I Woke Up This Morning And Got Myself A Beer..NFC West Preview By Steel Drama
1.) Aroma Coma 49ers
Stout: If you include the playoffs, rookie Aldon Smith received Pro Football Focus’ highest grade of all pass rushers, registering an incredible 17 sacks, 17 quarterback hits, and 43 hurries. Heading into last years’ draft, I posted that Smith reminded me of a more physical version of Jevon Kearse. Ask Big Ben if ‘Ol Drama was right.
On the Hops: Vernon Davis is a player that deserves to at least be in the discussion when talking about the best of the “Hybrid” tight ends after his incredible 292 yards and four touchdown performance in the playoffs. Although Davis struggled to pick up Harbaugh's system early last season, he averaged 107.2 yards with five touchdowns over the 49ers' final five games.
Tap a Keg for the Big Boys: Led by IC favorite Mike Iupati, the 49ers’ were rated the 8th best run blocking offensive line by Pro Football Focus. However, the line was 26th in sacks allowed per pass play last year and the 49ers did little to upgrade it other than draft Joe Looney in the 4th round.
Ice Cold Draft: Having just three plays of 50 yards or more, the 49ers need an explosive playmaker on offense, and I think they’ve drafted one in LaMichael James. Not only is he one of only three players in Pac-12 history to run for 5,000 yards in his career; he produced 257 yards in Jim Harbaugh's last loss at Stanford, a 52-31 defeat, and that included a 76-yard run. This guy fits the Darren Sproles mold. He is small, but he is quick, explosive and productive. With the selection of James, the 49ers are now Saints’ like stocked at the running back position with Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs and Kendall Hunter completing the crowded backfield.
Stale Ale: In assuming a game manager role that would make Trent Dilfer seem like a gunslinger, Alex Smith had a career saving season throwing just five interceptions while posting a 90.7 QB rating. The 49ers attempted the third most run plays in the league last year and threw the second fewest passes. Somewhere Bill Walsh is rolling over in his grave.
Bitter Beer Face: It pains me to admit it, but for the first time in decades there is a team with a linebacking corps that rivals that of my beloved Steelers. It all starts in the middle where Pro Bowl inside linebackers Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman combined for 294 tackles with Bowman breaking out in a big way with 143 tackles, eight pass breakups, two sacks, and three fumble recoveries. Willis missed one tackle per 43.5 attempts, the best ratio of all inside linebackers. In addition to the 14 sacks of the aforementioned Aldon Smith, seven more were added by Ahmad Brooks along with three interceptions. Factor in the best 3-4 defensive end in football, Justin Smith, whose 69 quarterback “disruptions” were more than any interior defensive lineman in the league and you end up with a Super Bowl caliber defense (foreshadowing).
Bartender: Jon Gruden said of the 49ers, “They don’t have any needs. I wish I was coaching this team.” Sorry Jon, Captain Comeback isn’t going anywhere anytime soon after taking a 6-10 team in 2010 to an overtime away from playing in the Super Bowl this past season. He also took a first-round bust in Alex Smith and transformed him into a legitimate starting quarterback. Prior to their 2011 breakthrough, the 49ers had not finished above .500 or made the playoffs since 2002. Love him or hate him (hate), Harbaugh was deserving of Coach of the Year honors.
Drinks are on Drama: A bottle of Napa’s finest to Santa Clara County for their efforts to pull $30 million from the 49ers new stadium funding saying it would rather use that money toward teachers. “What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation.” -Marcus Tullius Cicero
The Hangover: Going 1 for 13 on 3rd downs in the playoff loss to the Giants really exposed their flaws on offense so the 49ers were active in free agency signing Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham, 1st ballot Hall of Famer Randy Moss, and 1st round draft pick AJ Jenkins all the while openly trying to sign Peyton Manning. The 49ers’ defense and special teams caused 38 turnovers tied for most in the league, while their +28 turnover differential led the league. Those stats will be hard to repeat this coming season as the 49ers face the top 5 quarterbacks in passing yards from last year, Brees, Brady, Stafford, Eli, and Rodgers. Still, this 49ers’ team is all business under Jim Harbaugh and will run away and hide in the NFC West.
2.) Johnny Utah Seahawks (Utah! Get me two!)
