NFC West: David Baas

Alex Smith AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezLinval Joseph collects one of New York's six sacks of 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.

SAN FRANCISCO -- There was really nothing too outrageous, irrational, absurd or incendiary about the New York Giants’ 26-3 domination of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

Unexpected? For sure. Fluky? Not in how it played out. Personal? You bet.

Fatal for the 49ers? Not likely, for few teams have the talent, coaching and championship mettle to replicate this Candlestick Park crushing. But San Francisco’s most lopsided home defeat since Mike Singletary lost his cool against the Atlanta Falcons in 2009 wasn’t something to shrug off, either. This was a big game, and the 49ers didn't measure up.

"We just have to be mature about the situation, mature about what happened and stay together like we always do," Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis said afterward.

There was nothing particularly mature about the adjectives 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh hurled at Kevin Gilbride in a team statement Friday. Gilbride, the Giants' offensive coordinator, had suggested rather indelicately that 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith “gets away with murder” by holding opponents to enable pass-rushing teammates.

Gilbride was out of line. Harbaugh responded with both barrels.

"Kevin Gilbride's outrageous, irrational statement regarding Justin Smith’s play is, first, an absurd analogy," the statement had read. "Second, it is an incendiary comment targeting one of the truly exemplary players in this league. It's obvious that the Giants coaching staff’s sole purpose is to use their high visibility to both criticize and influence officiating."

For all the scheming that makes football interesting, the game remains about emotion and motivation, too. A Super Bowl champ needs no validation, but the Giants wanted some Sunday. They bristled at suggestions the wrong team had won their NFC Championship Game at Candlestick in January, when the Giants left San Francisco with an overtime victory despite the six sacks Eli Manning took.

“We look at it as if they had something we should have had,” 49ers receiver Kyle Williams had said last week.

The statement from Harbaugh surely got the Giants' attention, too. It was the latest and most extreme example of Harbaugh standing up for one of his players. It was also the sort of thing that sounds a lot better coming off 34-0 and 45-3 victories, as the case was last week, than it sounds following a humbling 23-point defeat at home.

For two seasons, Harbaugh could say what he wanted without consequence because the 49ers' coaches and players usually had the answers on the field. They didn't have the answers Sunday.

The Giants coaxed three interceptions from 49ers quarterback Alex Smith through a plan that appeared to rely more heavily on man coverage, making it tougher for Smith to find his first reads. They also solved the pass-rush twists that had worked so well for San Francisco against the Giants last season.

Those two adjustments underwrote the kind of focused effort championship teams can muster on call. The reigning Super Bowl champion Giants are that kind of team. The 49ers have the potential to become one, but they didn’t know what they were getting into Sunday. None of us did.

Lesson learned?

“I don’t know that I have a lesson learned right at this moment,” Harbaugh said. “I’ll think through it and see if we can’t get it corrected. The Giants played a heckuva ballgame.”

That was no accident.

"One thing that really kind of ticked us off, we felt like they felt we didn't deserve what we got last year," said Giants center David Baas, a former 49er.

What made the Giants think the 49ers thought that way?

"It's all about attitude and how you present yourself," Baas said.

And what does "how you present yourself" mean? The comments from Williams? The statement from Harbaugh?

"You can take it any way you want to," Baas said. "Words, actions, doesn't matter. People use certain things for motivation. I"m not going to elaborate too much on that, but we were very motivated coming into this game."

Motivation can be overrated if channeled improperly.

Baas and the Giants' offensive line focused hard on solving the pass-rush twists Justin Smith and Aldon Smith used so effectively in knocking around Manning during the NFC title game. The six sacks were only part of the story. San Francisco also recorded a dozen quarterback hits. Manning survived as much as he won, with the Giants needing Williams' muffed punt return in overtime to escape victoriously.

"During the week, you look back at the NFC Championship Game and you look at what they are doing today and you try to figure out similarities in terms of how they twist or how they will do certain things that didn't work for us last time," Baas said. "I feel like recognition, especially passing off twists -- that study really helped us. We knew what was coming and even if they changed it up, we were very quick to respond to it. Doing that established a little bit, too, saying, 'Look, you've got to come up with a new plan.'"

Manning took zero sacks Sunday. The 49ers' Ahmad Brooks accounted for the lone official hit on Manning (the stat can be a bit subjective, but you get the point).

[+] EnlargeGiants cornerback Prince Amukamara
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezGiants cornerback Prince Amukamara steps in front of 49ers tight end Delanie Walker for an interception.
So much else was different this time, too.

The 49ers have generally been the team to let its play do the talking. Harbaugh's statement spoke loudest this time.

The 49ers are usually the team forcing turnovers while limiting their own. They were minus-three on turnovers this time.

Before Harbaugh arrived, the 49ers relied on team executives to help manage replay challenges. The new staff was more than capable of handling that aspect of the game, it seemed, but not this time. The non-fumble Harbaugh challenged looked like a non-fumble from every angle.

The 49ers went most of last season without allowing a rushing touchdown or a 100-yard rusher. They watched Ahmad Bradshaw carry 27 times for 116 yards and a score Sunday.

The 49ers under Harbaugh have generally dominated on special teams, swinging field position to their advantage -- a huge benefit for the defense.

David Akers missed two field goal tries Sunday. The 49ers' increasingly leaky coverage units opened the second half by allowing David Wilson's 66-yard kickoff return, setting up a touchdown for a 17-3 New York lead. The Giants' first three possessions of the second half began at the San Francisco 32-, 12- and 5-yard lines.

Frank Gore, effective early in the game, never carried the ball in the second half.

That's how far the 49ers wandered off script in this game.

What now? The 49ers are 4-2 and can reclaim sole possession of first place in the NFC West by beating the 4-2 Seattle Seahawks here Thursday night.

