NFC West: Earnest Graham

The Associated Press and Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America have announced their all-NFL first teams for the 2012 season.

I've compiled the results here and compared them against our all-division team.

As expected, Seattle's Richard Sherman earned all-league honors from both the AP and PFW/PFWA despite failing to land on the NFC's Pro Bowl squad. Pro Bowl voting took place before the NFL overturned a four-game suspension against Sherman for alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.

The NFC West is heavily represented on all-league teams despite no representation for the St. Louis Rams or Arizona Cardinals on these first teams (I did not list the AP second-team honors). The 49ers (six) and Seahawks (four) gave the NFC West 10 of 27 representatives on the AP first team.

I used slightly different position names for some spots on the all-division team. Those are noted parenthetically next to the players' names.

The injury Ryan Williams suffered during his second NFL exhibition game was relatively unusual for football players.

"My kneecap was in my thigh," the Arizona Cardinals' running back said during a team-produced video on his rehabilitation. "It was just kind of like, 'What?' "

A torn patella tendon ended Williams' rookie season before it officially began.

The running back expects to return for training camp and the 2012 regular season. Cadillac Williams and Earnest Graham returned from similar injuries, but each situation is different. The Cardinals cannot know how the knee will respond. No one can.

Cadillac Williams returned, only to injure his other knee. Suffering a second injury so quickly complicated comparisons to other running backs returning from a single torn patella.

Ryan Williams is not yet even 22 years old, however.

"He has youth on his side, for sure," ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell said Thursday. "What you worry about is, it takes a lot to get any kind of explosiveness or power back. You're not talking about strength, but quickness."

Williams, a second-round choice from Virginia Tech, impressed the Cardinals with his ability to change directions without losing much speed.

"It is reasonable he could be back when the season starts," Bell said, "but will he really be back? That is going to remain to be seen and like these guys coming off ACL surgeries, it may take a while to see what his max is that he can return to."

The Cardinals need Williams in part because their primary back, Beanie Wells, has struggled with injuries, fighting through knee trouble last season after undergoing surgery.

Four additional injury situations to monitor, one per NFC West team, as the offseason continues:
  • Arizona: Kevin Kolb, quarterback. Concussion problems have sidelined Kolb each of the past two seasons. Symptoms lingered last season. Quarterbacks are going to take hits unexpectedly, sometimes to the head. Can Kolb stay on the field?
  • Seattle: Sidney Rice, receiver. Rice has undergone surgery on each shoulder. One surgery repaired damage suffered during training camp. The other repaired damage incurred during college. The hope is healthier shoulders will allow Rice to improve strength throughout his upper body.
  • San Francisco: Josh Morgan, receiver. The 49ers were relatively healthy last season, but losing Morgan to a broken ankle cost them as the season progressed, particularly late. Morgan is without a contract for 2012. He has been working out at the 49ers' team facility. Getting him back would help the offense.
  • St. Louis: Rodger Saffold, pectoral. The Rams had injuries throughout their roster, especially at cornerback. Saffold's ability to play four positions on the line, including left tackle, makes him more valuable than members of the secondary. Saffold has said he hopes to be ready by April or May, according to Howard Balzer. He suffered a torn pectoral while lifting weights in mid-November.

Was 49ers' Roman right about Saints' D?

January, 12, 2012
1/12/12
10:51
AM ET
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Greg Roman, the San Francisco 49ers' offensive coordinator, naturally wasn't going to disrespect an opponent heading into a playoff game.

Sure, the New Orleans Saints' opponents have averaged 5.0 yards per rushing attempt this season, the 29th-worst figure in the NFL, but there was an explanation.

"Those guys do a really good job against the run; I think statistics are misleading," Roman said Wednesday. "A lot of people have popped runs on them down by 30. What does that do? It inflates the stats. When they had to run, I didn't see those 30-yard runs."

Roman was correct in a sense. Indianapolis did break runs covering 42 and 24 yards when trailing the Saints by at least 30 points. Those runs were pretty much meaningless.

But the Saints' opponents also broke runs covering 42, 41, 39, 34 and 29 yards when the scoring margin was eight or fewer points either way, what we would consider to be one-score differentials. Opponents had 16 runs of 15 yards or longer in these situations.

The 49ers, by comparison, gave up no runs longer than 34 yards and only four longer than 18 yards. They were leading by 23 when Arizona broke a 34-yarder in Week 11. They were up by 13 when the Rams broke a 27-yarder in Week 17. The trailed Philadelphia by seven and led Pittsburgh by six when those teams broke runs for 24 and 21 yards, respectively.

The first chart shows all runs against the Saints by score differential. The second chart shows each run against the Saints covering 15-plus yards. There were 27 of them. The Saints led by six points on average at the time of those runs. The 49ers gave up 10 such runs by comparison. They led by three points on average during those runs.

Thanks to Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information for his assistance.
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