NFC West: C.J. Wallace
The Seahawks' decision to sign veteran running back Edgerrin James made sense when Seattle was expecting to immediately contend for an NFC West title.
James apparently became a luxury the team couldn't afford once it struggled to a 2-5 start, particularly with Justin Forsett backing up the promise he showed during the preseason (minus that fumble Sunday).
That probably explains why the team released James on Tuesday. James isn't contributing on special teams and the Seahawks aren't getting much from him in the running game.
I would expect the Seahawks to give playing time to recently signed running back Louis Rankin, who played for offensive coordinator Greg Knapp in Oakland.
In another move, the Seahawks released safety C.J. Wallace. They signed receiver Mike Hass, safety Jamar Adams and cornerback Roy Lewis.
SEATTLE -- Ben Patrick is active for the Cardinals following his four-game suspension, but the team is listing Anthony Becht as its starting tight end.
Stephen Spach and Dominique Byrd are the inactive tight end for Arizona.
Also inactive for the Cardinals: Rashad Johnson, Reggie Walker, Herman Johnson, Brandon Keith and Early Doucet. Brian St. Pierre is the third quarterback.
The Seahawks' inactive players are: safety C.J. Wallace, linebacker Leroy Hill, guard Rob Sims, tackle Walter Jones, tackle Sean Locklear, defensive tackle Red Bryant and tight end Cameron Morrah. Mike Teel is the third quarterback.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are 4-20 against NFC West opponents and 15-25 outside the division since the start of the 2005 season. Their only victories last season came against the NFC East. Thomas: "Amazingly, only four players on the current roster have experienced a victory over Seattle wearing a Rams uniform - (Leonard) Little, (Marc) Bulger, running back Steven Jackson and long snapper Chris Massey."
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers keys to the Rams' season. One of them: "Be respectable against the run: Over the past three seasons the Rams have been plundered for 6,646 yards rushing. You could line up 11 toll booths and be more effective in slowing running backs."
Also from Miklasz: He does not give Bulger a pass just because the quarterback has taken lots of sacks in recent seasons. The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger has taken more. Miklasz: "I realize that Ben likes to hang onto the ball, and he likes to fight off the rushers, so a percentage of the sacks are on him. But Bulger also holds onto the ball for too long -- for the wrong reasons. He’s got to be more decisive. If you listen to the Friends of Bulger, you’d think he’s the only QB in history to get hit in the mouth. Please." Roethlisberger is also built to withstand punishment. Bulger is smaller than the average quarterback.
Post-Dispatch staffers predict a close game when the Rams visit the Seahawks.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with David Vobora prior to the linebacker's second career regular-season start.
Also from Coats: Bulger took nearly all the snaps in practice Friday and will start against Seattle.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams aren't overly worried about their thin depth at receiver because tight ends Randy McMichael and Daniel Fells are good receivers.
Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis provides audio from Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo on Bulger's availability.
Allen Rossum of the 49ers offers special-teams insights heading into the opener. Rossum: "One thing that their kicker Neil Rackers does well is that after he kicks the ball he goes down and covers. That’s a rarity in the NFL. As soon as you come through the hole, you see this guy sitting there and you’re not expecting him. Most of the time teams don’t have a blocker for the kicker. One time I hit the hole and he was standing right in front of me. That was a little different!"
Taylor Price of 49ers. com quotes linebacker Patrick Willis on the Cardinals: "It’s a new season. It’s a new start. It’s us or it’s them. That’s how we look at it. I don’t even look at them being the NFC champions. That’s what they were last year; to us they are just a team on our schedule."
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider looks at Mike Singletary's decision to name Vernon Davis a team captain. Lynch: "Singletary raved about his work ethic throughout the off-season, saying Davis would catch passes for hours. Singletary said he'd get to work look out of his window and see Davis down on the practice field working on his receiving, then Singletary would go to lunch, go to a few meetings come back and Davis was still at it. At the veterans minicamp while players were struggling to go through their conditioning stations, Singletary wanted to cut the drills short, but Davis spoke up and said the team should finish what it started."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat offers thoughts on Davis and, separately, how the 49ers plan to deal with crowd noise in Arizona.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee notices which 49ers players Singletary did not identify as captains. Barrows: "Frank Gore, the epicenter of the offense, is not on the list, nor is cornerback Nate Clements. Shaun Hill, who as quarterback is ostensibly the face of the team, also is not a captain. Singletary picked the captains himself. They were not voted on by the team."
