NFC West: Cameron Morrah
Catch us if you can.
That’s a message the Seattle Seahawks could send out to the rest of the NFC West.
It is also something the San Francisco 49ers might say to the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. But the Cardinals and Rams might have a statement of their own: We’re coming for you.
By almost everyone’s estimation, the NFC West is the best division in the NFL. It includes a Super Bowl champion in Seattle along with a team in San Francisco that, arguably, came up one play short of reaching its second consecutive Super Bowl.
It also includes a team in Arizona that won 10 games, one of which was a victory at Seattle -- the Seahawks' only home loss in 2013. And there's a team in St. Louis that won two of its last three games to finish 7-9 while playing most of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.
So the question heading into 2014 is whether the Cardinals and Rams are in position to catch the Seahawks and 49ers. Have Arizona and St. Louis closed the gap on what might be the NFL’s two best teams?
The Cardinals have been active in free agency, signing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, tight end John Carlson, receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.
Clearly, the competition in this division keeps getting better.
The four writers who cover the division for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Terry Blount in Seattle, Bill Williamson in San Francisco, Josh Weinfuss in Arizona and Nick Wagoner in St. Louis -- take a look at where things stand in the NFC West on four key topics. We also polled our Twitter followers to find how they viewed the issues.
The Cardinals have made significant moves in free agency. The Rams, aside from keeping Rodger Saffold, have mostly stood pat. Which is closer to the playoffs?
Terry Blount: This is a no-brainer for me. The Cardinals are a team on the rise with one of the NFL's best coaches in Bruce Arians. He took a 5-11 team and transformed it to 10-6 in one season. He was 9-3 at Indianapolis in 2012 while filling in for Chuck Pagano. Arizona was 7-2 in its last nine games and won three of the last four, with the only loss being 23-20 to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals could become a serious challenger to the two-team stronghold of Seattle and San Francisco. However, I do believe the Rams will have a winning season if they can hold their own in the division games.
Nick Wagoner: It's hard to evaluate this without seeing what happens in the draft, especially with the Rams having two premium picks. Even then it would be unfair to judge right away. Still, I have to go with the Cardinals. They were trending up at the end of the season and patched a big hole with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Losing Karlos Dansby was a blow, but adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a talented stable at the position makes them better. The Rams, meanwhile, are clearly counting on a whole lot of in-house improvement and a big draft. Keeping Saffold was important (and lucky), but it seems risky to pin all hopes on a leap to the playoffs on a group of young players all making a jump at the same time.
Josh Weinfuss: Arizona is the easy answer, and that's not because I cover them. The Cardinals were 10-6 last season and the first team kept out of the postseason. All the Cardinals have done this offseason is fix deficiencies and plug holes. Their offensive line got markedly better with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. Their wide receiver corps and kick return game were solidified with Ted Ginn, and they now have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with Antonio Cromartie coming on board. General manager Steve Keim looked at what went wrong in 2013 and went to work on fixes. It should put the Cardinals over the playoff hump.
Bill Williamson: It has to be Arizona. The Cardinals were so close to making the playoffs last season. They would have likely been dangerous in the postseason too. I like the way this franchise is shaping up. It seems like it is well run and well coached. The roster is also getting deep. Carson Palmer will have to be replaced sooner or later, but the Cardinals are on to something. The Rams certainly have some nice pieces and are probably the best fourth-place team in the NFL, but they aren't close to matching what Arizona has going for it.
The Seahawks and 49ers played for the NFC title in January. Any reason to believe either won't return to the postseason?
Blount: They were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and there's no legitimate reason to think they won't be among the best in 2014. Seattle has lost 10 players who were on the Super Bowl roster, but other than wide receiver Golden Tate, none of them were on the team's priority list to keep. The 49ers move into a shiny new stadium. The only question for San Francisco is the precarious relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and team executives. Who knows what the future holds there, but it shouldn't matter on game day.
