AFC West: Frank Gore

I departed another day of meetings at ESPN headquarters to see Vernon Davis is hinting that his friend -- and Bay Area native -- Maurice Jones-Drew may have interest in joining him in San Francisco.

Davis
Jones-Drew
Hmmm.

Davis posted a picture of himself with the running back on Instagram with the caption, “Me and Maurice Jones Drew discussing the FUTURE a few nights ago. #San Francisco.’’

So does that mean we should expect the running back to end up with the 49ers?

I’d doubt it.

Sure, Jones-Drew probably would be interested in coming back to the Bay Area and playing for a winning team.

But the 49ers really don’t have much need for a veteran running back. Frank Gore is still very much in the plans and the team is looking for 2013 fourth-round pick Marcus Lattimore to make contribution in 2014 after recovering from a torn ACL.

Plus, the 49ers have other needs.

With all that said, I rarely dismiss anything. Too many crazy things happen. So if Jones-Drew’s price is reasonable, who knows, but two weeks prior to the start of free agency this does not look like a natural pairing to me.

Final Word: AFC West

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
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» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Seymour meets Roethlisberger again: The last time the Raiders and Steelers met -- a 35-3 Pittsburgh home win in November 2010 -- Richard Seymour earned a $25,000 fine for socking Ben Roethlisberger. After a Pittsburgh touchdown, Roethlisberger started celebrating and appeared to say something to Seymour. The defensive lineman turned and popped the quarterback in the face with his open right hand. Seymour was ejected, and the NFL later hit him in the wallet. It will be fun to see whether Roethlisberger steers clear of Seymour after the Steelers score.

A familiar foe for Manning: There will not be a team on the Denver Broncos' schedule this season that Peyton Manning will be more prepared to face than the Houston Texans, which visit Denver on Sunday. Manning used to play the Texans twice a year as a member of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South. Yes, the Texans' defense has changed some since Manning last played in 2010, but he still has a good feel for it, which will help Sunday.

Rivers is painting inside the numbers: The Atlanta Falcons will surely try to snuff out the middle of the field Sunday at San Diego. Because right now, Philip Rivers owns it. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the San Diego quarterback has completed 30 of 34 (88.2 percent) attempts inside the field numbers this season. All four of his touchdown passes have come between the numbers.

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
Jake Roth/US PresswirePhilip Rivers has hit 30 of 34 attempts and all four of his TDs between the numbers this season.
What will give in the Big Easy? Both the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints go into Sunday's game in New Orleans a disappointing 0-2. A big reason why is that their defenses have betrayed them. The teams are tied for last in the NFL in scoring defense, both allowing 75 points through two games. It's the most points the Saints have allowed through their first two games since 1985; it’s more familiar territory for the Chiefs, which allowed 89 points through two games last season.

McGahee is a 100-yard star: Denver running back Willis McGahee has been one of the steadiest running backs in the league in his 10-year career. Sunday, he could become the NFL's active leader in 100-yard rushing games. He had 113 yards at Atlanta on Monday, his 31st career 100-yard game -- tying him with San Francisco's Frank Gore and St. Louis' Steven Jackson for the most 100-yard games for active players.
Brad Childress has company. I too am now despised in the Land of the 10,000 Lakes.

It seems I've attached myself to the hot seat in the second installment of ESPN.com’s position-by-position Power Rankings. My ranking of Kansas City Chiefs tailback Jamaal Charles at the No. 2 spot on my top 10 vote rocked the outcome of the rankings.

Who knew?

I was just giving a kid his due credit. I didn’t realize I was alienating an entire state. Really, purple is my favorite color.

However, because I put Charles at No. 2 and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson at No. 3, it gave Tennessee’s Chris Johnson the No. 1 ranking.

You’re welcome, Tennessee.

This was not a sinister act to give Johnson the nod, although I did enjoy the fruit basket, Chris. Seriously, we have no idea what the outcome of these votes will be until all eight voters make their selections. It turns out I was the only person not to vote Johnson and Peterson in the top two. There’s the smoking gun.

Johnson finished first with 76 voting points, Peterson was second with 75 points and Charles was fifth with 44 points. This was my explanation to AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky, who compiled our story on this week’s Power Rankings:
I squeezed Charles in between Johnson and Peterson because I think Charles may be rising some and Peterson may be falling just a tad. We all know running backs have short shelf lives, so any little indication of slippage could be significant. I know Johnson slipped some in 2010, but this is still a highly productive player who has plenty left in the tank. I think Johnson gives defensive coordinators more Tuesday night headaches than any tailback in the league right now. I get to see Charles quite a bit and he is simply explosive. He truly can score any time he touches the ball.

