Wednesday, March 22 2023

Up is down and down is up in the NFC West through the midpoint of this season.

The Seattle Seahawks, predicted to finish last by most pundits nationally after trading franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, shockingly lead the division at 6-3.

“We love this team, we love this group,” Seahawks safety Ryan Neal said about Seattle’s promising start. “We’re led by great people who have been through it all, been through the ups and downs and have been counted out before. It’s just the makeup of the guys we have. 

“When you have a group like that, we all know the deal. It’s just about us.”

The Seahawks are the only team with a winning record in the NFC West, considered one of the toughest divisions in the NFL to start the season. But many league observers believe the 4-4 San Francisco 49ers are an ascending team with the addition of running back Christian McCaffrey after a midseason trade with the Carolina Panthers.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Rams, the defending Super Bowl champs, find themselves near the bottom of the standings at 3-5 overall. 

Here’s how the NFC West teams grade out as the division heads toward the backstretch of the 2022 NFL campaign.

Arizona Cardinals

After Arizona entered this season having won 11 games and reaching the playoffs last year, Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill certainly did not expect to see his team at the bottom of the standings at 3-6.

Bidwell signed general manager Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury to new deals last offseason through 2027, then delivered a five-year, $230.5 million contract to 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick Kyler Murray. The contract created a stir nationally when a report surfaced that Murray’s deal included an independent study clause that required the star quarterback to do homework for four hours during a game week.

After Murray and the organization received a barrage of criticism nationally, the clause was hastily removed. However, the unwanted attention was a precursor of things to come for the Cardinals. Arizona struggled to a 2-4 start without star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who served a six-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs.

But even with Hopkins back, the offense has been plagued by pre-snap penalties, dropped passes, bad snaps, timeouts frenetically called with the clock winding down and overall disjointed play, leaving some to wonder if Kingsbury will make it through the year. 

Grade: D

Los Angeles Rams

Coming off a magical run where everything went right for Sean McVay’s team in a Super Bowl-winning season, 2022 has been the opposite for the Rams.

They’ve been plagued by a rash of injuries along the offensive line, which has led to porous pass protection for veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford and an anemic running game. The Rams are the eighth defending Super Bowl champion to fall below .500 through eight games and the first since the 2013 Baltimore Ravens

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Los Angeles never found productive replacements for key players who did not return for various reasons: left tackle Andrew Whitworth, right guard Austin Corbett, edge rusher Von Miller, and receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Robert Woods

The Rams are No. 29 in the league in points scored (16.4 per game). Stafford has been sacked 28 times and is in concussion protocol this week. Los Angeles has turned the ball over 13 times. Cooper Kupp (863 scrimmage yards) accounts for nearly 40% of L.A.’s production on offense. 

And of course, after all their wheeling and dealing, the Rams have no first-round selection in next year’s draft. Bad times all around.

However, the Rams are just a game back of San Francisco for the final playoff spot in the NFC. The 49ers were in the same position last year at 3-5 and somehow clawed their way to the NFC Championship Game. 

And the Rams still have the Lombardi trophy from last season. So, there’s that. 

Grade: F

San Francisco 49ers 

The season began inauspiciously, with second-year pro Trey Lance taking over at quarterback while former starter Jimmy Garoppolo rehabbed a shoulder injury on a side field away from the team and waited to be traded. He didn’t even receive a playbook.

And then San Francisco surprisingly re-signed Garoppolo as insurance in case Lance struggled or suffered a season-ending injury, which happened after he ran the ball 16 times in his five quarters as the starter. 

Including Lance, the Niners have dealt with several injuries to frontline players. Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley is done for the year, but San Francisco is hopeful to get back defensive tackle Arik Armstead, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, running back Elijah Mitchell, receiver Jauan Jennings and linebacker Dre Greenlaw.

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Along with that, the Niners defense is one of the best in the league, and McCaffrey adds juice to an offense that already featured several playmakers. Garoppolo just needs to consistently get them the ball in space and take care of the football. 

Grade: B

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider used the bevy of players and draft picks received in the blockbuster trade with Denver to quickly rebuild the Seahawks into a playoff contender.

Six selections from this year’s draft have been significant contributors, including bookend offensive tackles Charles Cross and Abe Lucas, running back Kenneth Walker III, cornerbacks Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant, and edge rusher Boye Mafe.

But the revelation among this group has been the play of 10-year pro Geno Smith. Earning a starting QB role for the first time since 2014 and after sitting three years behind Wilson, Smith leads the league in completion percentage. He has completed 73% of his passes for 2,199 yards with 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions. 

What has made Geno Smith, Seahawks successful

Colin Cowherd breaks down how Seattle has shocked the league this season.

Smith is an MVP candidate and in the running for Comeback Player of the Year honors, and the Seahawks could be headed back to the playoffs after finishing 7-10 last season. 

“It’s all about discipline right now,” Carroll said. “Just staying with it, one week at a time. Everybody says that stuff, but that’s because it’s the truth.”

Grade: A

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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Source: FOX Sports


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