NFC West stock watch


1. Seahawks OL. Seattle's line finished the 2011 season strong, clearing the way for Marshawn Lynch to top 1,200 yards rushing. The Tom Cable-coached unit was supposed to pick up where it left off. Instead, the line went backward during a season-opening defeat at Arizona. Issues in pass protection stood out the most. With rookie J.R. Sweezy starting at right guard, the line had trouble picking up blitzes from the Cardinals' inside linebackers. Left tackle Russell Okung struggled with penalties and did not play up to his fist-round pedigree. Okung also left the game with a bruised knee.

2. John Skelton, Cardinals QB. Skelton started relatively well against Seattle, but he completed only 1 of 7 passes in the third quarter. And when an ankle injury knocked Skelton from the game, his replacement led the winning touchdown drive. Skelton's grip on the starting job appears tenuous after one week. That's a tough way to open the season on a personal level even though the Cardinals won the game to go 1-0. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has reemphasized turnover avoidance, but Skelton still threw a careless interception in Cardinals territory.

3. Russell Wilson, Seahawks QB. Wilson appears in this spot only because his stock had soared so high during preseason, pumped up by coaches' excitement and Wilson's impressive performances. Wilson could have used better protection and a game plan trusting him to make quick decisions against pressure. I think he also could have used the recently released Kellen Winslow during Seattle's failed final drive. As for Wilson, he wasn't as accurate as he had been. He held the ball and sometimes appeared tentative. Arizona held him to 6 of 17 passes on throws to the perimeter.

4. Preseason storylines. Not long ago, the 49ers were going to naturally regress. Line and QB issues were going to doom Arizona. Wilson was going to prove himself instantly ready to lead a charge for the division title. All those things could still happen in 2012, but the evidence wasn't very convincing on opening weekend.


1. 49ers' credibility. The 49ers almost could not have scripted a performance more compelling than their 30-22 victory over the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. They finished last season as an NFC power and validated their standing Sunday. Their defensive front played the run well enough for the 49ers to use additional defensive backs on their terms, giving them an advantage in coverage. Alex Smith outplayed Aaron Rodgers. Frank Gore topped 100 yards rushing. Randy Moss and Vernon Davis caught touchdown passes. Michael Crabtree earned more praise from Jim Harbaugh for his sure hands. David Akers tied an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal. The 49ers made a strong case for the top spot in ESPN's Power Rankings, coming soon.

2. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals QB. Kolb revived his career in Arizona by leading the game-winning drive against Seattle after Skelton suffered an ankle injury. The scoring pass he delivered to Andre Roberts on the perimeter got there in a hurry, almost before cornerback Brandon Browner could react. Kolb flourished in the no-huddle offense, playing freely and with confidence. He'll be the logical choice to start for Arizona against New England in Week 2.

3. Leon Washington, Seahawks returner. Seattle might have scored only six points instead of 16 if Washington hadn't done such a good job in the return game. His 83-yard kickoff return and 52-yard punt return set up the Seahawks for 10 points. Blocking helps, of course, but it takes a special returner to find and exploit openings in a coverage team. Washington hadn't fared as well in the return game recently. This performance was encouraging for the Seahawks.

4. Rams secondary. Starting cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Cortland Finnegan joined linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar in picking off passes for St. Louis against the Lions in Week 1. The Rams delivered on their promise to err on the side of playing aggressively. The results were mostly positive even though Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw the winning touchdown pass in the end.