NFC West: Dave Krieg

Four Arizona Cardinals quarterbacks have started 16 games in a season since the team moved from St. Louis for the 1988 season.

Jake Plummer did it three times. Kurt Warner (2008), Dave Krieg (1995) and Timm Rosenbach (1900) did it once apiece.

It's pretty clear the Cardinals will need their top two quarterbacks, John Skelton and Kevin Kolb, to start games in 2012. And while coach Ken Whisenhunt has said rookie Ryan Lindley doesn't factor as a potential starter for Week 1, I won't be surprised if Lindley finds his way into the lineup at some point this season. The Cardinals like him.

Lindley, scheduled to start the team's exhibition finale Thursday night, would be the second third-stringer to start for the Cardinals since 2010, when Max Hall made three starts for the team.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says that's not the plan, however. Somers: "The only thing that appears settled at the quarterback position is that Lindley has at least secured the No.3 job over Rich Bartel, who has not played in the past two preseason games. Bartel is likely to play Thursday. Lindley is not a threat to start any time soon. He's completed 51.5 percent of his passes this preseason with two interceptions and no touchdowns. He has looked good at times, however, and the Cardinals are optimistic about his future." Noted: Arizona had three starters in the 2010, 2004 and 2000 seasons, most recently. Only once since 2005 have the Cardinals had one quarterback start more than 11 games in a season. That was in 2008, when Warner led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com updates the team's situation at offensive tackle.

Dan O'Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are searching for their identity. Coach Jeff Fisher: "What we want from this football team is tough and aggressive. To me, that's the only way you should be. You're tough, smart and aggressive. You play through the whistle, you play hard and you go out expecting to win every game, from the start of the season to the end of the season."

Will from RamsHerd.com takes a play-by-play look at Sam Bradford's performance against Dallas in the team's most recent preseason game. He sees negative tendencies born of pressure.

Rich Cimini and Chris Mortensen of ESPN break down the Rams' trade that sent Jason Smith to the Jets for Wayne Hunter: "The Jets had no intention of dealing Hunter, but they received a call from the Rams shortly after demoting him, a source said. Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who held the same position with the Jets from 2006 to 2011, always held Hunter in high regard. On Sunday night, Hunter struggled again in a backup role, surrendering a fourth-quarter sack at left tackle. Behind the Jets' bench, he was verbally abused by unruly fans. Hunter lost his temper and had to be restrained by teammate Vladimir Ducasse, according to a team source. In the previous game, Hunter allowed 2.5 sacks against the New York Giants."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says Hunter could push Barry Richardson for the starting job at right tackle.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers' Vic Fangio called the team's defensive effort against Denver a learning experience. Maiocco on Perrish Cox: "Cox has seemingly surpassed Tramaine Brock on the depth chart, and figures to find a role once the regular season begins. Cox is currently the No. 2 nickel back behind Carlos Rogers and a spare corner."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News offers 49ers notes, including this one: "There was no official update on receiver/returner Ted Ginn, who was sporting an orthopedic boot around his right ankle. Ginn sustained the injury while running a reverse against the Broncos. Coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game that X-rays were negative."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com focuses on opportunistic play from Earl Thomas and the Seahawks' secondary. Farnsworth: "Thomas intercepted a Josh Portis pass that went off wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, added a second pick on a Wilson pass and then made a leaping deflection of a Russell Wilson pass that was intended for wide receiver Ben Obomanu. Thomas’ lead-by-example efforts were infectious, as cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Phillip Adams also had interceptions; and safeties Jeron Johnson and Winston Guy, cornerback Byron Maxwell, linebacker Mike Morgan and Browner broke up passes."

Also from Farnsworth: Wilson's work ethic has deep roots. The quarterback's late father used to wake his son at 5:30 or 6 in the morning to throw pass routes.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says backup Matt Flynn tested a sore elbow during Seahawks practice. Also: "The highlight of the day was a catch by wide receiver Sidney Rice over the middle as he extended to grab a ball thrown by Russell Wilson. He caught the ball with his fingertips, extending so far it really did look like he only got the first two fingers of both hands and his thumbs on the ball, pulling it to his body and tucking into a roll as cornerback Byron Maxwell dove -- futilely -- to try and break up the pass. It was simply remarkable."

More from O'Neil: thoughts on why rookie quarterbacks are getting chances to play.

Bill Swartz of 710ESPN Seattle includes this Terrell Owens-related note from coach Pete Carroll: "Carroll was asked about the release of Owens and emphasized that it had nothing to do with attitude. Carroll said he was a terrific teammate and that he'd be surprised if Owens is not given a shot by another team.
Bob Padecky of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat explains why there's a good chance Michael Crabtree will flourish with the 49ers. Two words: Vernon Davis. Padecky: "Remember two seasons ago when a talented 49er was criticized for being inconsistent and not a team player? Remember how we all moaned that Vernon Davis had such untapped talent that if applied properly, he would become an All-Pro? Last year Davis had the highest average-per-catch of any tight end in the NFL, 16.3 yards. He was the first tight end in 49er history to lead the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns." Padecky also holds up Crabtree's 27-game stats against those for other former 49ers receivers. More here.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sizes up offensive free agents for the 49ers with an eye toward which ones will return. He lists Tony Wragge, Jeff Reed, Troy Smith and Brian Westbrook as players not expected back. What about Barry Sims? Barrows: "The 49ers might decide that this is the year promising Alex Boone, a one-time undrafted free agent who could end up being the steal of the 2009 class, takes over the swing tackle role from Sims. But when choosing between the proven commodity and the intriguing young player, coaches typically side with caution. That's what the 49ers did a year ago when they tapped Sims, a 13-year veteran, to take over at left tackle for injured Joe Staley."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says there are more questions than answers on defense for the 49ers. Maiocco: "The defensive coaching staff is going to be working against the clock to figure all this out -- and determine the best way to improve the 49ers' No. 24 ranking against the pass from a year ago. Do not expect new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to try to make the 49ers' defense something it is not. Would he like to employ a pressure defense like what his longtime associate Dom Capers has done in Green Bay?" If he had the right personnel, sure.

