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Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Around the NFC West: Rams' criticisms

By Mike Sando

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo expects the team to be hungrier next season after getting a taste of success. Spagnuolo on allegations the team didn't get the ball to Steven Jackson enough: "It's amazing … had we run the ball too much, we'd be asking, how come we didn't throw it? Here's the bottom line: You're doing what you can on offense to score points, to move the football. Sometimes you're in a situation where you think you need to throw it, loosen a team up. Run it, they take away the run and you've got to throw. What we tried to do was score as many points as we could. We didn't get very many, but that was the intent. You don't go in and say, 'We're going to do it this way.' You don't know what the defenses are going to decide to do." Most defenses are going to take away Jackson. The Rams needed to make the Seahawks prove they could take away Jackson. Instead, the Rams seemed to conceded the running game early.

Also from Coats: a Rams report card with an "F" grade for coaching in Week 17.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues how long they think Jackson can play at a high level. Three more seasons seems to be the consensus.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlines keys for the Rams to build on their improvement. Miklasz: "You can't count on a natural progression in this league. You have to push to supplement the talent on hand. And if there's stagnation in the coaching ranks, then you have to freshen up your staff. If you aren't advancing in the NFL, then you're going into reverse. From a franchise-building standpoint, 2010 was a good year. But if nothing else, the mess in Seattle was valuable in that it reminded the Rams of how far they have to go to join the winner's circle to stand with the NFL elite."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' schedule makes it clear the team could play better next season and still finish with a lesser record.

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Jackson plans to play in the Pro Bowl.

Dan Caesar of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams drew strong TV rating Sunday night.

Nick Wagoner of offers Rams-related notes, including this one: "The Rams will draft 14th in this year’s NFL Draft. You probably already know what the needs are: WR, OLB, DB, DT, more help on the interior of the offensive line. But the Rams are a long way from locking in on anything and, as always, general manager Billy Devaney will explore all options and look for the best player available when the Rams time comes."

Also from Wagoner: The Rams raised expectations this season.

Clare Farnsworth of says coach Pete Carroll hasn't named a starting quarterback for the wild-card playoff game against New Orleans. Carroll on Matt Hasselbeck: "It’s just how functional can he be, is really the issue that we have. He looked terrific in pregame, way ahead of where we probably would have pictured him to be. But everything was controlled. I just felt like he could be vulnerable, and if he didn’t need to play, it would be best for us to see if we could make it through it and fortunately we did. Now we have better options than we did last week at this time."

Also from Farnsworth: Only New England, Philadelphia and Indianapolis have more playoff appearances than Seattle over the past 12 seasons.

More from Farnsworth: Mike Williams surprised even himself and his friends by earning a roster spot and new three-year contract in Seattle. Williams: "I was talking with some friends, and they were saying they didn’t even expect me to be here. They thought I would come here and get released and then maybe make it somewhere else. So no, I didn’t expect things to go like they have at all."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks at the Seahawks' choice at quarterback. Also: Tight end Chris Baker and guard Chester Pitts will not play Saturday after incurring injuries.

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' losing record takes nothing away from Williams' accomplishments.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune passes along Brian McIntyre's weekly personnel notes on Seattle. Lofa Tatupu was the only player outside the secondary to play every defensive snap against the Rams in Week 17.

Art Thiel of Sportspress Northwest says the Seahawks have little choice but to start Hasselbeck against New Orleans. Thiel: "The game’s only touchdown was set up on a 61-yard pass from Whitehurst to wide receiver Ruvell Martin, who was so alone the Coast Guard was alerted for a possible rescue. But Whitehurst, operating in the shotgun, was looking the wrong way. Thanks to great protection, he eventually spotted Martin and flung a ball that was well underthrown, forcing Martin to come back for the catch. The play’s design was to simulate a screen pass that included Martin blocking on a cornerback, then releasing downfield. The Rams were well fooled, and it should have gone for a touchdown. But Whitehurst misplayed it, and knew it right away."

Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest says the Seahawks' offensive game plan helped them beat the Rams. Farrar: "By tailoring the game plan to Whitehurst’s relatively limited skill set and option-based background as a quarterback at Clemson (which was the last time Whitehurst threw meaningful passes at any level before this season), offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates gave his backup quarterback a window to NFL success he’s never had before. Instead of a full NFL playbook, Whitehurst went with a play sheet very much like the one Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur designed for rookie quarterback Sam Bradford."

John Morgan of Field Gulls says Hasselbeck's big game against New Orleans during the regular season came after Seattle established the deep ball against an aggressive Saints defense.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic explains why Cardinals offensive lineman Deuce Lutui hasn't opened a paycheck in weeks. Lutui: "Those checks will cash, but the commitment and pride I have for this team is way beyond what anybody knows about Deuce Lutui. You could ask my wife. I opened the first check just to see what it was going to be like, but after that, it didn't matter to me. It was like, 'Put them all away and let's just play football.'" Direct deposit?

Also from McManaman: John Skelton thinks he should be in position to compete for the starting job next season.

More from McManaman: Cardinals assistant coach Russ Grimm could have opportunities elsewhere.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic takes a closer look at the Cardinals' performance in Week 17. Somers: "The Cardinals showed they can run the ball competently when they stayed in manageable down and distance situations. When they didn't, the 49ers came after Skelton with a variety of blitzes that the line, backs and tight ends had trouble picking up."

Darren Urban of looks at potential plays of the year for Arizona.

Also from Urban: Cardinals running back Jason Wright said labor uncertainty has affected contract negotiations. Wright: "They talked to fewer guys than they normally would have at this point because they don’t really know how to negotiate the contract [because of the CBA]. I think they have approached guys these last couple weeks and said, ‘Hey, we want to talk to you, we just don’t know at this point.’ The guys upstairs do a great job … and there will be good communication here the next few days."

More from Urban: Adrian Wilson offers thoughts as the Cardinals disperse for the offseason.

Matt Maiocco of says 49ers tight end Vernon Davis thought the team played "tight" under former coach Mike Singletary. Davis said Singletary was good for his career, but not always good for the entire team.

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers are expected to be among several teams pursuing Jim Harbaugh as head coach. The team said it would hire a general manager before hiring a coach, however, and that could complicate the team's ability to land coaches without ties to whichever GM the team hires. One potential GM candidate, Mike Lombardi, said the team was not considering him. Maiocco: "There is a feeling within the 49ers that Lombardi would be able to land Harbaugh, said one source. (Of course, every NFL team must also adhere to the Rooney Rule and interview at least one minority candidate.)"

More from Maiocco: Trent Baalke handled the 49ers' exit interviews.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers receivers coach Jerry Sullivan will not return to the team, most likely. Sullivan could retire.

Also from Barrows: Lombardi still thinks Baalke is the GM favorite.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers had a hard time watching Seattle claim the NFC West crown. Davis: "We really deserved that. We had the better team. We were better than anybody -- anybody we played. We were just as good, if not better. But we just couldn't pull it off."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers left tackle Joe Staley also had a tough time watching Seattle win the NFC West after getting blown out at Candlestick Park.

Also from White: He calls Baalke the "clear" front-runner for the GM job.