NFC West: 2013 Week 2 Upon Further Review NFC

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 2

September, 16, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 25-21 win over the Detroit Lions:

Third down is no-man’s land: One really is the loneliest number. For the second straight week, the Cardinals were hampered by third-down situations, converting just 1-of-11 against the Lions. And the one they get was on a fluke play in the fourth quarter. Rookie running back Andre Ellington fumbled after getting the first down and the Cardinals kept the ball only after challenging the ruling on the field. They failed on their first nine attempts, all of which were passes save a Carson Palmer sack.

[+] EnlargeAndre Ellington
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesAndre Ellington took advantage of his opportunities on Sunday against Detroit.
Why go for two? It’s a question that’s still being asked Monday. And the only rational explanation is, if converted, the two points would’ve given the Cardinals a 27-21 lead, meaning the Lions would’ve had to score a touchdown AND kick the extra point. Whereas since the Cards missed the conversion, a touchdown sans extra point would’ve won the game for Detroit. And with the way David Akers was kicking and the Cards’ special teams were playing, it was the right decision.

Young guns for hire: Cardinals coach Bruce Arians doesn’t just talk a big game. He’s showing he backs it up. Last year, as the interim coach in Indianapolis, Arians proved he wasn’t against playing young players, but he had to then because of necessity. He doesn’t need to -- instead he wants to -- in Arizona. Arians gave significant minutes to rookies Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and Jaron Brown, and relied on Kerry Taylor, who’s spent most of his three seasons on practice squads, to replace the injured Larry Fitzgerald. It worked. Ellington scored a 36-yard touchdown on a wheel route and Taylor had 40 yards receiving on three catches.

Fitzgerald’s health a question mark: Fitzgerald didn't want to abandon his teammates in a big game, and it was admirable of him to recognize his inability to play at a high level and remove himself from the game. Fitzgerald’s health heading into Sunday’s game at New Orleans could be an issue. Fitzgerald played 46 of 71 snaps against the Lions. He finished with 33 yards on two catches, despite being targeted five times by Palmer. But a hamstring is a tricky injury, as Fitzgerald had reaffirmed during pregame warm-ups. The adrenaline kicked in and Fitzgerald looked and felt fine, but he realized late in the third quarter he wasn’t. Hamstring injuries can linger and usually heal with rest and treatment. The former may be difficult to come by since the Cardinals start practicing Wednesday, but Fitzgerald will have Monday and Tuesday to recoup. Hopefully it’s long enough.

Upon Further Review: Seahawks Week 2

September, 16, 2013
SEATTLE -- An examination of four hot issues from the Seattle Seahawks' 29-3 victory over the San Francisco 49ers:

[+] EnlargeCliff Avril
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonOffseason acquisition Cliff Avril forced a fumble, leading a dominant defensive showing by Seattle.
Dominant defense: The Seahawks shut down one of the best offenses in the NFL, keeping the 49ers out of the end zone and holding San Francisco to 207 yards of offense. After a career-best 412-yard effort in Week 1 against Green Bay, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick was held to 127 yards passing and threw three interceptions. And the Seahawks did it without three of their best defensive players: defensive end Chris Clemons, cornerback Brandon Browner (out with injuries) and defensive end/linebacker Bruce Irvin (suspended for the first four games). Defensive end Cliff Avril, the Seahawks' top offseason acquisition on defense, finally got on the field and showed his worth by forcing a Kaepernick fumble on a sack. The Seattle defense has allowed one touchdown in the first two games.

Okung and the offensive line: The Seahawks lost Pro Bowl offensive tackle Russell Okung to a foot injury in the first half. His status for Week 3 is unknown, but this is one of the few areas where Seattle doesn’t have much quality depth. The Seahawks had to move left guard Paul McQuistan to Okung’s left tackle spot because the backup tackles -- rookies Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey -- were inactive. McQuistan, who hasn’t lined up at tackle all summer, settled in and did OK in the second half after getting burned a couple of times by 49ers speed-rusher Aldon Smith. However, the offensive line played much better overall than in the season opener against Carolina. The line opened some nice holes for running back Marshawn Lynch, who rushed for 98 yards and scored three touchdowns, two rushing and one receiving.

Slow starts for Wilson: For the second week in a row, quarterback Russell Wilson got off to a horrible start. He was 0-for-6 passing in the first quarter and completed one of his first nine throws. Wilson improved as the game progressed, completing 7 of his last 10 passes. But he admitted he missed some throws early that he normally makes. Wilson always seems to find a way to get it done, but the Seahawks need him to start games the way he finishes them. Maybe a shower will help. During the one-hour lightning delay Sunday night, Wilson took a shower in the locker room, saying he wanted to start fresh after the break. Hey, whatever works.