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News explains one reason Tony Pashos signed with the 49ers: "Right tackle Tony Pashos, who signed with the 49ers on Monday, did so in part because of his relationship with the Singletary. Pashos was drafted by the Ravens in 2003 when Singletary was Baltimore's inside linebackers coach. 'He had great leadership qualities,' Pashos said. 'You could tell it was a matter of time before he was a head coach.' "
Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 looks at key matchups in the 49ers-Cardinals game.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic explains Anquan Boldin's thinking on whether to play with a hamstring injury. Boldin: "You don't want to risk getting injured and then being out four weeks. That would be stupid. It's a long season. It's only Week 1. I'd rather sit out game one as opposed to sitting out four or five other games."
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have become a major-league operation, lending credibility to the region's sports scene. Bickley: "You can bet the rent that sometime over the next four months, the Cardinals will make you fling the remote control across the room, just like old times. That's OK. No matter what happens during the 2009 season, there is a new game in town. It's called the NFL, and at long last Arizonans no longer are stuck with a gut-wrenching, penny-pinching, minor-league franchise designed to lose 10 games every year."
The Arizona Republic takes a position-by-position look at the Cardinals.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com marks the eight-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by recalling what the Cardinals were doing at the time. They had been scheduled to play a road game against Washington the following week.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com predicts a 10-6 record for the Seahawks this season. Johns: "That might sound overly optimistic, but having a healthy Matt Hasselbeck back leading the charge is huge. The passing attack will be potent and I foresee big years for John Carlson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Nate Burleson."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Ben Obomanu would be the Seahawks' fourth receiver if a hamstring injury sidelined Deion Branch.
John Morgan of Field Gulls sizes up the Seahawks' injury situation. Morgan: "Deion Branch has missed three straight practices with a hamstring injury and is 50-50 to play on Sunday. Derek Walker is likely to be deactivated, so his injury is of no concern. I doubt C.J. Wallace will play. That and the injury to Travis Fisher leaves Seattle thin in the secondary and thin at special teams. Nick Reed could be activated to bolster the special teams. If Fisher can't play, Seattle will be barred from a true Dime defense. I, for one, think Will Herring should pick up snaps in obvious passing downs."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Branch's vow to play every game this season could be in jeopardy. Also: "Marcus Trufant, who the team put on the physically unable to perform list, was in the weight room working out on Friday."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury-News says Glen Coffee's strong running performances this summer will not necessarily affect Frank Gore's playing time. Brown: "[Coach Mike] Singletary, though impressed by the rookie, has no appetite for a running backs controversy. He said that Coffee is not necessarily earning a bigger share of the workload for 2009 and that the kid's role remains the same -- to give Gore a rest on occasion."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers learned little about their quarterback situation Saturday night. On the offensive line, Marvel Smith replaced Adam Snyder at right tackle after Snyder suffered ankle and knee injuries. Maiocco: "Snyder appeared to be walking without any problems after the game, but Singletary said he would undergo an MRI examination."
Also from Maiocco: A play-by-play account of the 49ers in the first half of their game against the Raiders. Micheal Spurlock served as the third receiver early in the game.
More from Maiocco: The 49ers' quarterback debate is a lot nastier than the relationship between Alex Smith and Shaun Hill.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Smith played better than Hill against the Raiders, though his 4.2 passer rating wouldn't say so. Barrows on Smith: "He showed good energy and urgency early on, which hasn't always been the case with Smith. The truth is that he wasn't helped out by his receivers. Both Vernon Davis and Josh Morgan missed catchable balls, and Morgan's miscue led to an interception."
More from Barrows: A play-by-play account of the 49ers in the first half. Anyone seen team president Jed York?
David Fucillo of Niners Nation didn't see much pass rush from the 49ers, one of several points he makes in a position-by-position review of the team.