Stout: Drama Favorite Earl Thomas was Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked safety and was the first Seahawk to make the Pro Bowl since 2008. Aside from Thomas who is just 5’10, Seattle has some big boys in the secondary with Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, and Brandon Browner all 6’3 or taller.
On the Hops: Marshawn Lynch’s 1,204 yards marked the first 1,000 yard rusher for the Seahawks since Shaun Alexander’s MVP season in 2005. Lynch reeled off touchdowns in 11 consecutive games from Week Five on while also grinding out six 100-yard rushing efforts in the last nine games. While I like his “Beast-mode” running style, his driving style leaves something to be desired.
Tap a Keg: These guys need to return their Keg. This unit was decimated by injuries last season. Consider, oft injured left tackle Russell Okung, the No. 6 overall pick in 2010, missed the last few weeks of the year with a torn pectoral muscle; right guard John Moffitt missed almost half the year with a torn MCL and PCL; ditto for right tackle James Carpenter, who tore an ACL. Yes the line helped Marshawn Lynch top 1,200 yards rushing last season, but the Seahawks still finished just 21st in the league in rushing while allowing 50 sacks (fourth-worst in the NFL).
Ice Cold Draft: “Shocking new uniforms and a now a shocking pick for the Seahawks.” Berman, where do you come up with this stuff? Simply genius. Yes the Seahawks using the 15th pick was surprising, but my favorite draft exchange occurred after the Seahawks’ selected quarterback Russell Wilson with Gruden going off on Mel Kiper, “What do you want him to do he’s done it in 2 offenses, you probably downgraded Ray Lewis didn’t you? And Wes Welker. You probably downgraded Sproles and Maurice Jones-Drew. You discriminate against guys that aren’t 6 feet tall guys like me. You’re starting to aggravate me Mel.” But the topper was the live shot of Russell Wilson’s girlfriend laughing her ass off at these two clowns arguing. Classic TV. Thanks ESPN.
Stale Ale: The Lions’ inept secondary helped turn Matt Flynn into a multimillionaire by giving up 480 yards passing and six touchdowns to him in Week 17. After doing film study of his two career starts, Ron Jaworski believes the Seahawks will have to "manipulate" Matt Flynn in order for him to be a successful NFL starter. "What I saw was a timing and rhythm passer who's decisive with his reads and throws," Jaws observed. "He was consistently accurate in the short to intermediate areas. He displayed a nice feel in the pocket. But the more throws I watched, the more his arm strength limitations were evident. I was concerned that his few deep balls lost energy at the back end. They had a tendency to die."
Bitter Beer Face: The Seahawks have ranked outside of the top 20 in points per game and yards per game the past four seasons. High priced free agent acquisitions Sidney Rice and Zach Miller both were disappointments totaling just 32 and 25 receptions respectively. Keep an eye on last years’ surprise from Stanford, Doug Baldwin, who was the first undrafted rookie free agent to lead his team in receptions and receiving yards since 1960. Baldwin has spent the past two months in Florida catching passes from potential starting quarterback Matt Flynn (Just a little tidbit for you fantasy football guys looking for that late round sleeper).
Bartender: The former USC head coach has gone just 14-18 in two seasons with the Seahawks, but his first year did include a divisional crown and wildcard upset win over the then-defending champion New Orleans Saints. I’ll tell you what I see with Pete Carroll. I see a whole lot of mediocrity and a whole lot of smugness. Pete looked like the cat that swallowed the canary after reaching for Bruce Irvin. Get this through you’re crooked nose Pete, you’re not smarter than the rest of us! “Still, there's just something about him. Something around the eyes, I don't know, reminds me of... me. No. I'm sure of it, I hate him.”
Drinks are on Drama: A case of Guinness Stout for the first dude that lays out new Seahawks tight end Kellen Winslow. "Schiano came over there and said, ‘Toes on the line! Toes on the line!' Blowing the whistle. You can’t laugh. You can’t joke around," Winslow said. "So I decided not to go to OTAs." Winslow also said he'd "take a bullet" for former Bucs coach Raheem Morris, and that Tampa "fired the wrong dude." You’re quite the “soldier” there Kellen. “Were you born a fat, slimy, scumbag puke piece o' shit Private Pyle or did you have to work on it?”
