Resurrecting from insignificance
Tough, defensive-minded, hit-you-in-the-face, smash mouth football. Adjectives that have previously eluded depictions of the NFC West.
Arguably the worst NFL division over the last decade, the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams are reversing the old adage of being labeled a pushover division throughout the ranks of the NFL.
Sure, the 2012 season is only two weeks old but the NFC West has sent a clear message to the NFL at the expense of some of the league’s recent powers: expect a fight, week-in and week-out. And you better be ready to play physical football.
After two weeks of play, the NFC West has a combined record of 6-2 which is the best collective record for a division in the NFL.
They’re 5-1 against teams outside of the division with the only loss coming in the Rams’ loss to the Lions, who many expect to be a playoff team, on the road.
Needless to say, these four teams, who have each been made a mockery of over the last decade, have put their best foot forward and dared teams to doubt them.
It seems as though defense is going to be the focal point of each team in the division this season.
Despite the Rams giving up more points than we should expect out of a Jeff Fisher team — which will improve — the division, as a whole, has already established itself as arguably the best defensive division in the NFL.
The NFC West boasts three team defenses among the top-10 in points given up per game after two weeks — San Francisco is 10th (20.5 PPG), Arizona is 5th (17 PPG) and the Seahawks are 3rd (13.5 PPG). St. Louis comes in at 22nd (27.5 PPG).
Creating turnovers has been a vital factor in the success of NFC West defenses so far this season.
The Seahawks and Cardinals have four takeaways, the Rams have three, and the 49ers have two. Each team has a positive takeaway-giveaway ratio which can be attributed to their early success this season.
The NFC West’s prolific defenses were on display once again on Sunday led by, first and foremost, the Seattle Seahawks’ impressive performance against the Dallas Cowboys.
The NFC West has beaten the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, Washington Redskins, and the Dallas Cowboys so far this season.
The 49ers absolutely shut down last seasons’ 3rd and 5th ranked offenses (Packers and Lions) to jump out to a 2-0 start for the second consecutive season.
The Cardinals squeaked passed the Seahawks in week one and then frustrated the New England Patriots (2nd ranked offense in 2011) in Foxborough, holding them to under 300 total yards in their 20-18 win.
The Rams nearly pulled out the upset in Detroit last week before falling 23-27 but bounced back nicely to defeat the Redskins, who dismantled the Saints in New Orleans in week one, 31-28.
And, the Seahawks looked extremely impressive in beating the Cowboys 27-7, one week after Dallas defeated the world champion Giants on the road.
So to say that this division’s hot start is a fluke would be throwing gas on the fire that is the NFC West. The wins don’t lie.
The Seattle Seahawks Blueprint
While watching Sunday’s games — the Seahawks-Cowboys contest, in particular — I mentioned to a buddy that if someone wanted a blueprint on how to dominate all three facets of a football game, I’ll show them the this game tape.
The Seahawks physically wore down a Cowboys team that had 10 days to prepare, rest, and show-up ready to play.
Losing t0 the Cardinals in week one was disappointing given the circumstances during that final drive, but this team didn’t let it affect them and came out against the Cowboys on a mission.
It would have been easy to have a let-down, get walked over by the Cowboys and fall to 0-2 with the Packers coming to town — but they didn’t.
For 60-minutes the Seahawks were the far better team en route to a 27-7 drubbing behind an overwhelming defensive effort, a time-consuming running game and opportunistic special teams play.
Russell Wilson, 15-of-20 for 151-yards and a touchdown, was as efficient as you can ask for and Marshawn Lynch, who had 122-yards on 26 carries and a touchdown, proved to be the iron-horse Seattle payed him to be.
Everything went right, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
The entire defense was flying around the field and the front seven was too much for the Cowboys’ running game, limiting them to just 49-yards rushing.
For the season, the Seahawks’ defense has surrendered just 92 yards on the ground over the first two games.
The Seahawks played the style of football that they signed up for when Pete Carroll came to town. A punishing defense, a powerful running game, and sound special teams.
Sunday was the best collective team effort of the Carroll era and laid the groundwork for the rest of the season but also showed how deep this division is going to be this year.
With two weeks in the books, the 49ers and the Cardinals sit atop with 2-0 records followed by the Rams and Seahawks who enter week three square at 1-1.
It doesn’t get any easier next week as the Seahawks host the Packers on Monday Night Football, the Cardinals will host the 2-0 Philadelphia Eagles, and the Rams travel to Chicago to face the Bears. The 49ers go on the road to face the Vikings in, what should be, a victory.
To say that any of these teams doesn’t have a chance to win in week three would be a mistake. As we’ve already seen in 2012, the NFC West has the defenses to stump any team and the way that they’re playing right now should put the rest of the league on their heels.
The days of being labeled soft and an easy pushover are behind us.
The 49ers emerged on the scene a year earlier than the rest, but the rest of the division is right on their heels.
The Seahawks, Rams, and Cardinals are ready to play with the big boys.
Come December, it’ll be a dogfight in the NFC West.
Let the best team win.