NFC West: Gabe Watson
ESPN.com Seattle Seahawks reporter Terry Blount makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: Green Bay Packers
All the pregame hype will center around the so-called Inaccurate Reception, the controversial Hail Mary catch by Golden Tate two years ago that won the game over the Packers at Seattle on a Monday night. Tate has moved on to Detroit, but the Seahawks now have too many weapons for the Packers to stop, no Hail Mary required. Prediction: Win
Week 2: at San Diego Chargers
The Chargers better hope they play a lot better than they did in the preseason game at Seattle, a 41-14 victory for the Seahawks on Aug. 15. San Diego will play better, but not good enough to beat a much better team. Prediction: Win
Week 3: Denver Broncos
The Broncos and their fans got a tiny bit of meaningless Super Bowl revenge in the preseason opener with a 21-16 victory over the Seahawks in Denver. Enjoy it while it lasts, boys. Repeating that outcome in Seattle is not an option. Prediction: Win
Week 5: at Washington Redskins
Traveling coast to coast to play on the road for a Monday night game is a tough task against any NFL opponent, and even tougher against quarterback Robert Griffin III. But the Seahawks catch a break in this one by coming off a bye week with plenty of time to prepare and be fresh for the journey. Prediction: Win
Week 6: Dallas Cowboys
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gave Seattle a little bulletin-board material last month when he said the Seahawks were to blame for the increase in penalty flags during the preseason. There won't be near enough flags against Seattle for the Cowboys to win this one. Prediction: Win
Week 7: at St. Louis Rams
Any division game in the NFC West is a rugged battle. The Rams have a defensive line that gave the Seahawks problems a year ago. But they aren't strong enough overall to beat Seattle, even at home in their out-of-date dome. Prediction: Win
Week 8: at Carolina Panthers
The Seahawks were fortunate to win the season opener at Charlotte a year ago. That Panthers team was better than this one, but back-to-back road games against very physical defensive teams will end the Seattle winning streak. Prediction: Loss
Week 9: Oakland Raiders
Coming off their first loss of the season and returning home against an outmanned opponent, is there any doubt? Prediction: Win
Week 10: New York Giants
The Seahawks easily defeated the Giants 23-0 last year in New Jersey, a dress rehearsal for their Super Bowl victory at the same location -- MetLife Stadium. The Seahawks won't need a rehearsal to roll past the Giants in this one. Prediction: Win
Week 11: at Kansas City Chiefs
This likely will be a low-scoring game between two strong defensive teams. Odds are against any team that has to try to win by matching its defense against the Seahawks' D. Prediction: Win
Week 12: Arizona Cardinals
The last time the Cardinals played at CenturyLink Field was last December when they handed the Seahawks a 17-10 loss. That won't happen again unless the Seahawks get caught looking ahead to the 49ers game. The Seahawks don't look ahead. Prediction: Win
Week 13: at San Francisco 49ers
It's a Thanksgiving night, national TV game in the 49ers' shiny new stadium against the hated Seahawks. If San Francisco can't win this one, its time as a championship contender is over. Prediction: Loss
Week 14: at Philadelphia Eagles
This is the toughest part of the season for the Seahawks with back-to-back road games against likely playoff contenders. But the 10 days between games will help and be enough of a cushion to keep Seattle from losing two in a row. Prediction: Win
Week 15: San Francisco 49ers
This is a game that could decide which team wins the NFC West. No way the Seahawks lose to the 49ers twice in three weeks, especially not in front of a rabid full house of 12s. Prediction: Win
Week 16: at Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals probably will be fighting for a playoff spot, and the Seahawks already will be in at 12-2. That difference will be just enough for Arizona to win at home in the same stadium where the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl a few weeks later. Prediction: Loss
Week 17: St. Louis Rams
For the second consecutive year, the Rams close the regular season in Seattle. And for the second consecutive year, the Seahawks will beat them without much trouble. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 13-3
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.
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.
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.
Kevin Kolb's arrival from Philadelphia gives the Arizona Cardinals renewed hope at quarterback and clear direction following Kurt Warner's retirement.
