Friday, July 27, 2007

NFL SWOT Analysis: NFC West

By: Armin Mohajeri

Starting today, I will do a SWOT analysis on each team (by division). I will also take a look at who may be passing and/or receiving the torch on each team, one of the camp battles and a rookie contributor. Check back every two to three days as I will cover all eight divisions in the NFL.

Arizona Cardinals

Leinart (Photo courtesy of

Strengths: Look for the Cards to rely on the passing game again. Upgrades in the offensive line should keep Leinart off his back. Opposing defenses will have their hands full with Fitz and Quan, leaving Bryant Johnson with plenty of opportunities matched up against a nickel back or a safety. If Okaefor and Berry can adjust to stand-up rushing positions off the edge, this could be one of the top LB corps in the league.

Weaknesses: The Cards have a lack of safety-valve receivers. When opposing defenses blitz Leinart, his ability to target his tight ends and backfield receivers will determine how effective the offense can be, especially on 3rd and short. Edgerrin James and Leanard Pope hold keys to Leinart's success.

Opportunities: Antrell Rolle has an opportunity to show that he's one of the better CBs in the league. At 340 pounds, Gabe Watson could prove to be the immovable object that spearheads a 3-4 defense and frees up athletic ILBs, Dansby and Hayes, to attack the line or give them enough time to read and react.

Threats: We've seen it so many times. A re-vamped offensive line that looks so good on paper, yet can't get it together on the field. The right side, combined, has one year of NFL experience and the center and left tackle are new faces. While the individuals are decent, the lack of chemistry poses the threat.

Passing/Receiving The Torch: Although he essentially took the reigns last season, Leinart needs to become the leader of the offense this season. Nobody gives up the reigns, as they really didn't have a clear cut leader on offense last season.

Camp Battle: Roderick Hood & Eric Green, Cornerback. Give Hood the leg up for now, as he has the bigger contract.

Rookie Contributor: Levi Jones, Right Tackle. Jones steps in as the starter, protecting Leinart's blind side. Also keep an eye on defensive lineman Alan Branch. Concerns over leg injuries dropped his stock in the draft. The Cards stole him.

St. Louis Rams

Jackson (Photo courtesy of

Strength: Feeding off a complimentary relationship with the passing game, the Rams running game has potential to be dominant. Look for another set of big numbers out of Jackson as he follows the underrated Hedgecock through the holes. Bulger should reap benefits from having Randy McMichael around as he should fulfill the unrealized promise the team expected out of their young TEs last year.

Weaknesses: As if their DBs weren't weak enough, Fakhir Brown starts the year off on the suspended list. Ronald Bartell (who the team was ready to move to safety) will now start alongside Tye Hill. As a rookie, Hill was semi-solid last year, but is still challenged as the #1 corner. Jonathan Wade and Lenny Walls will fill in at the nickel. Though Wade athletically gifted, he probably shouldn't be thrown to the wolves this early. Walls looks good on paper, but has never been able to put it all together.

Opportunities: Alex Barron has a chance to prove that he can succeed Pace at left tackle in a year or two. Victor Adeyanju will most likely come in for James Hall on passing downs and rush from a down position off the edge. Don't be surprised if he finishes the season with 8-10 sacks. Wide receiver, Drew Bennett, steps into an offense where Kevin Curtis did well as the #3 last year, landing him a big contract with the Eagles.

Threats: Leonard Little anchors a defensive line with question marks. James Hall is coming off a season ending injury, La'Roi Glover was ineffective last season and Adam Carriker is not NFL tested. Beyond Adeyanju, the depth looks weak. Let's not forget that Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce are getting up there in years (31 and 34, respectively). Will Father Time have an effect on these two staples of the Rams offense?

Passing/Receiving The Torch: Defensive tackle Adam Carriker takes over the one-gap for the departed Jimmy Kennedy. While the under-achieving Kennedy won't be too hard to replace, Carriker has a lot to prove.

Camp Battle: Jonathan Wade & Lenny Walls, Nickel Back. Though this will only last four games, until Fakhir Brown returns, this could be the opportunity for the Rams to get Wade some experience.

Rookie Contributor: Brian Leonard, Running Back. He could become a weapon in this offense, playing multiple positions. He can give Jackson a break, or he can step in for Hedgecock and work as a blocker or H-Back. He can also step in at TE. Look for him to be in motion whenever he's on the field.