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis offers highlights from the Rams' most recent relief trip to Joplin, Mo. Softli: "Pro scout Ray Agnew and defensive line coach Brendan Daly, along with a few others, went into the heavily impacted area called 'ground zero.' This group was responsible for removing debris from the foundation of homes and dragging the materiel curbside for removal. Other groups contributed in the call or data communication center and others went to help with the sorting of donations, including at a local Catholic church. I was assigned to the group that would head to Misti's Mission, which included Rams owners and 10-15 employees."

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis offers thoughts on Matt Williamson's recently published Top 15 list for NFC West players. Williamson did not include Steven Jackson. He offered this explanation to Balzer via email: "Jackson was actually 16th on my list. I just see him as a declining player who has taken too much of a beating over the years. It happens to every RB and I just think that time has come for Jackson. Adding a quality backup could certainly help his cause though going forward and lessening the stress on his body. But I no longer see big plays from Jackson -- which is often the first thing to go when RBs decline. I also don't see the same burst, elusiveness and acceleration."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com summarizes Jay Feely's interview with ESPN regarding the lockout. Feely, the Cardinals' veteran kicker, suggests a labor agreement isn't as close as advertised. Feely: "I do not think it is as close as some people make it out to be. There are still some issues we have to resolve. I do not think we are going to miss games. I am hopeful that we will not miss games. But there are definitely some steps that need to be taken. Rational thought needs to be the dominant force driving these negotiations." The owners have shown restraint, in my view, by not publicly leveraging the recent appeals-court ruling in their favor. That seems to be a sign that negotiations are serious and there's a good chance for an agreement.

Also from Urban: a look at the Cardinals' running backs.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with Hall of Famer Steve Largent for a look back at the team's 1988 season. A wild road victory over the Raiders in the final week of the regular season delivered an AFC West title to Seattle. Largent: "Dave Krieg just couldn’t miss that day. And we needed everything he had, because the Raiders were scoring just as fast as we were."

Dan Arkush of Pro Football Weekly says the Seahawks are confident Max Unger can take over effectively at center.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers center Eric Heitmann suffered his career-threatening neck injury while competing in the "nutcracker" drills former coach Mike Singletary preferred. Barrows: "Despite the controversy around the drill, Singletary revised what he insisted was a safer version last year. Still, at least two players, linebacker Derek Walker and Heitmann, were injured in it. At the time, the 49ers referred to Heitmann's injury as a 'stinger' -- a nerve injury caused by trauma to the head, neck or shoulder. Shortly thereafter Heitmann suffered a broken leg. He recovered from the fracture but could not shake the neck problems and was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 2. Singletary insisted on the nutcracker because he said it taught players the importance of leverage, and it was iconic drill of the coach's tough-guy approach. In 2009 Singletary said he didn't think the drill would cause injuries because the two players facing off didn't take running starts."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Singletary refused to comment on the nutcracker story. Singletary: "I have no response to that. I don't really know what Eric's prior situation was, so I'm not going to respond to that." Singletary and the 49ers should have known about "prior situations" regarding injuries. Heitmann had been with the team for years. If he were susceptible to such an injury, why expose him to the obvious heightened risks associated with such drills? A question worth asking if, as Singletary suggests, he did not know Heitmann's prior injury situation.

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers' skill players have shown up in strong numbers for the most recent player-organized workouts.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says Michael Crabtree didn't make time for interviews Thursday. Lynch: "The only mystery surrounding him is how hurt he is. Tight end Vernon Davis, in Crabtree's absence, answered the question saying the foot injury [Crabtree] sustained June 9 in Camp Alex No. 1 is far more than just a case of a sore foot brought on by the pinch of new cleats. However, Davis said he should be ready should training camp start on time."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' offense is tight end-friendly, according to Davis. Davis: "This offense is going to be pretty good for the tight end. We don’t just have one way to go. That’s good. We’ve never had that since I’ve been here." Was Davis alluding to the use of more option routes? That appears to be the case. Davis followed up by saying he'll have the flexibility to run through zones instead of simply settling into them.

Ellen Sherberg of the St. Louis Business Journal updates the business dealings of former Rams tackle Orlando Pace. Sherberg: "Mr. Pace has partnered with GO Marketing LLC, formed by [KFNS radio owner] Dave Greene and James Oelklaus, founders of Grand Slam Sports that includes KFNS among other holdings, to launch TheTicketBlock.com, a new ticket brokerage."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis expects Sam Bradford to take a significant step forward in 2011. Softli: "The NFL lockout is the only thing delaying the progress of this young quarterback with a new offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels. When I looked back at the 2010 Rams season, Bradford set the stage for the immediate future and sent a message to all the NFL that the young gun from St. Louis is for real and won't take any prisoners along the way. It's about winning the division, the NFC conference and eventually lifting the Lombardi Trophy."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says first-round draft choice Patrick Peterson spent about 30 minutes speaking with strength-and-conditioning coach John Lott when teams were allowed contact with players during the draft. That meeting could help explain why Peterson decided to drop about 10 pounds. Urban: "Lott famously tells most players when he first gets them in Arizona they should drop a few pounds. Everyone has done it, from Larry Fitzgerald to Kurt Warner to Beanie Wells (pretty much every incoming rookie gets the speech). Peterson figured to be no different." Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie might be one exception to the drop-a-few-pounds mantra. He didn't have any extra weight to lose.

