The St. Louis Rams just couldn’t make the big play when they needed one to stop Aaron Rodgers, who over the last couple of games is playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL. The Rams missed out on an opportunity to climb back over .500 and take over 2nd place in the NFC West as the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks both lost in week 7. Combine that with the difficulty of the upcoming schedule and the loss to the Dolphins in week 6 becomes that more painful for Rams fans. There were some positives for the Rams against the Packers on Sunday but there were also plenty of mistakes and missed opportunities. Let’s take a spin around the NFC West and each teams week 7 performance.
Arizona Cardinals. I was skeptical of the 4-0 Cardinals before the Rams thumped them on Thursday Night Football a few weeks ago. They had been winning in, what seemed to be, unsustainable fashion through the first four weeks of the season. In week 7 the Cardinals traveled to Minnesota where they lost 21-14, and once again the inability to protect the quarterback was a huge issue as the Cardinals allowed 7 sacks of John Skelton. The Cardinals outperformed the Vikings in most statistical categories, but the pick 6 that Skelton threw was just too much for them to overcome on the road. The Cardinals defense was excellent yet again holding the Vikings to 1-10 on third down and 209 total yards of offense. Life doesn’t get much easier for the Cardinals in week 8 as they will host the 49ers on Monday Night Football.
San Fransisco 49ers. The Thursday Night matchup between the 49ers and the Seahawks was physical and emotional just as most people predicted. The 49ers prevailed 13-6 in a defensive struggle featuring two of the NFL’s elite defenses. San Fransisco rode their workhorse back Frank Gore to the victory as he had 182 yards of offense (131 yards rushing and 51 receiving), and as a team the 49ers averaged 5.5 yards per carry as the running backs gashed the Seahawks defense in the second half. The 49ers also benefited a little bit from missed opportunities in the first half by the Seahawks that allowed them to stay commited to their running game. The 49ers take over sole possession of the division lead heading into another division showdown on primetime television against the struggling Cardinals. The 49ers are in the middle of a very important stretch of their schedule as they will face all 3 division opponents from week 7 to week 10 (bye in week 9) and have an opportunity to distance themselves from the rest of the West.
Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks let one slip through their fingers on Thursday Night football, literally. They dropped 4 passes, two of which had a legitimate shot at being touchdowns. With their loss to the 49ers they fall to 0-3 in the division and have put themselves on the outside looking in as we look forward towards the playoff race. Seattle’s defense has kept them in every game this season but hasn’t been good enough to get any wins within the division, which is a primary tiebreaker used for playoff seeding. Jim Harbaugh has complained about the Seahawks cornerbacks since the Thurday Night game and, while I don’t necessarily agree with how the rules favor the offensive player, he is absolutely right as the Seahawks DB’s could be called for illegal contact on almost every play. It will be interesting to see if the officials pay more attention to that in the future as Seattle’s DB’s rely very heavily on their size and physicality in coverage. Seattle will now have an opportunity to collect a few wins against non division opponents before finishing with 3 of their final 4 games at home against the NFC West. If Seattle wants the final division games of the season to matter they need to position themselves for it over the next few weeks.
St. Louis Rams. The Rams made several mistakes that swung this game in favor of the Packers. The offsides penalties against the defense that allowed Rodgers to attack with a “free play” come to mind, but getting caught off guard on the onsides kick was also a huge moment in this game. With the way the rulebook is written to favor the offense it is nearly impossible to slow down a quarterback who is playing as well as Aaron Rodgers is playing. The Rams defense is very good, and played fairly well against the Packers, but their inability to generate turnovers in recent games has really cost them. If the Rams want to be in the playoff race at the end of the season the defense needs to get back to forcing turnovers and providing opportunities for the offense. Looking ahead to this weeks matchup against the Patriots, Chris Givens and Sam Bradford have to be licking their chops. The Patriots have the worst defense against the deep pass that I have ever seen, and it has been readily on display over the past two weeks against the Seahawks and the Jets. If the Rams are going to get back to .500 they will need to run the ball effectively and then hit the big play downfield when the Patriots load up the box. If the Rams could get back to .500 before their bye week they would have to feel pretty good about their chances of making a push for the playoffs.