Biggest concerns in the nfc West
By Scott Geelan
The preseason is over, cuts have been largely executed and the countdown is well and truly on. The NFL regular season starts in less than a week and the NFC West promises to be one of the most watchable divisions in the league. What will be the teams’ biggest concerns as the 2019 season kicks off?
Arizona Cardinals - Kliff Kingsbury’s genius will not stand up to NFL scrutiny
Kliff Kingsbury is an exciting hire. A college-level offensive genius, his hiring was held up by some as a watershed moment, with the NFL finally getting into the 21st century. However, NFL teams have already been utilising aspects of the Air Raid for over a decade. Notable among them are the New England Patriots and the Super Bowl winning Philadelphia Eagles. Both are much more talented than the 2019 Arizona Cardinals.
In reality then, the Cardinals will be hoping that Kingsbury’s quality as a play caller as well as the uniqueness of how he packages some of his concepts translate to the NFL. The principles of the scheme itself may not be significantly different to those that NFL teams have already been encountering, though there are some stylistic tweaks. In 2019, the Cardinals will rise and fall based on their head coach’s ability to outmanoeuvre defences as a play caller. If he does, then the Cardinals should be able to commit to building a more talented roster around their young head coach. The worry will be that Kingsbury flames out like Chip Kelly.
Los Angeles Rams - The offensive line takes another step back
The Rams have two of the best coaching minds on either side of the ball. Scheme and play calling are unlikely to be issues, although McVay’s adjustment to New England (them again) providing the book on how to beat the Rams will be intriguing to follow.
Clearly, the roster is also highly talented. Nevertheless, the interior offensive line was increasingly targeted last season, contributing significantly to their offensive slow down. The departures of talented veterans Roger Saffold and John Sullivan have done little to quell those concerns, though the Rams appear to have planned for them. Despite that, the preseason performances of the Rams’ offensive line have certainly been concerning. Can the Rams’ run game still be leant on to open up the play action passing attack Jared Goff thrives in?
San Francisco 49ers - Can the roster stay healthy?
The 49ers have an enormously talented roster. Jimmy Garoppolo has significant potential at quarterback. They have talent at running back and a solid offensive line that are both well suited to Kyle Shanahan’s schematic demands. George Kittle is arguably the best tight end in the NFL. Marquise Goodwin is a dangerous receiver. On defense, Nick Bosa and Dee Ford bring an edge threat to an already talented defensive line. Their linebacking corps welcomed Kwon Alexander. Richard Sherman and Jason Verrett could be an extremely talented pairing at outside cornerback. At safety, Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward are massively underrated.
Worryingly however, when you go back through that list, finding many players who have been consistently healthy during the past few seasons is difficult. There should be no doubting the ability of a huge number of the 49ers’ players. Unfortunately, their availability has been consistently lacking. If the 49ers are able to stay reasonably healthy, they will have a serious shot at returning to the playoffs. Though similar can be said for all teams, most teams’ personnel don’t have quite the same injury histories.
Seattle Seahawks - Pass ru... Can they unleash Clowney?
Before Saturday, pass rush was looking like a real problem for the Seahawks. After moving on from Frank Clark, the team looked set to roll in 2019 with a defensive scheme predicated on pass rush with barely a single proven pass rusher. Ezekiel Ansah however, is hurt. The trade for Jadeveon Clowney changes things somewhat.
Clowney is undoubtedly an elite run defender. His explosiveness, quickness and footwork mean that he’s borderline un-blockable on rushing downs, wherever he lines up. That should help the Seahawks get offenses behind the chains, making them more predictable.
Clowney is not an elite pass rusher though. He is nonetheless a very versatile one, best utilised as a stand up interior rusher. Resultantly, the Seahawks will need other players to help ensure Clowney cannot be the entire focus of an opposition’s pass blocking assignments in key situations. Sugared A gaps, utilising the blitzing threat of fellow stud Bobby Wagner should be one such approach. Furthermore, fronts that stack players to one side should also be utilised. Nonetheless, the Seahawks will require other players, particularly free agent acquisition Ansah, to justify offensive attention or risk Clowney’s impact being limited largely to the run game.