By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts Wizard of the NFC West (@B_Burnett49er)
It appears we have ourselves a logjam atop the NFC West.
The Seattle Seahawks handled their business at home on Sunday, while the 49ers and Cardinals each came up short in defense of their home turf. The win over the visiting Patriots sends the Seahawks to 4-2 and into a three-way tie with the Niners and Cards.
Even the Rams, who lost to the Miami Dolphins, are only a game back at 3-3. The tight-knit race should make for some exciting action once we get into the meat of divisional play.
1. G-Men Out-Hog the Niners In Championship Game Rematch
For San Francisco, Sunday's painful, 26-3 loss to the Giants didn't start out all that bad. After the first quarter, the 49ers had piled up 120 yards of offense on consecutive 12-play drives. The defense had forced two straight punts and the result was a 3-0 lead for the home team after 15 minutes of play.
Then the champs turned it up a notch.
When all was said and done, the Giants defense had piled up six sacks, nine QB hits and three Alex Smith interceptions. Smith hadn't thrown multiple picks in a game since October 10, 2010 and the Niners 80 total rushing yards in the game was well under half of what they averaged (196.2) coming into Week 6.
As impressive as the Giants were on D, it was their top-ranked O-line (No. 1 in our Offensive Hog Index) that set the tempo in the trenches. The 49ers were held without a sack after recording six of them in last year's NFC Championship game. They also allowed a 100-yard rusher for just the second time since the 2009 season when Ahmad Bradshaw went for 116 and a touchdown on the day.
Usually at its best late in the game, the 49ers D looked lifeless in the final quarter, allowing one first down after another to Giants running backs. The offensive play-calling from Jim Harbaugh's staff was questionable at times. San Fran ran the ball just 17 of their 60 offensive plays despite averaging 4.7 yards per carry on the ground. They went with a similar approach Week 3 against the Vikings and it also ended up in a loss.
The Niners won't have to wait long to get back on track, though, with a Thursday Night matchup against the Seahawks just four days away. But Seattle boasts one of the league's top defenses and will head to the Stick hungry for a chance to send the reigning division champs sliding down the standings.
2. Seattle Can Win When Forced to Rely the Arm of Russell Wilson
Tom Brady attempted a career-high 58 passes against the Seahawks, yet was outdone by a rookie quarterback?
That is correct.
Russell Wilson set some personal records of his own on Sunday, throwing for 297 yards and three TD's in Seattle's 24-23 comeback win over the Patriots at CenturyLink Field. He finished with a passer rating of 133.7. Two of Wilson's touchdowns came in the final eight minutes of the game, helping the Seahawks rally from a seemingly inescapable 23-10 deficit.
The clincher, a 46-yard bomb to Sidney Rice with 1:16 to go, was a thing of beauty.
It was a rare off day for Seattle's D, but that can be expected when a team averaging 31 points per game comes to town. Still, Pete Carroll's bunch was able to grind it out against another tough opponent and Wilson's clutch play proved to be the difference maker.
The 5'11", 206-pound QB has played like a rookie at times, but he's come up big in the Seahawks four wins. The faster he progresses, the more they'll continue to win. They've already got the defense and the running game to back him up.
It's a recipe for success, but one that will be put to the test on Thursday night.
3. Injuries, Struggling O-Line Puts Cardinals Season in Doubt
A 61-yard field goal by Jay Feely tied the game at 16-16 with just over a minute remaining, and a 38-yarder as time expired would have clinched victory for the Cardinals if it hadn't of banged off the upright after being tipped by a defender.
No worries, though. Or so the tens of thousands of spectators at University of Phoenix Stadium had thought.
'Zona had won its last eight games at home, five of them requiring overtime to clinch victory. Surely this one would end like all the others. That is, until John Skelton tossed an OT interception and it was the Buffalo Bills who would taste victory by the final score of 19-16.
John Skelton, you say?
That's right. Kevin Kolb went down in the fourth quarter with a rib injury, and Skelton picked up where he left off before his injury late in Week 1. Before leaving, though, Kolb was sacked by the Bills five different times. That's 22 sacks allowed in three weeks for the Cardinals' O-line.
Mind you, the Bills were able to record just one sack in their previous two games.
Buffalo's sad excuse of a defense came into the game ranking 27th or worse in every defensive Quality Stat, yet the Cardinals were unable to accomplish much against it. One measly touchdown against a squad that had surrendered 12 of them in their last six quarters of play. Not good.
Still, Arizona was in overtime at home and poised for another yet another win before Jairus Byrd returned Skelton's interception inside the 10 and Buffalo's kicker would go on to send the game-winning chip shot through the uprights.
Considering the injuries that have ravaged the offense, the Cardinals are in excellent shape at 4-2 and tied for the NFC West lead. But this string of losses may continue to grow if they're not careful.
Three of Arizona's next four games are on the road. Those opponents are the Vikings, Packers and Falcons. In between is a Week 8 battle against the 49ers on Monday Night Football. Actually, only one of their 10 remaining games feature a team that currently has a losing record.
4. Lack Of Offensive Efficiency Dooms the Rams
Need proof that the ability to pile up yards means nothing if you aren't putting up points?
St. Louis out-gained the Dolphins 462-192 on Sunday, but couldn't find the end zone until it was too late in a 17-14 defeat. Each of the Rams' nine drives lasted six plays or more and traveled at least 24 yards. Only two of Miami's 11 drives went further than 24 yards, but they both ended up in touchdowns.
The Rams came into Week 6 at No. 13 in Scoreability, averaging 14.48 yards per point scored. Sunday's loss drops that average to 16.84 YPPS, which would've ranked 23rd coming into the game.
After putting up 54 points over the season's first two weeks, St. Louis is scoring 12.5 PPG over their last four. With the Packers, Patriots and 49ers waiting on the schedule, the defense may be facing an insurmountable challenge if the offense can't pick up the pace.
5. Looking Forward to Week 7
The Niners hosting the Seahawks on Thursday Night Football will headline next week's NFC West action, and for good reason. Depending on how the Cardinals fare on the road against a tougher-than-expected Vikings' squad, the winner of the Niners-Seahawks will find themselves alone atop the division. And if the Rams can pull out a win at home against the Packers, the loser will wind up in a tie at the bottom.
After Week 7 in 2011, the 49ers held a commanding three-game lead in the division, a lead they would only build on as the season progressed. San Francisco's next three games are against each of their divisional opponents, so the next month of football could very well present us with a much clearer idea of whether or not someone is ready to challenge the champs for NFC West supremacy.