Wagoner: Aside from some debilitating injuries, it's hard to see how either team has taken a major step back. The Seahawks have lost some good players in free agency, but even those players seemingly already had replacements in place. Nobody does a better job of developing talent than Seattle. The Seahawks still have holes to patch on the offensive line and losing receiver Golden Tate is a blow, so there could be some hope the offense will regress. But the defense makes it all go, and it doesn't look like it's going to lose any of its most prized components. As for the Niners, they are the more likely of the two to take a step back, but it's hard to see them taking enough of one to fall out of the postseason. For most of their key free-agent losses they were able to quickly come up with a replacement as good or better than the player lost, and retaining Anquan Boldin says they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. Plus, they will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree ready for the season. Until proven otherwise, these two teams remain the class of the NFC and probably the NFL.
Weinfuss: The only reason either of them won't make the playoffs in 2014 is because the Cardinals or Rams will take their place. The gap between the top and bottom of the NFC West has closed significantly this offseason, making the West much like the Southeastern Conference in college football; everybody will beat up on each other. It's likely the West, if it's anything like last season, can see three teams in the playoffs -- its champion and the two wild cards. If one of the teams between Seattle and San Francisco were not to make it, it's tough, but I think Seattle might slip. The Seahawks lost a significant part of their defensive line and will be going through a Super Bowl hangover. That's risky to deal with and still make the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco will be hungry from losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.
Williamson: I believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. So it's difficult to fathom that either team won't find its way into the playoffs, barring major injuries. Arizona, though, could create an issue for the Seahawks and 49ers. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games, so both Seattle and San Francisco have to be careful or things could get tricky. In the end, I can see all three teams making the playoffs. This is the reason this division is so intriguing and so fun: Every game is critical. There is just not much room for error. Look at the 49ers last year. They went 12-4, but a 1-2 start hamstrung them. They could never fully recover despite having a great overall regular season. The same intensity will be a factor in 2014 in the NFC West.
@TerryBlountESPN The Cards and Rams are pretty good. They'll be fighting for 2nd place behind the Seahawks.- Danny ®" (@Dah_knee) March 26, 2014
Will Rams quarterback Sam Bradford come back strong from an ACL injury, and what effect will he have on St. Louis having its coveted breakthrough year?
Blount: I think Bradford will be fine as far as the ACL goes, but this is a make-or-break year for him in my view. Bradford was playing pretty well before his injury last year, but the verdict still is out whether he can be an elite quarterback. He enters this season with the best supporting cast he's ever had, but playing in this division with teams that emphasize physical defensive play makes it difficult to show improvement.
Wagoner: All indications from the Rams are that Bradford's rehab is coming along well and he's on schedule to make his return in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He apparently had a clean tear of the ACL, but he has been rehabbing for a handful of months and should resume throwing soon. Bradford's healthy return means everything to the Rams' chances in 2014. Believe it or not, this is his fifth season in the NFL and, much like the team, this is the time to make some noise. The Rams attempted to open up the offense in the first quarter of 2013 with Bradford to miserable results. They switched to a more run-oriented attack in Week 5 and the offense performed better. Bradford also played better as the run game opened up play-action opportunities in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Rams choose to go a bit more balanced with Bradford at the controls or if they continue at the same run-heavy pace they played with backup Kellen Clemens. Either way, Bradford's contract has two years left on it. If he wants a lucrative extension, this is the time to prove he's worth it.
Weinfuss: Short answer, yes, Bradford will come back strong. Just look at how he started in 2013. He was on pace for a massive year statistically before he got hurt. If he can pick up where he left off, Bradford will return with a bang and show he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As we've seen, a top-tier quarterback can be the difference between sitting idle in the standings and having a breakthrough year. With the talent that surrounds the Rams, with tight end Jared Cook, running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, among others, Bradford may singlehandedly help close the gap between the Rams and the top of the NFC West.
Williamson: I have to be honest: I'm not a big Sam Bradford guy. I think he's just OK. Just OK doesn't cut it in this division, especially considering the defenses he has to play six times a season in the NFC West. He's serviceable, but he's not the answer. Given the state of this division, I cannot envision a scenario where Bradford is the reason the Rams become the class of the NFC West. I think they can get by with Bradford for the short term, but the Rams are going to have to start thinking about the future at this position much earlier than expected when Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft.
If you had to start a team with either Seahawks QB Russell Wilson or 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whom would you choose?
