NFC West: A.J. Feeley

After judging a quarterback by the company he keeps, I've expanded the field to show additional names with recent ties to the NFC West.

The chart below ranks these QBs by most starts since 2010 with at least 15 action plays and a Total QBR score in the 90s.

For additional context and to avoid implying any similarities between emerging star Colin Kaepernick and journeyman backup Brady Quinn, I've included an additional column showing cumulative QBR figures for all starts since 2010, regardless of how many action plays (all QB plays except kneel-downs, spikes and handoffs).

The information reflects negatively on St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, who has just one 90-plus game out of 42 qualifying starts and a cumulative QBR score of 42.3, well below the 50-point mark indicating average play.

Some context is in order. QBR assumes an average supporting cast. Some quarterbacks on the list have played with exceptionally weak supporting casts. Bradford has arguably played with the weakest of the group, especially when factoring for the injury problems that wiped out Bradford and the Rams in 2011 in particular, when St. Louis led the NFL in adjusted games lost.

The Rams think Bradford's production will improve significantly in 2013 and especially beyond now that the team has acquired fresh, fast talent on offense. So, while we might reasonably have expected Bradford to have provided a few more exceptional performances to this point in his career, a case can be made that he has too often found himself in survival mode.

Former St. Louis Rams receiver Steve Smith announced his retirement through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday.

The story by itself shouldn't mean much to Rams fans.

Smith, after all, started only two games in 2012 while trying to overcome serious knee injuries. He was never a player the Rams were counting on for significant contributions.

Smith's retirement is notable in another context, however. His name tops what should be a relatively short list of players to disappear from the game in 2013 after making at least one start for the Rams last season.

Last season, 16 players made zero regular-season appearances in an NFL game after starting at least once for the Rams in 2011. One such player, linebacker Chris Chamberlain, probably would have played with New Orleans had he not suffered a knee injury. Many of the others languished for lack of interest.

A quick look at the list of 15 players beyond Chamberlain: Adam Goldberg, James Hall, Fred Robbins, Tony Wragge, Jason Brown, Cadillac Williams, Rod Hood, Al Harris, C.J. Ah You, Mark Levoir, Ben Leber, Nick Miller, A.J. Feeley, Mike Sims-Walker and Mark Clayton.

Hall, Robbins, Goldberg, Wragge and Brown started at least half the games in 2011. Some others found opportunities because the Rams suffered from an unusual number of injuries that season.

Still, as the Rams improve and build around younger players, including quite a few drafted in the first two rounds, they should have less room on their roster for stopgap veterans. At receiver, for example, none of the Rams' players is even 26 years old. Players such as Smith, Sims-Walker and Clayton wouldn't fit.

Heading over to see the new-look Rams

October, 21, 2012
ST. LOUIS -- Good morning and welcome to Week 7.

Half of the NFC West is sitting out this Sunday after San Francisco defeated Seattle in the Thursday night game.

We've got the Arizona Cardinals visiting the Minnesota Vikings, and the St. Louis Rams playing at home against the Green Bay Packers, both at 1 p.m. ET.

I'm in St. Louis and will be heading over to the Edward Jones Dome early.

The Rams are 3-3 after going 2-14 last season. Their entire starting defense is healthy heading into the game. That's a big change from last season, when the Rams went into their seventh game without either starting corner and a long list of others, including quarterback Sam Bradford.

Seven of the Rams' starters from their seventh game last season aren't on 53-man rosters at present. That's an indication how much roster work was needed, and how much injuries set back the 2011 team.

James Hall, Fred Robbins, Al Harris, Jacob Bell, Jason Brown, Adam Goldberg and A.J. Feeley started in that seventh game last season, a surprise 31-21 victory over the New Orleans Saints following six defeats to open the season.

Harris retired. The others were released and are not under contract. Bell also retired.

