NFC West: NFC Stock Watch 2011 Week 14

NFC West Stock Watch

December, 13, 2011
12/13/11
1:00
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FALLING

1. Josh McDaniels, St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator. The Rams were more than a few play calls away from beating the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night. Still, it was tough to justify the Rams' play selection near the goal line. Sending injured quarterback Sam Bradford on a naked bootleg made no sense. Running five consecutive plays from the 1 before finally handing off to Steven Jackson was also a head-scratcher. The joke will be on the rest of us, however, if McDaniels becomes a candidate to succeed Todd Haley as the Kansas City Chiefs' head coach.

2. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers quarterback. Smith suffered through arguably his worst game of the season during a 21-19 defeat at Arizona. He completed less than half his passes, averaged less than five yards per attempt and took five sacks. Smith finished the game with a 9.4 Total QBR score, his lowest of the season. He was not the only one to blame, of course. Pass protection was shaky. The running game was inconsistent. Play calling was questionable at times.

3. Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals quarterback. It's tough ranking any Cardinals player on the falling list after the team ended a five-game losing streak to the 49ers. This was a rough one for Kolb on a personal level, however. He took a sack, lost a fumble and absorbed a concussion on the Cardinals' third offensive play. Kolb left the game and missed a chance to build on his performance against Dallas the previous week. He has now missed four full games and most of a fifth.

RISING

[+] EnlargeArizona coach Ken Whisenhunt
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIREThe pressure let up on Ken Whisenhunt following Arizona's win against the 49ers in Week 14.
1. Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals head coach. The Cardinals have won five of their last six games to claw their way back from a 1-6 start to the season. This was the sort of reversal Cardinals ownership needed to see after the team had gone 3-15 over an 18-game period. Whisenhunt preached patience. He was right about the defense needing time under a first-year coordinator. He was right about the team developing younger talent on defense. He was right about the season turning eventually. Whisenhunt could not catch a break previously, but he caught a big one Sunday. His attempt to challenge a 49ers reception prevented San Francisco from running a successful fake field goal. The turnabout produced at least a 10-point swing for Arizona.

2. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks receiver. The undrafted rookie opened the game with a 37-yard kickoff return. He blocked one punt, downed another at the St. Louis 6-yard line and added a 29-yard touchdown reception. Baldwin was one of several young Seattle players making a positive impact. Rookie linebacker K.J. Wright finished the game with eight total tackles, three tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, one sack and one pass defensed.

3. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals receiver. Yes, Fitzgerald's stock is already through the roof. He gets special mention here following a performance that was extraordinary even by his standards. Seven receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown told only part of the story. Fitzgerald threw the key block on Early Doucet's 60-yard touchdown. He helped limit the 49ers to a field goal by tackling Dashon Goldson during an interception return. He turned a potential Goldson interception into a spectacular leaping grab and 46-yard touchdown for Arizona. Fitzgerald set up another Cardinals score with a 53-yard catch-and-run.

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