NFC West: Clinton Portis
That is both good and bad for the Rams' career rushing leader.
Jackson, who plans to void his contract to become a free agent March 12, has accomplished a great deal since entering the NFL as the 24th player chosen in the 2004 draft. He also has high miles as his 30th birthday approaches in July, raising questions about how much longer he can produce.
The two charts show where Jackson ranks in scrimmage yards and rushing yards over the course of his career. Note that NFC West rivals Frank Gore and Larry Fitzgerald also rank among the top five in scrimmage yards over the same period.
Separately, Jackson's rushing total (10,135) is easily best among players who also entered the NFL in 2004. Michael Turner (7,338), Willie Parker (5,378), Julius Jones (5,068) and Kevin Jones (3,176) trail him on that list.
Jackson ranks 26th on the NFL's all-time rushing list after posting his eighth consecutive season with at least 1,000 yards rushing. He needs 509 yards to overtake Ricky Watters for 20th. He needs 1,561 yards to overtake Fred Taylor for 15th. He needs 2,145 yards to overtake former teammate and Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk for 10th on the list.
Jackson would need 3,550 yards to overtake LaDainian Tomlinson for fifth.
Both teams have established, older runners coming off productive seasons.
The Rams' Isaiah Pead got extensive reps Wednesday while veteran Steven Jackson received a day off. The 49ers' LaMichael James returned to practice after missing time with illness. Both young backs should get extensive work during the exhibition season, but what about when the games start counting?
Change-of-pace roles seem most likely. Jackson and the 49ers Frank Gore, while older, have remained productive lately. Both are good all-around players.
The Rams envision Jackson posting an eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season while Pead provides a few hundred yards. That was the model for Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer when he was running the New York Jets' offense.
For some perspective, I put together a list showing the 10 second-round draft choices with the most rushing yardage as rookies since 2000. Three of the 10 produced as rookies in tandem with 1,000-yard rushers:
- Maurice Jones-Drew (2006): Jones-Drew had 941 yards as a rookie. Fred Taylor had 1,146 yards.
- Daniel Thomas (2011): Thomas had 581 yards for Miami last season. Reggie Bush had 1,086 yards.
- Deshaun Foster (2003): Foster had 429 yards for Carolina that year. Stephen Davis had 1,444 yards.
I'm looking forward to seeing James in 49ers camp upon arriving there Sunday.
- Marshawn Lynch jogged on his sore ankle without much trouble. He did not practice, but the injury does not appear serious. Reports of the Seahawks' expected visit with veteran free-agent running back Clinton Portis appear unrelated to Lynch's health. Portis, whose cousin Josh is Seattle's No. 3 quarterback, has been trying to line up visits with teams in an effort to revive his career. The Seahawks appear set at the position for now with Lynch, Justin Forsett and Leon Washington.
- Washington has embraced the way assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable instructs running backs to read their keys, which includes making cuts properly in relation to defenders' alignment. It's pretty clear Washington will command additional touches on offense this season. He's healthier and more confident.
- Rookie receiver Ricardo Lockette made one of the more spectacular leaping catches I've seen, snatching the ball for a touchdown while intertwined with safety Earl Thomas. Lockette has phenomenal athleticism, but he's raw and struggling with the things rookie receivers tend to struggle with: mastering the playbook, running crisp routes, catching the ball consistently, etc. Lockette dropped a routine pass after making the spectacular grab.
- Right tackle Breno Giacomini continues to split first-team reps with rookie first-round choice James Carpenter. Giacomini looks the part at 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds. He also plays with toughness. Giacomini's aggressive tactics incited strong reaction from defensive end Chris Clemons during practice. The two battled hard during and after plays. Giacomini more than held his own. Carpenter continued to have some problems with speed rushers, notably Raheem Brock. The Seahawks will decide by Week 1 whether or not Carpenter is ready for regular-season action right away. He'll be the starter sooner or later. It's just a matter of when. Getting left tackle Russell Okung back from injury would give the team greater flexibility in helping out Carpenter in difficult situations.
