NFC West: Darrell Bevell

RENTON, Wash. – Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has a simple message for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson entering the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers.

“We want him to be himself,” Bevell said. “We don’t need to build it up any different than it is. It’s just 60 more minutes for us to play, and we want Russell to play exactly the way he plays each and every day.

“He’s not going to work harder and he’s not going to play harder. He’s at full tilt all the time. He’s here [at the Seahawks facility] all the time. He works hard at it, so we just want him to be himself.”

Bevell knows Wilson has taken some heat in recent weeks over the team’s passing numbers, which are down significantly over the last five games.

“There are a lot of factors in there,” Bevell said. “First and foremost, we are playing good defenses, and we were playing defenses that played us for the second time as well, as you look back at it.”

Seattle played NFC West opponents San Francisco, Arizona and St. Louis for the second time this season in the final five regular season games. Now the Seahawks play the 49ers for the third time, so it won’t get any easier to catch anyone by surprise.

“We have to point to ourselves and we have to try and fix the things that we can,” Bevell said. “It may be one little protection thing. It could be a route on one. It could be the quarterback’s decision on one. There are just a number of things that it could come down to, and basically, we’re working on those every day to get better.”

Bevell said he and Wilson have gone over a few specific things this week that could make a difference in the passing game efficiency, but Bevell’s main emphasis was for Wilson to stay the course and not try to do too much.

“We make corrections every day.” Bevell said. “But what we want him to do is just to be him.”

The vast majority of the time, that’s been good enough.

Links: Darrell Bevell's 'problem'

June, 26, 2013
Arizona Cardinals

Raising Zona discusses Freddie Kitchens and the importance of the quarterbacks coach in today's NFL.

San Francisco 49ers

Is Vernon Davis really transitioning to wide receiver? Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Are the 49ers in a straight panic about replacing [Michael] Crabtree? Or are they just trying boost Vernon Davis’ ability as a receiver?"

Rob Rang breaks down how rookie safety Eric Reid fits in with what the 49ers are trying to do.

Seattle Seahawks

Davis is one of many who have taken notice of what the Seahawks have done this offseason.

Eric Williams of The News Tribune: "Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will have a good problem to solve when training camp begins at the end of July -- how to get the ball to all of Seattle’s talented playmakers."

St. Louis Rams

Are the Rams quietly building a powerhouse team?

Turf Show Times looks at some of the candidates to lead the Rams in major statistical categories.
The St. Louis Rams put two halfbacks on the field for a third-and-5 play at Seattle last season, an unusual personnel grouping. The Seahawks called timeout. The Rams came back with something more straightforward -- a basic play offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, quarterback Sam Bradford and the Rams' receivers had installed from the first day of training camp.

[+] EnlargeBrian Schottenheimer
AP Photo/Michael YoungRams QB Sam Bradford and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will have the benefit of working together for a second season.
Bradford hit Chris Givens on a quick slant route. Givens ducked under cornerback Jeremy Lane, breaking free for a 37-yard gain to the Seattle 4, setting up a touchdown in a hard-fought game Seattle would win in the final 1:39.

Five-plus months later, Bradford sees in that play something that has been in short supply for the Rams in recent years: evidence of continuity. The Rams went with something familiar to everyone involved instead of getting cute with a call that might have seemed more formidable when drawn up on a whiteboard. The more time players and coaches have together, the greater number of plays they'll feel comfortable running in specific situations.

Bradford, a veteran of three offensive coordinators in three NFL seasons, will work with Schottenheimer for a second consecutive season. That doesn't mean the Rams will always gain 37 yards on third-and-5, of course, but familiarity can be a good thing -- not just in general, but when applied to specific situations.

"There were times last year, I remember sitting in meetings, maybe [Schottenheimer] was really comfortable with a play because they had run it in the past and had success with it, but it was new to me and I wasn't as comfortable with it," Bradford said. "Now, I think we have a much better feel for each other."

Every NFC West team but Arizona returns the same starting quarterback and same offensive coordinator from last season.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick enters his first full season as a starter in coordinator Greg Roman's offense after taking over for Alex Smith in Week 11 last season. This will be Kaepernick's third season with Roman overall, an advantage. But because the playing styles for Kaepernick and Smith differ so significantly, the 49ers adjusted their offense on the fly. They used the pistol formation more frequently. Kaepernick was more likely than Smith to target receivers outside the yard-line numbers, where Kaepernick's stronger arm served him well. Kaepernick's passes inside the numbers traveled nearly twice as far past the line of scrimmage on average, another reflection of how the offense would be different with a new quarterback.

