NFC West: 2013 Week 7 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 7

October, 21, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A review of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams30-15 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

[+] EnlargeKellen Clemens
Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY SportsKellen Clemens takes over as the Rams' starting QB following a season-ending injury to Sam Bradford.
Bradford finished: Quarterback Sam Bradford is out for the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Losing Bradford is a devastating blow to any hopes the Rams harbored of contending for a spot in the postseason, and there are important long-term implications as well. The Rams have maintained they are committed to Bradford for the long haul, but losing him means not only a missed chance to contend this year but also a lost opportunity to evaluate where Bradford is in his development heading toward a draft in which they’ll have two first-round picks.

Clemens’ turn: The Rams now must turn the reins over to veteran backup Kellen Clemens, a move that isn’t going to inspire much confidence in Rams fans. After the loss to Carolina, a number of Rams voiced their support for Clemens, but he has struggled to produce in the past, and it remains to be seen what he can do now. The Rams will also have to add another quarterback to the mix, which should be an interesting proposition given the lack of quality backups in the league, let alone those still available.

Dealing with discipline: More often than not, the Rams found themselves on the wrong end of a number of melees that broke out in Sunday’s loss. It wasn’t that they were losing fights with the Panthers so much as they were losing in the eyes of the officiating crew. Both sides threw plenty blows, but the Rams kept getting caught retaliating, which led to four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and an ejection for defensive end Chris Long. They had five total for the game. The Rams had four unsportsmanlike conduct or unnecessary roughness penalties combined entering the Carolina game and more than doubled that total to tie for the most in the league in that category.

Right tackles take turns: As expected, Joe Barksdale started at right tackle again instead of the returning Rodger Saffold. But that doesn’t mean the job is Barksdale’s after Saffold got plenty of work in what turned into something of a rotation. Both players got their share of snaps against the Panthers as Saffold worked his way back into the mix from a knee injury suffered in Week 2 against Atlanta. In fact, it was nearly a 50-50 split, as Barksdale played 31 offensive snaps and Saffold played 30. The Rams don’t necessarily have to make a choice between Barksdale and Saffold, but for continuity’s sake, it couldn’t hurt to settle on one of the two before next week’s game against Seattle.
An examination of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 31-17 victory against the Tennessee Titans:

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick and Akeem Ayers
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyThe Titans struggled to contain Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers all afternoon.
49ers are hot: The 49ers have won four straight games after starting 1-2. They are 5-2 and play the winless Jacksonville Jaguars in London on Sunday before the bye. The 49ers are clicking in all three phases of the game and has scored at least 31 points in all four games. The 49ers have scored 30 or more points five times. It is the second most in the league behind Denver, which has scored 30 or more points in all seven games.

Read-option lives: The 49ers used the read-option offense Sunday more than any point this season -- seven times for 42 yards. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had 35 yards on five carries, including one for a 20-yard touchdown run. The 49ers have run the read-option offense nine times total this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The 49ers are running well during their four-game win streak. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers have called designed runs on 59 percent of their plays during the streak, a big turnaround from the start of their season. In the 49ers’ first three games, designed runs were called on 35 percent of their plays.

49ers taking advantage of turnovers: The 49ers have forced 12 turnovers during the winning streak and have scored points off every one -- eight touchdowns and four field goals. That in itself has played a huge role in the string of victories.

Safeties should be fine: San Francisco safety Donte Whitner left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury. Early indications are that the injury may not be serious. But he will be monitored as the week goes on. Fellow starting safety, rookie Eric Reid, had to leave the game briefly in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. He returned to the game. He said after the game he was fine.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 7

October, 18, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 34-22 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Passing by: When the Cardinals did find opportunities to throw the ball Thursday, their options included two familiar faces. Tight end Rob Housler caught all seven of his targets for 53 yards. And after starting the game with three quick catches, Andre Roberts wasn’t targeted again until the second half, but he finished with five catches for 33 yards. In all, quarterback Carson Palmer completed passes to nine receivers including cornerback Patrick Peterson. Michael Floyd had a team-high 71 yards on six receptions.