Scott Kegley of 49ers.com says running back Michael Robinson rushed for 83 yards against Oakland in the third quarter alone.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers thoughts and observations following the Cardinals' game against the Chargers. Somers: "Five trips in the red zone. No touchdowns. Coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn't happy about it but he's not going to panic. But it would be nice if the first team scored a touchdown this preseason. The Cardinals have scored only one TD in the preseason, on a pass from Tyler Palko to Onrea Jones at Pittsburgh."
Also from Somers: "It was a rough night for the Cardinals quarterbacks. Starter Kurt Warner wasn't sharp and had a pass intercepted at the Chargers goal line. For the second consecutive game, [Brian] St. Pierre did nothing to threaten Matt Leinart's status as Warner's backup, completing 6 of 15 for 79 yards and no touchdowns."
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have become a hot commodity. Bickley: "This reborn franchise has done more than just join the party. These days, the Cardinals are the party."
Somers and Bob McManaman say the Cardinals' red zone offense has struggled.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Arizona's first-team defense played very well against the Chargers. Calais Campbell: "We have the potential to be great. If we can just keep the team thing going, we will be fine."
Also from Urban: LaRod Stephens-Howling might have earned a roster spot, but all was not good for the Cardinals against San Diego. Whisenhunt pointed to mitigating factors when asked about St. Pierre's performance at quarterback.Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers a few Seahawks notes from their game against the Broncos. Deon Butler made a strong impression early as a receiver, but not as a kickoff returner.
John Morgan of Field Gulls singles out the following Seattle players as "winners" Saturday night: Nick Reed, Michael Bennett, Butler, Justin Forsett, Will Herring, Baraka Atkins, David Hawthorne, C.J. Wallace, Brandon Coutu and Jordan Babineaux.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' first-team defense struggled against the Broncos, getting pushed up and down the field. I had the same feeling, but the Broncos' overall rushing numbers were weak. Coach Jim Mora: "Our second unit came in and did a heck of a job. We just have to be more focused, we just have to play with more enthusiasm, more energy, we have to tackle better, we have to bring our feet when we tackle." I also suspect the Broncos' offense did a little more game-planning than usual in an attempt to get quarterback Kyle Orton on track following a three-interception showing last week.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Matt Hasselbeck and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are starting to get in sync.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch profiles Rams left tackle Alex Barron. Says teammate Chris Long: "I got to see some great left tackles last year, and I really do feel like Alex is a rising star in the league at that spot. I feel like this is going to be a breakout year for him, where people start to realize this is a premier left tackle."
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at the unforgiving nature of NFL
preseasons. Said Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis: "In college, I made it a point of learning everyone's name and becoming familiar with all my teammates. I wanted to know where they were from, what their brothers or sisters names were, because in college, you started camp with 100 guys and you ended camp with 100 guys. But here, you look around and you realize that there will be a lot of empty lockers around here in a few weeks."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says falling behind 14-0 right away wasn't what the Rams wanted as they attempted to win back a skeptical fan base.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Seahawks have a few tough decisions to make before reducing their roster to 53 players in less than three weeks.
The final spot or two at receiver remain unsettled. I see at least 10 defensive linemen worth keeping, but perhaps no more than eight offensive linemen. The final spots at all three general positions on defense -- line, linebackers and secondary -- could spur debate.
The Seahawks aren't even certain which kicker will earn a roster spot, opening possible trade scenarios for teams with needs at the position.
The chart provides a framework for how many players the Seahawks might keep at each position heading into the regular-season opener against the Rams.
Here's a quick look at which Seahawks players I might keep on the cutdown to 53 players:
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
RENTON, Wash. -- The Seahawks recently finished an extended practice session before fans at their facility on Lake Washington. A few notes and observations:
- Rookie receiver Deon Butler faked out cornerback Travis Fisher to the outside before making an easy catch on a slant.
- Veteran receiver Nate Burleson appears recovered from the ACL sugery he underwent less than a year ago. He moves well and doesn't appear hesitant when he cuts.
- Fullback Owen Schmitt had problems in pass-protection drills. He did not move quick enough laterally to make the block on the two plays I saw. Safeties Jamar Adams and C.J. Wallace beat him convincingly.
- Wallace picked off a Matt Hasselbeck pass intended for T.J. Houshmandzadeh. What seemed like a horrible lack of rapport between quarterback and receiver was actually a case of Houshmandzadeh being blinded by sun. Houshmandzadeh said he's still earning Hasselbeck's trust.
