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A conversation about the 2015-16 NFC West

September 7, 2015

Russell Morris and I discuss what can be expected from the upcoming season in the NFC West. Collaborative discussions of other divisions can be found here: AFC East, AFC West, NFC East.

This is actually how the Cardinals have used Larry Fitzgerald for most of his career.
Arizona Cardinals

Russell Morris: Weird season last year.

Bryan Harvey: How so? They made the Playoffs.

Russell Morris: Yeah, but they limped in and never had a chance with Ryan Lindley starting at QB for the injured Carson Palmer in Carolina. 

Bryan Harvey: You don’t think a total of 78 offensive yards gave the Cardinals a chance to win a road Playoff game?

Russell Morris: No, I don’t.

Bryan Harvey: Me either.

Russell Morris: Lindley played so badly that he hasn’t caught on to another team this offseason even as a 4th QB to be cut before the season. 

Bryan Harvey: Tebow fans are now rethinking what accomplishments to list on his resume.

Russell Morris: The fortunes of the Cardinals season are tied entirely to whether or not Carson Palmer can stay upright. 

Bryan Harvey: Here are some weird stats. Actually, they may not even be stats, but they involve counting and looking for patterns in some form or another. We’ll call it the Palmer algorithm. Anyway, in his eleven seasons, he’s played ten or fewer games three times. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I was surprised the number wasn’t higher. Still, following the seasons where he’s missed large chunks of time, he’s always managed to play at least fifteen games. Maybe that trend continues.

Russell Morris: Depends on the offensive line.

Bryan Harvey: Yeah, he can’t move.

Russell Morris: Every year the offensive line is a question mark, and this year isn’t any different. Andre Ellington is a good RB, but he has been injury prone. Larry Fitzgerald is on the decline stat wise, but I’m not sure if he’s really declined ability wise. 

Bryan Harvey: Has another offensive player been so underutilized in the last decade, maybe even the history of the game? He hasn’t had a 1,000 yard season since 2011. In fact, his eleven year career features almost an even split in years where he went for 1,000 and years when he didn’t. He has six with and five without.

Russell Morris: Is it him or the quarterbacks?

Bryan Harvey: I’ve always thought his being surrounded by inconsistency and mediocrity was to blame, but maybe I’ve been wrong.

Russell Morris: He can still make plays, but he can’t be featured as he was before.

Bryan Harvey: In 2013, he caught ten touchdowns. Last year, he caught two. If you look at the rest of his career, the trajectory suggests ten is the outlier at this point. We really either have overvalued him or his talent has been tragically neglected in the desert.

Russell Morris: The defense has been good, but they lost coordinator Todd Bowles to the Jets and Patrick Peterson wasn‘t the same player last year.

Bryan Harvey: Final say?

Russell Morris: I think the Cardinals will take a step back this season. They’re just too dependent on Palmer staying healthy and the defense won’t be as good as the past few seasons. Best case scenario: Wildcard round. Worst case scenario: 6-10.   

St. Louis Rams

BH: In my mind Jeff Fisher is destined to be the Don Johnson of NFL head coaching. His time with Steve McNair in Nashville was ultimately his Miami Vice. Nothing will be better, but people will continue to hire him, watch him, and believe in him. It will all be triumphantly sad.

RM: You kind of have to ask also whether the league Fisher’s philosophy could win in even still exists.

BH: Yeah, how good would an Air McNair and Eddie George driven team be in the modern NFL? If George came along today, I feel like someone would have converted him to a tight end by the time he reached Draft day. Anyway, that’s all in the past and part of Tennessee folklore. What about the Rams?

RM: Great defensive team that hasn’t been able to put it together on offense. The QB spot was a problem in St. Louis even before Jeff Fisher arrived, and it still is.

BH: You don’t sound optimistic about they’re offseason efforts to improve the position.

RM: They haven’t solved the QB riddle since the days of Kurt Warner. They spent the number one pick in 2010 on Sam Bradford, but he only played 16 games twice in five seasons and only seven games the past two years because of injury. This left Fisher with the likes of Kellen Clemens, A.J Feeley, Shaun Hill, and Austin Davis starting multiple games. 

BH: Coincidentally, those are also the names of all the private eye characters Don Johnson has played on cable television since Miami Vice.

RM: The Rams traded Bradford for Nick Foles in the offseason, who played great in 2013 leading the Eagles to the playoffs, but is a product of Chip Kelly’s system and a downgrade from a healthy Sam Bradford.

BH: That’s blunt, but most likely true.

RM: Rams fans are excited for Todd Gurley, and I hope he has a long career because he is a great talent, but his injury history in college doesn’t bode well for his future in the NFL. 

BH: I’m cutting you off there. This blog doesn’t censor often, but when it does, it censors negative statements about Gurley.

RM: The same was said about Frank Gore, so you never know.

BH: I hope the NFL liberates Todd Gurley II.