Much has changed for the Rams. A victory over the Packers would give them four victories through Week 7 for the first time since 2006.
Thoughts after noting that the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick has gone from undisputed No. 2 quarterback as a rookie in 2011 to fighting for the role on equal footing with two others:
  • Going from second to third on the depth chart would look like a regression for Kaepernick, but it might not mean much for the long term. Circumstances have changed. Alex Smith outperformed expectations last season, earning a new contract and tightening his grip on the starting position. The team signed Josh Johnson, Jim Harbaugh's former quarterback at the University of San Diego. Scott Tolzien, another passer the 49ers liked coming out of college, has gained some seasoning.
  • Kaepernick was facing a significant transition from the system he ran in college. His development was going to take time. It'll be good for him to get extensive reps in the preseason, but Johnson will need playing time, too. The goal, of course, is to upgrade the quarterback position, not to make sure Kaepernick appears instantly worthy of the second-round choice San Francisco used to select him. As coach Jim Harbaugh said on the day the 49ers drafted Kaepernick: "We believe in competition. We believe in earning positions around here."
  • The 49ers ideally would have found competition for Kaepernick last offseason. A lockout-shortened signing period complicated those efforts. That cleared the way for Kaepernick to land the No. 2 job unopposed. The 49ers got away with having an inexperienced backup when Smith started all 16 games, plus two playoff games, without encountering the injury problems that sidelined him in past seasons.
  • There's no precedent for developing quarterbacks drafted in second rounds. Each situation has its own dynamics. A year ago, developing Kaepernick on a fast schedule seemed important. Those still skeptical of Smith might feel that way yet. But Johnson, with more experience than Kaepernick, might be better prepared to take over a playoff-caliber team on short notice should Smith struggle or suffer an injury. It's up to Kaepernick to prove otherwise.

As the chart shows, five of the nine second-round quarterbacks drafted from 2007 to 2011 were third-stringers or had been released heading into their second regular seasons. Chad Henne and Kevin Kolb were second string. Andy Dalton remains a starter heading into his second year. Brock Osweiler, a second-rounder in Denver this year, hasn't had a second season, obviously.

NFC West teams added or re-signed 38 unrestricted free agents during the recently completed UFA signing period. They lost or did not re-sign 47 such players.

One key difference between those groups: age.

The St. Louis Rams in particular used the UFA signing period to get younger. The 12 UFAs they added (11) or re-signed (one) averaged 2.49 years younger than the 20 UFAs they lost (six) or have not re-signed (14). The gap was 1.39 years younger on average throughout the division. The Rams have the youngest roster in the NFL, based on averages I maintain for every team in the league.

Some older UFAs never sign another NFL contract. They disappear from rosters and realize, perhaps a year or two later, that they've been retired.

The chart shows age differences for the 38 UFA players added or re-signed versus the 47 lost to other teams or still unsigned. According to the NFL, 143 UFAs changed teams across the league this offseason. Another 112 re-signed with their 2011 teams.

Unsigned players remain free to sign with another team, but the NFL will not count them as UFA signings. The distinction matters in part because only UFA additions and losses count toward the formula for determining compensatory draft choices. That formula relies heavily on player salaries. UFAs available this late in the process generally wouldn't command enough money to affect compensatory picks, anyway.

A quick look at which UFA players from NFC West teams did not sign or re-sign as UFAs:
The 27 unsigned UFAs from the NFC West average 31.38 years old, about 3.3 years older than the 22 UFAs signed from other teams.

Nine of the 27 are at least 33 years old. Another 12 are between 29 and 32. Justin King, former cornerback for the Rams, is the youngest at 25 years old.
NFL rosters undergo massive changes each offseason. That has been particularly true in 2012 as limits increased from 80 to 90 players.

As much as I'd like to comply with requests to publish specific roster breakdowns for age and other factors, the changes require quite a bit of time to process.

A few trends are coming into focus regarding the NFC West already:
Enjoy your Friday. Hope to see you at the rescheduled NFC West chat. I'll publish a reminder later Friday.