These are the sorts of things we can evaluate from the outside. Imagine how many subtleties must exist on the inside. Schottenheimer said Bradford is "a thousand years" ahead of where he was one year ago. Roman used the term "light years" to describe how far ahead his quarterback stands at this point in the offseason compared to one year ago. It's not just talk.

Think about how the 49ers' final Super Bowl possession ended, with Kaepernick throwing incomplete against pressure when only 5 yards separated San Francisco from a likely championship. One play earlier, on third down, the 49ers had suffered the type of breakdown we might expect with a young quarterback making only his 10th start in a highly advanced offense. They burned a timeout with the play clock running dangerously low, scuttling what coaches thought had been the perfect call against that specific Baltimore defense. Surely the odds of such a miscue repeating itself in a critical situation will diminish as Kaepernick and Roman have more time together.

A year ago, the Seattle Seahawks weren't sure whether Matt Flynn or Russell Wilson would be their starter. They committed to Wilson late in the summer and spent several games figuring out how much of the playbook to explore with him. Coordinator Darrell Bevell is back after attracting interest as a head-coaching candidate. Even after 16 regular-season games and one postseason game last season, Bevell said the team was still "figuring out what we have" heading into its divisional-round matchup against the Atlanta Falcons.

This offseason represents the first time Bradford, Kaepernick and Wilson have had time to explore in depth with their coordinators the plays and concepts each felt comfortable running in game situations.

"Sometimes you watch tape, you study things during the week, you see one look on tape that they played the week before and you try to draw up the perfect play to beat that coverage, but then you call it and don’t get that coverage and it’s like, what are we doing?" Bradford said. "None of the receivers have run it. We might have repped it two or three times during the week."

When in doubt, go with what you know, such as Bradford to Givens on the simplest of routes. Call it a starting point.

"The day Sam walked back into the building [this offseason] we started making adjustments," Schottenheimer said. "We are a thousand years ahead of where we were last year."

Eight in the Box: Biggest questions

June, 14, 2013
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The major question facing each team in the NFC West as summer break looms:

Arizona Cardinals: What form will the defense take? Todd Bowles is the new coordinator after taking over for Ray Horton. Bowles said from the beginning he would only "tweak" the 3-4 scheme Horton put into place with success. Defensive lineman Darnell Dockett has responded to those tweaks in a manner suggesting his life will be completely different -- and much better -- as an attacking, up-the-field force. From the outside, it looks like the Cardinals have acquired personnel suited to play in a scheme with 4-3 tendencies. Perhaps we're overthinking things here. I'm definitely curious to see how the defense comes together and whether Bowles can build upon the solid foundation Horton seemed to establish.

St. Louis Rams: Does the team need some veteran depth? The Rams have the NFL's youngest roster. They're young just about everywhere but along the offensive line, where Scott Wells, Harvey Dahl and Jake Long provide some seasoning. Depth at linebacker and safety appears a bit tenuous, however, and that has led the Rams to consider free-agent options. Linebackers Takeo Spikes, Will Witherspoon and Chris Gocong have joined safeties Sherrod Martin, Matt Giordano and Abram Elam as free-agent visitors to Rams headquarters, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

San Francisco 49ers: How will the wide receiver situation shake out? Second-year receiver A.J. Jenkins performed to positive reviews during the recently completed organized team activities and minicamp. Ricardo Lockette was another young receiver catching the 49ers' attention. The team has question marks at the position while Michael Crabtree recovers from a torn Achilles tendon. The 49ers ran former Indianapolis Colts receiver Austin Collie through a workout this week. Collie is recovering from knee surgery. He has a history of concussions. The 49ers are lining up contingencies, it appears, as they prepare for training camp.

Seattle Seahawks: Who becomes the No. 2 quarterback behind Russell Wilson? Tarvaris Jackson's addition this week gives the team two veteran quarterbacks competing for the job. The Seahawks posted a 7-7 record when Jackson was their starter during the 2011 season, before Wilson arrived. Brady Quinn posted a 1-7 record while starting for Kansas City last season. Jackson already knows the Seahawks' offense. He has strong relationships with Seattle players and with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. He looks like the favorite for the job, even though Quinn has been the one practicing with the team this offseason.
Brady Quinn could have competition for the No. 2 job behind Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Tarvaris Jackson, released by the Seahawks last offseason and released by the Buffalo Bills this week, is headed to Seattle with a shot at signing in the coming days, ESPN's John Clayton is reporting. The move would restore depth behind Wilson after Seattle released Josh Portis.

