NFC West: Cadillac Williams

Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, J.J. Arrington and Eric Shelton were the running backs selected ahead of Frank Gore in the 2005 NFL draft.



Gore, the San Francisco 49ers' career rushing leader, has kept those players' names in mind as motivation over the years.

This is pretty typical thinking in the NFL.

Tom Brady famously kept in mind the six quarterbacks selected ahead of him in the 2000 draft, and what it felt like to be selected 199th overall. He teared up when recalling his draft-day experience for a documentary more than a decade later.

"Of all the quarterbacks selected before Brady in the 2000 draft, none hurt Brady more than [Geno] Carmazzi" going to the 49ers because Brady had been a huge fan of Joe Montana and the team while growing up in California, Mike Reiss noted two years ago.

Gore has company among third-round choices in the NFC West.

Brandon Weedon was among the quarterbacks selected ahead of 2012 Seattle Seahawks third-rounder Russell Wilson. Rolando McClain and Sergio Kindle were among the linebackers selected ahead of 2010 49ers third-rounder NaVorro Bowman.

Back to Gore: He has 8,839 career rushing yards. Benson (6,017), Brown (5,171), Williams (4,038), Arrington (654) and Shelton (23) have combined for 15,903 yards.
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.
Chatting with Bernie Miklasz about the NFC West in general and the St. Louis Rams in particular has become a staple each Tuesday.

The run is ending this week after Bernie hosted his final show on 101ESPN St. Louis. Bernie isn't leaving, fortunately. He's recommitting to his main job at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The paper has created an expanded role for him through its website. We'll stay in touch and collaborate in new ways, I'm sure.

In the meantime, I wanted to share the audio link to our conversation Tuesday. This was a Rams-only conversation primarily about their draft, specifically how the team has changed on offense.

The chart below shows key receivers, tight ends and running backs for the Rams in their final game before coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead arrived. It also shows key players at those positions now. Some of the players from the 2011 regular-season finale were on injured reserve at the time. The last two receivers listed in the right column aren't key players at the position. I included their names to even up the chart.
 
The Arizona Cardinals were pleased when more than 10,000 fans turned out for their 2009 camp scrimmage, held six months after the team's Super Bowl appearance.

Drawing an estimated 14,500 fans on Saturday appears more impressive after two less inspiring seasons.

The trend is heading in the right direction, for sure.

"Back in 2004, we had to pay people to watch us," receiver Larry Fitzgerald said, according to the team.

The Cardinals could joke after getting through practice with no reported injuries to key players, notably second-year running back Ryan Williams, whose 44-yard run signaled a milestone in his return from a torn patella. Backup Javarris James will miss time after injuring an abductor muscle, further depleting the ranks at running back while Beanie Wells rests his surgically repaired knee. But Williams' continued progress is key.

Williams, one of the Cardinals' most exciting players in camp a year ago when the injury struck him down, passed another test Saturday when he absorbed a hit from strong safety Adrian Wilson and came away OK.

The injury Williams suffered during an exhibition game against Green Bay last Aug. 19 was an unusual one.

Cadillac Williams provides the recent precedent for an NFL running back. He suffered a torn patella during a 2007 game. About 14 months -- 420 days, to be precise -- elapsed before he played in another game. If Ryan Williams followed the same timeline, he would return for an Oct. 14 matchup against Buffalo, 422 days following his injury.

The timetable for Ryan Williams appears ahead of that pace.

Cadillac Williams provides the precedent for an accelerated pace as well. He suffered a second torn patella, this one to the other knee, during the final game of the 2008 season. He returned in time to start the 2009 opener, a span of only 259 days. At that pace, Ryan Williams would have been ready for game action in early May. Instead, he continued to rehab all offseason, participating in minicamps on a limited basis.

Williams has said he hopes to return for Week 1. The Cardinals haven't set a date. I'd be surprised if they hurried him onto the field during the first couple exhibition games.