An update on the Rams' youth movement

March, 29, 2012
The St. Louis Rams' list of unrestricted free agents got a little shorter Thursday when longtime punter Donnie Jones reached an agreement with the Houston Texans.

Jones, 31, was generally outstanding for the Rams during five seasons with the team. He was twice a second-team Associated Press All-Pro selection.

Teammate Steven Jackson has called Jones the one Rams player he thought most deserving of the Pro Bowl.

The Rams have yet to re-sign any of their UFAs, no surprise as they break from the past and generally seek to get younger.

The Rams signed punter Tom Malone this offseason. Malone has spent time with New England, Seattle and San Francisco without playing in a regular-season game.

Dave Zastudil, Brad Maynard, Mat McBriar, Matt Turk and Daniel Sepulveda are among the UFA punters without contracts.

The chart lists the Rams' UFAs and their statuses. Brandon Lloyd and Chris Chamberlain were the only ones to sign elsewhere before Jones reached agreement with the Texans.

I'll be surprised if the Rams' new leadership re-signs more than a couple of the players listed. Most are older players. The Rams currently have the youngest roster in the NFL, slightly younger than those for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks.

2012 NFC West UFA scorecard: update

March, 16, 2012
Michael Robinson's expected re-signing with the Seattle Seahawks would give the team a league-high four re-signings in the unrestricted free-agent market.

Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan and Heath Farwell previously re-signed.

Seattle and the other NFC West teams have added only two UFAs from other teams, however. I've put together UFA scorecards for each team in the division. Ages are in parenthesis. Here goes ...

Seattle Seahawks

UFA unsigned (age): defensive end Raheem Brock (33), defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson (31), safety Atari Bigby (30), quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (29), linebacker Leroy Hill (29), linebacker Matt McCoy (29), defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (28), linebacker David Hawthorne (26), running back Justin Forsett (26), linebacker David Vobora (25)

UFA re-signed: Farwell (30), Robinson (29), McQuistan (28), Bryant (27)

UFA added: none

UFA lost: tight end John Carlson (27)

Franchise player: none

Comment: Forsett has provided value, but the Seahawks will want to add a power back as depth behind Marshawn Lynch, who re-signed before free agency. Mike Tolbert, a free agent from the San Diego Chargers, could be worth a look if the running back market remains soft. Tolbert weighs 243 pounds, has 21 total touchdowns over the past two seasons, and caught 54 passes in 2012. The price would have to be right after Seattle committed to Lynch.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA unsigned: fullback Moran Norris (33), tight end Justin Peelle (33), safety Madieu Williams (30), quarterback Alex Smith (27), receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (26), guard Chilo Rachal (26), safety Reggie Smith (25)

UFA re-signed: cornerback Carlos Rogers (30), linebacker Tavares Gooden (27)

UFA added: none

UFA lost: guard Adam Snyder (30), linebacker Blake Costanzo (27), receiver Josh Morgan (26)

Franchise player: safety Dashon Goldson (27)

Comment: Randy Moss and potential addition Rock Cartwright do not appear in the listings because they were not unrestricted free agents. Re-signing Alex Smith and finding additional receiver help appear to be the top priorities. The 49ers are showing little outward urgency on either front, however.

Arizona Cardinals

UFA unsigned: defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday (36), kicker Jay Feely (35), long-snapper Mike Leach (35), outside linebacker Clark Haggans (35), outside linebacker Joey Porter (34), offensive lineman Floyd Womack (33), punter Dave Zastudil (33), tackle D'Anthony Batiste (29), safety Sean Considine (29), guard Deuce Lutui (28), safety Hamza Abdullah (28), tackle Brandon Keith (27), receiver Early Doucet (26)

UFA re-signed: none.

UFA added: Snyder (30)

UFA lost: cornerback Richard Marshall (27)

Franchise player: defensive end Calais Campbell (25)

Comment: The Cardinals have been in a tough spot. They would have faced criticism had they declined to pursue Peyton Manning. They could now face criticism for sacrificing the first week of free agency while waiting for Manning. The reality is that Arizona probably wasn't going to be all that aggressive in the market this offseason, anyway. It did hurt losing Marshall to the Miami Dolphins after coordinator Ray Horton called him the Cardinals' defensive MVP.

