NFC West: 2013 Week 5 Upon Further Review NFC

A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 22-6 win over the Carolina Panthers:

First-half woes: Let’s just start Cardinals games at halftime. Over the past three weeks, that’s when the team has started to play, so why shouldn’t that be when the fans start to cheer? Arizona scored three points in the first 30 minutes Sunday, unable to convert on third down except with the help of a penalty. Then they went on a 19-0 tear in the final 30 minutes. But the question has become, why can’t Arizona get its engine started sooner? Are the Cardinals prepared for what opponents are throwing at them? Quarterback Carson Palmer said the energy from the defense rubs off on the offense at halftime. Why does it take so long? It’s going to hurt Arizona sooner or later when a team puts up big numbers before halftime.

[+] EnlargeDaryl Washington
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsDaryl Washington's return to the lineup provided a spark for the Arizona defense.
Dependable defense: There’s one word for the Cardinals’ defense after Sunday’s performance: legitimate. This is one of the league’s top units on all three levels. It has a front line that proved it’s more than just a brick wall for running attacks, it can also get to the quarterback. It has a linebacking corps that, with the addition of Daryl Washington, covers simply everywhere. And it has a secondary that is anchored by Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson. Whatever flaws the defense has, it’s able to mask them with talent. Seven sacks. Three interceptions. A safety. Not a bad day at the office, and it put the rest of the league on notice.

Running away: While the Cards’ running game gave the offense a boost and helped score the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, it hasn’t provided the balance needed. Sunday was the 11th straight game Arizona has not run for 100 yards or more. That’s the longest active streak -- drought, maybe? -- in the NFL. The Cards had 18 rushing yards at halftime and finished with 90, led by rookie Andre Ellington's 52.

D-Wash is back: The best thing to happen to this defense this season took the field with 12:53 left in the first quarter. That’s when Washington made his return after a four-game suspension. His impact was felt immediately. He wasn’t rusty -- maybe just a little slower than usual after Cam Newton caught him on an interception return. Washington gave Arizona the shot in the arm it needed, and he’ll allow the Cardinals to mask any deficiencies that hurt them in the first four games.

Upon Further Review: Seahawks Week 5

October, 7, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Seattle Seahawks' 34-28 loss to the Indianapolis Colts:

Third-down woes: One of the reasons Seattle lost for the first time this season was its inability to make a key play on third down. The Seahawks were 2 of 12 on third downs, which included five failures in Colts' territory. The results were four field goals and one blocked kick that became a Colts' touchdown, a 10-point swing in the second quarter.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/AJ MastThe Seahawks defense was unable to keep Andrew Luck & Co. from scoring when it needed to in the second half.
Defense fails in the fourth quarter: The Seahawks' secondary made an uncharacteristic mistake on a blown coverage in the first quarter that resulted in a 73-yard touchdown from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton. However. the defense overall did a good job against Luck until it needed to make a stop in the fourth quarter when the Seahawks led 28-23. Luck guided the Colts on an 86-yard TD drive to take the lead (aided by a controversial interference call on cornerback Richard Sherman). After Luck made a nice play throwing back across his body to Reggie Wayne for the two-point conversion, Seattle trailed by only three, but the defense again couldn’t get the ball back without the Colts scoring, a 49-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri. In the end, it was the most points Seattle has allowed since Oct. 30, 2011, in a 34-12 loss to Cincinnati.

Poor clock management: The Seahawks were out of timeouts with 8:55 to go in the game. One was wasted because Seattle had too many men on the field, but whatever the reasons, it’s a problem when you’re out of timeouts midway through the fourth quarter in a close game on the road.

Just move on: The Seahawks are 4-1 after going 1-1 in back-to-back road games at Houston and Indianapolis. They lost Sunday with four starters out on offense. Now Seattle returns home to play a Tennessee team it should beat. Seattle also gets linebacker Bruce Irvin back, who had a sack in his return after being suspended for the first four games.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 5

October, 7, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams' 34-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars:

[+] EnlargeDarian Stewart
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesDarian Stewart's fumble recovery helped the Rams secure the win over the Jaguars.
A must not lose: Credit to the Rams for doing exactly what they should do against winless Jacksonville: win. It didn't matter if they were playing the Jaguars, the '85 Bears or a high school team. The Rams needed a victory in the worst way after losing to Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco.

