Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Around the NFC West: What's the point?
By Mike Sando
There was a point during Steve Spagnuolo's postgame news conference Monday night when his comments begged for elaboration.
The St. Louis Rams' coach was trying to explain some of the team's curious play calling near the goal line during a 30-13 defeat to the Seattle Seahawks. Spagnuolo pointed to the clock being a factor behind three consecutive pass plays from the Seattle 1-yard line.
I considered asking why the team had run twice to open the goal-to-go portion of the drive, once with backup running back Cadillac Williams and again with injured quarterback Sam Bradford on an ill-fated sneak, but there was really no reason to follow up. What could Spagnuolo say? Did it really matter at this point?
The cumulative effect of losing outweighed the need to examine in minute detail every aspect of this particular defeat.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch put it this way: "In St. Louis, we've seen this loss many times before; they all look the same by now. The players seemed to care. Running back Steven Jackson ran wildly and effectively, once again giving his all for a lost cause. The Rams defense played hard, putting up a fight until finally succumbing to fatigue and frustration. But the futile Rams offense failed to score enough points. With quarterback Sam Bradford playing on a gimpy left ankle and unable to consistently step into his throws, it was a challenge for the Rams to reach the end zone. ... What will (owner Stan) Kroenke do with his coach? I don't know. He could blow up the entire football operation and fire everyone. Or he could fire GM Billy Devaney and keep Spagnuolo. Or he could build another Wal-Mart."
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com offers a Rams report card with an "F" grade for coaching. Gordon: "Where do you start with that offense? A late offensive line substitution led to a broken red-zone play. That turned a first-and-goal scenario into a field-goal try. Josh McDaniels steered away from Jackson on several short-yardage calls near the goal line. He also ordered too many slow-developing play-action passing plays that seldom drew so much as a nibble from the Seattle secondary. Coaches must adapt their playcalling to the circumstances, and the Rams did a dreadful job of that on offense."
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune put the Seahawks' victory in perspective. Boling: "Yes, it was just the Rams. But the Seahawks also were without three starting offensive linemen and their big-ticket free-agent receiver – all out for the season with injuries. Yes, it was just the Rams. But Marshawn Lynch put together his fifth 100-yard rushing effort (23 for 115 yards) in the past six games. He unleashed another “Beast Mode” run in the third quarter when he pounded out a 12-yard gain despite being hit by a half-dozen defenders. He’s scored touchdowns in nine straight games. Yes, it was just the Rams. But the Seahawks’ young players had another impressive outing."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with the NFL's leading consumer of Skittles candy. Lynch rushed for 115 yards against the Rams. Fans showered him with Skittles when he scored a touchdown for the ninth consecutive game he has played. Lynch: "It really took off in college, when they gave me a pack of Skittles on the sideline at Cal. But it didn’t blow up the way it has like this."
Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times sizes up Doug Baldwin's contributions for Seattle. Brewer: "His underdog tale continues to get better. He has evolved from undrafted free agent to rookie surprise to flat-out impact player. It's not a shock when Baldwin does great things anymore. He is, in the absence of Sidney Rice, the Seahawks' best wide receiver. He is, without a doubt, an essential part of the Seahawks' present and future."
Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle offers postgame Seahawks notes, including one about Brandon Browner's up-and-down night. Browner on the big reception he allowed to Brandon Lloyd: "That double-move that he gave me, that should never happen. That's like what happened to me [against] Washington towards the end of the game. We're up, man. I've got to play off. I've got to play for the deep route."
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic thinks the Cardinals should bring back Todd Haley to help their offense after Ray Horton has helped turn around the defense. Bickley on the defense: "They've yielded six touchdowns in their past six games, the third-lowest total in the NFL during that span. They rank third in third-down defense behind the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets, a stunning turnaround for veteran birdwatchers. For the second consecutive week, they amassed five sacks from five players. That creates a powerful force inside the locker room."
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals aren't talking playoffs just yet. McManaman: "If the Cardinals win out -- beating Cleveland, Cincinnati and Seattle -- they would finish 9-7. If that happens and the teams above them in the NFC wild-card race lose two of their final three games -- namely Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas -- then Arizona is in. It's a long shot, but it's true. And even coach Ken Whisenhunt is a little apprehensive talking about it." Noted: The Cardinals could get into the playoffs even if they lost at home to Cleveland. Here is how.
Also from McManaman: The Cardinals say they aren't sure whether Kevin Kolb will play against the Browns. McManaman: "This couldn't have been how Kevin Kolb envisioned his first year as the Cardinals' starting quarterback would play out. In addition to taking a beating the first two months of the season, he missed four consecutive games because of a complicated right-foot injury. Then, just a week after returning, he suffered a concussion on the third play of Arizona's 21-19 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday."
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who gives the current 49ers an edge over the 1981 version. DeBartolo on the current team's defeat to Arizona: "What happened yesterday is the same thing that happened to me, Bill (Walsh), Steve (Young) and Joe (Montana) -- just exactly like that. That happened to us so many times in Phoenix, it's unbelievable. We'd go down there, and we had the better team, and they'd just pop up and come up with games." Noted: Not so fast. This team does not have Young or Montana. The 49ers have hit a rougher patch in the past three weeks and did not look good during the first half of their lone victory during that stretch, over the Rams. Writing off the defeat to Arizona as a fluke ignores broader struggles and limitations on offense. This team isn't playing with the efficiency it showed several weeks ago. It feels as though it's getting tougher to overcome some of the offensive limitations.
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' Frank Gore is not 100 percent. Branch: "Gore is presumably dealing with knee and ankle injuries that he suffered in back-to-back games last month. During a win against the Redskins on Nov. 6, Gore hurt his ankle and, after the game, needed assistance stepping down from an elevated platform on which he’d addressed reporters. Gore played the following week -- collecting zero yards on six carries -- but didn’t finish a 27-20 win against the Giants after suffering a knee injury in the first half. Gore hasn’t missed a game since, but his production has dipped dramatically since he ripped off a franchise-record five straight 100-yard games, a streak that ended against the Giants."