It provides a fresh start after a forgettable 2010 transition season for Arizona.
So much has changed for the Cardinals since their Super Bowl appearance following the 2008 season. Other rosters around the league have turned over since then, of course, but not every team was coming off a Super Bowl appearance.
Quite a few teams have sought change. For the Cardinals, it just happened.
Warner's departure, while easily the biggest change, was far from the only one. Between five and eight starters from that Super Bowl game project as starters in 2011, depending upon how many of the team's unrestricted free agents re-sign.
When Steve Breaston left the Cardinals for Kansas City this week, drawing attention to the cumulative effect of Arizona's roster upheaval, a Seahawks fan drew parallels between Seattle's post-Super Bowl decline and the Cardinals' plight last season.
"Don't misunderstand," Ricky Frey wrote on my Facebook wall, "I'm a Hawks fan, but it seems eerily familiar to watch this happen and know what happened to Holmgren/Mora. Writing on the wall?"
Not if Kolb has anything to say about it. Acquiring a relatively young, potentially ascending quarterback puts Arizona in position to avoid the decline Seattle experienced as a Matt Hasselbeck struggled with injuries while the roster around him withered away. The NFC West remains in transition overall, and the Cardinals know it.
"It’s obviously winnable, but it’s funny to think that everybody thinks you can just step in and win it," Kolb told reporters Friday. "You’re talking about NFL football teams here. I know last year 7-9 is what won it, but it doesn’t matter. ... The door is open, we know, and we’ll be ready to kick it in when it’s time, but it’s not going to be an easy task."
Larry Fitzgerald, Levi Brown, Darnell Dockett, Adrian Wilson and the recently re-signed Lyle Sendlein started for Arizona in the Super Bowl and remain starters in 2011. Another starter from that Super Bowl game, Gerald Hayes, was released this week. Three more are becoming unrestricted free agents: Deuce Lutui, Bryan Robinson and Gabe Watson.
Six Arizona starters from that game are retired or did not play last season: Mike Gandy, Warner, Edgerrin James, Terrelle Smith, Chike Okeafor and Monty Beisel. Seven more play for other teams: Reggie Wells, Leonard Pope, Anquan Boldin, Antonio Smith, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and the recently traded Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Some were role players. Others were tougher to replace.
Breaston was a backup on that team, but he played extensively as the third receiver and finished the season with more than 1,000 yards.
Kolb's addition headlined a flurry of transactions the Cardinals announced Thursday and Friday.
Sendlein, safety Hamza Abdullah, cornerback Michael Adams, tackle D'Anthony Batiste, center Ben Claxton, punter Ben Graham, fullback Reagan Maui'a and tight end Stephen Spach re-signed.
Five draft choices have signed. Guard Daryn Colledge, defensive end Nick Eason, tight end Jeff King, receiver Chansi Stuckey and linebacker Stewart Bradley have signed as free agents from other teams.
Re-signing Sendlein while adding Kolb, Colledge and Bradley suggests the 2011 team is still coming together, not necessarily falling apart.
A look at the free-agent priorities for each NFC West team:
1. Sign or acquire a quarterback: You've heard all the potential names by now. Kevin Kolb, Kyle Orton, Carson Palmer, Marc Bulger and Matt Hasselbeck all could be available. The same goes for Donovan McNabb, but the Cardinals aren't interested in him. How much interest they have in the others remains less clear. They liked Bulger as an option last offseason, but the timing wasn't right. Kolb reportedly stands atop their wish list now, although price is a consideration. One way or another, the Cardinals will go into the 2011 season with fresh veteran blood at the position.
2. Firm up the offensive line: Left guard Alan Faneca retired. Center Lyle Sendlein and right guard Deuce Lutui have expiring contracts. Brandon Keith showed promise at right tackle, but he's coming off knee surgery. A better quarterback would help take pressure off the line, but Arizona isn't going to find another Kurt Warner. The team has loaded up at running back, adding second-round choice Ryan Williams to an already crowded backfield. The Cardinals need to re-sign Sendlein. Letting Lutui depart would put them in the market for veteran help. I've looked through the free-agent lists for guards already familiar to the Cardinals. Pittsburgh's Trai Essex, a starter in 21 games over the past two seasons, played for Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm with the Steelers.
