ARIZONA CARDINALS

NFC West living up to the hype through 1st quarter of 2020

Oct 5, 2020, 7:16 PM
(AP Photos)...
(AP Photos)
(AP Photos)

Take a look at the rest of the standings across the NFL.

It shouldn’t take you long to see which division reigns supreme through four weeks of the 2020 NFL season.

That’s right, the NFC West, top to bottom, holds the most victories in the NFL at 11 games. That’s one more than the AFC North, which has three three-win teams, and far and away more than the lowly three-win NFC East.

But it hasn’t been all rainbows and sunshine for the NFC West tams, as most have been hit with injuries that have forced their hands into tweaking their game plans. Still, the division has stepped up and met the challenge more times than not.

Things are going to get tougher for all sides in the coming weeks, however, when the division begins facing off against one another.

Until then, here’s a look across the division:

Arizona Cardinals (2-2)

The Cardinals enter Week 5 with back-to-back losses after opening up the season with consecutive wins.

Week 4’s defeat against the Carolina Panthers proved to be the team’s worst showing of the season, as neither the offense or defense could get in a rhythm.

Sunday’s matchup against the winless New York Jets is a critical bounce-back game for a team trying to make a name for itself across the NFL.

The Dude

Second-year quarterback Kyler Murray has looked All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ way more often than not through the first four contests of 2020.

It’s for good measure.

The wide receiver entered Week 4 leading the league in receiving yards and receptions. And while his receiving totals in Sunday’s loss were all season lows, seven catches for 41 yards,  Hopkins still holds the top spot in receptions (39) with two games left to be played Monday night. And even with the downtrend in yardage, Hopkins still sits fourth among all NFL pass catchers in receiving yards (397). The only knock on Hopkins’ performance through four games has been his lack of scoring, as he’s currently tied for 53rd in the NFL with one touchdown.

The Issue

Rhythm on both sides of the ball has hindered the Cardinals’ record. In two winnable games against the previously winless Detroit Lions and one-win Panthers, the Cardinals fell flat in rising to the occasion. Slow starts and miscues have plagued the team just two weeks removed from an undefeated 2-0 record. The running game has yet to find that spark, outside of a few Murray runs, while the defense has dealt with injuries to the secondary and a poor pass rush. When linebacker Chandler Jones has just one sack through four outings, the least amount of sacks in his career over that span, you know there’s an issue up front.

Next Four

New York Jets (0-4), Dallas Cowboys (1-3), Seattle Seahawks (4-0), Miami Dolphins (1-3).

Combined record: 6-10

San Francisco 49ers (2-2)

The clear-cut NFC West favorites no longer.

The 49ers made it through Week 3 playing with fool’s gold. The same couldn’t be said for the team in Week 4.

Losing to the previously winless Philadelphia Eagles, the 49ers’ luck of picking up victories without a handful of starters ran dry Sunday night. Jimmy Garoppolo’s fill-in, Nick Mullens, came crashing down to earth in the defeat, getting benched in favor of C.J. Beathard late in the game.

After going down late to the Eagles, the 49ers managed to make it interesting, bringing the score back within five, only to fall flat when it was all said and done. It was a much-needed win for a team looking to stay afloat in the division that head coach Kyle Shanahan let slip.

The Dude

Don’t look now, but former Arizona State Sun Devil Brandon Aiyuk is making some noise at the NFL level. With injuries throughout the team, Aiyuk has picked up the slack as he gets his feet wet in his first NFL season. Playing in three games after missing the season opener due to injury, Aiyuk has caught nine of his 16 targets for 109 receiving yards. As a runner, Aiyuk’s accounted for two scores to go along with 69 yards on four carries. He’s still a work in progress, but early returns have Aiyuk being a factor for the 49ers down the line.