Believe me, this wasn’t some AFC West favor. I truly believe Charles is a special player and he is deserving of his ranking. I also think Peterson is tremendous and he is still a special player. I voted him No. 3 not No. 8. I can’t apologize for giving a player a top-3 ranking.

In other, less-controversial AFC West power ranking developments, Oakland’s Darren McFadden was tied for 10th with Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy and San Francisco’s Frank Gore. I had McFadden ranked No. 8, McCoy No. 10 and I left Gore unranked.

I can understand why McFadden was only on four lists. While he was quiet in his first two NFL seasons, he showed he was for real in his third. He became a strong inside and outside runner. He is also a weapon as a receiver. McFadden is finally the complete back everyone thought he'd be when he was drafted. He belongs on this list.

Kansas City’s Thomas Jones finished 13th.

Next week, we’ll rank the top pass-rushers. I wonder whose life I’ll ruin next?

Fill the comment section below on how you would vote the NFL’s top running backs.

Moving on: Oakland Raiders

October, 18, 2010
10/18/10
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Here are some areas the Oakland Raiders need to focus on after a 17-9 loss to the San Francisco 49ers:

Recap: The Raiders were flat in a rivalry game against a 0-5 team. Oakland, now 2-4, was unable to keep up the momentum up after snapping a 13-game losing streak to San Diego last week. Oakland has now gone 22 games without winning back-to-back games.

Biggest area to fix: run defense. This area was supposed to be better this year after Oakland spent the offseason addressing the problem. It is not better. San Francisco’s Frank Gore had 149 yards. Routinely, this season, Oakland has allowed long runs and Gore's longest was a 64-yarder. Until it can stop the run, Oakland’s defense will not be able to truly improve.

Biggest area to build on: passing defense. The Raiders didn’t go a lot of good things in this game. But it did hold Alex Smith to 196 yards passing after allowing 431 passing yards to Philip Rivers last week. It probably has a lot to do with Smith, but there was improvement made in this area.

What to watch for: Oakland plays at Denver on Sunday. It has to hope quarterback Bruce Gradkowski (shoulder) and running back Darren McFadden (hamstring) return. Oakland missed these two guys against the 49ers.
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The NFC West is accustomed to catching its share of grief, and then some.

The St. Louis Rams own six victories over the past three seasons, the Seattle Seahawks own nine over the past two and the San Francisco 49ers haven’t posted a winning record since Mike Rumph was a promising rookie cornerback for them (2002). The Arizona Cardinals have been better lately, but now they’re reduced to Derek Anderson versus Matt Leinart.

No wonder AFC West blogger Bill Williamson thinks the new-and-improved Oakland Raiders would win the NFC West. But would they? NFC West blogger Mike Sando would put them third, behind the 49ers and Cardinals, even with Jason Campbell under center in Oakland.

[+] EnlargeCampbell/Russell
AP Photo/Ben MargotJason Campbell (8) is in, JaMarcus Russell (2) is out and that alone should make the Raiders a better team in 2010.
Bill Williamson: Advocating for the Raiders is neither easy nor perhaps sane. After all, the Raiders have been the bastion of football futility for much of the past decade. Oakland has lost 11 games or more for the past seven seasons. That is an NFL record for bad, bad times.

The misery has to end sometime and this year may be the year Oakland finally emerges from the dregs of the league and becomes a legitimate, competitive team. The horrendous JaMarcus Russell era has ended. Jason Campbell is far from an elite player, but he is an established NFL quarterback who knows what he is doing. That alone should allow Oakland to be much more productive on offense. This is a team that scored just 17 offensive touchdowns in 2009. Campbell could help the team score 20-25 more touchdowns this season.

Mike Sando: Let’s say Campbell posts a passer rating in the mid-80s and the Raiders back him with a defense ranked in the top 10. The Raiders would take that scenario, no questions asked. The reality, though, is that Campbell’s passer rating last season was 86.4 and the Redskins -- his old team -- fielded a defense ranked 10th in yards allowed. It all added up to a 4-12 record against a weak schedule. I like some of the Raiders’ talent on defense, but 25 teams allowed fewer yards per game last season. It’s a stretch to pencil in Oakland for a No. 10 ranking on defense in 2010 and a greater stretch to say they'd win the NFC West.

Williamson: The defense in Oakland is going to improve. The Raiders have added two potential stars in middle linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive end Lamarr Houston, both in the first two rounds of the draft. The run defense has been horrible in recent seasons, but it should be much improved.

