Around the NFC West: 49ers sensed arrival

The five-year, $20 million deal San Francisco paid to Ray McDonald made a bold statement about the 49ers' veteran defensive end.

McDonald hadn't started a game in 2010. He hadn't started one in 2009, either.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says McDonald, though not a starter, ranked second on the 49ers last season in quarterback pressures (56) and quarterback hits (26). And while the team was sticking with a 3-4 defense, coordinator Vic Fangio wanted active linemen, not the conventional two-gapping types. Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin was out. Isaac Sopoaga was moving from end to replace Franklin. McDonald was moving into the lineup. Coach Jim Harbaugh: "We watched the tape on Ray and we all felt that here's a guy that's just about ready to explode onto the scene. It's kind of like there have been some tremors, some earthquake tremors have been reported and sighted on the Richter scale, and here's a guy that the big one could be coming. That's why Ray was such a high priority for us to re-sign and get back on our football team." McDonald's sack against Seattle in the opener ended a 25-game streak without one.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers rookie Aldon Smith is playing Demarcus Ware's role on the scout team in practice.

Also from Barrows: The microphone Harbaugh wore in Week 1 reveals the coach telling Alex Smith to throw away the ball if no one was open on a bootleg deep in Seattle territory. Barrows: "Smith, of course, runs the ball in for a touchdown, juking safety Kam Chancellor before being whacked by Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry just beyond the goal line. He gets a long and enthusiastic bear hug from a whooping Harbaugh when he gets to the sideline."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams receiver Danny Amendola, who is recovering from a dislocated elbow. Coach Steve Spagnuolo says the team will "be smart" with Amendola. Amendola: "I've been healing really quick. I can catch, I can move it around. It's just a little bit of instability on the sides." It's not clear how many games Amendola might miss.

Also from Coats: How Steven Jackson feels Monday will dictate whether he plays in Week 2. It's an upset if Jackson returns this week.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes that dropped passes hurt the Rams in their Week 17 defeat at Seattle last season, again in the opener Sunday. Thomas: "With two starting cornerbacks out with injury as well as their starting middle linebacker, Monday's opponent -- the New York Giants -- was shredded for 305 yards passing by Washington quarterback Rex Grossman, who's hardly one of the league's elite passers. The Redskins had six pass plays go for 20 yards-plus, and Washington tight end Fred Davis had five catches for 105 yards. So if the Rams can protect Bradford against the Giants pass rush and pick up the blitz, there should be opportunities in the passing game. Because of their depleted ranks in the secondary, the Giants had to play a lot of zone and off coverage against Washington."

DeMarco Farr of 101ESPN St. Louis expects good things from Al Harris as the Rams shuffle their secondary.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals' secondary was primarily to blame for the big plays allowed against Carolina in the opener. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "We had a comedy of errors on the back half. That’s what we are working to improve. (But) I don’t believe our attitude has suffered."

Also from Urban: Kevin Kolb wants to stay in the pocket longer on certain throws.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says officials appeared to err on two important calls against the Cardinals in the opener, both for hits on the quarterback. Clark Haggans' hand grazing Cam Newton's helmet drew one of the disputed flags. Somers: "The blow, if you can call it that, appeared inadvertent. Haggans was engaged with a blocker, saw Newton starting to throw and jumped to attempt to block the pass. His hand grazed Newton's helmet. Under new rules emphasis, that type of play was supposed to be legal this year." Noted: Somers and I were at Cardinals camp when game officials walked reporters through this specific type of play. We'll find out later Friday whether Haggans drew a fine from the league. Players drawing personal-foul penalties generally get fined. No fine tends to mean the league isn't standing behind such a call.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says former Cardinals defensive lineman Alan Branch played a key role in the Seahawks' strong showing against the 49ers on defense in Week 1. Branch: "Really, this system just allows me to be aggressive, which is the way I like to play, so I’m loving it right now, honestly. It’s probably the best fit I’ve played under for a while; being able to go out there and cause havoc in the backfield." Noted: The Cardinals traded up to draft Branch three spots before Philadelphia selected Kolb. It's odd how things turn out sometimes.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is adjusting the team's practice schedule before 10 a.m. PT kickoffs this season. Noted: The Seahawks started slowly, particularly on offense, in their opening-week game against San Francisco, a game played on the West Coast. The early kickoff against Pittsburgh presents new challenges.

Also from O'Neil: Aaron Curry loved how the Seahawks used him in Week 1. Curry: "Me going back to my natural outside linebacker as I've always done, as I did in school. All I did is play outside linebacker. I played SAM in our base and WILL in the nickel, and that's where I feel comfortable. It asks me to maintain the same footwork, the same pad level, and it allows me to keep the same key, the same reads, the same responsibilities. I'm enjoying it."