NFC West: Al Harris

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.
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, frustrated over the absence of a late pass-interference call in Super Bowl XLVII, might not embrace a stat ESPN's John Clayton dug up for his latest "Inside the Huddle" video (above). I can help on that front, however.

"In the past 110 playoff games," Clayton reports, "there have been only one defensive holding call and two pass interference calls in the final two minutes."

Good note, and as Clayton reveals, one of those defensive pass interference calls went against the 49ers' Tarell Brown in the divisional playoffs this season.

What about the other one? Glad I asked.

The other pass-interference penalty during the final two minutes of a playoff game helped the Seattle Seahawks force overtime against Green Bay in a wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field following the 2003 season. Referee Bernie Kukar's crew flagged Packers linebacker Nick Barnett for interfering with Seahawks tight end Itula Mili on a third-and-goal play from the 6-yard line. Fifty-nine seconds remained in regulation. The pass from Matt Hasselbeck to Mili had fallen incomplete. The Packers led, 27-20.

The penalty against Barnett gave the Seahawks first-and-goal from the 1. Shaun Alexander scored on the next play and the game went to overtime, where the Packers won on Al Harris' interception return.

So, there is at least some precedent for officials to call pass interference in a goal-to-go situation during the final minutes of a tightly-contested playoff game.

"I would say it exactly like Bill Polian," Harbaugh told 95.7 The Game in San Francisco. "A penalty is a penalty no matter when it occurs in a game. It could occur in the first play of the game. It could occur on the last play of the game, or any play in between. That's the rules of football."

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.
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.

Around the NFC West: Rams' prime partner

February, 29, 2012
The Washington Redskins have selected 33 college players in the first four rounds since 2000, their first draft with Daniel Snyder as team owner.

That is 10 fewer than any other team, 29 fewer than league-leading Tennessee and 17.6 fewer than the other 31 teams have averaged over the same period.

What better team than the Redskins to fork over premium draft choices to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for the second overall choice in the 2012 draft?

There is none.

Mike Jones of the Washington Post says the Redskins "are prepared to" give the Rams two first-round picks, plus other selections, for the second overall choice in the 2012 NFL draft. Jones: "The Redskins believe (Robert) Griffin, who last fall won the Heisman Trophy after passing for 4,293 yards, 37 touchdowns and only six interceptions while leading Baylor to a 10-3 record, is worth that price." Noted: The Rams should pounce if the Redskins make such an offer formally, in my view. They would emerge with the sixth overall choice, which might be just as valuable to them as the second pick, given their commitment to Sam Bradford at quarterback.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at the Rams' cornerback needs. Thomas: "By season's end, six of the 16 Rams players on injured reserve were cornerbacks. Among the top five cornerbacks from a year ago, Al Harris has retired, Justin King is an unrestricted free agent, and Ron Bartell (neck), Bradley Fletcher (knee) and Jerome Murphy (ankle) are coming back from season-ending injuries."

Also from Thomas: a chat in which he repeatedly says the Rams are not trading Bradford.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News passes along thoughts from 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers after Ahmad Brooks' new deal. Rogers: "That’s good. I'm happy for him. It's surprising, but get what you can get. He's a big-time player for this team."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle has this to say about Brooks: "Before the 2008 season, the nightlife-loving Brooks was waived by the Bengals after two disappointing years. His exit from Cincinnati made the former third-round pick and All-American at Virginia begin to re-examine his life and career."

Todd Archer of says the 49ers' deal with Brooks affects the Cowboys' negotiations with Anthony Spencer. Archer: "Using the same press box stats for fairness to compare the players, Spencer has 266 tackles, 21.5 sacks, one interception, 10 pass deflections and 10 forced fumbles in 53 starts. Brooks has 139 tackles, 20 sacks, one interception, nine pass deflections and seven forced fumbles in 24 starts." Noted: Stats for tackles are unofficial.

Brock Huard and Mike Salk of 710ESPN Seattle debate whether the Seahawks should sign Mario Williams in free agency. Huard likes the match and thinks Seattle should make Williams a priority if the team does not invest heavily in a quarterback.