There's no need to panic, of course, but the 49ers will be best served making their next statement on the field, not via emailed news release.

NFC West free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Arizona Cardinals

Key additions: OL Adam Snyder, CB William Gay

Key losses: CB Richard Marshall

Sando's grade so far: C-minus. Arizona gets credit for making a strong run at Peyton Manning and securing a visit with him at Cardinals headquarters. That was a bold move and one that could have instantly transformed the Cardinals into a contending team. But it did not work. Coach Ken Whisenhunt had a point when he said the Cardinals were comfortable moving forward with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton as their quarterbacks. However, it was still telling that Arizona would aggressively pursue another quarterback eight months after allocating $12.4 million per year to Kolb. Most of the other teams making big investments in quarterbacks last offseason sat out the Manning sweepstakes.

Overall, Arizona has done little to upgrade its roster. Committing $19 million in bonus money to Snyder, Levi Brown and Kolb will not make the team $19 million better. Marshall was a valued contributor and the MVP on defense last season, according to coordinator Ray Horton. He'll be missed after signing with Miami. On the other hand, the Cardinals did win seven of their final nine games last season. Perhaps they have fewer holes than conventional wisdom suggests.

What’s next: The Cardinals need help at offensive tackle and have shown interest in Buffalo Bills free agent Demetrius Bell. The team would be fortunate to address the position before the draft. Whisenhunt has consistently defended Brown, who has played both tackle spots since 2007. The team's decision to give Brown a $7 million signing bonus as part of a streamlined contract showed Whisenhunt wasn't bluffing. But another starting tackle would help.

The Cardinals have yet to reach a long-term agreement with franchise player Calais Campbell. Getting a deal done with Campbell would reduce the defensive end's salary-cap charge ($10.6 million for now). It would reward a rising young player and head off future headaches associated with using the tag a second time next offseason.

Receiver and possibly outside linebacker are also areas where the Cardinals could use reinforcements.

San Francisco 49ers

Key additions: WR Randy Moss, WR Mario Manningham, RB Brandon Jacobs

Key losses: Snyder, WR Josh Morgan, ST Blake Costanzo

Sando's grade so far: B-plus. The 49ers had relatively few holes on their roster after a 13-3 season. Pursuing Manning provided a temporary distraction without inflicting long-term damage. The 49ers needed to keep together their core, and they accomplished that goal. Alex Smith's re-signing to a three-year deal was key. Smith will return to the team, maintaining continuity and giving the 49ers' offense a chance to build on last season. But the contract terms will not limit the 49ers' options beyond this season, a plus.

The 49ers succeeded in re-signing Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers after using the franchise tag to retain Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson. Those moves solidified the secondary. Addressing the situation at wide receiver was a top priority heading into free agency. Moss and Manningham were low-risk, high-reward additions. Both have the potential to provide qualities the 49ers were lacking last season, but neither carried a high price tag. Retaining receiver Ted Ginn Jr. restored firepower to the return game.

What’s next: Using the draft to improve the long-term outlook at receiver still could be an option. But with Moss, Manningham and Ginn on the roster, the 49ers should not feel pressured to select a wideout with the 30th overall choice in the draft. The team now has flexibility. There has been no indication that the 49ers or any team will seriously pursue Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace, who reportedly wants Larry Fitzgerald money.

The 49ers could use a veteran right guard for insurance in case Daniel Kilgore isn't ready for the starting job. They have visited with Leonard Davis and Deuce Lutui, both former Cardinals. Keeping Snyder would have been nice, but the Cardinals paid a $5 million signing bonus to get him. That price was too high for the 49ers, who similarly balked last offseason when the New York Giants gave center David Baas an $8.5 million bonus.

St. Louis Rams

Key additions: CB Cortland Finnegan, C Scott Wells, DT Kendall Langford, WR Steve Smith

Key losses: WR Brandon Lloyd, P Donnie Jones, OLB Chris Chamberlain

Sando's grade so far: B. The Rams would get a higher grade for their offseason in general, but this item focuses on free agency. That excludes from consideration Jeff Fisher's hiring as head coach, and general manager Les Snead's ability to maximize value for the second overall pick in the draft. The Finnegan and Wells signings give the Rams welcome leadership while upgrading important positions. Langford should help the run defense.

The Rams have yet to address their playmaking deficiencies. They did not land any of the high-profile wide receivers in free agency. There's a chance Smith will recapture old form in his second season back from microfracture knee surgery, but the Rams are not counting on that. They will almost certainly emerge from free agency without even marginally upgrading the weaponry for quarterback Sam Bradford. That is a disappointment.

What’s next: The outlook remains bright for St. Louis. The team owns the sixth, 33rd and 39th choices in the 2012 draft, plus two first-rounders in each of the following two drafts. There will be time and opportunity for the Rams to add the offensive firepower they need so badly, perhaps with Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon or Alabama running back Trent Richardson at No. 6 overall.

Much work lies ahead. The Rams emerged from this week with eight fewer players on their roster than the average for the other 31 teams. Using free agency to address holes at outside linebacker and left guard would provide flexibility heading into the draft. The Rams still need a backup quarterback as well. Bradford is the only QB on the roster. It's looking like the team is serious about bringing back right tackle Jason Smith despite injury concerns and a fat contract that will presumably require adjustment.

Seattle Seahawks

Key additions: QB Matt Flynn, DT Jason Jones

Key losses: TE John Carlson, DT Anthony Hargrove

Sando's grade so far: B-plus: The Seahawks knew for months that Manning would probably hit the market and still could not secure a meeting with him. Their pursuit included a flight by coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider to Denver in a desperation move that failed to impress Manning. That was a rare disappointment for Seattle in free agency.