Blount: You must be kidding. Give me Wilson every time, every day in every situation. Yes, Kaepernick is 5 inches taller than Wilson. Is there really anyone left who thinks Wilson's lack of height matters? Wilson also is at his best in pressure situations. He lives for it. And he is a more polished person on the field, and off it, than Kaepernick. That's not an observation. It's a fact. But this isn't a rip on Kaepernick. You would be hard-pressed to find any 25-year-old as polished as Wilson. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, and probably will soon. But if I'm starting a team, whether it is in football or almost any other life endeavor, I'll take Wilson without a doubt.
Wagoner: Wilson. For those of us covering other teams in the division, it's hard not to admire what he brings to the table. He presents himself as the consummate professional, and even opponents praise him for his work habits, intelligence and ability. He's already got the Super Bowl ring, and it's easy to see how he could add a few more. He's not all the way there in terms of his potential either, and it's probably safe to assume he's just going to keep getting better as his career goes along. That's nothing against Kaepernick, who is a unique talent in his own right, but there aren't many young quarterbacks in the league worth choosing over Wilson.
Weinfuss: Russell Wilson would be my pick, mainly because of his poise and maturity behind center. Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly talented, but I get the sense he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. He's tough to bring down, especially in the open field, but when he's pressured in the pocket, Kaepernick seems to panic and I wouldn't want that in a quarterback. I also think Wilson, despite his physical stature, is built to last. He's heady enough to stay out of harm's way, and his poise in the huddle will go a long way in leading a team.
Williamson: I'd take Kaepernick. I know it's a tough sell right now, since Wilson's team has beaten Kaepernick and the 49ers three of the past four times they've met, including the NFC title game, and the fact that Wilson has won a Super Bowl. I respect the value of Super Bowl wins and believe quarterback is the most critical position in sports. I'm sure I will smell like a homer with the Kaepernick pick. But moving forward, I just think Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. I think he can take over games more than Wilson can at a higher rate. Players built like Kaepernick and as athletic as Kaepernick just don't exist. He is special. He works extremely hard at his craft and is well coached. I'd take him, and I wouldn't look back. This isn't a knock on Wilson. He is proven and is going to be great. But if I'm starting a team, I'm taking Kaepernick, and I bet more general managers would agree than would disagree.
@BWilliamsonESPN Wilson. Controls the game & makes all the plays. Kaeps athletic advantage will fade overtime as Wilson's mental edge grows.- HTB (@HoldenTyler) March 25, 2014
Four of the 29 players NFC West teams selected in that draft remain with their original teams: Michael Crabtree in San Francisco, James Laurinaitis in St. Louis, Max Unger in Seattle and Rashad Johnson in Arizona.
Unger is the only one of the 29 to earn Pro Bowl honors. Unger and Laurinaitis are the only ones to receive long-term contract extensions from their original teams.
NFC West teams have fired the head coaches and general managers associated with those 2009 selections.
Reasons for those firings went far beyond the 2009 draft, of course. Still, the massive turnover since that draft reflects poorly on what was, by most accounts, a weak class across the league. It also shows how frequently personnel turns over in the NFL. The league has 21 new head coaches and 19 new general managers since the 2009 season concluded.
Curry was widely considered the "safest" choice in that 2009 draft as a fearsome linebacker from Wake Forest. Seattle would trade him to Oakland for seventh- and fifth-round picks before Curry had finished his third season.
Jason Smith, chosen second overall by St. Louis in 2009, supposedly had a mean streak and was a natural leader. The Rams would trade him to the New York Jets for Wayne Hunter after three disappointing seasons.
Beanie Wells came to the Cardinals in the first round of that 2009 draft pretty much as advertised: highly talented, but not very durable. The Cardinals released him this offseason, and Wells remains unsigned amid questions about his knee.
2009 was also the year Arizona sought to upgrade its pass-rush by selecting Cody Brown in the second round. The 49ers tried to improve their depth at running back by using a third-round choice for Glen Coffee. Brown would never play in an NFL game. Coffee would retire after one season.
The chart shows how many regular-season NFL starts each 2009 NFC West draft choice has made, regardless of team.
Cameron Morrah, a Seattle Seahawks seventh-round draft choice from the Tim Ruskell era, agreed to terms with the San Francisco 49ers. He joins Jason Jones and Alan Branch as the only UFAs from the Seahawks to join another team this offseason. Morrah spent the 2012 season on injured reserve.
Injuries have severely limited Morrah to this point in his career.
