NFC West: 2010 Midseason Report NFC West

Midseason Stock Watch: 49ers

November, 10, 2010
11/10/10
2:00
PM ET
Power Rankings: Preseason: 12. This week: 28.

2010 schedule/results

[+] EnlargeMike Singletary
Kyle Terada/US PresswireMike Singletary has been inconsistent in a season that saw the division favorite 49ers start 0-5.
Where they stand: The 49ers are last in the NFC West with a 2-6 record. They preached offensive continuity all offseason, only to fire coordinator Jimmy Raye after three games. Quarterback Alex Smith hasn't played to expectations and neither has his restocked line. A weak and unsettled division does give the 49ers hope, however. San Francisco still has five division games remaining. The 49ers were 5-1 in the NFC West last season and it's not as if any other team is going to run away with the division title. The 49ers have gone 2-1 since president Jed York guaranteed a division title following an 0-5 start.

Falling: Coach Mike Singletary has talked a big game without delivering. He praised Smith as a leader in naming the quarterback a team captain before the season, only to complain about leadership on offense. He thanked the Seattle Seahawks for providing a wake-up call in the opener, only to suffer four more defeats in a row. He vowed that the 49ers would shut down Drew Brees, only to watch the Saints' quarterback lead the winning drive days later. He suggested the 49ers had taken a critical next step in their development by playing New Orleans tough in Week 2, only to watch his team get blown out in Kansas City the next week. He said Raye would remain coordinator, only to fire him the next day. He told David Carr to replace Smith against Philadelphia, only to back down when players urged him to stick with Smith. See the pattern?

Rising: First-round draft choices Manny Lawson (2006) and Michael Crabtree (2009) have gained momentum in the last month. Lawson has two sacks and two forced fumbles in his past four games. He's playing for a new contract and improving his stock. Crabtree has three touchdowns in his past four games, more than he caught as a rookie in 2009. The offensive direction remains difficult to predict while the 49ers consider giving Troy Smith a more extended look at quarterback. Crabtree caught only three passes against Denver, for example, as the 49ers leaned hard on the ground game. But one of those receptions went for a critical 28-yard touchdown.

Midseason MVP: Frank Gore is on pace for 1,382 yards rushing, which would stand as the second-highest total of his career. Gore is also on pace for a career-high 76 receptions. He has stayed healthier this season and carried the offense, for better and for worse. Two lost fumbles against Philadelphia are the only blotches on his record.

Outlook: It's important for the 49ers to beat St. Louis and Tampa Bay at Candlestick Park in their next two games. That would get them to 4-6 and firmly back in the division race before playing four road games during a five-week period. Nothing about how the 49ers have played this season suggests this team has the poise, maturity, coaching or quarterback talent to match their 8-8 record from last season. The 49ers appear headed for a coaching change even if they somehow win the NFC West title in a down year for the division.

Midseason Stock Watch: Seahawks

November, 10, 2010
11/10/10
2:00
PM ET
Power Rankings: Preseason 25. This week: 24.

[+] EnlargeLeon Washington
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireLeon Washington has done his part to give the offense good starting field position.
2010 schedule/results

Where they stand: The Seahawks are tied with St. Louis atop the NFC West with a 4-4 record. The Rams own the head-to-head tiebreaker pending their rematch in Week 17. Seattle was an ascending team until injuries wiped out five starters on the offensive and defensive lines, plus quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and a few others. The Seahawks still have a chance to steady themselves once Hasselbeck and left tackle Russell Okung return. Both could be back against Arizona this week. But the defense will have a hard time recapturing top form against the run without defensive end Red Bryant (injured reserve) and nose tackle Colin Cole (out indefinitely with a high-ankle sprain). The Seahawks are on shaky ground after getting outscored 74-10 over their past two games.