3. Work toward a deal with Larry Fitzgerald: Ideally, the Cardinals would have landed their next quarterback in March, then spent the offseason working toward extending Fitzgerald's contract beyond the 2011 season. Fitzgerald is an NFL rarity. He's in line to sign three massive contracts during the course of his career. He signed the first one as the third player chosen in the 2004 draft. That deal ultimately became untenable for the Cardinals, giving Fitzgerald the leverage to get $40 million over four seasons, plus assurances Arizona would not name him its franchise player once the deal ended. Fitzgerald, still only 27, will cash in at least one more time.
Top five free agents: Sendlein, Lutui, receiver Steve Breaston, defensive lineman Alan Branch, defensive lineman Gabe Watson.
St. Louis Rams
1. Upgrade the run defense: The Rams could use another defensive tackle to take their promising defensive front to another level. Adding Fred Robbins in free agency last offseason was a good start. Barry Cofield (New York Giants) and Brandon Mebane (Seattle Seahawks) are scheduled to become free agents this offseason. Cofield played for Steve Spagnuolo and would transition to the Rams' system easily. The Rams could use an in-the-box safety, something they addressed later in the draft. They need to find one and possibly two starting outside linebackers. Chase Blackburn projects more as a backup, but he was also with Spagnuolo on the Giants. Blackburn has played all three linebacker positions. Minnesota's Ben Leber would make sense as well. Paul Ferraro, the Rams' linebackers coach, was with the Vikings previously.
2. Help out Steven Jackson: Adding a third-down back such as Darren Sproles would lighten the load for Jackson, who has played through several injuries in recent seasons. Jackson has 654 rushing attempts over the past two seasons despite missing one game and playing for a team that has often trailed its opponents. Only Chris Johnson (674) has more carries during that span. Sproles isn't the only viable potential option. Jason Snelling, DeAngelo Williams and Reggie Bush also could become available. Upgrading at right guard would also help out Jackson.
3. Figure out the situation at receiver. It's questionable whether the Rams will find any clear upgrades at receiver in free agency. That could lead them to stand pat at the position. They have quantity, but not enough high-end quality. Adding more quantity wouldn't solve much. Plaxico Burress gets mentioned as an option for his ties to Spagnuolo, but he's been out of the game and might not offer much. The Rams thought about claiming Randy Moss off waivers last season. Moss could make more sense for the Rams now that Josh McDaniels is offensive coordinator. He worked well with Moss in New England. Sidney Rice could also have appeal.
Top five free agents: receiver Mark Clayton, guard Adam Goldberg, defensive tackle Clifton Ryan and tight end Daniel Fells.
1. Sign or acquire a quarterback: Bringing back Hasselbeck remains an option. The team expressed interest in Kolb last offseason. The team could also add a lower-profile veteran to the mix -- perhaps a Matt Leinart type -- for an open competition with Charlie Whitehurst. That would not excite Seattle fans, of course. Getting a young quarterback to build around would be ideal, but the Seahawks are adamant they will not force the situation in the absence of viable options. They weren't going to do it in the draft, when they passed over Andy Dalton for tackle James Carpenter. They probably aren't going to do it in free agency, either.
2. Solidify the offensive line: Tom Cable's addition as assistant head coach/offensive line puts the Seahawks in position to court Oakland Raiders guard Robert Gallery in free agency. Gallery has said he's not returning to the Raiders. Seattle has drafted its starting tackles, starting center and starting right guard in the past few seasons. Max Unger and Russell Okung need better luck with injuries. Okung would also benefit from an experienced presence next to him at left guard. Gallery qualifies as such and he would fit the zone system Cable wants to run. Green Bay's Daryn Colledge could be available, too. He has ties to Seahawks general manager John Schneider. Former Seattle starters Chris Spencer, Sean Locklear, Chester Pitts and Ray Willis might not return.
