NFC West: Calvin Pace
Suggs, speaking Tuesday from the Ravens' hotel at Super Bowl XLVII, thanked the Cardinals for letting him slip in the draft.
This thank you note was delivered unsolicited and with the back of the hand. Suggs was answering a question about his first contact with Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. The two had taped a commercial together before that 2003 draft. The Ravens were picking 10th overall. Lewis told Suggs the two could wind up being teammates. Suggs, admittedly naive at that early stage of his career, figured he'd be long gone by then. He figured the Cardinals wouldn't let him get past that sixth pick.
"Lo and behold, the Arizona Cardinals traded out of the pick," Suggs said. "Thank you all for that. I appreciate that with all my heart. Thank you."
The Cardinals found longtime starters Anquan Boldin, Gerald Hayes and Reggie Wellis later in that 2003 draft. Boldin, traded to Baltimore in 2010, will join Suggs in the Ravens' starting lineup against San Francisco on Sunday.
These are the sorts of plays that energize a team. They keep backup players such as Kaepernick engaged in the game plan. They promote camaraderie.
Think how much it must have meant to Joe Staley last season when the 49ers drew up a play for him resulting in a 17-yard reception for the veteran left tackle. Most linemen never get to experience anything along those lines. The time San Francisco got the ball to nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga for an 18-yard catch also comes to mind.
These unconventional plays have to work some of the time for a team to justify using them. The 49ers have shown a knack for converting them. That's a sign of good coaching. It also shows the 49ers' players have put in the work to make them succeed.
On Sunday, Kaepernick subbed into the game for Alex Smith at quarterback. The Jets had to respect his running ability. They knew he had run the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds at the NFL scouting combine. They had seen him score on a 78-yard run during preseason.
Despite all this, the 49ers fooled the Jets into thinking Kendall Hunter got the ball on an inside handoff.
The 49ers aligned in a passing formation featuring no in-line tight end. But because the 49ers had two tight ends on the field -- Vernon Davis was slot left, Delanie Walker slot right -- the Jets kept their base personnel on the field. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree was wide to the left. Wide receiver Mario Manningham was wide to the right.
Kaepernick stood in the shotgun formation with Hunter flanking him on the left. The 49ers had handed off to Frank Gore for inside runs on the two previous plays. Those plays gained 5 and 6 yards. Was another inside run coming?
Walker motioned into the backfield behind Kaepernick right before the snap. Kaepernick and Hunter sold the handoff well. Davis let safety LaRon Landry flow to the inside toward Hunter.
Outside linebacker Calvin Pace had a shot at Kaepernick as the quarterback ran outside to the left. Kaepernick sunk his body just enough to sell a possible pitch to Walker along the left sideline. Pace froze. Kaepernick darted upfield and into the clear, freed in part by Crabtree's block on cornerback Kyle Wilson.
This play was only the sixth-longest for the 49ers in a game they won 34-0. It was the one fans and players figure to remember the most.
The Cardinals do have a pretty good idea which players those tackles will have to block in passing situations this season.
The list includes Jared Allen and Jason Babin, who combined for 40 sacks last season while ranking first and third, respectively, in that category. Overall, the Cardinals face nine of the 17 NFL players with at least 10 sacks last season, plus another player, John Abraham, who finished with 9.5. There are also players expected to reach double figures in sacks this season after failing to do so in 2011. Mario Williams and Clay Matthews head that list.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic identifies D'Anthony Batiste (left) and rookie Bobby Massie (right) as potential favorites to start at tackle after a triceps injury knocked out left tackle Levi Brown, perhaps for the season.
Batiste, 30, started four games for Atlanta in 2007. Massie, a fourth-round choice, started 29 consecutive games at right tackle to end his career at Mississippi.
The chart shows the Cardinals' 2012 schedule, plus projected top pass-rushers from the left and right sides of each opponent's defense. Those pass-rushers' sack totals from 2011 appear in parenthesis.
- Davis can do it all. He went to the Pro Bowl last season mainly because he caught 13 touchdown passes. Davis has caught passes thrown over the wrong shoulder. He has out muscled Pro Bowl-caliber players for the football, including the Arizona Cardinals' Adrian Wilson. He has used his speed to outrun defenders -- especially down the middle. I've also appreciated Davis' approach to blocking. In going through my notes over the past two seasons, I found examples of Davis containing or taking out Mathias Kiwanuka, Patrick Kerney, Chike Okeafor, Charles Grant, Will Smith, James Hall, Calvin Pace, Jacob Ford, David Harris and others. I recall him blocking the Chicago Bears' Nick Roach aggressively enough last season to injure the 250-pound inside linebacker. Those are the plays that can make Davis a dynamic all-around player.