St. Louis Rams

UFA unsigned: cornerback Al Harris (37), quarterback A.J. Feeley (34), offensive lineman Tony Wragge (32), linebacker Brady Poppinga (32), punter Donnie Jones (31), offensive lineman Adam Goldberg (31), guard Jacob Bell (31), receiver Brandon Lloyd (30), cornerback Rod Hood (30), running back Cadillac Williams (29), defensive tackle Gary Gibson (29), receiver Mark Clayton (29), tackle Mark LeVoir (29), tight end Stephen Spach (29), safety James Butler (29), tight end Billy Bajema (29), quarterback Kellen Clemens (28), running back Jerious Norwood (28), linebacker Bryan Kehl (27), linebacker Chris Chamberlain (26), cornerback Justin King (24)

UFA re-signed: none

UFA added: cornerback Cortland Finnegan (28)

UFA lost: none

Franchise player: none

Comment: The Rams are not looking to re-sign many of their own free agents. They want to turn over the roster, and that is happening in a big way. The team's failure to secure playmaking help for quarterback Sam Bradford stands out as the biggest theme to this point. Finnegan was a welcome addition, but he isn't going to score many touchdowns.

The chart below shows a general overview.

First look at Rams' 2012 free agents

February, 7, 2012
The St. Louis Rams have 20 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents.

I'm not sure any of them qualify as players the Rams absolutely must bring back, particularly with a new coach and new schemes on both sides of the ball.

Receiver Brandon Lloyd would help fill a need, but at what price? Would he fit as well in a new offense after producing at disproportionate levels to this point when paired with former coordinator Josh McDaniels, now in New England?

Guard Jacob Bell played for new coach Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. He might have more value to the new staff than he had to the old one; McDaniels wanted more powerful guards, such as Harvey Dahl.

This item, like the previous one for Arizona, expands upon Brian McIntyre's lists. I've added columns for offensive and defensive snap counts from 2011, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information. The final column shows how much each player's previous contract averaged.

Update: Punter Donnie Jones is also an unrestricted free agent. His previous contracted averaged not quite $1.2 million.


Receiver Danny Amendola, listed with the restricted free agents below, has not played since suffering an elbow injury in the 2011 season opener.
The San Francisco 49ers defeated the previously 5-0 Detroit Lions on the road after losing a fumble on their first play and never forcing a turnover.

They ground out a 13-8 victory on the road against a rookie quarterback, Andy Dalton.

They won what turned into a 36-32 postseason shootout against the NFL's hottest quarterback, Drew Brees.

They came back from 20 points down in the second half to beat Philadelphia on the road. They ran away from previously 3-1 Tampa Bay to win a blowout, 48-3.

With the 49ers sitting one victory away from the Super Bowl, I went through their games looking for threads tying together their victories and defeats this season.

Turnovers are generally key for any team; the 49ers led the league in differential. But as the game against Detroit demonstrated, the 49ers could beat a good team on the road without prevailing in that pivotal category. That was one of six games this season the 49ers won after trailing in the fourth quarter.

A few things jumped out over the course of the season, counting playoffs:
  • The 49ers gave up 20 sacks in their three defeats. That included nine at Baltimore, six against Dallas and five at Arizona. They allowed 28 sacks in their 14 victories.