3. Plug holes on defense. Mebane appears headed for free agency. The Seahawks want him back, but how badly? Mebane could fit better in a purer 4-3 defense. He also might command more money elsewhere. Injuries along the defensive front could also affect the Seahawks' needs. Red Bryant is coming off season-ending knee surgery. Injuries affected Colin Cole and Chris Clemons last season as well. Cornerback is another area to monitor once free agency opens. Does Marcus Trufant still fit at his relatively high price? The Cincinnati Bengals' Johnathan Joseph and other free-agent corners could appeal.
Top five free agents: Hasselbeck, Mebane, Locklear, linebacker Will Herring, defensive end Raheem Brock.
San Francisco 49ers
1. Re-sign Alex Smith: Smith and the 49ers renewed their vows informally this offseason. The official ceremony should come when free agency opens and Smith signs with the team. Smith's name continues to show up on free-agent lists in the interim, but there's no chance he'll sign elsewhere. He's given his word to the 49ers. The team, in turn, has entrusted him with its playbook. Smith even took the lead in teaching what he knew of the offense to teammates. Re-signing Smith takes pressure off rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick. With a new coaching staff, a young prospect in Kaepernick and no access to players during a lockout, this wasn't the year for San Francisco to make a bold play for a veteran passer from another team.
2. Make a decision on Aubrayo Franklin. The 49ers' plans on defense remain a bit mysterious. Coordinator Vic Fangio did not distribute playbooks to players. The team's needs could change based on whether Franklin, a solid nose tackle, leaves in free agency. Franklin's status as a franchise player last season raised the stakes for a new contract. What does Fangio think of him? What specifically does Fangio want from his defensive linemen? How much will Fangio change to suit the 49ers' personnel? How much new personnel might he want? General manager Trent Baalke said the 49ers will not be aggressive in free agency. The team has shown restraint on that front in recent seasons. Losing Franklin would hurt.
3. Figure out the secondary: The pass defense was problematic last season. Personnel changes in the secondary are on the way. Veteran cornerback Nate Clements stands to earn more than $7 million in base salary in 2011. That price appears prohibitive. The team could release Clements or find a way to keep him at a lower rate. Free safety Dashon Goldson does not have a contract for 2011. How much is he worth? Baltimore's Chris Carr is one free-agent cornerback with ties to the 49ers' staff. He and Fangio were together in Baltimore.
Top five free agents: Smith, Franklin, outside linebacker Manny Lawson, center David Baas, linebacker Takeo Spikes.
Readiness factor: It's tough going this deep into an offseason without a starting quarterback. Any veteran the team acquires through trade or free agency will have relatively little time to learn the offense and adjust to his teammates. The Cardinals were so shaky at the position last season, however, that any significant upgrade behind center will energize the team. Moving quickly to land a quarterback will improve the Cardinals' readiness. But with key offensive linemen unsigned and a new defensive coordinator in place, the Cardinals face difficulties.
Biggest challenge: Ray Horton, the new defensive coordinator, will have relatively little time to establish the aggressive mentality he promised to instill when the Cardinals hired him. He'll also have an abbreviated window to install schematic changes and get players accustomed to his approach. Horton is the Cardinals' third defensive coordinator in four seasons, so continuity is an issue. Horton was already going to face challenges as a first-time coordinator. The lockout magnifies those challenges.
Who will Arizona target at quarterback? Reports strongly suggest Arizona will pursue Philadelphia's Kevin Kolb right away when the signing period opens. Speculation suggests a deal for Kolb was already in the works. What if it's not that simple? If the Eagles want too much in return and if acquiring another veteran such as Denver's Kyle Orton isn't a realistic option, then what? The Cardinals' prospects in 2011 rest on the team's ability to upgrade the position. Extending Larry Fitzgerald's contract will also be tougher without a viable quarterback.
Key players without contracts for 2011: Guard Deuce Lutui, defensive lineman Alan Branch, defensive lineman Gabe Watson, receiver Steve Breaston, center Lyle Sendlein.
The Rams sat down fullback Mike Karney for a second consecutive week even though Karney was available to them. Brit Miller is getting some snaps at fullback in the base offense. Miller also offers more on special teams. The Rams have sometimes moved a tight end into the backfield for blocking help, although their preferred choice in that role, Mike Hoomanwanui, is inactive with an ankle injury.