Re-signing Marshawn Lynch before the signing period took off much of the pressure. Re-signing Red Bryant without using the franchise tag rewarded the Seahawks for a disciplined approach to the market. That approach paid off again when the Seahawks landed Flynn without rushing into an imprudent contract. Flynn spent five days on the market before signing with Seattle. The Seahawks got him for about half as much per season as Kolb cost a year ago, without even promising him the starting job. That was impressive.

What’s next: Quarterback and pass-rusher were Seattle's top two needs heading into free agency. Flynn solved one of them for now, at least. Jones, an inside pass-rusher signed from Tennessee, should help the other area. But the need for outside pass-rush help persists. The team could use the 12th overall choice in the draft for a defensive end.

Linebacker is another obvious position of need for Seattle. Market conditions favor Seattle's re-signing veterans David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill at reasonable rates. Both were starters last season. Hawthorne visited Detroit and New Orleans in free agency, but those teams subsequently signed other linebackers. Hill turns 30 in September, has had some off-field issues in the past and should have more value to Seattle than to another team. Still, it's an upset if the Seahawks do not address linebacker in the draft.
NFC West thoughts as NFL free agency runs through its second day:
  • The Seattle Seahawks' free-agent visit with Steve Hutchinson calls attention to the team's situation at left guard. Robert Gallery's $5 million salary and $1.5 million bonus represent a steep price. If the Seahawks are going to pay $6.5 million for a left guard in 2012, Hutchinson would appear to be the better value. Re-signing Paul McQuistan for depth at guard and tackle could also make sense. Update: The Seahawks have announced Gallery's release and McQuistan's re-signing.
  • Free-agent quarterback Chad Henne canceled his visit to the Seahawks after reaching an agreement on a contract with Jacksonville. Seattle still plans to meet with Matt Flynn, but the team has proven it will show restraint at the position when dealing with unproven prospects. That was the case last offseason when Seattle resisted acquiring Kevin Kolb. Flynn fits into a similar category.
  • The San Francisco 49ers continue to consider a long list of options at wide receiver. Brandon Lloyd, Chaz Schilens and Mario Manningham are possibilities. Eddie Royal could become an option as well, Matt Barrows reports. The 49ers obviously hope to cover themselves at the position in free agency, taking off pressure to target any one position early in the draft.
  • Former 49ers guard/tackle/center Adam Snyder gives the Cardinals improved depth on their offensive line. Losing him can be a positive for the 49ers if it forces them to seek an upgrade at the position. Veteran players such as Snyder are easy to coach. Sometimes teams get comfortable with them at the expense of upgrading. The 49ers came out OK last offseason after losing center David Baas to the Giants.
  • The Seahawks and St. Louis Rams both have interest in former Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Jason Jones. Jones struggled at defensive end last season. He would play tackle with the Rams or Seahawks. St. Louis has the greater need. Seattle could use Jones as depth behind Red Bryant and as an inside pass-rusher.
  • Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne plans to visit New Orleans. The Saints should know him well. Hawthorne had a combined 21 tackles and one interception against New Orleans in two games during the 2010 season (one in postseason). He faced the Rams six times when new Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was head coach in St. Louis. Hawthorne is an NFL success story as an undrafted free-agent-turned-starter. Seattle needs help at linebacker whether or not Hawthorne returns. K.J. Wright can move from the strong side to the middle if needed.
  • The Cardinals remain largely in a holding pattern while awaiting a decision from Peyton Manning. Other veteran free-agent quarterbacks are signing deals around the league. That's no big deal for Arizona if the Cardinals are comfortable paying a $7 million bonus to keep Kolb. But if Manning signs elsewhere and Arizona wants to sign a cheaper alternative to Kolb, the pickings could be slim. Matt Hasselbeck comes to mind if Manning lands in Tennessee.
  • The Rams' interest in former Houston Texans tackle Eric Winston has led to a potential visit.

Thanks for coming along.
INDIANAPOLIS — Watch out for offensive holding penalties in Super Bowl XLVI.

Officials have called only eight penalties for holding on offensive plays during the postseason, six of them against the NFC champion New York Giants. Three of the six were against Chris Snee, with two against David Baas and one against David Diehl.

John Parry is the referee for Super Bowl XLVI. His crew ranked third in most penalties for offensive holding during the regular season.

I've put together a chart from ESPN Stats & Information showing where Parry's crew ranked in various penalties during the 2011 season. Parry is working with an all-star crew, not his usual one. That could affect tendencies.

Parry's low ranking for unnecessary roughness appears offset, at least somewhat, by a higher number of calls for generic personal fouls.

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Good afternoon. NFC West blog headquarters will be relocating from the Northwest to Indianapolis for Super Bowl week.

The plane I'm riding in, a Boeing 757, is traveling 565 mph at 35,637 feet, according to tracking software. I'll be connecting through Atlanta, so this will be a full travel day.

Once situated in Indy, I'll be helping with our Super Bowl coverage, with an eye toward this division. Josh McDaniels, David Baas, Bear Pascoe, David Carr, Rocky Bernard, Jimmy Kennedy, Deon Grant, Antrel Rolle, Isaiah Stanback, Deion Branch, Niko Koutouvides, Tracy White and Andre Carter are among the NFC West alumni currently with the Super Bowl participants.

Quite a few current NFC West players will be filtering through Indianapolis for various events during the week. I'll be catching up with some of them.

The week will conclude with Hall of Fame voting, followed by the Super Bowl itself. I don't have a strong feeling as to which team will win the game. Both should like their chances. I did pick New England to win it all before the season -- one of the few predictions that remains on track -- so I'll likely stick with the Patriots when ESPN solicits staffers' predictions later in the week.

Here's hoping this Sunday treats you well.

