Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: NFC West

Four Downs: NFC West
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Vince Verhei

Arizona Cardinals: Who will rush the passer?

The Cardinals had 33 sacks last season, which isn’t too bad -– they were tied with the Saints for 18th in the league. However, they didn’t have any dominant individual pass rushers. Team leader Calais Campbell finished 39th in the NFL with just 6.0 sacks. As a result, the Cardinals were forced to blitz to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and that left their defense vulnerable to big plays. Only six teams gave up more 20-yard pass plays, and only the Broncos gave up more 20-yard runs.

Second place on the 2010 Cardinals in sacks? Try Darnell Dockett. That made Arizona the very rare 3-4 team that gets more sacks from its ends than from its outside linebackers. The Cardinals need to get more pressure from the outside, but had no luck filling the gap in the post-lockout frenzy. Joey Porter and Clark Haggans will be a combined 68 years old this year, and had only five sacks apiece last year. There’s nothing behind them but inexperienced late-round draftees like O’Brien Schofield and Will Davis. There’s not much left on the free agent market either, unless they want to add another senior citizen like Julian Peterson. It’s a safe bet that the Cardinals will grab a pass rusher early in the 2012 draft.

St. Louis Rams: Who will be the No. 1 receiver?

The Rams have managed to cobble together a staff of competent possession receivers who won’t embarrass themselves against the weaker nickelbacks or softer zone defenses of the NFL. However, they still lack the dominant wideout that can dictate double-coverage, or the home-run threat who can change a game in one play.

Oh, the Rams tried to upgrade the position, signing Mike Sims-Walker away from Jacksonville and drafting Austin Pettis out of Boise State and Gregory Salas out of Hawaii. But it’s not likely that any of these players will crack the starting lineup, let alone fix the problem. The Jaguars are not particularly stacked at the wide receiver position, but they made little effort to retain Sims-Walker. And there’s a reason Pettis lasted into the third round, and Salas into the fourth.

The returning Rams wideouts combined for only 22 20-yard catches last year, fewer than either Mike Wallace or Brandon Lloyd had by themselves. If there’s a secret weapon here, it’s Donnie Avery, who had 17 20-yard plays between 2008 and 2009, but missed all of last season with a torn ACL. However, word out of Rams camp is that Avery has been missing practices with a sore hamstring.

San Francisco 49ers: What if Gore can’t bounce back?

Running back Frank Gore staged a mini-holdout after the lockout ended, but soon happily returned to camp, saying the 49ers had promised to sign him to an extension that will keep him in San Francisco after this season. The 28-year-old needs fewer than 1,000 yards to become the franchise’s all-time leading rusher.

But will he get there? Nobody seems to be mentioning that despite a rebuilt offensive line featuring two highly drafted blockers, Gore averaged 4.2 yards per carry last year, the lowest rate of his career. And that was before the broken hip that ended his season in Week 12. Gore says he’s back at 100 percent, but what if he’s not? What if he gets hurt again?

The 49ers have a lot of options at backup running back, but none of them are very good. Anthony Dixon was a sixth-round choice in 2010, Kendall Hunter a fourth-round pick this year. Xavier Omon has spent three seasons bouncing on and off rosters of the Jets, Bills, and Seahawks. The most well-known backup may be undrafted rookie Jeremiah Masoli, the former quarterback at Oregon and Mississippi.

If Gore returns to pre-injury levels, this will be a non-issue. If he’s hurt again, though, the 49ers will be in deep trouble, because they have no Plan B.

Seattle Seahawks: Who will cover opposing wideouts?

According to our defensive numbers, the Seahawks were 14th against opposing team’s No. 1 receivers, but dead last against No. 2s and 28th against all other wideouts. There’s a severe lack of secondary depth here, but Seattle added no cornerbacks in the draft or free agency (unless you count sixth-rounder Byron Maxwell, a longshot to make the team) and actually lost a valuable contributor when safety/nickelback Jordan Babineaux signed with Tennessee.

The Seahawks go into the 2011 season with a depth chart consisting of Marcus Trufant (one of two players remaining on the roster from the 2005 Super Bowl team), Kelly Jennings (a disappointing former first-round pick who has come off the bench in three of his five seasons), Walter Thurmond (a fourth-round rookie who played surprisingly well in 2010), and journeymen Roy Lewis and Kennard Cox. This was probably the deepest position in free agency, but the Seahawks missed out on all the big names. Ellis Hobbs and Lito Sheppard both remain unemployed. Either would have been a fine option in, say, 2007.

(This article previously appeared at ESPN Insider.)