Cecilia Chan of the Arizona Republic says Glendale is supporting efforts to bring another Super Bowl to University of Phoenix Stadium. Chan: "In return for the prestige of hosting the National Football League game at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale must guarantee services such as public safety and sanitation for free and exempt game-day tickets from sales tax for the NFL. When Glendale hosted its first Super Bowl in 2008, it saw $1.2 million boost in sales-tax revenue. But a city-commissioned study showed it cost the city $2.6 million in services. The City Council on a 5-2 vote Tuesday approved the resolution." Good for business, bad for city budgets?

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says Johnathan Joseph could be an attractive free-agent addition for the Seahawks. Henderson: "Clayton thinks the Seahawks could get Joseph for around $8 million a season, which makes him a much cheaper alternative to Nnamdi Asomugha."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com revisits Steve Largent's final game with the team. An elbow injury suffered on the notorious playing surface in Philadelphia that season left Largent feeling frustrated. Largent: "Dave [Krieg] threw me a post route that I should have been able to catch up to. But I had to dive for that ball. I dove where second base would have been. They had it covered with turf, but there was still a little mound there. I fell and it busted my elbow. That’s what I remember about my last year."
Three of Football Outsiders' 10 most disappointing teams of the last quarter-century call the NFC West home today.

None ranks lower than seventh on the list, which is available to Insider subscribers.

The 2002 St. Louis Rams (second), 1999 San Francisco 49ers (third) and 2006 Seattle Seahawks (seventh) made the cut. The piece details what went wrong for each team, from Kurt Warner's injury problems to Steve Young's career-ending concussion to Steve Hutchinson's departure as a transition player.

Three more teams I'd nominate for consideration:

  • 2010 Arizona Cardinals. Expectations fell off when Warner decided he would rather forfeit millions than return for a shot at a third consecutive NFC West title. At that point, however, few could have imagined how far the Cardinals would fall. They went 5-11 and shuttled through no-name quarterbacks despite facing what should have been a breeze of a schedule.

  • 1990 Los Angeles Rams. They were coming off an 11-5 season in 1989 and an appearance in the NFC Championship Game, only to finish 5-11. The team traded workhorse running back Greg Bell, who had complained about his salary following two highly productive seasons. Bell never did much with the crosstown Raiders, but his prediction that his new team would enjoy a stronger season came true. While the Raiders were on their way to a 12-4 record in 1990, the Rams' five victories were their fewest in a non-strike season since 1965.

  • 1992 Seahawks. This wasn't supposed to be a playoff-caliber team, but neither was it fathomable to think Seattle would score only 140 points all season, down from 276 the previous year. Think the Seahawks could have used Dave Krieg? Krieg left Seattle following the 1991 season, then went 10-6 as a starter for Kansas City in 1992. Krieg had a losing record as a starter only twice in 12 seasons with the Seahawks, and one of those was 0-2 during the 1982 strike year.

Any other seasons qualify for inclusion? The 49ers' 2-14 season under Dennis Erickson was one that came to mind.

The inclusion of the 1999 49ers on the Football Outsiders lists affirms that Young's career-ending concussion should have appeared on the multiple-choice Flash Points ballot, probably at the expense of R.C. Owens' alley-oop reception against Detroit in 1957.
Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle offers highlights from Seahawks general manager John Schneider's recent appearance on the station. Schneider explains why the team didn't select Andy Dalton or another quarterback in the first round, opting instead for tackle James Carpenter. Schneider: "We debated with Andy Dalton, there's no question about it. But I think we all felt like we were at a point in our development where we couldn't pass on a starting tackle right now. Quite honestly, we'd like to have a guy, especially a rookie, be more of a developmental type and a guy more like Aaron Rodgers and sit for a year or two. So that was really the only point in the draft where there was a guy where we were like, 'There he is, that's a very viable option.' Quite honestly, we just had guys throughout the board that just didn't make sense as we went down comparing them to other positions." This is getting humorous. Schneider keeps having to address whether Seattle erred in selecting a tackle (Carpenter) instead of a quarterback (Dalton) with the 25th pick, the implication being that Carpenter might have been available five or 10 spots later in the draft. While Carpenter may or may not have been available later, Dalton definitely would have been available later. He was the 35th player chosen.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com looks back at the team's 1983 season, specifically its upset playoff victory over the Miami Dolphins at the Orange Bowl. Farnsworth: "Trailing 20-17 in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks rallied for 10 points in the final two minutes to pull out a 27-20 upset. Dave Krieg passed for 16 yards to Steve Largent on a third-and-2 play and then for 40 yards to the Dolphins’ 2 -- Largent’s only catches in the game -- to set up a scoring run by Curt Warner. Sam Merriman recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and it led to a 37-yard field goal by Norm Johnson."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic dismisses thoughts that the Cardinals might already have an informal deal to acquire quarterback Kevin Kolb from the Eagles. Somers: "I'd be surprised. Owner Bill Bidwill has always been a stickler for following NFL rules, and such a deal likely would be in violation in some way. Plus, any team trading for Kolb should be smart enough to have assurance they can re-sign him to a long-term deal. That's an awful lot of ground to cover in these uncertain times."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com revisits Bidwill's relationship with former Packers coach Vince Lombardi amid news that the play bearing the coach's name will run through May 22. Bidwill: "I was anxious to see the show because I knew Coach Lombardi well and obviously had great respect for him. When you're so familiar with the subject and characters, you wonder how the play would hold up to your personal experience. It did not disappoint. The actors were outstanding, particularly [Judith Light] who played Vince's wife, Marie. She nailed it."