Update: Yes, I made it to Indy. Grabbed a sandwich tonight with AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley. Will be heading over to ESPN's Super Bowl headquarters downtown on Monday morning.

On Carlos Rogers' rebirth with 49ers

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
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The San Francisco 49ers haven't been big spenders in free agency recently.

None of the unrestricted free agents they added from other teams during the 2011 offseason received a deal exceeding three years in length or $4.25 million in average compensation.

One player in particular has stood out as a bargain.

Rogers' aggressive play at cornerback has given the 49ers a needed edge in their secondary. It's tough to say any other corner in the NFC West has made as positive an impact through Week 5. Rogers' 31-yard interception return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay was the latest in a string of impact plays from him for San Francisco.

Sometimes a change of address frees a veteran player to reach more of his potential. That seems to be the case with Rogers, a seventh-year veteran known during his six-year run with Washington for letting would-be interceptions slip through his hands. Rogers' three picks through five games exceed by one his single-season career high. He now has 11 for his career.

I was among several reporters gathered around Rogers in the 49ers' locker room Monday. A few highlights:
  • On matching up with Detroit's Calvin Johnson: "He present a lot. A big, strong guy that can run. Then you got a quarterback who gets him the ball no matter if he is covered or not. We’re going to have to have something special for him, roll some coverages to him. They’ve been rolling, he’s been outjumping everybody, scoring touchdowns, catching balls in many different places. You see him all over ESPN and what they are doing."
  • On his time with the Redskins: "I had coach (Joe) Gibbs, he basically ran our team. I had coach Gregg Williams as a defensive coordinator that everyone would die to play for. After that, it was coach (Jim) Zorn, and he didn’t really run our team. Guys were able to run over him and get things they wanted by just going to the ownership. After that, coach (Mike) Shanahan is a good coach, but my mindset by the time he came in, I was just ready to leave."
  • On what bothered him about the Redskins: "We only re-signed Chris Samuels and Chris Cooley, which they deserve it, but everybody else was new guys they had brought in. It wasn’t guys who were drafted that we re-signed. I’m thinking once it comes to my turn, I’m not going to be here anyway. My whole mindset was like, 'Just get out of Washington, get a fresh start.' I’m always compared to what Shawn Springs do, what Fred Smoot do, what DeAngelo Hall do. I just couldn’t be Carlos. ... As a player, you get tired of that. You want something fresh. With this team, they just let me be me. They just let me play. I think right now I’m just playing at a level I know I can play at. I think back and it’s just like college. I’m back to my Auburn days, having fun."
  • On the 49ers' 4-1 start: "We got a long way to go. I was with coach Zorn and we went 6-2 into our bye. The next eight games, we was 2-6. It’s a long season. We have a long way to go. Right now, (Jim Harbaugh) is just leading us in the right direction, keeping our mind strong on what we’ve got to do, and the right mindset of thinking throughout this whole process. It’s better than people thought. I tell people, we was supposed to be sorry. We’re surprising everybody. But we don’t want all the credit now. We want it at the end of the season when we get to our ultimate goal."

The chart shows basic contract information for Rogers and the other unrestricted free agents added during the offseason. Manny Lawson, Takeo Spikes, Aubrayo Franklin, Jeff Reed, Travis LaBoy and David Baas were the UFAs leaving the 49ers for other teams.
Five things I noticed while watching the Arizona Cardinals during their 31-27 home defeat to the New York Giants:
  • Ray Horton wasn't lying. The Cardinals' defensive coordinator promised to blitz. He sent seven pass-rushers after Eli Manning when the Cardinals were protecting a 27-24 lead with 2:46 remaining. The Giants had seven blockers in protection. That meant Arizona had four defensive backs against three receivers. Manning threw the ball within two seconds of taking the snap. Hakeem Nicks caught it at the 7-yard line. Cornerback Patrick Peterson was in coverage, but had no safety help against one of the elite receivers in the game. That was problematic. Strong safety Adrian Wilson was scrambling over but was still about 10 yards away when Nicks made the winning touchdown reception.
  • Andre Roberts was invisible. The Cardinals' No. 2 receiver finished the game with more tackles (one) than receiving targets (none). A penalty negated the only play featuring Roberts as a target. Kevin Kolb targeted three tight ends, two running backs and a fullback. He targeted receivers Larry Fitzgerald (11) and Early Doucet (six) a combined 17 times. Roberts has been targeted 15 times this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Seventy-three wideouts have been targeted more times through four games. The trend appears likely to continue as long as Fitzgerald is healthy, Doucet gets ample third-down work from the slot and multiple tight ends factor as well.
  • Campbell doesn't know his own strength. After dominating at Seattle in Week 3, defensive end Calais Campbell rocked the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw and forced him to fumble on the Cardinals' first defensive series. That play was tough to miss. Another less visible one impressed me at least as much. Campbell was rushing from the inside on second-and-7 late in the second quarter when the Giants' left guard, David Diehl, came over to help center David Baas on the play. Campbell, while still locked up with Baas, extended his right arm and decked the 6-foot-5, 304-pound Diehl with a shove to the chest area. I watched the play several times to see if someone had stepped on Diehl's foot, but that did not appear to be the case.
  • Wells' power changes the the Cardinals. Giants defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy had his arms around Beanie Wells' legs near the Arizona 12-yard line. Jason Pierre-Paul and Greg Jones were there too. Wells somehow emerged from the pile and advanced the ball to the 20, where Michael Boley finally dragged him down. Wells is averaging 2.7 yards per carry after contact, which ranks tied for fifth in the NFL. He has gained 152 yards after contact; each of the five players with higher totals also have at least nine additional carries. Wells ran over the Giants' Corey Webster with such force at the goal line that Webster, who had gotten too low and dipped his head, flew onto his back and lost his helmet.
  • Fitzgerald showed up as a blocker. The Cardinals' receiving leader drove Giants safety Kenny Phillips to the ground to help Wells find the end zone with 10:28 left in the third quarter. The Cardinals were running from a tight formation against an 11-man box. Phillips might have made the tackle had Fitzgerald not cleared him out of the way. Fitzgerald also made a key block on Wells' 39-yard run in the fourth quarter. He threw his body into former teammate Antrel Rolle, getting the worst of the collision but getting the job done. Wells' running behind rookie fullback Anthony Sherman also caught my attention. Sherman appeared more consistent in this game than he appeared earlier in the season. He also gained 19 yards on a reception. The Wells-Sherman combination could be a very good one for Arizona if they get enough time on the field together.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Wells fares against Minnesota in Week 5. More than two years ago, Kevin Seifert and I considered whether Wells or the Vikings' Percy Harvin would be more productive as rookies. Harvin ran away with that one thanks to his special-teams production and the Vikings subsequently adding Brett Favre at quarterback. Wells has come on strong this season.

