Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Around the NFC West: Rams' accountability
By Mike Sando
The St. Louis Rams' 0-3 start contrasts sharply with the 3-0 beginning for Detroit after the Lions rose from similar franchise depths.
Of course, the Lions have faced the Bucs, Chiefs and Vikings to this point, while the Rams had to play the Eagles, Giants and Ravens. There is no comparison between the schedules.
And the Rams' offense deserves some leniency after unexpectedly changing coordinators and losing two of its most important players, Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola, to injuries in the season opener.
However, the Rams' defensive front seven should be better, the offensive line should be much better and quarterback Sam Bradford should appear more comfortable.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch drives home these points and others. He says the Rams must answer tough questions after losing for the sixth time in their last seven games, all while the Lions have gone 3-0 after rising from similar franchise depths. Miklasz: "This is Billy Devaney's third year as the GM, and his fourth year as the top talent scout in the organization. This is Steve Spagnuolo's third season as the head coach, and he has considerable authority in making personnel decisions in conjunction with Devaney. With the Rams having now gone 1-6 in their last seven regular-season games, there are only three possible conclusions for this wrong-way direction: (1) they're failing in the important assignment of choosing players; (2) they're failing to do a good job of coaching, and deploying, these players; (3) a combination of both." Noted: Miklasz calls the Rams' offensive line the biggest waste of money in the history of St. Louis sports. Harsh criticism, but there's no question the team should be getting more from that unit after all it has invested.
Moving along, it's tough to know what to believe when NFL coaches and players discuss scheme-related dynamics.
In a visit with Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas last week, I learned the team was hoping to re-emphasize fundamentals during its upcoming game against Arizona. There would be some simplification, it appeared, after the defense suffered through an uptick in assignment errors the previous week.
Yet, after Seattle prevailed over the Cardinals, 13-10, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll reflected upon what he considered to be a "very complex" defensive plan for the game.
"We had to prepare with four or five different ways to play nickel," Carroll said. "It was a challenge to our play calling."
But as Darren Urban of azcardinals.com reports, Arizona guard Daryn Colledge thought the Seahawks did nothing fancy.
"The Seahawks did a good job in their system, but their system was pretty simple and it was one we should have reacted well to," Colledge said. "We disappointed ourselves. We are the ones stopping ourselves. We have to get guys on the same page. Time is ticking by."
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have lost nine consecutive games on the road and six consecutive games within the NFC West. Noted: It's tough comparing the current team to the one that suffered through such quarterback upheaval last season. It's also fair to expect the Cardinals to win games when they hold opponents to 13 points, as they did against Seattle in Week 3.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Carroll liked what he saw from cornerback Brandon Browner against Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times runs through what he learned from the Seahawks' performance against Arizona, including a note about Golden Tate making strides. O'Neil on Tate: "That isn't necessarily evident on the stat sheet considering he had only two catches, but to watch him in practice the past two weeks is to see a player gaining confidence and getting a swagger back. That was evident on Sunday because neither of those grabs was easy. But with Doug Baldwin's play, Rice's return and Tate's emergence, Seattle is getting more weapons." Noted: The Seahawks remain conservative on offense while their offensive line gains experience. I think the offense would be in much better position to maximize those weapons if Matt Hasselbeck remained the quarterback. However, I also question whether Hasselbeck would have held up to the pounding Jackson has taken through the first few games.
Christian Caple of seattlepi.com says Carroll is defending Jackson from criticisms about Seattle's quarterback play. Fans booed for a time Sunday. Carroll: "I think they’re scrutinizing very sharply at this point. Right from the beginning, people were wondering, 'Why would you bring him in?' and there were those kinds of questions. He's not wavered by it at all and I’m not either. But it's going to take some time before everybody gets comfortable and sees what he's all about. I think they didn't boo him in the second half. I think the second half was OK. I think when he showed how tough he is and the competitor that he is and the plays that he can make and all that … he’s got to do his part, and they need to give him a chance."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com disputes the notion that Frank Gore might be finished after three rough games to start the season. Maiocco: "There simply hasn't been much room for the 49ers' running backs to maneuver. And that might not change until the passing attack can get things going. After all, Alex Smith has been efficient, but his 504 yards passing in three games ranks 28th in the league. One myth that you can completely ignore is the notion that Gore signed a big contract extension and is no longer motivated. Gore, really, got only $2 million guaranteed and he must play and put up big numbers for him to come even close to getting the reported $21 million through the 2014 season. Gore is in his seventh NFL season, and his commitment level is as high as it's ever been." Noted: Gore has produced behind shaky offensive lines in the past. Harbaugh came to the 49ers with a reputation for a high number of variations within the running game. In theory, his presence should make the ground game stronger. However, injuries to Nate Byham and Moran Norris have made life much tougher for Gore, in my view. Both played important roles in the run game. Both are missed.
Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers are disputing the illegal-touching call negating Michael Crabtree's touchdown reception against the Bengals. Inman: "It looked like he was inbound and never stepped out of bounds; that's what it looks like from our coaches' video. It was a heck of a play. It was a fantastic play by Michael and a fantastic play by Alex (Smith) in a part of the game where that touchdown was big and important."