A 39-yard reception from Matt Hasselbeck during a memorable 41-36 playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints stands as a career highlight for him. The reception set up one of four Hasselbeck touchdown passes.
This signing carries interest in the NFC West almost entirely because Morrah played for another team in the division. His addition to the 49ers' roster should not significantly affect the team's approach to the draft. Morrah has played in 27 regular-season games and two postseason games, however, so he does have some experience.
The chart breaks down the UFA counts by team in the NFC West.
A quick look at the lists, which include a couple players who have already reached agreement on new contracts:
UFA offense (4): D'Anthony Batiste, Pat McQuistan, Rich Ohrnberger, LaRod Stephens-Howling
UFA defense (8): Michael Adams, Nick Eason, Quentin Groves, Vonnie Holliday, Rashad Johnson, Paris Lenon, James Sanders, Greg Toler
RFA: Brian Hoyer, tendered to second-round pick.
Note: The Cardinals announced Johnson's agreement to a three-year contract.
St. Louis Rams
UFA offense (8): Danny Amendola, Kellen Clemens, Brandon Gibson, Steven Jackson, Barry Richardson, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Chris Williams
UFA defense (6): Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Mario Haggan, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Rocky McIntosh
RFA: Darian Stewart, tendered to right of first refusal.
Note: The Rams announced Hayes' agreement to a three-year contract.
San Francisco 49ers
UFA offense (4): Leonard Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Randy Moss, Delanie Walker
UFA defense (6): Dashon Goldson, Tavares Gooden, Larry Grant, Clark Haggans, Ricky Jean-Francois, Isaac Sopoaga
RFA: Tramaine Brock, tendered to right of first refusal.
Note: Walker has reportedly agreed to terms on a contract with the Tennessee Titans.
UFA offense (2): Cameron Morrah, Frank Omiyale
UFA defense (5): Alan Branch, Patrick Chukwurah, Leroy Hill, Jason Jones, Marcus Trufant
UFA special teams (2): Steve Hauschka, Ryan Longwell
RFA: Clint Gresham and Chris Maragos, tendered to right of first refusal; and Clinton McDonald, tendered to seventh-round choice.
Rookie Bruce Irvin, the 15th overall choice in the draft, will start in Clemons' place. Recently signed veteran Ryan Longwell will handle kicking duties for Hauschka.
Those moves led me to compile IR lists for remaining NFC playoff teams. I used the reserve lists at Ourlads.com, which updates its rosters daily.
Jeff Fisher's addition as head coach has surely helped the St. Louis Rams become more competitive this season. The team's current three-game winning streak is its longest since 2006.
Here is something else to consider beyond coaching: The Rams have zero established starters on their injured reserve list heading into the final three weeks of the season. That is down from as many as six at this point last season, although some of those players were on their way out for reasons related to performance.
There are three Rams players on IR at present, down from 12 following Week 14 last season.
The current injury situation in St. Louis more closely approximates 2010, when the Rams were hurting at wide receiver but healthy enough elsewhere to have a 6-7 record at this point. The current team is 6-6-1 heading into Week 15.
Many other variables beyond injuries differentiate a team from season to season, of course. But in looking at the chart, we can see why Arizona is having a hard time snapping what is now a nine-game losing streak.
The Cardinals have been the most injured team in the NFC West this season and it's not close. Their most significant injury, to quarterback Kevin Kolb, doesn't even show up in the chart. Kolb has not played since Week 6. The team has continued to carry him on its active roster in case he can return.
The numbers next to players' names in the chart show how many estimated starts each will have missed by season's end. I assumed Arizona's Ryan Williams would have started at running back until Beanie Wells' return. I also assumed Rams rookie Rokevious Watkins would have started at left guard if available for the final 15 games. That might be overestimating his role, but the situation appeared dire early in the season.
The chart provides context.
The column with the "now" heading shows how many players each team is carrying on its active roster and injured reserve.
The "2010" column shows how many of those 227 players listed in the first column finished the 2010 season on the active list or IR.
The "2009" column shows how many of the 227 remain from the end of that season.
The Rams retain rights to eight of the players finishing the 2009 season on their active or IR lists. That is a league low. Seattle has the second-fewest with nine.
The eight Rams remaining from the end of the 2009 season: Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Darell Scott, Chris Long, James Laurinaitis, Craig Dahl and Bradley Fletcher.