Note: The Cardinals generally hold their scrimmage later in camp, but with the team playing in the Hall of Fame Game next week, that wasn't feasible. Scrimmaging with only a few practices could explain why the offense seemed sloppy, according to initial reports. Kevin Kolb tossed the only touchdown pass. He also threw two interceptions.
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Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

Any team with Steven Jackson at running back should be set. But for the first time in too long, the Rams have promising young depth behind the only NFL running back riding a seven-year run of 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Second-round choice Isaiah Pead provides badly needed speed and energy in a change-of-pace back. Seventh-round choice Daryl Richardson also impressed during organized team activities and minicamp practices.

The Rams had their reasons for employing veterans Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood as Jackson's backups last season. Reliability and experience meant more during a lockout-shortened offseason, particularly with the Rams' expectations surging some after posting a 7-9 record in 2010. Even this offseason, re-signing Williams or making a run at free agent Cedric Benson might have invited favorable reviews on those players' reputations.

Youth will be served under first-year coach Jeff Fisher. It should almost always be served at running back, anyway. Pead and Richardson offer speed and shiftiness. They give the Rams something the team hasn't had in the backfield: variety and depth with upside.

My first inclination was to profile the Rams' wide receivers for this piece. We've gone over that ground. Running back was another position with the potential to exceed expectations, at least from a depth standpoint. Now, it's up to the players to prove it.
Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch topped 1,200 yards rushing last season. Steven Jackson (1,145) and Beanie Wells (1,047) also exceeded 1,000 yards for NFC West teams.

With LaDainian Tomlinson set to retire, I've put together a chart showing how many 1,200-yard seasons 10 current and former NFC West backs would need to match him in career rushing yards (13,684).

For example, the St. Louis Rams' Steven Jackson has 9,093 career yards. He would need 4,591 yards to catch Tomlinson. Jackson would need 3.8 seasons (61.2 games) to catch Tomlinson if Jackson were to average 1,200 yards per season from this point forward.

Tomlinson was pretty impressive, in other words.
The injury Ryan Williams suffered during his second NFL exhibition game was relatively unusual for football players.

"My kneecap was in my thigh," the Arizona Cardinals' running back said during a team-produced video on his rehabilitation. "It was just kind of like, 'What?' "

A torn patella tendon ended Williams' rookie season before it officially began.

The running back expects to return for training camp and the 2012 regular season. Cadillac Williams and Earnest Graham returned from similar injuries, but each situation is different. The Cardinals cannot know how the knee will respond. No one can.

Cadillac Williams returned, only to injure his other knee. Suffering a second injury so quickly complicated comparisons to other running backs returning from a single torn patella.

Ryan Williams is not yet even 22 years old, however.

"He has youth on his side, for sure," ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell said Thursday. "What you worry about is, it takes a lot to get any kind of explosiveness or power back. You're not talking about strength, but quickness."

Williams, a second-round choice from Virginia Tech, impressed the Cardinals with his ability to change directions without losing much speed.

"It is reasonable he could be back when the season starts," Bell said, "but will he really be back? That is going to remain to be seen and like these guys coming off ACL surgeries, it may take a while to see what his max is that he can return to."

The Cardinals need Williams in part because their primary back, Beanie Wells, has struggled with injuries, fighting through knee trouble last season after undergoing surgery.

Four additional injury situations to monitor, one per NFC West team, as the offseason continues:
  • Arizona: Kevin Kolb, quarterback. Concussion problems have sidelined Kolb each of the past two seasons. Symptoms lingered last season. Quarterbacks are going to take hits unexpectedly, sometimes to the head. Can Kolb stay on the field?
  • Seattle: Sidney Rice, receiver. Rice has undergone surgery on each shoulder. One surgery repaired damage suffered during training camp. The other repaired damage incurred during college. The hope is healthier shoulders will allow Rice to improve strength throughout his upper body.
  • San Francisco: Josh Morgan, receiver. The 49ers were relatively healthy last season, but losing Morgan to a broken ankle cost them as the season progressed, particularly late. Morgan is without a contract for 2012. He has been working out at the 49ers' team facility. Getting him back would help the offense.
  • St. Louis: Rodger Saffold, pectoral. The Rams had injuries throughout their roster, especially at cornerback. Saffold's ability to play four positions on the line, including left tackle, makes him more valuable than members of the secondary. Saffold has said he hopes to be ready by April or May, according to Howard Balzer. He suffered a torn pectoral while lifting weights in mid-November.

First look at Rams' 2012 free agents

February, 7, 2012
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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.

