NFC West: Dave Zastudil

A lot has been made of the devaluation of running backs throughout the league.

The premium on running backs is dropped because more teams are running spread offenses and the passing game is taking a priority over the run game. Of the 19 free-agent running backs who have signed since March 11, only one has a deal that's worth an average annual value of at least $3.5 million.

The devaluation of running backs isn't new in 2014. During the first round of last year's NFL draft, not a single running back was chosen. And neither of ESPN NFL draft insiders, Mel Kiper Insider nor Todd McShay Insider, have a running back going in the first round of their latest mock drafts.

It's gotten to the point that in some cases, punters are earning more than running backs. This tweet by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, shows difference in the guaranteed money between the top kicker, punter and running back contracts signed this offseason.

 

The Arizona Cardinals are among the teams who are paying their punter more than most or all of their running backs.

Dave Zastudil signed a two-year contract in January and will earn $1.5 million in 2014. The Cardinals' highest-paid running back? Ryan Williams. He'll make $1.05 million next season, a year after not being active for any of Arizona's 16 games. The Cardinals' top two returning running backs, Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor, will each make $495,000 next season. Recently acquired running back Jonathan Dwyer is scheduled to earn $795,000 in 2014.

At $1.02 million, kicker Jay Feely will make more than every running back except Williams.

The NFL is in the midst of another paradigm shift. It could be a fad or it could be here to stay. Good running backs will get paid but the rest will enter a league that devalues them for years to come.

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 9
Preseason Power Ranking: 26

Biggest surprise: No one expected Arizona to struggle like it did throughout the first half of the season because an offensive mastermind, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, was in charge. Likewise, nobody expected the Cardinals to go on a tear through the final nine, going 7-2 to finish 10-6. A 10-win season for the Cardinals isn't to be ignored. They're tough to come by, but Arians was able to accomplish it in his first season, which nobody expected. He proved himself as a head coach at 61 and showed how great his offense is when a team can learn and execute it.

Biggest disappointment: Arians was dead set on riding running back Rashard Mendenhall this season with rookie Andre Ellington as his backup. And while Mendenhall was serviceable, it wasn't a successful move. Mendenhall finished with 687 yards on 217 carries, an average of 3.2 yards per carry -- just 35 more than Ellington on 99 more carries. Partially to blame for Mendenhall underachieving was a turf-toe injury that limited him for most of the season, but when he was healthy, he showed his true speed in only two games. Other than that, he struggled to break through the line as often as the Cardinals needed him to. He's not the future for Arizona at running back. That belongs to Ellington.

Biggest need: Everyone thinks the most obvious need is a left tackle, but with how the offensive line played during the last eight games, it may be the least of the Cardinals' worries. Arizona needs a big, fast safety who can defend tight ends. The 29 tight ends who faced the Cardinals this season accounted for 1,247 yards and 17 touchdowns on 98 receptions. The yards accounted for 30.7 percent of the total by opposing receivers and the 98 receptions were 26.7 percent of the catches made by opponents. But the most telling stat, and the difference between wins and losses, are the 17 touchdowns by opposing tight ends, which are 58.6 percent of the 29 total allowed by the Cardinals' secondary.

Team MVP: There were a handful of Cardinals who had good seasons on both sides of the ball, but there was one who really kept the pulse of the team alive. Veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby was shunned by Miami and took a huge pay cut to come to Arizona, and he proved to everyone in the league that, at age 32, he still had it. He was second in the NFL with 114 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks -- his most since his eight in 2006 -- and a career-high four interceptions. But his ability to impact a top-six defense near the line of scrimmage, sideline-to-sideline and then dropping back in coverage made him the most important player on the team.

TEMPE, Ariz. – Dave Zastudil may not have the best leg or the longest kicks in the NFL, but when it comes to helping his team flip the field, there are few punters as good.