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with colleagues for thoughts on the Rams' situation at receiver. Bernie Miklasz on which incumbent receivers could have trouble sticking around: "The list begins with Laurent Robinson. He's injury prone, unproductive and a likely free agent. Bad combo, there. Mardy Gilyard is in trouble. He struggled to learn last year's offense and wasn't exactly a stickler for details when he did play. New offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is installing a new and more complex offense, and because of the NFL lockout, Gilyard will have little time to absorb it all. This will be a big problem for him. Brandon Gibson also figures to be on shaky turf."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers could be in the market for a veteran cornerback once free agency begins. The short list of potentially available players at the position includes Nnamdi Asomugha, Ike Taylor, Chris Carr, Drayton Florence, Carlos Rogers, Phillip Buchanon, Fabian Washington and Ellis Hobbs.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says new 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will learn the team's offense from Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, among others, during the lockout. Barrows: "The Nevada quarterback is in the process of moving from Reno to Santa Clara, near the 49ers' headquarters. There he'll be only a 15-minute drive from Luck, a quarterback who knows 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and his offense as well as anyone. Harbaugh coached Luck at Stanford the past three seasons. Kaepernick and Luck met over the summer at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La. They remarked on how similar they were -- tall, mobile, with big right arms -- and became friends who traded text messages throughout the 2010 season. When Harbaugh and the 49ers moved up nine spots last Friday to draft Kaepernick in the second round, he received a call from Luck. More conversations are sure to follow."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat draws parallels between Kaepernick and Harbaugh's first quarterback at the University of San Diego.

Around the NFC West: Nate Davis' move

January, 12, 2011
1/12/11
9:26
AM ET
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says former San Francisco 49ers third-string quarterback Nate Davis plans to sign with the Seahawks. That makes sense after the man most responsible for drafting Davis, Scot McCloughan, left the 49ers for Seattle last offseason. Davis remains a project. McCloughan drafted Davis with the thought that Davis would need a few years of seasoning. Maiocco: "The Seahawks are allowed to sign Davis because he finished the season on the 49ers' practice squad. The 49ers had one week of sole-negotiating rights to sign him to a contract that will begin with the new league year. After that one-week window, practice squad players become "street free agents" and are free to sign with any team."

Also from Maiocco: a look at the 49ers' potential free agents. On Dashon Goldson: "He recorded just one interception and one sack but the coaching staff graded him out a lot higher than his stats would suggest. He's their best safety, and he should be back -- depending on the system in place."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers tight end Vernon Davis would love to catch passes from Donovan McNabb.

Taylor Price of 49ers.com looks at the team's opponents for 2011.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers general manager Trent Baalke realizes the team's future quarterback is not on the roster. Imagine if he had said otherwise.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Stanford's Greg Roman is a candidate to become the 49ers' offensive coordinator under new coach Jim Harbaugh. White: "Roman is a 13-year NFL coaching veteran who joined Stanford after two years in Baltimore with Harbaugh's brother, John. At Stanford, Roman was the running game coordinator in 2009 and the associate head coach this past season, all while leading the tight ends and offensive tackles both years. He was quarterbacks coach to David Carr for two years in Houston and twice worked for former NFL coach Dom Capers."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com has this to say about Seattle's offensive line: "On a team that has been in almost constant transition, this unit has led the way. Ten different starting combinations. Four different starters at left guard. Three each at left tackle and right guard. Only center Chris Spencer has started all 17 games. But, like the rest of the team, the O-line has come together at the most opportunity time. Matt Hasselbeck was sacked only once against the Saints on Saturday. The running game has produced 141 and 149 yards the past two games -- after breaking into triple digits five times in the previous 15 games."

Also from Farnsworth: Brandon Stokley fills a specific role for Seattle.

Rod Mar of seahawks.com offers photos from the Seahawks' victory over the Saints, including candid shots from the locker room.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Hasselbeck's future with the Seahawks remains in question even after a four-touchdown performance against the Saints.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune revisits Seattle's only road playoff victory, a 1983 upset over Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins. Williams: "Starting quarterback Dave Krieg said the team didn’t get into Miami until 4:30 a.m. on Friday; their charter flight was delayed because of a mechanical issue. They got a few hours of sleep and woke up at 9 a.m. for a short Friday walk-through on a sloppy Orange Bowl field, then played at 12:30 p.m. Saturday."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune revisits Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard touchdown run.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky interviewed for the same job with Arizona. Urban: "Manusky went to college at Colgate and then spent more than a decade (1988-99) as a linebacker in the NFL. He was teammates with Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt with the Redskins in 1989 and 1990. As a linebackers coach in San Diego and then his stint in San Francisco, he oversaw Pro Bowlers like Donnie Edwards, Shawne Merriman, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams should be set at offensive tackle for the next decade or so after drafting Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold in recent seasons. Running back Steven Jackson: "They have a bright future. To have the amount of starts they had, to be in some big-time games, especially the last two weeks, you hope that those things help them, not only for their skill but for their confidence, knowing that they can play at a high level in big-time games against some key pass-rushers."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers a chat transcript with thoughts on Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's candidacy as head coach in Cleveland. Shumur, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and Browns president Mike Holmgren share an agent. Thomas: "Of course, Spags is thinking of possible alternatives. The danger from a Rams perspective is if the Browns search drags on, more potential coordinators are taken off the market, and then Shurmur leaves for Cleveland. Remember, Holmgren, Shurmur and Spags all have the same agent so I'm sure Spags is pretty tuned into what's going on in Cleveland. As for bringing in a bright college mind to call plays in the NFL, that's a big leap. And I'm not sure if it works."

