The NFC West: A Battle For Supremacy
By Jamie Garwood
There’s the current NFC Champs. There’s a perennial playoff team from the Pacific North-West. And then there is The Cardinals, who are sitting pretty atop the division following a thrilling victory over Buffalo on Sunday. But is it The Los Angeles Rams who hold the keys to the NFC West crown?
Impressive In Inglewood
After a thrilling Week 10 of NFL action with a lot of divisional and intra-conference action (teams facing each other for the first time in four years) it was the match-up at the tremendous new stadium in Inglewood – home to the Los Angeles Rams – that turned heads.
The Rams hosted the once rampant Seattle Seahawks. whose wings have now definitely been clipped following a 5-0 start to the season and an MVP calibre start by Russell Wilson. Seattle have now lost 3 out of the last 4 to land on a 6-3 record following the Rams’ 23-16 victory yesterday.
The one possession scoreline marks it out as a tight affair, but the Rams forced three turnovers (two interceptions and a QB fumble). They also enjoyed 33 minutes of the clock due to their three headed monster at running back (Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown, Cam Akers) hogging the ball. Yet it is the wealth of receiving talent at Jared Goff’s disposal that jumps out; three receivers with over 50 yards (Josh Reynolds – 94, Tyler Higbee – 60 and Cooper Kupp – 50) as well as six receptions for Robert Woods helped them amass 302 air yards. Marry that to 106 rushing yards from 29 carries and you have a potent offense.
Yet it is the defense that was once again resolute. Playing the Seahawks mean the numbers will naturally inflate, yet despite them chasing the game and with Russell forcing plays they were still restrained to 248 passing yards. Top receiver Tyler Lockett had only 66 yards off 5 grabs.
Balance On Offense & Defense
The Rams allow on average 199.7ypg in passing and 96.8ypg on the ground; these are stellar numbers in the scheme of a season that is a less pass happy than recent history, and also a season where many teams are having success on the ground as the season draws on – think of DeAndre Swift and Antonio Gibson.
They have the best defender in the league in Aaron Donald who heaps pressure on the QB. But he was overshadowed by his teammates – Leonard Floyd (3), Terrell Lewis (2) and Michael Brockers (1) – who combined for six sacks on Wilson on Sunday.
This defense will be tested over the last seven games of the season, without doubt. They travel to Tampa Bay for Monday Night Football next week, where the Bucs seemed to find the balance on offense following the egg laid against New Orleans. Roland Jones – with THAT 98 yard touchdown – had a huge day for himself in particular.
Then follows back-to-back division tussles at San Francisco and on the road at Arizona. Injuries have scuppered the Niners’ attempt to defend their conference title, whilst the darling Cardinals with Kyler Murray are atop the NFC West standings on a 2-0 division record. The two meetings between the Rams and Cardinals will most likely dictate who gets the home field divisional round playoff game, and maybe even the overall #1 seed. We wait with bated breath to see if the Saints can maintain fluidity if Drew Brees misses time with his rib injury.
Some Key Fixtures Yet To Come
After the Cardinals tilt The Rams enjoy an AFC East hosting of the Patriots and the sorry Jets, before ending with a holiday double-bill of Seattle on the road and Arizona at home in the new year – perhaps for the division title.
It promises to be an interesting end for the most competitive division in the NFL – the balance of the Rams is what stands out (passing offense, ground attack, stellar defense). And it is intriguingly compared against the Cardinals own offense, who are creative and riding a sea of consistency currently due to the air attack of Murray to his illustrious receivers.
However, do not discount the Seahawks who are dearly missing the running back tandem of Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde. They are both injured and were relied upon to at least to take the responsibility off Wilson to consitently make magic happen. If they get the ground force back the schedule is not awful; After this Thursday where they meet the Cardinals again they have a four game stretch of at Philadelphia, v Giants, v Jets and at Washington, before ending with the Rams and at 49ers. On the face of it that is at least five winnable games on paper – IF they get healthy and still have Russell Wilson under center.
It will be fascinating to see if two or even three teams from the NFC West make the seven team NFC playoffs.
Jamie is a freelance writer of original NFL content on all matters ranging from fantasy football to bold predictions, and is an avid New England Patriots fan. Follow him @JamieGarwood For NFL takes.