Friday, September 21, 2012
Final Word: NFC West
By Mike Sando
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:
Playing to their strengths: The Arizona Cardinals went into this season feeling as though their defense, special teams and rushing attack could carry them as long as the team reduced turnovers at quarterback. The ground game has yet to get going for Arizona, but the rest of the formula has helped the Cardinals reach 2-0. Quarterback Kevin Kolb has yet to throw an interception, and he is taking fewer chances down the field. His passes have traveled 5.9 yards past the line of scrimmage on average, the lowest figure in the league this season. That number is well below the NFL average (8.2) and the 7.9-yard average for Kolb last season. Getting more aggressive carries risks. Philadelphia has held opposing quarterbacks to a 6.7 out of 100 Total QBR, the second-lowest figure in the NFL.
Larry Fitzgerald has eight TDs in four games against the Eagles.
Something has to give: The Cardinals have won nine of their past 11 games, tied with New England, San Francisco and Green Bay for the best regular-season record during that span. That includes a 7-1 record for the Cardinals in their past eight games, tied with the Patriots for best in the league. Arizona's Week 3 opponent, Philadelphia, has won its past six regular-season games, the longest active streak. But with the Eagles suffering nine turnovers this season and Arizona failing to exceed 20 points in either game, these 2-0 teams are sliding under the radar a bit. A breakout game from Larry Fitzgerald (five receptions this season) could restore some offensive identity to Arizona. Fitzgerald has averaged 114 yards per game against the Eagles, the most for any player with at least four games against Philadelphia. He has 26 catches for 456 yards and eight touchdowns in four matchups.
Early bird special: Western teams have long complained about too many road games kicking off at 10 a.m. PT. The San Francisco 49ers have done their share of the complaining, but with a victory at Minnesota in an early kickoff Sunday, the 49ers can run their record to 6-0 under coach Jim Harbaugh when kicking off at 10 a.m. PT. None of the other Western teams -- Arizona, San Diego, Oakland or Seattle -- has approached such a run in recent years. The 49ers had gone 2-9 in their previous 11 games kicking off that early. They were 7-27 in early kickoffs under Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. The best teams can win just about any time and anywhere. The 49ers, 15-3 under Harbaugh, have become one of those teams.
Turning a corner: The St. Louis Rams need a victory at Chicago to exceed a .500 winning percentage for the first time since the 2006 team stood 4-3 after Week 7. Quarterback Sam Bradford has been a key to St. Louis' increased competitiveness. He has arguably outplayed Matthew Stafford and Robert Griffin III in the Rams' first two games. Can he outplay the Bears' Jay Cutler? That seems like a reasonable expectation after Cutler threw four picks and took seven sacks against Green Bay. Both teams' top running backs have injury concerns, putting even more of the focus on the quarterbacks. Bradford completed all nine of his third-down passes against Washington last week. He'll face a Bears defense that held Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers to a combined 5 of 14 passing with one pick and four sacks on third down. Luck went 1-for-7 and threw the interception.
Roughing up receivers: Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner led the NFL in penalties last season with 19. That included six for pass interference, four for defensive holding, four personal fouls and three for illegal contact. Browner continues to play an aggressive brand of cornerback. At 6-foot-4, he must put his size to use. Through two games this season, Browner has drawn only one penalty -- defensive holding in the season opener at Arizona. Being able to play aggressively against the Packers' smaller receivers could be a key for Seattle against Green Bay on Monday night.
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this piece.