NFC West: Alfonso Smith

SAN FRANCISCO -- By time the clock ticked past six minutes in the first quarter, the headlines had already been written.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer had just thrown his second interception before most of the seats inside Candlestick Park had a body in them. It was like déjà vu. Turnovers would again be the Cardinals' demise.

But by the end of Arizona's 32-20 loss, it wasn’t just the turnovers that let a crucial NFC West game slip away. Two fumbles, one each in the third and fourth quarters, ended any chance of the Cardinals pulling off an upset which would’ve left them alone in second place.

“We’re not going to beat anybody on the road turning it over four times,” Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. “When we had the game in hand, going in to take the lead and [we] try to make too much out of something and we fumbled the football. Then we have a chance to get back in it, we fumble on second-and-1. And you’re not going to beat anybody that way with self-inflicted wounds.”

Now that their offense seems to have found its way during the 49ers game, if the Cardinals can figure out a way limit turnovers -- now up to 15 for the season -- they can become the team Arians has been talking up since minicamp.

Arizona was marching, down 22-20 late in the third, on the 49ers 31 and poised to take a lead when Larry Fitzgerald lost the ball just moments before he hit the ground.

"I am not going to sleep at all," said Fitzgerald, who said he was trying to score on that play. "I let my team down in that situation. I wish I could take it back."

Alfonso Smith coughed up the second fumble on his only carry of the game in the fourth when the Cardinals were trailing 29-20.

“[We’re the] best offense to shoot ourselves in the offense,” left guard Daryn Colledge said. “We have the chance to be a really great offense, and if we keep shooting ourselves in the foot like this we’re going to be just a mediocre offense.

“The potential’s there but we have to find a way to capture it.”

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
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SAN FRANCISCO -- A few thoughts on the Cardinals’ 32-20 loss to the 49ers.

What it means: The Arizona Cardinals showed Sunday they aren’t a pushover in the NFC West. Even though the offense started out looking pitiful with turnovers , the defense carried the Cardinals while making the San Francisco 49ers look human. By playing the Niners tough until about seven minutes left, the Cardinals put the Seattle Seahawks on notice, essentially telling them that no matter the venue, their defense will come to play. Although the offense continued to have its issues, especially in the first quarter and a half, it showed what coach Bruce Arians’ offense could accomplish, when tweaked.

Stock Watch: Rookie running back Andre Ellington has been establishing himself all season, but he showed what he could do when being entrusted during crucial situations. Ellington provided a burst, the proverbial lightning to veteran Rashard Mendenhall’s thunder. He scored his first career rushing touchdown on a 15-yard run in the second quarter in which he cut out wide to the right and turned on the jets to hit the end zone.

Two Palmers: Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer may very well have turned a corner. He started horrendously Sunday, throwing two interceptions in the first nine minutes of the game, and then was sacked early in the second quarter for a safety, although that wasn’t totally Palmer’s fault. But then something happened. With backup Drew Stanton looking like he was preparing to get his first snaps since 2010, Palmer executed a nearly perfect three-play drive that pulled the Cardinals within 15-14 late in the first half. Palmer’s resurgence continued in the second half, when he threw a touchdown to Michael Floyd off his back foot, a play that has been intercepted in the past.

Drive killers: It’s not just interceptions that hampered the Cardinals on Sunday. Two fumbles derailed drives when Arizona needed them most. In the third, Larry Fitzgerald's fumble at San Francisco's 23-yard line ended a drive that could've given the Cardinals the lead. And then in the fourth quarter, Alfonso Smith fumbled his only carry of the game, ending a drive that would’ve helped cut into the Niners’ lead. To compete in the NFC West, of all divisions, the Cardinals need to keep their hands on the ball.

What's next: The Cardinals face their second straight NFC West foe in a week when they host Seattle at 5:25 p.m. MT Thursday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals running back Alfonso Smith knows he can’t let himself get too high or too low this season.

He knows life in the NFL can be fragile. He knows his chance could be on the next down. But that doesn’t make waiting on the sideline easier.