The Seahawks signed Quinn in part because they thought his approach to preparation would fit well with Wilson, who is known for working overtime in the film room. Jackson has outplayed Quinn in recent seasons, however, and the Bills quoted their rookie quarterback, EJ Manuel, as saying Jackson was "great in our film room" this offseason.

Jackson is a good fit as a backup in Seattle because he has extensive experience in the Seahawks' offensive system. He was also popular in the locker room during his time with the team. Jackson played with Seatle cornerback Antoine Winfield and receivers Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice when all three were with the Minnesota Vikings. Seattle's offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, was also with the Vikings then.

Seattle is in the middle of its mandatory minicamp. Signing Jackson would put him on course to begin competing for the No. 2 job when training camp opens.
A few thoughts after Minnesota Vikings free-agent cornerback Antoine Winfield told ESPN's Josina Anderson he had reached agreement on a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks:
  • The fit: Winfield projects as the replacement for Marcus Trufant as the Seahawks' primary slot corner. Richard Sherman is unquestionably the No. 1 cornerback on the team. Brandon Browner projects as the other starter. Seattle still has plans and hopes for younger corners on the team, notably Jeremy Lane. Walter Thurmond, if healthy, could be part of the mix. DeShawn Shead is another young corner with potential. Trufant, 32, is a free agent and not expected back. The Seahawks could still draft a corner. They could decide to release Winfield after training camp, even. This is a one-year deal without significant salary-cap ramifications.
  • Veteran presence: Winfield, who turns 36 on June 24, becomes the oldest player on the Seahawks' roster by more than four years. His addition adds a veteran voice to the defensive backs' meeting room in Seattle. He is older than Lane by more than 13 years. Sherman recently turned 25. Browner, though 28, has started less than full two seasons in the NFL. From afar, this might look like a case of Seattle seeking a veteran corner to help settle down the frequently outspoken Sherman. I've never sensed worry from coach Pete Carroll on that front, however. Trufant was a veteran corner, but Seattle wasn't trying to re-sign him. Winfield qualifies as a special case, an older player with a specific set of skills for Seattle to fit into its defense.
  • Minnesota West: Winfield joins receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, plus offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, as high-profile Seahawks with ties to the Vikings. All were together in Minnesota as recently as 2010. Those ties could have helped Winfield feel more comfortable about changing teams for the first time since he left the Buffalo Bills for Minnesota following the 2003 season. The Seahawks are an attractive destination on the merits, however. Winfield accepted a one-year contract. He presumably could have gotten a one-year deal elsewhere, including in Minnesota.
  • 49ers rivalry: Adding Winfield will strengthen perceptions that the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are trying to one-up each other this offseason after one half-game separated them in the 2012 standings. Some of these moves appear coincidental. To review, Winfield agreed to terms with Seattle a week after the division-rival 49ers signed another older former Pro Bowl corner in Nnamdi Asomugha. In both cases, the signing teams waited out the cornerbacks, signing them to one-year deals. The 49ers previously traded for receiver Anquan Boldin hours after news broke that Seattle was acquiring Harvin. Both teams recently added backup quarterbacks who entered the NFL as early-round picks. Both made those moves after trading away the backup quarterbacks they had previously signed as starters.
Earlier: A few thoughts on Winfield.
Percy HarvinAP Photo/Elaine ThompsonThe Seattle Seahawks thought it was worth the risk to trade for wide receiver Percy Harvin.
Percy Harvin was an MVP candidate with the Minnesota Vikings in mid-October, and then he was expendable five months later -- traded to the Seattle Seahawks at age 24.

The move made little sense on the surface. Teams generally do not trade uniquely talented players entering the primes of their careers.

There had to be more to this story, but how much more? How much risk did the Seahawks assume when they paid three draft choices to the Vikings and more than $25 million in guarantees to Harvin? Four days at the recent NFL owners meeting in Phoenix provided an opportunity to chase down answers. Not that Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was much help.

"There are a lot of layers to this situation," Frazier said, "and one day, when [we] sit down and write this book, we'll divulge all the layers. But it's complicated."

The Seahawks have been much clearer about their motivations. They see Harvin as a unique talent and someone whose unrelenting competitiveness -- a source of trouble for Harvin, particularly in his youth -- mirrors the very essence of coach Pete Carroll's program. When they connected with Harvin over Skype immediately following the trade, the multidimensional receiver had a message for them: He couldn't wait to practice against a secondary featuring combative cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.