In the Arizona Cardinals' game Sunday against St. Louis, Zastudil landed three of his four punts inside the 20-yard line, including one that was downed at the 1. The fourth punt was initially thought to be downed at the 1 as well, but it was ruled a touchback.

Zastudil
Thanks to Zastudil, Arizona’s opponents have started a league-high 33 drives inside the 20 after punts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And that’s not good news for opponents. The Cards have the best defense in the league against drives that started inside the 20 off punts, allowing .55 points on those drives, fourth-best in the NFL.

On average, Zastudil's punts inside the 20 have pinned opponents at their own 10-yard line and Arizona has not allowed a first down or touchdown on 51.5 percent of those drives. Thanks to Zastudil, Arizona’s defense is working with a large field and has been able to quash offenses quickly, with opponents having to punt 60.6 percent of the time.

The defense should be showering Zastudil with gifts the way quarterbacks do with their offensive linemen.

But this isn’t an anomaly.

Last season, Zastudil set the NFL record for punts inside the 20 with 46. After Sunday, he’s tied for the league lead in that category with 31, alongside Kansas City’s Dustin Colquitt. Yet, in the NFL’s annual popularity contest, Zastudil’s achievements seem to be forgotten.

In the most recent update on fan voting for the Pro Bowl, Zastudil wasn’t in the top 10 despite being among the 10 best in net punting average. However, he’s not completely being ignored: ESPN Stats & Info named him an honorable-mention punter this week for his performance against the Rams.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Four yards isn't much in football.

It's a dump pass to the running back, a bootleg by the quarterback, a slant out of the slot. Twenty-four running backs are averaging at least that this season.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
AP Photo/Ben MargotCorey Lemonier's sack of Carson Palmer for a safety was just the first consequence of a delay of game penalty one play earlier.
But then again, four yards is a lot.

Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, four measly yards changed the course of the Arizona Cardinals' fate. Four yards turned into two points, which turned into an insurmountable deficit.

The Cardinals found out how one small play, one penalty early in a game can hold an unrelenting grip on them for an entire contest.

The penalty

Arizona's drive with just more than 11 minutes in the second quarter began with the Cardinals holding a 7-6 lead and quarterback Carson Palmer a yard deep in his own end zone. Two quick runs gave the Cards a little breathing room at their 8. It was time to throw the ball. But on third-and-3, Palmer took a little too long adjusting the formation, calling receiver Andre Roberts into a quick motion. That extra step is what cost the Cards.

Palmer snapped the ball a second after the play clock hit :00. Back judge Scott Helverson threw the flag. Referee Scott Green announced the penalty, marking the ball back half the distance to the goal line.

Third-and-3 turned into third-and-7 from the Arizona 4.

The play

Niners rookie linebacker Corey Lemonier lined up two yards back from the line of scrimmage and about a yard to the outside of left tackle Bradley Sowell. Palmer, again a yard deep in his end zone, this time in the shotgun, dropped back to pass. After three steps, Lemonier had blown by Sowell and brought Palmer down.

Safety.

The Cardinals trailed 8-7.

The result

On the ensuing free kick, Arizona punter Dave Zastudil gave the Cardinals' defense the type of room it likes to work with. San Francisco started its drive on its own 29 but on the Niners' second play, quarterback Colin Kaepernick hit tight end Vernon Davis for a 61-yard touchdown.

So what could've been anything from a long touchdown drive to a three-and-out that would've allowed Zastudil to dictate field position turned into a nine-point swing in 45 seconds.

49ers 15, Cardinals 7.

The comeback attempt

For the rest of the game, the Cardinals played catch-up, trying to overcome both big deficits -- eight points -- and small -- one and two. All because of the safety sack, which happened because of the penalty.

Arizona pulled within 15-14 right after the 49ers scored. But San Francisco had an answer, responding with another touchdown at the two-minute warning to hold a 22-14 lead going into halftime.

Every decision by coach Bruce Arians was dictated by that penalty from the moment Lemonier sacked Palmer.

