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Friday, December 10, 2010
Around the NFC West: Arizona blame game

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic casts Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt as a victim of an organization unwilling to shell out a few million for another veteran quarterback, notably Marc Bulger. Bickley: "According to some whispers, the pleading took place over several days. But Whisenhunt simply couldn't convince the hierarchy to purchase another quarterback, no matter how hard he tried. Like other NFL teams, the Cardinals were treading cautiously into an uncapped year, the one leading into a potential lockout. And now they're getting exactly what they paid for." Rams fans will probably chuckle at the idea of Bulger as franchise savior. That the Cardinals would be better off with Bulger under center speaks to their current desperation. The bigger story: We're now starting to hear rumblings suggesting Whisenhunt hasn't been able to secure adequate resources. That angle begs for some elaboration. These are the sorts of stories that trickle out when teams lose and people in power scramble to protect their reputations. We've seen it happen in every NFC West city over the past several seasons.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic sizes up the Cardinals' ground game.

Also from Somers: John Skelton is the favorite to start at quarterback for the Cardinals on Sunday.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Derek Anderson has yet to pass tests clearing him to return from a concussion.

Also from Urban: Rookie nose tackle Dan Williams is making an impact. Darnell Dockett: "He made a lot of plays, real physical at the point of attack. I was real impressed. He was getting off the blocks, staying low, and even facing adversity and what is going on in the season, he kept fighting. I appreciated it, and I told him. I was proud of him."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says during a 49ers chat that he expects a significant franchise shake-up at the end of the season.

Also from Maiocco: a chance to speak with coordinators Mike Johnson and Greg Manusky. Johnson: "Alex Smith is a guy that has tremendous knowledge of everything that we want to do. My job with him is to make sure we provide all of the avenues and parameters that he can play from, have some shots down the field, take those shots when they present themselves, have some quicks that you can go to if they take those things away. Spread them out a little bit more, run the ball, run out of the 22 package. So, we needed to give him all of the avenues in which to operate and then allow him to make those decisions and give us a chance to win the game."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers' run defense sagged after the team lost nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin to a groin injury against Green Bay. Barrows: "Franklin's status for Sunday's critical showdown against Seattle is uncertain. He missed Wednesday's practice but practiced on a limited basis Thursday. He said he thought he'd be able to play against the Seahawks. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was more cautious. He said that Franklin's status might be a game-time decision."

Taylor Price of 49ers.com looks at the "Beast Mode" aspect of the Seahawks-49ers game, the one featuring Marshawn Lynch and Patrick Willis. Willis: "We know they’re going to be prepared, but so are we. Marshawn Lynch is a good running back, but their offense is pretty much the same -- it runs through (Matt) Hasselbeck."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers aren't buying the idea that Seattle thumped them in Week 1. Vernon Davis: "Penalties and mistakes cost us the game. Are we a better team (now)? Yeah, I think we're a better team. I think we were the better team when we first played them."

Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest sizes up Alex Smith. Farrar: "He’s not a noodle-armed guy, but he’s not the Jay Cutler type, either. Cutler and very few others can make those 'hide-your-eyes' throws and still consistently complete passes. Smith must have his mechanics in line to play at a high level, and it’s somewhat distressing from an overall perspective that he doesn’t seem to be there yet."

Also from Farrar: a look at a couple of running plays Seattle dusted off in honor of former tackle Walter Jones.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with Jeff Ulbrich as the 49ers' former linebacker prepares to visit Candlestick Park as the Seahawks' assistant special-teams coach. Ulbrich: "I anticipate it being strange, emotional. It will be strange going into the visiting locker room, for sure. I spent a lot of time there, obviously, so it’s going to be strange. But at the same time it’s going to be nice to get back there and see a lot of old friends."

Also from Farnsworth: Matt Hasselbeck stands one victory shy of Dave Krieg's team record for a quarterback. Vice president of football operations Will Lewis: "First and foremost, what Matt has brought is stability. Once he got into a rhythm and was comfortable in his position, for the most part, he was the leader. Basically, he added stability to your offense and the scheme. It was a scheme he was familiar with, a scheme the coach had run forever. And here was a guy who could put all those things into play, to make the coach comfortable and the player comfortable."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says there's a huge difference between Hasselbeck and 49ers starter Alex Smith. He's right, of course, but the stats are more similar than they should be. Hasselbeck has 10 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 76.9 rating while completing 59.3 percent of his passes this season. Smith has nine touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 75.0 rating while completing 59.1 percent of his passes.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says fullback Michael Robinson helped the Seahawks' ground game against Carolina.

Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle says the Seahawks have changed dramatically since their last game against the 49ers.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Lynch ran over Seahawks coach Pete Carroll during a recent practice.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams head into their game against New Orleans with injury issues in their secondary. The team could be without cornerback Ron Bartell. Thomas: "After Thursday's practice, coach Steve Spagnuolo said Bartell 'doesn't have any strength right now. And certainly you don't want to put somebody out there that doesn't have all his strength, especially on defense, with a shoulder. So, it's not so much pain for him right now, it's just that he doesn't really have his strength.' "

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams can expect plenty of blitzes coming their way when they visit the Superdome. Miklasz: "Sam Bradford will have a chance to make plays. He's been good against the blitz this season, completing 59 percent with six TDs and 1 INT and a passer rating of 86.5 when defenses go after him with extra rushers. But Bradford has completed only 50 percent against the blitz over the last three games, so the protection and his (performance) need to sharpen up."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are getting strong play from cornerback Bradley Fletcher. Coats: "After starting the first eight games this year, Fletcher found himself on the sideline at the start of the Rams' Nov. 14 contest at San Francisco. According to word around Rams Park, the coaches didn't like the way he was practicing, so they replaced him with veteran Kevin Dockery. Burned for receptions of 32 and 65 yards on the 49ers' first two series, Dockery was yanked and Fletcher was reinserted. He's maintained his spot since then."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says rookie Keith Toston is getting reps at running back while Kenneth Darby remains unavailable. Wagoner: "Spagnuolo says he likes that Toston has fresh legs and thinks he’s ready to fill that role should the need arise."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis thinks the Rams will finish 8-8 and atop the NFC West.