The Cardinals named defensive lineman Gabe Watson inactive after their defensive front struggled badly against the San Francisco 49ers last week. Defensive end Calais Campbell, inactive with an ankle injury last week, is active Sunday. Watson had been active for the previous three games.
Also inactive for Arizona: receiver Max Komar, cornerback A.J. Jefferson, safety Hamza Abdullah, cornerback Marshay Green, linebacker Reggie Walker and center Ben Claxton. John Skelton is the third quarterback.
Also inactive for the Rams: safety Michael Lewis, cornerback Jerome Murphy, linebacker Bryan Kehl, guard John Greco and defensive tackle Darell Scott. Scott has been injured. Defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo, inactive against Denver, is active for this game.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers think Gore should be OK for the start of the 2011 season. Gore's contract runs through 2011. This injury makes it tougher for him to secure a long-term deal. It was questionable, at least in my mind, as to how aggressively the 49ers would pursue a lucrative extension with Gore simply because running backs tend to wear down quickly. This injury affirms those concerns.
Also from Barrows: "The question moving forward is whether the offensive philosophy, which has been built on Gore's ability to run between the tackles, will change with a new cast at running back. Westbrook, who played in a West Coast offense in Philadelphia, is an accomplished receiver who caught 90 passes in 2007. Anthony Dixon, meanwhile, showed exceptional wiggle for a man his size during the exhibition season. He led the league in rushing -- 300 yards -- in the preseason and also scored two touchdowns."
Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News says Gore's injury ends any chances the 49ers might have had this season.
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers will limit Brian Westbrook's carries to keep the 31-year-old running back healthier. Branch: "Westbrook’s 23 carries Monday marked the fourth-most rushing attempts of his nine-year, 116-game career, which has been marked by a variety of injuries, including two concussions last year with Philadelphia. Westbrook, 31, has never played a full 16-game season and missed 11 games with the Eagles from 2007-09."
Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat thinks Mike Singletary's emotional approach, complete with tears following defeats, makes it tougher for Singletary to serve as an effective coach.
David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers expect to get kicker Joe Nedney back in Week 13.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team controls its own playoff destiny but cannot afford another home defeat, particularly against the 1-10 Carolina Panthers. Farnsworth: "The Panthers are averaging a league-low 12.7 points per game. Through 11 games, they have scored 140 points – which, ironically, matches the season total for the 1992 Seahawks, who set the 16-game NFL record for fewest points in a season."
Brian McIntyre of Mac's Football Blog says the Seahawks signed linebacker David Hawthorne through the 2011 season. That makes sense. Hawthorne has generally played well enough to stick around, but not well enough to command a lucrative long-term deal. This one-year extension puts some up-front money in his pocket while buying time for both sides.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' confidence needs a boost. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck: "We had a team meeting. Pete (Carroll) laid it out and showed some film -- showed some good stuff, too. It wasn't just the bad. Basically (he said), 'Hey guys, I need you to believe in how good you can be.' "
Also from O'Neil: Seattle's running game has gotten worse. O'Neil: "Seattle is headed toward its fifth straight season without a 1,000-yard rusher. It hasn't helped that fullback Michael Robinson missed the past five games with a hamstring injury, and with five games left, the Seahawks are still trying to piece together some semblance of a ground game."
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic checks in with Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, who offers thoughts on the team's six-game losing streak, his wife's cooking and a potential future in politics. Feely on teammate Derek Anderson's postgame news conference: "I saw it when I got home and I talked to him today. I like Derek and I know he's a competitor and I know he's kind of got a surly nature like that and it doesn't come across great sometimes. But I think it's because he does truly care. He wants to be good. He wants to win. He practices hard and he studies hard, but obviously he didn't handle it the best way."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic has this to say about the Cardinals' run defense Monday night: "Because of Darnell Dockett's shoulder injury, the Cardinals at one point had three nose tackles in the game: Dan Williams, Gabe Watson and Alan Branch. That's 1,003 pounds of tackles but the 49ers were able to move them. The Cardinals linebackers couldn't fill the gaps, and the 49ers averaged 5.6 yards a carry."