John Boyle of the Everett Herald says Leroy Hill's career with the Seahawks is "almost certainly over" after the linebacker's most recent arrest. Noted: I think Hill's ability to command a lucrative deal has suffered more than his chances for returning to Seattle.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic considers dynamics for the Cardinals relating to Peter King's report that at least two unnamed teams would be willing to add Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne this offseason. Somers: "First, the two players are old, by NFL standards. Manning turns 36 next month. We all know of his neck and arm issues. Wayne is still a productive player but he turns 34 in November, and he wants to make a considerable amount of money. It's one thing for a team to invest heavily in Manning. Teams are willing to take gambles on quarterbacks because of the importance of the position."

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 have become the hunted in the NFC West.

Having already take aim at their 2011 turnover differential, let us consider another reason for a potential 2012 regression from 13-3.

"Repeating the 2011 relative lack of injuries on the 49ers may be as hard as replicating the turnover ratio," Michael Rally contended via Twitter.

Injuries did slow and/or sideline some of the 49ers' most important players, including running back Frank Gore and linebacker Patrick Willis. Starting receiver Josh Morgan missed most of the season. A freak jaw injury sidelined tight end Delanie Walker late in the season. A hamstring injury slowed defensive end Ray McDonald.

But in looking at injured-reserve lists, the 49ers definitely fared better than their division rivals. They finished the regular season with five players on IR. The other three NFC West teams had a combined 39.

I've broken out the IR lists by team and position, based on where teams stood after Week 17. In some cases, teams released and/or reached injury settlements with players placed on IR previously. Teams usually keep on IR the players they value the most, however. The players listed below are the most relevant ones.

St. Louis Rams (16)

Fullback: Brit Miller

Receiver: Danny Amendola, Mark Clayton, Greg Salas

Tight end: Mike Hoomanawanui

Offensive line: guard Jacob Bell, Rodger Saffold, Jason Smith

Defensive line: Jermelle Cudjo

Linebacker: Josh Hull

Cornerback: Ron Bartell, Bradley Fletcher, Al Harris, Brian Jackson, Marquis Johnson, Jerome Murphy

Comment: Quarterback Sam Bradford was injured much of the year without landing on IR. The Rams ran through several unlisted cornerbacks as well. That position was hit hard. Losing both starting offensive tackles is never good, but Smith wasn't a huge positive factor on the right side. The team was arguably better off without him in the lineup.

Seattle Seahawks (15)

Receiver: Kris Durham, Mike Williams, Sidney Rice

Tight end: John Carlson

Offensive line: John Moffitt, James Carpenter, Russell Okung

Defensive line: Jimmy Wilkerson

Linebacker: Jameson Konz, Matt McCoy, David Vobora, Dexter Davis

Cornerback: Marcus Trufant, Walter Thurmond, Ron Parker

Comment: The Seahawks remained strong against the run largely because their line was healthier this season. Losing three-fifths of the starting offensive line could not stop Marshawn Lynch from producing at a high level. Rookie Richard Sherman capitalized on injuries at cornerback. Good, young depth helped Seattle weather injuries well.

Arizona Cardinals (8)

Quarterback: Max Hall

Running back: Ryan Williams

Offensive line: Brandon Keith, Floyd Womack

Defensive line: Dan Williams

Linebacker: Joey Porter

Cornerback: Crezdon Butler, Greg Toler

Comment: Ryan Williams' knee injury affected the team significantly. The injury situation was worse overall than the list would indicate. Quarterback Kevin Kolb missed seven starts with foot and concussion problems. Running back Beanie Wells played hurt much of the year and had a hard time producing late in the season. Adrian Wilson played through a torn biceps and got better as the season progressed.

San Francisco 49ers (5)

Receiver: Dontavia Bogan, Josh Morgan

Tight end: Nate Byham

Defensive line: Will Tukuafu

Cornerback: Curtis Holcomb

Comment: Byham was a solid blocking tight end. The team missed Morgan, especially late in the year. Gore's production diminished after he suffered an apparent knee injury in Week 10. Overall, though, the 49ers were healthy. They inflicted more injuries than they suffered, knocking out several opposing runners, including Felix Jones, LeGarrette Blount, Jahvid Best, Steven Jackson and Pierre Thomas.

