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Friday, November 27, 2009
Final Word: NFC West

By Mike Sando

NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

Kyle Boller
Kyle Boller will fill in once again for an injured Marc Bulger.
Alex Smith still needs to step up. The conversation seems to be the same every week for the 49ers' would-be franchise quarterback. I thought Steve Young put it best during his recent radio interview: "He is a people-pleaser. He wants the coach to think that he is a great player and, 'I read the route and I did the right thing and we punted.' At some level, it's, 'You know what? I read the route, I read the play, I went through my reads and it didn't work out, but I'm not going to punt, all right? We're going to do something else that is going to make it so I'm going to will this thing so that it gets done.' And I think that is what I want and I said the same thing about Matt Schaub last week. At some level, Matt Schaub has the same issue. Very proficient quarterback. Leading the league in a lot of different areas and the bottom line is, you've got to grab it at the end. You've got to take this team, you've got to be the guy, the reason why this is happening. The guys that play a while -- five, six, seven, eight, 10, 15 years -- they become the reason. It's just the nature of the position at quarterback."

Rams approaching breaking point? The team has shown signs of progress over most of the season, but the first half against Arizona last week qualified as a setback. Mounting injuries could make it harder for the Rams to continue making strides over the remaining games. Their brutally difficult schedule provides a respite with the 3-7 Seahawks visiting Sunday, but Seattle is healthier and playing with a better quarterback than the Rams will have under center. The challenge facing first-year coach Steve Spagnuolo appears to be getting tougher, not easier, thanks to the injuries. How long can the Rams hang tough?

Warner's health on the line. Kurt Warner generally gets away with holding the football and maneuvering within the pocket as his receivers search for openings in a defense. I'm not sure he can afford to take those chances against Tennessee after suffering a head injury on a hard hit against the Rams in Week 11. This Cardinals-Titans matchup recalls the adage, "It's not who you play, it's when you play them." The Cardinals might have been better off facing the Titans earlier in the season, before Tennessee went from 0-6 to 4-6. The Titans have 14 sacks in their last four games after collecting only 11 in their first six. Warner figures to get hit over the next couple of weeks (Jared Allen and the Vikings await in Week 13). His ability to hold up physically will be tested.

Cracks in the 49ers' defense. The 49ers' defense has never recovered from the 477-yard whipping Atlanta applied during a 45-10 victory at Candlestick Park in Week 5. San Francisco's per-game average for yards allowed was 284 before that game and 395 starting with that game. The Jaguars have topped 400 yards in three of their last seven games. They have handed the ball to Bay Area native Maurice Jones-Drew between 24 and 33 times in four of their last five games, usually with excellent results. The 49ers were pretty much helpless against Titans running back Chris Johnson a few weeks back. They need to contain Jones-Drew if they're serious about establishing the hard-nosed identity coach Mike Singletary covets.

Panic button in sight for Seattle. The last time Seattle lost to the Rams, the Seahawks followed by overhauling their front office. That was nearly five years ago. Quite a bit has changed in the subsequent years -- Isaiah Kacyvenski, Niko Koutouvides and Chad Brown are no longer the starting linebackers, for instance -- but losing to the Rams on Sunday could have long-term ramifications. Losing to the red-hot Vikings last week was one thing. Losing to an injury-depleted Rams team with a 1-9 record would be quite another. It would cement perceptions that the Seahawks are heading nowhere this season and possibly beyond.