Grading the NFC West: Week 1

It was a good Week 1 for each of San Francisco's three NFC West opponents, who all generally graded out well after winning their season openers.


-- QB Marc Bulger was somewhat out of synch, but he also protected the ball well, and threw it away at times when receivers were covered. Coach Scott Linehan acknowledged that he and Bulger are still developing chemistry in play-calling, but credited Bulger for playing mistake-free football. Bulger completed 18 of 34 passes for 217 yards. The biggest play of the game was a screen pass to Tony Fisher on 3rd-and-6 that went for 49 yards and led to the Rams' final field goal.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Most of Steven Jackson's yards came in the fourth quarter, and he finished with 121 yards on 22 carries. He had 67 in the fourth quarter on six attempts, including a 37-yard run at the end of the game that iced it for the Rams. But Jackson ran hard, and got extra yards carrying defenders. He did have one stretch with four consecutive runs for minus yardage.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- Broncos QB Jake Plummer was sacked four times for 40 yards in losses, and the Rams came up with three interceptions. One of the sacks resulted in a fumble. Plummer's passer rating was 26.3 and he passed for just 138 yards on 13-of-26 passing. The Broncos' net passing total was 98 yards.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- The Rams ran to the ball and generally did well, but there were still big plays of 36 and 39 yards. Aside from those runs, Tatum and Mike Bell combined for 86 yards on 23 attempts. The tackling was better, and free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe made a fine open-field tackle in the fourth quarter that kept Tatum Bell from gaining more than 14 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus -- The only quibbles were penalties. One negated a Jeff Wilkins field. Another wiped out a 17-yard punt return by Shaun McDonald. And another gave the Broncos the ball at their 35-yard line instead of the 20 after a touchback on a punt. But overall, the special teams were as good as they have been in years. Aside from Wilkins' six field goals, four Denver kickoff returns averaged 19.5 yard with a long of 21. There was one punt return by Denver for three yards. J.R. Reed had a 29-yard kickoff return where he got 10 extra yards with sheer effort.

COACHING: B -- Overall, it was a superb coaching job for a team with a new offense and defense. The only negative were four red-zone failures that kept the game close. At one point in the first half, the Rams had run 22 consecutive plays in the Denver territory, but only had nine points to show for it. Winning his debut as a head coach, Scott Linehan saw his philosophy begin to take root.


-- The pass protection was terrible as Seattle allowed five sacks without scoring a touchdown. QB Matt Hasselbeck weathered the storm quite well, completing 25 of 30 passes for 210 yards. But most of his passes were of the bailout variety, including six passes to FB Mack Strong.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- RB Shaun Alexander averaged only 2.7 yards per carry as Lions DT Shaun Rogers had his way with the Seahawks' interior offensive line. Seattle did manage rushes of 14 and 17 yards on the winning drive, a credit to the team's ability to function with its back against a wall. But the consistency wasn't there and Seattle was too often baited into ineffective run checks.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- The pass rush wasn't as good as it should have been given that Detroit was missing two starters up front. Still, the Lions had trouble completing passes downfield and they never came close to finding the end zone. CB Marcus Trufant made aggressive plays on the ball when Lions QB Jon Kitna challenged him.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Seattle missed more tackles in this game than in its final few games last season. LB Leroy Hill was missed. His replacement, D.D. Lewis, is a good player, but Lewis appeared rusty in this game. He missed a handful of tackles, as did FS Ken Hamlin, who went for a few big hits instead of wrapping up. But the bottom line was that the Lions did not manage a run longer than nine yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- The return game was vastly improved with WR Willie Ponder on kickoffs and CB Jimmy Williams on punts. P Ryan Plackemeier was also sensational with a 42.6-yard net average on a day when field position was important. Seattle suffered two costly breakdowns in its field-goal protection scheme, however, and the result was a pair of blocks.

COACHING: C -- The Seahawks were at a disadvantage because they didn't have regular-season video showing how the Lions' new staff would use its personnel. The Lions exploited this advantage. Seattle's pass-protection schemes must improve, and they probably will now that the Seahawks aren't entering a game cold against a new staff.


-- QB Kurt Warner passed for 301 yards and three touchdowns, all to different receivers. Warner made grow throws despite having defenders in his face all day. The Cardinals passed for a lot of yards last year, but this time they got some points out of it.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The Cardinals didn't have great numbers but they were able to grind out a long drive in the fourth quarter, running just enough to keep the 49ers honest. The offensive line has to perform better, however. Right tackle continues to be a problem.

PASSING DEFENSE: C -- The Cardinals kept Alex Smith in the pocket but they didn't sack him. The secondary had some coverage breakdowns, mostly because some players seemed to lose focus. And there was poor tackling on tight end Vernon Davis' 31-yard touchdown catch and run.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- 49ers running back Frank Gore gashed the Cardinals early. The Cardinals over-ran some plays and displayed poor tackling technique on others. Defensive tackles Darnell Dockett and Kendrick Clancy didn't make many plays.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Much more was expected of this unit. They gave up a 60-yard punt return that led to a field goal, and there were far too many penalties. Kicker Neil Rackers is still automatic, however.

Niners Digest Top Stories