2011 Rams Week 2: Five observations

September, 22, 2011
9/22/11
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Five things I noticed while watching the St. Louis Rams during their 28-16 defeat to the New York Giants in Week 2:
  • The fake injuries looked worse on TV. Replays showing the Giants' Deon Grant and Jacquian Williams falling down to stop the Rams' no-huddle offense were comical. Neither player was touched. A Vlade Divac flop would have been more convincing. No wonder the league threatened to issues fines for future shenanigans.
  • Sam Bradford threw to the covered guy. Receiver Brandon Gibson was wide open on a second-and-2 pick play from the Giants' 7-yard line. Bradford had time to throw even though the Giants rushed seven against six blockers. He threw outside to Mike Sims-Walker, who was covered, while Gibson skated free toward the left hash on the same side of the field. Gibson would have scored easily, it appeared. By design or through an oversight, Bradford never seemed to notice him.
  • Three tight ends weren't a charm. The Rams ran four snaps with three tight ends. Those plays produced two incomplete passes, a 1-yard loss on a running play and a 15-yard sack when the Giants stayed home to cut off the bootleg, something they did well.
  • Robert Quinn and James Hall played together. Both are right defensive ends. Hall starts and Quinn comes off the bench. Because Hall is stout for an end, yet still a strong pass-rusher, he's well-suited to rush from the inside on passing downs. That's what he did in this game, lining up at right defensive tackle. Quinn, making his regular-season debut, was at right end. Hall beat Giants left guard David Diehl to the inside for a sack on third-and-7, getting through before center David Baas could help. Will Beatty, the Giants' left tackle, blatantly held Quinn on the play, gripping the rookie around the shoulders to restrain him. There was no flag.
  • Quinn's first career sack was a freebie. They all count the same on the stat sheet, but the Rams' rookie defensive end will not get many opportunities like this one. The Giants did not block him. Quarterback Eli Manning did not account for him. Quinn raced around the left tackle, who was blocking safety Darian Stewart. Manning was alone in the backfield from a shotgun formation. Quinn took five steps directly to the quarterback.

Generally I'll get these files done earlier in the week. The Monday night game pushed back the usual schedule. Still playing catchup.
My favorite part of the NFC West chat this week: Those in the comments section counting how many questions/comments I chose pertaining to each team.

Fabulous, fabulous attention to detail.

My favorite part of blogging in general: being held accountable relentlessly. No misdeed goes unpunished. It's great incentive to stay sharp and aim to please because everyone cares what others think of them, especially those who say they do not care.

Some chatting advice: As comments pile up and I sense one team is being overlooked, I'll enter search terms to single out questions pertaining to specific teams. Those terms are most commonly "hawk" for anything Seahawks related, "card" for anything Cardinals related, "9er" for anything regarding the 49ers and "ram" for anything Rams-related. This means you can optimize for search your questions. My thinking is that the term "hawk" will draw from all entries mentioning Seahawks or Hawks, while "9er" will touch upon anything with "49ers" or "9ers" in the body, etc.

All right, then. Let's advance some NFC West conversations. Instead of singling out one chat highlight per team and publishing them here, I've decided to choose one new question per team.
Brennan from California wants to know how I see the Seahawks' young depth in the secondary shaking out. He wonders whether Atari Bigby has a better chance given his ability to provide some seasoning.

Mike Sando: Undrafted free agent Jeron Johnson has caught the team's attention in a big way, potentially imperiling fifth-round draft choice Mark LeGree's chances at earning a roster spot. LeGree came into camp amid some fanfare as coach Pete Carroll envisioned him becoming a ball-hawking presence. So far, though, LeGree hasn't really stood out. Johnson has been better. Teams do not like cutting draft choices, but Seattle isn't one of those teams that holds onto them no matter what. It's a little early to know what to expect from Bigby in terms of his ability to hold up physically. As much as the team could use some seasoning at safety, seasoning for the sake of seasoning isn't enough.

Mau Mau from Los Angeles wants to know what's going on with the 49ers' center competition. The team singed a Super Bowl starter in Jonathan Goodwin, but Goodwin has yet to start a preseason game for the team. What is going on?

Mike Sando: I overrated Goodwin when the team signed him based on that very Super Bowl pedigree you referenced. My feeling was that Goodwin would represent an upgrade over David Baas, who signed with the New York Giants. So far, though, Adam Snyder has been the starter at center despite not being part of the conversation at center over the years. Center is an important position on the line and it had to be a little disappointing for the 49ers when the Giants offered so much money to Baas. Goodwin and Snyder are both have $2.1 million cap number this season, so there isn't tremendous separation between the two from a salary standpoint.