Trend taking cornerbacks to new heights

January, 27, 2012
John Clayton's piece on NFL trends singles out the Seattle Seahawks' big cornerbacks for their ability to match up against tight ends on occasion.

I do recall noticing Seattle's 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner shadowing San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis at times this season, including when the teams played in Week 1.

While Seattle has led the way toward big corners in the NFC West, the Seahawks are not alone in valuing size at the position. Arizona's Patrick Peterson stands just over 6 feet tall. He weighs 219 pounds. That height-weight combination led some to project him as a safety down the line. But that type of projecting might reflect increasingly outdated perceptions about ideal cornerbacks.

A decade ago, I remember faulting the Seahawks for putting too much emphasis on size at the position. Ike Charlton was among the bigger cornerbacks failing to pan out for the team. But with Browner earning Pro Bowl honors and 6-3 rookie teammate Richard Sherman playing even better late in the season, by most accounts, Seattle is clearly onto something.

Browner led the NFL in penalties this season, but the Seahawks were OK with some of those infractions as a consequence of aggressive play. He and Sherman could not stop Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald in Week 17, but their size allowed them to hold their own physically to a degree the Seahawks' cornerbacks could not in previous seasons.

The chart ranks notable NFC West cornerbacks by height. I excluded the retiring Al Harris, among several others figuring less prominently into their teams' plans.

Gregg Williams, the new defensive coordinator in St. Louis, finished the 2011 regular season with Jabari Greer (5-10), Tracy Porter (5-11), Leigh Torrence (6-0) and Patrick Robinson (5-11) on the roster.

Size in the secondary increasingly matters against teams with dynamic tight ends such as Davis, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and others.

Around the NFC West: 49ers' WR thinking

December, 29, 2011
The Seattle Seahawks signed rookie receiver Ricardo Lockette off their practice squad and promptly completed a 44-yard pass to him against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16.

Lockette, an undrafted free agent from Fort Valley State, shined light on a path the 49ers themselves might follow after releasing veteran wideout Braylon Edwards.

Matt Maiocco of points to practice-squad wideout Joe Hastings, undrafted rookie free agent from Washburn, as the player most likely to fill the roster spot created with Edwards' departure. Maiocco: "Hastings has been studying the 49ers playbook and practicing with the squad for 22 weeks. He's healthy. And he can contribute on special teams, if needed. Those factors, along with good hands and a 4.42 time in the 40-yard dash, are apparently the reasons the 49ers believe his addition and Braylon Edwards' subtraction strengthens the team's 53-man roster." Noted: Hastings, like Lockette, would be replacing an injured, struggling reclamation project from the 2005 draft. Edwards was the third player chosen that year. The receiver Lockette replaced, Mike Williams, was chosen seven spots later. He was also struggling to produce this season.

Also from Maiocco: Patrick Willis should be available Sunday, should the 49ers choose to play him.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa-Press Democrat checks in with 49ers special-teams ace Blake Costanzo, who took out loans to pay his way through college at Lafayette. Landing a job in the NFL has helped Costanzo pay off those loans quickly, though there were no guarantees. Costanzo has been cut four times. Costanzo on what it's like: "It's at the end of camp and you've given your all -- your heart, your mind, your body, your soul. And you get a call, 'So-and-so wants to see you. Can you bring your playbook?' Pretty much, you know you're dead. I remember a lot of us were just waiting in line, waiting until our turn. When you get in there, they give you a little spiel about they appreciate the way you worked blah blah blah but they're going to have to let you go. You get in your car and you go home or wherever you want to go. I drove back to New Jersey. The first time I was so upset I didn't want to tell my parents. And that's it. You go from being an NFL football player for all those weeks to just nothing. It's a tough thing to deal with, especially when I was younger. I always had the feeling I could play in this league. After that, I made it my goal, 'You want to waive me, then go ahead. I'm just going to try the next team.' "

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams quarterback Sam Bradford hasn't been able to fight back from the high-ankle sprain he aggravated. Bradford: "It's been very frustrating. Especially the fact that I was able to come back and play three or four games and it was getting better. It was starting to feel better, it was starting to feel like it getting closer to normal. And then after the second time I re-injured it, I never overcame that. ... It's important for me to play in every game. This is my last opportunity to play with this team this year, so it's very important for me to get out there this Sunday and just finish the season strong with my guys."