Avoiding a letdown: The Seahawks are coming off an emotional home opener against their division rival in a game many people viewed as a battle for NFC supremacy. Now Seattle will face one of the worst teams in the NFL in the Jacksonville Jaguars. It would be easy to look past Jacksonville and start thinking about a road game against the Houston Texans one week later.

Upon Further Review: 49ers Week 2

September, 16, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 29-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

Tough night for Kaepernick: This loss is not on quarterback Colin Kaepernick by any stretch. But he was not good. At all. A week after he played superbly against Green Bay, throwing for 412 yards, Kaepernick threw for just 127 yards and committed four turnovers. His quarterback rating was 14.0, the worst of his 12-start NFL career. He was out of sync all game. Afterward, Kaepernick shouldered the blame, saying the 49ers can’t win if he plays that poorly. The bottom line is he is still an inexperienced player. He is obviously talented and already accomplished. But he is going to have the occasional stinker.

[+] EnlargeAnquan Boldin
AP Photo/John FroschauerSeattle's defense held Anquan Boldin to one reception on Sunday night.
Boldin and Davis disappear: A major reason Kaepernick was so effective last week was because of receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis. Boldin had 13 catches for 208 yards in his San Francisco debut. Every yard was vital. On Sunday, the Seahawks totally took Boldin away. He had one catch for seven yards. He was a non-factor. Davis followed up a six-catch, 98-yard performance with three catches for 20 yards before he left with a hamstring injury. Teams will try to blueprint Seattle’s plan and force the 49ers’ other receivers to beat them. However, that may not work because Seattle’s secondary is special. I can see Boldin and Davis quickly bouncing back.

Lynch dominates again: San Francisco is usually stout against the run. But it has problems against Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch. Lynch had 98 yards on the ground and scored three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving). Lynch was the difference on a night when Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was not dominant.

Penalties a problem: The 49ers were called for four personal fouls. They had 12 penalties for 121 yards. In two games, the 49ers have 23 penalties. That’s ridiculous. Good teams cannot kill themselves with silly penalties. It is up to coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff to fix this issue sooner rather than later.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 2

September, 16, 2013
ATLANTA -- An examination of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams' 31-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Own worst enemy: The Rams again put themselves in a difficult position after spotting the Falcons a 21-point halftime lead. The Falcons didn’t necessarily dominate the Rams the way that deficit would indicate, but big plays and big mistakes by the Rams again put their backs against the wall. This is the second week in a row the Rams have drawn seven penalty flags and given up a defensive touchdown. They were able to overcome it against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1 but not on the road against a better Atlanta team.

[+] EnlargeJulio Jones
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsJulio Jones got the best of Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins, gaining 182 receiving yards on 11 catches.
Rams’ resiliency: On the flip side of those slow starts, the Rams have finished each of their first two games with a flourish. They scored 14 straight to beat Arizona last week and outscored the Falcons 21-7 in the second half Sunday. It wasn’t enough to forge a second stirring comeback win in as many weeks, but there’s no doubting the Rams’ effort and attitude after they again mounted a comeback that nearly allowed them an opportunity to tie it up late against Atlanta.

Jenkins vs. Jones: In Saturday’s matchup breakdown, we took a look at the pending battle between Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins and Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones. Jenkins got the better of Jones in their final two collegiate meetings, but Jones got the most recent laugh Sunday. Jenkins was on the wrong end of Jones’ 81-yard touchdown catch and his share of the rest of Jones’ 182 receiving yards and 11 catches. Jenkins had safety help in the middle of the field but said he played the coverage wrong, and when Jones read Cover 2, he broke to the outside, where he beat Jenkins one-on-one.

Whither Jackson?: Perhaps the biggest storyline for the Rams entering the game against Atlanta was how running back Steven Jackson would fare against his former team. As it turned out, the matchup never materialized. Jackson suffered an apparent thigh injury on an 8-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter and never returned to the game, or even the sideline. That’s a sight that became all too familiar to Rams fans in Jackson’s time in St. Louis as soft tissue injuries regularly plagued him as a Ram. As it turned out, the Falcons didn’t need Jackson, or really much of a running game at all, because quarterback Matt Ryan racked up 374 passing yards and two touchdowns.