The nine remaining Seahawks: Cameron Morrah (IR), Ben Obomanu, Max Unger, Roy Lewis (IR), Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, Leroy Hill, Marcus Trufant and Jon Ryan.
Congratulations, guys. You've made it ... for now.
- Deuce Lutui appeared likely to earn a roster spot, but things changed when rookie seventh-round pick J.R. Sweezy made a surprisingly quick conversion from college defensive lineman to NFL guard. Sweezy suddenly looks like a strong candidate to supplant incumbent John Moffitt as the starting right guard. That made Lutui expendable. Also, Lutui wasn't ideally suited for the Seahawks' zone blocking scheme. He probably would have helped most in pass protection. I think Lutui could help someone. Seems like St. Louis could stand to check him out, at least.
- Alex Barron's release makes available a veteran tackle with talent and a history of inconsistent play. I thought Barron looked good early in camp. Arizona has obvious needs at tackle. Barron is probably more talented than other players available at this time. We'll have to see if that changes as teams reduce their rosters. Barron can play both tackle spots. He's spent the past month working against Seattle's pass-rushers in practice. He has fared pretty well at times, too. Arizona faces those same pass-rushers in Week 1.
- Terrell Owens' name was on the cut list, as expected. Braylon Edwards' emergence played a role in Owens' departure.
- Cornerback Roy Lewis played nearly a quarter of the Seahawks' defensive snaps last season. The team waived him with an injury designation. Lewis could land on injured reserve if he clears waivers. Or, the team could reach an injury settlement with him, allowing Lewis to sign with Seattle or another team once he's healthy.
- Anthony McCoy seemed to help his cause at tight end against Kansas City on Friday night. He looks like the favorite to become the third tight end now that the team waived/injured Cameron Morrah.
- Pep Levingston and Jameson Konz also received the waived/injured designation. Levingston impressed during pass-rush drills at times, but Clinton McDonald and others have offered more.
- I'll be curious to see whether receiver Phil Bates lands on the practice squad. Also waived: tackle Edawn Coughman, cornerback Donny Lisowski, cornerback Ron Parker and running back Tyrell Sutton.
- Seattle now has 77 players on its roster, by my count. The team must reduce to 75 by Monday at 4 p.m. ET. Placing offensive lineman James Carpenter on the reserve/physically unable to perform list appears likely.
Back to watching the San Francisco 49ers against the Denver Broncos. More in a bit.
"I call him a baby Patrick Willis because I hadn't seen a linebacker move like that since Pat," said Robinson, who played with Willis, a perennial Pro Bowl selection, on the San Francisco 49ers.
Wagner, a rookie second-round draft choice, did not stand out to me during the Seahawks' exhibition opener Saturday night, but perhaps a certain fullback inflated my expectations beyond reason.
Dave Wyman of 710ESPN Seattle gave high marks for Wagner's performance. Wyman played the position in the NFL for nine seasons. He certainly knows what to look for in one. Wyman: "I'm always impressed when I see a rookie have poise and look like he's in control. It's almost like he's back in college. I don't know what's going through his mind, so maybe there were some things out there that kind of threw him off, but it certainly didn't look like it. Bobby Wagner looked like he fit right in with that defense. Really fast, he had a really nice tackle, took on some blocks really well, made some little mistakes that you see rookies do, but other than that, I thought he showed really well." Noted: This assessment should be very encouraging for Seahawks fans.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune runs through the Seahawks' roster by position. He has a hard time envisioning Tarvaris Jackson figuring into the team's plans.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com recaps the exhibition opener, raising a question: Why not start Russell Wilson against Denver in Seattle's next game?
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' approach to late-round draft choices -- going after players making position changes, in some cases -- has paid off under the team's current leadership, as the selection of J.R. Sweezy this year indicates. Noted: Former Seahawks president Tim Ruskell fared pretty well in seventh rounds especially. Doug Nienhuis, Ben Obomanu, Ryan Plackemeier, Steve Vallos, Justin Forsett, Courtney Greene and Cameron Morrah were among Seattle's seventh-rounders from 2005 through 2009. All played in the NFL. Obomanu, Vallos, Forsett, Greene and Morrah remain active.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals tight end Jeff King never missed a practice -- not even in junior high -- until sitting out with a quadriceps injury this offseason.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com saw a more spirited practice Monday as coach Ken Whisenhunt ramped up the intensity following two disappointing exhibition games. Also, the team is giving D'Anthony Batiste a shot at right tackle.