  • Attacking the 49ers' pass defense is key. The 49ers' record was 0-2 when allowing more than 8.5 yards per pass attempt and 2-3 when allowing more than 6.6. They were 12-0 when allowing less than that. The 49ers were also 9-0 when collecting at least three sacks. They were 1-2 when opponents completed better than 65 percent of their pass attempts. The Giants' Eli Manning completed 65 percent. The 49ers batted down his final pass to help preserve their 27-20 victory.
  • The chart ranks opposing quarterbacks by yards per play when dropping back to pass or scrambling. The quarterbacks ranking near the top generally defeated the 49ers or made them sweat out victories. Dallas connected on long pass plays late to beat San Francisco. Arizona had pass plays for 60, 53 and 46 yards during its victory over the 49ers. The chart shows only regular-season opponents, but the Saints' Drew Brees nearly beat the 49ers with 66- and 44-yard touchdown passes.
  • Attacking the 49ers' run defense seems less critical. The 49ers were 12-0 when allowing more than 2.6 yards per rushing attempt. They were 2-3 when allowing less than that. Yes, you read that correctly. They even went 3-1 when allowing 25 or more rushing attempts. They were 11-1 when allowing more than 55 yards rushing, including 4-0 when they allowed more than 92.
  • The 49ers were 3-2 when allowing more than 20 points, including 2-1 when they allowed 27 or more. They were 4-0 when allowing more than 20 first downs and 9-1 when allowing more than 16 of them. They were 10-1 when opponents ran at least 60 plays and 4-2 in the other games.
  • Venue matters. Alex Smith has 15 touchdown passes, three interceptions and 17 sacks in nine home games. He has five touchdown passes, two interceptions and 31 sacks in eight road games.
  • Vernon Davis matters. Davis has 67 receptions for 884 yards and eight touchdowns in the 49ers' 14 victories. He has seven receptions for 88 yards and no touchdowns in three defeats. He averages 2.1 times as many receptions for 2.2 times as many yards in the 49ers' victories.

Those are a few variables I noticed. There are quite a few others, surely. Which ones matter most in your view?

Should division welcome Gregg Williams?

January, 16, 2012
Gregg Williams' expected departure from New Orleans to become the St. Louis Rams' defensive coordinator should interest NFC West fans.

Williams has become known for coming after opposing quarterbacks with abandon. The Saints sent five or more pass-rushers 51.1 percent of the time in 2011, most in the NFL. The percentage was a league-leading 49.5 in 2010 and a runnerup 48.2 in 2009.

The Rams, meanwhile, brought added pressure 32.5 percent of the time during that period, 15th-most in the league, according to John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Information.

Fans and players tend to favor aggressive play, but as the chart indicates, NFC West quarterbacks have carved up Williams' New Orleans defenses in the postseason over the past two years.

Matt Hasselbeck's four touchdown passes led Seattle past the Saints in the wild-card round a year ago. Alex Smith's four total touchdowns (one rushing) were the difference for the 49ers in the divisional round Saturday.

Most schemes will work with the right players, of course. In these cases, veteran quarterbacks made the Saints pay for their aggressive tactics. Hasselbeck and Smith fared well, in general, regardless of how many rushers the Saints sent.

Steve Spagnuolo's defensive scheme was the least of the Rams' worries, in my view.

"A lot of defenses are unsound in how they do things," Hasselbeck said when I caught up to him following his Tennessee Titans preseason debut, in St. Louis. "These guys (the Rams) are really sound. They might not lead the league in sacks up front, but they do a nice job getting pressure. They play together as a defense. They don't give up big plays. Even when you get them, it's for 20 yards instead of for a touchdown."

The Saints gave up a league-high 14 pass plays covering at least 40 yards during the regular season. The Rams gave up 12, but they also lost all their top cornerbacks to injury.

St. Louis won only twice in 2011. One of those victories came against New Orleans, with A.J. Feeley at quarterback.

Hot Topic: How can 49ers beat Saints?

January, 9, 2012
NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas and I will be chatting soon for a piece sizing up the New Orleans Saints' and San Francisco 49ers' chances Saturday.

Of course, Pat will be the one reaching out as part of the long-established "gentleman's agreement" requiring bloggers covering lower-seeded teams to contact those for higher-seeded teams during the week leading up to a playoff matchup.

Each of us will be making a case for the teams from the divisions we cover. That's where you come in. How can the 49ers win this game?