The decision

The Cardinals' first drive of the third quarter was a combination of runs and passes that ate yards and clock. It was capped with a 10-yard touchdown on a corner route by wide receiver Michael Floyd, whom Palmer hit with a beautiful pass off his heels.

San Francisco 22, Arizona 20.

But instead of sending kicker Jay Feely out for the extra point, Arians opted to go for two. Actually, he didn't just decide to go for the two-point conversion, he opted for a trick play on top of it. Palmer tossed to cornerback Patrick Peterson, who circled back toward the sideline he started on. If Peterson had thrown it early, he had Larry Fitzgerald wide open. But Peterson held it too long and everyone was covered. After the game, the Niners said they prepared for the play. Arians said game flow dictated the decision to go for two.

The conversion failed. Arizona still trailed 22-20 with 8:17 left in the third quarter.

The effect

The significance of this play could be seen immediately, but it was magnified later in the game when the Niners went up by nine, a two-possession game. If the Cardinals had kicked the extra point, that would've been a one-possession game, and the pressure wouldn't have been as great to play catch-up. Instead of chasing touchdowns, Arizona could've played for field goals.

No penalty means no safety. No penalty means the Cardinals could've held on to a lead during a drive that could've ended with them ahead 14-6, and the whole game changes. No penalty means the Cardinals don't need to go for two. No safety means the Cardinals could run the ball late and avoid costly fumbles.

No penalty means the Cardinals could win in San Francisco.

All because of four yards.
TEMPE, Ariz. – Dave Zastudil is just doing what he’s always done.

Bethel
But whether it’s a booming punt downed inside the 20 or a strategic dart to the sideline, the Arizona Cardinals punter knows he has a little extra help this season.

Second-year defensive back Justin Bethel has established himself as one of the premier gunners in the league, and he has the stats the back it up. He’s leading a special-teams unit that’s No. 1 in the NFL in punt-return average, allowing just .8 yards per return. Yes, less than one yard per return. And that's thanks in large part to Bethel, who's consistently about five yards ahead of the defender -- when he's not double-teamed and forced out of bounds.

“Whether it’s putting the ball where it’s supposed to be or having good hang time or pin it inside the 20, it’s just nice knowing you have a guy out there who really is a special special-teams player,” Zastudil said. “I know there’s times where I’m going to mis-hit a ball, and I know there’s guys like him -- and other guys on our team, too, but especially guys like him -- who can actually, if you mis-hit a ball, he can go down there and it’s not a big deal.”

Zastudil has been one of the most consistent punters in the league recently. He set an NFL record with 46 punts downed inside the 20-yard line last season. But even the steadiest of legs can use a guy like Bethel, who blocked a field-goal attempt Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

“He understands I have a job to do,” Zastudil said. “He understands that if I put the ball where he is or hang it up a little bit longer, it benefits him.

“I understand that if I just put it somewhat near where I’m supposed to, he’s going to make the play.”

Everyone else is realizing that, too.

Teams are beginning to double-team Bethel on punts, forcing him out of bounds on the gun. But it hasn’t stopped the 2012 sixth-round draft pick out of Presbyterian. Last week, the Lions tried those tactics and he still made the tackle.

“I think his reputation is starting to have a resume to go with it,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “With a second-year player, sometimes they say he’s a one-hit wonder. But no, I think this kid is special.

“I don’t think they can do much more than double-team him.”
TEMPE, Ariz. – Here’s a look at a few notes from the day after the Arizona Cardinals' 25-21 win over the Detroit Lions.
  • The Cardinals are allowing 58.0 rushing yards per game, third-best in the NFL and No. 1 in the NFC.
  • Cornerback Patrick Peterson became the first defender to catch and complete a pass since at least the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
  • Since 2008, the Cardinals lead the NFL with 15 blocked field goals and 17 blocked kicks.
  • Quarterback Carson Palmer surpassed 30,000 career passing yards in Sunday’s game, becoming the seventh active quarterback and 36th in history to reach that plateau. He has 30,040 heading into Week 3 at New Orleans. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is up next, with 32,339.
  • Sunday was Palmer’s 14th career fourth-quarter comeback.
  • Following a punt by the Cardinals’ Dave Zastudil, the Lions' average starting position was their own 10-yard line.
  • The Cardinals have 49 first downs through two games, tied with the Giants for third in the NFL. Last season, the Cards averaged 15.4 first downs per game.
  • Rashard Mendenhall's 66 rushing yards and 28 receiving yards on Sunday marked the eighth time in his career that he totaled at least 65 rushing and 25 passing. His teams are 7-1 in those instances.