That kind of talk has obvious appeal for Carroll, who has made competition his mantra. But where the Seahawks see competitiveness, a general manager from another team saw risk.

"Harvin has been kicked out of programs his whole life," the GM said. "Not just in the NFL, but in high school and junior high. He has never proven to be sustainably coachable."

Harvin always had the talent. He won Virginia high school state championships in the long jump, triple jump, 100 meters, 200 meters and 4x100-meter relay -- all in the same year. But his involvement in multiple heat-of-the-moment altercations led to repeated suspensions, an arrest and even his banishment from a high school sports league. A reported positive test for marijuana at the combine threw up another red flag.

Those incidents are ancient history. Harvin has never served an NFL suspension despite playing in an era when commissioner Roger Goodell has embraced a law-and-order approach to the role.

Harvin, drafted 22nd overall in 2009 after dominating at the University of Florida, has at times been as dynamic as any player in the NFL, scoring touchdowns as a receiver, runner and kickoff returner.

"The best all around player I ever seen or you'll ever see!" teammate and reigning MVP Adrian Peterson tweeted after the Vikings shipped Harvin to Seattle two weeks ago. "I feel like I just got kicked in the stomach."

Only injuries and spotty quarterback play have limited Harvin as a pro. But he was outspoken about his unhappiness in Minnesota last offseason. Reports of trade demands surfaced again more recently, strengthening perceptions of Harvin as difficult.

"I think that’s classic of a competitor that sometimes they push the limits," Carroll said. "You like that because that’s who they are. I don’t have any problem with that. I don’t have any problem with guys being highly, highly competitive. There’s an understanding that we had to come together on. We’ve already talked to Percy. I want him to be as competitive as he can be. We need to make sure it always helps our football team."

The teams drafting Jason Smith, Tyson Jackson, Aaron Curry, Mark Sanchez, Andre Smith, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Aaron Maybin, Knowshon Moreno, Larry English and Robert Ayers ahead of Harvin would have been much better off selecting Harvin despite repeated warnings. The teams drafting those players never could have leveraged them into what the Vikings are getting from Seattle. Not even close.

Which leads back to the question at hand: How much risk is Seattle taking?

General managers polled at the NFL owners meeting raised a few concerns from a Seahawks perspective.

  • Financial risk: Committing $25 million guaranteed to an enigmatic, regularly injured player made some uncomfortable. The Vikings did not come right out and call Harvin uncoachable, but Frazier's comments certainly left that impression. Again, teams don't trade away supremely talented 24-year-old players without reason. The Seahawks are getting a player the Vikings couldn't manage. Not only that, they are empowering that player with all that guaranteed cash.
  • Questionable trade-off: Giving up premium draft choices was another issue for some. Seattle traded the 25th and 214th picks of the 2013 draft and a 2014 third-rounder to the Vikings. The players Seattle could have drafted in those slots would have played under team-friendly rookie contracts. For example, the deal Dont'a Hightower signed with the New England Patriots as the 25th pick in 2012 could count less than $8 million against the cap over its four-year life. Harvin's contract is scheduled to consume $67 million in salary-cap space over its life.
  • Locker-room implications: The Seahawks have a long list of young, talented players in line for new contracts over the next couple of years. They approach those negotiations having proved in spectacular fashion their willingness to pay absolute top dollar for a player who has never scored a touchdown or made a tackle for them. While it's debatable whether Seattle could have gotten hometown discounts from Kam Chancellor, Sherman, Earl Thomas or the others, they can forget about it now.

The Seahawks can answer the concerns pretty convincingly.

[+] EnlargePercy Harvin
Tom Dahlin/Getty ImagesPercy Harvin adds another dimension to an already dynamic Seattle offense.
Carroll's ability to reach players is arguably unsurpassed in the NFL. Not many coaches could pull off piping hip-hop music into practices without coming off as phony, but Carroll does that and more. He is the antithesis in style and probably substance to Brad Childress, the uptight former Vikings coach. And with Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell signing off enthusiastically on the trade after coaching Harvin in Minnesota, the Seahawks proceeded without the reservations some teams would have brought to the deal.

"Darrell had a great relationship with Percy that I found out, after talking with Percy, was reciprocated," Carroll said. "They worked together really well. He raved about his competitiveness, raved about his work ethic, raved about his talent. It was just total positive, supportive perspective from Darrell on him. The best perspective that we could have called on was what Darrell told me. That cemented the idea, 'Let’s go for it.'"