- I thought rookie tight end Cameron Morrah caught the ball very well, but my assessment was flawed. Morrah is wearing the No. 43 worn previously by fullback Leonard Weaver. I kept thinking Morrah's receiving skills were exceptional for a fullback. Morrah did beat safety Brian Russell in coverage.
- Russell continues to take the first-team reps at safety, ahead of Jordan Babineaux.
- Backup running back Justin Forsett caught a deep pass up the left sideline with Leroy Hill in coverage. Very nice play for a running back that far downfield. Later, Forsett dropped the ball on a screen pass in the backfield.
- Positive reports about new defensive end Cory Redding appear justified. He was a nightmare for offensive linemen in the pass-rush drills. Redding's weight is down, he appears healthy and he plays violently, as teammate Patrick Kerney put it. I gave Redding the edge in all three matchups against Mansfield Wrotto in pass-rush drills. He also pushed back tight end John Owens' head to make a positive play against the run in team drills.
- Overall, the Seahawks have the potential to be much bigger up front with Redding at left defensive end, Colin Cole on the nose, Brandon Mebane at right defensive tackle and Kerney on the right side. Kerney is bigger, too, but he'll cut weight as the season gets going. The Seahawks are limiting him in camp to avoid injuries.
- Left tackle Walter Jones appeared stiff while walking toward the field before practice. He hasn't practiced since suffering back spasms on the first day of camp.
- Second-year defensive end Lawrence Jackson had success rushing the passer against guards in the one-on-one pass-rush drills. He bull-rushed rookie Max Unger successfully on one play, then beat starter Rob Sims. Jackson also beat tackle Kyle Williams with an inside move.
- Darryl Tapp blew past Ray Willis for a would-be sack. Tapp is having a good camp, according to Kerney.
- The Seahawks are working on game situations earlier than in past seasons. That included a hook-and-lateral play featuring Houshmandzadeh tossing to Burleson. It's unlikely Seattle will use that play, Houshmandzadeh said, but if needed, they've practiced it.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams players aren't complaining about physical morning practices in pads. Also, rookie first-round choice Jason Smith worked at left tackle for the first time since camp opened, albeit with the second and third teams.
Also from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he defends Chris Draft as a "good, solid performer" among Rams linebackers. Also, former 49ers linebacker Larry Grant is enjoying a strong camp in St. Louis. If rookie James Laurinaitis supplants Draft at middle linebacker, Grant could challenge Draft for the starting job on the strong side, Thomas suggests.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams 2006 first-round choice Tye Hill is healthy and making a run at realizing his potential as a cornerback. Hill was the first of four cornerbacks drafted in 2006. Seattle's Kelly Jennings was fourth.
Lindsey Willhite of the Daily Herald says former Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa is learning the Bears' defense. Defensive coordinator Bob Babich: "He's a playmaker. He's just a playmaker. It's great to have him around. He has a great personality and he's brought a lot to the [linebackers] room."
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers cornerback Dre Bly hardly enjoyed his final season with the Broncos. Bly: "It was miserable. It wasn't good at all. Defensively, we were awful. The d-coordinator [Bob Slowik], not to blame anything on him, but we didn't really have the personnel for what he was trying to run. We were too soft in coverage. And when you have two corners like me and Champ [Bailey], you can't be soft in coverage."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers tight end Bear Pascoe welcomes feedback, even the harsh variety, from tight ends coach Pete Hoener. Unfortunately, Hoener was not allowed to provide feedback about Pascoe for this story, per club policy.
Also from Maiocco: Linebacker Ahmad Brooks is getting a chance to make an impact. Coach Mike Singletary: "We feel he is a guy who is going to continue to grow and make plays. He is out there all over the place making plays. So it is very exciting."
More from Maiocco: Veteran receiver Isaac Bruce pays close attention to position coach Jerry Sullivan.
Taylor Price of 49ers.com says 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky isn't worried about the offense's ability to complete passes in practice.
