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Tuesday, October 2, 2012
NFC West Stock Watch

By Mike Sando

FALLING

1. Pete Carroll, Seahawks coach. Carroll has gone winless in his last four games against NFC West opponents. He is 1-6 in his last seven games against current NFC West head coaches. The St. Louis Rams had the coaching edge during a 19-13 victory over Seattle on Sunday. Carroll's decision to open the second half with an onside kick looked like an impulsive reaction to the Rams snookering Seattle with a fake field goal for a touchdown. Think the Rams didn't see that one coming? There's no doubting Carroll's competitiveness, but sometimes a little more restraint might serve him well.

2. Cardinals' pass defense. Arizona appeared shocked when Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill came out throwing against the Cardinals' previously impenetrable defense. Tannehill completed 26 of 41 passes for 431 yards, gaining 80 of those yards on the go-ahead touchdown pass to Brian Hartline. Tannehill completed 12 of 17 passes for 253 yards to Hartline alone, with three of those receptions covering 30-plus yards. Cornerback William Gay struggled in particular as Davone Bess also factored for Miami with seven receptions for 123 yards. Arizona won the game, but its pass defense took a hit.

3. Russell Wilson, Seahawks QB. Three interceptions and no touchdown passes against St. Louis revived debate over whether the Seahawks' offense might be better with Matt Flynn behind center. Seattle is on pace for its fewest passing yards since 1992. Wilson isn't solely to blame, and yardage isn't always a meaningful measure (ask Alex Smith). Still, the Seahawks' passing game has been difficult to watch. Wilson needs a boost against Carolina in Week 5. The Panthers have allowed six touchdown passes against three interceptions. Opposing passers have a 93.9 NFL passer rating. Carolina's defense does rank tied for seventh in sacks with 12.

4. Cardinals' ground game. The Cardinals averaged 1.9 yards per rushing attempt against a Dolphins defense that had been allowing fewer than 2.4 yards per carry coming into the game. Injuries and the flow of the game were a factor, for sure. Beanie Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling were out. The Cardinals' shift to a no-huddle offense took Ryan Williams off the field (the young back isn't yet ready for those situations, according to coach Ken Whisenhunt). The stagnant ground game is one reason Arizona ranks last in the NFL in yards per offensive play (4.3). The Cardinals are the first team since the 1941 New York Giants to go 4-0 without topping 300 net yards in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

RISING

1. Andre Roberts, Cardinals receiver. Two fourth-quarter touchdown receptions against the Dolphins helped the Cardinals force overtime. The first one covered 46 yards on a play-action strike. The second one was a 15-yarder on fourth-and-10 in the final 30 seconds. Not all that long ago, reporters regularly asked Whisenhunt whether the team would be pursuing various No. 2 receivers, including Braylon Edwards. Whisenhunt backed Roberts all along, especially after last season. The coach specifically said Roberts had been running open with frequency, only to have Arizona's quarterbacks fail to deliver the ball. Roberts finished the game Sunday with six receptions for 118 yards and two scores. His receptions gained five first downs.

2. Greg Zuerlein, Rams kicker. Some fans are calling him "Legatron" after Zuerlein converted kicks covering 60 and 58 yards. Rams coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead get credit for determining early they would go with a rookie kicker this season. Zuerlein has been a big upgrade. He's a critical weapon for an offense that isn't producing with much consistency. Zuerlein was one of several Rams rookies to make a positive impact against Seattle. I don't think the Rams would have won with any other kicker.

3. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals quarterback. I was tempted to include Kolb in both the "falling" and "rising" sections this week. The game against the Dolphins was that kind of performance for him. Kolb took eight sacks. He nearly lost the game with a poor decision resulting in a fourth-quarter interception in the end zone. But with the game on the line, Kolb threw decisively for Roberts on that fourth-and-10 play. He finished the game with 324 yards passing and three touchdowns with two interceptions and those eight sacks. (I refrained from including Cardinals right tackle Bobby Massie in the "falling" section because a rookie fourth-round choice should struggle when attempting to block the Dolphins' Cameron Wake without assistance.)

4. Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals coach. The Cardinals' first 4-0 start since 1974 makes Whisenhunt a natural candidate to appear in this space. I also think he's handling the success well. Whisenhunt continually points to the Cardinals' 1-6 record to start last season as evidence the team cannot get too comfortable. While clearly pleased with the team's exhilarating victory Sunday, there were times afterward when Whisenhunt sounded like the losing coach. He knew his team suffered from too many breakdown and poor decisions, and that 4-0 guarantees nothing for the future.