I began throwing out a few notes on the subject during Twitter exchanges Saturday night. I'll revisit them here to get the conversation going:
  • The Saints played 11 indoor games during the regular season, averaging 38 points per game in them. They averaged 23.8 in their last four outdoor games. Weather should not be a problem Saturday, but the grass at Candlestick Park can be slick anyway.
  • The Saints' last two outdoor games included a 22-17 victory at Tennesse and a 26-20 defeat at Tampa Bay. The Titans were eighth in points allowed this season. The Bucs were 32nd.
  • The 49ers have allowed 10 total points in their last three home games, although the opposing quarterbacks were limited (an injured Ben Roethlisberger, A.J. Feeley and John Skelton).
  • The 49ers played four explosive quarterbacks. They beat Michael Vick and Matthew Stafford on the road. They lost to Tony Romo at home. They beat Eli Manning at home. The 49ers allowed 422.5 total yards per game against those quarterbacks' teams, compared to 270.1 yards per game against everyone else. But they still went 3-1.
  • Granted, Frank Gore did not finish the season strong. The 49ers still had 178 yards rushing at Seattle in Week 16, with Kendall Hunter and Alex Smith contributing.
  • The St. Louis Rams (this season) and 49ers (last season) are the last two teams to hold the Saints beneath 300 yards.

I'm not predicting a 49ers victory, necessarily. But neither would I rule one out. If you are among those liking the 49ers' chances, please elaborate. Thanks.

QBR ranks: Smith, Skelton step up

January, 2, 2012
NFC West quarterbacks took a beating in 2011 -- not just with the 203 sacks they absorbed, either.

We've heard the criticisms and levied them from time to time. Alex Smith is a merely game manager, John Skelton lacks accuracy, Kevin Kolb lacks pocket awareness, Tarvaris Jackson doesn't produce well enough in the clutch, etc.

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireAlex Smith had the highest QBR in the division for the 2011 regular season.
The position was more asset than liability within the division Sunday. Smith, Skelton and the St. Louis Rams' Kellen Clemens made key plays and generally avoided critical errors. Smith and Clemens even scrambled for touchdowns. They stood high above the Seattle Seahawks' Jackson in Total QBR for Week 17.

Skelton's performance in victory over Seattle gave him the highest single-game QBR for a Cardinals quarterback (69.7) since Kurt Warner scored a 75.1 against the Rams in Week 16 of the 2009 season. That was enough to move Skelton past Jackson for second behind Smith among NFC West quarterbacks in QBR for the 2011 season.

What does it all mean?

QBR measures how quarterbacks affect their teams' win probability on a play-by-play basis, taking into account contributions related to passing, rushing, sacks, penalties and fumbles. It would have us believe that NFC West quarterbacks played well occasionally, but their contributions over the full season fell short of the 50-point score representing average. I would generally agree.

The first chart below suggests Smith has picked up his play recently, posting scores in the 70s for three weeks running, and 67.7 or higher six times in the last eight games. Smith's NFL passer rating (90.7) ranked ninth in the NFL. His QBR ranked 22nd largely because the 49ers added relatively few expected points through passing, and because Smith ranked last in expected point lost to sacks.

Smith has taken five sacks over his last three games after taking 18 over the previous three. The 49ers have not committed a turnover in their last five games.

The key for Smith, in my view, will be transitioning away from turnover avoidance through sacks (avoiding interceptions at all costs) and moving toward completing passes against pressure. We have seen that on occasion recently.

I've shaded the chart to show single-game scores in the 60s or higher. For reference, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees scored in the 80s over the full 2011 season. Any full-season score in the mid-60s represents Pro Bowl-caliber production.