Quick hits from Bruce Arians' presser

September, 16, 2013
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Cardinals coach Bruce Arians enjoyed his first win as a head coach, a 25-21 victory over the Detroit Lions, in part because of the play of Arizona’s special teams.

“We played the way that we’re more than capable of playing every week,” Arians said. “I thought our special teams dominated that week, especially in field position.”

Here are a few notes from his Monday news conference:
  • Arians thought the defense played “unbelievable” in the second half.
  • He saw “great growth” out of the offense after Carson Palmer's interception.
  • A few Cards were dinged up but Arians won’t know how seriously until Wednesday.
  • Arians was asked if the Cardinals are over thinking third downs. His response: “They’re not thinking enough.”
  • Attention to detail is an issue for this offense. There are no little things, Arians said. Everything is a big thing.
  • Arians on defensive back/gunner Justin Bethel: “His reputation has a résumé to go with it.”
  • Arians said injuries will dictate roster turnover at wide receiver.
  • The Cardinals will spend the week in between the Saints’ and Buccaneers’ game in Sarasota, Fla., and will train at IMG.
  • Game balls were handed out to receiver Kerry Taylor, kicker Jay Feely, punter Dave Zastudil, Bethel, defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback Patrick Peterson and quarterback Carson Palmer.
  • Arians received his own game ball from Cardinals president Michael Bidwill and GM Steve Keim.
The rookie wage scale and overall salary structure should increasingly make the NFL a young man's game, all else equal.

Youth will be served during rookie minicamps beginning Friday, for sure.

With that in mind, I've gone through NFC West rosters singling out for special recognition players age 30 and older (or turning 30 before regular-season openers). There are 29 such players in the division by my count, including longtime NFC West stars Frank Gore (turns 30 next week) and Larry Fitzgerald (turns 30 in August). Twenty of them play for the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.

A team-by-team look at NFC West elders, with ages rounded to the tenth of a year:
The chart provides a team and positional look at these players. I'm expecting the Rams to have the youngest roster in the NFL this season.

Update: Add Karlos Dansby to the list for the Cardinals. The 31-year-old linebacker has agreed to terms with Arizona, the team announced.

PHOENIX -- The Seattle Seahawks and especially the San Francisco 49ers added to their 2013 NFL draft hauls Monday when the NFL awarded compensatory selections to offset net losses in free agency last year.

The 49ers received the 131st overall pick, a fourth-rounder, plus the 246th and 252nd choices, both in the seventh round. The Seahawks received the 241st and 242nd overall choices, also in the seventh round.

Teams cannot trade compensatory picks.

"Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks," the NFL announced. "Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula."

The 49ers received compensatory choices because free-agent losses Blake Costanzo, Josh Morgan and Madieu Williams outweighed free-agent addition Mario Manningham according to the formula. The Seahawks received picks because free-agent losses Atari Bigby, John Carlson, David Hawthorne and Charlie Whitehurst outweighed free-agent additions Matt Flynn and Jason Jones. Update: The NFL clarified that Adam Snyder, who signed with Arizona from San Francisco, factored into the equation awarding the 49ers three comp picks.

I've put together lists below showing all unrestricted free agents added, lost and re-signed by NFC West teams last offseason.

Update: I've also made available for download an Excel file with tentative 2013 draft order, reflecting comp picks and known trades. This is unofficial. The league has not yet released the official order; additional trades could affect it.