The Seahawks, unlike the Vikings, also have a dynamic young quarterback to keep Harvin happy. Harvin flourished when Brett Favre was the Vikings' quarterback. Russell Wilson arrives at Seahawks headquarters around 6 a.m. during the offseason, demonstrating a competitive will that Harvin has said intrigued him.

"It just resonated with Percy," Carroll said.

Giving up high draft picks for the right to overpay a veteran prospect goes against what the Seahawks and most teams believe in philosophically. Seattle obviously felt as though the 25th pick in the draft wasn't likely to return a player with nearly the dynamism Harvin will offer from the beginning. The 2014 third-round pick that was part of the deal represents what Seattle would pay to move up five or six slots in the first round this year.

I was most interested in the potential fallout with Chancellor, Sherman, Thomas and the Seahawks' other Pro Bowl-caliber players working under cheap rookie deals. All will presumably welcome adding to their roster a playmaker with Harvin's credentials, but the dollar signs in their eyes had to grow in size as well.

"We are taking care of all of our guys, every single one of our guys," Carroll said. "We're working Kam right now and we're going to continue to work our guys."

Chancellor is scheduled to earn $1.3 million in 2013, the final year of his contract. Receiver Golden Tate is also scheduled for free agency in a year. Thomas and Sherman are signed through 2014. They're like planes circling over an airport, each eager to land a big-money deal.

One rival coach downplayed the consequences a Harvin-type contract will have in a locker room.

"Players understand the business side of the game," the St. Louis Rams' Jeff Fisher said. "The business side always sorts itself out. Guys go into that last year and tend to pick it up.

"Those things aren't a distraction. Maybe they are discussed off-campus, but not in a locker room."

The Seahawks' ongoing negotiations with Chancellor provide one test case. Recent history suggests Seattle could have other options as well. Chancellor was a fifth-round pick. So was Sherman. The Seahawks have a couple of fifth-round choices in the 2013 draft. Continuing to draft well would remove pressure from negotiations.

"We're not going to pay guys ahead of [schedule] just because we're working with their contracts," Carroll said, "but we know as our guys come up, those are all managed for the future and we have a big plan for all that.

"[GM] John [Schneider] has worked hard at it. And because we have worked so hard at it, we were in position where we had free-agency money to spend and hopefully we will continue to be able to manage it in that fashion."

Percy Harvin: NFC West possibilities

March, 11, 2013
Assessing potential NFC West landing spots for receiver Percy Harvin in case the Minnesota Vikings trade him amid a lingering contract dispute:

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals appear set at wide receiver with Larry Fitzgerald, 2012 first-round pick Michael Floyd and 2010 third-rounder Andre Roberts.

Arizona is installing a vertical passing game resembling the one coach Bruce Arians ran with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis. The Vikings have used Harvin as more of a horizontal threat, relying on him to gain yards after the catch.

Harvin caught the ball 4.1 yards past the line of scrimmage on average last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That was the lowest figure in the NFL among 76 qualifying wide receivers and well below the 11.6-yard average for those players.

Harvin would help Arizona, of course, but the fit appears better elsewhere.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams have quickly gained significant cap room by subtracting from the books Steven Jackson, Wayne Hunter and Quintin Mikell. Those players were scheduled to earn $17 million in salary for the 2013 season alone. The Rams could lose receiver Danny Amendola in free agency. Another starting wideout, Brandon Gibson, is expected to sign elsewhere. Receiver looks like a position of need.

The Rams have a promising mix of young receivers featuring Chris Givens, Brian Quick and Austin Pettis. Harvin would not give the Rams a prototypical No. 1 receiver, but he would give them something they haven't had on offense recently: a player opponents had to develop their defensive plans around. The Rams' return game badly needs a boost as well.

St. Louis has two first-round picks, giving the team flexibility.

San Francisco 49ers

The fit from a scheme standpoint is captivating. Imagine the fun Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman could have in the ground game with Harvin available to them. The possibilities are nearly endless. The 49ers have plenty of draft capital, including an additional second-round choice among their league-high 12 selections.

San Francisco hasn't shown much interest in acquiring high-priced players from other teams, however. The 49ers have instead focused on paying their own players.

Paying big money to Harvin would complicate looming talks with Michael Crabtree, who already gives San Francisco one of the best yards-after-catch receivers. Seattle wouldn't have to worry about that dynamic as much because the team already paid Sidney Rice. Still, imagine defending a 49ers offense featuring Colin Kaepernick, Vernon Davis, Crabtree, Frank Gore, LaMichael James, Harvin and whatever players the 49ers add through the draft.

