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NFC West Pro Bowl analysis

12/26/2012

Perfect sense: The San Francisco 49ers put nine in the Pro Bowl. The Seattle Seahawks were next among NFC West teams with five. Arizona had one. St. Louis had none. These results were not shocking.

The 49ers sent two-fifths of their starting offensive line and six members of their defense to the Pro Bowl. Tackle Joe Staley and guard Mike Iupati were natural selections on the line.

The 49ers' Frank Gore and the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch were solid choices behind Adrian Peterson at running back.

Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable suggested Russell Okung was playing as well as any left tackle around. Voters apparently agreed. They named him as one of the starters, a first for Okung. Voters showed some smarts by selecting Seattle's Max Unger as the starting center. He's been very good since last season. The word must be getting around.

Patrick Peterson's struggles as a punt returner for Arizona did not keep him from becoming a first-time Pro Bowl choice at cornerback. Peterson made it only as a returner last season. He's generally been very good in pass coverage this season, although San Francisco gave him problems in a Monday night game. Peterson might not be the best corner in the NFC West, but he has had a good season overall.

NFC West defensive backs scored big for the second year in a row. The 49ers' Dashon Goldson (starter) and Seattle's Earl Thomas (backup) are the free safeties. The 49ers' Donte Whitner is the strong safety. All play for top defenses and winning teams. That probably gave them the edge over Arizona's Kerry Rhodes and St. Louis' Quintin Mikell. Defensive back play is a strength in the division.

Returner Leon Washington has helped Seattle rank among the league leaders in field position this season. He was a strong choice as the kickoff returner.

Made it on rep: I was watching to see whether Larry Fitzgerald would make it on name. He did not. The quarterback situation in Arizona isn't his fault, of course, but Pro Bowl selections Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones and Victor Cruz head a long list of receivers enjoying more productive seasons in 2012. The other players selected from the NFC West have been having good enough seasons to receive strong consideration. We can debate whether all were the best choices, but that is true every year. None of the players selected should apologize to anyone.

Some have questioned whether the 49ers' Justin Smith has been as effective this season. His sacks are down. Smith made it as a starter at defensive tackle even though he plays defensive end in the base defense. Smith was a worthy choice despite his diminished sack production, in my view. The 49ers' recent struggles without him provide supporting evidence.

Got robbed: Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, Cardinals linebackers Daryl Washington, Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell and 49ers punter Andy Lee are four that come to mind first. The Rams put no players in the Pro Bowl despite a vastly improved record. There were no obvious oversights, however.

Sherman has arguably been the best corner in the NFL this season. He's also facing a potential four-game suspension for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs. Voters must have held that against him. Otherwise, Sherman would have been an easy choice, even above the very deserving players selected.

Washington, who leads the Cardinals with nine sacks, should get some sort of consideration even though it's tough to say the 49ers' Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were undeserving. All three are inside linebackers. Willis and Bowman are less specialized. They're plenty fast, but also able to take on blocks. Washington relies more on avoiding opposing linemen to blow up plays. He's very good at it, too. But the road to Hawaii runs through San Francisco for inside linebackers. Best of luck to anyone trying to break through.

At punter, I haven't studied New Orleans' Thomas Morstead enough to comment on his play, but the punters from San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona would have been worthy choices based on their play this season.

Campbell has been flat-out dominant at times this season. He also missed games to injury. But with the Cardinals' defense ranking among the league leaders against the pass despite no help from their own offense, Campbell had to get consideration.

Washington's Robert Griffin III beat out Seattle's Russell Wilson as a backup quarterback on the NFC squad. Wilson has closed ground recently, but voting took place a week ago. That put Wilson at a disadvantage. He would have had a better chance if voting took place this week or possibly next.

Thomas was the lone Seahawks defender. That was a bit of a surprise for a team that has allowed fewer points than any other. Chris Clemons? Brandon Mebane? It wasn't to be for Seattle's defensive line. Late-game breakdowns against Detroit and Miami didn't help. Seattle's run defense also softened as the season progressed.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.