Falling: The offensive line was supposed to develop a strong identity under highly regarded coach Alex Gibbs. It never happened. Gibbs quit shortly before the season. By then, the Seahawks had already begun remaking their line with the smaller guards Gibbs preferred. Trading away incumbent starter Rob Sims seemed like a mistake once Gibbs departed and the Seahawks sought more size at the position. Losing starting right guard Max Unger in the opener and starting left guard Ben Hamilton more recently exacerbated the problem. Take away Okung and the line has struggled enough to prevent the offense from functioning. The Seahawks are having trouble sustaining drives and clearing holes for their running backs. That puts more pressure on the defense, which has issues of its own.

Rising: General manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have done a good job patching holes with castoffs. Adding first-round choices Mike Williams (2005, Detroit Lions) and Marshawn Lynch (2007, Buffalo Bills) has given Seattle two talented building blocks on offense. Williams had 21 receptions over a two-game period before falling off over the past couple of games. Lynch has found very little room to run, but his hard-charging style has impressed. The 6-yard run Lynch had against the New York Giants -- one in which he disappeared into a pile, moved the pile and then emerged from the other side -- summed up what Seattle is getting from him. Leon Washington, acquired in a low-cost trade on draft day, leads the NFL in kickoff-return average. Chris Clemons, another acquisition by trade, has produced as a pass-rusher. Raheem Brock, Brandon Stokley, Kentwan Balmer and Michael Robinson have also added value.

Midseason MVP: Washington gets my vote for his consistently game-changing production in the return game. He's the most dynamic player on the team and a consistent source of favorable field position. Clemons and strong safety Lawyer Milloy also deserve consideration. Both players have brought an edge to the defense at times.

Outlook: Getting Okung back into the lineup and developing continuity on the offensive line stands as the top priority heading into the second half of the season. The game against Chicago in Week 6 proved the Seahawks had a good thing going up front when Okung was in the lineup. It's just tough to bank on anything coming together from an injury standpoint amid so much bad news on that front. The defensive line might be in worse shape, a significant concern with Reggie Bush, Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Frank Gore, Michael Turner, LeGarrette Blount and Steven Jackson still on the schedule. Seattle can get to 8-8 by winning its remaining home games, however. That's more than the Rams or San Francisco 49ers can say.

Midseason Stock Watch: Cardinals

November, 10, 2010
11/10/10
2:00
PM ET
Power Rankings: Preseason 15. This week: 25.

[+] EnlargeSteve Breaston
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireDespite missing three games, Steve Breaston still has 25 receptions for 358 yards.
2010 schedule/results

Where they stand: The Cardinals are 3-5, one game behind NFC West leaders St. Louis and Seattle. The road victory they own over the Rams could come in handy as a tiebreaker if the division race remains close. The Cardinals have arguably lost only one game -- against Tampa Bay at home -- that would have qualified before the season as a likely victory. But the team's failure to acquire or develop a quality quarterback has made this season feel like an overall failure. Return touchdowns against New Orleans and Oakland helped the Cardinals beat those opponents and stay competitive in the division. Teams generally cannot bank on such plays, but Arizona is proving otherwise. The team has an NFL-leading eight return touchdowns this season.

Falling: The right quarterback masks so many blemishes. The wrong quarterback -- or quarterbacks, in the Cardinals' case -- turns minor imperfections into liabilities. Derek Anderson played his best game of the season against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 9, but the Cardinals punted eight times, gained only 225 yards and converted 23 percent of their third-down chances. Anderson failed to see open receivers, missed other receivers and threw his third pass of the game directly into the hands of linebacker Chad Greenway, who dropped the ball. Again, this was the best a Cardinals quarterback has offered all season. Max Hall tossed one touchdown pass with five interceptions before coach Ken Whisenhunt went back to Anderson. The turnovers and inefficiency have put extra pressure on Arizona's defense, which has lacked consistency. The offensive line appears worse without Kurt Warner beating pressure with accurate throws. Running backs Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower have also disappointed.

