Tuesday, October 11, 2011
NFC West Stock Watch
By Mike Sando
1. Ray Horton, Cardinals defensive coordinator. The Cardinals' defense hasn't made the necessary improvements five games into the season. Arizona allowed 172 yards rushing and fell behind 28-0 during the first quarter of its 34-10 defeat at Minnesota. Horton hasn't gotten much on defense from the team's two high-priced additions on that side of the ball, rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson and veteran linebacker Stewart Bradley.
2. Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals head coach. This marks two weeks in a row for Whisenhunt on the "falling" list. His Cardinals are now 3-13 in their last 16 games. At 1-4, Arizona is two games worse than it was through five games last season, despite committing a five-year, $63 million contract to quarterback Kevin Kolb. It's tough to say Whisenhunt had his team ready to play against the Vikings.
3. Coaching discretion. Seattle's Pete Carroll and San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh enjoyed signature victories in Week 5, but both also paid for putting key players at risk unnecessarily. Carroll lost quarterback Tarvaris Jackson to a pectoral injury after approving a brazen read-option play straight out of the college ranks. Harbaugh lost receiver Josh Morgan to a broken leg when the 49ers passed on fourth-and-3 from the Tampa Bay 20-yard line while leading 41-3 with 4:46 remaining. You're not playing UCLA or Oregon any longer, guys.
Alex Smith threw three touchdown passes in the 49ers' rout of the Buccaneers.
1. West Coast offenses. The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks both installed somewhat traditional versions of the West Coast offense this season. Both teams are lining up with written-off quarterbacks and young offensive lines featuring multiple high draft choices. And both teams are seeing real signs of progress on offense. The 49ers and Seahawks have combined for 110 points on offense since halftime of their Week 4 games. Alex Smith in particular could not have been much better Sunday.
2. Ball hawks.Carlos Rogers' 31-yard pick-six for the 49ers gave San Francisco a 14-3 lead over Tampa Bay, sparking a 48-3 rout. The 94-yarder Brandon Browner provided for Seattle clinched the Seahawks' upset road victory over the New York Giants. These were momentum-turning plays from cornerbacks new to the NFC West this season.
3. Doug Baldwin, Seahawks WR. The undrafted rookie free agent from Stanford caught eight passes for 136 yards and the winning touchdown against the Giants. He has repeatedly stood up to hard hits, including one that drew a $15,000 fine from the NFL last week. Baldwin is giving the Seahawks a reliable slot receiver with speed and a hard-nosed mentality.