Also from Urban: Defensive coordinator Ray Horton thinks his players might be suffering from overconfidence.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Jeff Fisher found some positives in the team's 35-3 defeat to open the exhibition season. Also: "On the 63-yard screen pass for a touchdown to Donald Brown, television replays showed a Colts blocker clearly grabbing the jersey of Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis to keep him from tackling Brown near the line of scrimmage. It also showed Michael Brockers being held by another blocker a few yards down the line of scrimmage. After the game Sunday, Fisher pointed out the missed calls but didn't dwell on them. On Monday, he made it clear he wasn't piling on the replacement officials."
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com lists Fisher's disappointments from the first game, and also this: "Fisher said his team was extremely vanilla while the Colts did quite a bit of scheming. That doesn’t mean there’s a right or wrong way to do but just different philosophies. Fisher said the Rams will steadily add more and more to the pregame schemes in each game though the final preseason contest will likely be fairly plain as well."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com saw good things from Mario Manningham in the 49ers' practice Monday.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee quotes 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on the team's defensive effort against Minnesota in the exhibition opener. Fangio: "I just think we got a little full of ourselves."
Taylor Price of 49ers.com saw good things from quarterback Alex Smith in practice. Price: "Smith displayed excellent downfield accuracy while completing three deep sideline throws in the same midfield team period. First, Smith found a familiar target, locating tight end Vernon Davis 30 yards down the field on a deep wheel route against the coverage of linebacker Michael Wilhoite. On the very next play, Smith attacked the left sideline again, this time on a 30-yard deep throw to veteran wideout Randy Moss. Smith completed his third deep sideline pass of the period to running back Kendall Hunter."
That led me to produce this chart, which compares Davis' production last season (counting playoffs) to combined regular-season totals for all tight ends from the 49ers' division rivals.
We see that Davis finished with more than twice as many touchdowns and twice as many long plays (40-plus yards) as Jeff King, Todd Heap, Rob Housler, Jim Dray, Zach Miller, Anthony McCoy, Cameron Morrah, Lance Kendricks, Billy Bajema, Michael Hoomanawanui and Stephen Spach.
We'll continue this conversation in the not-too-distant future. First, off to the NFC West chat.
Visanthe Shiancoe visited Seattle and would presumably fit the offense after playing for Seahawks coordinator Darrell Bevell in Minnesota. So far, however, the Seahawks have focused on adding veteran depth at other positions, including defensive tackle (Jason Jones), linebacker (Barrett Ruud) and guard (Deuce Lutui).
Age is a primary consideration; Shiancoe turns 32 in June and the Seahawks, owners of the NFL's third-youngest roster, generally want to build with younger players. They have no players older than 30 and only one projected starter is older than 29 (Chris Clemons).
But the Seahawks also could use help at tight end, where Zach Miller's backups include Cameron Morrah, Anthony McCoy and John Nalbone.
The chart, from ESPN Stats & Information, shows the Seahawks' tight ends ranking 28th or worse last season in receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns and percentage of passes dropped. Carlson missed the season with a shoulder injury, affecting depth.
Miller fared well as a blocker. His prospects as a receiver figure to improve with better play from the offensive line and quarterback. Miller, signed from the Raiders after training camps had opened, also went into last season with very little time to learn the Seahawks' playbook or get accustomed to their personnel. That will change in 2012.
Schiancoe, despite age concerns, has never missed a game in nine NFL seasons.
- The players ranked second through seventh included four first-round picks and a second-rounder. The player ranked first, rookie Doug Baldwin, was not drafted. Think how many teams would draft Baldwin if given second chances. Seattle would have.
- Larry Fitzgerald's 9.2-yard average ranked a close second and was the most impressive mark in the division because he had so many targets (153).
- Sidney Rice did not make the intended impact in Seattle, but he did average 15.1 yards per catch and 8.5 per attempt. Those numbers were healthier than Rice, who battled injuries and currently faces three to four months rehabilitation from shoulder surgery.