Also from Price: checking in with 49ers cornerback Terrail Lambert.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle sizes up the 49ers' receivers minus Michael Crabtree. Crumpacker: "Unrestricted free agent Brandon Jones has excelled in the early days of camp, Josh Morgan is looking more and more like a No. 1 receiver, old man Isaac Bruce still has gas left in the tank, Dominique Zeigler and Jason Hill have both had their moments and Arnaz Battle has a talent for sticking around. That's six capable receivers right there. Crabtree makes seven. When the roster of 53 is set Sept. 5, one or two good receivers will be out of work." The most likely scenario, in my view: Keep six receivers, with Zeigler as the odd man out.
Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle thinks the 49ers should pay Crabtree the same money seventh overall choice Darrius Heyward-Bey received, just to get Crabtree into camp. Would that work within the rookie pool? I haven't seen the contract to know.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Seahawks backup safety C.J. Wallace keeps popping people in practice. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Craig Terrill confirms that he wasn't stuck in a block of ice.
Also from O'Neil: Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane is happy to have slimmed down, though he misses the Triple Stack burger from Wendy's. I once ate three Big Macs in about five minutes. Would not recommend it.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' defense appears to be grasping coordinator Gus Bradley's scheme against the run. Also, left guard Rob Sims continued his strong play, while defensive lineman Cory Redding stepped up.
John Boyle of the Everett Herald praises Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu for holding an extended autograph session after practice.
Doug Farrar of Scout.com checks in with Tom Marino for a scouting report on new Seahawks cornerback Travis Fisher. The review is generally favorable.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals tight end Ben Patrick appreciates his teammates' support after incurring a four-game NFL suspension. Patrick: "It was huge, because that was one of my main concerns, that my teammates would look at me differently. It took a long time for me to even come back around the guys. During a team meeting I had a talk with all the guys, and they told me they had my back."
Also from Somers: Calais Campbell's development is critical as the Cardinals replace former defensive end Antonio Smith. Somers:
"Successful NFL franchises, such as the Steelers, have allowed good players to leave via free agency, counting upon younger, cheaper players to replace them. Campbell's performance this year is a small test of the Cardinals' acumen in personnel decisions."
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind sizes up the Cardinals' candidates in the return game. Becoming more prominent as a receiver seemed to negatively affect Steve Breaston in the return game last season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers have at least "seven legitimate NFL receivers" and that Michael Crabtree should be on the field when the team opens training camp. I count six legitimate wideouts on the 49ers, the idea being that Dominique Zeigler hasn't quite established himself as one yet. But the depth certainly appears better based on what the team can reasonably expect at the position, and Zeigler has shown promise.
Also from Maiocco: He predicted Crabtree would finish the 2008 season with 47 receptions for 530 yards and three touchdowns. Jerry Rice finished his rookie season with 49, 927 and three. He then caught 37 touchdown passes over the next two seasons, one more than the 49ers scored collectively over the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli says the Cardinals have again shown interest in free-agent offensive tackle Levi Jones, perhaps as a lower-cost alternative to Mike Gandy at tackle. Pasquarelli: "In fact, the Cardinals have already spoken to Jones about his possible interest in the team. Jones missed just one game because of injury his first four seasons, but chronic knee problems have cost him 28 starts the past three years. Another possibility: Arizona could move starting right tackle Levi Brown, a former first-round pick, to his more natural left side, and allow youngster Brandon Keith to compete for the right tackle job."
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic spent the weekend with Ken Whisenhunt at the celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe. He files a notebook and says Whisenhunt failed to beat playing partner and former pupil Ben Roethlisberger. The tournament's online leaderboard shows Whisenhunt beating Roethlisberger by a point. I'll update at some point.
Scott Eklund of Scout.com transcribes chunks of Walter Jones' interview with John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle. I'll break out another part of the interview in a separate post.
John Morgan of Field Gulls revisits C.J. Wallace's 2008 season with the Seahawks. Wallace is one of the team's better players on special teams. Morgan: "That steadiness is at expense of athleticism and almost any playmaking ability. Wallace averaged 13.4 yards allowed on his punt return tackles. Seattle as a whole averaged 10.1 yards per opponent punt return -- 20th in the NFL." The average length of opponent punt returns wouldn't necessarily reflect how well a tackler performed his duties on the play, of course.
Also from Morgan: a look at the Seahawks' injury situation at receiver.
