NFC West Stock Watch

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
7:12
PM ET
FALLING

1. John Skelton, Cardinals QB. Skelton avoided joining Ryan Leaf as the only quarterbacks to toss interceptions in 13 consecutive appearances. That was good. How Skelton avoided the streak was bad. The Cardinals benched him after Skelton missed a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone while the team held a 13-0 lead on the road against Atlanta. Skelton completed 2 of 7 passes for six yards before getting the hook.

2. Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals coach. The decision to bench Skelton was understandable after Whisenhunt stressed accountability during the bye week. However, the move probably reduced the Cardinals' chances for winning the game. Whisenhunt must be accountable for that. He's also accountable for the state of the Cardinals' quarterback situation overall. Skelton was his choice to start entering the regular season, even when Kevin Kolb was available. Unfortunate circumstances have put Skelton in a difficult position, forcing him to carry too much of the load at times. However, the running game was working in this game and the Cardinals held a lead. Skelton still couldn't get it done.

3. Adrian Wilson, Cardinals SS. Arizona removed Wilson from its sub packages in an effort to improve its pass defense. The strategy seemed to work as Arizona picked off five passes. Was this the beginning of the end for Wilson in Arizona? He turned 33 years old last month and already took a reduction in pay.

4. Larry Fitzgearld, Cardinals WR. 49ers quarterback Alex Smith would have been an easy choice here given his medical situation, Colin Kaepernick's performance in relief and the comments coach Jim Harbaugh made after the 49ers' game Monday night. Fitzgerald was the choice because he failed the Cardinals when they needed him Sunday, an extremely rare occurrence that nonetheless cost Arizona. Fitzgerald failed to finish a catch on fourth-and-2 during the Cardinals' last-ditch drive against the Falcons. He also walked off the field while the Falcons were returning a fumble for a touchdown. Fitzgerald called that play "idiotic" and he was right. Even the great ones have bad days.

Update: Just realized I filed this without any St. Louis Rams in the "falling" section. Not sure how that happened. Sam Bradford, Brian Schottenheimer and the Rams' defense could all have their own sections. There wasn't enough room for all the negativity swirling around the Rams and Cardinals this week. Arizona can even things up with a victory over the Rams in Week 12.

RISING

1. Colin Kaepernick, 49ers QB. The second-year quarterback lit up the Chicago Bears' defense with a 243-yard, two-touchdown performance behind an offensive line that deserves mention as well. Teams facing the 49ers must account for the running game, a benefit to the line in pass protection. Still, left tackle Joe Staley seemed to have no trouble when matched against the Bears' Julius Peppers, including when Kaepernick had plenty of time to find receiver Michael Crabtree in the back of the end zone. Kaepernick completed 12 of 15 attempts in the first half as the 49ers surprisingly leaned on their young quarterback making his first NFL start. Kaepernick had a 133.1 NFL passer rating for the game. His Total QBR score (97.5) was the highest in the NFL for Week 11 and the highest for a quarterback making his first start in the five-year history of the metric.

2. Aldon Smith, 49ers OLB. The second-year outside linebacker collected 5.5 sacks against the Bears, dominating with bull-rush tactics. The sack total set a "Monday Night Football" record. Smith has 29 sacks in 26 games. That is the most for any player in his first 26 games since the NFL began tracking stats officially in 1982, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Smith now leads the NFL in sacks with 15.

3. Ray Horton, Cardinals DC. Quite a few defensive players deserve credit for a stunning performance on the road against a potentially formidable offense. Horton comes away the big winner, however. His credentials continue to grow as the Cardinals' defense does what it can to keep most games close in the absence of sufficient support from the offense. The five picks were a career high for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Horton's defense previously held Aaron Rodgers beneath 50 percent completions, forcing Green Bay to make borderline spectacular plays to get its points. Arizona also held Tom Brady to 18 points, which remains a season low for Brady and the Patriots.

4. LaRod Stephens-Howling, Cardinals RB. Stephens-Howling set a career high with 127 yards rushing against the Falcons. He had runs of 52 and 40 yards. This was Stephens-Howling's second 100-yard game of the season. He has done his part behind a shaky offensive line and in the absence of quality quarterback play. He's not built to get so many carries, but Stephens-Howling has often made the most of them in the absence of Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams.

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