Around the NFC West: Cardinals' talent

December, 22, 2010
12/22/10
9:13
AM ET
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt blames missed chances more than weak talent for the team's struggles this season. Those missed chances should not fool the Cardinals into thinking their talent is OK. They're running a 3-4 defense without enough talent at linebacker. They have no starting-caliber quarterback. Some of their best young players -- Beanie Wells, Calais Campbell and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie come to mind -- seemed to regress this season. And as Somers points out, it's difficult to envision Gerald Hayes, Joey Porter, Derek Anderson or Clark Haggans returning next season (although Haggans has been better over the last couple seasons than I would have expected).

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com reports from Darnell Dockett's annual shopping spree for kids. Dockett: "We’re not having the type of season everyone wanted us to have or even that we wanted to have ourselves. But part of being a professional athlete and a professional football player is becoming a man, so that when you get to a certain stage in your life, you have to give back to the community. You don’t coach that, you aren’t taught to give back to people, that’s in your heart."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times explains during a chat why he thinks Matt Hasselbeck remains the Seahawks' starting quarterback. O'Neil: "My opinion? You've got a chance to make the playoffs, that's more important than getting an extended regular-season look at a quarterback that you don't think is as good as the current starter. But I can see the justification for evaluating Whitehurst more. The one thing everyone needs to remember is that Seattle's coaching staff had the whole offseason and training camp to evaluate which quarterback was more capable. The fact Hasselbeck is still the starter speaks to their decision in that regard."

Also from O'Neil: Seattle's current quarterback situation resembles the situation in 1991, when Dave Krieg was in his final year as Seahawks starter. O'Neil: "It's hard to tell which is more difficult, deciding when to cut bait on an established quarterback or finding a suitable heir. That was as true for Seattle in 1991 as it is now."

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times thinks the Seahawks need to take a conservative approach on offense.

John McGrath of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks aren't the only team with uncertainty at backup quarterback. There simply aren't enough quality quarterbacks for every team in the league to have one, let alone two.

John Morgan of Field Gulls presents statistics suggesting Seattle cannot find out anything particularly meaningful about Charlie Whitehurst at this point. Morgan: "Whitehurst could succeed for the rest of the season, and that success would tell us very little about him as a quarterback. The Seahawks brought in Whitehurst to compete, but he hasn't been given the chance, and now the Seahawks are barreling towards week 16 without any future at quarterback and any way to fix that."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shoots down complaints about Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur during his weekly chat. Thomas: "Happy holidays to you. First off, although we all make mistakes and have typos from time to time, your argument would gain credibility if you spelled the offensive coordinator's name correctly. It's Shurmur. Pat Shurmur. Secondly, last time I checked, the Eagles had Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson at wide receiver. Who would you rather have on your team? Those guys or the Rams' wide receiver corps? Thirdly, Shurmur doesn't pass block. And finally, did you ever think for a moment that the overall offensive philosophy is Spagnuolo's? Peach on earth, good will towards men."

Also from Thomas: The Rams seem to be getting worse, not better. Thomas: "The question remains, will Bradford and the offense and defense get some spark back at a time in the season when the Rams need it most? Victories over San Francisco and Seattle to close the regular season would put the Rams in the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and make them NFC West champs for the first time since 2003. A loss Sunday to San Francisco reduces the Rams' postseason chances to long shot status. The young Rams must show they're ready for games of this magnitude. It almost looked like the Kansas City game was too big for them, what with all the penalties, dropped passes, missed opportunities and the inability to make plays at critical points in the game."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers are relatively healthy heading into their game against the Rams. They'll use a three-man rotation at outside linebacker after losing Travis LaBoy to a knee injury that will require 6-8 weeks of recovery time.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Mike Singletary is engaging in gamesmanship by not announcing which quarterback will start for the 49ers against the Rams. Singletary: "It's something that I don't really want to announce right now. You know, in all honesty, in terms of an advantage or whatever, I just think the only real advantage that we could have is to go there and play well. All the other stuff is the cat-and-mouse stuff."

Taylor Price of 49ers.com checks in with running back Anthony Dixon, who is not lacking for energy.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says Troy Smith might be the best choice for the 49ers against the Rams in a game with so much on the line. Kawakami: "It is Troy Smith who is best-equipped to take advantage of St. Louis' weakness in the secondary by throwing deep. In the 23-20 overtime victory against the Rams on Nov. 14, he had eight pass plays go for 23 yards or more. It is Troy Smith who went 3-2 as the interim starter this season -- including victories in London and in Arizona, the only times the 49ers have won away from Candlestick Park. Alex Smith, on the other hand, is 2-7 as a starter this season, 0-5 on the road, and 5-15 in his career on the road."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Alex Smith and Troy Smith were not available in the locker room Tuesday.

Around the NFC West: Arizona blame game

December, 10, 2010
12/10/10
9:54
AM ET
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic casts Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt as a victim of an organization unwilling to shell out a few million for another veteran quarterback, notably Marc Bulger. Bickley: "According to some whispers, the pleading took place over several days. But Whisenhunt simply couldn't convince the hierarchy to purchase another quarterback, no matter how hard he tried. Like other NFL teams, the Cardinals were treading cautiously into an uncapped year, the one leading into a potential lockout. And now they're getting exactly what they paid for." Rams fans will probably chuckle at the idea of Bulger as franchise savior. That the Cardinals would be better off with Bulger under center speaks to their current desperation. The bigger story: We're now starting to hear rumblings suggesting Whisenhunt hasn't been able to secure adequate resources. That angle begs for some elaboration. These are the sorts of stories that trickle out when teams lose and people in power scramble to protect their reputations. We've seen it happen in every NFC West city over the past several seasons.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic sizes up the Cardinals' ground game.

