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Friday, October 14, 2011
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 6:

Putting Carlos Rogers to the test. Detroit's Jim Schwartz and San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh pointed to the 49ers' front seven when asked why the team has improved in its secondary. The 49ers have had a strong front seven for years, however, so clearly something else is different. Doug Clawson of ESPN Stats & Information passes along this note: Rogers, new to the 49ers this season, leads NFL defensive backs with three picks on passes traveling more than 10 yards downfield. The 49ers allowed 10 touchdowns with six interceptions on these throws last season. The ratio is two touchdowns to seven picks this season. Let's see if the trend holds against the Lions. Matt Stafford is tied with Aaron Rodgers for the most scoring passes on these throws. He has seven, five to Calvin Johnson.

Matthew Stafford
The Lions' Matthew Stafford, among the league's best passers on first downs, has had some trouble producing on third downs.
Attacking the Lions on third down. Stafford has seven touchdown passes with only one interception on first down this season, matching Rodgers for the best totals in the league. The production hasn't been there on third down. Stafford has completed only 50.9 percent of his third-down passes with two touchdowns, two interceptions and weak efficiency numbers (22.3 Total QBR, 71.3 NFL passer rating). The absence of a conventional ground game could, in theory, set up more third-and-long situations. Stafford ranks among the NFL's top three in touchdowns (two) and passes gaining at least 30 yards (three) on third-and-8 or longer, but his first-down percentage on these plays (26.9) ranks only 15th.

Watch for the play-action game. The Lions have thrown out of the shotgun formation more times than any team in the league. They also hand off from the shotgun, keeping teams honest enough for Stafford to lead the NFL in play-action passing in these three areas: completion percentage (80.0), Total QBR (97.5) and NFL passer rating (150.4). The 49ers rank fifth in completion percentage allowed against play-action (53.8), but only 28th in yards per attempt (10.5) and 31st in yards per reception (19.1). Why? The Dallas Cowboys set up their 77-yard overtime reception against the 49ers in Week 2 with a play-action fake that worked beautifully.

Mismatch of all mismatches. The Green Bay Packers have scored more points in third quarters (49) than the St. Louis Rams have scored in all their games combined (46). Second quarters are often when teams hit their stride on offense. The Rams have only three second-quarter points all season. Green Bay has 44. Sure, the Packers have played one additional game, but that doesn't begin to account for the disparity. The Packers scored more points against Denver in Week 4 (49) than the Rams have scored this season.

Clay Matthews alert. The Rams' Sam Bradford has absorbed 18 sacks through four games, putting him on pace to take 72 of them over the season. That would rank tied for second in the sack era (since 1982) with Randall Cunningham, three behind David Carr's record. The Packers' Matthews has only one sack through five games. He had 8.5 sacks at this point last season thanks to a pair of three-sack games. What's up? The Packers are using more three-man rushes. Cullen Jenkins is no longer around to attract attention from opposing lines. Matthews has also been dealing with a quadriceps injury. Might this be his get-well game?