Grading the NFC West: Week 13

Handing out grades to the 49ers' three divisional opponents in the NFC West for their performances in Week 13 games.


PASSING OFFENSE: C -- QB Marc Bulger had his first multiple interception game of the season, and two came in Cardinals territory, one on a play from the 35-yard line and the other from the 32. His third was on a Hail Mary on the final play of the game. Bulger passed for 314 yards, but was sacked four times. He was able to get the ball down field, connecting with Torry Holt on seven passes for 115 yards and Isaac Bruce with five for 75. However, Holt dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball on what could have been an 83-yard touchdown. Rookie TE Joe Klopfenstein had his first game with more than two receptions, catching four passes for 31 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The ground game was productive, as RB Steven Jackson had 96 yards on 21 carries, and Stephen Davis added 11 yards on two attempts. Jackson went over 1,000 yards for the season as he now has 1,028 yards.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- The Rams got little pressure on QB Matt Leinart, and did not have an interception. Leinart passed only 24 times, completing 15 for 186 yards, but had a touchdown pass and 100.3 passer rating. The defense did a solid job on WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, limiting them to five catches for 46 yards and two for 32, respectively.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- Yes, RB Edgerrin James went over 100 yards for the first time this season, but 31 came on their final drive when the Cardinals had a two-touchdown lead. The long run of the game was 11 yards, and Arizona's yards per attempt was 3.7. However, RB Marcel Shipp had three rushing touchdowns. Entering the game, the Cardinals had five rushing touchdowns in 11 games, and two were by Leinart.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus -- The Rams' coverage units were solid, and kickoff returner Willie Ponder had the best game for a Rams player in recent memory. Ponder's long return was 40, and he averaged 31.5 yards on six returns. His shortest return was 22 yards, and his others were 28, 30, 30 and 39. P Matt Turk, who was ill with bronchitis, had a bad day, averaging just 32.7 yards on three punts with a long of 38.

COACHING: C -- Coaches can't prevent dropped passes or penalties or the variety of miscues evident Sunday, but they bear some of the responsibility for a lackluster performance against a team that had been out-scored 137-69 on the road prior to the 34-20 Arizona victory.


PASSING OFFENSE: D -- The pass protection was fine. Matt Hasselbeck's passes were generally on-target. The passing game struggled because receivers and tight ends dropped five passes, and because the game plan was conservative. Seattle wanted to avoid turnovers, even if it meant playing not to lose. The result was an ugly game. Seattle's pass offense stirred to life in the closing minutes, moving Seattle in position for 10 late points.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus -- RB Shaun Alexander found running room in the second half. He gained 75 of his 90 yards after halftime. The ground game had to make some adjustments because FB Mack Strong left the game with an ankle injury. TE Will Heller played fullback in his place and seemed to do OK. Alexander's late 8-yard run was critical in setting up the winning 50-yard field goal.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- The Broncos didn't throw much, and the Seattle defense had answers for whatever Denver attempted through the air for three-plus quarters. And yet, with the game on the line, Seattle's pass defense allowed a 71-yard touchdown to tie the score in the final few minutes. CB Kelly Jennings, SS Jordan Babineaux and dime SS Michael Boulware missed tackles. FS Ken Hamlin also had a shot at making the play. This critical lapse nearly cost Seattle the victory.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- It was a tale of two halves for Seattle's run defense. Tatum Bell topped 100 yards rushing in the first half. Seattle shut him down after halftime, but the Seahawks continue to suffer from some discipline-related errors in run defense. DE Grant Wistrom was out of position on one early long run. Seattle also missed some tackles. The Seahawks are not a very good tackling team, and that hurts them in the run game on occasion.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- Josh Brown made three fourth-quarter field goals, including the winning 50-yarder, to offset a pair of early misses. CB Kelly Jennings forced a key fumble on a late Broncos kick return, and DE Joe Tafoya recovered. WR Nate Burleson had a few more solid returns. Rookie P Ryan Plackemeier finished with a plus-40 net average. Plackemeier pinned the Broncos inside their three twice.

COACHING: C -- The conservative offensive plan paid off in the end, but barely. And the case could surely be made that Mike Holmgren should have played the game more aggressively throughout. Seattle simply thought the Broncos would not score many points with Jay Cutler at quarterback. Holmgren admitted Monday that he should have taken more shots downfield. "I probably didn't call enough throws down the field," Holmgren said. "Then we had a couple things going and Matt (Hasselbeck) had to get out of it because of protection things and he had to change the plays. That's just unlucky. Because of the defenses they are in at the particular time. Our guys did a nice job in pass protection, so I should have gone down the field more. But I did have respect for who they have on defense. I didn't think they were going to score too much on us. I didn't want to do anything to get careless or wild to wreck that."


PASSING OFFENSE: B -- QB Matt Leinart was very efficient, partly because he had more time than usual to throw. The receivers didn't post big numbers, and Anquan Boldin dropped two passes.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- The Cardinals had their best day of the year, gaining 137 yards. They were able to control the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter, with Edgerrin James rushing 11 times for 49 yards.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Cardinals had three interceptions, but they also had a hard time controlling Torry Holt, who had 115 yards.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Rams were productive with Steven Jackson, but they fell behind and couldn't stay with the run.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- J.J. Arrington has had nice returns in two consecutive games, and P Scott Player had his best game of the year. The kickoff coverage team was average.

COACHING: A -- It was the best offensive game plan coordinator Mike Kruczek has come up with. He gave the Rams a variety of looks and took advantage of the mismatches up front.

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