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Receiver Danny Amendola, listed with the restricted free agents below, has not played since suffering an elbow injury in the 2011 season opener.

Silver linings: Rams vs. 49ers

January, 4, 2012
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The facts: The St. Louis Rams finished the 2011 season with a 2-14 record after suffering a 34-27 defeat to the San Francisco 49ers in the Edward Jones Dome.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • The Rams scored two rushing touchdowns, one by Kellen Clemens and the other by Cadillac Williams. The 49ers had allowed only one rushing touchdown all season previously.
  • Clemens' 18-yard run gave the Rams a 7-0 lead. His touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd in the fourth quarter pulled the Rams within striking distance. A low completion percentage and one interception left Clemens with a 67.4 NFL passer rating out of a possible 158.3, but Clemens' broader contributions -- his rushing touchdown, plus his strong play late in the game -- equated to the Rams' highest single-game Total QBR score of the season (64.9 out of 100).
  • Lloyd finished with 100 yards receiving, his first game in triple digits since the Rams acquired him from Denver before the trading deadline.
  • Veteran defensive end James Hall collected his sixth sack of the season.
  • Josh Brown and the Rams' kickoff coverage team executed a successful onside kick late in the game, keeping alive the Rams' chances. Linebacker Bryan Kehl made the recovery with 4:45 remaining. Cadillac Williams then scored on a 1-yard run to get the Rams within a touchdown at 34-27.
  • Brown also made both field goal attempts. Punter Donnie Jones had a 41.2-yard net average.
  • Resting Sam Bradford allowed the Rams' franchise quarterback to avoid further injury in an ultimately meaningless game against a tough defense. Clemens suffered a leg injury late in the game. There was no sense in putting Bradford at risk. He missed the game with a high-ankle sprain.
Looking ahead: The Rams are searching for a new coach and general manager. They hold the second overall choice in the 2012 draft.

Around the NFC West: What's the point?

December, 13, 2011
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There was a point during Steve Spagnuolo's postgame news conference Monday night when his comments begged for elaboration.

The St. Louis Rams' coach was trying to explain some of the team's curious play calling near the goal line during a 30-13 defeat to the Seattle Seahawks. Spagnuolo pointed to the clock being a factor behind three consecutive pass plays from the Seattle 1-yard line.

I considered asking why the team had run twice to open the goal-to-go portion of the drive, once with backup running back Cadillac Williams and again with injured quarterback Sam Bradford on an ill-fated sneak, but there was really no reason to follow up. What could Spagnuolo say? Did it really matter at this point?

The cumulative effect of losing outweighed the need to examine in minute detail every aspect of this particular defeat.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch put it this way: "In St. Louis, we've seen this loss many times before; they all look the same by now. The players seemed to care. Running back Steven Jackson ran wildly and effectively, once again giving his all for a lost cause. The Rams defense played hard, putting up a fight until finally succumbing to fatigue and frustration. But the futile Rams offense failed to score enough points. With quarterback Sam Bradford playing on a gimpy left ankle and unable to consistently step into his throws, it was a challenge for the Rams to reach the end zone. ... What will (owner Stan) Kroenke do with his coach? I don't know. He could blow up the entire football operation and fire everyone. Or he could fire GM Billy Devaney and keep Spagnuolo. Or he could build another Wal-Mart."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com offers a Rams report card with an "F" grade for coaching. Gordon: "Where do you start with that offense? A late offensive line substitution led to a broken red-zone play. That turned a first-and-goal scenario into a field-goal try. Josh McDaniels steered away from Jackson on several short-yardage calls near the goal line. He also ordered too many slow-developing play-action passing plays that seldom drew so much as a nibble from the Seattle secondary. Coaches must adapt their playcalling to the circumstances, and the Rams did a dreadful job of that on offense."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune put the Seahawks' victory in perspective. Boling: "Yes, it was just the Rams. But the Seahawks also were without three starting offensive linemen and their big-ticket free-agent receiver – all out for the season with injuries. Yes, it was just the Rams. But Marshawn Lynch put together his fifth 100-yard rushing effort (23 for 115 yards) in the past six games. He unleashed another “Beast Mode” run in the third quarter when he pounded out a 12-yard gain despite being hit by a half-dozen defenders. He’s scored touchdowns in nine straight games. Yes, it was just the Rams. But the Seahawks’ young players had another impressive outing."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with the NFL's leading consumer of Skittles candy. Lynch rushed for 115 yards against the Rams. Fans showered him with Skittles when he scored a touchdown for the ninth consecutive game he has played. Lynch: "It really took off in college, when they gave me a pack of Skittles on the sideline at Cal. But it didn’t blow up the way it has like this."

