A quarter-way into the NFL season, it’s time for some recollection in an attempt to understand the ever-changing NFL landscape. More specifically, the NFC West requires reflection after a pandemonium-laden four weeks.
Coming into the 2019 season, the Super Bowl runner up Los Angeles Rams were the perceived favorites to win the division again. So far, it has been an uneven campaign for the Rams, which has led to some skepticism as to how the division will shape up.
On top of the surprise team performances, as always, some players are off to some intriguing beginnings to the season. So this point in time will serve to develop an understanding of the divisional landscape.
The San Francisco 49ers have the top defense in the NFC West
Aside from starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo coming back to full health, the biggest storyline in San Francisco so far this season has to be the emergence of what appears to be the next great defense.
Having already possessed one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen in fourth-year pro DeForest Buckner, general manager John Lynch went to work this past offense to continue to bolster his defensive front.
The main focus was to improve the edge position specifically. Their first move was acquiring Pro Bowl pass rusher Dee Ford from the Kansas City Chiefs back in March, in exchange for a 2020 NFL Draft pick. The 49ers subsequently signed Ford to a five-year deal, keeping him in San Francisco to the tune of 85.5 million dollars.
A lot was expected of Ford, and so far he has not disappointed. He has had two sacks in the first three games, and he has been a consistent threat off of the edge.
The 49ers edge makeover did not stop there. With the second overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, the team chose to select defensive end Nick Bosa out of Ohio State. Tabbed as a can’t miss prospect coming out of Ohio State, Bosa has become precisely what he was billed to be while in college. He presents a challenge to opposing offensive lineman both in the run and pass game with his ability to consistently convert speed to power, and reestablish the line of scrimmage in the defense’s favor.
To complete this overhaul of the front seven, the 49ers also dug into the bank to grab former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander to a four year, 54 million dollar contract. Now with Alexander teaming up with second-year pro Fred Warner, they have the makings of one of the best young linebacker duos in the league.
While there are some reserves to just how sustainable the secondary play can be moving forward, the front seven alone asserts itself into the class of the NFC West. Huge buy on this take.
The Los Angeles Rams are in some trouble after a 55-40 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Let’s be as honest as we can be on this one, the recent 55-40 loss for the Los Angeles Rams against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was about as ugly of a showing as you will find throughout the season.
The defense was putrid, giving nearly up nearly 500 yards (464 to be exact) to the Buccaneers on the day. The offensive performance was not to be outdone, proceeding to rush for just 28 yards while turning the ball over four times.
The offensive game plan was not very advantageous to the Rams’ success, choosing to run the ball 11 times as opposed to the 68 pass attempts through the air. For a Rams offense that has made their money off of establishing the run and play-action passes, the game plan seemed flawed from the onset.
While many of the passes were in an effort to come from behind, there was never a massive emphasis at any point at the beginning of the game to establish the run game and maximize the time of possession.
Even more disconcerting is the recent trends of the Rams rushing attack over the beginning stages of the season. Over the first four games, the Rams have decreased in carries and yards in reach game so far. Which begs the question, are the Todd Gurley concerns as warranted as the skeptics believed?
Also, what happened to that pass defense? Over the first three games, the Rams had held their opponents to 216 yards or less in every game, while allowing just one touchdown pass and forcing three interceptions, a far cry to the 376 yards and four touchdowns they allowed to Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers. Still, it is just one game.
Every team is due for a bad loss from time to time. Plus, the Rams have a huge opportunity against the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night to reverse their fortunes. For now, I’m selling this take. We will know more about the makeup of this Rams team after Thursday night.
Clay Matthews is on his way to the Comeback Player of the Year award
Not much press made much of a deal at the time the Los Angeles Rams signed former Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl pass rusher Clay Matthews to a two year, 9.25 million dollar deal. Just how Matthews would fit and to what production level was a question mark from the beginning.
Matthews had been an underwhelming performer for the Packers over the last few years with the team. That production went to an all-time low in 2018, recording just 3.5 sacks and 7 tackles for loss over 16 starts. Needless to say, that leadership was more expected for the Rams team than big-time production.
So far, however, Matthews has been arguably the Rams’ biggest surprise to this point in the season. In four games, Matthews has recorded 5 sacks and 6 tackles for loss. At this pace, Matthews would record a career-high of 20 sacks and 24 tackles for loss on the season. It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect that type of production to continue.
However, the 33-year-old is turning into quite the headline this season. With a couple down years prior, Matthews has to be an early favorite to win the Comeback Player of the Year award. Despite some uneven play from the Rams so far this season, Matthews has gone above and beyond any preseason expectations.
The Seattle Seahawks are the new favorite in the NFC West
Welcome to one of the significant knee jerk reactions so far this season. With the Los Angeles Rams being upset at home by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, pandemonium is ready to ensue.
So let the over exaggerations begin.
The Rams stink. Jared Goff is awful. Sean McVay is overrated.
So clearly by default, the 3-1 Seattle Seahawks have to be the new front runner to win the NFC West. The San Francisco 49ers are too much of a wildcard. The Arizona Cardinals are young, and just not very good.
Despite the Rams’ awful loss, the Seahawks have not been an overly impressive team so far. Sure, it is easy to bet on Russell Wilson, but don’t let his presence steer you away from the fact that that roster is littered with holes on both sides of the football.
You are safe to play another day, Rams fans. The team’s day in the sun is far from over.
Larry Fitzgerald’s career is on its last leg
With all of the challenges around the Arizona Cardinals (rookie quarterback, first-year head coach, lack of overall roster talent), there is one constant which much not be overlooked throughout this rebuild.
Now entering his sixteenth season with the Arizona Cardinals, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has already cemented himself as one of the greatest players at his position in NFL history. Fitzgerald has been through the best of times and worst of times with the often struggling franchise. From multiple rebuilds to a Super Bowl berth, and eleven Pro Bowl reflections, Fitzgerald’s longevity, and accomplishments can not fail but to be revered by everyone who saw him play.
He is by every designation, a living legend in the NFC West. Through four games, his level of play has not begun to slow down. Now at age 36, Fitzgerald has already collected 23 receptions for 300 yards and two touchdowns in those four games. For a 16 game season, that would be a pace of 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns on 92 receptions. Those numbers are hardly anything to scoff at from any wide receiver across the NFL landscape.
So, where is this narrative that Fitzgerald is on his way out coming from? Sure he’s in the ladder stages of his career, but I am the last person who is going to bet against Larry Fitzgerald. Just stop with the ignorant takes, take a seat, sit back, and continue to witness greatness at work.