Also from Thomas: Al Harris is retiring from the NFL as a player, but not from the league overall. He wants to coach.

Darren Urban of expects to see Kevin Kolb back as the team's starting quarterback next season. Urban: "The Cardinals still believe in the idea of Kolb. They don’t believe Kolb’s concussion means such an injury will be a greater concern going forward, Ken Whisenhunt said, and the chance to have him in an offseason will be cherished after the ups-and-downs of this season. That goes for the coaches and players like wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who noted that Kolb and the offense were hurt when Kolb couldn’t be a part of training camp the first week because of lockout rules and his signing of a new contract. Add in the reality that Kolb couldn’t even get a playbook until his trade July 28 -- rookies like Cam Newton and Andy Dalton got their playbooks after the April draft and were able to start studying -- and Fitzgerald said the chemistry was undercut from the beginning."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals rookie Patrick Peterson has impressed veterans with his maturity and professionalism. Adrian Wilson: "He's a professional at a very young age. He's eager to listen and he's eager to learn. For me, for a veteran, to have a young guy like that, I think that's just a testament to not only what the organization saw in him, drafting him that high, but just how he wants to get better every day and doesn't accept anything other than that."

Also from Somers: Kolb is likely out this week, again.

Joshua Myers of the Seattle Times checks in with Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, who says he feels as though he became a professional this season. Myers: "The California product credits his backfield mates, fullback Michael Robinson and running backs Leon Washington and Justin Forsett, for helping in that development."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks have the makings of a top secondary with one Pro Bowl starter (free safety Earl Thomas) and two first-alternates (strong safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Brandon Browner). The other starter, Richard Sherman, hasn't been in the lineup as long, but he has arguably been better than Browner. Williams: "Seattle’s statistical turnaround on pass defense in one season was impressive. With one game remaining, Seattle has 21 interceptions. The Seahawks had 12 interceptions last season.Seattle gave up 31 passing touchdowns in 2010, tied for third-worst in the league. The Seahawks have given up 17 passing touchdowns this season, seventh in the NFL.And through 15 games, Seattle has allowed only 45 plays of 20 yards or more, tied with Baltimore for second in the league. Last year, the Seahawks gave up 76 plays of 20 yards or more, second-to-last in the league." Noted: The transformation in the secondary has been striking. None of the four current starters was on the roster before Pete Carroll and John Schneider arrived in 2010. Sherman wasn't even a projected starter this season. Browner arrived from the CFL.
News that Sam Bradford remained limited, Chris Long did not practice and Darian Stewart still had not passed concussion testing hung over the St. Louis Rams on Friday.

Bradford, as the starting quarterback, ranks high on the team's list of most important players. Long has 10 sacks and ranks as one of the team's best players on defense. Stewart, though inconsistent, has provided a physical presence with his hitting at safety.

Bradford's ankle injury is threatening to prevent him from getting sufficient work in the offense and with receiver Brandon Lloyd. But with so many problems throughout the roster, including along the offensive line, perhaps there's little to gain by putting Bradford on the field against the San Francisco 49ers' defense in Week 13.

To review, the Rams' injured reserve list already features:
Just about every NFL team has a chance against every opponent. The Rams should not concede the game. But if that ankle is preventing Bradford from practicing much, why play him?

Final Word: NFC West

November, 18, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:

Skelton's opportunity: Arizona Cardinals quarterback John Skelton steps up in class when he faces the San Francisco 49ers' defense. The matchup figures to be a tough one from a protection standpoint, but the Cardinals have found ways to strike for big plays this season. They have seven pass plays of at least 40 yards this season, fourth-most in the league behind Detroit, Green Bay and Houston. The 49ers have given up seven such plays, tied for fourth-most in the league. That gives Arizona a puncher's chance against the 49ers. And if Skelton can somehow pull out a victory, his stock will rise considerably.