The Issue

Injuries have decimated the 49ers — 11 players are on the team’s injured reserve — and the play at quarterback, Garoppolo or otherwise, has been lackluster. With Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa and veteran defensive end Solomon Thomas out for the year with ACL tears, the defense has been reeling since Week 2. Throw in injuries to Garoppolo and running back Raheem Mostert and it’s hard to imagine San Francisco staying above water in the division, let alone the conference.

Next Four

Miami Dolphins (1-3), Los Angeles Rams (3-1), New England Patriots (2-1), Seattle Seahawks (4-0).

Combined record: 10-5

Los Angeles Rams (3-1)

Don’t look now, but the Rams have appeared to get back to their 2018 form without Todd Gurley in the mix.

Losing only to the undefeated Buffalo Bills, the Rams have positioned themselves to just one game out of the division lead.

Week 4’s 17-9 win over the New York Giants was anything but stellar. Just two touchdowns were scored by Los Angeles in a game that shouldn’t have been that close, but a win’s a win.

The Dude

Leading the defense yet again is defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Donald paces the team in sacks (3.5), tackles for losses (5), forced fumbles (1) and fumble recoveries (1). The defense has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher through four games. Outside of the Bills loss, the Rams have held opponents to under 20 points in three of the four weeks of NFL action. Looking at the rest of the NFL, only Cleveland’s Myles Garrett (5.0) and Dallas’ Aldon Smith (4.0) have gotten to the QB more times than Donald this season. His five tackles for losses have him tied for third in the league behind Pittsburgh’s Vince Williams (8) and Chicago’s Akiem Hicks (7).

The Issue

The Rams may be 3-1, but that doesn’t mean the offense has fixed itself. Jared Goff has been serviceable this season, but the running game has been lacking for the Rams. Starting running back Darrell Henderson Jr. sits 23rd in the NFL in rushing yards with 223 on 43 attempts. He has two touchdowns on the ground. The 5.2 yards per carry are nice but it’s evident the team trusts Goff to move the chains more than the running game. Cam Akers, who some thought would be the starting running back, hasn’t panned out, and Malcom Brown has just 45 carries and 182 yards (4.0 yards a carry) to his name. Brown is, however, tied with Henderson in the touchdown category with two.

Next Four

Washington Football Team (1-3), San Francisco 49ers (2-2), Chicago Bears (3-1), Miami Dolphins (1-3).

Combined record: 7-9

Seattle Seahawks (4-0)

Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks are firing on all cylinders. The darling of the division, the Seahawks represent one of the unbeaten teams left in the NFL, scoring at least 30 points in every game so far this season.

In Sunday’s matchup against the Miami Dolphins, the Seahawks scored at least seven points in all but one quarter, bringing a balanced attack to the gridiron. The team accounted for two rushing and two passing touchdowns in the 31-23 win.

The Dude

Russell Wilson has quickly thrown himself back in the MVP talks with four impressive showings this season. Leading the league with 16 touchdowns, Wilson has had at least four scores in all but one game. After setting the NFL record for most touchdowns through three weeks with 14, he tied Peyton Manning’s 2013 mark of 16 through four weeks with two scores against Miami. He’s hardly missed his mark too, completing 75.2% of his passes (103-of-137), tops in the NFL, for 1,285 yards. He trails only the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott and the Bills’ Josh Allen in yardage, and paces the league in yards per throw with 9.4. Wilson has given the ball to the opposition in a limited fashion, tossing just two interceptions all year.

The Issue

If there’s a spot of weakness for the Seahawks, it has been their defense, specifically the secondary. While the team has dealt with injuries, Seattle has given up at least 23 points per game over the last four weeks. The team’s Week 4 win over the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Dolphins was the smallest amount of points scored by the opposition all season. Wilson’s numbers were human on Sunday after he was godly the first three weeks. The team got away with one over the one-win Dolphins, but against more formidable foes, Wilson will have to play out of his mind to make up for the defense.

Next Four

Minnesota Vikings (1-3), Arizona Cardinals (2-2), San Francisco 49ers (2-2), Buffalo Bills (4-0).

Combined record: 12-7

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