NFC West Report Cards - 10/24/06

After seven NFL weeks have elapsed in the 2006 season, certain things become clear. Seattle's grades don't reflect their status as defending NFC Champs, but neither has their season. The Rams and 49ers look to reasons for optimism…and after their loss to the Raiders, Denny Green's Cardinals shoot for a Bluto Blutarsky-esque 0.0 GPA.



The Seahawks' passing game was already starting to sputter before QB Matt Hasselbeck left the game with a knee injury. Hasselbeck had five consecutive incompletions before taking the hit that could sideline him for a month. The pass protection was spotty as the Vikings collected four sacks. Hasselbeck made a beautiful audible to connect with WR Darrell Jackson for an
early 72-yard touchdown, but otherwise there wasn't much action from the Seattle passing game.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Seattle has struggled to run the ball from its base offense this season and that was the case again Sunday. RB Maurice Morris had few running lanes and didn't always make the most of those that were there. Desperate to make something happen after falling behind in the second half, Seattle lost three yards on a fourth-and-1 running play. That pretty much summed up the effort on the ground. LG Chris Spencer continued to struggle.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- The Seahawks suffered from costly lapses in the secondary as Minnesota took advantage of undisciplined safety play. SS Michael Boulware was out of position for a 40-yard TD pass. FS Ken Hamlin inexplicably left the tight end uncovered in the end zone, allowing the Vikings to beat Seattle with a 15-yard halfback pass. Those plays were inexcusable given how limited the Vikings' passing game has been this season.

Seattle's run defense was actually pretty good except for one fateful play that served as a knockout blow. The Seahawks had several players out of position and nobody stepped up to make a play when Vikings RB Chester Taylor broke free for a 95-yard touchdown run. This was the longest running play in the Vikings' history and it single-handedly left Taylor with an impressive stat line. The play was strange because the Seahawks seemed to have Taylor bottled up near the line of scrimmage. But nobody finished hard enough to even get a hand on Taylor.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- Seattle allowed 49-yard kickoff return and a 40-yard punt return against the Vikings. K Josh Brown had another strong game and P Ryan Plackemeier dropped a 58-yard punt at the 5, but otherwise this was another sub-standard effort on special teams.

Holmgren's play call on fourth-and-1 left him open to second-guessing. RB Maurice Morris lost three yards on the play, a toss to the left that had no chance. Holmgren blamed poor blocking, but with fleet QB Seneca Wallace on the field, there were other options.



Quarterback Matt Leinart wasn't sharp, completing just 13 of 32 passes and he was under pressure all day. He was sacked three times and had two interceptions.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- Another inept performance. Edgerrin James had just 34 yards on 13 carries. In the past two weeks, he's carried 49 times for 79 yards.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- The Raiders don't pass very well, but Andrew Walter had 263 yards against the Cardinals. Bertrand Berry did have two sacks, however.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The Raiders were productive, gaining 137 yards on 37 carries, despite having LaMont Jordan out with a back injury..

The Cardinals gave up another long punt return and kicker Neil Rackers missed another field goal. The return teams are not producing.

COACHING: F -- This team was flat. It was hard to tell what the offensive game plan was, because things were so disjointed. The defense couldn't stop the Raiders on third-and-long in the first half.



After a sluggish start, the passing game has clicked. QB Marc Bulger is third in the league with a 99.8 passer rating and has thrown just one interception in 208 attempts. WR Torry Holt is ninth in the league with 37 receptions and fourth among receivers with 526 yards. In the latter category, the three receivers ahead of him have all played one more game. Bulger has managed games well, and limited mistakes. The one area coach Scott Linehan would like to improve in time is getting the ball to the tight end. Rams tight ends Joe Klopfenstein and Aaron Walker have combined for just eight receptions.

RB Steven Jackson has averaged 22 carries a game and has at least 20 in every game, as the team's philosophy has stuck with the run in many situations. However, while Jackson is sixth in the league with 521 yards, he has averaged just 3.9 yards per attempt.

Generally, the pass defense has been solid, thanks mostly to eight interceptions in the first six games. Rams opponents have averaged 218 passing yards per game, and opposing quarterbacks have completed 58.9 percent of their passes. The pass rush has been only adequate as the team seeks to develop a pass-rushing threat in addition to DE Leonard Little. Little has five of the team's 13 sacks.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- Some of the same problems from recent seasons have surfaced, even though the run defense isn't as bad as it was. Opponents are averaging 121.3 yards per game and 4.5 an attempt, thanks to an inordinate number of big plays.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus -- Shaun McDonald is better as a punt returner than he's been, but the kickoff returning remains mediocre. Coverage has been better, despite a poor game against Detroit. Punter Matt Turk has settled that spot with a 42.5-yard average and 38.3 net. PK Jeff Wilkins is second in the league with 65 points and has made 18 of his 21 field-goal attempts.

COACHING: B-plus -- New coach Scott Linehan has established his personality and philosophy, and the result has been fewer turnovers on offense, and a defense that has been good at taking the ball away. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has a unit that has forced 16 turnovers and coupled with only five takeaways, the Rams lead the NFL with a plus-11 turnover ratio. Now, we'll see if those numbers hold up during a four-game stretch that includes road games at San Diego, Seattle and Carolina.



QB Alex Smith has shown remarkable improvement from his rookie season, when people around the 49ers began to wonder if he would ever become a competent NFL quarterback. In his second season, Smith is competent, having benefited from the presence of offensive coordinator Norv Turner and an improved supporting cast. Smith has thrown eight touchdowns and four interceptions after throwing 11 picks with just one TD last season. WR Antonio Bryant has given Smith a downfield target, while Arnaz Battle has remained healthy as the No. 2 wideout.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The 49ers have gotten good production from running back Frank Gore, who has rushed for 520 yards in six games. But his four fumbles have been disconcerting. The 49ers like the job FB Moran Norris has done as the lead blocker. Rookie Michael Robinson is averaging just 2.7 yards on 24 carries as the backup.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- Things could not be much worse for the pass defense. The pass rush has been inconsistent, and the coverage has left a lot to be desired. The 49ers have failed on 51.2 percent of their third downs, and opposing quarterbacks have torched them for a 98.9 passer rating. The team's only four interceptions came courtesy of the Raiders in a 34-20 victory.

The run defense has generally not been a problem, but the 49ers have still surrendered 4.3 yards a carry and nine rushing touchdowns in six games. Also, the 49ers have given up a few first downs on third-and-short situations.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Joe Nedney has missed four field-goal attempts after missing two kicks all of last season. Andy Lee is averaging 43.0 yards a punt, with a net average of 35.6. KR Maurice Hicks is averaging 25.2 yards, but has also lost a fumble. Manny Lawson blocked a punt against the Raiders that helped contribute to one of the team's two victories. The 49ers have committed seven penalties on special teams.

COACHING: B -- Turner has done wonders for an offense that ranked last in the NFL last season. His scheme and play-calling have been pretty solid through the first six games of the season. Defensively, little has gone right. The 49ers racked up 12 sacks in the first three games but have just one sack for no yards in the past three games. Defensive coordinator Billy Davis has come under some heat in certain circles, but head coach Mike Nolan is hands-on and takes a lot of responsibility for the defense.

OVERVIEW: C -- Not much was expected out of the 49ers this season, so they are right on pace for, perhaps, a five- or six-victory season. The offense is improved from a year ago, but the defense is lagging behind. The team needs to concentrate on improving the offense next offseason, and then it might be capable of competing on a weekly basis. Top Stories