29 comments, Last at 15 Feb 2013, 6:07am

1 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

Seahawks also signed CFL Superstar Brandon Browner, a 6'4 220 lb corner. He looked solid with the second team this weekend, he's a bit raw but they might match him up with bigger receivers.

2 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

Saw that game, 6'4 corners are rare (though his CFL and wiki list him as 6'3), but I must say he lacked some fundamentals. He didn't look for the ball which will result in interference calls when the refs are out of preseason form.
I must say a smart pick up though by the Seahawks staff.

3 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

A 220lb cornerback?! Now I wish they had drafted Taylor Mays. The CBs would have been awesome in the tug-of-war during the team picnic.

Hail Hydra!

4 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

I never got the 'Hail Hydra' sign-off you use until I saw Captain America this summer, and suddenly it all made sense.
I believe the Red Skull would've made an excellent football coach. He commanded loyalty and respect from his troops;admittedly the Nazi association would've put a few GMs off, but I have to think somewhere in the NFL there would have been a place for him.

5 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

When you're a grandpa, you'll tell your grand children you've seen it happen that 6'4 230lb corners became standard and nose tackles were the biggest guys at 325lb. You'll then tell stories about Julius Peppers.
They'll laugh at you, saying those 325lb guys are now middle linebackers and Julius Peppers would be a safety because he's to slow to play corner.

6 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

Patrick Peterson (the corner the Cardinals just drafted at the top of the first round from LSU) is 220 lbs and he's only 6'1".

8 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

We'll also be explaining to our grandchildren what a "kickoff" and "onside kick" was before the league changed the rules and banned those plays.

11 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

Ah yes, back near the turn of the century I saw a man by the name of David or Nevin--something like that--could return the ball like no other. What's a return you ask? Well in football they used to kick the ball to the other team--yeah I know it seems a little strange--the thing was you could gain field position by punting away... hey where are you kids going. I haven't made it to Dante Hall or Deion Sanders yet.

13 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

Denario Alexander. IF - yes, that's a mighty big if - his knees can stay healthy, I'd expect Denario to be the Rams' #1 guy. We'll see.

22 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

After 5 knee surgeries, is there really any reason to harbor any illusions about his knee holding up? I figure any production they get out of him is a bonus.

15 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

Marcus Trufant isn't the last player from the Super Bowl team. Leroy Hill made 8 tackles (7 solo) against the Steelers in Super Bowl XL.

17 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

I'm getting worried that the niners are in for a very tough season. There were so many mental errors in pass protection against the Saints, which wasn't helped by the qb's erratic footwork. It has to really hurt that they've only had a fortnight to install their new schemes, the Saints have had three years of practice and it showed.

19 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

That game was not pretty... and unfortunately it also looked familiar.
I remember a play with Dixon up the right B gap, they pulled the LG (Iupati) into the gap. Iupati ran where the line is drawn on the play sheet right into the C and RG. If he goes through the actual hole two feet over the it's Dixon and Iupati rumbling, but instead Dixon had to avoid him and then go through by himself.

The point is that Iupati still looked very raw. The line as a whole didn't look good.

20 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

"Marcus Trufant (the last player remaining from the 2005 Super Bowl team)"

This is incorrect. Leroy Hill is also still with the team.

21 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

Now that the Rams have shored up their secondary, I smell championship! Thank you, Sabby!

23 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

Seattle drafted corners Richard Sherman, 5th round, in addition to Byron Maxwell, 6th.

24 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

Don't usually post at a new site I visit just to complain, but really, you could try a bit harder to get your facts correct when providing "intelligent analysis". I'm a Seahawk homer, so I can't comment on the accuracy of the other write-ups, but it seems that the major premise of your arguement about the Seahawks and their DB's is pretty much non-factual. 2 of 7 picks (not high picks, but we're talking about depth, right?) in the draft, plus a couple of FA pickups for the DB corps. *(One of which, Browner, acually looked pretty good, IMO. And while there was one play where the intial camera angle made it look like he didn't look for the ball, the replay from a different angle showed his head come around, which is why the ref didn't throw a flag. The announcers even mentioned how he looked back for the ball.)

I'm happy to see at least SOME coverage of the Seahawks, but it would be nice if you could take a few minutes to actually look up a couple things before publishing. I can only hope that your analysis of other teams is a bit more accurate.

25 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

This is a non-Kool-Aid site. Sure he missed a couple of details, but it doesn't change the main point: who's gonna cover opposing WRs?

26 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

In reply to by Highwatermark (not verified)

You are thinking of Richard Sherman as the fifth round pick. That does admittedly seem like a strange omission but the premise of the article still stands in that their secondary was weak last year and the question of who will make the field is relevant.

28 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

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29 Re: Four Downs: NFC West

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