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times sizes up Doug Baldwin's contributions for Seattle. Brewer: "His underdog tale continues to get better. He has evolved from undrafted free agent to rookie surprise to flat-out impact player. It's not a shock when Baldwin does great things anymore. He is, in the absence of Sidney Rice, the Seahawks' best wide receiver. He is, without a doubt, an essential part of the Seahawks' present and future."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle offers postgame Seahawks notes, including one about Brandon Browner's up-and-down night. Browner on the big reception he allowed to Brandon Lloyd: "That double-move that he gave me, that should never happen. That's like what happened to me [against] Washington towards the end of the game. We're up, man. I've got to play off. I've got to play for the deep route."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic thinks the Cardinals should bring back Todd Haley to help their offense after Ray Horton has helped turn around the defense. Bickley on the defense: "They've yielded six touchdowns in their past six games, the third-lowest total in the NFL during that span. They rank third in third-down defense behind the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets, a stunning turnaround for veteran birdwatchers. For the second consecutive week, they amassed five sacks from five players. That creates a powerful force inside the locker room."

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals aren't talking playoffs just yet. McManaman: "If the Cardinals win out -- beating Cleveland, Cincinnati and Seattle -- they would finish 9-7. If that happens and the teams above them in the NFC wild-card race lose two of their final three games -- namely Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas -- then Arizona is in. It's a long shot, but it's true. And even coach Ken Whisenhunt is a little apprehensive talking about it." Noted: The Cardinals could get into the playoffs even if they lost at home to Cleveland. Here is how.

Also from McManaman: The Cardinals say they aren't sure whether Kevin Kolb will play against the Browns. McManaman: "This couldn't have been how Kevin Kolb envisioned his first year as the Cardinals' starting quarterback would play out. In addition to taking a beating the first two months of the season, he missed four consecutive games because of a complicated right-foot injury. Then, just a week after returning, he suffered a concussion on the third play of Arizona's 21-19 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who gives the current 49ers an edge over the 1981 version. DeBartolo on the current team's defeat to Arizona: "What happened yesterday is the same thing that happened to me, Bill (Walsh), Steve (Young) and Joe (Montana) -- just exactly like that. That happened to us so many times in Phoenix, it's unbelievable. We'd go down there, and we had the better team, and they'd just pop up and come up with games." Noted: Not so fast. This team does not have Young or Montana. The 49ers have hit a rougher patch in the past three weeks and did not look good during the first half of their lone victory during that stretch, over the Rams. Writing off the defeat to Arizona as a fluke ignores broader struggles and limitations on offense. This team isn't playing with the efficiency it showed several weeks ago. It feels as though it's getting tougher to overcome some of the offensive limitations.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' Frank Gore is not 100 percent. Branch: "Gore is presumably dealing with knee and ankle injuries that he suffered in back-to-back games last month. During a win against the Redskins on Nov. 6, Gore hurt his ankle and, after the game, needed assistance stepping down from an elevated platform on which he’d addressed reporters. Gore played the following week -- collecting zero yards on six carries -- but didn’t finish a 27-20 win against the Giants after suffering a knee injury in the first half. Gore hasn’t missed a game since, but his production has dipped dramatically since he ripped off a franchise-record five straight 100-yard games, a streak that ended against the Giants."

'Hyphen' and Hunter dangerous after catch

December, 8, 2011
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LaRod Stephens-Howling was among the NFL's best in racking up yards after the catch even before weaving through the Dallas Cowboys' defense for the winning 52-yard touchdown in overtime Sunday.

That play widened the gap between the Arizona Cardinals running back and every other player with at least eight receptions this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Stephens-Howling, nicknamed "The Hyphen," previously gained about 15 yards after the catch during a critical fourth-and-2 play at Philadelphia. That play gained 30 yards during the winning drive.

