NFL: Sorting Out The NFC West...

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There's no riddle to solve when it comes to the NFC West. The division is about defense, and how opponents can look forward to being beaten black and blue every time they face Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis and Arizona. While none of the division's offenses strike NFL foes with what anyone would call fear, their defenses are another story entirely.

For the moment, let's set aside the obvious hurdle other teams will face when confronted by the NFC West, and look at the offenses in the division...

The first thing to look at, will momentarily shift back to defense, since it will have a direct effect on the offense: Time on the field. Every team in the NFC West is going to get the ball back for their offenses in a short amount of time. Crushing pass rushes, and stout "front seven-s" will cause "3 'n outs" and turnovers. But the opposite can be held too, in that the less than overwhelming offenses in the division will send the ball back the other way. The burgeoning path toward "run first" offenses in the NFC West may very well be a cause and effect of trying to slow the game down, and keep their defenses from being on the field for the majority of a game?

Arizona may be the only exception to this "run first" trend in the NFC West. Their run offense has Andre Ellington, and little else when it comes to position depth outside of Jonathan Dwyer and Stepfan Taylor. Head coach Bruce Arians is a "fling it down the field" kind of guy, and the Cardinals can boast of the best wide receivers in the division. They'll be getting back 2013 first round draft pick Jonathan Cooper at guard, but the right side of their line really isn't built to strike fear in defenses when it comes to running the ball. What Arizona can say, is it has the best "pure pocket" quarterback in the NFC West. Carson Palmer has a some years on him, but few can deny his ability to accurately pass the ball when given the time to do so. Both Palmer, and future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, are coming to the end of their NFL careers, but both have enough fuel left in their tanks to garner serious attention by opponents. The biggest problem Arizona faces is trying to keep Palmer, not just standing tall in the pocket, but alive throughout the 2014 season?

Seattle has one key asset that truly sets them apart from all but the San Francisco 49ers: Position depth. This team is deep at every position, with the most glaring weakness coming at wide receiver. But they won the Super Bowl without having a game-breaking pass catcher, so no big deal, right? Well, you could argue the point that NFL defensive coordinators - being a savvy bunch in their own right - will start to chip away at the Seattle running game. It's readily apparent - to all who watch how NFC West teams are being built - that Seattle and San Francisco are used as player talent-arch models. The Seahawks have inspired an NFL-wide thirst for tall defensive backs, while the 49ers have become the symbol for bruising offensive lines, and a "ground n' pound" style on offense. Both these teams have struggled to find a top wide receiver in the NFL draft or free agency. Seattle went long and hard at trying to find a top pass catcher when they paid mountains of money to Sidney Rice, and then Percy Harvin - all to little result. San Francisco can't seem to find anyone except the often underrated Anquan Boldin - who, in my mind, may be one of the best unsung wide receivers in recent NFL history...

The biggest wildcard in the NFC West is the St. Louis Rams. "Young" doesn't even begin to describe this team, and as tired as their fans may be of hearing words like "potential" and "upside", until this young crop of players coalesce into an experienced team, there really isn't much of a basis to predict how the Rams will fair in 2014. On roster alone, St. Louis has to have opponents scratching their heads, wondering just what team they'll see on game day? Built largely through the NFL draft and undrafted free agents, this team - setting the defensive front four aside - is a work edging ever closer to relevancy.  Their offense took an enormous hit recently when Stedman Bailey was hit with a four game suspension to start the coming season. Bailey showed the flashes this team needs to step up to another level. On paper, the wide receiver group of Bailey, Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Brian "How long must we wait" Quick, and workman Austin Pettis - to go along with troubled free agent Kenny Britt - reads like a promising, if not down right intriguing, corp of pass catchers. But "intriguing" is a word St. Louis fans will have to grapple with for some time to come.

It's the very worst phrase to write when it comes to an NFL article, but it's true: Sam Bradford - like many NFL quarterbacks - is the key to everything for the Rams in 2014. EVERYTHING! This is - dare I say it? - Bradford's year to tip toward establishing himself among his NFL peers, or dissolve into a "what might have been" top draft choice. As a huge fan of Bradford, I know the travails - and down right "Murphy's Law" kicks to the groin - he's gone through. But the NFL is a merciless beast, and teams have to move forward. If Bradford can stay healthy, there's absolutely no reason why the St. Louis Rams can't scream through one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, and into the post season. They have the defense to get their offense opportunities, and great field position. Sure, they play in the most brutal division in the NFL, but the tipping point - from winner or loser - in the NFC West is closer than many may think...

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