Grading the NFC West: Week 14

The Seattle Seahawks once again go to the head of the NFC West class after walloping the 49ers for their ninth consecutive victory; the Rams and Cardinals barely pass the grade in their losses.


-- QB Matt Hasselbeck ran the offense to near-perfection and fully exploited the 49ers' weak secondary. Seattle often lured the 49ers' safeties into coverage mistakes that allowed one or more receivers to roam free on a given play. Hasselbeck made the right decisions in where to go with the ball. He set a season high with four touchdown passes. He set a career high by completing 84 percent of his passes (21 of 25), the second-highest one-game rate in team history.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- RB Shaun Alexander needed only three quarters to get his 108 yards on the ground. Seattle mostly relied on the passing game, but the ground game proved reliable when needed. That was evident on the Seahawks' second drive. Hasselbeck had absorbed a hard hit to the sternum and was having trouble breathing. Alexander carried for gains of 16 and 10 yards on the next two plays. FB Mack Strong followed with a 4-yard run. The running game bought time for Hasselbeck, who finished the drive with three consecutive complete passes, the last for a touchdown.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- Seattle padded its league-leading sack total with four against 49ers QB Alex Smith. The Seahawks held Smith to 9-of-22 passing and 77 gross yards. MLB Lofa Tatupu collected an interception for the second consecutive week. LCB Jordan Babineaux, who converted from safety after Seattle lost CBs Andre Dyson and Kelly Herndon, had no problems in coverage even though this was his first NFL start. The 49ers' longest completed pass to a receiver covered 14 yards.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Seattle didn't have DT Marcus Tubbs for its previous game against the 49ers. He made a big difference Sunday even though DT Rocky Bernard got the start ahead of him. Tubbs was disruptive much of the afternoon. His bulk inside pairs nicely with the speed Seattle has on the perimeter. Working against an injury-depleted offensive line, Seattle's front seven held the 49ers to 3.0 yards per carry with a long run of 11 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Penalties in the return game continue to be a problem. The Seahawks have suggested that officials are calling things more closely this season. The Seahawks were able to overcome two more return-game penalties against the weak 49ers, but similar errors could prove costly against a superior opponent. K Josh Brown made a pair of 52-yard attempts, offsetting a 50-yard miss that came up short in the cold, damp air of Qwest Field.

COACHING: A -- The Seahawks were on top of their game against the overmatched 49ers. This was another example of Seattle avoiding the kind of letdown performance that immature teams experience. Coach Mike Holmgren gets some of the credit. Holmgren also was aggressive offensively, a smart move against a team with so many problems. The blitz-heavy defensive plan produced the lowest output by a Seattle opponent - 113 total yards - in franchise history.


-- Rookie QB Ryan Fitzpatrick had five interceptions and a passer rating of 32.4. He completed 28 of 45 passes for 235 yards, averaging just 9.0 yards per completion. Fitzpatrick did score the team's only touchdown on a 14-yard scramble.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- RB Steven Jackson ran hard, but he gained just 67 yards on 19 carries, with a long of 8. He didn't read the hole well on a fourth-and-2 play where he was stopped for no gain. On another third-and-2 play, he gained just 1 yard. Jackson entered the game 3-for-6 on third-and-1 plays for first downs. RB Marshall Faulk ran well, gaining 25 yards on five carries.

PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- Except for a 49-yard pass-and-run play to Marcus Robinson, the pass defense was very good. There were no sacks, but QB Brad Johnson often had to throw quickly because of blitzes. His passer rating was just 79.8, as he completed 16 of 25 passes for 146 yards. Aside from the Robinson play, the other 15 completions went for just 97 yards.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- RB Michael Bennett averaged 3.9 yards per attempt, totaling 70 yards on 18 carries. The Vikings did have three rushing touchdowns, one a 13-yard play that was an end-around by WR Koren Robinson.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus -- The punting and punt coverage was good and, as usual, PK Jeff Wilkins was perfect, hitting two field-goal attempts and one extra point. One of the field goals was from 51 yards. The Rams' return game still provides virtually no blocking, as the punt return average was 6.3 and the kickoff return average 18.5. The kickoff coverage unit did allow a 61-yard return by Koren Robinson.

COACHING: C-plus -- For the second time in his tenure, interim coach Joe Vitt eschewed a sure field goal early in the game and went for a first down on fourth down. It failed again. The offensive plan was more balanced, mostly because the ground game was more effective than it was the week before. Under trying circumstances, Vitt has done a solid job getting his team to play hard each week.


-- QB Kurt Warner had 41 attempts, but the Cardinals only got 255 yards and one touchdown out of it.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- The lack of production has been consistent all year. Add in two fumbles against Washington and you have a worse performance than usual.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- The Cardinals had three interceptions of Redskins QB Mark Brunell and put decent pressure on him all day.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Redskins RB Clinton Portis gained 105 yards, but he never took over the game. The tackling has improved greatly in the past three weeks.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- K Neil Rackers made both field-goal attempts, but the Cardinals gave up a kick return for a touchdown for the third time this season.

COACHING: C -- The Cardinals get solid game plans on offense or defense, but the details seem to escape them. They can't pick up a yard when they need it, or score in the red zone. Allowing their third kickoff return for a touchdown this season was inexcusable.

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