NFC West: 2012 Week 16 coverage
December, 23, 2012
SEATTLE -- Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 42-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field in Week 16:
What it means: The Seahawks improved their record to 10-5 and secured a playoff berth while establishing themselves as arguably the hottest team in the NFL. Their quarterback, Russell Wilson, strengthened his credentials as a candidate for offensive rookie of the year. The 49ers can still claim the NFC West title with a home victory over Arizona in Week 17, but securing a first-round bye appears less likely. That could be a concern for San Francisco given injuries affecting key players Justin Smith (elbow), Vernon Davis (concussion) and Mario Manningham (knee).
Playoff picture: Green Bay can secure the second seed in the NFC and a first-round playoff bye with a victory over Minnesota in Week 17. Seattle appears likely to become the fifth seed, but if the Seahawks beat St. Louis and the 49ers lose at home to the Cardinals, the Seahawks would get a home game as the third seed. I'll post the official scenarios once I get them. Check out ESPN's Playoff Machine for potential outcomes.
What I liked: Seattle's physical play on both sides of the ball and on special teams stood out from the beginning. Guard J.R. Sweezy, a surprise starter at right guard, took out Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis at the knees to help spring Marshawn Lynch's 24-yard touchdown run. Left tackle Russell Okung drove back the 49ers' Aldon Smith to spring Lynch on another run. Safety Kam Chancellor put big hits on Davis, Bruce Miller and Frank Gore to set the tone. And when Red Bryant blocked a David Akers field-goal try to set up Richard Sherman's fumble return for a touchdown, the Seahawks were on their way.
Seattle receivers Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice made difficult catches in this game. That was a huge change from when the 49ers claimed a 13-6 victory over the Seahawks in Week 7. That was one of the main reasons Seattle jumped to an early lead.
For San Francisco, Willis' acrobatic interception of a pass out of Robert Turbin's hands gave the 49ers a chance to stem the Seahawks' momentum.
The 49ers also did a good job maintaining their pass coverage down the field when Wilson scrambled to buy time. Wilson took sacks for a short loss and gained small amounts in situations in which lesser defenses have allowed the quarterback to complete passes down the field. Wilson's serpentine scramble for a 6-yard gain was impressive, but Seattle still had to punt on the next play. That was a victory for the 49ers' defense.
Michael Crabtree beat Sherman for a 35-yard gain early in the third quarter.
What I didn't like: Officials called a couple 15-yard penalties on plays that appeared to be big hits, not dirty ones. Chancellor's big hit for Seattle knocked Davis from the game. Officials flagged Chancellor, but nothing about the hit appeared outside the rules. Later, officials flagged the 49ers' Chris Culliver for hitting Baldwin while safety Dashon Goldson was putting a WWE-style body slam on the wideout. This play appeared consistent with what we've come to expect when these teams battle it out.
Later in the game, the 49res lost Manningham after Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill hit Manningham low. Years ago, that type of hit might have sparked a brawl. But with current rules discouraging players from hitting high, that type of play could become more common.
The 49ers have proven they can win in hostile environments. Victories at Green Bay, New Orleans and New England provide all the evidence anyone should need. Still, there have been some game-management issues that could be concerning. Fumbled snaps were the issue at New England. This week, the 49ers wasted timeouts and took delay penalties while trying to operate amid deafening noise. Some of those issues are understandable, but the 49ers should expect better on that front.
San Francisco, despite having rushed for 175 yards against Seattle in the previous meeting, went three-and-out with three passes on its first drive. Rainy conditions seemed to make this an ideal time to test a Seattle defense that had allowed a league-worst 5.3 yards per carry from Week 7 through Week 15. The score was out of hand before the 49ers had a chance to establish anything on the ground. Of course, having Gore cough up the football when Chancellor took him down hard might have suggested this was going to be a tough night for the 49ers regardless.
QB comparison: Wilson, ranked second in NFL passer rating and first in Total QBR since Week 6, continued his recent run of efficient play. His four scoring passes more than offset the one pick he threw on a pass off his receiver's hands. Kaepernick struggled with crowd noise and wasn't as accurate or sharp as he had been recently. He threw a pick in the end zone and was fortunate Seattle could not hold onto another pass thrown into coverage. Wilson was much more purposeful than Kaepernick in the way he moved to buy time and avoid sacks.
Third-down domination: The Seahawks converted 11 of 12 times (92 percent) on third down against the 49ers. They scored four touchdowns on four possessions in the red zone. Seattle's defense held the 49ers to 3-of-11 (27 percent) on third down and one touchdown on four red zone possessions.
Stuck on 19.5: Aldon Smith still needs 3.5 sacks to break Michael Strahan's single-season record since 1982, when sacks became an official stat. Smith went without a sack against the Seahawks, leaving him at 19.5 for the season. He faces an Arizona defense that has improved its pass protection despite allowing three sacks to Chicago's Julius Peppers on Sunday.
Lynch does it again: Lynch topped 100 yards rushing for his third consecutive game against the 49ers.
Another block: Bryant's blocked field goal was his fourth over the past two seasons. He has also blocked an extra-point attempt during that time.
Davis concussed: The 49ers announced with 10:19 remaining in the second quarter that Davis would not return to the game. Davis plays nearly all the offensive snaps when healthy. He hasn't been a big factor as a receiver lately, but they valued him for his blocking and for the attention he drew as a big receiver with speed. Garrett Celek took snaps in the two-tight-end sets once Davis departed.