The Hangover: This division is usually a pretty boring division for me to write about, but with the “personalities” of Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, and even Jeff Fisher, I think there could be some contentious moments out in the NFC West. Defense is the reason I’m picking Seattle to finish second. They’re a playmaking unit that finished seventh in points per game (19.7), fourth in interceptions (22) and fourth in yards per rush (3.8). The Seahawks won five of their final eight games last season, and each of the three losses were by six points or fewer. Oh and Pete, I like Bruce Irvin. I think he’ll help add to last years’ sack total of 33. But I just don’t see the value in picking a player who will be on the field one maybe two snaps a defensive series at pick 15.
“How much beer is in German intelligence?” - Friedrich Nietzsche
3.) Sun Up Cardinals
Stout: The Cardinals have not had a player register more than 10 sacks since Bert Berry. Calais Campbell registered nine sacks and nine batted passes both of which led NFL interior defensive linemen. His total of 47 stops was also the highest at his position. Only Justin Smith of the 49ers was rated higher among interior linemen by Pro Football Focus. Despite Campbell’s success, the Cardinals’ defense ranked 21st against the run. The front office must not be too worried however since the Cardinals were the only NFL team to go through the entire 2012 draft without selecting a player for their front seven.
On the Hops: I feel sorry for former Pitt great and Drama favorite Larry Fitzgerald being stuck out in the desert seemingly all alone. Consider Fitzgerald recorded 1,411 yards at 17.6 yards per catch without a quarterback breaking 2,000 passing yards. Despite having no viable NFL quarterback to speak of, Fitzgerald dropped only three passes and had more than double the yardage of any other Cardinals’ receiver.
Tap a Keg: Another former Pitt great I feel sorry for is Russ Grimm. Arizona quarterbacks were sacked 54 times last season, allowing 32 sacks to four players (most in the NFL). The Cardinals also ran the ball just 389 times, the fifth-lowest total in the NFL. Levi Brown was downright putrid last season, giving up 11 of those 54 sacks by himself. Sorry Russ, I’m not seeing a head coaching job in your immediate future.
Ice Cold Draft: If you want a taste great/less filling debate just ask who’s the better return man Devin Hester or Patrick Peterson? Last year’s top pick of the Cardinals had two blocked kicks, four punt returns for touchdowns, and 699 punt return yards including a 99 yard dagger in an overtime win over the Rams. While Peterson was simply great on special teams, he struggled in coverage allowing 67 catches in 113 targets.
Stale Ale: While the Cardinals managed to rank 17th in the league in passing, this team badly needs a weapon to step up and complement Larry Fitzgerald. Obviously Michael Floyd (the first Notre Dame player drafted in the first round since Brady Quinn) is expected to step up but Drama’s got another fantasy sleeper for you (sorry started my fantasy research today). Keep an eye on B2B’s guy Rob Housler to emerge this season as one of those “Hybrid” tight ends.
Bitter Beer Face: The Cardinals offense hasn’t been productive since Kurt Warner retired at the end of the 2009 season. Kevin Kolb acquired in a trade from the Eagles (damn the Eagles know what they’re doing) led the Cardinals to a 1-6 start and missed seven games due injuries/concussion. So in comes this Jon Skelton character who Tebowed his way to a 5-2 record as a starter mostly by doing the smart thing and simply heaving the ball to Larry. Sixth round pick Ryan Lindley is a name to file away out of San Diego St who Greg Cosell loves saying, “No quarterback I evaluated attempted and made more big-time intermediate to deeper NFL-type throws.” Cosell added, “If you spliced together his 25 best throws from the 2011 season — and did the same for all the passers in this draft — he would have the biggest “wow” factor, without question. “ And by the way Mr. Cosell, this Lindley kid is also wicked smart, scoring a 35 on the Wonderlic, tops in this years’ quarterback class.
Bartender: Ken Whisenhunt managed to grind out an 8-8 campaign last year including an NFL record four overtime wins despite quarterback problems and a horrible offensive line. However, “Whiz” is just 13-19 in a weak division over his last two seasons in Arizona. I guess that Super Bowl appearance against the Steelers carries a lot of weight in desert. “Come here you see this huh? This is sand. You know what it's going to be in another hundred years from now? It's gonna be sand!" "Get your kids, get your shit… We'll take you to where the food is! We have deserts in America, we just don't live in them asshole!"