San Francisco 49ers

Davis (Photo courtesy of

Strengths: Amazing how some good drafting and player management can do for a team. Frank Gore's breakout season looks on track for a repeat. Gore is running behind one of the top offensive lines in the league. Not only the starting five, but in depth as well. Alex Smith can throw to Darrell Jackson, Arnaz Battles, Ashley Lelie and Vernon Davis while banking on the protection of that offensive line. The linebacking corps are built on speed, especially once Patrick Willis claims a starting spot. On paper, this team looks on the verge of being something special

Weaknesses: A lot of new faces starting on defense. Ronald Fields will anchor a line that needs him and a couple others to step up to rotate with the aging DEs. Look for some growing pains with some of the new faces in the secondary. Michael Lewis is coming off his worst season (yet landed a huge contract). Can the physical Clements and Harris keep up with the fleet-footed receivers of the league?

Opportunities: Alex Smith has all the tools in place to move into the upper echelon of QBs in the league. Can the former #1 pick rise to the occasion? Vernon Davis looked impressive in mini-camps. Will he make his move to be one of the top 2 or 3 tight ends in the league?

Threats: The defense should be dominant in a year or two. However, if the unit doesn't mesh from the start, it could be a long year. Speedy linebackers can cause turnovers, however they can be dominated against a power-running team.

Passing/Receiving The Torch: Inside Linebacker Derek Smith, to Patrick Willis. This passing of the torch is twofold. Not only will Willis take over inside at some point, he will eventually develop into the leader of this defense. They could also spend some time side-by-side, as San Fran will run a 3-4.

Camp Battle: Darrell Jackson, Arnaz Battle & Ashley Lelie, Starting Wide Receivers. Lelie is currently penciled in at #3, but there are whispers that he could move into a starting spot because of his deep speed, something Jackson and Battle lack.

Rookie Contributor: Patrick Willis, Inside Linebacker. However, keep an eye on Joe Staley, who's athleticism on the offensive line could be valued

Seattle Seahawks

Alexander (Photo courtesy of MSNBC)

Strengths: Seattle returns their entire offensive line. When you have an offensive line that is comfortable with their counterparts, and know that they have their calls on the line synchronized is enough to make Mark Rypien a Super Bowl MVP. Matt Hasselbach and Shaun Alexander could reap major benefits from this continuity. A solid offensive line can mask many inefficiencies on offense. On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks boast one of the elite LB corps in the NFL. Tatupu is the enforcer who teams with Leroy Hill to patrol the opposing offense, leaving Julian Peterson to do what he's built to do -- get after the QB.

Weaknesses: The front seven must bring pressure, as Seattle's corners leave something to be desired. Marcus Trufant can be frustrating with his up and down play (more up than down). Jordan Babineaux mans the other corner. While he has starting experience (12 starts in last two years), he doesn't strike fear in the hearts of opposing offenses. Last year's first rounder, Kelly Jennings, could step up and upgrade the status of the unit. The wide receivers are in a strange place. Deion Branch did OK last season. Other than two big games, he averaged about 3 catches for about 55 yards per game. Hackett did about the same. Burleson and Engram were almost non-existent.

Opportunities: Marcus Pollard holds the key to Hasselbach's consistency as WR corps work to become a bigger part of the offense. Inconsistency from the previous tandem of Jerramy Stevens and Itula Mili didn't give Hasselbach solid options as safety-valve receivers. Shaun Alexander has a solid offensive line and has the door wide open to reclaim his rushing title.

Threats: Seattle's undersized defensive line could succumb to power running teams. Three members of the starting four are 270 lbs or less, with Rocky Bernard tipping the scales at 290, as the biggest. Marcus Tubbs must step up and get playing time as a run stuffing DT who goes ~325. Someone has to tie the blockers up for Tatupu and Peterson to be effective in their roles.

Passing/Receiving The Torch: Wide Receiver Deion Branch, from former Seahawk Darrell Jackson. Branch takes over as the #1 option in the passing game. While he wasn't very productive last season, he should fulfill expectations after having a year in this offense under his belt.

Camp Battle: Nate Burleson & DJ Hackett, Wide Receiver. Hackett is penciled in as the starter, however Burleson may get the push from the front office due to his contract. One or both need to step up to make this offense click, stretching the field for Shaun Alexander to do his damage.

Rookie Contributor: Speedy, yet diminutive cornerback Josh Wilson could see the field if the corners on this team struggle.


Anonymous said...

I love so many things about the Cardinals and the roster moves they've made. But there's one thing. They're the Cardinals and they're owned by the Bidwills.

Another season of disappointment in the desert.

Armin said...

It's a great point. No matter what happens (new faces, new coaches, new stadium, hosting a Super Bowl), the history of this team under the Bidwells hasn't produced as much as it promises on paper. While I'm not harboring huge expectations for this team, as a one time Arizonan (attending University of Arizona), it would be nice to see the Cardiac Cards back in action. Hopefully this team can make things exciting.