[+] EnlargeAlfonso Smith
Greg Trott/AP PhotoRunning back Alfonso Smith is still working toward being a mainstay in the Cardinals' backfield.
Smith has played 69 snaps in five games this season, but his primary role has been on special teams. It gets him on the field, but Smith, in his fourth season, felt this was the year he’d finally have a larger role on offense.

It started off that way, when he had 10 carries for 26 yards in the season opener against St. Louis. Then his role dropped off. He had three rushes against Detroit, three at New Orleans, none at Tampa Bay and one Sunday against Carolina.

“We have a great group of running backs so it’s going to be like that some weeks,” Smith said. “I’m not going to get as many plays or as many carries, so I just have to know that and do what I can do when I’m in the game, special teams or if it’s a third-down situation or something like that.”

The Saints game may be the perfect example of Smith making the most of his opportunities.

He had three carries for 27 yards, all on the Cardinals’ first drive, but he made every one count. His first kept the drive going with a three-yard run for a first down. His second was for a 21-yard gain. And then he scored from the 3-yard line to cap the drive. It also happened to be the Cardinals’ lone touchdown of the game.

Smith doesn’t know his workload heading into a game, so he’s on call and on edge when the offense takes the field.

“That’s the thing that’s kinda tricky -- I go into a game, of course I’m going to practice like I’m going to play a lot,” Smith said. “I put a lot into practice and I put a lot into the film, just looking at stuff, just trying to get myself ready. When I don’t get to go out there as much, it can get frustrating a little bit.

“As long as the team’s doing well, overall, I’m fine.”

Smith’s snap count has declined every week, starting with 27 in Week 1 and bottoming out with two at Tampa Bay. On Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, he played seven snaps.

It’s not easy for Smith to watch a running game average 81 yards a game while he stands on the sideline. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cardinals have gone 11 straight games without 100 yards rushing, the longest active streak in the NFL.

But his time can come at any moment and until that happens -- if that happens -- Smith will be waiting patiently, ready to go.

“I know you have to wait your turn,” Smith said. “I’ve been waiting my time. I really feel like I’ve gotten over the hump and as long as I can be consistent when I do get the ball, I’ll be fine with it. I know I’m going to get my chance. It’s definitely a long season. So you never know. If somebody goes down, the next thing you know I’m getting 10 carries, 16 carries. You never know.

“That’s the trick about it. Once you let it go, you start getting down on yourself, when your chance comes you’re kinda stuck like Chuck. I’m just trying to stay positive about everything. As long as we’re winning, I’m OK.”
Patrick Peterson and Mike WilliamsGetty ImagesMike Williams will be called on to help jump-start Tampa Bay's offense, while Patrick Peterson will be charged with helping to keep him in check.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t the only NFL team practicing in the Tampa Bay area this week.

The Arizona Cardinals are practicing at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., as they get ready for Sunday’s game.

Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas talk about Sunday’s game.

Yasinskas: Josh, I know IMG has great facilities. The Buccaneers used them during the lockout, and the Carolina Panthers worked out there last year to avoid the congestion from the Democratic National Convention before playing the Bucs. But why did the Cardinals elect to come east early?

Weinfuss: Having just adjusted to the two-hour time difference in New Orleans, Bruce Arians didn’t want his players’ bodies to get totally out of whack going back to Pacific time (technically, Arizona is on Mountain time, but the state doesn’t change its clocks when the rest of the country does) and then five days later fly cross-country to the East Coast, another three hours ahead. I’m tired from thinking about it. This way, the Cardinals can adjust their body clocks to playing what would be a 10 a.m. home game in Arizona. We’ll see whether it works. There’s a pretty significant contingent inside the locker room that's not a fan of this, but those players might be after they realize what their bodies would have gone through. And then there’s playing in the Florida humidity, which takes more than a day or two to adapt to. In Arizona, it’s a dry heat (yeah, I know, everyone doubts it, but it really is), and the Cards neither practice nor play outside, so the added time in the elements could help.

Speaking of elements, is the Bucs' locker room in as much disarray right now as the perception makes people believe?