Drinks are on Drama: An iced cold 8-ball for former Cardinal Joey Porter who announced he is retiring a Steeler. So many great “Peezy” moments as discussed here at SteelerFury with the most outrageous being when he called Kellen Winslow a “faggot” then apologizing by saying, "I didn't mean to offend anybody but Kellen Winslow." It was a good “ride.” Salute Joey!
The Hangover: I gave the edge to Seattle for second in this division based on their defense. Arizona’s defense led by former Steelers’ coach Ray Horton has a lot of good young talent as well including Darryl Washington, Darnell Dockett, O’Brien Schofield, Sam Acho, as well as the aforementioned Patrick Peterson and Calais Campbell. However, until “Whiz” gets himself a viable quarterback, the Cardinals won’t contend in the West.
4.) Bud Light Rams
Stout: New Rams’ head coach Jeff Fisher played for ’84 Bears team that set the NFL record with 72 sacks. Defensive End Robert Quinn said Fisher told them the goal is 73. Somebody please tell Jeff and Robert that recording even 60 sacks hasn’t been done since 2006 when the Chargers got 61.
On the Hops: The usual stalwort for the Rams’ offense is Steven Jackson who rushed for 1,145 yards, the seventh consecutive season in which he reached 1,000. Only six other backs in NFL history have done that. I look for Jackson and rookie Isiah Pead to be a great duo for the Rams. Gruden agrees saying, “This is my guy in the draft. I really felt Pead is a modern day NFL back.”
Tap a Keg: The Rams had three offensive lineman from opening day finish the season on injured reserve. The only player on the entire Rams’ offense, not just offensive line, to start all 16 games was Harvey Dahl who started games at both right guard and right tackle. Needless to say it isn’t a surprise the line gave up a league high 55 sacks last season.
Ice Cold Draft: I liked the first draft of rookie GM Les Snead, but by repeatedly trading down he missed Justin Blackmon by one pick, Michael Floyd by one pick, while also trading away from Maurice Claiborne. Not to mention the fact they could’ve (should’ve?) drafted RGIII rather than trade with the Redskins. Anyway, Snead’s most interesting pick was that of troubled albeit talented corner Janoris Jenkins. Perhaps in a bit of foreshadowing, Bill Polian with Jenkins holding one of his babies on camera said, “It’s way too early to gamble and he’s a gamble.” Once upon a time Jeff Fisher gambled on Pacman Jones. How’d that one turn out for you Jeff?
Stale Ale: “Wassup” with the Rams’ defense? They were solid against the pass ranking 7th in the league but just horrible against the run giving up an average of 151.7 yards per game. James Laurinaitis led the team in tackles with 142 but Animal’s kid needs some help. Consider Chris Long who impressed with a career high 13 sacks but he managed just 15 stops in the run game all year despite playing 385 snaps in run defense. Somewhere Howie Long is…well…probably proud of those 13 sacks.
Bitter Beer Face: “Bitter” is one word to describe how Sam Bradford must feel. I mean the kid has been sacked 70 times in 26 NFL games and is now working with his third offensive coordinator in his three years with the Rams. Ground and pound Brian, ground and pound.
Bartender: I actually don’t mind Jeff Fisher but for all the praise thrown Fisher’s way, it’s important to remember that in 17 years as Titans coach, his teams only made the playoffs six times, with just five playoff wins, three division titles and one Super Bowl berth. In fact, in his last three seasons in Tennessee, the Titans averaged just over seven wins a season.
Drinks are on Drama: An unlimited supply of Budweiser delivered to would be Rams’ defensive coordinator Greg Williams’ front door by the Budweiser Clydesdales. What the hell else does the guy have to do?
The Hangover: Want something that will never fill you up and never let you down? It’s not the great taste of Bud Light, and it sure isn’t the St. Louis Rams whose 15-67 record over past 5 years is the worst in football. I actually like some of the young talent on the Rams’ roster but Jeff Fisher will have to work miracles to finish out of the cellar in the NFC West.
“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.” –George Carlin
AFC Division Winners: Pats, Steelers, Texans, Broncos
AFC Wild Card: Bengals, Ravens
AFC Title Game: Steelers over the Patriots
NFC Division Winners: Giants, Packers, Saints, 49ers
NFC Wild Card: Eagles, Lions
NFC Title Game: 49ers over the Packers
Super Bowl: Steelers over the 49ers