Matt from Wilmington, N.C., wonders what I think about the Rams' chances against Philadelphia in the regular-season opener at the Edward Jones Dome?

Mike Sando: Well, the Rams would be better off opening the season the way the Cardinals are opening the season, at home against Carolina. But if they have to play the Eagles, they might as well face them in Week 1, and at home. I give the Rams a good shot at winning the game. They'll have a good feel for the Eagles given Steve Spagnuolo's familiarity with Andy Reid's offense. Safety Quintin Mikell's feel for his former team means more because of the position he plays. Safeties tend to be thinkers. Mikell, having signed with the Rams from Philadelphia, will be well-prepared for this matchup. Jeremy Maclin's health issues also work in the Rams' favor given their depth issues in the secondary.

Phil from Connecticut wants to know whether I think Deuce Lutui will open the regular season as the starting right guard for the Cardinals.

Mike Sando: That has been my expectation. He's more talented than Rex Hadnot. I just haven't seen anything from Hadnot that makes me think he would be the obvious preference for Arizona. Lutui comes with baggage and flaws, of course. But he's been in the system for years and has played at a pretty good level most of the time. That is just me talking. I don't know what Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt are thinking specifically about the right guard spot at this moment.

Thanks for listening.

2011 UFA market: NFC West scorecard

August, 23, 2011
8/23/11
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With training camps winding down, I've found time to update rosters and put together team-by-team reference material for unrestricted free agency.

The names below match official NFL counts.

These are for players with at least four accrued NFL seasons whose contracts expired following the 2010 season. I've added comments for each team.

Arizona Cardinals

Re-signed (8): Ben Graham, Matt Ware, Hamza Abdullah, Ben Claxton, Lyle Sendlein, D'Anthony Batiste, Deuce Lutui, Stephen Spach.

New to team (7): Chansi Stuckey, Richard Marshall, Daryn Colledge, Nick Eason, Stewart Bradley, Floyd Womack, Jeff King.

Still unsigned (3): Alan Faneca, Jason Wright, Bryan Robinson.

Signed elsewhere (5): Steve Breaston (Kansas City), Gabe Watson (New York Giants), Ben Patrick (Giants), Trumaine McBride (New Orleans), Alan Branch (Seattle).

Comment: Sendlein, Colledge and Bradley were the big signings. Marshall provides needed depth at cornerback. Faneca and Wright announced their retirements. The Cardinals weren't aggressive in trying to re-sign the players they lost to other teams. The biggest move Arizona made, acquiring Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia, did not involve a UFA.


San Francisco 49ers

Re-signed (4): Ray McDonald, Tony Wragge, Dashon Goldson, Alex Smith.

New to team (5): Braylon Edwards, Jonathan Goodwin, Donte Whitner, Carlos Rogers, David Akers.

Still unsigned (5): Brian Westbrook, Troy Smith, Demetric Evans, William James, Barry Sims.

Signed elsewhere (6): David Baas (Giants), Travis LaBoy (San Diego), Jeff Reed (Seattle), Aubrayo Franklin (New Orleans), Takeo Spikes (San Diego), Manny Lawson (Cincinnati).

Comment: Re-signing McDonald signaled Franklin's departure. Getting Goldson back on the relative cheap was a victory. The 49ers wanted to keep Baas, but not at the price he commanded. The team thinks NaVorro Bowman has a bright future in Spikes' old spot at inside linebacker. Lawson wasn't strong enough as a pass-rusher to stick around. Safety depth is improved.


Seattle Seahawks

Re-signed (7): Raheem Brock, Junior Siavii, Brandon Mebane, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy, Michael Robinson, Kelly Jennings.

New to team (8): Branch, Zach Miller, Robert Gallery, Jimmy Wilkerson, Atari Bigby, Sidney Rice, Tarvaris Jackson, Reed.

Still unsigned (7): Jay Richardson, Craig Terrill, Chester Pitts, Brandon Stokley, Ruvell Martin, J.P. Losman, Lawyer Milloy.

Signed elsewhere (8): Will Herring (New Orleans), Olindo Mare (Carolina), Matt Hasselbeck (Tennessee), Chris Spencer (Chicago), Jordan Babineaux (Tennessee), Sean Locklear (Washington), Amon Gordon (Kansas City), Ray Willis (Washington).

Comment: Adding Jackson as the starting quarterback was the most significant move for the 2011 season. Mebane was the most important re-signing for the longer term. Hill was a bargain relative to how he's playing right now. Miller and Rice were the types of young, talented players who rarely change teams in free agency. The Seahawks were outbid for Herring and Mare. Can street free agent David Vobora fill some of the void Herring left?


St. Louis Rams

Re-signed (2): Adam Goldberg, Gary Gibson.

New to team (9): Daniel Muir, Quinn Ojinnaka, Harvey Dahl, Ben Leber, Zac Diles, Jerious Norwood, Cadillac Williams, Quintin Mikell, Mike Sims-Walker.

Still unsigned (5): Chris Hovan, Michael Lewis, Darcy Johnson, Clifton Ryan, Mark Clayton.

Signed elsewhere (4): Daniel Fells (Denver), Laurent Robinson (San Diego), Derek Schouman (Washington), Kevin Dockery (Pittsburgh).

Comment: Dahl and Mikell were the big additions. Clayton could return if and when his surgically repaired knee allows. Sims-Walker is a wild card. The team didn't flinch when any of its own UFAs signed elsewhere. Most of the moves made on defense were designed to improve St. Louis against the run. Remember that newcomer Justin Bannan was not a UFA. Denver released him.
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The San Francisco 49ers' largely inarticulated plan for NFL free agency has gained some definition over the last couple days.

Jonathan Goodwin, 32-year-old starting center for the New Orleans Saints, reached agreement on a three-year deal with San Francisco, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Wednesday. Washington Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers signed with the 49ers on Tuesday.