Yasinskas: It might be in even more disarray than people realize. Wednesday's news that the Bucs are benching quarterback Josh Freeman in favor of rookie Mike Glennon was just more evidence of how much dysfunction is going on with this team. Freeman and coach Greg Schiano never were firmly on the same page, and Freeman's fate was sealed the moment Schiano used a third-round draft pick on Glennon in April. But the fact that Schiano now is going with "his guy" isn't going to instantly solve all the problems. Freeman is a popular figure in the locker room, and some teammates might not agree with his benching. There also have been multiple reports about players not liking Schiano's militaristic style. The Bucs have denied those reports, but I think there's something to them. I believe that where there's smoke, there's fire.

Speaking of coaching styles, it’s early in the Arians era, but what is his persona and how has he been received by the players?

Weinfuss: He’s a no-nonsense type of guy, and the players love it. Well, maybe they loved it. Having a lackluster offense and starting 1-2 wasn’t what this team projected out of Arians. There haven’t been any signs of the players losing faith in their coach. They all raved about him during organized team activities, minicamp and training camp. The players appreciated his candidness with them. If they ever want to know where they stand, he’ll tell them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Whether they like it or not.

He has been there for only three games, but is the Darrelle Revis acquisition working out and how has he changed the Bucs' defense?

Yasinskas: Revis has been everything the Bucs hoped for. They brought him in to fix a defense that led the league in passing yards allowed last season, and the early results have been good. Revis is the kind of player who makes those around him better, and his arrival really has helped strong safety Mark Barron. I’d imagine the Bucs will put Revis on Larry Fitzgerald for most -- or all -- of this game.

If Revis can neutralize Fitzgerald, do the Cardinals have enough other offensive weapons to win?

Weinfuss: That’s the $10,000 question. The short answer is yes, they do. The long answer is only if the other weapons -- most notably receivers Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts -- are not double-teamed. If they are and Revis can shut down Fitzgerald, it could be a long day for Arizona’s offense. But Arians is a smart enough offensive mind, so I’m sure he has accounted for this. Expect tight end Rob Housler to play an integral role Sunday, and look for the Cardinals’ stable of running backs -- Rashard Mendenhall, Alfonso Smith, Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor -- to come out of the backfield for passes and to create mismatches.

Aside from Revis, how has the rest of Tampa Bay’s defense looked?

Yasinskas: The defense has been a bright spot for Tampa Bay. In addition to the secondary, linebackers Mason Foster and Lavonte David, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy are off to very good starts. But the Patriots were able to run the ball against the Bucs, and Tampa Bay had trouble with the tight ends against the Jets and the Saints. The Bucs could be susceptible if Arizona can get some production from the running game or its tight ends.

This much we knew about the Arizona Cardinals' running game heading into Sunday’s season opener at St. Louis: Rashard Mendenhall is the starter.

Smith
After that? It was anybody’s guess.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians helped sort out the four-man “committee” waiting on the sideline by announcing that in most situations, Alfonso Smith will “probably be our next guy.”

That’s as much a testament to Arians’ faith in the oft-injured Ryan Williams as it is to Smith’s perseverance. He’s been cut three times in four years, during which time he bounced between the Cardinals’ 53-man roster and the practice squad. At the start of minicamp and OTAs, Smith wasn’t expected to make it through final cuts. But he impressed during training camp and developed a reputation as a punishing pass-blocker.

“There were a lot of linebackers and DBs that quit rushing him in training camp when we had pads on,” Arians said. “There were serious blows. He brings it and that’s what I like about him.”

That leaves rookies Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor, and Williams, awaiting their call. Ellington and Taylor have roles on special teams, but how many running backs Arians dresses on Sunday will be telling.

“It’s a blessing, man, just to be able to be on the active roster starting off and to get an opportunity to be the backup, so I’m going to be excited,” Smith said. “I’m going to be pumped up.”

In other news:
  • Arians said he will use three kick returners in St. Louis, although there are five or six possibilities.
  • The number of offensive linemen the Cardinals dress against the Rams will be a game-time decision, Arians said. He’s thrown around seven throughout training camp, but that could change with the injury to rookie guard Jonathan Cooper. If it’s seven, look for Nate Potter and Mike Gibson, in addition to the front five, because of their ability to combine to work at all five spots. If it’s eight, look for Bobby Massie to dress.
  • Arians said he thought Denver quarterback Peyton Manning’s seven-touchdown outing Thursday night against Baltimore was "outstanding." Arians, who was Manning's quarterbacks coach in Indianapolis in 1998-2000, said, "It was one of those ones that you dream about when you’re young, you know seven touchdowns in a game, especially against the Ravens, which is a great defensive football team. So that was really, really special."

