, one more than the 49ers' Alex Smith. The Rams' Week 3 opponent, Baltimore, allowed touchdowns twice in two red zone opportunities against Tennessee last week. Getting running back Steven Jackson back would help keep defenses a little more honest around the goal line, most likely.

2009 NFL draft class blues. Aaron Curry's demotion from the Seahawks' starting lineup brought renewed scrutiny upon what is shaping up as a mostly forgettable draft class. Jason Smith (Rams), Michael Crabtree (49ers) and Beanie Wells (Cardinals) rounded out a so-far-disappointing first-round group for the NFC West. The 49ers' opponent this week, Cincinnati, fared no better by taking tackle Andre Smith with the sixth overall choice. The Rams' opponent, Baltimore, found a starting tackle in Michael Oher, but overall, this will be an underwhelming 2009 first-round class on display in NFC West games.

Seeking that Kendricks connection. Bradford's rapport with rookie tight end Lance Kendricks produced immediate positive results for the Rams through training camp and the preseason. Kendricks caught an 18-yard pass in the opener and a 26-yarder in Week 2, but he hasn't emerged as the consistent go-to target the Rams were envisioning. Bradford has targeted Kendricks only twice on third down, compared to six times for Greg Salas, four for Brandon Gibson and three for Danario Alexander. Kendricks hasn't helped his cause, dropping what could have been a touchdown grab against Philadelphia. But he's too good to be a one-catch-per-game player, particularly with Danny Amendola sidelined by injury. The Ravens have allowed six receptions for 80 yards to tight ends through two games.