Williamson’s look around the league: NFC West
Arizona Cardinals (last year’s record: 11-6)
- The Cardinals drove in on 46.5% of their drives last year. It was eighth best in the league. Arizona turned the ball over only 15 times during the year. Only three teams were better. Only five offenses have possessed football at a higher pace than the Cardinals. Last year, the Cardinals led the league in using four or more wide receivers for the third straight season and averaged 8.3 yards per play on their staff of 10 (1 RB / 0 TE) . Arizona lost Christian Kirk and Chase Edmonds on this side of the ball in free agency and will have to withstand a six-game suspension against DeAndre Hopkins. To make up for losing Kirk and Hopkins, the Cardinals used their first-round pick to trade for Marquise Brown and also used their first pick on Trey McBride, the first tight end drafted this year.
- The Cardinals took the ball away 27 times, which was the seventh-most by any football player in 2021. Only three defenses blitzed higher than Arizona. When the Cardinals rushed six or more defenders, they averaged just a paltry 2.6 yards.
- The Cardinals’ +12 turnover differential was by far the best in the division and ranked fourth in the NFL last year. They recovered 69% of their fumbles, the highest percentage in the entire league. Arizona was 8-1 on the road last year. They opened last season with a seven-game winning streak, but won only one of their last five games before losing to the Rams in the Wild Card round. The biggest news about this team lately is of course the massive contract extension that was very recently granted to Kyler Murray.
Los Angeles Rams (last year’s record: 12-5)
- The Rams 6.0 yards per offensive play was better than every team in the league except San Francisco and Tampa Bay. Only six offenses have also produced more points per game and only two offenses have finished practices with points a higher percentage of time than Los Angeles. The Rams offense was within 11 Personnel (1 RB/1 TE) on 86% of their snaps, by far the highest percentage in the league. Robert Woods is now in Tennessee and Odell Beckham still hasn’t signed, but the Rams nabbed Allen Robinson in free agency. The Rams were bottom of the league in fielding percentage at running back. Opponents only attacked Matthew Stafford 20% of the time. Only Patrick Mahomes blitzed at a lower percentage, which makes perfect sense since Stafford averaged 7.6 yards per game against the blitz and threw for 19 touchdowns against a single interception when the opposition applied extra pressure.
- On defense, the Rams allowed just 5.2 yards per play. Only six defenses were better. No defense in the league has rushed six or more defenders at a lower time percentage than Los Angeles. This defense has played with six or more defensive backs on 26% of their snaps, the third-highest percentage in the NFL. But they only attacked a defensive back 5% of the time. The Rams defense lost a likely Hall of Fame performer in Von Miller to the Bills, but added another in Bobby Wagner.
- The Super Bowl champions produced 0.8 more yards per play on offense than they were allowing. It was the fourth best in football. The Rams had a +19 sack differential last year. That organization hasn’t made a first-round draft pick since using the first overall pick in 2016 on Jared Goff, who was part of Matthew Stafford’s trade and now plays in Detroit. However, while Los Angeles may not be making early picks, they are making plenty of draft picks. Going back to 2003, the Rams make, on average, 8.9 picks per draft year, making only seven or fewer picks once in those 20 draft classes. Not only have the Rams won seven of their first eight games in 2021, but they finished the regular season winning five of their final six before cruising the league en route to a title. Over the past five seasons, Los Angeles is 55-26, all five of Sean McVay’s seasons as Rams head coach.
San Francisco 49ers (last year’s record: 10-7)
- The 49ers averaged 6.1 yards per play on offense last year. It was the best in the whole league. San Francisco used 21 staff (2 RB/1 TE) on 34% of their shots. Not only was it the highest percentage in the league, but no other offense used this staff grouping more than 23% of the time in 2021. And only one offense used a sixth offensive lineman with more regularity. than San Francisco. The 49ers have led the NFL in average yards after catch now for four straight seasons and it was the third straight year that San Francisco led the NFL in pre-snap motion usage. They also produced 9.1 yards per passing play when using game action, the best in football. Jimmy Garoppolo is unlikely to be part of this team in the future. Clearly this is Trey Lance’s attack now.
- The Niners defense allowed just 5.1 yards per play. It was third-best in the NFL and best in the NFC West. Seattle and San Francisco’s defenses are tied for the top of the division in points allowed, allowing just 21.5 points per game. Only three defenses blitzed at a slower pace than San Francisco, but San Francisco racked up the fifth-most sacks behind the Steelers, Vikings, Rams and Bears. When they blitzed, that defense gave up a league-worst 8.6 yards per play. Going back to 2015, when San Francisco selected Arik Armstead with its first pick, six of its last eight first picks have been used on defensive linemen. This defense was responsible for 629 penalty yards, the most in the league.
- · San Francisco’s yards per play differential was the best in the NFL besides the Bills in 2021. They were also +15 in sack differential. The 49ers have won four of their last five and seven of their last nine regular season games and then beat Dallas and Green Bay in the playoffs before falling to the Rams in the conference championship.
Seattle Seahawks (last year’s record: 7-10)
- The Seahawks ran just 56.1 plays per game. Not only was it the least in the league, but Atlanta was 31st with 59.2 offensive plays per game. To put that into context, Baltimore averaged 69.7 plays per game. So that means the Ravens’ offense lasted far more three full games than Seattle in 2021. Although Seattle made very few offensive plays, they produced 5.8 yards per slam, which was better than any teams except seven. They also returned the ball only 13 times all year. It was the top of the NFL. The Seahawks haven’t executed a single offensive shot with an extra offensive lineman on the field. In one of the biggest moves in recent history, Seattle traded Russell Wilson to the Broncos. Drew Lock returned to this deal and will fight for the Seahawks starting quarterback. Duane Brown has also retired and is expected to be replaced by first-round pick Charles Cross at left tackle. Only three franchises (including the Steelers) currently have less salary cap space dedicated to the offensive side of the ball than Seattle.
- Seattle and San Francisco’s defenses are tied for the top of the division in points allowed, allowing just 21.5 points per game. Seattle’s defense was on the field for a whopping 57.9% of their total snaps last year. Not only was that the highest percentage in the league, but they were the only defense invited to play more than 54.5% of their team’s total snaps. Only seven teams have taken the ball less than the Seahawks and no defense has played with four defensive backs on the field at a higher percentage of their snaps than Seattle. Seattle parted ways with Bobby Wagner in their team’s overall youth move.
- Seahawks quarterbacks were sacked 12 more times last year than the number of times Seattle sacked the opposition. Since 1950, only three teams have had a worse games-per-game differential (-14.5) than Seattle in 2021. Prior to their seven-win season last year, Pete Carroll’s side had won double-digit games in three consecutive seasons and eight times over nine seasons. . During that nine-year stretch, Seattle was 98-45-1. But after such a great run, it looks like the Seahawks are now in the midst of rebuilding.