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Friday, October 2, 2009
NFC West: Final Word



Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Five nuggets of knowledge heading into this weekend's games:

Bruce Kluckhohn US PRESSWIRE
Vernon Davis looks to have a favorable matchup in Week 4.
Good opportunity for Davis. Tight end Vernon Davis, coming off his most productive receiving game, should have similar opportunities against St. Louis. The Rams had problems with Seahawks tight end John Carlson in the opener. Since then, they've lost safety James Butler to injury and rangy linebacker David Vobora to suspension. And if the St. Louis pass rush continues to struggle some, Davis could have more time to get downfield. The 49ers are pleased by Davis' progress and they should be. He's become more than just a dominant blocker.

Long's evolving role. Could it be that the Rams used the second overall choice in the 2008 NFL draft for an interior third-down pass-rusher and rotational defensive end? Chris Long, a 16-game starter last season, has not started a game for the Rams this season. The Rams played him at right defensive tackle on third downs during their Week 3 defeat to the Packers. They also played him at both defensive end spots, but not all the time. Long seemed to become more effective as the game progressed, but the Rams' staff is making a statement by withholding such a high draft choice from the starting lineup. The 49ers are not a very good team in pass protection. Perhaps Long can get his first sack of the season.

Watch for Seattle's other Jones. Left tackle Walter Jones will not play against the Colts, but running back Julius Jones should have a chance to remain productive if Seattle sticks with its ground game. Jones has runs covering 20, 16, 15 and 14 yards over the first three weeks, plus a 39-yard touchdown reception on a screen against Chicago. The screen game could again become important for Seattle against the Colts' speedy defense. Jones has games of 98 and 117 yards rushing so far this season.

49ers' conservative offense. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye took some heat for running the ball on third-and-6 when a first down would have won a Week 3 matchup at Minnesota. With Frank Gore out and receiver Brandon Jones back from injury, the circumstances might be right for Raye to open up the offense some, particularly at home against a struggling team. If Raye settles for 3 yards and a cloud of yawns in this game, we'll have an even stronger indication of how little he trusts quarterback Shaun Hill and the offensive line.

Cardinals' pass protection should hold up. It's a bye week for Arizona, after all, and that means Kurt Warner should be safe from opposing defensive ends. The week off should serve the Cardinals well. Rewatching their Week 3 debacle against the Colts showed how close the team was to making big plays offensively, particularly in the second half. Arizona will continue to struggle in pass protection against teams with rushers such as Dwight Freeney, but all is not lost. Expect a better performance against the Texans' defense in Week 5.