Brown shaken up: The 49ers lost starting cornerback Tarell Brown to injury with 9:17 remaining in the second quarter. Brown was injured while Wilson scrambled for a short gain. He was down on the ground for several minutes as trainers tended to him. Medical staff helped Brown off the field. Brown was able to return a short time later.
Ironman streak ends: 49ers defensive end Justin Smith was named inactive with an elbow injury, ending his streak of starts at 185 regular-season games. That was the longest active streak for a defensive lineman in the NFL. Ricky Jean Francois started in place of Smith at right defensive end.
What's next: The 49ers are home against Arizona. The Seahawks are home against St. Louis.
December, 23, 2012
Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 28-13 home defeat to the Chicago Bears in Week 16:
What it means: The Cardinals fell to 5-10, moving closer to a second 5-11 finish in three seasons. Arizona again showed its ability to play strong pass defense, but there is now even less hope that any of the quarterbacks on the 53-man roster will factor in a meaningful way next season. Week 1 starter John Skelton was named inactive behind rookie sixth-round pick Ryan Lindley, who was benched during this game, and waiver-wire pickup Brian Hoyer.
What I liked: Punter Dave Zastudil broke the NFL record for punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. ... The Cardinals held Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to one completed pass in his first 11 attempts. ... Larry Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 111 yards, by far his best statistical performance in more than two months. ... Calais Campbell had a sack and a pass defensed. ... Adrian Wilson blocked a field goal try, setting up Justin Bethel's 82-yard return touchdown.
What I didn't like: Lindley averaged 4.7 yards per attempt with zero touchdowns and an interception before getting the hook. He has now played six games, started four and attempted 171 passes this season without a touchdown. Lindley also has seven interceptions.
With Hoyer appearing likely to start in Week 17, Lindley is on track to finish the season with 80 more pass attempts than any touchdown-less quarterback since at least 2001. The chart lists all players since 2001 with more than 50 pass attempts over a full season and no touchdowns. Lindley and Pittsburgh's Byron Leftwich still have time to remove themselves from the list.
The Cardinals' defense collected only one sack and allowed plays of 36, 35 and 30 yards. It's tough to fault any defense getting zero support from the other side of the ball, but if the Cardinals were going to win this game, they needed a nearly perfect game from their defense. That's too much to ask of any unit.
Beanie Wells fumbled and finished the game with four carries for 3 yards. LaRod Stephens-Howling had 11 carries for 20 yards. He and Wells had zero carries longer than 4 yards. The team's longest run covered 7 yards.
What's next: The Cardinals close the regular season at San Francisco.
December, 23, 2012
Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 28-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road in Week 16:
What it means: The Rams improved to 7-7-1 but were eliminated from playoff contention when Minnesota upset Houston. The Rams can still finish with a winning record in Jeff Fisher's first season as head coach. Just being in that position marks substantial progress for the Rams. Their future appears brighter thanks to strong play from quite a few rookies. Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson were among the 2012 draft choices standing out during this game. The Rams could still use more consistent play from quarterback Sam Bradford, however.
What I liked: Rookie cornerbacks Jenkins and Johnson made game-changing plays. Jenkins provided his third pick-six of the season, a big reason St. Louis held a 14-6 halftime lead despite few positive contributions from the offense. Safety Quintin Mikell was also a force for the Rams as he continues his effective play on blitzes. Mikell, Chris Long and Kendall Langford had first-half sacks.
The Rams' defense generally contained Buccaneers running back Doug Martin. Their defense also might have saved the game by stopping Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman on a fourth-and-1 sneak attempt from the St. Louis 5-yard line while the Rams were protecting a 28-13 lead in the third quarter. The Buccaneers hurried to the line in an attempt to catch the Rams off-guard, but Brockers and the rest of the defensive interior stopped Freeman with yardage to spare. The Rams made another fourth-down stop inside the St. Louis 10 later in the game. Those stops were critical.
Bradford and the offense bounced back from a slow first half by opening the third quarter with an 80-yard touchdown. Bradford found tight end Lance Kendricks wide open for the quarterback's longest touchdown pass as a pro. Bradford also found Austin Pettis for a touchdown against Tampa Bay.
What I didn't like: The Rams again lost the time-of-possession battle early. They failed to score in a first quarter for the fifth consecutive game. Early offside penalties against Long and Robert Quinn hurt, as did a 15-yard penalty for a face mask.
First-half turnovers set back the Rams. Bradford threw an interception in the end zone. Danny Amendola lost a fumble deep in Rams territory. The Rams finished with 285 yards while allowing 429. They lost the time-of-possession battle by about 12 minutes. Mike Williams (61-yard touchdown and 132 yards overall) joined Vincent Jackson (108 yards) as 100-yard receivers for Tampa Bay.
Jenkins' status: Jenkins, a second-round choice, is playing his way into the conversation for defensive rookie of the year. He might not be the favorite, but at the very least, his four touchdowns will make it tough to ignore him without some explanation.
Jackson nearing 1,000: Steven Jackson had 81 yards rushing and a touchdown. He needs 10 yards in Week 17 for his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
What's next: The Rams close out the regular season with a game at Seattle.