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Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Around the NFC West: Improved QB play

By Mike Sando

You know times are changing in the NFC West when someone assigned to cover the NFL at large dedicates 824 mostly kind words to the division.

You really know times are changing when some of those words focus on improving play at the quarterback position.

Don Banks of Sports Illustrated points to the NFC West's 5-1 record outside the division as evidence. Banks: "The division's current success ratio isn't likely to hold up all year, but on the two most important fronts in the game -- quarterbacking and coaching -- the NFC West looks to be in much better shape than it has for quite some time. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has been a revelation so far in Seattle, and Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is showing signs of returning to his stellar rookie form of 2010 after the struggles of 2011. San Francisco's Alex Smith, once all but dismissed as a long-term starting option for the 49ers, has become the division's gold standard at the position, and even Arizona's Kevin Kolb has returned to relevancy in the past two weeks after losing his job to John Skelton coming out of the preseason." Noted: Kolb's production at New England wasn't all that good, but there were encouraging signs in how he ran the offense. Most striking, I thought, was the way Kolb hung in the pocket. Seems like he can build on that performance.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says outside linebacker Quentin Groves appears to be enjoying a rebirth with the Cardinals after disappointing stops in Jacksonville and Oakland. Groves: "I didn’t study as much as I should, not putting in the extra film work as much as I should, not taking care of my body and eating right as much as I should. By the grace of God, I’ve been an exceptional athlete. To be drafted in the second round and coming into the league, I got complacent. Now I’m back on my grind, doing the little things better. Instead of going home and picking up a video game, I pick up my playbook or pick up my iPad and watch film."

Also from Urban: The Cardinals' penchant for blocking field goal tries couldn't stop coach Ken Whisenhunt from worrying about New England lining up for the potential game-winning kick Sunday.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers observations on the Cardinals' victory at New England. He singles out Darnell Dockett as a key player.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers' Aldon Smith avoided serious injuries during a recent car crash in which Smith was a passenger. Smith: "It's life. You can sit here and make it want you want. But really it's life. I'm in a good spot right now. I was able to go out and get seven tackles and two sacks, and now I'm ready for Minnesota and ready for the rest of the season."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com offers thoughts on how each of the 49ers' offensive players performed against Detroit. On left guard Mike Iupati: "Had a much stronger game in run-blocking than pass protection."

Also from Maiocco: a look at how the 49ers' defensive players performed. On free safety Dashon Goldson: "He started at free safety and played every snap. Made a diving interception of a wobbling Matthew Stafford pass late in the first quarter. He got to his feet and returned it 23 yards to set up a 49ers touchdown. Did a great job of flying up from deep in the secondary to drop Joique Bell for a 2-yard gain early in second quarter. He was very decisive in coming up to support the run and finished his tackles. He was credited with six tackles, an interception and a pass defensed."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with newly activated Rams receiver Austin Pettis. Thomas: "To make room for Pettis on the 53-man roster, rookie offensive guard Rokevious Watkins was placed on the injured reserve list. Watkins, a fifth-round pick from South Carolina, suffered what team officials said was a significant ankle injury at the end of the Rams' season-opening loss in Detroit. He was using crutches last week and did not play against Washington. His departure leaves the Rams with two backups on the interior offensive line in guard Shelley Smith and center-guard Tim Barnes."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com looks at the Rams' situation on the offensive line. He credits head coach Jeff Fisher and line coach Paul T. Boudreau for helping the Rams overcome injuries at the position. Gordon: "Boudreau has produced good offensive lines at every NFL stop, including his earlier stint at Rams Park. And Fisher’s make-no-excuses mandate has the team seeking solutions rather than dwelling on problems. Every coach preaches a “next man up” philosophy, but Fisher has the gravitas to make the players actually believe it."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team achieved all 12 of its goals on special teams against Dallas, a first in the career of special-teams coach Brian Schneider. Farnsworth: "Schneider has 12 goals for his units in each game -- from 100 percent effort, to penalty free, to eliminating big plays by the opponent. Achieve one, a Seahawks logo is placed next the category on the large board that hangs in the hallway between the locker room and the training room. Achieve all 12, as Schneider’s units did on Sunday at CenturyLink Field, and it’s Seahawks logos all around. Unprecedented? It’s a first not only for Schneider since he joined Pete Carroll’s staff in 2010, it’s the first time any of his special teams have pitched a 12 -– including his time with the Oakland Raiders (2007-08) and college stints at USC (2009), Iowa State (2006), UCLA (2003-05) and Colorado State (1994-2002)."

Also from Farnsworth: Seahawks notes, including one about the team holding the highest winning percentage in the history of "Monday Night Football" telecasts. Seattle is 17-8 (.680). Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Indianapolis and the New York Giants are next. Also: Frank Omiyale provided a "credible" performance against DeMarcus Ware while subbing for Russell Okung at left tackle.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' current defense might be the best one in franchise history. Boling: "An obvious omission right now, though, is the lack of sacks, as they’ve registered only two in two games. It was a point of emphasis coming into this season, and -- especially in the Dallas game -- defensive coordinator Gus Bradley put together some creative rush packages. Although sacks didn’t result, Pete Carroll said he considered the pressure on the quarterback much improved against Dallas. The other area below standard is stopping third-down conversions. The Hawks have allowed opponents to convert 10 of 23 third downs. The statistics fail to measure the physically intimidating play of this unit, which is its dominant characteristic. And in games at home, it inflames the fans, which, in turn, further energizes the players."