- Okung saw limited work in practice with the second team. The Seahawks hope to have him back from an ankle injury in Week 1.
- Receivers Isaiah Stanback, Ben Obomanu, Sidney Rice and Mike Williams missed practice. Williams participated in individual drills before resting a sore toe. With so many receivers resting injuries, second-year pro Golden Tate figures to get additional opportunities in the final preseason game Friday. Tate's roster spot appears secure, but he could use a strong performance after a rough preseason.
- Tight end John Carlson watched practice wearing shorts and his uniform top. He has not yet undergone the shoulder surgery that will end his season. Losing Carlson diminishes the Seahawks' options. Cable likes to use an H-back type, and Carlson was a candidate to fill that role.
- Receiver Deon Butler did some running and cutting after practice. He remains on the physically unable to perform list and could stay there to open the season.
I'll be heading home here shortly, then heading to CenturyLink Field on Friday night for the Seahawks' game against Oakland.
Portis is 29 years old and has broken down physically. He would not project as a long-term answer for the Seahawks if they did decide to sign him.
The Seahawks have visited with several veterans recently, including center Andre Gurode and fullback Mike Karney. Neither has signed with the team. There are no indications yet suggesting Portis will sign.
Seahawks starter Marshawn Lynch has missed time with an ankle injury recently. This is the second consecutive summer Lynch has missed preseason games with an ankle issue. Carroll said Lynch could play if these were regular-season games, but the team wants to be careful.
I'm interested in seeing how the Seahawks divide opportunities between Justin Forsett and Leon Washington. Lynch projects as the starter and power back on early downs, provided he's healthy. Forsett and Washington have both demonstrated value within situational roles. Washington has made strides physically in his second season back from leg surgery, commanding additional touches.
Forsett fared well as an every-down back for a few games during the 2009 season, topping 120 yards rushing in the two games he carried more than 15 times.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The facts: The Rams fell to 0-2 with a 9-7 defeat to the Redskins at FedEx Field in Week 2.
The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
- The Rams played very good defense in the red zone. Redskins fullback Mike Sellers appeared to drop a pass near the goal line, but I thought Rams linebacker David Vobora complicated Sellers' effort to catch the ball. Defensive tackle Clifton Ryan pushed Redskins center Casey Rabach into running back Clinton Portis to doom another red zone play for Washington.
- Steven Jackson topped 100 yards rushing thanks to a breakout 58-yard run. The Rams outgained the Redskins on the ground, 126-125.
- The Rams appear energized. They are playing with emotion, particularly in the secondary with corners Ron Bartell and Jonathan Wade.
- St. Louis converted 6 of 12 times on third down.
- The Rams cut down on penalties, from 10 in the opener to six against the Redskins.
- Laurent Robinson continued to fulfill expectations at receiver. He's the most dependable receiver on the roster. And while that is also a reflection of Donnie Avery's struggles, Robinson has been effective. He uses his size well and did so when catching a touchdown pass.
- Jackson seemed to embrace opportunities to line up wide and work as a receiver. He caught the ball on the perimeter.
- Chris Long showed smarts in sniffing out a screen pass early in the game.
- Richie Incognito was not the big story after the game.
2008 NFL Rusher
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Zone blocking schemes tend to get much credit for a team's success in the running game.
The Broncos won two Super Bowls with sixth-round choice Terrell Davis in the backfield. Alex Gibbs, up there with Bobb McKittrick among the finest offensive line coaches in NFL history, ran a zone scheme that helped make it happen. The Broncos subsequently had success running the ball while plugging in various backs to the offense.
The zone scheme can definitely help facilitate big numbers in the ground game, but the NFL's most productive backs last season generally entered the league as higher picks. That was true even for some backs running in zone schemes.
In looking around the NFC West, it's clear the most productive running backs were high draft choices. The Rams' Steven Jackson was a first-round choice. The 49ers' Frank Gore and promising rookie Glen Coffee were third-round choices. The Cardinals just used a first-round choice on Beanie Wells to replace Edgerrin James, who entered the NFL as a first-round choice. Even the Seahawks' Julius Jones was a second-rounder.