Vinnie Iyer of sportingnews.com lists the Seahawks and 49ers among six teams that might be wise, in his view, to consider Michael Vick. I do not see it.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates negotiations for the Rams' draft choices. Fifth-rounder Brooks Foster expects to sign Monday. Seventh-rounder Chris Ogbonnaya is also expected to sign in the near future. That would leave Jason Smith, James Laurinaitis, Darell Scott and Keith Null without deals. The team has ample time to get those deals in place before the Rams open training camp.
KFFL.com says Rams tight end Randy McMichael could be a viable option in fantasy leagues as a No. 2 tight end. KFFL: "McMichael looks to be healthy for his contract year after a leg injury stopped his 2008 season after just four weeks. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is installing a West Coast-style offense that would probably feature McMichael in a bigger role. He didn't miss a game in his career until last season. He has little competition at his position."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Matt McMahon from San Francisco writes: I have a question for you on scheduling. I have always thought the end of the regular season is anticlimactic. Whereas in other sports the tension increases as the regular season draws to a close, in the NFL, more often than not everything is locked in by the time the 15th and 16th games are played.
What are your thoughts on ending the season with head-to-head division games like baseball? Wouldn't teams playing their last three games of the season against division opponents increase league-wide tension and excitement at the end of the season, not to mention ensure that the division winner is always validated?
For 2009, here are the last five opponents for each NFC West team (with number of division games in parenthesis):
49ers (3): Seahawks, Cardinals, Eagles, Lions, Rams
Cardinals (2): Vikings, 49ers, Lions, Rams, Packers
Rams (2): Bears, Titans, Texans, Cardinals, 49ers
Seahawks (1): 49ers, Texans, Bucs, Packers, Titans
As a result of the scheduling, aren't the Seahawks in an interesting position to either have a serious run or flop at the end of the season -- based on events completely out of the control of their division opponents?
Wouldn't this be better for the last four games (one geographically close rival three division opponents):
49ers: Raiders, Cardinals, Seahawks, Rams
Cardinals: Chargers, 49ers, Rams, Seahawks
Rams: Chiefs, Seahawks, Cardinals, 49ers
Seahawks: Broncos, Rams, 49ers, Cardinals
Mike Sando: There are only 12 division games in a season (per division). That's one product of having four-team divisions. There simply aren't enough of these games to go around. I like having some division games early in the season. We get 49ers-Cardinals and Rams-Seahawks in Week 1 this season. I'm looking forward to those games. At the same time, sure, I'd like to see more division games at the end of the season.
Last season, NFC West teams played one NFC West-only game per week over the first three weeks of the season, then none until Week 8. Week 11 was the only week with more than one NFC West-only game (Rams at 49ers, Cardinals at Seahawks). The schedule featured one such game per week in Weeks 14, 15, 16 and 17 to close the season.
Even those late-season division games wound up being largely meaningless: Rams at Cardinals in Week 14, Seahawks at Rams in Week 15, 49ers at Rams in Week 16 and Seahawks at Cardinals in Week 17.
I think it's important to distribute these division games throughout the season. In some ways, they have a higher chance of feeling relevant if they're played earlier in the season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
New England inactives: Warren, receiver Kelley Washington, linebacker Vince Redd, linebacker Pierre Woods, tackle Wesley Britt, guard Billy Yates, tight end David Thomas. Matt Gutierrez is the third quarterback.
With Jones out, Seattle's offensive line looks like this, left to right: Sean Locklear, Floyd Womack, Steve Vallos, Mansfield Wrotto and Ray Willis. The projected starters this season, left to right: Jones, Mike Wahle, Chris Spencer, Rob Sims and Locklear. Mansfield is making his first NFL start. Veteran center Steve McKinney, signed during the week, is active.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The premise: 'Tis the season when disappointed NFL fans call for their teams to take a longer look at young talent on the roster.
The Seahawks: After looking at the 49ers' youngest players, we take a quick look at the 20 youngest players on the Seahawks' roster. Each is listed by name, position and current age, starting with the youngest.
- Brandon Miller, DE, 22: Recently claimed off waivers from the Falcons.
- Justin Forsett, RB, 23: Returned two punts and one kickoff against Dallas in Week 13.