May talent be all he needs.
Seattle Seahawks

RM: I’ll be honest, I dislike Bill Belichick Tom Brady, and the Patriots as much as any non-New England fan does, but I was happy to see them take down the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, especially in the way it happened. 

BH: Russ, I should probably tell you that I’m not certified to handle the emotions I think you’re about to unleash, so I’m sending you a number to call just in case.

RM: Thanks, man.

BH: No problem.

RM: For me it has nothing to do with the players, as Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson, while annoying at times, provide jaw dropping plays and are unique talents that are part of the fabric of why we watch every Sunday.

BH: Understandable.

RM: It’s not even Pete Carroll.

BH: C’mon, it’s a little bit Pete Carroll.

RM: Yes, his gum chomping and constant smug smile while roaming the sidelines are frustrating, but as someone who enjoyed watching Jim Harbaugh’s antics, I understand it’s a part of being a great coach.

BH: Or at least the crafting of memorable shtick.

RM: No, it’s the Seattle fans and the media portrayal of the “12th man” that are most annoying. I realize that when a team has had a history of mediocrity for most of its time as a franchise, then all of a sudden becomes consistently great, there will be bandwagon fans. But to go from a nondescript fan base to being portrayed as the best fan base in the league within a span of four years is asinine. 

BH: Go on.

RM: The 12th man is stolen from Texas A&M and the broken sound records are caused by the way the stadium is built, and not actually how much louder the fans are compared to everyone else. Up until 2014, Seattle had one championship in its history, and that team was shipped out of town. The fans deserve a winner, and I should have been okay with their success because of this. But they are intolerable and therefore it was great to see them suffer such heartbreak last season. I hope it continues until this run is over and then we won’t have to hear about the 12th man when they return to 8-8 every season.

BH: I sense the making of a documentary: The Selling of the Seahawks.    

RM: As for this year, the defense will be great again. Beast Mode will be Beast Mode, except age 30 is creeping up on him. How long can he continue?

BH: Do we know what Russell Wilson would be without Beast Mode? I’m not saying he’s not good, but do we still legitimately know what Seattle has in him? Without a great defense and Lynch, can he be the lone pillar of a franchise? I don’t mean this to be condescending. The sports comparison in my mind for Wilson is Tony Parker. No one will ever know if Parker could have been a franchise player without Duncan or Ginobili, and for the most part, the question really doesn't matter. But, in a world with no Beast Mode, who is Russell Wilson?

RM: There are also major questions about the offensive line, which isn’t that good, but it doesn’t really matter since Wilson is Houdini in the pocket and any injuries he suffers will be healed by nanobubbles.

BH: Anything else?

RM: Jimmy Graham gives Wilson a legit redzone target. 

BH: This team isn’t going anywhere, is it?

What Harbaugh left behind.
San Francisco 49ers

RM: Ugh. 

BH: Are you going to translate or do you need me to do it?

RM: Jim Harbaugh gone to Michigan. In steps Jim Tomsula and his chest hair.

BH: Ugh?

RM: Players that retired: Patrick Willis, Anthony Davis, Justin Smith, Chris Borland.
Players lost in free agency: Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, Chris Culliver. Players released for obvious reasons:  Ray McDonald, Aldon Smith., Ahmad Brooks.

BH: Isn’t Brooks still on the team?

RM: Yeah, but he was charged for sexual assault. I predict he will be released in due time.

BH: Ugh.

RM: Only 6 starters remain from the 2013 Super Bowl team. Year Four of the Colin Kaepernick era and we’re still not sure if he’s the long term answer at QB .

BH: Brittany says he’s not. I think she’s right.

RM: Offensive line will take a step back, especially on the right side where a guy they traded for two weeks ago will be a starter in the first game. Torrey Smith should help the vertical passing game, but probably won’t matter much if Kap is sacked eight times a game.

BH: The most frustrating thing about the Kaepernick era has to be that everything is still such a work in progress. It’s a rather prosaic point to make, but the franchise quarterback should be the source of stability. If Kaep’s not sooner than later, then what was gained in the jettisoning of Alex Smith, especially now that the defense isn’t what it once was?

RM: Ugh.

BH: Sorry, let’s focus on the defense.

RM: Even with all of the losses on defense, the unit should be ahead of the offense all season.

BH: Sounds amazing.

RM: A tumble back to the wasteland of the 2000s seems inevitable this season and for the foreseeable future. 

BH: Are there any beacons of hope while staring into the abyss?

RM: NaVorro Bowman should return to form after missing all of last season. Carlos Hyde is a beast running the ball and will need to carry the load on offense. Other than that, expectations are super low for me. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are competitive in most of their games, but they won’t score enough points on offense to win consistently.

BH: Ugh. 

Russell Morris lives in Virginia and sometimes tweets @morris_russ. Bryan Harvey tweets often @LawnChairBoys.


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