- Davis doesn't always do it all. He seems to have lapses in awareness at times. My notes over the past couple seasons also include dropped passes, costly penalties, an instance when he failed to get out of bounds to stop the clock, missed blocks and potential failures to recognize blitzing defenders (resulting in pressure or incomplete passes when Davis failed to look back at the quarterback). Davis can become more consistent.
- Davis has good intentions. This is what makes the 49ers feel good about rewarding Davis. They can be confident he'll continue working at his craft. Naming Davis a team captain seemed to help Davis act more like one. The 49ers should expect this contract extension to promote more consistent play from Davis. He's been great at times, but not all the time. It's fair to hold him to a higher standard after this extension.
The laptop battery is about to expire. Catching a connecting flight to St. Louis here shortly. Enjoy your Saturday night.
The chart, put together with information from Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information, shows NFC West defensive players with the most penalties since 2005 under categories labeled roughing the passer, unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct, taunting, horse-collar tackle, personal foul, disqualification and 15-yard facemask.
These penalties include only those committed while playing for NFC West teams. They include playoff games.
Joey Porter, signed by the Cardinals in free agency, has eight such penalties since 2005. Bryan Robinson, signed by the Cardinals in 2008, ranks tied for ninth on the list with four. He had four additional penalties in these categories while playing for Cincinnati from 2005 to 2007.
Not that Bradford needed anything additional to think about.
Alex Smith was the only first-round quarterback from a current Mountain West team from 2000 to 2009.
His 49ers teammate, David Carr, was the only first-round quarterback from a current WAC team during the same period.
The Mountain West and WAC aren't the most acclaimed conferences for college football, but get this: The Big Ten produced no first-round quarterbacks during the first 10 drafts of the 2000s. Drew Brees came close, but he was the first pick of the second round.
Sixteen of the 26 quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 2000 came from teams currently affiliated with the SEC (six), Pac-10 (six) or Conference-USA (four).
Eight of the 26 have been named to a Pro Bowl: two from the ACC (Philip Rivers, Michael Vick), two from the Pac-10 (Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers), two from the SEC (Jay Cutler, Eli Manning), one from the Big 12 (Vince Young) and one from the MAC (Ben Roethlisberger). The ACC list could grow in the near future thanks to Matt Ryan.
The C-USA quarterbacks were J.P. Losman, Byron Leftwich, Patrick Ramsey and Chad Pennington.
A quick look at NFC West quarterbacks, regardless of draft status, and which conferences their college teams call home:
- ACC: Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst
- Big East: Mike Teel, Marc Bulger
- Great Northwest (Division II): Mike Reilly
- Lone Star (Division II): Keith Null
- MAC: Nate Davis
- Missouri Valley (Division I-AA): Kurt Warner (retiring but still on roster)
- Mountain West: Smith
- Pac-10: Derek Anderson, Matt Leinart, A.J. Feeley
- WAC: Carr
The chart below breaks down first-round picks from 2000 through 2009 by position and current conference affiliation. Some defensive linemen turned into outside linebackers in the NFL (Calvin Pace, for example). I've left college positions in place.
NFL teams made 317 first-round selections from 2000 to 2009. This includes 32 every year except for 2000 and 2001, when the league had 31 teams, and 2008, when the Patriots forfeited their first-round choice.
Dansby, a two-time franchise player in Arizona, expects to hit the market in March. He listed the Giants, Chargers, Dolphins and Redskins among teams he'd like to join, according to Sirius Radio's Adam Schein.
The Cardinals paid $9.678 million to Dansby last season and I have a hard time envisioning them paying him similarly over the course of a long-term deal.
It's tough paying great money for good players, but it's also tough watching good players leave. The Cardinals' situation at linebacker will go from tenuous to sketchy if Dansby departs.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are focused on themselves, not the 49ers. Steve Breaston: "They need to watch us, basically. We're ahead. We're in the position that as long as we win games, it doesn't matter what anyone else does."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune lists 11 potential candidates to become the Seahawks' next general manager: Mike Holmgren, Randy Mueller, Tom Heckert, Ruston Webster, Steve Keim, Bill Kuharich, Ted Sundquist, Reggie McKenzie, Les Snead, Jimmy Raye III and Eric DeCosta.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the 49ers appear more talented than the Seahawks heading into their matchup Sunday. Boling: "The Niners even lose better than the Hawks. They lost close at Minnesota (27-24) and at Indianapolis (18-14), sites of two extreme defeats for the Seahawks (35-9 at the Vikings and 34-17 at Indy). I would still suggest the Seahawks have the advantage at quarterback, although the Niners’ Alex Smith (84.7) currently has a better passer rating than Matt Hasselbeck (81.0)."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Tim Ruskell's resignation reminds the Seahawks that jobs are on the line down the stretch. Hasselbeck: "We all know what's at stake. Every single guy in that locker room realizes that just like every other year, how you play will determine your status for the next year. Whether you're in this league or not, whether you're starting or not, whether you're on this team or not. That's unchanged."