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle has salary-cap flexibility and ample trade ammunition via 10 draft choices, second-most in the NFL. In a perfect world, adding more of a downfield perimeter threat might make more sense than adding Harvin.

Still, the Seahawks have demonstrated a willingness to pay for young free agents on offense (Sidney Rice, Zach Miller). The team could use another weapon for quarterback Russell Wilson.

Coach Pete Carroll frequently says he values players with unique skill sets. His defense is filled with players unusually proportioned or otherwise equipped for their positions. His quarterback is unconventional. Harvin is truly a unique player in the NFL. He has scored touchdowns rushing, receiving and in the return game. He can line up just about anywhere in the formation, from the slot to running back.

Seattle has a connection to Harvin. The team's offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, held the same job with Minnesota when the Vikings drafted Harvin in 2009. Imagine the options for an offense featuring Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Harvin, Rice, Golden Tate and Miller.

Around the NFC West: Coaching carousel

January, 18, 2013

Thursday was kind to the NFC West.

The Arizona Cardinals found their next head coach in Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

The Seattle Seahawks moved quickly to hire Dan Quinn, their first and only choice as defensive coordinator once the team lost Gus Bradley to Jacksonville. They also were able to keep offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell once the Cardinals' coaching search went away from him.

Bradley's hiring in Jacksonville meant the St. Louis Rams could keep offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who had interviewed for the job. It also meant the San Francisco 49ers wouldn't have to worry about losing offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who would have been a logical candidate to lead the Jaguars.

Two lingering questions persist:
  • What will happen with Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who remains under contract with the team but isn't happy about being passed over for the head coaching job? Mike Jurecki of XTRA Sports 910 AM in Phoenix says Horton felt misled by the Cardinals during the search process. He says Horton and general manager Steve Keim were involved in a heated exchange. Arians and Horton worked together in Pittsburgh. Horton is under contract. Will Arians want to retain an unhappy assistant? Mike Silver reports that Horton will be out and the Cardinals will hire Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles for the job. Stay tuned on this one.
  • Where will the St. Louis Rams' search for a defensive coordinator lead head coach Jeff Fisher? Rob Ryan's name lingers as a possibility, but would the fit be right? Might Fisher promote one of the team's current assistants to the job? Information on this one remains scarce. Assistant coaches Dave McGinnis and Chuck Cecil have been coordinators previously. So has Fisher. That means there's less urgency to hire an experienced coordinator from the outside.
Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will succeed Ken Whisenhunt as the Arizona Cardinals' head coach.

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is not part of the deal, unfortunately. Finding a quarterback is the Cardinals' next top priority, one that will determine whether Arians ultimately fares better than Whisenhunt. Arizona holds the seventh pick in the 2013 NFL draft, and has under contract veteran quarterbacks Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley.

Arians comes to the Cardinals as the offensive-minded assistant they targeted almost without exception. Although he worked for the Colts most recently, Arians offers the same Pittsburgh Steelers pedigree Whisenhunt brought to the job back in 2007. He will run an offense with some similarities to the one Whisenhunt, Arians and the Pittsburgh staff ran when they worked together from 2004 through 2006, winning a Super Bowl. But Arians told reporters in Arizona that he has changed much of the terminology in ways allowing quarterbacks to generate a clearer picture of the offense in their minds.

Arians has succeeded Whisenhunt before, in Pittsburgh. He moved from receivers coach to offensive coordinator when Whisenhunt vacated the coordinator's position to accept the Cardinals' head-coaching job. Whisenhunt turned around the Cardinals quickly, posted a 4-2 postseason record and nearly defeated the Steelers in the Super Bowl following the 2008 season. The offense has deteriorated considerably since Kurt Warner's retirement, and Whisenhunt lost his job when a big bet on Kolb failed to produce desired results.

Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden also were candidates to succeed Whisenhunt. The mostly outstanding results Horton has gotten from the defense made him deserving of strong consideration. However, promoting Horton would have severely reduced the team's options for hiring an offensive staff. NFL rules allow teams to pursue assistants from other teams for head-coaching jobs, but not for other coaching jobs.

Arians' hiring has ramifications throughout the NFC West and beyond. It means every head-coaching position in the league is filled. The Seahawks will be keeping Bevell, who signed a new contract with the team, according to ESPN's John Clayton. The San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams also will not lose one of their coordinators or other assistants to a head-coaching job.