 
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' third exhibition game of the 2013 preseason, a 24-7 defeat at home against the San Diego Chargers on Saturday night:

1. Whisenhunt homecoming. Former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt returned to University of Phoenix Stadium as the Chargers' offensive coordinator. His quarterback, Philip Rivers, averaged only 3.9 yards per attempt and threw one interception with no touchdown passes. However, the Chargers' first-team offense put together a 92-yard touchdown drive and generally outperformed the Cardinals' starting offense on this night. Both teams' running games were effective early. That provided some consolation for the Cardinals until the team lost running back Rashard Mendenhall (knee) and rookie first-round guard Jonathan Cooper (ankle) to injuries of unknown severity. Cooper rode a cart off the field and wasn't putting any weight on his left leg after the injury. Another player flew into his left leg from the side and behind, causing Cooper's left ankle to roll inside out. A serious injury to Cooper would undermine the team's efforts to upgrade the line. That seemed particularly true on this night, when the Chargers' Dwight Freeney dominated against Cardinals left tackle Levi Brown.

2. Williams at running back.Third-year running back Ryan Williams returned to practice late in the week and made his 2013 preseason debut late in the third quarter. Williams, troubled by knee issues lingering from a 2011 injury, gained 5 yards on his first play. He was the fourth running back to get carries in this game, after Mendenhall, Alfonso Smith and Stepfan Taylor. Rookie Andre Ellington was shaken up returning a kick right before Williams went into the game. Ellington then went back into the game on offense, replacing Williams. Williams returned when Ryan Lindley took over at quarterback in the final five minutes. He carried one more time and gained 5 yards. He ran well on his two carries. Time could be running out for Williams. Three other recent high draft choices for Arizona -- Cooper, tight end Rob Housler (ankle) and nose tackle Dan Williams (knee) -- left this game with injuries. Rookie seventh-round tight end D.C. Jefferson also left with an injury. This was a brutal night for Arizona.

3. Red-zone offense. The Cardinals wanted to focus on this area after settling for four field goals and a 12-7 victory in their most recent preseason game. They scored one touchdown in two red-zone possessions against San Diego. Housler dropped an accurate pass from Carson Palmer in the end zone, killing the first opportunity. Receiver Michael Floyd made an impressive leaping grab in the back of the end zone to score on the other red-zone possession. This was progress, in a way, but the shaky pass protection and injuries likely prevented Arizona from enjoying it.
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' 2013 exhibition opener, which they led 17-0 when I filed this late in the fourth quarter:

1. Palmer's debut: New quarterback Carson Palmer completed four of six passes for 77 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions and a 149.3 passer rating. He certainly looked like the upgrade Arizona sought from its previous quarterbacks. Both incomplete passes were deeper attempts on third down. Palmer found Andre Roberts for a 38-yard touchdown against the Green Bay Packers' starting defense (Arizona was tied for last in the NFL with three passes of 38-plus yards last season). Palmer also found Larry Fitzgerald for a 21-yard gain and Michael Floyd for an 18-yard gain. When backup Drew Stanton threw a touchdown pass to Jaron Brown, the Cardinals had as many scoring passes as the 2012 team managed through two-plus preseason games. Nearly 12 minutes remained in the second quarter.

2. Mathieu and the DBs: The Cardinals are building their secondary around young defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Both made impact plays in this game. Peterson, the fifth player selected in the 2011 draft, picked off Green Bay backup quarterback Graham Harrell. Mathieu, a third-round choice this year, broke up a pass with a hard hit early in the game. He later collected a 12-yard sack on a blitz from the slot. Mathieu also provided a 23-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. He and Peterson could be good together for a long time.

