NFC West shedding pushover label

BY foxsports • September 17, 2012

Sept. 17, 2012

Seahawks defensive back Jeron Johnson mixes it up with Cardinals lineman Adam Snyder during the Cardinals' season-opening victory.

TEMPE, Ariz.  -- While the
Cardinals were still at training camp in Flagstaff last month, coach Ken
Whisenhunt spent a portion of one noon-time press conference talking
about the improved NFC West.

Reporters noted the
assertion, nodded their heads to keep from falling asleep then dismissed
it as the ramblings of a lunatic.

Every pro and
college football coach will try to convince you his division or
conference is tough, that there are no easy games. It’s a built-in
method for justifying unexpected losses or pumping up less-than
impressive wins.

The NFC West has been the league’s
doormat for years, posting record lows for winning percentage outside
the division. The division hasn't seen more than one team with a better
than .500 record since 2003; it was only two seasons ago that Seattle
earned a division title and playoff berth at 7-9.

Whisenhunt serious?

We’re only in Week 2, so the
sample size is far too small to pass judgment, but the early returns
suggest he was.

The division is a combined 6-2 (5-1
outside the division) and went 4-0 on Sunday with impressive wins across
the board. Aside from the Cards’ stunning 20-18 win at New England,
Seattle crushed Dallas 27-7, St. Louis rallied for a 31-28 win over the
Washington Redskins and Robert Griffin III, and San Francisco, having
already won at Green Bay, made an early argument that it is the most
complete team in the NFL with a 27-19 victory over the Detroit

“Our first game against Seattle was a
slugfest,” Whisenhunt said. “There are some very good defensive teams in
this division, and they play a physical style of

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was
impressive in leading his team from behind on Sunday. San Francisco QB
Alex Smith seems to be quieting suggestions that 2011 was a fluke with
continued efficiency and lack of turnovers. But defense does appear to
be the division’s calling card.

Seattle (No. 6), San
Francisco (11) and Arizona (13) all rank among the league’s top half in
fewest yards allowed per game. But the picture look even better for
scoring defense, the stats coaches care most about. Seattle ranks No. 3
at 13.5 points per game, Arizona ranks No. 5 (17 ppg) and the 49ers are
10th (20.5 ppg).

It’s early – too early to tell if
these numbers will hold up. But to the naked eye, the division appears
to have turned a corner.

“There are some good
defenses, some good defensive players in this division,” said Cardinals
defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who is one of them. “You don’t need
numbers to tell you that. You can see it when you

-- Craig Morgan