Arians and Horton worked together in Pittsburgh. The Cardinals will be best served if the two former co-workers make this relationship work, even though Horton could reasonably have some hard feelings after not getting the job. Horton's status will be an issue as long as he continues operating under his current contract, which runs through the 2013 season.

In the end, Arizona did not secure one of the big-name candidates such as Andy Reid or Chip Kelly. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Arians might wind up being a better fit than any of those other coaches. At first glance, however, it's fair to question whether the man who worked under Whisenhunt in Pittsburgh represents a clear upgrade from Whisenhunt. The Colts did go 9-3 with Arians serving as their head coach while Chuck Pagano underwent cancer treatments.

A case can be made that Whisenhunt's time in Arizona had run its course, anyway, and that a change was needed.

No coach will win in Arizona without improving the quarterback situation. Whisenhunt had his chance to improve that critical area, but he failed. The quarterbacks he acquired and developed too frequently got worse, not better. Now, it's Arians' turn.

Sando chat scheduled for 1 p.m. ET

January, 17, 2013
The next NFC West chat is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET.

Here's the link.

We'll have plenty to discuss: Gus Bradley's departure from the Seattle Seahawks to become the next head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars; the Arizona Cardinals' interest in offensive coordinators Darrell Bevell (Seattle) and Bruce Arians (Indianapolis) for their head coaching job; where the San Francisco 49ers stand heading into their NFC Championship Game with Atlanta; and whatever else crosses your mind.

In the meantime, I'm putting the finishing touches on a Colin Kaepernick piece, set to publish in the next hour or so. I promise it won't be as long as Kaepernick's touchdown runs.

Around the NFC West: Bradley to Jags

January, 17, 2013

The Jacksonville Jaguars have hired Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley as their next head coach.

This move has significant repercussions in the NFC West.

It pushes Seattle into the market for a defensive coordinator while removing what had been considered a likely landing spot for San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman. And with Arizona having interviewed Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell on Wednesday, it's now possible Seattle will lose both coordinators to head coaching jobs. That would stand as a setback for the Seahawks.

Bradley's hiring also makes the St. Louis Rams much more likely to keep offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who had interviewed for the job in Jacksonville.

The Seahawks had been expecting Bradley to become the next head coach in Philadelphia. Chip Kelly's surprise hiring headed off that scenario. Bradley then interviewed with Jacksonville, but there was still some thought that Roman would get strong consideration. Roman and new Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell were college teammates and roommates.

The 49ers now appear likely to keep together their coaching staff unless Arizona moves on Roman following the 49ers' NFC Championship Game appearance against Atlanta.

Some have asked whether Seahawks linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. might become the new defensive coordinator in Seattle. I've never heard Norton's name come up as a candidate for coordinator. Former Seattle defensive line coach and assistant head coach Dan Quinn, now the defensive coordinator at the University of Florida, is one potential candidate. There could be others, for sure.

With Bradley heading for the AFC South, here are a few thoughts on other NFC West names in the news:
  • John Idzik, Seattle Seahawks vice president of football administration: Idzik is a finalist to become general manager of the New York Jets. He has been most involved in managing the Seahawks' salary cap. The team enters the offseason with more than $18 million in cap space. The Jets' cap situation is problematic. The GM title usually carries expectations for personnel evaluation. Idzik worked for Arizona and Tampa Bay previously. He has been with Seattle since Tim Ruskell hired him in 2007. More recently, Idzik has worked closely with Seahawks general manager John Schneider with an eye toward developing his personnel evaluation. Idzik was a wide receiver at Dartmouth, graduating with honors in 1982.
  • Darrell Bevell, Seahawks offensive coordinator. Bevell met Wednesday with Cardinals officials regarding their coaching vacancy. There's not much new since we discussed Bevell in relation to the Cardinals earlier in the week. Bevell interviewed with Jacksonville as well. Arizona added Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to its list of candidates. Arians, like Bevell, worked with a successful rookie quarterback in 2012. He also worked previously with Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton when both were with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Horton has interviewed for the head-coaching vacancy, but Arizona has otherwise focused on coaches with backgrounds on offense.
  • Brian Schottenheimer, St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer was a candidate for the Jaguars' job. He was a finalist one year ago. The Rams have had three offensive coordinators over the past three seasons. They would like to keep Schottenheimer and build continuity over time. The team plans to keep its basic offensive system even if Schottenheimer departs. It's now looking highly likely that Schottenheimer will be back.
The Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars might not be the only NFL teams considering Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for head coaching vacancies.

