Friday, August 06, 2010

Wild, Wild West

First off, someone asked me in the comments section why I hate the Panthers. So for those not in the know, this is why; because last season they seemed unconsciously determined to ruin my picks every week. Sometimes you just pick a team and it doesn't pan out the way you thought. I can live with that. But every damn week the Panthers did everything in their power to prove me wrong. When I said they'd run it a lot and win, they threw the ball a lot and unsurprisingly Delhomme would get picked apart (literally). Then next week I'd finally succumb to the fact that the Panthers were trying to be a past first team and would predict a loss for them; only for them to come out with a heavy dose of Williams and Stewart to pound their way to victory on the ground. So of course next week or the week after I'd presume they'd seen the light and call on a Panthers victory behind their awesome duo..... only for them to put the game back in Delhommes hands for another week of picks ending in defeat. Pretty much every week, without fail, the Panthers would do the opposite of what I thought they would, like they were playing some sadistic mind trick on me making me believe that their sole intention for the season was to piss me off. And every week it worked. I hate the Panthers. A$$holes. Now on to the NFC West: Arizona Cardinals With Kurt Warner gone, Matt Leinart will be getting all the first team reps in camp this year. And boy will he need them! From what we've seen of Leinart so far in his career there is little to suggest that he will have anything more than an average year. Much depends on Coach Whisenhunt (I've now learned to spell his name properly) and his two leading running backs, Chris 'Beanie' Wells and Tim Hightower. Whisenhunt seems to have been itching to switch to a more "Steeler" type of football for a while now and this year he gets his shot. Leinart needs help and help is at hand. Wells played soundly last year and Hightower has previously shown flashes of potential, so this year it's time for a breakout from the Cardinals backfield duo. Expect the Cardinals to spend plenty of time in camp working the run, especially in red zone situations. Guard Alan Faneca, a former Steeler and Jet, will help greatly in this regard. Larry Fitzgerald might have to take a back seat until Leinart can be brought up to speed, but TE Ben Patrick should expect to see more of the ball in the coming year. Defensively the Card's added NT Dan Williams in the draft, supplementing an already formidable line. The addition of LB Joey Porter will help their pass rush, but it remains to be seen how this LB unit will cope without Karlos Dansby, Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry (who retired without me realising. Sneaky). Second round draft pick Daryl Washington may have to step in from day one, which is a big ask. On the back end, Antrel Rolle is out and off to New York (Giants), to be replaced by Kerry Rhodes, traded in from the other team in New York (Jets). Not sure how much sense this makes outside of money, but at least they managed to keep Adrian Wilson. Ultimately the Cardinals look in rocky shape. Their defense has been a highlight in recent years until it fell apart against Green Bay in the playoffs. I just get this odd feeling that against the run the Cardinals are about to become the 2010 version of the 2009 Bucs', which in the NFC West this year is just about the worst thing that could happen. A heavy dose of rushing work on both sides of the ball during camp will do the Cardinals the world of good. St. Louis Rams The Rams are rapidly running out of excuses to be as bad as they are. They have top five draft picks coming out of all orifices at the moment. Yet technically speaking, they are still in a rebuilding stage, what could be argued as the longest and most expensive rebuilding stage in the history of the NFL. So what have the Rams got to work on in camp? Bradford learning a pro offense. Trying to find a TE of use among an unspectacular crop. Hoping that Roger Saffold works out as well as expected. Hoping that Chris Longs' production continues to rise. Hoping that Oshimogho Atogwe lives up to the value of his new contract. Hoping that James Laurinaitis stays healthy for the whole season. Honestly, it's a mess in St. Louis. The more you think about it, the more depressing it becomes. They still have a top RB in Steven Jackson to help ease the pressure off Bradford. But where else are they going to make an impact? Is James Hall, now 33, going to suddenly produce a 10 sack season opposite Long? Who in that secondary is going to start jumping short routes and taking them back to house? Steve Spagnuolo has his work cut out for sure. The Rams are easily the worst team in the league. It's a merciful fact that they played Detroit last season, otherwise they'd have finished 0-16. The focus for camp has to be on just getting something going offensively. Anything. Steven Jackson and Donnie Avery are going to have to have great