NFC West: 2011 Week 7 Wrap-ups

Wrap-up: Cowboys 34, Rams 7

October, 23, 2011

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 34-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7:

What it means: The Rams fell to 0-6 and could be headed for 0-7 with New Orleans visiting St. Louis in Week 8. They need to step down in class. They need to welcome back Sam Bradford from injury and get him synced up with new receiver Brandon Lloyd. And they need to figure out an alternative to the way they're playing run defense. The Rams are now within two defeats of their total for the 2010 season.

What I liked: The Rams hung tough early and trailed only 14-7 late in the first half. Steven Jackson had a 40-yard run. James Hall and Gary Gibson had sacks. Rookie Robert Quinn hit Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo on an incomplete pass in the red zone. This game could have gotten out of hand earlier if the Rams didn't hold the Cowboys to a field goal on a drive that began at the St. Louis 30. The Rams allowed only one sack. Cornerback Al Harris seemed to bounce back from a rough game at Green Bay. Backup quarterback A.J. Feeley completed 20 of 33 passes for 196 yards, reasonable stats for a player without a victory as a starter since 2004. Feeley wasn't the primary reason the Rams lost the game. Lloyd caught six passes for 74 yards.

What I didn't like: The run defense was generally abysmal again, allowing the Cowboys' DeMarco Murray to set a franchise single-game rushing record thanks to a 91-yard run. Murray rushed for 253 yards. The Cowboys rushed for more yards in this game (294) than any NFL team has gained in a game this season, even though they entered the game ranked 27th in rushing yards per game. The Rams ranked last in rushing yards allowed per game before Sunday, and that certainly will not change following this performance. This was the most rushing yards a Rams team has allowed in a game since 1981. It was the seventh most rushing yards a Rams team has allowed since at least 1940 (the team dates to 1937). That historical context shows the current Rams cannot blame their deficiencies against the run to their inability to sustain drives on offense. The Rams were often worse on offense while posting a 6-42 record from 2007 to 2009, but they never gave up this many yards on the ground. Just about every move the team made on defense this offseason was supposed to upgrade the run defense. The secondary has fallen apart through injuries, putting additional pressure on the front seven, but the Rams tackled horribly in this game.

Injury scare: The Rams lost right tackle Jason Smith to an apparent neck injury after Smith was injured making a tackle following a turnover. Smith left on a stretcher. His status was not immediately known, but coach Steve Spagnuolo said Smith suffered a strained neck and a blow to the head. Smith has had concussion problems in the past.

What's next: The Rams are home against the Saints.

Wrap-up: Steelers 32, Cardinals 20

October, 23, 2011

Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 32-20 home defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 7:

What it means: The Cardinals have lost five games in a row and 14 of their past 17 dating to last season, removing any lingering questions about whether Kevin Kolb's acquisition would produce desired results quickly. Kolb is not the first quarterback to struggle against the Steelers' defense, but his performance closely resembled others from him against lesser opponents. The signature play was the safety Kolb took when incurring his league-leading third penalty for intentional grounding this season. At 1-5, the Cardinals trail the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers by four games, a gap that figures to grow before it shrinks.

What I liked: LaRod Stephens-Howling's 73-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown showed he was ready to make big plays again after suffering from a hand injury early in the season. Young pass-rushers Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield got pressure a couple of times. The team needs both to emerge. This seemed like a start. Strong safety Adrian Wilson appeared more aggressive in this game, delivering more big hits than I can recall him delivering recently. The Cardinals' run defense was relatively strong, holding Rashard Mendenhall to 32 yards and a 2.5 yard average.

What I didn't like: A sprained knee knocked running back Beanie Wells from the game in the first half. He did not return, dramatically affecting the Cardinals' offense by putting more pressure on Kolb, who isn't ready to carry the offense. Kolb completed 18 of 34 passes for 272 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, good for an NFL passer rating that appeared better on paper (86.9) than it looked in reality. The Cardinals controlled the ball for only 24 minutes. They were too often helpless against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who tossed three scoring passes, including a 95-yarder to Mike Wallace to set a franchise record for longest reception. The Cardinals have given up too many big plays through the air this season, and that trend continued, sometimes through coverage lapses but often because Roethlisberger had plenty of time or bought additional time with his legs.

What's next: The Cardinals visit Baltimore in Week 8.

Wrap-up: Browns 6, Seahawks 3

October, 23, 2011
Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 6-3 road defeat to the Cleveland Browns in Week 7:

What it means: The Seahawks took a huge step backward offensively with Charlie Whitehurst running an offense that was missing center Max Unger and running back Marshawn Lynch. Whitehurst didn't do enough to maintain whatever momentum he had generated in helping get Seattle over the top against the New York Giants two weeks ago. In fact, he made it nearly impossible for anyone to reasonably call for him to remain the starter. Tarvaris Jackson, who missed this game due to injury, seemed like a viable alternative by comparison. This was an ugly defeat for Seattle and one the team can blame squarely on its offense.

What I liked: Red Bryant blocked two field goal attempts. Leon Washington provided an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown, negated only by a questionable penalty for an illegal block in the back. The plays from Bryant and Washington were precisely what Seattle needed to stay competitive despite the horrible showing on offense. Strong safety Kam Chancellor continued to add a physical presence in the secondary, blitzing effectively and making players pay for carrying the ball downfield. He lifted Montario Hardesty off the ground and planted him on his back late in the game as Seattle held the Browns to a field goal attempt. Linebacker David Hawthorne played his best game of the season, making big hits and collecting an interception in the red zone. Defensive end Chris Clemons was disruptive, pressuring Browns quarterback Colt McCoy and roughing him up.

What I didn't like: Whitehurst held the ball too long and made poor decisions at critical times. Tight end Anthony McCoy dropped multiple passes. Ben Obomanu dropped one late in the game when Seattle needed to rally. Bryant lost his cool late in the game, delivering an after-the-play head-butt that led to his ejection and allowed the Browns to run out the clock. This was also a horribly officiated game, I thought. Mike Carey's crew applied differing standards for pass-interference penalties, allowing the Browns to get away with hooking Sidney Rice around the waist, only to call them for such a penalty late in the game. The call negating Washington's return seemed touchy and inconsistent with the way Carey's crew allowed contact in the back during the 49ers-Lions game last week.

Injuries of note: The Seahawks lost cornerback Walter Thurmond to an ankle injury. Running back Marshawn Lynch injured his back during warm-ups and did not play. Lynch's absence affected the game plan and put more pressure on Whitehurst to deliver.

What's next: The Seahawks are home against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 8.