NFC West: Final Word


Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Five nuggets of knowledge about this weekend's games:

Laying it on the Cardinals' line. Kurt Warner hasn't suddenly become a mediocre quarterback. He moved the Cardinals down the field in Week 1 when he had protection. He simply didn't have good protection nearly enough of the time. That must change against the Jaguars in Week 2. But if Warner couldn't trust his protection at home against a 49ers team Arizona knew well, why should he trust it on the road against the unfamiliar Jaguars? This week tests Russ Grimm's powers as offensive line coach. We've debated on the blog -- and I cannot remember where -- whether the Cardinals' linemen tend to improve. Right tackle Levi Brown has the talent or else the Cardinals wouldn't have drafted him fifth overall in 2007. He must improve dramatically from Week 1 for Arizona to have a realistic chance at avoiding an 0-2 start.

Cooler heads must prevail. Rams guard Richie Incognito and 49ers tight end Vernon Davis (to a lesser extent) must prove they can keep their cool when emotions threaten to boil over. Incognito built up considerable equity with the Rams' coaches and front office by taking a professional approach his offseason work. He reverted to previous form under pressure in Week 1, committing three penalties -- including two personal fouls -- before coach Steve Spagnuolo benched him briefly. Incognito is now returning to FedEx Field, site of his historic and nearly catastrophic 2008 meltdown. He must do better or the Rams cannot trust him. Davis also has a chance to fend off a demon from last season. The last time the 49ers faced the Seahawks at Candlestick Park, Davis drew a personal foul and coach-ordered banishment to the locker room. No relapses allowed.

Inside job looming. Spagnuolo's knowledge of the Redskins from his extended stay in the NFC East should help the Rams prepare for what awaits at FedEx Field. The Rams were competitive with Seattle well into the second half. They were well coached defensively, unveiling a dozen new blitzes. A good plan for the Redskins can give the Rams confidence heading into the site of their only road victory last season. "The Dean" is what players are calling Spagnuolo, so apparently they are listening.

Headed off at the pass. The 49ers demonstrated in Week 1 their commitment to establishing their identity in the running game even when they weren't having success. Make no mistake, though: They beat the Cardinals because Shaun Hill ran the passing game with efficiency during the winning 15-play touchdown drive. I think the 49ers could surprise the Seahawks if they came out passing early. I'm just not sure whether Mike Singletary and Jimmy Raye would be willing to give it a try.

Backs against the walls. Speaking of ground games, Frank Gore and Steven Jackson went mostly nowhere in Week 1. These guys were supposed to have monster seasons from the beginning, but the Rams hardly considered Jackson as a receiver last week, and Gore took a beating. Both backs could use some help from their passing games. Jackson said as much this week when he predicted a steady diet of eight-man fronts.