Sando: I watched Frank Gore carry twice against the Raiders’ starting defense Saturday night. He gained 58 yards on those runs, and Mike Iupati, the 49ers’ rookie left guard, took out McClain pretty easily on one of those Gore carries. Preseason isn’t much to go on, but Gore probably could have had 150 yards if the 49ers had left him in the game.

Williamson: I can see why the 49ers removed Gore from the game. He’s always getting nicked up and that probably will be the case again this season. Follow me for a minute here. Oakland should easily compete to win eight games. Sure, it is not the stuff of playoff dreams -- at least in a real division -- and it won’t be enough to unseat San Diego in the AFC West, but this isn’t about the Raiders’ division. It’s about the NFC West, which managed a league-low 12 victories outside the division last season (the AFC West had 18). There is no anchor team in the NFC West, unless you count the sinking Cardinals. San Francisco? Come on. These teams are not markedly better than the Raiders. Arizona is a mess as it enters the post-Kurt Warner era and San Francisco always seems to fall short of its potential. Put Oakland in the NFC West and you’d have your 2010 division favorite.

Sando: There’s no way Campbell would hold up in the NFC West behind that horrible offensive line. The 49ers roughed him up Saturday night (Campbell has a stinger and wrist injury as a result). A week earlier, the 49ers roughed up Brett Favre (the Vikings had to yank him after only four plays). The Cardinals’ defensive front also would mangle Campbell. They feasted upon the Chicago Bears' Jay Cutler when both teams’ starting units were on the field Saturday night. Cutler had zero points, four sacks and two interceptions in five drives. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell would feast on the Raiders’ offensive line. It'll happen soon enough. The teams meet in Week 3.

Williamson: Let’s get back to the quarterbacks. No legitimate contender in the NFC West has one better than Campbell. Matt Leinart's career is on life support in Arizona and his replacement, Derek Anderson, is the quintessential stop-gap solution. Alex Smith is as fragile as a porcelain vase. Matt Hasselbeck is very much on the back nine of his career and Sam Bradford is just not ready to carry a team on his back. Not this year, at least.

Campbell is the most reliable of all of the above-mentioned quarterbacks heading into this season. He is a smart game manager who is not going to lose games. He will trust his young receivers and his potentially strong running game.

Sando: Granted, the whole Leinart-Anderson debate isn't helping the NFC West's credibility. But the coaching in Arizona is solid and the team still has good talent throughout its roster. Jason Campbell might be an upgrade for the Raiders, but the Redskins did bench him during an ugly loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last season. Last time I checked, the Chiefs weren’t good, even by AFC West standards.

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith
AP Photo/Matt SlocumAlex Smith threw 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 11 games last season.
Williamson: Campbell might not win games alone, but nine times out of 10, he won’t lose them alone, either. The Kansas City game was an aberration. Campbell posted a passer rating of at least 90 in nine regular-season games last season. Kurt Warner did it eight times despite playing with a far superior supporting cast. Campbell has the potential to lead Oakland to around 20 points a game while throwing 20-25 touchdown passes and limiting his interceptions to under a dozen or so. Can any quarterback in the NFC West say that this season? In a league where quarterbacks reign supreme, Campbell would be the best quarterback in the NFC West. He'd give Oakland a strong chance to be the best team in the division.

Sando: The 49ers had a chance to go after Donovan McNabb and they chose Smith instead. I didn’t think it was the wisest move, but it’s no stretch to think Smith will finish the 2010 season with better numbers than Campbell will post in Oakland. Smith had 18 touchdown passes with 12 interceptions in 10-plus games last season. Campbell was at 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions over a full season. Smith has a clear edge over Campbell in available weaponry, and he's finally getting comfortable. Don’t tell Al Davis this, but Michael Crabtree was a better choice than Darrius Heyward-Bey. Crabtree had more catches in 11 games last season (48) than any wide receiver for Oakland, and his total would have ranked tied for third on Campbell's Redskins. Better yet for Smith, Crabtree isn’t necessarily the best option in his arsenal. Vernon Davis is a first-team Pro Bowl tight end, Josh Morgan is a decent No. 2 and newcomer Ted Ginn Jr. looks like he’ll provide a welcome speed element on the outside. It’s ironic that the 49ers have the pure burners -- Ginn and Davis -- Oakland usually covets.

Williamson: Smith and Campbell have both faced tough circumstances in recent seasons. They've gone through coaching changes, gotten knocked around and faced criticism. Campbell has persevered far more impressively. He’s held up physically and finished with more touchdown passes than interceptions in each of the four seasons he has played. Smith has done it just once -- last season -- and never as a full-time starter. He couldn’t even beat out Shaun Hill heading into last season.