Goodwin has started all 32 games over the last two seasons. He has started 60 of the 133 games in which he has played.

The 49ers' problems at center appear solved for the short term. Eric Heitmann's injury and David Baas' signing with the New York Giants left the 49ers short-handed at the position. Goodwin and Rogers arguably represent upgrades over Baas and Clements, respectively.
The Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers are taking opposite approaches to free agency and the trading period this offseason.

Arizona keeps adding players, from quarterback Kevin Kolb to guard Daryn Colledge to tight end Todd Heap and others. San Francisco keeps subtracting them, from linebacker Takeo Spikes to nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, center David Baas, outside linebacker Manny Lawson, cornerback Nate Clements and possibly free safety Dashon Goldson.

Both teams could be operating in the best interests of their respective organizations, but fans usually feel better when their teams are active in the market. Those wishing their favorite teams were as active as Arizona has been can pretend the following quote came from their teams' general managers, and not from Cardinals president Michael Bidwill.

"We knew we wanted to step in and be very aggressive, and we weren’t going to let the market settle or anything like that," Bidwill told reporters at Cardinals training camp. "We just wanted to go out there and put our best foot forward, really go out there and take a shot at some of the best players across the league."

Cardinals fans know what 49ers fans are going through. Last offseason, they watched their team wave goodbye to high-profile players such as Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and Anquan Boldin. But after finishing 5-11 in 2010, the Cardinals felt as though they needed to act decisively.

"I think we really improved the team over the last several days," Bidwill said.

The Cardinals wanted to add a quarterback quickly, but several days passed before the trade for Kolb went through. Fans and analysts, including former Cardinals tight end Anthony Becht, questioned whether the organization was being sufficiently proactive in upgrading the one position Arizona had to address.

"We felt like there was a lot of aggressiveness that people would eventually see, in terms of seeing how we executed the plan," Bidwill said. "We had a lot of [salary-cap] space to work, we intended to use it, and to go out there and not only take care of the free-agency market and executing a couple of trades, but also leave space so that we could extend some key veterans later this training camp."

The Cardinals went though last season with significant cap space. Their payroll plummeted. Some other teams also cut back as a potential lockout loomed. Holding back again this offseason would have carried additional risk for the Cardinals. Sitting back and suffering through another down season would have fed perceptions that gains made during coach Ken Whisenhunt's initial years would be fleeting.

This offseason, no one can fault the Cardinals for a lack of trying.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reflects upon the Cardinals' wheeling and dealing Friday. Somers: "They signed their top two draft picks in the morning, added veteran tight end Todd Heap a little later, re-acquired starting guard Deuce Lutui in late afternoon and then completed a trade that sent starting running back Tim Hightower to the Redskins. On this day, the little front office often accused of doing nothing, did everything." The Cardinals are feeling good about all the changes they've made. Getting Lutui back unexpectedly and on the teams' terms stands as an unexpected victory for the Cardinals' line depth.

Also from Somers: First-round choice Patrick Peterson is eager to get going with the Cardinals. More: "The Cardinals could continue to add to the roster today. They are in negotiations to sign receiver Braylon Edwards, most recently with the New York Jets. Edwards is fast and could stretch defenses, taking some pressure off Fitzgerald. He has a tendency to drop too many passes, and he pleaded guilty this summer to driving under the under influence. He could face a suspension. Edwards has several friends on the team, including Rhodes, who played with him in New York. A handful of Cardinals players are pushing for the team to sign Edwards."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com casts the Cardinals' frenzied roster activity as part of a master plan to improve. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "We will see how it all plays out. Just by the number of moves, we are trying to get our team better and that’s what it is all about."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams beefed up at defensive tackle by adding Justin Bannan and Dan Muir in free agency. Thomas: "The addition of Bannan and Muir almost certainly means that free agent Gary Gibson, who started 16 games at defensive tackle last season, will not be back. The Rams probably will keep four DTs, meaning Darell Scott and Jermelle Cudjo could be competing for the final spot on the 53-man roster. ... In the initial six days post-lockout that teams could negotiate with free agents, the Rams have added two defensive tackles, an outside linebacker (Zac Diles), a safety (Quintin Mikell), a cornerback (Al Harris), an offensive guard (Harvey Dahl), and a wide receiver (Mike Sims-Walker)."

Also from Thomas: Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk have grown closer after some early difficulties.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams first-round choice Robert Quinn rested a knee injury at camp. Quinn called the injury a minor tweak.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com offers notes from Rams camp.

Also from Wagoner: what Bannan brings to the Rams' offensive line.

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says Sims-Walker could provide a big return on the Rams' investment.

Also from Balzer: Jacob Bell made the right decision in returning to the Rams.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with David Hawthorne, the Seahawks' new middle linebacker following Lofa Tatupu's release. Hawthorne: "We all got to say our goodbyes to him today and just tell him what he has meant to us. He meant a lot, for me especially because I came in undrafted and he kind of took me under his wing and taught me a lot. So today was a hard day for the linebackers. Everybody knows what he’s done for the Seahawks organization if you’ve been around and watched Seahawks football. But he’s done a lot for me, especially."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says he'll miss Tatupu. O'Neil: "I covered each of his six seasons in Seattle on a daily basis, and found him to be one of the most thoughtful, accountable and earnest people that I have had the fortune to meet in my role as a journalist. He was willing to talk about his emotions, whether it was his sadness over the unexpected death of his father in 2010 or the excitement he felt at the prospect of being a father. He showed me the sonogram on his iPhone last year."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune offers thoughts on Tatupu and coach Pete Carroll's handling of Tatupu's release. Boling: "It still seems that the man’s leadership, heart and inspiration would be of value equivalent to his current salary, just as it would be with safety Lawyer Milloy. But that’s not how things work in the NFL. And on a rebuilding team, a sliding veteran takes snaps away from a young guy who might be on the rise. Hawthorne has performed very well filling in for Tatupu at middle linebacker, but Tatupu’s impact on this team has always been bigger than his play on the field."