The 49ers have a league-high 14 picks, including two picks in each of the second through fifth rounds. They're in prime position to stock their roster for the future.

By my accounting, the Cardinals hold the 7th, 38th, 69th, 103rd, 140th, 174th and 176th picks. The 49ers hold the 31st, 34th, 61st, 74th, 93rd, 128th, 131st, 157th, 164th, 180th, 227th, 237th, 246th and 252nd choices. The Seahawks hold the 56th, 87th, 123rd, 138th, 158th, 194th, 220th, 231st, 241st and 242nd choices. The Rams hold the 16th, 22nd, 46th, 78th, 113th, 149th, 184th and 222nd picks.

Update: The Seahawks sent the 214th choice, acquired from Buffalo in the Tarvaris Jackson trade, to Minnesota as part of the Percy Harvin trade.

Arizona Cardinals

Re-signed: D'Anthony Batiste, Mike Leach, Early Doucet, Jay Feely, Dave Zastudil
Added: Adam Snyder, William Gay, James Sanders, Quentin Groves
Lost: Richard Marshall, Sean Considine, Deuce Lutui

San Francisco 49ers

Re-signed: Tavares Gooden, Carlos Rogers, Alex Smith, Ted Ginn Jr.
Added: Mario Manningham, Rock Cartwright, Josh Johnson
Lost: Josh Morgan, Adam Snyder, Blake Costanzo, Reggie Smith, Madieu Williams, Chilo Rachal

Seattle Seahawks

Re-signed: Heath Farwell, Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan, Michael Robinson, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy
Added: Matt Flynn, Jason Jones, Deuce Lutui, Barrett Ruud
Lost: John Carlson, Atari Bigby, Charlie Whitehurst, Tony Hargrove, David Hawthorne

St. Louis Rams

Re-signed: Kellen Clemens
Added: Cortland Finnegan, Kendall Langford, Scott Wells, Quinn Ojinnaka, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Mario Haggan, Barry Richardson
Lost: Brandon Lloyd, Chris Chamberlain, Donnie Jones, Jacob Bell, Bryan Kehl, Gary Gibson

NFC West links: Cards' James suspended

February, 14, 2013
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Arizona Cardinals

Cardinals running back Javarris James has been suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season for violating the NFL's policy and program for substance abuse, a league spokesman told NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.

Say cheese, Bruce Arians. The Cardinals' new coach takes his official headshot.

Two Cardinals -- Calais Campbell and Dave Zastudil -- make the cut for USA TODAY Sports' 21st annual All-Joe team.

San Francisco 49ers

Which team is more popular in the San Francisco area -- 49ers or Giants? Ann Killion discovers there's a passionate group of fans who feel strongly about their Niners.

“I’m not just a pass-rusher, I’m an all-around player. What I’m trying to do is establish myself as one the best players, not just the best pass-rusher,” said Aldon Smith, who told 49ers.com's Alex Espinoza that he expects bigger and better things for San Francisco in 2013.

Tom Gamble, the 49ers' director of player personnel, accepted a similar position Wednesday with the Philadelphia Eagles, and the San Francisco Chronicle's Eric Branch says the timing of Gamble's departure isn't ideal for the Niners.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks have hired Travis Jones as the team's new defensive line coach.

Monte Kiffin knows an aggressive secondary when he sees one, and the new Cowboys defensive coordinator plans to use Seattle's defensive scheme as a teaching tool in Dallas. On the offensive side, the Tennessee Titans will examine Seattle's offense for ideas to help out quarterback Jake Locker on zone reads.

St. Louis Rams

At age 41, Tim Walton is on the fast track, but the Rams' new defensive coordinator is not an overnight sensation, says Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Columnist Jeff Gordon says Walton is an "excellent fit" for coach Jeff Fisher's team.
Just wanted to pass along a quick note from Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information: The San Francisco 49ers' Andy Lee recently edged the Arizona Cardinals' Dave Zastudil for the NFL's 2012 punter of the year in voting by ESPN writers, researchers and data analysts.