Also from Somers: John Skelton is the favorite to start at quarterback for the Cardinals on Sunday.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Derek Anderson has yet to pass tests clearing him to return from a concussion.

Also from Urban: Rookie nose tackle Dan Williams is making an impact. Darnell Dockett: "He made a lot of plays, real physical at the point of attack. I was real impressed. He was getting off the blocks, staying low, and even facing adversity and what is going on in the season, he kept fighting. I appreciated it, and I told him. I was proud of him."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says during a 49ers chat that he expects a significant franchise shake-up at the end of the season.

Also from Maiocco: a chance to speak with coordinators Mike Johnson and Greg Manusky. Johnson: "Alex Smith is a guy that has tremendous knowledge of everything that we want to do. My job with him is to make sure we provide all of the avenues and parameters that he can play from, have some shots down the field, take those shots when they present themselves, have some quicks that you can go to if they take those things away. Spread them out a little bit more, run the ball, run out of the 22 package. So, we needed to give him all of the avenues in which to operate and then allow him to make those decisions and give us a chance to win the game."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers' run defense sagged after the team lost nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin to a groin injury against Green Bay. Barrows: "Franklin's status for Sunday's critical showdown against Seattle is uncertain. He missed Wednesday's practice but practiced on a limited basis Thursday. He said he thought he'd be able to play against the Seahawks. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was more cautious. He said that Franklin's status might be a game-time decision."

Taylor Price of 49ers.com looks at the "Beast Mode" aspect of the Seahawks-49ers game, the one featuring Marshawn Lynch and Patrick Willis. Willis: "We know they’re going to be prepared, but so are we. Marshawn Lynch is a good running back, but their offense is pretty much the same -- it runs through (Matt) Hasselbeck."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers aren't buying the idea that Seattle thumped them in Week 1. Vernon Davis: "Penalties and mistakes cost us the game. Are we a better team (now)? Yeah, I think we're a better team. I think we were the better team when we first played them."

Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest sizes up Alex Smith. Farrar: "He’s not a noodle-armed guy, but he’s not the Jay Cutler type, either. Cutler and very few others can make those 'hide-your-eyes' throws and still consistently complete passes. Smith must have his mechanics in line to play at a high level, and it’s somewhat distressing from an overall perspective that he doesn’t seem to be there yet."

Also from Farrar: a look at a couple of running plays Seattle dusted off in honor of former tackle Walter Jones.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with Jeff Ulbrich as the 49ers' former linebacker prepares to visit Candlestick Park as the Seahawks' assistant special-teams coach. Ulbrich: "I anticipate it being strange, emotional. It will be strange going into the visiting locker room, for sure. I spent a lot of time there, obviously, so it’s going to be strange. But at the same time it’s going to be nice to get back there and see a lot of old friends."

Also from Farnsworth: Matt Hasselbeck stands one victory shy of Dave Krieg's team record for a quarterback. Vice president of football operations Will Lewis: "First and foremost, what Matt has brought is stability. Once he got into a rhythm and was comfortable in his position, for the most part, he was the leader. Basically, he added stability to your offense and the scheme. It was a scheme he was familiar with, a scheme the coach had run forever. And here was a guy who could put all those things into play, to make the coach comfortable and the player comfortable."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says there's a huge difference between Hasselbeck and 49ers starter Alex Smith. He's right, of course, but the stats are more similar than they should be. Hasselbeck has 10 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 76.9 rating while completing 59.3 percent of his passes this season. Smith has nine touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 75.0 rating while completing 59.1 percent of his passes.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says fullback Michael Robinson helped the Seahawks' ground game against Carolina.

Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle says the Seahawks have changed dramatically since their last game against the 49ers.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Lynch ran over Seahawks coach Pete Carroll during a recent practice.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams head into their game against New Orleans with injury issues in their secondary. The team could be without cornerback Ron Bartell. Thomas: "After Thursday's practice, coach Steve Spagnuolo said Bartell 'doesn't have any strength right now. And certainly you don't want to put somebody out there that doesn't have all his strength, especially on defense, with a shoulder. So, it's not so much pain for him right now, it's just that he doesn't really have his strength.' "

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams can expect plenty of blitzes coming their way when they visit the Superdome. Miklasz: "Sam Bradford will have a chance to make plays. He's been good against the blitz this season, completing 59 percent with six TDs and 1 INT and a passer rating of 86.5 when defenses go after him with extra rushers. But Bradford has completed only 50 percent against the blitz over the last three games, so the protection and his (performance) need to sharpen up."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are getting strong play from cornerback Bradley Fletcher. Coats: "After starting the first eight games this year, Fletcher found himself on the sideline at the start of the Rams' Nov. 14 contest at San Francisco. According to word around Rams Park, the coaches didn't like the way he was practicing, so they replaced him with veteran Kevin Dockery. Burned for receptions of 32 and 65 yards on the 49ers' first two series, Dockery was yanked and Fletcher was reinserted. He's maintained his spot since then."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says rookie Keith Toston is getting reps at running back while Kenneth Darby remains unavailable. Wagoner: "Spagnuolo says he likes that Toston has fresh legs and thinks he’s ready to fill that role should the need arise."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis thinks the Rams will finish 8-8 and atop the NFC West.

Best of the rest: Undrafted stars

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
10:04
AM ET
The Rams haven't always drafted well, as noted, but few teams have un-drafted better.