- Lawrence Jackson, DE, 23: Starting at right defensive end.
- Josh Wilson, CB, 23: Starting at right cornerback.
- Owen Schmitt, FB, 23: Started at fullback until Leonard Weaver returned from injury. Key contributor on special teams.
- David Hawthorne, LB, 23: Played enough on special teams at Dallas to draw a penalty.
- Brandon Mebane, DT, 23: Starting at defensive tackle. Best player on the defensive line.
- Coutu, K, 24: General manager Tim Ruskell is carrying Coutu on the roster while coach Mike Holmgren is sticking with veteran Olindo Mare.
- Wrotto, OL, 24: Next in line for playing time if injuries sideline guards Floyd Womack or Ray Willis.
- Darryl Tapp, DE, 24: Starting at defensive end.
- Baraka Atkins, DE, 24: Playing extensively as part of the line rotation. Has shown signs of progress lately.
- Jordan Kent, WR, 24: Struggled when injuries forced him into the lineup.
- John Carlson, TE, 24: Starting tight end leads the team in receiving.
- C.J. Wallace, S, 24: Special-teams contributor not factoring into rotation in secondary.
- Red Bryant, DT, 24: Injuries have prevented him from playing as much as expected.
- Courtney Taylor, WR, 24: Played his way out of a starting role even when Seattle was desperate at the position.
- Kyle Williams, OL, 24: Signed to help the Seahawks get through practice amid diminished numbers on the line.
- Steve Vallos, C, 24: Started at center against the Cowboys after 2005 first-round choice Chris Spencer suffered an injury.
- Will Herring, LB, 25: Battled illness for much of the season before passing a physical and contributing on special teams.
- Kevin Hobbs, CB, 25: Singled out for progress during offseason workouts, but not part of the rotation in the secondary.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Seattle: Kicker Brandon Coutu, safety C.J. Wallace, fullback Leonard Weaver, linebacker David Hawthorne, guard Mansfield Wrotto, defensive tackle Red Bryant, and defensive end Patrick Kerney. Charlie Frye is the third quarterback.
Arizona: Tackle Elliot Vallejo, guard Brandon Keith, defensive tackle Alan Branch, receiver Early Doucet, tight end Jerame Tuman, tight end Ben Patrick and defensive end Kenny Iwebema. Brian St. Pierre is the third quarterback.
The Seahawks will probably miss Kerney the most. He had seven tackles, five quarterback hits and three sacks when Arizona visited Qwest Field last season
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says emotions run high for Larry Fitzgerald when asked about heading to Seattle. Fitzgerald: "This game has been big for me since I saw the schedule come out. I have never been close in a game in Seattle in my five years. Going to Seattle has always been a death sentence. They have been the division champion for however long, and to be the champion, you have to beat the champion."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are looking to snap a five-game losing streak in Seattle. If not now, when?
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune quotes the Cardinals' Antonio Smith as saying Seattle has the NFL's best fans for generating crowd noise.
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times questions whether Matt Hasselbeck's return will make a big difference for the Seahawks.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks signed Jamar Adams from their practice squad to fill in for the injured C.J. Wallace. Tight end Jeb Putzier was the odd man out. Putzier opened the season as part of the rotation at tight end, but the Seahawks benched him after Putzier struggled.
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks find themselves in an unfamiliar place -- looking up at Arizona.
Scott Johnson of the Everett Herald says the Seahawks are looking to delay what appears to be an inevitable passing of the torch within the NFC West.
Also from Johnson: Hasselbeck's return could be too little, too late.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle singles out Jason Hill's emergence as a positive for the 49ers.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat stands up for 49ers executive Paraag Marathe, who has come under criticism for the way he advises the coaching staff during games.
Also from Maiocco: Isaac Bruce's former teammates revere the veteran receiver.
Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle looks at the overachieving ways of 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill, a former track star whose hustle on the basketball court sent him on his way.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers have no plans to return Jonas Jennings to their starting lineup. The longer he's out, the longer he has to heal, coach Mike Singletary said.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' run defense has betrayed them during recent defeats to the Cardinals and Jets. That could be a problem against the 49ers.