Fifteen of the 35 players with more rushing yards than Seattle's Jones last season entered the NFL as first-round choices. Ten more were second- or third-round selections, meaning 25 of the top 35 rushers in total yards were drafted in the first three rounds. Four were fourth-round choices and two were fifth-rounders. Only three of the NFL's top 35 rushers last season -- Ryan Grant, Willie Parker and Pierre Thomas -- were drafted in the final two rounds or undrafted.
Five of the top 10 rushers last season were first-round choices, as the chart shows. Eight of the 10 were drafted in the first three rounds. Michael Turner (fifth round) and Grant (undrafted) were the exceptions. Grant played in a zone scheme with Green Bay. I thought the Seahawks might draft a running back in the first three rounds this season, but they valued Aaron Curry, Max Unger and Deon Butler higher than the backs available at the time, which seemed reasonable.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Mackay from Pleasant Grove, Utah writes: Sandman, I always appreciate the time you spend on your blog. It helps me keep up on my team, as well as get excited about the rest of the teams in the division. My question I have for you is directed to the Cardinals' first-round draft pick, Beanie Wells. I have read multiple times that he is injured too easily, or that he was pampered in the NCAA. How do you feel? Do you think that he may have been cautious because he didn't want anything to happen to sacrific a spot in the NFL? Didn't the same sort of information come out on Adrian Peterson? I don't know. I also want to know your opinion on if it is a good idea to start rookies running backs, or have them play backup for a while.
Mike Sando: Thanks, Mackman. Younger backs can certainly have success. Edgerrin James rushed for 1,709 yards at age 22. Clinton Portis topped 1,500 yards at age 21 and again at age 22. Jamal Lewis, Adrian Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kevin Jones, Marshawn Lynch, Dominic Rhodes and Steven Jackson all had 1,000-yard seasons this decade at age 21 or 22. I see no reason to withhold Wells from the lineup simply because he's a rookie. It's not as though the Cardinals have an established veteran at the position.
As for whether Wells protected an injury in college, I couldn't make that assessment because I did not study him. The people who did study him said things about him that could have been consistent with a player protecting injuries, but that doesn't necessarily make it so.
Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. had this to say about Wells before the draft:
"Everyone in the world has him in the first round, but I am worried about him. He is softer than people say he is -- not soft, but softer than people say he is. And I'm also not convinced he is going to be quick and agile enough. He is a big back with good speed, but I'm worried about his quickness and his wiggle."
Once the Cardinals made the pick, Muench offered this assessment:
"Wells is a big back, but he does not have great toughness. There's a clip you'll see against Michigan where he is 20 yards downfield and one on one against a back and he steps out of bounds. Not encouraging.
"When he hurt his foot this year, the fact that he threw the ball on the ground when he got hurt was not good. His first instinct was to throw the ball down [while the play was live]. Talent-wise, he would be the most talented back on the roster. He is a steal this late in the first round if you can get the light to come on for him.
"It's such a good value and it's such a need. I'm sure they sat down with him and got a feel and if they are comfortable with that, then it's a good fit for them right there. When you can look that kid in the eye and see what kind of player he is going to be, that is important."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers will name Mike Singletary their head coach for 2009 and beyond once the regular season ends Sunday. Barrows: "The lone obstacle that remained for Singletary as the season drew to a close was articulating his vision, especially for the offense, for the next few years. He cleared that hurdle Monday during a meeting with team officials." Do not expect offensive coordinator Mike Martz to return.
Also from Barrows: Singletary sidesteps questions about Martz's future with the team. Singletary's thinking becomes apparent, in my view, upon reading between the lines. Here is the quote from Singletary: "I think Mike Martz has been great this season. I think everything I've asked him to do, he made every attempt, I think, to do the things that he needs to do. Going forward, I just feel that after the season that we have to sit down - as well as myself, everybody - and try and look at what gives us the best opportunity to move going forward."
Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers shouldn't rush into hiring Singletary beyond this season. He questions whether anyone at 49ers headquarters is qualified to hire a head coach.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says Singletary has earned the full-time job, and there aren't better candidates.
Gary Plummer of 49ers.com sees similarities between the Redskins and 49ers at running back and quarterback. He's eager to see the 49ers' Patrick Willis take on the Redskins' Clinton Portis.
Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle thinks the 49ers should pursue Norv Turner as offensive coordinator if the Chargers fire Turner. One potential complication: Turner is expected to remain the Chargers' head coach.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle sizes up the poetic pursuits of 49ers receiver Josh Morgan.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider wonders why the NFL doesn't make a Rooney Rule exception for the 49ers.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Singletary sidestepped questions about Martz's future with the 49ers.
Also from Maiocco: Kentwan Balmer isn't satisfied with his production as a rookie.
Gary Richards of the San Jose Mercury News says Jeff Ulbrich's choice in vehicles sets him apart from the typical NFL player.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Ryan from Greeley, Colo., writes: Hey Mike, thanks a bunch for your great posts on the NFC West. I love my Cardinals, and until now, there's never enough coverage on them unless they're doing good. That being said, what do the Cardinals have to look forward to as far as the QB situation goes? Now, I don't think Leinart has gotten his fair shake, but is he really the answer in the coming years? What does life after Warner look like? Thanks!
Mike Sando: Thanks, Ryan. The team would have a hard time going with anyone other than Warner next season if the Cardinals were to win the division this season.
Some of the scouting people I know do like Matt Leinart and think he can become a good quarterback. I would just ride Warner as long as feasible and then give Leinart a try. I think the Cardinals will need to strengthen their running game in preparing for the Leinart era. Warner is better suited for throwing it around without as much support from the ground game.
Kevin from Turnersville, N.J., writes: Hey Mike, two years ago we saw the emergence of Frank Gore as one of the top backs in the league, though there was one problem, he fumbled too much. Especially on the goal line. I live right outside of Philadelphia and I can't stand the Eagles but when Gore fumbled at the goal line against them 2 years ago, I was so frustrated because after the game I realized that had he scored, they could've pulled that one out.
He's cut down on the fumbles but sometimes he still puts the ball on the ground. My question is, what has Gore done to improve on his ball carrying? How much does it frustrate him knowing that he is one of the most passionate players in the league? Also, Mike Singletary is highly respected among the league. Mike Smith is also highly thought of. Other coaches respect him and his players respect him. In my view, that's the most important thing of being a coach, getting your players to respect you.
So with that in mind, what do you think of Singletary being promoted to head coach after Nolan is fired? What do you think its effect on the team would be? I see the effects of a coaching change in St. Louis last week so how do you think the team would respond?
Mike Sando: Frank Gore has fumbled once for every 64.5 touches this season. He fumbled once every 78.25 touches last season. So, he is fumbling more frequently, strange as that sounds.
Fumbles lost is the number that has improved for Gore, from one every 71 touches as a rookie to one per 74.6 in his second season, one per 104.3 in his third season and one per 129 this season.
The hand injury Gore suffered going into last season didn't help on that front. Overall, we haven't seen wild swings in fumbles per touch from Gore.
As for identifying potential future head coaches, the 49ers seem to need someone with a proven record of winning as a head coach. The organization could use the credibility such a coach would bring, in my view.
On a short-term basis, the 49ers might also respond well to a change. But I'm not sure a new coach would prevent the offense from suffering fourth-quarter turnovers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The best running back in the NFL right now? I went with Clinton Portis based on his production as a runner and the way he attacks the game in other areas. The assessment takes into account only the first six weeks of the season (Portis leads the NFL in rushing). There are other backs I'd draft ahead of him if starting an imaginary team, including Frank Gore. Thoughts?