Taylor Price of 49ers.com says the 49ers' Delanie Walker is happy for all of the attention Vernon Davis is getting these days.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers coach Mike Singletary wants his defense to improve its tackling. There's no excuse for the 49ers to be a poor tackling team given how much hitting they did during the offseason. Takeo Spikes: "Tackling is a mindset. I don't care how much you work on it in practice, at the end of the day, it's getting 'em down. What can you change in a week's time?"
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says how the Seahawks defend Walker could be a key variable Sunday. Much depends on whether the 49ers continue to shy away from their base offense featuring two backs. Jim Mora: "I've always had a lot of respect for him, and he's developed into a tenacious player. The combination of him and Vernon and [Josh] Morgan and Michael [Crabtree], and [Frank] Gore in the backfield, that's a lot of weapons. They've done a nice job of making you defend the whole field. Walker is a fine player. He might get overshadowed a little bit, but we have a lot of respect for him." More here.
Also from Maiocco: catching up with Nate Davis.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the playoffs are a realistic goal for the 49ers.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams remain unsettled in key areas heading into the final five games. Thomas: "Even if he recovers from his fractured shin bone in time to play a couple of games, quarterback Marc Bulger probably won't have enough time to reinvent himself in the eyes of the coaching staff and front office. Any decision on retaining him, or moving in another direction, will largely be based on what already has transpired."
Also from Thomas: Oshiomogho Atogwe's matchup with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is a key one.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says former Rams coach Mike Martz should be working in the NFL. Miklasz: "Martz's innovations in the passing game inspired a new generation of younger NFL coaches and coordinators. NFL teams are combining to average 66 passes and 471 yards passing per game this season, the second-highest averages since the 1970 merger. Even traditional smash-mouth teams (Pittsburgh) are airing it out and bombing away."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with the Rams' first-year coordinators. Coats: "(Steve) Spagnuolo never had served as a head coach at any level when the Rams tapped him to take over a franchise that had lost 27 of 32 games the previous two seasons. In turn, Spagnuolo hired two men who never had served as coordinators in the NFL: Ken Flajole and, on offense, Pat Shurmur. Toss in a rookie special-teams coordinator, Tom McMahon, and the expression 'starting from scratch' had real meaning."
Posted by EPSN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams and Jets are deep into the third quarter of their exhibition opener. Both first-team offenses and defenses are finished for the night. A few things I've noticed so far:
- Offensive tackle Jason Smith. The Rams' first-round draft choice is playing extensively at right tackle. I have not seen any obvious errors. Early in the game, Smith stood quite upright before some pass plays and once when he had to pull across the formation. He cleared out Vernon Gholston and nearly lifted him off the ground on one play, only to hold Gholston (without getting flagged) when Gholston recovered and tried to chase the play. The Rams successfully ran behind Smith for a short-yardage conversion late in the third quarter.
- Wide receivers. Laurent Robinson got deep for a 50-yard reception from Marc Bulger, affirming the promise Robinson has shown in practice recently. The Rams need someone to get deep while Donnie Avery recovers from a broken foot. Nice start for Robinson.
- Chris Long and the pass rush. Long didn't get around the corner or bother the quarterback, even against the Jets' backups. Leonard Little made the Rams' biggest play on defense, sacking Kellen Clemens and forcing a fumble. I thought Long had a chance to get pressure with an inside rush after lining up at left end, but he didn't get there. Mark Sanchez completed a 48-yard pass on the play.
- Mark Setterstrom's run blocking. The backup center helped left guard Roger Allen III clear out Ty Steinkuhler in springing Samkon Gado for a 77-yard touchdown run. I set out to watch starting center Jason Brown, but didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. The Rams lost starting left guard Jacob Bell to a head injury early, leaving Roy Schuening to line up next to Brown. Again, I didn't notice much here.
- Problems in blitz pickup. Neither team appeared prepared for the other's blitzes. That's no surprise during preseason. Still, the Rams' Kenneth Darby should have fared better in blitz pickup. He gave up a couple of sacks, preventing Marc Bulger from enjoying a better night. Bulger completed all four attempts, but he took three sacks, all when running backs couldn't make plays in blitz pickup.
