Friday, October 16, 2009
NFC West: Final Word
By Mike Sando
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:
Seattle has narrowed the gap at wide receiver. Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald combined for 23 receptions and 337 yards during the Cardinals' 26-20 victory at Seattle last season. Deion Branch, Bobby Engram, Koren Robinson and Courtney Taylor were Seattle's receivers for that game. Branch is the only holdover, and he's an afterthought who doesn't even take all the reps in the three-receiver offense. Starters Nate Burleson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are averaging a combined 11.4 receptions per game this season, slightly more than what Fitzgerald and Boldin are averaging (11.3). Burleson and Houshmandzadeh also have five touchdown receptions, same as Fitzgerald and Boldin. The Cardinals still have the better receivers overall -- no one should forget about Steve Breaston -- but the talent isn't nearly so mismatched.
McFadden, Lucas need to earn their money. The Cardinals beefed up their secondary during the offseason by signing former Steelers corner Bryant McFadden, valued for his physical style. The Seahawks, reeling from two futile performances against the Cardinals' receivers last season, signed 6-foot corner Ken Lucas to close some of the size disparity. Lucas has missed practice all week while tending to his family following the unexpected death of his father. He'll start Sunday, but the Seahawks remain without top corner Marcus Trufant, eligible to return from the physically unable to perform list in Week 7. Lucas faced the Cardinals twice while with Carolina last season. Fitzgerald had 15 receptions for 281 yards in those games, matching exactly his totals in two games against Seattle.
Aaron Curry and Adrian Wilson are the 'X' factors. Curry transforms the Seattle defense with his physical, borderline dirty play. Wilson does the same for Arizona. Both players have incurred numerous fines for their violent styles even though Curry has played only five regular-season games. These are the players quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Matt Hasselbeck must take into account before every snap. Their health is at stake. I'm expecting one of these players to make a game-changing play as a pass rusher or with a big hit on a wide receiver. Even though the Seahawks could use an offensive tackle, I think they were wise to draft Curry over Eugene Monroe, who visited Qwest Field with Jacksonville last week. Curry looks like a dynamic player with strong pass-rush ability and uncommon ability for his size (nearly 260 pounds).
Steven Jackson is due to find the end zone. The Rams are also due to win a game, but that's another story (and not an impossibility given the Jaguars' overall flightiness). Back to Jackson. He's still on pace for more than 1,400 yards, but that end zone is a place he needs to visit before long. I think this could be the week. Jackson's motivation should be off the charts after he lost a fumble at the Minnesota 2 on a first-and-goal play. The Rams have enough problems without having their best player hurt them. Jackson has shown he's a leader by example. Expect him to set the right one Sunday even though the Jaguars are allowing only 3.8 yards per carry.
Chris Long is due to find the quarterback. The second-year Rams defensive end should have chances for sacks against former Virginia teammate Monroe, a rookie still finding his way. Long has played well enough to set up teammates, but it's time for him to realize results as well. Jaguars quarterback David Garrard has taken 11 sacks in five games, so he can be accessible. Perhaps Long can find him.