[+] EnlargeJohn Abraham and Russell Wilson
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsVeteran LB John Abraham's playing time and productivity have recently picked up for the Cardinals.
Sack sighting: As if the Cardinals’ defense wasn’t good enough already, another dimension came to life Thursday night. Linebacker John Abraham got his first two sacks of the season. He came into this season as the NFL’s active sack leader with 122. With Abraham finding a groove from the outside, the Cardinals now have another way to get to the quarterback. And with the middle being plugged by Dan Williams and Alameda Ta’amu, having Abraham off the edge could continue to create problems for offenses. Abraham was pleased with his performance, especially since his two sacks caused fumbles (one recovered by the Cardinals), but losing put a damper on his two-sack day.

Not a sack party: In one game, the Cardinals increased their sacks-allowed by more than 50 percent. They entered Thursday allowing 13, but four in the last three games, a steady improvement from the nine allowed in the first three. But against Seattle, Arizona gave up seven, giving them 20 for the season. After seven games last season, the Cardinals had given up 28 sacks. Eight Seahawks accounted for the sacks. Seattle had 16 heading into Thursday night.

Wake-up call: The Cardinals’ defense didn’t seem to wake up until early in the second quarter when it forced the Seahawks into a turnover on downs after stopping them at the Arizona 43-yard line on fourth-and-1. Then it was like the Cardinals’ alarm clock went off. On Seattle’s next possession, Arizona linebacker Matt Shaughnessy strip-sacked Russell Wilson and Cards defensive end Calais Campbell recovered. Arizona continued to rub the sleep out of its eyes with another strip-sack of Wilson but the Seahawks recovered the fumble. The pressure the Cards’ defense applied kept the offense in the game. Twice the defense set the Cardinals’ offense up in prime position to score: once at the Seattle 3-yard line after Shaughnessy's strip-sack and the other at the Seattle 15 after Abraham’s strip-sack.

Upon Further Review: Seahawks Week 7

October, 18, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Seattle Seahawks' 34-22 win against the Arizona Cardinals:

[+] EnlargeZach Miller
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAfter missing two games, tight end Zach Miller returned to the Seahawks lineup in grand fashion -- scoring a touchdown Thursday night in Arizona.
Dominant defense: The headline stat was a season-high seven sacks, but the Seahawks defense was stellar across the board. It’s truly misleading that Arizona scored 22 points. Ten of those points came after Russell Wilson was pressured and fumbled twice in the backfield deep in Seattle territory. The Cardinals did not have a drive of more than 26 yards until late in the fourth quarter after the game was decided. Arizona had only 30 yards rushing on 18 carries. The longest run of the game for the Cardinals was 6 yards. And Seattle had two interceptions, one of which would have been a pick-six if not for Brandon Browner tripping himself near the goal line.

Big return for Miller: This game was a nice homecoming for tight end Zach Miller, a Phoenix native who went to college at Arizona State. After missing the past two games with a hamstring injury, Miller returned to the starting lineup and had five receptions for 40 yards and one touchdown. Miller makes a big difference by occupying safeties and linebackers in the middle of the field and enabling the wideouts to get open more often.

Offensive line still struggling: If anything keeps the Seahawks from reaching all their goals this season, which they hope includes a trip to the Super Bowl, it will be the offensive line that holds them back. Thursday was another awful effort overall. Wilson was under enormous pressure, getting sacked three times and getting hit constantly. Seattle rushed for 135 yards, but a lot of that was incredible second effort by Marshawn Lynch, who had 91 yards and carried defenders on his back at times. The line woes will improve when tackles Breno Giacomini and Russell Okung return, but it won’t solve all the problems up front. It’s hard to justify making player changes on the line while the team is winning, but that would not be true if not for Wilson’s remarkable athleticism that enables him to avoid the rush and make something positive out of negative situations. However, Wilson can’t continue to endure this much punishment without an injury at some point.

Road warriors: Let’s put to bed a myth about the Seahawks. The theory that this team can’t get it done on the road isn’t accurate now. The Seahawks are 3-1 away from home this season. They also are 6-2 on the road since December of last season.