- Cornerback Justin King. The Jets' David Clowney beat King deep for a 48-yard gain up the offensive right sideline. Safety Todd Johnson tried to help, but he wasn't able to get to the sideline quickly enough. Hard to tell if this one was on King entirely.
- Derek Stanley as a punt returner. He misjudged a punt and the ball struck his leg. Stanley then retreated to pick it up, losing yardage. Not what the Rams wanted to see.
- Tight end Randy McMichael. He caught passes for 10 and 15 yards. McMichael also decked the Jets' Calvin Pace to help spring Steven Jackson. Pace quickly retaliated by beating McMichael in pass protection. Overall, though, this was a good night for McMichael in his first game back from a broken leg.
- Linebacker Chris Chamberlain. Bet he gets fined for hitting the Jets' Wallace Wright with a helmet-to-helmet shot while Bradley Fletcher was tackling Wright.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Kraig from Seattle writes: In evaluating a team's draft success, to what degree do you consider 1st round "busts" a part of the logic of the system, and not just a reflection on the draftee and/or the GM? It would seem that bad matches are especially likely in the earliest picks, as these rookies end up going to the most dysfunctional teams.
For example, there has got to be an asterisk next to every 1st round "bust" that has ended up with the Lions. Alex Smith's situation in SF has been a long and telling saga, too. Your GM analysis should be interesting in this light, as some of them never picked very high because their teams tended to be in better shape over the years.
Mike Sando: That is absolutely a factor. Smith's situation is a classic case. The team changed coordinators. The head coach mishandled the situation. Smith wasn't immediately ready for the NFL after playing in a spread passing game. The 49ers played him right away anyway and armed him with less-than-spectacular weapons.
General managers hoping to keep their jobs tell us we need several years to fully evaluate a draft class.
They are often correct.
Evaluating free-agent decisions takes less time. Some of them are obviously flawed from the beginning.
With that in mind, I wanted to look back at the decisions each NFC West team made in free agency one year ago.
We'll start with the Cardinals because they won the the division title.
The chart shows each of the 17 free agents Arizona added, re
-signed or lost to other teams, based on the records I keep. These included unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents and franchise players. If you have questions or see potential omissions, let me know in the comments.
I've added a third column to flag decisions that worked out poorly. I did not downgrade the Cardinals for re-signing Oliver Celestin or Joe Tafoya -- players the team later released -- because players such as them served the intended purposes during camp. The provided depth and they competed, but they lost out to players the organization valued more.
I flagged only two of the Cardinals' decisions for review. Cornerback Eric Green was a significant disappointment, but the Cardinals protected themselves by drafting Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They also did not invest heavily in Green. They gave him one year to prove his worth, and they moved on once they determined he wasn't meeting expectations.
Letting Calvin Pace leave in free agency hurt the talent level on defense, but the Jets probably overpaid for him. Did the Cardinals err on Pace? Reasonable people could probably disagree.
Overall, however, the Cardinals avoided serious mistakes in free agency. Salary-cap limitations prevented them from spending more aggressively. They'll have more cap flexibility when the next signing period begins Feb. 27.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Tim Hightower is trying to remain patient and disciplined instead of becoming frustrated when big plays fail to develop.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the playing surface at University of Phoenix Stadium graded out highest in a survey of NFL players.
Also from Urban: Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt blames overall special-teams problems, not Steve Breaston, for the receiver's diminished numbers as a punt returner.
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals hope an extended layoff makes them fresher against the Rams.
Chrissy Mauch of 49ers.com quotes Mike Martz as saying former Cardinals linebacker Calvin Pace fits the Jets' defense exceptionally well.
Also from Mauck: Niners cornerback Donald Strickland welcomes a chance to block Jets kicker Jay Feely in the open field.
Dr. Kristine Setting Clark of 49ers.com revisits the career of Freddie Solomon as the team prepares to honor the former 49ers receiver.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers could be without cornerback Nate Clements against the Jets. Clements underwent thumb surgery during the week.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at the criteria by which the 49ers might decide to retain Mike Singletary as head coach. I touched on this in a mailbag item scheduled for later in the day.
Also from Maiocco: The 49ers have until 90 minutes before kickoff Sunday to announce whether Clements will be available against the Jets.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Strickland would likely start at cornerback, with Tarell Brown in the nickel role, if Clements does not play.
Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wonders what Mike Holmgren could have done to deserve this type of sendoff. Matt Hasselbeck is doubtful and Walter Jones is questionable for Sunday.
