The NFC West has been an up and down division this year like many years, but this season there is not a team that is head and shoulders above the rest. The Rams looked to be that team early on, but Arizona has righted the ship and is trending up after trading for Adrian Peterson. The Seahawks are lucky to have any wins at all, and the 49ers are very unlucky to be winless but their margin of loss isn’t making their fan base feel any better. OSN senior writer Casey Mabbott breaks down each team’s season so far and what to expect as they move forward.
Los Angeles Rams 4-2
The impact of first year head coach Sean McVey cannot be understated. The Rams were a dumpster fire last season, and their coach didn’t make it through last year even after getting a contract extension during the same season he was fired. Rookie QB Jared Goff was forced in to action, and most of his action was forced, and tough to watch. RB Todd Gurley was sprinting toward being called a bust (one of the few times he sprinted last year), largely because the offensive line and QB play were a recurring joke. Enter McVey, a coached up Goff, and an o-line anchored by free agent Andrew Whitworth. And the reviews have been stunning, with a capitol S and a capitol TUNNING. This is a completely different team. The defense is playing well, but that was always the strong suit even after adding “defense whisperer” Wade Phillips. Now, the team can actually score points, something they haven’t done very well since Marc Bulger was under center. As of this week, they are the #1 scoring offense in the league through 6 weeks, and they haven’t even figured how to consistently involve WR Sammy Watkins yet, just imagine how good they can be if they have a legit number one wideout heavily involved.
And their defense? Ranked 20th in points allowed, not bad for a team that spent most of last year exhausted and on the ropes despite the play of the defensive line. We kept waiting and waiting for the Rams to take that next step, and this year they have done just that. Their 4-2 record is no a fluke, this is a real playoff contender, and McVey is the real deal. The Rams host the Cardinals this week in a game that could shift the division lead, and it is also the first meeting of Gurley and the man he was compared to in his rookie season, Cardinals running back Adrian Peterson. These days, Gurley looks a lot more like do-it-all back David Johnson (when healthy). If the Rams fall, they would drop to 1-2 in division play, AND hand the division lead over to Arizona. That won’t fly, they need this win to keep their record and hopes on the rise.
Seattle Seahawks 3-2
Emerald City’s other football club looks off this year, there is just no getting around it. Some say it’s the offensive line, some say it’s the lack of running game, some say the passing game is out of sync. I say it’s all of it. Fixing one of those things doesn’t necessarily fix the rest of it, it might cover some things up, but the fact of the matter is that the Seahawks have some real issues, issues they did not have to worry about in previous seasons. Passing game not doing enough? Just run the ball more. Not scoring much on offense? The defense can hold the other team down to bridge the gap. Not enough big plays? Just hold on to the ball and make them nervous. This is how they won in the past, but it is not working this year. Some of the blame goes to the offensive line for being awful, but plenty of that blame can be handed right over to the front office as well. This is one of the cheapest lines in the game, and cheap lines typically do not play well. Go get some more talented lineman, and by god, pay them and keep them! Russell Okung is with the Chargers, John Carpenter is with the Jets, and JR Sweezy is with the Buccaneers. And the current line is without George Fant, who went down the in the preseason with a season ending knee injury. No matter how good your quarterback is or your running back is or your receivers are, at some point you need at least an average offensive line. The Seahawks are among the worst, and for the second year in a row it is dragging the rest of the team down.
There was little competition in the division last year, this year they could be passed up by LA and Arizona. Give San Francisco another year and they might even contend. Seattle had better address their issues before the season is over, trading poorly used TE Jimmy Graham for a lineman seems like the best idea. Not trading away Max Unger would have been better but things always look and sound better on paper (and the irony is not lost on me). Seattle is lucky to have a winning record, but things are likely to turn south if they just stay the course. Luckily enough, they have the ultimate “get right” game this week at the New York Giants, who just recorded their first win. If they beat the Giants, they could be tied for the division lead, if they lose it could expose even more holes in already holy mess.
Arizona Cardinals 3-3
The Carson Palmer needs to retire train left the station in week one full of supporters, and many more on the waiting list. The arrival of Adrian Peterson seems to have slowed that chatter for the moment. With a legitimate running game, defenders have to watch Peterson, which is opening up a lot of plays in the passing game. Larry Fitzgerald looking like his 2007 self doesn’t hurt, either. This was a team devoid of weapons when David Johnson was lost in week one, now they seem to have a wealth of play makers. A solid running game really does ease a lot of pain, and help keep the offense and defense fresh. Granted the big win was a tight win over Tampa Bay (who is 2-3), but it seemed to be the “tune up” game Arizona desperately needed, and Peterson seems to be a perfect fit in this offense.
The offense has been good enough , the defense is in the top half of the league and slowing opponents enough to let the one dimensional offense keep up. Now that they have a scary running game again, defenses will have to pick their poison, and this team could be on their way to getting back to how they looked in 2015 when they were a NFC superpower. Can they get back? A showdown with the Rams this week will be a good way to tell, as the Rams have the top offense and an above average defense. If Arizona can steal a lopsided win on the road, it could help people forget how bad they looked last season and through the first few weeks this season, and put them in a tie for the division lead. Not bad for a team many thought would be among the league’s worst franchises once Johnson went down.
San Francisco 49ers 0-6
The 49ers swapped out their head coach, offensive staff, defensive staff, general manager, QB, WR, so on and so on. Do you think they made enough changes? The net result so far has been a winless season through 6 games, with former rival Dallas coming to town. I say former because the definition of a rivalry dictates that both teams have a pulse. The 49ers keep trying to revive their season but a slew of close losses has them staring at a top draft pick, and that would be the farthest thing from the worst case in a potentially loaded draft and a team in dire need of star players. With their revamped defense featuring three first round picks in the last two drafts and some underrated talent across the board, things can only look up.
Pierre Garcon has been a welcome addition to the offense, but there isn’t much else to write home about. CJ Beathard is taking snaps away from Brian Hoyer, Matt Breida is taking snaps away from Carlos Hyde, Vance McDonald was traded to Pittsburgh, and former defensive captain NaVorro Bowman was cut and is now in Oakland. Despite a complete overhaul they haven’t been blown out since week one, but after leading a Super Bowl offense in Atlanta, Kyle Shannahan is leading the league’s 25TH worst offense in 2017, barely producing 18 points per game. While 5 of their losses coming from games they lost by less than a touchdown is promising, but if the offense can’t produce, it won’t matter what the defense does to keep the opponent from running away with the contest. Shannahan and GM John Lynch have this team’s arrow pointed in the right direction, but they are another good couple of drafts and several key players away from being a true contender. This week they welcome Dallas to town in what may be Ezekiel Elliott’s final game for six weeks, and that is not the greatest way to get things on the right track, but if they come away with a win it could put a lot of confidence in a team lacking “it” factor.