Arizona – Head coach Dennis Green has this team playing hard and they are starting to believe they have a shot to win every week. That attitude had been sorely lacking since the team headed west from St. Louis in 1988.
After a tough first three games, QB Josh McCown has rebounded to have a very solid first half of the season. In his third season and his first as the starter, McCown has passed for 1,402 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. His 57.7% completion percentage also speaks to his decision-making and that he is learning the offense more and more. Without starting WR Anquan Boldin his targets have been limited but rookie WR Larry Fitzgerald has started to come on as the playmaker the team hoped he would be when they took him with the 3rd overall selection in this year's draft.
Fitzgeralds 31 receptions, 463 yards and three touchdowns lead the Cardinals and with Boldin getting closer and closer to playing shape you can expect Green to open up the playbook even more.
RB Emmitt Smith has seen a resurgence this season. Smith is on pace to gain over 1,100 yards and score 12 touchdowns by the end of the season but even more important are his leadership skills. Players look up to Smith and his presence in the locker room cannot be overlooked.
Defensively, SS Adrian Wilson is making a statement that he belongs in Hawaii the second week of February. He leads the team with 49 tackles, four tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one interception. Even more important is his knowledge of defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's system. He is like a coach on the field making sure every player gets in the right position and his abilities to make plays all over the field has allowed Pendergast to gamble more.
Another player to keep an eye on during the second half of the season is DE Bertrand Berry. Berry may be the most underrated free agent signing from last season. He has five sacks and three forced fumbles. His presence on the field makes offenses gameplan to negate his effectiveness…it hasn't worked.
K Neil Rackers continues to be solid and dependable. He has hit all 16 of his extra points and 10 of 12 field goal attempts including 5 of 7 from outside 50 yards.
Midseason MVP: SS Adrian Wilson
Midseason Grades: Offense (C+); Defense (B); Special Teams (B+)
Next Game: vs. New York Giants, November 14th
San Francisco – Most pundits did not expect the 49ers to be challengers in the NFC West this season. The attrition from Free Agency and injury has absolutely decimated this team, but even in this storied franchise's darkest days there are some glimmers of hope.
QB Tim Rattay is limited physically but what he lacks in athletic ability he makes up for with quick decisions, toughness and his knowledge of the offensive system. Even though he has missed three full games, he has still managed to complete 64.6% of his passes for 1,436 yards, nine touchdowns and only four interceptions. He still needs to work on his ability to read defenses but with more experience he should be an above average signal caller.
RB Kevan Barlow has been a disappointment so far this season running for only 484 yards on 135 carries and four touchdowns. He hasn't run with the determination coaches expected him to and he has been frustrated by the lack of blocking that has been a problem all season.
One of the biggest surprises has been TE Eric Johnson's ability to find seams and to get open on a regular basis. Johnson leads the 49ers with 51 receptions for 547 yards and two touchdowns. He is an adequate blocker when called upon but his forte is finding soft spots in zone defenses and then running after the catch.
The defense has resembled a M*A*S*H unit more than an NFL stop unit and they continue to plug players in to help make plays. With their best defensive player (Julian Peterson) out for the year with a torn Achilles tendon Derrick Smith has really stepped up to make plays around the line of scrimmage. Smith leads the team with 52 tackles and four tackles for loss. He is a sure tackler who sniffs out plays well.
K Todd Peterson has been steady and solid hitting 11 of 13 field goals, but his lack of range makes it tougher to go for long field goals. P Andy Lee has had an inconsistent rookie season. Lee has a 41.0 yard average per punt but his hang time has been lacking and he continues to shank too many "pressure" punts.
Midseason MVP: QB Tim Rattay
Midseason Grades: Offense (C); Defense (D); Special Teams (D)
Next Game: vs. Carolina, November 14th
St. Louis – In his first full season of taking all the snaps, QB Marc Bulger has been up and down. His abilities were on full display when he brought the Rams back from a 17-point deficit to win a game in Seattle, but his inability to make plays has reared its head in losses to Atlanta, New Orleans and Miami.
Bulger leads the NFC and ranks second in the NFL in passing yards with 2,270 but his eight interceptions rank him 24th in the league.
Luckily for Bulger he still has the deepest wideout corps in the NFL. WRs Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Kevin Curtis, Shaun McDonald and Dane Looker all run crisp routes and they all have good hands.
With teams rolling coverages to Holt's side, Bruce is on pace to have one of his best seasons ever. He has 48 catches for 694 yards and two touchdowns. He is still deadly on the deep square-in route and his abilities in the open field are still some of the best in the league.
One very nice surprise has been the play of Marshall Faulk out of the backfield. Faulk has stayed healthy and continues to run hard, even though he isn't the homerun threat he used to be. Faulk has run for 534 yards and three touchdowns but his longest run is only 18 yards. Rookie Steven Jackson has been a nice change of pace to Faulk's slashing style, running for a robust 5.7 yard average on 60 attempts. He is a bruiser who will continue to see more time as he learns the offense and the protection packages.
The defense has been mediocre to bad so far this season. OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa leads the team with 47 tackles and SS Adam Archuleta is second with 42, but the front seven has been gashed by teams in the running game. The Rams rank 28th in the league, surrendering 131.9 yards per game on the ground and it doesn't seem as if it will get any better.
DE Leonard Little has come on lately getting better pressure from the outside but his four sacks are less than what was expected out of the Pro Bowler.
K Jeff Wilkins and P Sean Landeta continue to make the special teams special. Landeta's 43.5 yard average has helped to pin teams deep in their own end and Wilkins, while not as automatic as 2003, has been solid as well.
Midseason MVP: WR Isaac Bruce
Midseason Grades: Offense (B+); Defense (D+); Special Teams (B)
Next Game: vs. Seattle, November 14th
.NET Reporter Scott
Eklund writes for Seahawks.NET every week. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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