Also from Farnsworth: Newly signed backup center Steve McKinney got a crash course at Seahawks practice.
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune says Mansfield Wrotto is fired up about making his first NFL start Sunday, even though the Seahawks would prefer to have their regular starters available.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at Donnie Jones' credentials for the Pro Bowl. Jones leads the NFL in gross average. He leads the NFC in net average.
Also from Coats: Jim Haslett wasn't happy about having to leave for Arizona a day early, but changing Scott Linehan's itinerary would have been cost-prohibitive.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat looks at the relationship between Haslett and running back Steven Jackson.
Also from Korte: Jones punts with his left foot despite being right-handed. Haslett vouched for Jones' Pro Bowl credentials.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The premise: The Cardinals' defense has fared better than its NFC West counterparts, but a collapse against the Jets in Week 5 raised questions.
A closer look: The chart shows the last 10 defensive players Arizona drafted in the first three rounds.
The facts: Four of the 10 are starters and two others, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Calais Campbell, have shown promise. Karlos Dansby is the most versatile player on a defense predicated on interchangeable parts. Antrel Rolle moved to free safety after struggling at cornerback. Calvin Pace was becoming productive before leaving in free agency. Alan Branch could join Buster Davis and Darryl Blackstock as outright disappointments.
The future: Dansby is playing under a one-year deal as the team's franchise player. Keeping him past this season is critical for the defense, particularly after Pace signed with the Jets. Rolle also must succeed at safety. Rodgers-Cromartie looks like a sure starter at some point.
Note: Thanks to andrew602az for reminding me that Dockett does indeed have a Pro Bowl on his resume. He wasn't voted to the squad last season, but he was named to the NFC roster to replace the injured Tommie Harris.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Cardinals are wrapping tape around Mike Gandy's left shoe after the veteran left tackle suffered a leg injury late in the second quarter against the Jets.
Gandy was pass protecting when former Cardinals linebacker Calvin Pace, now with the Jets, beat right tackle Levi Brown for a fumble-forcing sack on Kurt Warner. Pace drove Warner into the back of Gandy's legs.
Arizona cannot afford injuries on its offensive line. Gandy is testing the ankle on the sideline. He is not moving very well. Losing Gandy would represent a nightmare scenario for the Cardinals, who are trailing 24-0 and lack depth at tackle.
Update: Gandy has remained in the game to start the third quarter.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch describes the continuing fallout associated with Marc Bulger's benching. Coach Scott Linehan says Bulger hasn't said anything to him about not wanting to play for the embattled coach. Thomas: "Nearly two hours passed between the end of practice Friday and Linehan's remarks to the press. Depending on who you talked to, the delay was a result of Linehan either
- Meeting with president of football operations Jay Zygmunt;
- Getting treatment for a shoulder problem;
- Yelling at radio officials for Jackson's radio comments; or
- Some combination of the above."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Bulger's refusal to speak with reporters is hurting himself and the team. I'm thinking the Rams have bigger worries in the short term. Longer term, there's no question Bulger will have a hard time reconciling with Linehan. I would also like to hear more about his relationship with offensive coordinator Al Saunders, the driving force behind the team's signing of new starter Trent Green.
Also from Coats: Bulger isn't the only one ducking questions at Rams Park.
More from Coats: He outlines changes to the Rams' defense. He also quotes Rams receiver Torry Holt as saying the team is confident and not "walking on eggshells" -- the phrase teammate Steven Jackson used to describe the team's state of mind.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Holt apologized to Bulger for letting down the recently benched quarterback.
Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News blames the Rams' poor drafting for their current troubles.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch credits the solid drafting of the Bills, whom the Rams play Sunday, for their current success.
(I'm going to have to look into this whole drafting thing.)
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee calls out the 49ers for failing to disclose staph infections and their likely origins. Keith Lewis and Josh Morgan both suffered from the infections. Coach Mike Nolan played dumb when asked about them.
Also from Barrows: The 49ers are focused on containing Reggie Bush.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News explains what makes Drew Brees such a tough quarterback to defend. Brees leads the NFL in third-down passer rating (132.0).
Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers pass rusher Roderick Green has played well enough to keep Tully Banta-Cain off the field on Sundays.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com revisits the Cardinals' tendency to use defensive players on offense. Also, Bert Berry says he hopes to beat the four-week estimate for his return from a groin injury.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with former Cardinals linebacker Calvin Pace, now a highly paid member of the Jets. Somers says the Jets paid a "stunning" amount of money to a player who had enjoyed only one good season.
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals rested safety Adrian Wilson in practice over fears that cool weather might affect his sore hamstring.