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Thanks for filling the mailbag. In the early days of this blog, I responded to almost every mailbag submission, usually in the mailbag itself. We're getting lots more submissions as the blog hopefully gains some momentum. I read them all, respond to many and use quite a few of them here in the mailbag. Thanks again for your contributions. Now, on to the mailbag ...
Adam from Onarga, Ill., writes: Frank Gore is averaging 4.9 yards a carry, yet he isn't getting the touches you would expect. Is Mike Martz still stuck in his woeful Lions mentality where the running back talent was quite weak? I feel that Martz is wasting talent in a great running back many teams wish they could have.
Mike Sando: I think Mike Martz has remained committed to Gore most of the time. However, we've seen a couple of key situations when going away from Gore proved costly. The 49ers ran only a few plays in the third quarter of the New England game. Gore got no carries. That would be one example. The way Martz handled the fourth quarter against the Eagles also opened him to criticism on this subject.
Gore is averaging 17.8 carries per game, 13th in the league. I've got Gore with 129 touches (carries plus receptions). These five players have more: Matt Forte (154), Clinton Portis (145), Adrian Peterson (140), Marion Barber (140) and Michael Turner (131). Those players' teams have all run more offensive plays this season, in some cases quite a few more.
The criticism you make seems fair situationally, if not cumulatively. By the way, if anyone has a link to stats that include most touches, please provide it. I imported receiving and rushing stats and then set up a formula to total receptions and rushes. Thanks in advance.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee answers questions about 49ers coach Mike Nolan, whose approval rating appears to be less than 100 percent.
Also from Barrows: A look at the Eagles' blitzing ways.
More from Barrows: A matchup box noting how Brian Westbrook accounted for 35 percent of the Eagles' offense last season. Westbrook will not play against the 49ers.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers will have their hands full against the Eagles' sixth-ranked defense.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider takes a look at the Eagles' offense. Donovan McNabb used the shotgun quite a bit in the most recent game.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Patrick Willis could wear the radio headset on defense against the Eagles. Also, Justin Smith could play more outside linebacker.
Also from Maiocco: A matchup box with a quote from Mike Martz suggesting the 49ers' offense is coming together.
Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News thinks Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson must be salivating as he prepares to unleash blitzes on the 49ers' J.T. O'Sullivan.
Scott Allen of RaisingZona.com checks in with former Cardinals cornerback Aeneas Williams, who sees parallels between Ken Whisenhunt's approach and the one Dick Vermeil used in restoring the St. Louis Rams.
Also from Allen: He predicts a 35-31 victory for the Cowboys.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com offers end-of-week thoughts on the Cardinals. He takes issue with the idea that Bills quarterback Trent Edwards was defenseless when Arizona's Adrian Wilson delivered a knockout blow in Week 5. To me, there was no question Wilson drove Edwards into the ground with unnecessary force after the quarterback had ceased being a threat to the defense. The discussion then becomes whether driving the quarterback into the ground with unnecessary force violates rules.
Also from Urban: Karlos Dansby thinks the Bills overlooked the Cardinals and ran into a "hornet's nest" at University of Phoenix Stadium. Will the Cowboys follow suit?
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic revisits how Kurt Warner and Tony Romo entered the NFL as undrafted free agents. Both rank among the top four in passing this season.
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic checks in with Troy Aikman for a look at the Cowboys. Aikman sees a team that must guard against declining.
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune sizes up the opportunity awaiting the Cardinals.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' season is on the line against the Packers. And it's only Week 6.
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune recalls how Packers running back Ryan Grant replaced Seahawks running back Julius Jones at Notre Dame.
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times quotes Mike Holmgren as calling the Seahawks a "wounded" team that must play better.
Also from Romero: A few notes and questions relating to the Seahawks in Week 6. Seattle is 52-32 against NFC teams since 2003, best in the league. Seattle is 22-4 since the start of the 2005 season when winning the battle for time of possession.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Holmgren put players on notice this week. These weren't the same players he coached through training camp in some cases. Three of the top four receivers weren't with the Seahawks when the season opened. They could be catching passes from the third-string quarterback.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams need a new attitude following their 0-4 start. Thomas quotes a sport psychologist, always a good sign.