Former Rams Kurt Warner and Dick "Night Train" Lane took the top two spots in Gil Brandt's ranking of the 75 best undrafted players in NFL history.

The chart breaks out the 12 players on Brandt's list from current NFC West teams (showing only players discovered by those teams; Jim Zorn, for instance, made the list but was initially with Dallas). I've added a comment for each player.

Anyone else deserving?

Around the NFC West: Rams' offense

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
9:43
AM ET
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have agreed to terms with free-agent safety Clinton Hart, formerly of the Chargers. The team needs help at the position after Oshiomogho Atogwe's potentially season-ending shoulder injury.

Also from Thomas: The Rams are on pace to score 185 points, which would be the seventh-lowest figure since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978. Thomas: "Subtract defensive end Leonard Little's TD on an interception return in Jacksonville, and Daniel Fells' TD catch on a fake field goal in Detroit, and the Rams have 12 offensive touchdowns in 12 games. One must go back to the 1944 Cleveland Rams to find the last time a Rams team finished a season scoring fewer than 200 points. Coach Aldo 'Buff' Donelli's squad put up 188 points. But keep in mind, they played only 10 games that season and finished 4-6."

More from Thomas: advice for Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur via a weekly chat. Thomas: "I would try to mix it up. Run more four WR sets. Get Ruvell Martin more involved, particularly in the red zone. Mix in some no huddle for a series or two at random during a game. Run out of spread formation (or passing sets); Pass out of running formation. Try to be unpredictable and keep the defense guessing, while still featuring Jackson. Try more double moves off the short passing game. Use all of the field. Get the tight ends more involved. Try a trick play now and then." The Rams have run quite a bit from three-receiver personnel.

More yet from Thomas: He does not see a legitimate No. 1 receiver on the Rams' roster.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo will not be adopting a spread offense anytime soon. The Rams lack the personnel to scare teams in the passing game. Putting Ruvell Martin on the field isn't going to loosen up defenses and lead to a scoring spree.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with NFL Coaches Association leader Larry Kennan regarding a potential NFL lockout. Somers: "Head coaches aren't exempt, either. Most new coaches, or those who re-signed in the past couple of years, have contract clauses that include pay cuts in the event of a lockout. So although the 2011 season might seem far away to fans, it's not to coaches. Cardinals management recently approached some assistant coaches with offers of two-year contracts, but with a catch. The terms of the 2010 deals, including salaries, were spelled out. Details for the 2011 season were not. In the event of a lockout, would assistants receive full pay? Half? Nothing?" Cardinals strength-and-conditioning coach John Lott remains without a deal for next season.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says a bad back has prevented Brian St. Pierre from making a stronger run at the No. 2 quarterback role in Arizona. Urban: "I have played through considerable pain in my life before but this is every day I am trying to fight through it. It’s better than it was in camp but I’m not taking hits either. I am just more disappointed because I couldn’t put my best foot forward in camp and I don’t know if people realized that. I was caught between a rock and a hard place."

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 has high marks for the Cardinals' offense in Week 13.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the Seattle defense has fared much better against the Rams and 49ers than against the Cardinals and Vikings. Also: "Matt Hasselbeck needs 576 passing yards in the final four games to move past Ring of Honor QB Dave Krieg for the top spot on the franchise’s all-time list. Krieg passed for 26,132 yards from 1980-91. Hasselbeck has 25,557 since joining the Seahawks in 2001."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times isn't convinced the Seahawks have the personnel to seriously consider switching to a 3-4 defense next season.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Nate Burleson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are each on pace to finish with 80 receptions this season. Williams: "They would be the first receiving duo in franchise history to accomplish that feat. And both also have shots to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau for receiving. If they reach that mark, the duo would become the second pair of Seahawks receivers to do so, joining Joey Galloway (1,039 yards) and Brian Blades (1,001) in 1995."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat offers a player-by-player review from the 49ers' defeat at Seattle. A hamstring injury forced strong safety Michael Lewis out of the game on obvious passing downs. On Ahmad Brooks: "Replaced Manny Lawson in nickel situations for about half of the snaps. Put on a nice spin move against left tackle Sean Locklear for first-quarter sack and forced fumble. . . . Nice pursuit of Matt Hasselbeck to stop him for 4 yards on third and 8 in the third quarter . . . He finished with four tackles and two hits on the QB."

Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News says owners of Great America theme park have sued Santa Clara over the city's stadium plans for the 49ers. Mintz: "A spokesman for the 49ers declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying it is a matter between the city and the theme park owner. But the lawsuit could push the 49ers to follow through with a plan to go to the voters through an initiative, a move that would eliminate the need for environmental review and approval before the matter goes on the ballot and could short circuit legal challenges under state environmental laws."

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with 49ers punter Andy Lee, who would rather deal with cold than wind any day. On the conditions Sunday at Qwest Field: "The wind was blowing pretty hard across the field, from right to left, which is the worst wind for me because my ball turns over to the right. It hurts the action of the turnover, and it hurts the drop. Once you got outside that 20, there really wasn't any wind."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider points to dropped passes as a key variable in the 49ers' defeat to Seattle.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Former Seahawks quarterback Dave Krieg discussed Steve McNair's passing with Mitch Levy of Seattle radio station KJR. Audio here. Krieg and McNair played together in Tennessee during the 1997 and 1998 seasons as Krieg finished a 19-year NFL career.

Krieg on McNair: He was a fisherman, hunter, simple lifestyle-type guy. His mom raised him, worked 16 hours a day, so he always respected what she did for him. Kind of quiet, reserved. But when he did say something, similar to Steve Largent, you would listen to him.  