Stephens-Howling and the San Francisco 49ers' Kendall Hunter are not starting running backs. They both rank among the NFL leaders in yards after the catch, however -- something to watch when San Francisco visits Arizona in Week 14. The Cardinals' defense ranks eighth in average yards allowed after the catch (4.8), seven spots higher than the 49ers' defense ranks (5.1). Pittsburgh leads the NFL (4.5).

Hunter, like Stephens-Howling, hurt the Eagles after the catch. He gained all but about 10 of his 44 yards after the catch on a third-quarter reception that sparked the 49ers' comeback from a 23-3 deficit. Alex Smith scrambled to his right. Hunter adjusted well. Hunter caught the ball and outran linebacker Brian Rolle, then weaved through the secondary. San Francisco scored two plays later.

The Eagles are allowing 7.1 yards per reception after the catch, second-worst in the NFL.

The chart shows yards-after-catch leaders from NFC West teams (minimum eight receptions). The 49ers' Frank Gore just missed the top 10. He has averaged 5.6 yards after the catch on his 16 receptions, down from 10.1 yards last season. The 49ers have utilized Gore more in pass protection. He is on pace to finish with less than half his total for receptions last season (46).
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Rams find way to protect Sam Bradford

December, 4, 2011
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Picture-perfect California weather only marginally improved the St. Louis Rams' view from the visitor's sideline at Candlestick Park.

Bradford
Bradford
The Rams watched backup quarterbacks A.J. Feeley and Tom Brandstater warm up, but there was no sign of starter Sam Bradford. The more time passed, the clearer it became Bradford would not play Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.

Bradford, slowed by an ankle injury, was among the players St. Louis declared inactive 90 minutes before the 4:15 p.m. ET kickoff. Feeley, 1-1 as a starter for the Rams this season, will start against San Francisco. The Rams also declared safety Darian Stewart, running back Cadillac Williams, linebacker Josh Hull, guard Kevin Hughes, tackle Mark LeVoir and defensive end C.J. Ah You inactive.

The 49ers' list featured quarterback Scott Tolzien, receiver Braylon Edwards, cornerback Shawntae Spencer, fullback Moran Norris, guard Daniel Kilgore, guard Mike Person and nose tackle Ian Williams.

Bradford missed practice during the week after aggravating the high-ankle sprain he suffered this season. There was no sense risking his physical well-being behind an offensive line playing without both starting tackles, in my view.

Bradford, Lloyd and Rams' passing game

November, 26, 2011
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Brandon Lloyd has added badly needed production to the St. Louis Rams' offense.

Much of his potential remains untapped.

That was one conclusion upon learning that Sam Bradford has averaged only 5.6 yards per attempt with a 40-percent completion rate when targeting Lloyd this season. Lloyd has made a few spectacular catches. He leads the team in touchdown receptions with three. But as the chart shows, Bradford has been more efficient targeting other players.

Lloyd has averaged 13.9 yards per reception on passes from Bradford and 12.4 per catch overall with the Rams. Bradford and backup A.J. Feeley have consistently targeted Lloyd on deeper throws. They haven't connected frequently enough.

The efficiency and overall rapport between Bradford and Lloyd will be a storyline to watch for the Rams over the final six games, beginning Sunday against Arizona. The Cardinals' Patrick Peterson generally fared well in coverage against Lloyd when the teams played in Week 9. The Rams need to find out whether the 30-year-old Lloyd's breakout 2010 season (77 catches for 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns with Denver) was an indicator of future production.

Earlier: Similar charts for other NFC West quarterbacks, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information's Hank Gargiulo.

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Rams one-up Seahawks on freak injuries

November, 18, 2011
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The St. Louis Rams have yet to hear about an injury they could not top.

They proved it Friday when starting left tackle Rodger Saffold suffered a serious pectoral injury that could require season-ending surgery. Saffold suffered the injury during a routine weight-lifting session, the team said.

For pure freak value, that arguably tops the season-ending knee injury Seattle Seahawks right tackle James Carpenter suffered during routine pass-rush drills Thursday. Tom Cable, the Seahawks' veteran offensive line coach, said he'd never seen a player injured seriously in such a drill.