Sando: Drawing the NFC West as part of the NFL's scheduling rotation is going to help Campbell, but it’s not like the Redskins played a tough schedule last season. I heard Mike Shanahan call it soft during a recent radio interview. He's right. With Campbell at quarterback in 2009, the Redskins lost to the Lions, Panthers, Chiefs and Giants (twice). They barely beat the Rams, 9-7. They scored 17 points or fewer in 11 of 16 games. That doesn’t look very good on a quarterback’s résumé.

Williamson: The Raiders are not all about Jason Campbell. Quietly, Oakland has added some very talented pieces throughout its roster. While Oakland has crashed and burned in the first round lately, it has not gotten enough credit for late-round finds. The unheralded results form the makings of a solid roster.

There are legitimate stars on this team.

Start with left cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. If league observers would take their eyes off Revis Island for a minute, they would realize there is dominant cornerback play on the left coast, sans the snazzy nickname and lengthy contract holdout. Asomugha is one of the brightest, most instinctive players in the NFL. Consider that he plays a premium position and you have a highly valuable player.

The linebacking corps has a chance to be very good with McClain and Cleveland refugee Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley showed his pass-rushing potential with four sacks in a limited role against Chicago in the second preseason game. Three-time Super Bowl champion Richard Seymour is anchoring a new-look and potentially outstanding defensive front.

Offensively, Campbell has some young, intriguing weapons to play with. Tight end Zach Miller is a blossoming star and one Campbell should utilize often. Young receivers Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy and Heyward-Bey all have a chance to reach their immense potential very soon. Running backs Michael Bush and Darren McFadden could give defensive coordinators fits on a weekly basis because of their varied skills. There’s talent in Oakland that teams in the NFC West simply can’t match.

Sando: Asomugha arguably would be the best player in the NFC West, but Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Willis and Steven Jackson wouldn't be far behind. Kamerion Wimbley? I'll take Dockett, Adrian Wilson, Gore, Davis, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Justin Smith, Matt Hasselbeck, Marcus Trufant -- the list goes on, and I've probably missed a few.

This debate will be tough to settle, but we can say the scheduling rotation should help one or more teams from each division pump up their records. NFC West teams eagerly can look forward to facing the Chiefs, Denver Broncos and possibly the Raiders. AFC West teams can feel the same way about games against the Rams and Seahawks, at least.

I'll be heading to Oakland in Week 2 for the Raiders' game against the Rams. St. Louis has managed only three victories over the past two seasons, but they're 1-1 against Campbell during that time, losing by two points at Washington in 2008 after suffering a fourth-quarter fumble inside the Washington 10.

If Bradford plays as well as he has recently, I won't be shocked if the Rams make it 2-1 against Campbell over the past three seasons.

Reviewing the Raiders vs. 49ers

August, 29, 2010
8/29/10
1:35
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Random thoughts from Oakland’s 28-24 home loss to San Francisco on Saturday night:
  • The Raiders had some injury scares. Quarterback Jason Campbell suffered a stinger after being sacked and running back Michael Bush broke his left thumb. Campbell is expected to be OK to play in the season opener at Tennessee on Sept. 12. Bush is going to see a hand specialist; still the team is hopeful he should be able to play against the Titans.
  • Campbell’s injury looked like it could be a lot worse when it happened. It is another reminder that Oakland’s troubled offensive line needs to improve or Campbell is going to get hammered often.
  • Before he was injured, Campbell played well, leading the Raiders to a touchdown on the opening drive of the game. Campbell was 6-of-8 for 93 yards. It was his second straight solid outing.
  • Bruce Gradkowski may have solidified his role as the No. 2 quarterback over Kyle Boller, who did not play. There is just something about Gradkowski. He is a sparkplug. He came in for Campbell and took the starting offense on his back as he did last year when he spelled JaMarcus Russell. Gradkowski was 14-of-22 for 202 yards with two touchdown passes, including a beautiful a 74-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy. Second-year receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey looked solid, catching three passes for 46 yards.
  • Defensively, Oakland wasn’t as strong as it was in its first two games. The run defense continued to be an issue. San Francisco had 165 yards rushing on 33 carries. Frank Gore had a 49-yard run against the defense, which was playing without Richard Seymour. Last week, Chicago’s Matt Forte had an 89-yard run. Tackling has been Oakland’s biggest problem the past few seasons.
  • Oakland has to shore up the run before it meets 2009 rushing champion Chris Johnson on opening day. The Raiders didn’t have a sack against the 49ers after registering 12 sacks in the first two games.
  • There were some bright spots on defense and rookie middle linebacker Rolando McClain and safety Michael Huff both made several plays.

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