1. Jason Brown, Rams center. The Rams have paid $7 million per season to Brown since signing him for the 2009 season. They replaced him with Tony Wragge, presumably because they wanted their line to project more toughness and tenacity. The move almost surely foreshadows the end for Brown in St. Louis. Wragge, 32, had started only 15 games, 10 of them in 2008, since making his NFL debut in 2002. The San Francisco 49ers cut him after developing Adam Snyder as a backup for additional positions, including center. Wragge made his first Rams start Sunday and the running game carried on.
2. Frank Gore, 49ers running back. Gore carried only six times for zero yards during the 49ers' otherwise memorable victory over the New York Giants. The knee injury Gore suffered did not appear serious, but it's the latest ailment to threaten his availability this season. Ankle injuries slowed him earlier in the season. Gore's franchise-record streak of 100-yard games ended at five, but the injury concerns account for his placement on this list.
3. Rams' secondary. Losing Al Harris to a season-ending and (at his age) career-threatening knee injury weakened an already ravaged St. Louis secondary. One of the few remaining corners, Justin King, suffered a head injury late in the game, although coach Steve Spagnuolo suggested all symptoms cleared quickly. Bradley Fletcher, Ron Bartell, Jerome Murphy and other corners have already landed on injured reserve for the Rams this season.
Seattle's Russell Okung has stepped up his play in recent weeks.
1. Ray Horton, Cardinals defensive coordinator. The Cardinals have not allowed a passing touchdown in their last three games after allowing nine in their first six. They became the first team to hold Philadelphia below 300 yards this season. Younger players like Sam Acho, O'Brien Schofield and Patrick Peterson are contributing. Calais Campbell has had some huge games. Yes, the Cardinals have played a couple struggling teams in recent weeks. But after allowing 932 yards over the first two games and 445 to Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, Arizona has stopped the defensive bleeding.
2. Russell Okung, Seahawks left tackle. Okung fared well in matchups against DeMarcus Ware and Terrell Suggs over the past two games. He had help at times, but there's no question Okung is gaining in confidence and ability as his previous ankle injuries fade into the more distant past. His play has helped Marshawn Lynch put together 100-yard rushing performances in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. Seattle has allowed only two sacks in its last two games after allowing 14 in its previous three.
3. Alex Smith, 49ers quarterback. Smith doesn't appear higher on this list because his stock has already been rising steadily throughout the season. Even those surprised the 49ers would lean on him so heavily against the Giants had to admit Smith's performance was only mildly (if at all) surprising in the context of this season. Don't be fooled into thinking the 49ers leaned on Smith out of necessity once Gore was injured, either. They threw 11 times in their first 13 plays because that was the offensive plan.