3. Running back picture: Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams and Andre Ellington did not play. Alfonso Smith carried 10 times for 21 yards and didn't appear to have much room for running. Rookie Stepfan Taylor looked good picking up 14 yards on one of his carries. However, the Cardinals did not run the ball well in this game. They did not find out much about their running backs.
This was about the time last offseason when the San Francisco 49ers added running back Brandon Jacobs in free agency.

The signing got our attention because Jacobs was a relatively big-name player coming off a Super Bowl season, and he improved the 49ers' depth in the backfield before San Francisco used a second-round draft choice for LaMichael James.

I'm circling back to that signing because Jacobs was also 29 years old at the time. His addition to the NFC West gave the division yet another older back.

A year later, Jacobs is long gone. Two of the other backs getting up there in years, Leon Washington and Steven Jackson, are also gone.

The 49ers' Frank Gore, who turns 30 in May, is the only older halfback in the division. The Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch, who turns 27 next month, ranks second in age. The Arizona Cardinals' Alfonso Smith, who turned 26 in January, ranks third.

The average age for halfbacks in the division is 24.6. The median age is 24.4.

A question for us to consider as the 2013 season approaches: How much does Gore have left? His contract runs through 2014, by the way.

Fantasy Watch: Running backs in Week 8

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
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Our latest look at playing time in the NFC West, with an eye toward fantasy football and beginning with running backs:



Fullbacks generally don't factor for fantasy stats, but it's still interesting to see how many snaps they played.

Game situations tend to dictate whether they're on the field.

A team playing from behind generally wouldn't use a fullback as much, although Arizona, with its injury depleted backfield, did keep Anthony Sherman on the field quite a bit against the 49ers on Monday night.

A periodic look at which players are playing and when, continuing with the Arizona Cardinals' offense:

Final Word: NFC West

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
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» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

All about third down. The San Francisco 49ers' offense took considerable criticism after converting just once on 13 third-down plays against the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers' defense deserves some third-down scrutiny heading into the rematch at Candlestick Park. The 2011 49ers held the Giants to 4.6 yards per play with no touchdowns on first and second downs during the teams' regular-season game last season. Everything changed on third down. The Giants averaged 8.8 yards per third-down play against the 49ers. They gained 127 yards and scored two touchdowns on 10 third-down pass attempts against the 49ers' nickel defense, without taking a sack. The 49ers were much better getting third-down pressure in the playoff rematch, but the Giants still averaged 7.2 yards per pass attempt with seven first downs on third-down plays against the 49ers' nickel defense.

Letting Welker catch it. The Seahawks' matchup against Patriots receiver Wes Welker will be a difficult one. The key, coach Pete Carroll has said, will be for Seattle to limit the damage once Welker inevitably gets the ball in his hands. This probably is an underrated aspect of the Seahawks' league-leading defense. Seattle is allowing 4.09 yards after the catch per reception. That ranks second in the NFL behind Minnesota (3.9) and just ahead of Green Bay (4.12). The figure for Seattle was 4.9 last season and 5.8 in 2010. Welker averages 6.4 YAC/reception, a significant figure given how many passes he catches (NFL-high 30 over the past three games, with 6.5 YAC/reception on those catches). The Seahawks have allowed 3.6 YAC/reception against wide receivers lined up in the slot, where Welker lines up most of the time. That figure ranks 12th in the NFL (the range is 1.9 to 8.1, with 4.5 as average).

[+] EnlargeLaRod Stephens-Howling
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireLaRod Stephens-Howling may now get more carries in Arizona with Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams injured.
Behold 'The Hyphen.' LaRod Stephens-Howling's return from a hip injury comes at the right time for Arizona. Fellow running backs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are out. Stephens-Howling has been a utility player for Arizona, not an every-down back, because he lacks the size needed to run on early downs, week after week. Desperate times call for desperate measures, however, and that could mean leaning on Stephens-Howling a little more regularly. The 5-foot-7, 180-pounder set career highs with 21 carries and 92 yards during a victory over Seattle in Week 17 last season. Four of his longest runs that day -- 39, 8, 8 and 7 yards -- came on first down with no more than two wide receivers on the field. Can Stephens-Howling, William Powell and Alfonso Smith help the NFL's worst rushing offense (2.7 yards per carry) exploit Buffalo's league-worst rushing defense (5.7 yards per carry allowed)?

