Around the NFC West: Learning the game

December, 15, 2011
There's so much more to the typical NFL play than what we see in the highlights.

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle regularly puts together videos explaining some of the layers. Those interested in learning more about the game -- the strategy behind a specific motion, how to read basic coverage, what makes a good route runner -- need not follow a specific team to appreciate a former quarterback's perspective on the game.

So, pull up a chair and let him walk you through one of the key plays in the NFC West from Week 13. Doug Baldwin's 29-yard scoring reception against St. Louis featured a rookie receiver exploiting a backup nickel corner through play design and execution.

I'll have more on Baldwin a bit later Thursday. Meanwhile ...

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says the benefits of winning outweigh the benefits losing brings in superior draft status. Brewer: "A year ago, before the Seahawks played the St. Louis Rams in a season finale with a playoff berth at stake, many fans preferred a high draft pick to a postseason bid, knowing how incomplete that 7-9 team was. Well, the Seahawks made the playoffs, pulled off a historic upset and advanced a round. Then, with supposedly weaker draft resources, they went out and drafted four players who have turned into starters and then signed undrafted free agent Doug Baldwin, who is the team's leading receiver. The Seahawks are younger and more athletic than they've been in years."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are unapologetic about focusing on the running game even as the NFL becomes more pass-oriented. Line coach Tom Cable: "Not everybody has a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning. Really, there's some elite guys who have those gaudy numbers, but everybody else is floundering, and they don't know, 'Do we run it today or do we throw it today? Let's try this.'"

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' defense was modeled after the Steelers' unit and is starting to play more like it as well. Browns coach Pat Shurmur did say the Cardinals play their coverages a little differently. Noted: Patrick Peterson was considered best suited for press coverage. He seemed to be playing off the receiver earlier in the season. I haven't noticed to what degree that has changed. Peterson has definitely played aggressively, drawing penalties at times.

Darren Urban of takes a closer look at the Cardinals' defense and passes along this quip from defensive lineman Darnell Dockett: "Once we fully learn the defense, it’ll be over for a lot of people." Noted: I'll have a detailed look at the Cardinals' defensive improvements a bit later Thursday.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is still struggling on his sprained ankle and might not play against the Bengals. Bradford: "The past two games I've gone out there, I feel like we've gone backwards. That is a bit frustrating, but in my opinion as long as it's good to go, as soon as it feels right, I want to be out there with my team trying to help them win."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points to a "perfect storm" of negative factors conspiring to make life rough for Bradford. Miklasz: "The Rams owe it to their fans, and to Bradford, to put him in position where he has a viable chance to succeed. Last season the Rams ran the kind of offense that put Bradford in position to make plays, and to grow. And -- with the help of a soft schedule and a disruptive defense -- the Rams won seven games and were one win from making the playoffs. That guy, Bradford, is still there. It's up to the Rams to make this right."

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says shutting down Bradford for the season could be a wise move in the near future.

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat passes along Steve Young's thoughts on how Alex Smith and the 49ers can improve in the red zone. Young says he learned the hard way that quarterbacks cannot simply manage the offense in the red zone. They must create, which requires taking chances. Noted: This dovetails with the thinking that San Francisco needs to take more chances in that area of the field. The team has appeared willing to settle for field goals. A strong defense has allowed that approach to work quite a bit this season.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says Smith's need for structure and a script contrasts with the approach that has worked best for Tim Tebow.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says ESPN's Ron Jaworski does not see improvements to Smith's fundamentals this season.



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