a bit of a quarterback controversy forming in the desert. Of course, head
coach Ken Whisenhunt has stated that second-year QB Matt Leinart is the quarterback
of the team, but veteran Kurt Warner came in and played well in a loss to
the Baltimore Ravens and it seems that this situation will linger throughout
the season if the team hits a rough patch.
Cardinals’ running game has stepped up to take the pressure off their young
signal-caller. RB Edgerrin James has rushed for 354 yards and three touchdowns
behind a line that has continued to make progress heading back to the final
nine weeks of last season. James’ 4.4-yard per carry average is his best since
2004 and he appears to be quicker and that is a direct result of trusting
his line more.
wants to heap all the credit on offensive line coach Russ Grimm because the
line is performing at a much higher level than was expected. However, when
you take a look at the production of the unit back to the final seven weeks
of the 2005 season, you’ll see that the continuity of the line was a big factor
in the overall performance of the line.
year, the Cardinals have had the same five starters along the line since the
first day of camp – LT Mike Gandy, LG Reggie Wells, C Al Johnson, RG Deuce Lutui and RT Levi Brown. Anyone will tell you that, more than any other unit,
the offensive line relies heavily on continuity and familiarity and as these
players stay in the lineup and gain experience together, they will likely
be able to grow under Grimm’s guidance into one of the better young lines
in the league.
defense, the Cardinals rank 12th in the NFL, allowing 304 total
yards per game. They’ve been excellent against the run allowing only 95 yards
per game. A cause of concern has to be their lack of caused turnovers – two
interceptions and three fumble recovers. They’ve also only posted four sacks.
As the season goes along this needs to change or teams will wear down the
Top offensive performer: James. He’s been solid this year and has
taken some of the pressure off of Leinart. He’s running harder, making quicker
decisions and he’s hitting the hole harder than he had in recent years. His
354 yards ranks him second in the NFC and eighth in the NFL and as long as
he stays healthy, a problem he’s had recently, and the line remains intact,
there’s no reason to believe he won’t remain at or near the top of the league
for the next 12 games. Runner-up: WR Larry Fitzgerald.
Top defensive performer: S Adrian Wilson. Wilson
is the emotional and statistical leader of the Cardinal defense. His versatility
and instincts are really what set him apart. He’s one of the best safeties
in the NFL. Runner-up: DT Darnell Dockett.
Top rookie: Brown. He’s started every game at right
tackle since he stepped on the field and the reports have been that the coaches
have been happy with his progress. He’s been solid, for a rookie, in pass-protection
(though his run blocking is what sets him apart) and the future looks bright
for the rookie. Runner-up: WR/PR Steve Breaston.
Top free agent acquisition: C Al Johnson. He leads an improving
unit and makes all of the calls and adjustments along the line. He’s been
a solid pickup for the Cardinals. S Terrence Holt.
San Francisco 49ers
pick to overtake the Seahawks for the NFC West crown, the 49ers have continued
the trend of “up-and-coming” disappointments from the NFC West over the past
three years – Arizona held that
honor in 2005 and 2006.
San Francisco’s problems stem from
third-year QB Alex Smith’s lack of progress from a promising second season
and now he’s out for the foreseeable future with a separated shoulder suffered
when Seattle DT Rocky Bernard sacked him in the first series of their game
more concerning for the 49ers is the fact that their offensive line looked
like a sieve allowing Seattle to beat the heck out of Smith and then backup
Trent Dilfer as they totaled six sacks, numerous quarterback pressures and
hurries as well as three turnovers – two interceptions and one fumble.
RB Frank Gore is one of the top runners in the league, the 49ers don’t lack
for a playmaker to turn to, but instead of throwing the ball, head coach
Mike Nolan needs to figure out what identity the 49ers will have for the rest
of the season and stick with that.
things are in much better shape. Nolan is a defensive coach and he’s brought
a toughness with him and that is embodies by linebackers Derek Smith and Patrick Willis.
Nate Clements has shown why he’s considered one of the best corners in the
league with his early season play and his physicality in the secondary is
something the 49ers have lacked over the past few years.
Top offensive performer: Gore. As stated before, Gore
is the only consistent playmaker on San Francisco’s offense. He’s a tough runner with
enough breakaway speed to break open games at any time. He’s also become a
leader and he’s a player that Nolan and the offensive staff can turn to in
times of trouble. Runner-up: WR Darrell Jackson.
Top defensive performer: Willis. He’s been a physical
presence on the inside for the 49ers and he’s got the speed, athleticism and
instincts to be one of the best in the league in the very near future.
Willis leads the team with 38 tackles and basically makes plays from sideline
to sideline. Runner-up: DE Bryant Young.
Top rookie: Willis. He’s one of the early
front-runners for rookie of the year and he’s already a leader on an underrated
defense. Runner-up: CB Tarell
Top free agent acquisition: Clements. He’s been pretty
much a shut-down corner for the 49ers and constantly mans the top wideout
of the opposition. Runner-up: S Michael Lewis.
St. Louis Rams
wheels have completely come off for head coach Scott Linehan. He’s got outstanding
skill-position talent on offense, but his line has been decimated by injuries
and lackluster play. The loss of LT Orlando Pace, who had started to show
signs of age, to a torn labrum and rotator cuff has
only exacerbated the problems up front.