Also from Thomas: He says the Rams' pass offense and pass defense enjoy advantages against the 49ers.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sums up the Rams-49ers rivalry this way: "This used to be a proud and esteemed rivalry, until both franchises ended up living in a dumpster in the alley behind NFL headquarters on Park Avenue in New York."
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams could get a large dose of the ground game from Mike Martz.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
News from Seahawks camp today might have wide-ranging implications for the roster.
Bobby Engram's shoulder injury means the Seahawks might consider carrying an extra receiver while Engram opens the season on the sideline. Roster spots were already at a premium for Seattle because the Seahawks have better depth than most teams. Engram is not eligible for the physically unable to perform (PUP) list because he has already passed a physical. That means he will count on the 80-man roster even when he's not playing.
The Seahawks practiced Sunday without more than one-quarter of their roster. Eighteen Seattle players missed the team's exhibition opener, the second-highest total in the league (New England had 21, the most).
The roster limitations might have played into the Seahawks' thinking in their decision to cut veteran defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs today. Tubbs was rehabbing, but he was not practicing. The Seahawks are already without injured defensive tackle Red Bryant. Last season, the Seahawks carried a rehabbing Tubbs on their roster deep into camp. They apparently did not have that luxury this summer.
Putting Tubbs on injured reserve was an option, but that would have ended his season. By terminating Tubbs' contract, the Seahawks give him a chance to play for someone this season -- perhaps even Seattle -- if his surgically repaired knee improves.
At receiver, meanwhile, Engram's injury could force Seattle to reconsider having Nate Burleson return punts. With Engram and Deion Branch out, Burleson becomes the only established receiver on the roster. Engram and Branch combined for 143 receptions, 1,808 yard and 10 touchdowns last season. Burleson is the only other returning receiver who caught more than 12 passes for Seattle last season. Risking him on special teams might not be a wise move. It's something for the Seahawks to consider, at least.
Carrying an extra receiver might affect Seattle's roster around the edges. Is there a spot for Jamar Adams or C.J. Wallace or Floyd Womack or a seventh linebacker or a sixth running back (Justin Forsett)? All things to consider for Seattle.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Seahawks and Vikings have finished playing their preseason opener at the Metrodome. Watching on TV makes for tough viewing downfield, but the ability to rewind can help in other situations. I'll use our "players to watch" pregame post as a point of reference for what happened in the game.
Seattle's first-team defense had some problems in this game. That group will be fine. I was more interested in seeing how the offense performed, and how certain individuals performed. With that in mind, here are a few quick thoughts on players:
- Owen Schmitt: The rookie fullback showed he can catch the ball and get upfield. I also saw him clear out Vikings linebacker David Herron on Justin Forsett's 15-yard run late in the fourth quarter.
- Lawrence Jackson: The rookie defensive end was active and got pressure on the quarterback.
- Jordan Kent: His first-quarter touchdown pass made this outing a success. The young receivers stepped up in this game for the most part.
- Kyle Williams: I didn't watch him. Steve Vallos was the star of the line tonight. He wasn't even a center when camp opened. But with Chris Spencer and Chris Gray unavailable, Vallos started at center, played extensively and looked very good. Give credit to Vallos and give credit to the new line coaches. This could be a good sign for Seattle.
- Jason Babin: The Texans' former first-round choice finished with one sack and one fumble recovery. He was clearly having fun. Warren Moon, providing color commentary on the broadcast, said he thinks Babin is a much better fit for Seattle's scheme than he was for the defense Houston ran.
- David Hawthorne: The undrafted rookie made big hits and forced a fumble. He could be a find for the Seahawks. They let backup middle linebacker Niko Koutouvides go in free agency. Hawthorne looked like an upgrade tonight.
- C.J. Wallace: I wanted to see how Wallace might fend off Jamar Adams for a roster spot, but Adams was the one making plays tonight. He showed range and appeared physical, forcing a fumble.
- Charlie Frye: He wasn't bad, but starter Matt Hasselbeck and No. 2 quarterback Seneca Wallace set the standard in this game. Wallace completed 15 of 20 passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns.
- Howard Green: Very, very active on the Seahawks' defensive line. The defensive tackle had two sacks, one forced fumble and an interception. He played hungry.
I'd like to be watching the 49ers' game tonight, but it's not available here until Saturday night on replay.