Thursday, August 04, 2005

Wild Wild West

The NFC West truly is wild. The Cardinals are supposed to be the up and coming team, it seems like that is how they have been described the past ten years, the Rams could be fading and the Seahawks are in a must win situation for coach Mike Holmgren. The only team in the West that won’t have a chance to make some noise this season is the 49ers, but they do have the league’s number one pick in QB Alex Smith. Here is a team by team breakdown of the NFC West.

ARIZONA CARDINALS Projected Finish 7-9 (3rd)
KEY QUESTION: Can Kurt Warner resurrect his career?

No question that Warner has been able to win championships in the past, but there are legitimate questions as to his ability to win now. After flopping in New York Warner is trying to prove that he still has MVP form and the Cardinals are putting their season on his shoulders. No doubt the Cards have talent at the receiver spot with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Both guys have great speed bursts and both are very young and will continue to improve as the mature in their careers.

The Emmitt Smith project is over at running back and the Cardinals used their second round pick on running back JJ Arrington. He has great breakaway speed and should quickly move to the top of the depth chart. The Cardinals returning leading rusher is Troy Hambrick with 283 yards.

The offensive line should be interesting. This unit features a former first round draft pick in Leonard Davis and four other guys who were either undrafted free agents, second day picks or cut from other teams.

On defense Arizona has Pro-Bowler Bertrand Berry returning at defensive end and they picked up Chike Okeafor to create a pass rush from the other side of the field.

The linebackers will be lead by second year player Karlos Dansby and the defensive backs became very young when Arizona drafted Antrel Rolle and Eric Green in the first and third rounds to play corner. Both are expected to become immediate starters and will need to adjust to the speed of the NFL very quickly.

CB Renaldo Hill, TE Freddie Jones, QB Shaun King, RB Emmitt Smith, CB Duane Starks, DE Kyle VAnden Bosh

S Robert Griffith, LB Orlando Huff, DE Chike Okeafor, QB Kurt Warner
ST. LOUIS RAMS Projected Finish 10-6 (2nd)
KEY QUESTION: Is the defense any better?

The only key loss from last year’s team was DT Bryce Fisher and that may not be a good thing. The Rams defense struggled several times last season and was embarrassed in the play-offs by the Atlanta Falcons as they gave up 47 points. During the off-season St. Louis has added a number of key guys to the defense hoping to build them back into a solid unit.

The defensive line will be led by Leonard Little who needs to return to 03 form where he recorder 12.5 sacks instead of last season’s 7.

The linebackers are where St. Louis did most of their revamping by adding Dexter Coakley and Chris Claiborne.

Corner Aeneas Williams is getting old, but the Rams still have Travis Fisher who is a very physical player and Jerametrius Butler who is quickly becoming one of the best cover corners in the league. Strong safety Adam Archuleta should have a rebound season after struggling most of last season with back problems.

The Rams still have “The Greatest Show on Turf” with their offense led by quarterback Marc Bulger who improved his passing accuracy last season from 03. Bulger will not have a problem finding someone to throw the ball to with a group of receivers led by Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.

Look for Steven Jackson to become the feature running back this season and for Marshall Faulk to be the special downs back. Faulk has not had a 1,000 yard season since 2001 and will make way for Jackson if he can stay healthy.

The offensive line is looking to be healthy this season. Led by Orlando Pace the Rams line will try to cut down significantly the 50 sacks they gave up last season.

DT Bryce Fisher

KEY SIGNINGS: LB Chris Claiborne, LB Dexter Coakley, DB Michael Hawthorne, DE Jay Williams, TE Roland Williams.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ers Projected Finish 5-11 (4th)
KEY QUESTION: Can the 49ers be resurrected from the dead?

This franchise is a long way from Steve Young and Jerry Rice. San Francisco lacks play makers on both sides of the ball, but they begin a new era this season with their new franchise quarterback Alex Smith. Smith will have a lot to prove this season and will suffer through growing pains with very little help.

The 49ers signed Jonas Jenings and drafted David Baas to try to improve the offensive line. They are also hoping center Jeremy Newberry will be healthy this season as well.

San Francisco ranked 30th last season in rushing because Kevan Barlow struggled as the feature back. The 49ers drafted Frank Gore who will try to push Barlow but has to answer questions about the strength of his knees first.

The leading receiver on the team last season was tight end Eric Johnson. Look for Alex Smith to go to him often again this season. The leading returning receiver is Brandon Lloyd who has problems creating separation. Look for Arnaz Battle, Rashaun Woods and Derrick Hamilton to battle it out for playing time at the second and third receiver spots.

Bryant Young has been the heart of the defensive line from the tackle position. This season he will move to defensive end in the new 3-4 scheme.

There are no playmakers at the linebacker spot as of yet. San Francisco is putting their hope in Julian Peterson who is returning from a torn Achilles’ tendon last season.

The biggest question mark for the defense is the secondary. Starting corners Ahmed Plummer and Mike Rumph only played together in two games last season because of injuries. The 49ers are also looking for a starter at free safety.

Key Losses: WR Curtis Conway, K Todd Peterson, WR Cedrick Wilson.

KEY Signings: DE Marques Douglas, K Joe Nedney.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS Projected Finish 10-6 (1st)
KEY QUESTION: Can the offense continue what it started last season?

The Seahawks ranked 8th last season in offense and returns mostly intact. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck needs to develop into more of an on field leader and he also needs to handle pressure situations a little better. He could use some help from his receivers in the latter. Seattle receivers had a case of the drops last season.

To try to improve their receivers the Seahawks signed Jerome Pathon and Joe Jurevicius to go along with leading receiver Darrell Jackson who set a franchise record last season with 87 receptions.

Shaun Alexander has had four seasons in a row in which he scored at least 15 touchdowns and last season he rushed for 1,696 yards. Look for him to compete again this season for the rushing title because the offensive line returns intact except for the left tackle position.

The defensive line has good depth but needs a consistent pass rusher. If Grant Wistrom and Marcus Tubbs stay healthy they could be the answers.

The Seahawks lost linebackers Chad Brown and Anthony Simmons but they signed veteran Jamie Sharper and drafted Lofa Tatupu and LeRoy Hill.

The strongest positions on the team are in the secondary. Michael Boulware had an outstanding rookie season at the strong safety spot. Seattle also added Andre Dyson and Kelly Herndon at corner to compete for the opposite side of Marcus Trufant.

LB Chad Brown, LB Orlando Huff, DE Chike Okeafor, WR Jerry Rice, FS Damien Robinson, LB Anthony Simms.

CB Andre Dyson, DE Bryce Fisher, CB Kelly Herndon, WR Joe Jurevicius, WR Jerome Pathon, LB Jamie Sharper.

Seattle Seahawks 10-6
St. Louis Rams 10-6
Arizona Cardinals 7-9
San Francisco 49ers 5-11