Around the NFC West: Cardinals' defense rises

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' defense is gaining in confidence. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "There's been a significant shift in our mentality and attitude and it's really showed up the last three weeks." Not good news for the rest of the NFC West.

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic plays the schedule game and thinks the Cardinals are in good shape. She is right. Boivin: "Only two of the Cardinals' 10 remaining games are against teams with winning records. Their next five opponents -- Carolina, Chicago, Seattle, St. Louis and Tennessee -- are a combined 7-24. In this bizarre NFL season riddled with have-nots, the Cardinals will benefit from having the 0-7 Rams on their schedule twice and the 0-6 Titans and 1-5 Lions once."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic passes along a hilarious story from the Cardinals' victorious locker room Sunday night. Somers: "I'm interviewing Alan Branch after the game. He had just been informed that he had two sacks -- the first one came when he chased (Eli) Manning out of bounds. Branch was so excited he had to tell nose tackle Bryan Robinson and the two exchanged a high five. Or they tried to. I happened to be in the middle. Robinson's hand (I think it was him, haven't checked the replay) hit me in the nose, pushing the glasses against it. Broken glasses. Very small scrape on a nose that's been broken a few times and wasn't pretty to begin with. Don't ask me why I had reading glasses on in the locker room. Veteran mistake. Both players apologized profusely. And thanks to Cardinals media relations manager Chris Melvin for giving me some Band-Aids and telling me a few times that 'it wasn't bleeding that bad.'"

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie suffered a "low sprain" of his ankle, which beats the alternative. Also from Urban: "Beanie Wells is not going to be the starter anytime soon (more on that story later today on the homepage). But he will continue to get more work. Whisenhunt made three things clear: Beanie is explosive and a day when he breaks out is coming for some unsuspecting opponent; the fumbles, especially in the limited amount of carries, is not going to help him with playing time (although he acknowledged Tim Hightower has to be careful too); and there will continue to be a running back rotation, including Jason Wright, so it’s unlikely Wells is going to end up getting 25 carries a game."

Also from Urban: a more detailed look at Wells' situation.

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 grades the Cardinals' performance on offense against the Giants.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers quarterback Alex Smith feels more confident. Maiocco: "Smith said he's more confident, in general, at this stage of his career. He said he did look more confident on film in yesterday's game, but it's the same way he's been playing -- or practicing -- for a while."

Also from Maiocco: 49ers coach Mike Singletary says he thinks Smith has matured. Maiocco: "Singletary said Smith had made good use of the time he spent in mothballs. He has continued to learn the offense. Unlike his rookie season, Smith could watch another player for an extended period to help figure out some things he could apply to his own game."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers are handling their quarterback situation in the right way and in a manner that should prove instructive for the Raiders.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News describes Smith as the 49ers' last, best hope -- again.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers do not plan to switch back and forth between Smith and Shaun Hill.

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says quarterback isn't the only problem for the 49ers. Singletary wants to clean up communication problems on defense. Linebacker Patrick Willis has been wearing the radio transmitter in his helmet. That could change, Singletary indicated.

John Crumpacker and Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers are playing it safe with strong safety Michael Lewis. Lewis said he remains "somewhat" concerned about concussion problems.

Also from Crumpacker: a look back and forward as the 49ers reinstall Smith as their starting quarterback.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Seattle got healthier during its bye week, although Damion McIntosh will likely start at left tackle. Farnsworth: "Cornerback Kelly Jennings was back after sitting out last week because of a sore hip and rib, as was left guard Rob Sims, who has missed the past two games with a sprained ankle."

Also from Farnsworth: Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne will start against his hometown Cowboys in Week 8. His father, also named David, is a die-hard Cowboys fan. Said the younger Hawthorne: "Last year, he had to wear one hat that had the Seahawks going forward and the Cowboys going backwards."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times quotes Seahawks coach Jim Mora as saying quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is "fine" despite not doing much in practice Monday.

Also from O'Neil: "Still iffy" is how Mora described statuses for Walter Jones and Sean Locklear. O'Neil: "The league does not require teams to submit an injury report until Wednesday so there was no official list of who practiced and how much, but Mora conceded that Jones didn't do much. Neither did tackle Sean Locklear, who is coming back from an ankle injury."

John Morgan of Field Gulls sizes up the Seahawks' situation at running back. Morgan: "(Julius) Jones doesn't seem slower and he doesn't seem hobbled by injuries. He has developed a reputation as an unremarkable back and maybe he is. But Jones blocks well, receives well and is one the cheapest starting running backs in the NFL. His brother Thomas fits the same profile and was passed around the league before he landed on a contender. Thomas Jones has never been a remarkable rusher, but he stayed healthy, kept his speed and does the little things well. No one would argue if Thomas could be the lead rusher on a Super Bowl-winning team -- he was a Rex Grossman away from being just that in 2006."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch assesses the Rams' injury situation, which is not pretty. Cornerback Bradley Fletcher's knee injury was so serious that the rookie will require two surgeries and a long rehab. The Rams traded Tye Hill in part because they liked their young corners, notably Fletcher. This injury hurts the team quite a bit. Thomas: "Fletcher, a third-round draft pick from Iowa, was just starting to come on when he was injured. He was playing his best game of the season against the Colts, in just his third NFL start. Fletcher's injury occurred when he turned to make a play on a deep ball, breaking up a pass intended for Pierre Garcon. It's something Fletcher wasn't doing earlier in the season. (Coach Steve) Spagnuolo said that last week he stepped into the indoor practice facility about 15-20 minutes after practice, and there was Fletcher working on just that technique -- learning how to play the ball."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Spagnuolo thought the Rams' intensity waned in the fourth quarter against the Colts.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams could use better talent and better coaching. Miklasz: "This is the worst roster in the NFL. But even where there is talent, the Rams don’t utilize it properly. One example: giving Steven Jackson only five touches in the second half of the Jacksonville game. (And ignoring Jackson at times in other games.) Another example: not playing No. 2 overall draft pick Jason Smith at left offensive tackle, where he belongs, from the time he checked into camp. And what’s up with this three-man rotation at OT? A third example: as a rookie DE, Chris Long was better in the pass rush than he’s been in this, his second season. Why has he regressed? Isn’t the pass rush supposed to be a Spagnuolo specialty?" Long will never be a dynamic pass-rusher, in my view.

The Associated Press breaks down Will Witherspoon's performance for the Eagles in his first game since the Rams traded him to Philadelphia. Not bad.