First-and-Long. The Miami Dolphins made left tackle Jake Long the first player chosen in the 2008 NFL draft. The St. Louis Rams took defensive end Chris Long with the second pick. Both players will be on the field at the same time when the Rams visit the Dolphins, but they'll be matching up against younger players. Jake Long faces 2011 Rams first-rounder Robert Quinn, who is coming off a three-sack game and has already exceeded his total for last season. Chris Long faces Dolphins right tackle Jonathan Martin, a second-round choice this year. Both Longs should like their chances in these matchups. If Quinn's speed can factor in the pass rush, perhaps St. Louis can force Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill into mistakes.

Readying the stat sheet. Last week, the 49ers had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and two 100-yard receivers for the first time since 1961. Meanwhile, the Giants became the first NFL team since 1960 to have one player rush for at least 200 yards (Ahmad Bradshaw) while another player caught three touchdown passes (Victor Cruz). There is more. The 49ers have won each of their past two games by 30-plus points, the first time since 1961 they've accomplished the feat (they have never done it three games in a row). The Giants have set a franchise record for any four-game stretch with 1,877 yards against Tampa Bay, Carolina, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

Note: ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this entry.

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

October, 10, 2012
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Arizona Cardinals: Life without the injured Ryan Williams at running back begins Sunday against a Buffalo defense that allowed 621 yards to San Francisco, including 311 on the ground. Utility back LaRod Stephens-Howling expects to return from a hip injury. He was limited Wednesday. Arizona will presumably incorporate Stephens-Howling into its no-huddle offense and into its spread passing sets. He's not an every-down back, but when healthy, Stephens-Howling provides big-play ability in doses. The Cardinals did not sign a veteran back after losing Williams (for the season) and would-be starting back Beanie Wells (until Nov. 25). William Powell and Alfonso Smith are the leading candidates to carry the ball on early downs. Defensive end Darnell Dockett (hamstring) played sparingly in Week 5 and was limited Wednesday. Tight end Todd Heap practiced on a limited basis. A knee injury has kept Heap out for the past three games. Cornerback Greg Toler, who pulled up with a hamstring injury while allowing a touchdown pass at St. Louis, did not practice. Cornerback Michael Adams also missed practice with a hamstring injury. The Cardinals figure to need their cornerbacks against Buffalo, a team that uses three-plus receivers extensively. Fullback Anthony Sherman (22 snaps at St. Louis) and outside linebacker Quentin Groves (six snaps) also sat out. Sherman has a knee injury. Groves has a hamstring injury. Quarterback John Skelton is back from his ankle injury, but he's not full strength. Kevin Kolb remains the starter.

St. Louis Rams: Leading receiver Danny Amendola will miss roughly six weeks, beginning with St. Louis' game at Miami. That will probably affect the Rams' ability to throw quickly and productively against pressure, and to convert on third down. Amendola ranks third in the NFL behind Wes Welker and Victor Cruz with 24 receptions from the slot. He made eight of those receptions on third down. Safety Quintin Mikell practiced without limitation Wednesday less that a week after suffering a concussion against Arizona. Linebacker Mario Haggan (thigh), fullback Brit Miller (ankle) and left tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) did not practice. Saffold has missed three games and was expected to miss at least four. Defensive linemen William Hayes (back) and Eugene Sims (head), key contributors both, were limited in practice.

San Francisco 49ers: Coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Alex Smith told reporters they're not concerned about the injury Smith suffered to the middle finger on his throwing hand. The injury did not appear serious, but it was initially a concern. This could be the week San Francisco debuts running back Brandon Jacobs, who has not played since suffering a knee injury during camp. Letting Jacobs suit up against the New York Giants, his former team, would seem fitting. The 49ers are getting good play from their existing backs, however, and Jacobs doesn't offer much on special teams. One question is whether the 49ers could use Jacobs in short-yardage situations. Frank Gore has two first downs on six third-and-1 carries this season. Anthony Dixon has one first down (a touchdown) on his only third-and-1 carry. Gore converted the team's only fourth-and-1 rush. Add it up and San Francisco has converted four times in eight short-yardage chances, the same figures Jacobs posted with the Giants during the 2011 regular season.