Steven Jackson, expected to build off a breakout season in 2006, will miss
his second straight game this week with a groin injury, but even before the
injury he was running tentatively and he even had trouble hanging onto the
passing game, long known as the strength of the Rams has been relatively anemic,
averaging only 181 yards per game which ranks them 26th in the
NFL. QB Marc Bulger played a couple weeks with broken ribs and Linehan has
decided to sit the veteran signal-caller in favor of Gus Frerotte
while he heals up.
defense, the more things change the more they stay the same. The turnover
along the defensive front-seven has been astounding, yet they still cannot
seem to figure out how to stop the run. Much-ballyhooed rookie DT Adam Carriker
was expected to make a difference in the middle, but he hasn’t lived up to
the preseason hype and it’s shown as the Rams rank 29th in the
league against the rush (157 ypg) and 24th overall.
0-4, the season is about over for the Rams so the emphasis needs to be on
getting young players the experience they will need in 2008 to be contributors
and to work on getting some continuity along an offensive line that looks
like one of the worst in the league.
Top offensive performer: WR Torry Holt.
St. Louis’ offensive woes can’t be blamed on Holt
who has been the only consistent threat downfield for the Rams. Even though
teams know he’s their main-target, he still gets his catches, but better line
play would help him get downfield for longer pass plays. Runner-up:
QB Marc Bulger.
Top defensive performer: LB Will Witherspoon.
He’s been the only consistent performer for the Rams on defense. He’s second
on the team with 23 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss and he’s also been one
of their better cover-men. Runner-up: CB Corey Chavous.
Top rookie: RB Brian Leonard. He isn’t the breakaway playmaker that
Jackson is, but Leonard has picked
up the offense well and made plays when he has been given the opportunity.
With Jackson out for the second week
in a row, Leonard will be counted on to pick up the slack in the backfield.
Runner-up: DT Adam Carriker.
Top free agent acquisition: TE Randy McMichael. Before
the season many would have mentioned Drew Bennett as the most likely recipient
of the best free agent to come to the Rams in the offseason and that still
may end up being the case, but to this point McMichael has been solid in an
offense that doesn’t use the tight end much. He’s also been asked to block
a lot more on passing downs because of the struggles along the offensive line.
Runner-up: LB Chris Draft.
Seahawks have dealt with an injured running back and a “bend-but-don’t-break”
defense, not to mention getting wins over a resurgent Tampa
Bay squad, an explosive Cincinnati offense and division-rival San Francisco – a team that beat them twice in 2006. If not for a mix-up
in the backfield late in the game against the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle would
likely be one of the 4-0 teams in the NFL.
it is, Seattle has yet to play its best football, which
has to be encouraging.
offense has started off slow in three of its four games and were it not for
a long kickoff return by Josh Wilson to start the game against Cincinnati, we would be talking about four straight games of slow starts.
QB Matt Hasselbeck is playing some of the best football of his career and
has a 100.1 QB rating – good for eighth in the league. He’s also thrown seven
touchdowns to only three interceptions and is completing 67.2-percent of his
line has also gelled nicely. Second-year guard Rob Sims has stepped in and
solidified the left guard spot while third-year C Chris Spencer has taken
over for the now-retired Robbie Tobeck in the pivot. Walter Jones is still
considered one of the top left tackles in the league, but it’s evident he
isn’t where he was two or three years ago.
receiving corps has really started to come on and they don’t even have arguably
their best playmaker in D.J. Hackett who has been out with a high ankle sprain.
defense, Patrick Kerney and Darryl Tapp have been solid at the end positions
while the interior has been a pleasant surprise with rookie DT Brandon Mebane
and veteran Rocky Bernard holding down the fort. Seattle ranks 13th in the league allowing 103 yards per
game on the ground which is a vast improvement for where they were last year.
linebackers have been stellar with Julian Peterson continuing to be the playmaker
of the Seahawks’ defense with 24 tackles and five sacks. Lofa Tatupu has been
his typical self, organizing the defense, making the adjustments and leading
the team with 31 tackles.
secondary is brand new except for Marcus Trufant at corner, but Brian Russell
and Deon Grant have stepped in and brought a calming presence to the deep
no reason to believe Seattle won’t
be the division winner should they stay healthy over the next 12 games.
Top offensive performer: Hasselbeck. He’s on pace to throw for over 4,000
yards and 28 touchdowns which would both be career highs. He’s a steady leader
of one of the more complex offenses in the league and he’s making the correct
adjustments to what the defense is showing. Runner-up: WR Deion Branch.
Top defensive performer: Peterson. How can you argue otherwise? All
Peterson does is make plays. He’s a monster off the
edge and he has a knack for always being around the ball. Runner-up:
MLB Lofa Tatupu.
Top rookie: Mebane. With Marcus Tubbs on injured reserve,
Mebane was asked to step in and be an immovable object in the middle of the
defensive line and he’s helped Seattle’s
run defense immensely. Runner-up: CB Josh Wilson.
Top free agent acquisition: Grant. Both Russell and Grant
have been solid in the deep patrol, but Grant has been
better with safety help and when it’s time to make tackles. Runner-up:
DE Patrick Kerney.
Scott Eklund writes for Seahawks.NET and Dawgman.com. Feel free to e-mail