Quick thoughts on how NFC West passers graded out in Week 17 according to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point:

  • Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (73.3 QBR, 98.7 NFL rating): Smith completed 21 of 31 passes for 219 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions, three sacks no fumbles. He gained five yards on four carries and had a rushing touchdown. The 49ers had only three wide receivers active, putting pressure on Smith to better utilize tight end Vernon Davis and receiver Michael Crabtree. Smith succeeded. He found Davis on deep passes gaining 44 and 34 yards. Crabtree did much of the work on a 28-yard scoring pass, but Smith's rushing score on third-and-goal from the 8 helped.
  • John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals (69.7 QBR, 74.1 NFL rating): Skelton completed 22 of 40 passes for 271 yards with one touchdown, one interception, two sacks and no fumbles. He ran five times for 19 yards. Skelton completed third-down passes covering 26, 26, 22 and 18 yards. He also picked up a critical first down on a fourth-and-2 play in overtime. The touchdown drive Skelton led in the first quarter featured a 22-yard completion to Todd Heap on third-and-5.
  • Kellen Clemens, St. Louis Rams (64.9 QBR, 67.4 NFL rating): Clemens completed 14 of 31 passes for 226 yards with one touchdown, one interception, three sacks and no fumbles. He ran twice for 18 yards and a touchdown. The 49ers had allowed only one rushing touchdown all season when Clemens sprinted into the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Clemens' 36-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd on third-and-11 gave the Rams a chance late in the game. He also completed a 21-yard pass on third-and-10 a bit later.
  • Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle Seahawks (26.7 QBR, 76.1 NFL rating): Jackson completed 21 of 35 passes for 222 yards with one touchdown, one interception, four sacks and one fumble, which the Seahawks recovered. He gained three yards on his only rush. Jackson twice missed an open Ben Obomanu for deep passes that likely would have produced touchdowns. He did connect with Ricardo Lockette for a 61-yard score, but the Seahawks converted just three times on 19 third-down chances. Jackson could not claim his first fourth-quarter comeback victory of the season despite rallying into a tie.

The clutch-weight average column reflects game situations, not how well players performed during those situations. Any clutch average above 1.0 reflects a quarterback performing in higher-pressure situations.

Naming Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams inactive Sunday gives both San Francisco 49ers wide receivers extra time to heal for the playoffs.

The 49ers seemingly could have bought additional time for Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis, but they made him active for the first time since Willis suffered a hamstring injury Dec. 4. That presumably means the team feels confident Willis is at no additional risk for further injury.

With Ginn and Williams out, the 49ers will rely upon less proven players, not just on offense but in the return game.

Brett Swain starts opposite Michael Crabtree at receiver, where the 49ers have only three players active -- an unusually low number that includes undrafted rookie Joe Hastings, signed Saturday from the practice squad. Ginn and Williams were the top two returns specialists. With Delanie Walker also inactive, the 49ers are very thin on pass-catchers. With two fullbacks active, we can expect plenty of "22" personnel with two backs and two tight ends, it appears.

This means we could see safety Reggie Smith returning punts, with rookie running back Kendall Hunter serving as the primary kickoff returner. The 49ers did not make a formal announcement on a change at punt returner, but coach Jim Harbaugh indicated Friday that Smith could get the call.

With a victory at St. Louis or a New Orleans defeat against Carolina, the 49ers' injured players will gain another week to heal by virtue of a first-round playoff bye. There were no surprises among the Rams' inactives Sunday. Quarterbacks Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley remain out, leaving Kellen Clemens as the starter.

NFC West third-down success rates by QB

December, 24, 2011
NFC West offenses rank 21st (Seattle), 28th (Arizona), 31st (San Francisco) and 32nd (St. Louis) in third-down conversion rates this season.

I've broken out the conversion rates by play type and quarterback.

For example, the Seahawks' Tarvaris Jackson has 51 successful conversions on 124 pass attempts. His team has rushed for 13 first downs in 33 carries. He has taken 14 sacks. He has gained one first down on six scrambles. That adds up to 65 team conversions in 177 third-down plays when Jackson was quarterback, good for a 36.7 percent conversion rate that leads the NFC West.

The sack numbers jump out. Those are drive-killing plays by definition, but they do not show up in traditional third-down passing stats.

How teams fare on first and second down affects their chances on third down, of course.