Seattle's division rivals from Arizona could also consider him, according to Ian Rapoport of

Bevell enjoyed success with an older quarterback in Minnesota (Brett Favre) and with a young one in Seattle (Russell Wilson). The Seahawks tailored their offense to Wilson's strengths and ranked second to New England in touchdowns from Week 10 through the end of the regular season.

Losing Bevell would send Seattle into the market for a coordinator.

My NFC West orientation made me wonder whether former Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt would make sense as a coordinator in Seattle should Bevell find work elsewhere.

Whisenhunt appears likely to get another head coaching chance at some point in the future, in my view. Spending a couple seasons working with someone as promising as Wilson would only seem to enhance his chances. Whisenhunt was a player with the New York Jets when Carroll was their defensive coordinator in the early 1990s.

I don't know whether either party would have interest or if the fit would be right. It was just something that came to mind.

Seahawks assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable is heavily involved in the offensive planning for Seattle, particularly when it comes to the running game. Bevell is more involved in the passing game. Any replacement for Bevell would presumably carry a similar profile.

The Seahawks will want to stick with their zone blocking scheme. They will presumably be looking to build upon the success they enjoyed this season, not convert to a new playbook. That could affect the fit for candidates, particularly higher-profile ones.

Of course, Bevell remains the coordinator until further notice.

Bevell is from Arizona. His father was a longtime high school football coach there.

Around the NFC West: Coaching updates

January, 15, 2013
A quick look around the NFC West coaching landscape:
  • Arizona: The Cardinals are reportedly planning a second interview with Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy as the team searches for a new head coach. Some speculation points to McCoy preferring San Diego for the presence of quarterback Philip Rivers. That seems logical. However, most of the information regarding the candidates appears anonymously. A small number of people are in position to know the details. Most of those people have something to gain from what information is released and how that information is presented. It's tough to know what McCoy really thinks, but the quarterback situation in Arizona isn't going to excite any candidate.
  • St. Louis: Coach Jeff Fisher is searching for a defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Rob Ryan, most recently defensive coordinator for Dallas, is reportedly the favorite to fill the same role for the Rams. Very little information has filtered out of Rams headquarters on this subject, however.
  • Seattle: Coordinators Darrell Bevell (offense) and Gus Bradley (defense) are getting second interviews with Chicago and Philadelphia, respectively. Bevell and CFL coach Marc Trestman are finalists with the Bears. Another prominent Seahawks assistant, Tom Cable, has not surfaced as a candidate elsewhere. If Bradley left, I suspect he would want to take along defensive line coach Todd Wash. The two coached together with Tampa Bay previously. They played together and coached together at North Dakota State. However, the Seahawks would have to let Wash out of his contract. Dan Quinn, the Seahawks' former defensive line coach, would be a logical candidate to replace Bradley in Seattle if Bradley did get the Philadelphia job. Quinn is the defensive coordinator at Florida.
  • San Francisco: Not much new here. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has been linked informally to Jacksonville based on his past association with Jaguars general manager David Caldwell. Niners director of player personnel Tom Gamble interviewed with the New York Jets.

101ESPN St. Louis audio: Miklasz Show

January, 10, 2013
Bernie Miklasz and I couldn't shut up during our latest conversation on 101ESPN St. Louis.

No surprise there.

We wound up adding a second segment to continue discussing Seattle's victory over Washington in the wild-card round and the upcoming matchups involving the Seahawks (at Atlanta) and San Francisco 49ers (vs. Green Bay).

Here's the audio , and here are some of the subjects we discussed:
  • Why an offensive-minded head coach makes sense for Arizona
  • Perspective on Chris Clemons' season-ending injury
  • Robert Griffin III's injury and St. Louis' trade with Washington
  • Why the Green Bay-San Francisco game is tough to handicap

While I've got you here, I'll pass along a chart I had intended to run separately. Seattle has had some troubles against the blitz recently, taking eight sacks over its past two games when opponents rushed five or more defenders. This chart shows how quarterbacks have fared against the Falcons' added pressure on third down this season. I filtered for third down after Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Atlanta generally saved its pressure tactics for third down.

We're talking about relatively few plays per game, but some of the numbers are interesting. So is this one: Seattle allowed a league-low 27.0 NFL passer rating and collected nine sacks, tied for fourth-most in the NFL, when sending five-plus pass-rushers on third down. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan ranks 14th in passer rating (84.8) and 19th in Total QBR (37.0) in these situations. I wonder if we'll see more pressure tactics from Seattle as the team plays minus Clemons, its top pass-rusher.