John Boyle of the Everett Herald says the Seahawks plan to sign defensive tackle Ryan Sims.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Frank Gore is planning to end his holdout. Maiocco: "Gore is entering the final year of his contract, and is scheduled to earn $2.9 million in base salary and $2 million in a roster bonus. The 49ers and Gore have not agreed to a contract extension, but Jim Harbaugh said a good-faith effort will be made to negotiate a deal beyond this season. Under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, Gore is subject to $90,000 in fines for his holdout."

Also from Maiocco: 49ers practice notes, including one regarding Adam Snyder. Maiocco: "After three practices, it appears the 49ers like what they've seen from Adam Snyder at center. Mark Bartelstein, the agent for former Chicago Bears center Olin Kreutz, said he has spoken to the 49ers but the talks have not gotten serious. And it looks as if the 49ers have every intention of developing the quick-learning Snyder for the role to replace David Baas, who signed a free-agent contract with the New York Giants."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat laments the 49ers' reluctance to discuss their plans. Cohn: "What is the goal of the 49ers this season? This is another impolite topic, to bring up goals so early in training camp. But, come on, what is the goal? To win or rebuild?"

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News thinks 49ers rookie Aldon Smith will be the team's best pass-rusher since Andre Carter. Kawakami: "When he worked in the 1-on-1 passrush drill, Smith used those propellor arms to leverage inside, to bullrush and, most effectively, to get on the tackle’s outside shoulder and whoosh around the edge."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle offers a 49ers injury update: "Cornerback Shawntae Spencer grabbed at his left hamstring during a drill and spent the rest of practice on the sideline. ... Tight end Nate Byham was on crutches and had a large brace on his left knee after being carted off the field Saturday. ... Undrafted free-agent wide receiver Dontavia Bogan was carted off the field with an injury to his right knee."

Also from Branch: on the 49ers' approach to free agency.
Five notes before heading out to the Seattle Seahawks' lone practice Sunday:
  • Center Chris Spencer's contract agreement with the Chicago Bears puts him in a familiar position: new guy with huge leadership shoes to fill. Spencer has giant feet even by NFL standards -- I cannot recall the exact shoe size -- but he's not a natural leader the way Robbie Tobeck or Olin Kreutz were for their teams. Spencer stepped into Tobeck's spot at center for Seattle following the team's best seasons under Mike Holmgren. He's taking over for the Bears after the team failed to reach agreement with Kreutz. Spencer, a first-round pick for Seattle in 2005, can be a good player. He just won't fill the leadership void.
  • Kreutz remains an option for the San Francisco 49ers after the team lost David Baas to the New York Giants. Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers are the leading candidate to sign Kruetz. Adding Kreutz to the 49ers would upgrade the position while providing strong leadership for young players such as guard Mike Iupati. I like the idea under the circumstances.
  • From Jim Thomas: First-round pick Robert Quinn is practicing with the St. Louis Rams. Former Rams receiver Isaac Bruce plans to work with the team's wide receivers. These should be welcome developments for Rams fans. The Rams' current leadership has taken some heat for cutting ties with or failing to embrace some aspects of the team's history. Take note, critics: Enlisting Bruce runs counter to perception.
  • There was no place like home for Arizona native Todd Heap. The Cardinals agreed to terms with the veteran tight end even while the New York Jets were reportedly courting him heavily, with coach Rex Ryan even picking up Heap at the airport in person. Ryan and Heap were together for years in Baltimore. Arizona has scored a few victories in free agency. Finishing 5-11 last season appears to have given them a greater sense of urgency.
  • The Seahawks are going young throughout much of their roster. They could still consider adding a more experienced kicker, depending on how Brandon Coutu and Wes Byrum fare. The team plans to meet with veteran Jeff Reed, who spent part of last season with San Francisco, in the next day or so. Reed does not have a contract agreement with the team.

OK, that's it for now. The Seahawks are practicing in pads at the moment. It's off to San Francisco 49ers camp Monday morning.
At least two and possibly three NFC West teams will have new starting centers in 2011.

Spencer
Spencer
Max Unger is replacing free agent Chris Spencer in Seattle. San Francisco has an opening after Eric Heitmann had surgery and his 2010 replacement, David Baas, agreed to terms with the New York Giants. Arizona's Lyle Sendlein remains without an agreement for 2011, joining Spencer among the higher-ranked centers available this offseason.

Casey Rabach's expected release from the Washington Redskins adds another candidate to a list featuring free agents Olin Kreutz (Chicago Bears), Jonathan Goodwin (New Orleans Saints), Seindlein, Spencer and Samson Satele (Oakland Raiders). Rabach, 33, has started all but one game over the past seven seasons, dating to his days with Baltimore.

Sendlein's situation in Arizona is of particular interest in the NFC West. Arizona likes Sendlein very much and wants him to return. At what price? Sendlein wasn't sure what to expect heading toward free agency. Would another team -- San Francisco, even -- pay more than the Cardinals would pay? Spencer has ties to 49ers line coach Mike Solari. The two were together in Seattle.

Losing Sendlein would destabilize a Cardinals line already in flux following Alan Faneca's retirement and Deuce Lutui's potential departure. Green Bay's Daryn Colledge could wind up replacing Faneca. Veteran Rex Hadnot is under contract and could start if needed. Centers don't get much acclaim, but how well they communicate with quarterbacks can matter a great deal. Centers are also well positioned to be leaders of a line.

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