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Friday, December 30, 2011
Around the NFC West: On keeping Spags

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

The St. Louis Rams have more games played than offensive touchdowns this season. Their record in recent seasons would easily justify sweeping changes to the team's leadership once the regular season ends Sunday.

Any case for staying the course must ignore a 10-37 record over the past three seasons.

It's admittedly a tough sell, but if Steve Spagnuolo is the right man for the job, or if the Rams cannot find anyone better, then they need to keep him — no matter the public fallout.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlines a case for coaching continuity. Burwell: "Of all the attributes an NFL head coach should have, the single most important quality he must bring to the job is the ability to convince a room full of Type-A personality football players to follow him over the hill into battle despite the odds. That is a rare quality in the NFL coaching business and to anyone who actually bothers to investigate, Spagnuolo possesses that quality. An NFL locker room might be the most demanding room to work in American sports. In this testosterone-overloaded environment, lack of leadership is easily sniffed out." Noted: Burwell points to Dick Vermeil, who led the Rams to glory after posting 5-11 and 4-12 seasons. That is an interesting comparison. The case against Spagnuolo is simple. Just point to the record. Keeping him in spite of that record would require confident leadership from owner Stan Kroenke. Would it be the right move? That depends upon who Kroenke could get as a replacement.

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says a decision on Spagnuolo could be complicated by a long list of mitigating factors.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch stands up for Rams running back Steven Jackson.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch expects Rams receiver Brandon Lloyd to follow offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in 2012.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com passes along thoughts from the 49ers' Alex Smith regarding Sam Bradford. Smith: "No one understands that at the quarterback position you rely on so many people just to have a chance to do your job. Just from an outside perspective looking in, obviously he had a really big rookie year. I think he did a lot of good things and then the expectations just continue to rise and a new system, the lockout, all of the injuries the Rams have had this year especially on the offensive side of the ball at the receiver position and offensive line, things like that . . . No one wants to talk about that or hear that. A lot of times so many people just look at your stats and all of that stuff can be deceiving. So for him I still think just continue to work to get better every day. You’re going to get through this."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio hopes to have linebacker Patrick Willis back in the lineup Sunday. Noted: Caution would seem advisable, but the message would be unmistakeable if the team did allow Willis to play for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury against the Rams nearly one month ago.

Also from Barrows: Smith was initially "shocked" to see Braylon Edwards released.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News lays out keys to the 49ers' turnaround this season. One of them: "Instead of using their first-round draft pick on a quarterback, they took Missouri pass-rusher Aldon Smith, whose 14 sacks are one away from a league record for rookies. Cornerback Chris Culliver, running back Kendall Hunter and fullback Bruce Miller all have made key contributions."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Brett Swain could be one of the 49ers' starting receivers Sunday.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been at his best in fourth quarters this season. Urban: "In the fourth quarter this season overall, Fitzgerald has 27 catches for 578 yards -- the latter total second in the NFL to the 628 of the Giants’ Victor Cruz -- and no one has more receptions of more than 20 yards in the final quarter than Fitzgerald’s 12. Many of those catches have meant something. It helps that the Cardinals have played in an NFL-most 12 games this season decided by seven points or less, because fourth quarters have mostly been about more than just running out the clock." Noted: John Skelton's improved play in fourth quarters stands out as one obvious factor for Fitzgerald's late-game production. His production earlier in games would be better, in my view, if Skelton had played better in first quarters especially.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says a Week 17 victory would do the Cardinals good.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Beanie Wells proved his toughness by playing through a knee injury this season. Wells: "I missed a few runs and had I been a little bit healthier, I would have been out there full time. But one day, I tell you one day, I'm going to be healthy and I'm going to unleash hell on this league."

Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona profiles Cardinals tackle Levi Brown. Morgan: "Brown earned a B.A. in Labor and Industrial Relations from Penn State in three and a half years, then earned a second degree in psychology because he only needed three more psych classes to complete the major, so he figured, 'Why leave it hanging out there when you can finish?' While the rest of the Cardinals were wondering about the future of the NFL this spring, Brown was balancing his workouts with plans for the future."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are prepared to keep Tarvaris Jackson, who remains under contract through the 2012 season. Coach Pete Carroll: "That's where we are. That doesn't mean that we're not going to look at the draft really hard and all of the opportunities. We'll always do that at every position. But (for) T-Jack, understanding what this season has been like for him is really important."

Also from O'Neil: The franchise tag could help the Seahawks get a deal done with Marshawn Lynch. Noted: This should be a relatively straightforward negotiation. The Seahawks need Lynch. Lynch is only 25 years old. The team is in position to pay him.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com notes that Seattle's Brandon Mebane is racking up the tackles this season.

Also from Farnsworth: Tom Cable's impact on the Seahawks' offensive line.