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
David Richard/US PresswireThe Rams' Steven Jackson has 30 career games with at least 100 rushing yards.
Ganging up on power backs: Steven Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, Beanie Wells and Frank Gore give the NFC West four running backs able to dish out punishment. All are physical runners. I'm most interested in seeing whether Jackson can top 100 yards rushing for the fourth game in a row. He has 30 career games with at least 100 yards, but none against Seattle. That's surprising given that Jackson has faced the Seahawks more times than he has faced any other team -- 14, counting playoffs.

49ers hold their ground: Every NFL team but the 49ers has allowed at least three rushing touchdowns this season. San Francisco has allowed zero. The 49ers are the first team since the 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars to go nine games into a season without allowing one, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Cardinals rank tied for 11th in the league with eight rushing scores, but they have zero in their past two games. Wells' injured knee has robbed power from him. Wells had only 10 carries for 29 yards against the 49ers last season. He did carry 15 times for 79 yards against them as a rookie in 2009.

Cornerbacks in focus: The St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks will play without cornerbacks Ron Bartell, Bradley Fletcher, Jerome Murphy, Al Harris, Walter Thurmond or Marcus Trufant, among others. The team best able to exploit issues in the secondary could prevail. Seattle feels better about its cornerback situation, but the raw talent is questionable. Two of the Seahawks' five players at the position were undrafted. Two others are rookies. None of the five was drafted earlier than the fifth round. That was partly by design, however. The team traded 2006 first-rounder Kelly Jennings and 2007 second-rounder Josh Wilson.

Explosive potential in return game: Patrick Peterson and Ted Ginn Jr. give the Cardinals-49ers game big-play potential on returns. Peterson has helped Arizona go from 27th last season to second this season in punt-return average. He leads the NFL in that category with a 17.6-yard average among players with more than 15 punt returns. His three touchdowns on punt returns also lead the NFL. The 49ers' Ginn ranks third in punt-return average and third in kick-return average among players with more than 15 returns in each category. He also has two touchdowns. The Cardinals' kick returner, LaRod Stephens-Howling, has been quiet this season. He scored three times on returns over the previous two seasons.

Can Seahawks exploit Rams' CB issues?

November, 18, 2011
The St. Louis Rams have lost cornerbacks Ron Bartell, Bradley Fletcher, Jerome Murphy, Al Harris, Mikail Baker, Dionte Dinkins, Tim Atchison and Brian Jackson to season-ending injuries.

A ninth corner, Chris Smith, was waived/injured earlier in the season, returning as a member of the practice squad. A 10th, Marquis Johnson, opened the season on the physically unable to perform list.

Even opponents realize that's a "ridiculous" injury situation at one position.

"That's crazy," Seattle Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson told reporters in St. Louis.

And with cornerback Justin King suffering an ankle injury Thursday, four days after he suffered a concussion, the situation could be getting worse.

As much as the Seahawks have leaned on the ground game recently, the Rams' injury situation at cornerback could, in theory, coax them into a more pass-happy approach. The Seahawks could also try running the ball from personnel groups featuring three-plus wideouts. That is one of the more interesting strategic possibilities in the NFC West this week.

The Seahawks used three or more wide receivers on 35.8 percent of their plays against Baltimore in Week 10, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That was a season low. Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin suffered concussions, leaving Seattle with fewer available wideouts. The team also wanted to protect a lead by grinding out yards with Marshawn Lynch, who carried 32 times for 109 yards in the team's victory over Baltimore.

Rice and Baldwin are back practicing and expected to play Sunday.

Before the Baltimore game, Seattle had used three-plus wideouts on 66.3 percent of its snaps this season, including 90.5 percent against the New York Giants in Week 5. The Seahawks averaged between 4.6 and 6.7 yards per carry with three wide receivers on the field in games against Dallas, Cleveland, Arizona, Cincinnati and the Giants.