Also from Thomas: A look at matchups in the Rams-Redskins game. He favors the Redskins in every listed matchup.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Redskins are better with linebacker Rocky McIntosh back from injury. Also, Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell has zero turnovers this season after suffering six interceptions and seven lost fumbles in his final seven games before suffering a knee injury last season.
Also from Coats: Jim Zorn has been a perfect fit for the Redskins so far. Clinton Portis loves Zorn's aggressive approach toward play calling.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat looks at Jim Haslett's adjustment to being a head coach again.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Cardinals' surging confidence shouldn't suffer much following a hard-fought defeat to the Redskins at FedEx Field.
Arizona validated what it already knew about life on the road against a competent opponent, namely that the margin for error shrinks for everyone, notably the quarterback.
Kurt Warner had been nearly flawless for Arizona this season. He reached statistical perfection with a 158.3 passer rating during a blowout victory over the Dolphins in Week 2.
The interception Warner threw against the Redskins on an underthrown deep ball to Steve Breaston marked the first surrendered by the Cardinals all season. The play also turned the momentum toward Washington, which converted the gift into a touchdown for a 24-17 lead. Edgerrin James also lost a fumble for the Cardinals, who entered the game without a single turnover.
There's no shame in this loss for Arizona. The Cardinals played aggressively -- receiver Jerheme Urban completed an 18-yard pass for a key first down -- and they ran the ball effectively (18 carries for 93 yards from James). The Cardinals' next chance for a victory on the East Coast comes in Week 4 against the Jets. I think they'll be ready.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
St. Louis Rams (0-2) at Seattle Seahawks (0-2), 4:05 p.m. ET
Both teams are a bit edgy coming off consecutive defeats to open the season. The Rams are already in desperation mode. Owner Chip Rosenbloom made sure of it when he said jobs would be lost if the team didn't show improvement. Coach Scott Linehan got the message. Linehan also got the Seahawks' attention by saying he thought the Rams would win this game because they didn't have any choice.
"I think every coach has a certain confidence level," Seattle's Mike Holmgren responded. "More often than not, they don't talk about it publicly. I will probably mention that."
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck told Seattle reporters the 0-2 start would not lead the Seahawks to "make ridiculous statements and say things that are panic things to say." Hasselbeck also told St. Louis reporters he expected to win the division again because that's what the Seahawks have done for the last four seasons.
"That is a pretty bold statement," Rams defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said, "but you still have to line up on Sunday at 1 o'clock (PT) and put your money where your mouth is."
Seattle's receiving situation is a mess. The Rams' defensive secondary has given up huge plays repeatedly. Linehan has talked about both teams being in same position given their 0-2 record, but the pressure is clearly on the Rams. All signs point to Seattle in this matchup.
Arizona Cardinals (2-0) at Washington Redskins (1-1), 1 p.m. ET
Watch to see if the Cardinals' defense can confuse Jason Campbell and force him into mistakes. Arizona has simplified its defense since Ken Whisenhunt arrived as head coach, but defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast knows the Redskins' offense. The connection: Redskins coach Jim Zorn.
Zorn and Pendergast squared off twice annually when Zorn was coaching quarterbacks for the Seahawks. In 2004, when Pendergast was in his first year with Arizona, the Cardinals forced Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck into a four-interception game at Sun Devil Stadium. Zorn and Hasselbeck learned from those struggles, allowing Seattle to enjoy success as Hasselbeck became a more complete quarterback.
The Cardinals probably would have won at Washington last season if Kurt Warner hadn't thrown two interceptions. Warner said so this week. He has protected the ball better than ever during the first two games; Arizona is the only NFL team without a turnover. The Cardinals can win this game if Warner doesn't revisit his previously careless ways.