camps, because the Rams are relying on them (again) to carry the load. Seattle Seahawks At first everything seemed to be going well for Pete Carroll. Hailed for his record and accomplishments at USC, Carroll helped engineer what many believed to be an excellent draft and some good trades. Then the whole Reggie Bush thing flared up. Then LenDale White was released. And now it turns out that QB Charlie Whitehurst, for whom the Seahawks swapped second round picks and gave up a third round pick next year to the Chargers, is struggling to push J.P. Losman for his job, let alone Matt Hasselbeck. The engine is still running smoothly but the wheels are starting to come off the bandwagon and it's only August 6th. Offensively, the Seahawks are about as ready as they have been since they last went to the Super Bowl. Their receiving corps is in good nick, and rookie Golden Tate adds to that depth (I'm still a little worried though by his outright collapse under pressure during the combine receiving drills). At RB the Seahawks are more than well covered and it's likely that someone in that group will want out by the start of the season. Russell Okung is my favourite of the 2010 tackles in the draft (Bulaga of Green Bay is second), so the Seahawks should get some solid protection this year, especially when Chester Pitts hits the field to strengthen the line. Defensively it's all to play for. Aaron Curry and Lofa Tatupu make a great combo among the Linebackers, but they need some more help from their D-line. DE Lawrence Jackson and DT Brandon Mebane need to have a great camp and come out the other side ready to lead the Seahawks onwards and upwards. On the back end, first round pick Earl Thomas was touted by many as the top safety in the draft (I prefer Eric Berry). They also picked up Kam Chancellor in the fifth round, who I think has a good future ahead, though probably not this year. But someone has to step up and take control. The Seahawks were tied 7th with the Dolphins for giving up the most points and were third for yards conceded against the pass. The main focus then of their training camp should naturally be defending the pass. CB Marcus Trufant needs to live up to his billing as a franchise player and fellow corner Josh Wilson needs to aspire to match that level. It's likely that Lawyer Milloy and Jordan Babineaux will start at safety so Earl Thomas will have to work hard to break in. Much rests as usual though on Matt Hasselbeck. If the QB can rediscover his form of old, then the Seahawks have a shot at the NFC West title. If he doesn't make the grade, it's going to be another long year in Seattle. San Francisco 49ers At the end of last year, all was well in San Francisco. Defensively the team actually tied for third most sacks. But you can't help but look at the 49ers D and still think that something is amiss. Maybe it's the wrangling over Aubrayo Franklins contract. In a 3-4 scheme that Nose Tackle is a lynch pin position, so an unhappy Aubrayo is a problem. Elsewhere, the secondary has to lift it's game a little. Rookie Taylor Mays adds some punch, but you still get the feeling that the '9ers secondary is a little light in the tackling department, something Mike Singletary is unlikely to allow to continue. At Linebacker there is a three way battle to be had between Parys Haralson, Ahmad Brooks and Manny Lawson. My money is on Brooks and Lawson at this stage, but neither can let their foot off the gas. It's a nice problem to have I guess, providing the reps don't get too diluted. Offensively, all eyes are on Alex Smith. Can he finally payback that first round selection. As well as having Michael Crabtree for the whole year, he'll also have Ted Ginn .Jr providing some needed speed down the field. Josh Morgan has to stop "progressing well" and start actually producing for a change. In the running game, Glen Coffee has a fight on his hands with new draftee Anthony Dixon to back up Gore. Frank meanwhile will be licking his lips at the first round selections of Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati. Head Coach Mike Singletary wants to run the ball more and now there are no excuses. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye has to start calling Gores number more this season. As mentioned Wednesday, I think Brit Miller is headed for a good season at FB. The key is bringing these pieces together in camp. We already know how deadly the combination of Smith to Vernon Davis can be, but now the 49ers need to focus on protection and run blocking. If the O-line can keep Smith upright and open some holes in the oppositions D, then the 49ers have a great shout at the NFC West title. Given their past history, it's a big 'if'. ---- Well, NFC West done and dusted. Tomorrow we begin the round trip again in the North, this time looking at the AFC. Saturday and Sunday will be absorbed by the opening to the pre season; the Hall of Fame game between the Bengals and the Cowboys. Have a great day everyone.

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