Just like that, both the Seahawks and Rams are heading into their game Sunday with barely recognizable offensive lines. The Rams have already lost eight cornerbacks -- nine, depending on one's accounting -- to injuries this season. One report Sunday said their backup running back, Cadillac Williams, suffered a calf injury while checking into the game.

Before losing Saffold, the Rams had already lost starting right tackle Jason Smith to a concussion. Removing Saffold from the equation forces Mark LeVoir into the lineup at left tackle. Adam Goldberg is filling in for Smith at right tackle. The Rams have no tackle depth at this point, in other words. They had already shaken up their personnel on the line by replacing center Jason Brown with Tony Wragge.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, will play for the first time this season without Carpenter and rookie right guard John Moffitt, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Baltimore in Week 10. They've been getting increasingly strong play from left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger, however, so their line has the edge heading into Sunday -- barring any new injuries before kickoff.

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

November, 16, 2011
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Arizona: Kevin Kolb's turf-toe injury is more than just a turf-toe injury. He's also dealing with a bone bruise along the outside of the same foot -- his right one, which takes most of the pressure when Kolb plants to throw. That bone bruise makes it tougher for Kolb to compensate for the toe injury by distributing additional weight elsewhere on the foot. As a result, he's struggling to come back quickly and could miss the Cardinals' game against San Francisco on Sunday. Kolb was already struggling in a new offense. He hasn't practiced in recent weeks, making it tougher for the team to feel good about playing him without a full week of practice. John Skelton appears likely to make a third consecutive start, particularly after winning his previous two. Tight ends Todd Heap (hamstring) and Rob Housler (groin) did not practice. Beanie Wells (knee) also sat out. Wells will presumably play, but the ground game faces a tough enough challenge against the 49ers without injuries diminishing Wells and the tight ends.

St. Louis: Injuries have severely depleted the Rams, but most of their remaining players practiced Wednesday, including left tackle Rodger Saffold (concussion). Right tackle Jason Smith (concussion), running back Cadillac Williams (calf) and receiver Brandon Gibson (groin) were the exceptions. The team isn't relying heavily on any of those players. The Rams do face severe challenges in their secondary, however. Starting cornerback Al Harris landed on injured reserve. The team signed corner Nate Ness from its practice squad. The Rams have few options at corner heading into a game against a Seattle team with vastly better receivers than the Rams faced in Week 17 last season. That is a concern. Losing tight end Michael Hoomanawanui to a season-ending knee injury will also hurt. He's been playing extensively for weeks. Rookie tight end Lance Kendricks practiced on a limited basis Wednesday despite a foot injury.

San Francisco: Frank Gore's knee injury and staying power for the remainder of the season are top concerns for the 49ers. Gore was not practicing Wednesday, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. Last season, Gore suffered a season-ending hip injury against Arizona in Week 12, missing the final five games. The Cardinals are on the schedule one week earlier this season. Getting Gore healthy for a playoff run seems like the wisest course, in my view. Gore told reporters his position coach, Tom Rathman, held him out against the Giants as a precaution. How much Gore practices later in the week will be telling. Inside linebacker Patrick Willis suffered injured ribs against the Giants. He's expected to practice and play.

Seattle: Coach Pete Carroll tends to see the glass half full when it comes to injuries. He was optimistic Wednesday about having strong safety Kam Chancellor and two of the team's top receivers, Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin, after those three players suffered concussions against Baltimore. The key will be seeing how much those players practice over the next couple days. Chancellor's availability is a key issue for the Seahawks against Rams running back Steven Jackson. Seattle is a tougher, more physical team on defense with Chancellor. The Seahawks' injury situation at receiver is important, but the team plans to continue emphasizing its ground game. That will presumably remain a top priority against the Rams, who have allowed more rushing yards than any team in the league (despite improvements lately). Update: Rookie right tackle James Carpenter suffered a knee injury of unknown severity during practice Wednesday. Breno Giacomini would replace him in the line up if necessary. Losing Carpenter would set back the Seahawks' long-term plans for the line without necessarily hurting their chances against the Rams. Carpenter has struggled in pass protection.

Note: The 49ers and Seahawks are still practicing. I'll update with additional information as warranted.

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