I'll be monitoring two matchups in this game. One, how does the middle of the Cardinals' defense hold up against Clinton Portis' physical running? Arizona has had injury problems at nose tackle. Portis runs hard between the tackles. Two, how will Cardinals right tackle Levi Brown fare against Redskins defensive end Jason Taylor? Knee injuries have slowed both payers recently.
Detroit Lions (0-2) at San Francisco 49ers (1-1), 4:05 p.m. ET
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz's presence in San Francisco makes this game interesting. The Lions have had nice things to say about Martz all week. Martz has downplayed the significance of facing his old team. Does anyone really think Martz is viewing this as just another game against just another opponent?
Frank Gore is coming off a tough week at Seattle. The Seahawks loaded up to stop him. Their defensive tackles consistently won one-on-one matchups. The Lions lack the same kind of ability. Martz talked all offseason about running the offense through Gore. He talked about establishing a minimum number of touches for Gore in each game. This would seem to be Gore's chance to enjoy a breakout game against a vulnerable defense.
In 2007, the Lions' rushing totals varied wildly late in the season as criticism mounted over the team's pass-happy tendencies. Check out the number of times the Lions carried the ball in each of their last eight games: eight, 11, 30, seven, 32, nine, 32 and 17. Game situations dictated some of that, but an AFC team executive once told me he thought those types of discrepancies reflected Martz's tendency to react to criticism.
Despite a 33-30 upset victory in Seattle last week, the critics pointed to eight sacks allowed by the 49ers. I'm thinking that figure will fall sharply this week.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
St. Louis' first-team offense continues to mystify, but watching the Rams' 7-6 victory over San Diego last night provided a few clues. A few observations:
- First and foremost, quarterback Marc Bulger was not in sync with his receivers. He is a much better quarterback than what we saw in this game. His protection was good enough. Bulger appeared to throw early and behind his intended targets.
Bulger and Drew Bennett appeared to be reading from different playbooks at times. This can happen when the quarterback and receiver are interpreting blitzes and coverages differently. The Sporting News examined this in a 2000 story about the Rams' offense (current offensive coordinator Al Saunders was the receivers coach at the time).
- The Redskins' quarterbacks also put up shaky numbers when starting out in Saunders' offense. I pulled up the stats from an Aug. 13, 2006 exhibition game between the Redskins and Bengals.
Saunders, the Rams' new offensive coordinator, was in his first year with the Redskins at the time. Jason Campbell, Todd Collins and Mark Brunell combined to complete barely half of their passes with no touchdowns and three interceptions in that game. The Redskins also lost Clinton Portis to injury when the running back made a tackle on an interception return (perhaps Steven Jackson's holdout spared the Rams last night).
- Rams left tackle Orlando Pace needs the preseason work. Chargers backup Jyles Tucker threw Pace aside before drilling Bulger as the quarterback threw right before halftime. Bulger was shaken up. He's not accustomed to getting blasted in the back when Pace is in the lineup.
- Leonard Little's return to health gives the Rams an active defensive front. Little gave starting Chargers tackle Jeromey Clary problems. Adam Carriker also brought pressure up the middle after pushing aside Chargers left guard Kris Dielman. I spoke with Little a few days ago. "I'm going to be productive," he said. "That is my whole thing this year."
- The Chargers rested defensive starters Jamal Williams, Luis Castillo, Shawne Merriman, Stephen Cooper, Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie. That's why I would have expected more from the Rams' passing offense, even without Torry Holt. The communication between quarterback and receiver must improve.
- This was not a case of the Rams failing to hold up physically. Their starting units held up reasonably well while working against lots of San Diego backups.
- Darren Sproles, the Chargers' 181-pound running back, took out Rams defensive end Chris Long with a block at the knees. Sproles appeared to be the only blocker assigned to Long on the play.
- Long makes hustle plays. He accelerated out of the backfield to take down a runner after an 8-yard gain. We are not seeing Long making big plays yet. Without regard for draft status or paycheck values, it's tough to say the Rams are better right now with Long on the field. Backup James Hall appears somewhat rejuvenated this summer. I expect Long to improve as he plays more.