I listed Lee first and Zastudil second on my ballot. Seattle's Jon Ryan finished fifth. New Orleans' Thomas Morstead was third. Kansas City's Dustin Colquitt was fourth.

Punters are a bit like home-field advantages. They're not going to make a bad team win games, but they can put a good team over the top in close ones.

Here's what Simon had to say about the punters and the voting process:

"Lee edged out Zastudil in an extremely close vote. Lee edged out Morstead for the NFL’s net average crown (43.2 yards). Lee finished with 36 punts inside the 20 and four touchbacks. His 9-to-1 ratio of inside-the-20 punts to touchbacks ranked tied for fourth-best in NFL. His 36 punts inside the 20 ranked third. Lee had the second-highest percentage of punts inside the 20 (53.7 percent). He was also a two-time winner of "Punter of the Week" honors this season.



"Zastudil led the NFL in punts with 112, 21 more than the player who finished second. He set NFL single-season records for total punt yardage and number of punts inside the 20. Zastudil also fared well by the advanced metrics kept by ESPN's analytics team. His average punt added 1.4 percent to the Cardinals' chances of winning, which was an NFL best, as was his average expected points added per punt (0.33).

"Lee received seven of a possible 15 first-place votes and was named on 15 of the 20 ballots. Five points were awarded for a first-place vote. Three points were given for a second-place vote. Zastudil received five first-place votes and five second-place votes. Lee won our points voting by four points (44-40). Morstead finished with 17 points, Colquitt 14, and Ryan 5."


Congrats to all the nominees. Punters don't get a ton of attention. We've got some good ones here in the NFC West.

Silver linings: Cardinals vs. Bears

December, 27, 2012
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The facts: The Arizona Cardinals fell to 5-10 with a 28-13 home defeat to the Chicago Bears in Week 16.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • The Cardinals held Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to one completed pass in his first 11 attempts.
  • Arizona held Chicago to 23 percent conversions on third down, the second-lowest rate for a Cardinals opponent this season (Minnesota 10 percent).
  • Chicago became the fifth Cardinals opponent this season to gain fewer than 300 yards against Arizona.
  • The Cardinals held Cutler beneath 50 percent completions. Fellow NFC North quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers (46.7), Matthew Stafford (48.0) and Christian Ponder (47.1) also failed to complete half their passes against Arizona.
  • Larry Fitzgerald topped 100 yards receiving for the 34th time in his career and the second time in two games against the Bears.
  • Punter Dave Zastudil set an NFL single-season record for punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
  • Defensive back Justin Bethel returned a blocked field goal try 82 yards for a touchdown.
Looking ahead: The Cardinals finish the season at San Francisco in Week 17.

Wrap-up: Bears 28, Cardinals 13

December, 23, 2012
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Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 28-13 home defeat to the Chicago Bears in Week 16:

What it means: The Cardinals fell to 5-10, moving closer to a second 5-11 finish in three seasons. Arizona again showed its ability to play strong pass defense, but there is now even less hope that any of the quarterbacks on the 53-man roster will factor in a meaningful way next season. Week 1 starter John Skelton was named inactive behind rookie sixth-round pick Ryan Lindley, who was benched during this game, and waiver-wire pickup Brian Hoyer.

What I liked: Punter Dave Zastudil broke the NFL record for punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line. ... The Cardinals held Bears quarterback Jay Cutler to one completed pass in his first 11 attempts. ... Larry Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 111 yards, by far his best statistical performance in more than two months. ... Calais Campbell had a sack and a pass defensed. ... Adrian Wilson blocked a field goal try, setting up Justin Bethel's 82-yard return touchdown.

What I didn't like: Lindley averaged 4.7 yards per attempt with zero touchdowns and an interception before getting the hook. He has now played six games, started four and attempted 171 passes this season without a touchdown. Lindley also has seven interceptions.