In the postgame locker room, the Rams did not seem to have any delusion this was a cure-all or the season magically has been righted. Instead, there was an understanding that the win was important but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Giving new meaning to special: The team's special-teams units continue to rack up penalties at a record pace, adding six more for 53 yards Sunday. One of those wiped out another long punt return from Tavon Austin.

For the season, the Rams now have 17 special-teams penalties for 145 yards on 101 plays. To put that in perspective, the offense and defense have combined for 16 penalties for 143 yards on 653 snaps.

At this point, a solution does not seem to be evident.

Stacy the starter? In desperate need of a spark in the run game, the Rams found it in rookie bowling ball Zac Stacy. There was nothing flashy about Stacy's 14-carry, 78-yard performance but he was effective.

Stacy brings the hard-charging style that coach Jeff Fisher has always liked and showed the ability to get yards after contact that had been missing. Although he did it against Jacksonville's 32nd ranked run defense, he appears to be the best option from among the team's five running backs right now.

Stacy waited four games to get his first career start. His wait will be much shorter for No. 2.

Takeaway time: For the first time this season, the Rams came out on the plus side of the turnover battle against the Jaguars. Two interceptions and a fumble recovery led to 14 points for the Rams, ultimately making up the final margin.

Since Fisher's arrival, the Rams are 3-1 when they are plus-3 or better in turnover margin. Each time, they have come out with a minimum of 13 extra points than the opponent.

The Rams defense has yet to show it can consistently stop teams so if it could develop a trend of getting turnovers and either scoring on the return (as safety Matt Giordano did) or turning it into offensive points right away (as they did following safety Darian Stewart's fumble recovery), it would go a long way toward more wins.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- An examination of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 34-3 win against the Texans:

Another defensive injury: The 49ers defense might have suffered another key loss as defensive tackle Ray McDonald went out with a right biceps injury. McDonald said after the game that he felt a sting. He will have an MRI on Monday. Tony Jerod-Eddie replaced McDonald. The 49ers defense has suffered several injuries, playing the past two games without All-Pro linebackers Aldon Smith (receiving treatment for alcohol abuse) and Patrick Willis (groin). San Francisco has been dominant without the two stars, allowing a combined 14 points. Now, the 49ers might have to adjust again if McDonald is out.

[+] EnlargeTramaine Brock
AP Photo/Beck DiefenbachCornerback Tramaine Brock had two interceptions against Houston.
Brock shines: Tramaine Brock is one of the many depth players who is getting an opportunity on defense, and he is cashing in. On the third offensive play of the game Sunday, Brock returned an interception 18 yards for a touchdown. It was the first of his two interceptions in the game. Brock took over as the No. 3 cornerback last week when Nnamdi Asomugha went out with a knee injury. He played well against the Rams. Now, it is highly unlikely Asomugha gets his job back. It will be interesting what the 49ers do with a 32-year-old fourth cornerback. Right now, the focus is on Brock.

Kaepernick manages game: OK, so the 49ers scored 34 points and quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed only six passes. But it didn’t matter. The 49ers dominated this game. There is no denying the 49ers aren’t getting much help in the receiving game from anyone other than Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. But until Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree return, the 49ers are going to have to be conservative in the passing game. Kaepernick will not have Josh Freeman as his backup. The former Tampa Bay starter has agreed to terms with the Vikings. The 49ers reportedly talked to Freeman. It’s no surprise. The 49ers like quarterbacks, and Freeman would have been an upgrade as a backup over Colt McCoy and newly signed John Skelton. But Freeman’s road to playing is shorter in Minnesota.

Run game sets tone again: The San Francisco run game continued to shine against Houston. The 49ers called a designed run play on 67.3 percent of their plays Sunday, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Why not? It was working -- the 49ers had 118 of their 177 rushing yards before contact.