- Braylon Edwards' 5.3-yard average says plenty about why the San Francisco 49ers released him. Injuries were a factor. We can speculate over whether Edwards fit well with the team, but a lack of production was the No. 1 issue. He did average 9.3 yards per target on third down, however. That ranked third in the division.
- Filtering to show third-down averages produced results of interest for qualifying players (min. 10 targets on third down). Niners rookie Kyle Williams shot to the head of the list with an 11.9-yard average on 11 targets. Six of those 11 plays gained first downs. He had gains of 56, 15, 12, 11, 10, 10, 9 and 8 yards on third down.
- Baldwin ranked second to Williams on third down, averaging 9.7 yards on a division-high 42 targets. Teammate Golden Tate was fifth at 8.8 yards per third-down target, ahead of Fitzgerald (7.7). Tate had 19 third-down targets, a relatively high number (Fitzgerald had 31).
- Brandon Lloyd's average with St. Louis should have been higher. The Rams threw to him frequently and weren't able to connect enough. I'd blame that on overall offensive incompetence, including at quarterback. Lloyd was no the problem in St. Louis.
- Dropped passes help explain why Frank Gore ranks so low on the list. Gore had seven drops on 30 targets. Only Cleveland's Montario Hardesty averaged fewer receptions per drop among players with at least five catches, and it was close (2.3 to 2.4). Seattle tight ends Anthony McCoy (2.6) and Cameron Morrah (3.0) were third and fourth on that list. The Seahawks went all season without a touchdown reception from their tight ends. Zach Miller added a welcome dimension as a blocker, at least.
Thanks to Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information for providing raw data for me to mine.
It stood out enough for me to list it second among the five observations posted Tuesday.
Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle takes a much closer look at the missed opportunity. He diagrams the play and explains in detail how Whitehurst should have dodged a defender and thrown a likely touchdown pass to tight end Cameron Morrah. Instead, Whitehurst threw away the ball as if afraid to make a mistake or unsure of how to handle the situation.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team was pleased with Robert Gallery's performance against Cleveland. Noted: I watched Gallery closely and also thought he was better. The offensive line in general wasn't the problem for Seattle, save for a few breakdowns from rookie right tackle James Carpenter. Quarterback play and tight end play seemed like much bigger problems.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Whitehurst showed why he's the backup.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with an orthopedic surgeon for thoughts on what could be wrong with Beanie Wells' injured knee.
Also from Somers: a comprehensive look at the Cardinals' roster with an eye toward what the team could realistically change following its 1-5 start. Somers: "So, put all that together and here's what you have: a rookie tight end (Rob Housler) who needs to play more. A young linebacker (Sam Acho or O'Brien Schofield) who should be starting. A high-priced linebacker (Stewart Bradley) who needs to find a home, and nose tackle (David Carter) who's earned more time."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team is trying to help its offense by having coordinator Mike Miller down on the field during games.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams special-teamer Chris Chamberlain, who has worked his way into the starting lineup at linebacker. Chamberlain did not seem assured of a roster spot when the Rams signed multiple veteran linebackers in free agency. Thomas: "Chamberlain made the final 53, and five games into the 2011 season, he found himself in the starting lineup against Green Bay. One of those free agents, Zac Diles, didn't make the final roster. Another of the free agents, Ben Leber, was benched after three lackluster starts, giving way to Chamberlain." Noted: The fact that Chamberlain has worked his way into the starting lineup is great for him, but also a symbol of what's wrong with the Rams this season. They signed all of those veteran linebackers precisely because they didn't want to rely on special-teams players at linebacker.
Also from Thomas: the Rams' run defense is on a record pace. Not the good kind, either. Thomas: "The Rams are allowing 183.8 rushing yards a game, a pace that would have them yielding 2,941 yards on the ground by season's end. And that would smash by nearly 500 yards the previous franchise record for most rushing yards allowed in a season, a dubious mark belonging to the 2008 Rams of head coach Scott Linehan and interim head coach Jim Haslett. Those Rams yielded 2,475 yards."
Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis offers personal thoughts on what the Rams leadership is going through.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says 49ers receiver Braylon Edwards ran a variety of pass routes at top speed upon his return from a knee injury Tuesday. Maiocco: "Edwards underwent arthroscopic surgery Sept. 19 on his right knee to repair a torn meniscus. It appears as if he will be available to return to action Sunday at Candlestick Park against the Cleveland Browns, the team that made him the No. 3 overall selection in the 2005 draft."