With Hoyer appearing likely to start in Week 17, Lindley is on track to finish the season with 80 more pass attempts than any touchdown-less quarterback since at least 2001. The chart lists all players since 2001 with more than 50 pass attempts over a full season and no touchdowns. Lindley and Pittsburgh's Byron Leftwich still have time to remove themselves from the list.

The Cardinals' defense collected only one sack and allowed plays of 36, 35 and 30 yards. It's tough to fault any defense getting zero support from the other side of the ball, but if the Cardinals were going to win this game, they needed a nearly perfect game from their defense. That's too much to ask of any unit.

Beanie Wells fumbled and finished the game with four carries for 3 yards. LaRod Stephens-Howling had 11 carries for 20 yards. He and Wells had zero carries longer than 4 yards. The team's longest run covered 7 yards.

What's next: The Cardinals close the regular season at San Francisco.

Around the NFC West: Lee gets the nod

December, 20, 2012
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Few things get the blood pumping around here quite like a good punter discussion.

Gratuitous punting references obviously drive traffic all around the web. Here in the NFC West, we just happen to be blessed with multiple outstanding punters. I've tried to handle the excess responsibly, but it's just tough not to sensationalize given the subject matter.



I mean, who doesn't get excited about a solid net average? What kid doesn't dream about pinning his opponent inside the 5?

This past week, Andy Lee's 54-yard net average for the San Francisco 49ers was the highest all season in the NFL for any player with four or more punts. That was one reason Mark Simon, ESPN's professor of punting, chose Lee as his punter of the week.

"Lee had three key fourth-quarter punts that netted an average of 55 yards, including a 59-yarder with 3:09 remaining," Simon said. "Lee fared well via advanced metrics as well. He had the second-best expected points added per punt among those with multiple punts. He ranks third in the NFL in punts inside the 20 and second in net average."

Lee was also Simon's choice for punter of the week against Seattle in Week 7 even though some in the punting community thought Arizona's Dave Zastudil might have made a better choice with all five of his punts downed inside the Minnesota 15-yard line that week.

Zastudil, Simon's top punter for Week 4, would have been a worthy choice this week as well.

"After placing a franchise-record six punts inside the 20-yard line in Arizona’s 38-10 win over the Detroit Lions, Zastudil needs to drop just five more inside the opponents’ red zone to have the most by any punter in a single season," Bob McManaman writes in the Arizona Republic. "The record for punts placed inside the 20 is 42 and it’s shared by three punters, including the Cardinals’ Ben Graham in 2009. Andy Lee of the 49ers also did it (2007), as did Steve Weatherford of the Jets (2010)."

Seattle's Jon Ryan has won Simon's award multiple times this season. St. Louis' Johnny Hekker is a one-time winner.

Silver linings: Cardinals at Seahawks

December, 10, 2012
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The facts: The Arizona Cardinals fell to 4-9 with a 58-0 road defeat to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • The Cardinals took three or fewer sacks for the fifth week in a row, another sign that young tackles Nate Potter and Bobby Massie are improving. Arizona has allowed 12 sacks in its last five games, down from 25 over the previous five.
  • Arizona finished the game with a higher third-down conversion rate than the Seahawks posted.
  • The Cardinals' completion percentage was up more than 16 points from the previous week.
  • Patrick Peterson intercepted a pass for the third week in a row. He has six picks this season.
  • Arizona allowed one or fewer passing touchdown for the ninth time in 13 games. This was also the ninth time Arizona held an opponent to less than 55 percent completions.
  • Punter Dave Zastudil had a 40.2-yard net average.
  • LaRod Stephens-Howling had a 38-yard kickoff return.
  • Quentin Groves had a sack, two quarterback hits and a tackle for loss.
  • Andre Roberts had a 24-yard reception.
  • Arizona moved up from ninth to eighth in projected 2012 NFL draft order.
Looking ahead: The Cardinals are home against Detroit in Week 15.

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