Seattle Seahawks: Center Max Unger will join the injury report for Seattle this week with a hip injury that was expected to keep him from practicing Wednesday. Former starting guard John Moffitt, a contingency at center when healthy, was also among those missing practice. A knee injury will keep him inactive this week. Eight players have started on the offensive line for Seattle this season, tied with Jacksonville for most in the league. Seattle does have options at center. Lemuel Jeanpierre has started there. Defensive linemen Clinton McDonald (groin) and Jaye Howard (foot) did not practice. The team continues to list running back Marshawn Lynch as limited with a back injury. He has 121 touches this season, second-most in the NFL behind Arian Foster (142). Lynch had 313 touches last season.
Beanie Wells set a career high with 1,047 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns last season.

He won't be threatening that total in 2012, it appears, after the Arizona Cardinals placed Wells on injured reserve with a designation to return after eight weeks. A turf-toe-injury was to blame. The team has re-signed running back Alfonso Smith to fill the roster spot while Wells recovers. Wells can return to practice Nov. 7 and play in the final six regular-season games, beginning Nov. 25 against St. Louis.

Wells, 24, passed 1,000 yards last season despite a knee problem that limited him late in the season. He has played in 46 of 51 regular-season games since the Cardinals made him a first-round pick in 2009, but injuries to the knee, hip, hamstring and groin have landed him on various injury reports, as did general illness for one game.

The toe injury limited Wells against Philadelphia last week.

Wells has played in 20 regular-season games after appearing on the Cardinals' injury report, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has missed five other games to injury. That means injuries significant enough to sideline Wells or limit his practice participation have affected him in 49 percent of career regular-season games.

The IR designation means Wells must miss the next seven games. Second-year running back Ryan Williams becomes the primary running back heading into a Week 4 game against Miami. The Dolphins are allowing 2.37 yards per rushing attempt, tied for the lowest figure in the NFL. Williams is averaging 3.4 yards per attempt.

Wells has 76 yards through three games. He would have to average 154 yards per game for the final six games to reach 1,000 yards for a second consecutive season.

The Cardinals used the word "severe" to describe Wells' injury in a news release announcing the move.

"Under a new NFL rule, each team is allowed to designate one player to be placed on injured reserve/designated for return who will then be able to come back to practice after six weeks and then be able to play in a game after eight weeks," the release read. "That means Wells would be eligible to begin practicing on Nov. 7 and play on Nov. 25 against the Rams."

Wells must miss games against Miami, St. Louis, Buffalo, Minnesota, San Francisco, Green Bay and Atlanta.

2012 NFC West practice squad eligibility

September, 1, 2012
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NFL teams can begin forming practice squads once eligible players clear waivers Saturday.

A look at which players released by NFC West teams have eligibility:

Arizona Cardinals

Eligible: Crezdon Butler, Antonio Coleman, Blake Gideon, Ricky Lumpkin, Colin Parker, Larry Parker, Steve Skelton, Quan Sturdivant, Everrette Thompson, Martell Webb, Scott Wedige, Brandon Williams, Isaiah Williams, D.J. Williams.

Not eligible: DeMarco Sampson, Alfonso Smith, Ronald Talley, Stephen Williams, Clark Haggans, Russ Hochstein

St. Louis Rams

Eligible: Cornell Banks, Tim Barnes, Tom Brandstater, Mason Brodine, Aaron Brown, Sammy Brown, Kendric Burney, Ben Guidugli, Cory Harkey, T-Bob Hebert, Jamaar Jarrett, Nick Johnson, Joe Long, Deangelo Peterson, Chase Reynolds, Scott Smith

Not eligible: Vernon Gholston, Bryan Mattison, Jose Valdez, Kellen Clemens, Ovie Mughelli

