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Friday, October 28, 2011
Around the NFC West: Loving on 49ers

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

The accolades keep flowing the San Francisco 49ers' way following their 5-1 start to the season.

Winning tends to validate every aspect of an operation.

Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle praises team president Jed York for naming Trent Baalke general manager and hiring Jim Harbaugh as head coach. Ostler: "The 49ers desperately needed a game-changer and Harbaugh was the only candidate who potentially fit that description. ... York snagged him. Maybe York got lucky. Maybe Harbaugh was ready to make the jump to the NFL and he saw the 49ers as the one team in which he instantly could seize near-complete control of the entire football operation. But give York credit. When he went into marathon discussions with candidate Harbaugh, some people on the outside (OK, I was one) thought that might be a deal-killer. What if Harbaugh chats with York and Paraag Marathe for several hours and realizes he is being recruited to head up some rich kid's Junior Achievement project? So yes, some of us underestimated York (and Baalke and Marathe)."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee lauds Harbaugh for succeeding in creating the family atmosphere that eluded the 49ers under former coach Mike Singletary. Players received an extra two days off for winning their final two games before the bye week. Practice-squad players travel on road trips. Barrows: "Long and tedious team meetings were common. Singletary often gave speeches -- sermons, really -- during the week. He wanted the 49ers to bond, but it was forced bonding. Jim Harbaugh also wants a family like atmosphere. But he is running the team in a different manner, like Patrick Swayze ran his household in 'The Outsiders.' Harbaugh is like the older brother who lets you drink out of the milk carton and who isn't beyond getting into scrapes of his own."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with the 49ers' coordinators for an explanation on how West Coast offenses have evolved over the years. One key difference: Teams rarely use a split backfield, which was a staple under Bill Walsh. Noted: Mike Holmgren used split backs a fair amount of the time during his years with the Seahawks. Sometimes the team would shift from split backs into the I-formation and back to split backs. But it's uncommon to see split backs in the NFL today. I was watching the 1979 playoff game between the Rams and Cowboys recently. The Cowboys' use of split backs jumped out right away. Before that, teams used to have their receivers line up in sprinter's stances, which they never do any longer.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News profiles 49ers receiver Ted Ginn Jr.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are bracing for a New Orleans team that has continued functioning at a high level despite coach Sean Payton's knee injury. Thomas: "Because of the surgery, Payton was less involved in game-planning for last Sunday's game against Indianapolis. On game day, Payton was upstairs in the coaches' booth, with offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael taking over the play-calling duties from Payton. The result was an amazing 62-7 victory over the Colts. It was the most lopsided victory in Saints history, and it matched the most points scored by an NFL team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. Payton may not have a leg to stand on, but he still has his team's ear."

Also from Thomas: Mark LeVoir is back with the team and says Rams Park looks the same, only four years older.

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams could be close to getting cornerback Marquis Johnson back from injury.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have lost their past 10 road games. Noted: They are one of eight teams in the NFL without a road victory this season. Carolina, St. Louis, Minnesota, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Miami and the New York Jets are also without a victory away from home. Carolina was the only team without a road victory all last season. The Cardinals haven't won a road game outside the division since beating the Detroit Lions during the 2009 season.

Also from Somers: The Cardinals hope to fix Kevin Kolb's footwork.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Seahawks tight end Zach Miller has no hard feelings toward Giants safety Kenny Phillips for the illegal hit that sidelined Miller until this week. The league levied a $20,000 fine against Phillips. Miller: "It's part of the game. A few years ago, that hit would have been legal. You can't fault the defensive guys too much because they're trying to make plays on the ball. It's tough when you change rules when you try and adapt and play within the rules. I wish it wouldn't have happened, though." Noted: Those are the types of hits I think about every time a retired player experiences health problems at a relatively young age. I suspect absorbing a hit such as that one would be life-altering for the typical non-athlete. It's remarkable athletes bounce back so quickly, but the evidence increasingly suggests they pay in the long term.

Also from O'Neil: Red Bryant's transformation from average defensive tackle to formidable defensive end continues to serve the Seahawks well.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com notes that the team hasn't played a home game since Oct. 2, meaning nearly a month will have passed between games at CenturyLink Field.