Rising: The Cardinals have generally gotten good contributions from the veteran players they added in free agency. Kerry Rhodes has been every bit the big-play safety Arizona lost when Antrel Rolle left as a free agent, a pleasant surprise for Arizona. Another newcomer, Joey Porter, has gotten more pressure on opposing quarterbacks lately, putting him on pace for 10 sacks this season. Inside linebacker Paris Lenon has provided competent play at a position of tremendous need. Guard Alan Faneca has proved he's not washed up. Among young players, kickoff returner LaRod Stephens-Howling has two return touchdowns. Rookie receiver Andre Roberts impressed with a 30-yard touchdown reception against Minnesota. Right tackle Brandon Keith is improving.

Midseason MVP: Steve Breaston stands out as a solid choice even though he missed three games because of injury. Breaston helped win the season opener at St. Louis with seven catches for 132 yards, plus a touchdown-saving forced fumble. He caught eight passes for 147 yards against the Vikings. Breaston even showed skills as a quarterback Sunday when he completed a 17-yard pass to Jim Dray, his second read on the play.

Outlook: A generally healthy roster and an easy second-half schedule should deliver the division title to Arizona on a platter, but quarterback trouble diminishes the Cardinals' chances. Arizona's game against Kansas City in Week 11 is the only remaining matchup against a team with a winning record at midseason. Five home games against non-winning teams give Arizona a realistic shot at its third consecutive NFC West title. Road games against 1-7 Carolina and 2-6 San Francisco give the Cardinals a chance away from University of Phoenix Stadium as well.

Midseason Stock Watch: Rams

November, 10, 2010
11/10/10
2:00
PM ET
Power Rankings: Preseason: 32. This week: 21.

2010 Schedule/Results

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonThe Rams have put their trust in rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. He has not disappointed them.
Where they stand: The Rams are 4-4 and leading the NFC West. They hold the tiebreaker over 4-4 Seattle after beating the Seahawks in Week 4. The Rams have used improved quarterback play, a better-than-expected defensive front and a favorable schedule to win more games at the midpoint than they won in the full 2008 and 2009 seasons combined. The Rams are building toward a brighter future while competing for a playoff spot in the present. They've been the most consistent team in the division. They have the NFL's 10th-ranked defense and a quarterback to build around in rookie Sam Bradford.

Falling: The Rams have had a hard time keeping receivers and tight ends healthy for Bradford, threatening their offensive productivity. Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton are on injured reserve with knee injuries. Fellow wideout Danario Alexander lasted two games before needing another knee surgery. Rookie tight end Mike Hoomanawanui was looking like a go-to receiver for Bradford until a high-ankle sprain sidelined him for a four-game stretch. The Rams hired a new training staff before the season. They're getting their money's worth at receiver and tight end alone.

Rising: Bradford is the obvious choice here. He became a credible leader right away through his preparation, demeanor and production. Bradford has answered questions about his durability. He has five touchdown passes without an interception in his past three games. Bradford, Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning are the only rookie quarterbacks since 1970 with 11 touchdown passes in their first eight games. On defense, coach Steve Spagnuolo and coordinator Ken Flajole deserve credit for their scheming amid significant injury issues in the secondary. Defensive linemen Chris Long, Fred Robbins and James Hall are playing at a high level.

Midseason MVP: Bradford gets my vote. Steven Jackson is the heart and soul of this team, but Bradford is the biggest difference for the Rams this season. The Rams have been starved for a leader at quarterback. Bradford gives the team hope and a chance on offense.

Outlook: Let's see how the Rams fare on the road against San Francisco in Week 10. That game could reveal whether the Rams are division favorites or whether they're one of four teams hanging around to see what happens in the end. Injuries at receiver and in the secondary have hurt. The Rams lack the depth to withstand too many more casualties. The bye came at a good time on that front. Four of the Rams' next five games fall on the road, however, and the team hasn't won away from the Edward Jones Dome this season. Home games against Atlanta and Kansas City appear tough. I could see the Rams heading to Seattle in Week 17 with a shot at 8-8.

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