NFC West Stock Watch

September, 26, 2012
9/26/12
4:27
PM ET
FALLING

1. 49ers' road mystique. The San Francisco 49ers posted a 5-0 record last season in games kicking off at 10 a.m. PT. They missed a chance to make it 6-0 by losing somewhat inexplicably at Minnesota in Week 3.

[+] EnlargeIdonije
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Rams' pass-protection problems were exposed in a Week 3 loss to the Bears.
2. Rams' offense. We already knew the Rams' offensive line was working at a disadvantage without center Scott Wells or left tackle Rodger Saffold. The Rams seemed to mask some of their difficulties before the Chicago game and even during that game for stretches. Pass protection was a huge problem for the Rams against the Bears. The difficulties became pronounced late in the game when St. Louis needed to get more aggressive. Running lanes appeared to close quickly when they opened at all. Steven Jackson wasn't healthy. The wide receivers didn't appear to be getting open. Those factors made life even tougher for the line and for quarterback Sam Bradford.

3. Alex Smith, 49ers QB. Smith missed high on two passes for receiver Randy Moss. One of those passes cost the 49ers a potential touchdown. Smith also took a third-down sack despite being well outside the pocket and having ample time to throw. That sack wasn't all that costly, but why take unnecessary hits? Smith had been much better for the 49ers through the first two games. Can he bounce back against the New York Jets, also on the road?

4. Beanie Wells, Cardinals RB. A potential turf-toe injury kept Wells from contributing much against the Eagles. Wells has had a tough run of injuries. Toe problems can linger. The Cardinals are excited about Ryan Williams. Where is this headed for Wells?

RISING

1. Seahawks' pass rush. Eight first-half sacks against Aaron Rodgers quadrupled the Seahawks' sack total through their two previous games this season. Chris Clemons had four, rookie Bruce Irvin added two and Brandon Mebane had two more. This was what the Seahawks had been hoping to see, particularly at home, after adding Jason Jones in free agency and Irvin through the draft. Can the pass rush travel to St. Louis in Week 4?

2. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals QB. Kolb played the full game without a turnover. He also completed all seven attempts on third down and all nine passes targeting Larry Fitzgerald. That allowed the Cardinals to ride a dominating defensive performance to a comfortable victory. Kolb seems to have realized he doesn't have to play like a franchise quarterback every week. The Cardinals are good enough on defense and special teams to compete and win without Kolb taking too many chances. This was a "mission accomplished" game for Kolb. He completed 70.8 percent of his passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles' defense had allowed one scoring pass while picking off five passes in the first two weeks of the season.

3. Kerry Rhodes, Cardinals safety. So many Cardinals players could have qualified for inclusion on the "rising" list. Coach Ken Whisenhunt deserves mention too. But with veteran strong safety Adrian Wilson missing the Philly game to injury, Rhodes picked up any slack, and then some. His blindside sack on Michael Vick produced a fumble return for the back-breaking touchdown as Arizona took a 24-0 lead going into halftime.

4. Jon Ryan, Seahawks punter. Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information charts punters. No one makes him. He just does it. This week, Simon distributed a release honoring Ryan's performance Monday night. It read, in part: "There were 161 punts in the three days of games and Ryan had four that rated in the top 11 for win probability added (a stat that uses historical data to assign a value to a play based on how much it aids a team’s chances of winning). Ryan’s most valuable punts were a 65-yarder in the second quarter and a 66-yarder in the third. Both punts resulted in the Packers being pinned inside their own 12. Our punting data dates to 1991 for net yardage. In that span, no Seahawks punter has had a better single-game net average (min. four punts) than Ryan did (three have been better, including one by Ryan, if you lower the minimum to one punt)."

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