Also from Maiocco: The 49ers are seeking counsel from ... MC Hammer.
Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News looks at NaVorro Bowman's emergence as a key contributor for the 49ers.
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with Fox analyst and former NFL fullback Daryl Johnston for thoughts on the 49ers' run schemes. More here.
- All's quiet against Joe Thomas. The Browns' Pro Bowl left tackle operated with quiet efficiency against a long list of Seattle defenders. Red Bryant, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, K.J. Wright and others went against Thomas without making much headway. Brock came closest to beating Thomas around the corner. Finding another pass-rusher to pair with Clemons will presumably be a priority for Seattle in the offseason.
- Whitehurst had man open. The Seahawks settled for a field goal after having first-and-goal from the 9 and another first-and-goal from the 2 during a critical stretch late in the third quarter. Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst threw away the ball on one play despite having tight end Cameron Morrah open in his field of vision. Pressure on the play forced the decision to throw away the ball, but in looking at the play, this appeared to be a missed opportunity. It seemed like a touch pass would have worked here.
- Zach Miller badly, badly missed. With Miller sidelined by a concussion, John Carlson on injured reserve and Morrah just returning from injury, the Seahawks relied heavily on Anthony McCoy at tight end. They paid a high price. McCoy dropped multiple passes. He missed a blitzing Chris Gocong, leading to a sack. The Seahawks hope to get Miller back this week. They need him. The team's relative strength at wide receiver and depth issues at tight end show up in personnel charting. Seattle has run only 84 plays with two tight ends this season, the third-lowest total in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The rest of the league averages 143 such snaps.
- Rough game for wideouts. Seattle's wide receivers had not dropped a single pass heading into this game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Ben Obomanu and Doug Baldwin dropped passes Sunday. Throw in McCoy's two drops and Seattle suffered four in this game, one more than in the previous five games combined. Whitehurst targeted wide receivers 15 times, completing only four through a combination of errant throws and drops. Seattle had been much better in the passing game recently and I suspect they will be much better in the future. This was an unusually horrible game on that front.
- Offensive line depth tested. The Seahawks have sought to upgrade their depth along the offensive line. They seem to be succeeding. Seattle went into this game with 24-year-old former undrafted free agent Lemuel Jeanpierre at center. Jeanpierre was making his first career start. His presence in the lineup wasn't a big deal going into the game or coming out of the game. That is a good sign. The Seahawks have been willing to continually churn their roster on the line. Tyler Polumbus was at least serviceable as a spot starter at tackle last season, but the team released him because Jarriel King, claimed off waivers from the New York Giants, has more upside. The team is also getting healthier up front, making it easier to carry fewer linemen on the roster.
It's looking like I'll be following the San Francisco 49ers quite a bit in the second half of the season. First, though, I'll be at CenturyLink Field for the Seahawks' game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 8. Here's hoping the teams combine for more than nine points.
- QB decision an easy one: Jackson's pectoral injury isn't expected to sideline him for long, but while he's still limited, the team gets another chance to evaluate backup Charlie Whitehurst. Better yet, the Seahawks can do so without demoting Jackson. It's a big upset if Jackson plays Sunday. Seattle also has hopes for third-string quarterback Josh Portis. Keeping Portis active as the No. 2 quarterback could make sense. The Seahawks are not a quarterback-driven team. Might as well check out the backups.
- Line continually in flux: The Seahawks have used 14 starting combinations on their offensive line since Pete Carroll became head coach last season. The team has never used the same five more than three times in a row or at all. Lemuel Jeanpierre, who broke into the NFL with Kansas City as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2010, would likely make his first career start if Unger cannot play. That would make 15 starting combinations on the line in 24 regular-season and postseason games under Carroll. The Seahawks under Carroll have rolled with personnel changes, never stressing over them outwardly. Still, replacing the quarterback and center heading into a road game isn't an ideal situation.
Also, tight end Zach Miller will miss this game for Seattle with the neck injury he suffered against the New York Giants. The team could activate Cameron Morrah from the physically unable to perform list. Miller's absence hurts the Seahawks' run game, most likely.