San Francisco 49ers

Eligible: Derek Hall, Joe Holland, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Cam Johnson, Matthew Masifilo, Anthony Mosley, Kyle Nelson, Al Netter, Chris Owusu, Nathan Palmer, Mike Person, Konrad Reuland, Kenny Rowe, Michael Thomas, Kenny Wiggins, Michael Wilhoite

Not eligible: Eric Bakhtiari, Ikaika Alama-Francis, Rock Cartwright, Josh Johnson, Brett Swain

Seattle Seahawks

Eligible: Pierre Allen, Allen Bradford, Kris Durham, Cooper Helfet, Rishaw Johnson, Jermaine Kearse, Kyle Knox, Cordarro Law, Pep Levingston, Ricardo Lockette, Sean McGrath, Kris O'Dowd, Josh Portis, DeShawn Shead, Vai Taua, Korey Toomer, Lavasier Tuinei

Not eligible: Phillip Adams, Deon Butler, Paul Fanaika

Note on eligibility

Straight from the collective bargaining agreement:
"The Practice Squad shall consist of the following players, provided that they have not served more than two previous seasons on a Practice Squad:
  • "players who do not have an Accrued Season of NFL experience;
  • "free agent players who were on the Active List for fewer than nine regular season games during their only Accrued Season(s).

"An otherwise eligible player may be a Practice Squad player for a third season only if the Club by which he is employed that season has at least 53 players on its Active/Inactive List during the entire period of his employment.

"A player shall be deemed to have served on a Practice Squad in a season if he has passed the club's physical and been a member of the club's Practice Squad for at least three regular season or postseason games during his first two Practice Squad seasons, and for at least one regular season or postseason game during his third Practice Squad season.

"(For purposes of this Section, a bye week counts as a game provided that the player is not terminated until after the regular season or postseason weekend in question.)"

Arizona Cardinals cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
8:40
PM ET
Most significant move: Clark Haggans failed to make the cut after five-plus seasons with the Cardinals. He could always re-sign at some point if the Cardinals need depth at outside linebacker. He'll be cheaper at that time, given that veteran contracts become guaranteed once a player is on the roster for Week 1.

For now, though, the Cardinals are moving forward with Quentin Groves as a primary backup behind starters Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield at outside linebacker. Brandon Williams was thought to be part of that mix as well, but the Cardinals waived him with an injury designation, citing a shoulder problem. Williams will revert to injured reserve unless the Cardinals reach an injury settlement with him. A settlement would allow Williams to sign with Arizona or another team once he's healthy.

It's a good sign, ultimately, that Arizona feels good enough about its outside linebackers to proceed without the 35-year-old Haggans. After a certain point, every team should develop enough young depth to threaten older, declining players. In this case, however, I'm not sure Arizona has a viable replacement for him. Groves showed promise, but he has zero sacks over the past three seasons.

Onward and upward: None of the players released by Arizona jumps out to me as someone sure to catch on elsewhere. That is because the Cardinals found a way to keep 11 defensive backs, including all their best corners. Had A.J. Jefferson or Michael Adams hit the market, both would have attracted interest. The same would have been true for Greg Toler, most likely.

Crezdon Butler, Antonio Coleman, Blake Gideon, Russ Hochstein, Ricky Lumpkin, Colin Parker, Larry Parker, DeMarco Sampson, Alfonso Smith, Quan Sturdivant, Ronald Talley, Everrette Thompson, Martell Webb, Scott Wedige, Isaiah Williams and D.J. Young were released. No big surprises there. Haggans could catch on somewhere.

Quarterback Rich Bartel landed on injured reserve, as did running back Javarris James. Stephen Williams was waived/injured with an Achilles' injury.

What's next: The Cardinals could use help at offensive tackle and outside linebacker. They decided against designating Levi Brown as a player eligible to return from injured reserve later in the season. That means Brown will not return from his torn triceps until next season. D'Anthony Batiste heads toward the season as the projected starter at left tackle. Another candidate, Young, struggled during preseason and received his release Friday.

The Cardinals are paying for missing on 2009 second-round choice Cody Brown, an outside linebacker. They're counting on Acho and Schofield to carry the full load, but there's little depth behind them. Schofield must prove he's durable in a full-time role after recovering from a career-threatening knee injury.

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