McNair being shot and killed over the weekend stands as one of the more stunning sports-related developments I can recall.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

In light of events elsewhere, I thought about posting one-sentence blog entries clarifying the retirement plans for Steve Young, Joe Montana, Dave Krieg, Jim Zorn, Jake Plummer, Neil Lomax, Jim Everett and every other prominent quarterback with ties to current NFC West teams.

Consider it done. All plan to remain retired, to my knowledge. 

Every NFC West team plays the Vikings this season. We'll have plenty of time to ignore -- er, analyze -- the Favre story line if he does sign with Minnesota.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jeff Chadiha's piece on the smartest and dumbest NFL moves this offseason ranked Kurt Warner's re-signing with Arizona among the most enlightened.

  Warner

No question, the Cardinals had to bring back Warner. Warner's mostly sensational 2008 season commanded a deal that makes him the starter for 2009 and probably 2010. The question I have is whether the Cardinals can realistically expect Warner to continue performing at a similar level at age 38 and 39.

I flash back to early 2006 when the Seahawks felt compelled to reward Shaun Alexander for his MVP season. Letting Alexander walk after that season would have been politically inconceivable, but such a move would have been prescient.

Like Alexander, Warner is nearing the end of the expected shelf life for players at his position. Unlike Alexander, Warner has quite a few ascending young players around him on offense. That should help him. Also, my perception is that quarterbacks generally do not fall off as quickly as running backs once they hit a certain age.

A few quarterbacks over the past 25 or so years have exceeded 3,000 yards passing past age 37. Warren Moon, Brett Favre, Vinny Testaverde, Doug Flutie, Joe Montana and Phil Simms did it. Several others managed the feat at age 37 -- Rich Gannon, Steve Young, John Elway, Dave Krieg, Dan Marino -- for the final time.

I'm reasonably sure Warner can put up impressive numbers for at least one more season. And if I were the Cardinals, I would rather take my chances with Warner than with any of the other options that were available to them. But to assume Warner will remain atop his game for another year or two? Perhaps we shouldn't go quite that far.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jose from Anchorage writes: I wrote before the season started about the Cardinals defense. I speculated that Arizona could have a top ten defense. For the beginning of the year they were living up to my expectations. I know they trailed off a bit in the final weeks but now in the playoffs I think they are finally playing like they should. Before the Philly debacle the only rusher that gained 100 yds on them was Williams from Carolina.

So why is it that a lot of "experts/pundits" are shocked to see the defense playing this way? I mean they were inconsistent but they have a lot of playmakers. There are also tapes and all the games are available to said experts/pundits. As showcased early in the season the Cardinals had a formidable D. So why the deer and the headlights look?

Mike Sando: I think the Cardinals' defense is the huge wild card in this game. The Cardinals' offense and Eagles' defense are commanding much of the attention. If Arizona advances, I expect to be writing about its defense. That group has played very well lately.


PaulieP from Scottsdale writes: Hey Mike! People have started talking about Donovan McNabb as a Hall of Famer because his stats are better than Aikman's (so are Brad Johnson's stats). I submit to you that as he stands now, he is behind a few, not the least of which is a man who has more attempts, more completions, a longer career, but a higher completion percentage, more touchdowns, a higher percentage of touchdowns to attempts, and a higher yard per attempt.

I'm talking of course about Dave Krieg. Take a look at his stats sometime, and I think you'll be surprised. He had a very long career (which should be a good thing), but his percentages are pretty respectable as well. Why doesn't he ever get any talk about being left out? I don't necessarily think he deserves the hall, but he should be in the discussion.

Mike Sando: I'm fully aware of Krieg's stats. He ranked even higher when he retired -- among the top 10 in some all-time categories. He was a three-time Pro Bow quarterback, good but not great. I wouldn't advocate either one for the Hall of Fame at this point.

(Read full post)

QB watch: A telling Cardinals anthology

January, 15, 2009
1/15/09
10:45
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

 
  Getty Images
  Recognize him? Quarterback Tom Tupa started 13 games for the Cardinals, same as Gary Hogeboom and Jeff Blake -- and nearly as many as Matt Leinart.
A recent e-mail conversation with occasional contributor Mike from Phoenix sparked a discussion about some of the more obscure starting quarterbacks in Cardinals history. We joked about putting together an all-NFC Worst team featuring the less distinguised quarterbacks to start games for each franchise in the division.

At the other end, we can safely declare Kurt Warner the best starting quarterback for two of the four NFC West teams -- the Cardinals and Rams -- since those franchises last relocated.

With an assist from information available at Pro Football Reference, I counted 22 starting quarterbacks for the Cardinals in the 21 seasons since the team moved to Arizona for the 1988 season. Only one has started more games for the Cardinals than Warner during that time. A quick recap, in order of most starts:

1. Jake Plummer (82 starts)

2. Warner (42)

3. Josh McCown (22)

4. Steve Beuerlein (21)

5. Timm Rosenbach (20)

6. Chris Chandler (17)

7. Dave Krieg (16)

7. Matt Leinart (16)

9. Neil Lomax (14)

9. Kent Graham (14)

11. Gary Hogeboom (13)

11. Tom Tupa (13)

11. Jeff Blake (13)

14. Jay Schroeder (8)

14. Boomer Esiason (8)

16. Dave Brown (7)

17. Stan Gelbaugh (3)

18. Cliff Stoudt (2)

18. Shaun King (2)

20. Jim McMahon (1)

20. Stoney Case (1)

20. John Navarre (1)

The list affirms, in my view, that Leinart hasn't started enough games for the Cardinals to make an informed decision about his future with the team. The way Warner is going, Leinart might never start enough games to sufficiently inform that decision.

SPONSORED HEADLINES