Also from Somers: Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is sticking with Anderson at quarterback. Whisenhunt: "As hard as it is to say, I have seen Derek in here working his tail off. I have seen improvement over the last few weeks. That's really what you look for, and I think he gives us the best chance to win right now."
More from Somers: Beanie Wells failed to raise his arm high enough to accept the handoff from Anderson on the Cardinals' first offensive play against San Francisco on Monday night, resulting in a fumbled exchange.
More yet from Somers: He explains his thinking in asking Anderson the questions that prompted the quarterback to lose his composure following the game Monday night. Somers: "I take no satisfaction in what happened, but I felt the questions were justified. The Cardinals were losing their sixth consecutive game. Their starting quarterback and right guard were smiling on the sidelines. Readers wanted to know why, especially since many of them think this team is not playing as hard as it should."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals are searching for reasons behind their poor play. Larry Fitzgerald says passion isn't lacking.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch takes a team-by-team look at the NFC West coming out of Week 12. Concerns for the Rams: "Over the last three games, the Rams defense has allowed an average of 437 yards and 30 points. In the three games they've been burned for 6 TD passes (with no INTs) and a passer rating of 109.2 The Rams have given up a league-high 10 pass plays of 25- plus yards over the last three games ... the coaching staff needs to shake this tendency on offense of going into a safe shell late in games to protect leads ... on offense the disappointing running game lacks consistency."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers a chat transcript with this thought on why Mardy Gilyard has not done more. Thomas: "The real reason is Gilyard missed time in the offseason and preseason, has been hurt off and on this season, has been slow to learn the offense, seems to be pressing, and currently isn't getting nearly as many opportunities as he might because others -- including (Danario) Alexander -- are getting the job done." Does Gilyard get more chances now that tight end Mike Hoomanawanui isn't an option?
Also from Thomas: Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo looks at what happened when the Rams nearly lost a big fourth-quarter lead at Denver. Spagnuolo: "I like the fact that we're able to work on that after getting our fifth win. It's hard to win in this league. Pretty tough to go to Denver and win, too. That's a tough place to play."
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch assesses the Rams' progress. Burwell: "Sunday in Denver was a test that had to be passed, and the Rams got through and won. Now look at the schedule. It seems as though things couldn't have been scripted for these final five weeks any better if Steve Spagnuolo had plotted out the schedule himself."
Breaston was named among the Cardinals' inactive players minutes ago. Rookie Andre Roberts starts in his place. Receiver Stephen Williams is also inactive. He has a back injury. Arizona's active receivers include Larry Fitzgerald, Max Komar, Early Doucet and Onrea Jones.
Also inactive for Arizona: safety Hamza Abdullah, cornerback Trumaine McBride, center Ben Claxton, linebacker Alex Hall and nose tackle Gabe Watson. John Skelton is the third quarterback.
Doucet's return from injury should help Arizona deal with Breaston's continuing absence. Breaston did provide a deep threat, however, and the Cardinals could miss his ability to strike downfield. Seattle has one fewer top-flight target to worry about defending, welcome news for the Seahawks as they play without starting corner Kelly Jennings.
Tim Hightower will start at running back, which would have happened anyway, and Hightower will probably get more carries than usual. This marks the second consecutive season an injury suffered before the opener will affect Wells' snap counts. The ankle injury he suffered in camp as a rookie made him play catch-up.
Also inactive for Arizona: receiver Andre Roberts, cornerback A.J. Jefferson, cornerback Brandon McDonald, linebacker Cyril Obiozor, center Ben Claxton and nose tackle Gabe Watson.
The Cardinals will have two rookie receivers active and Roberts, a third-round choice, is not one of them. The undrafted Max Komar appears likely to return punts. Fellow undrafted rookie Stephen Williams is active as a receiver.
Watson's inclusion on the list reflects his standing behind rookie first-round choice Dan Williams as the primary backup to Bryan Robinson.
Matt Leinart apparently has no idea where he stands with the Arizona Cardinals. That makes it tough for the rest of us to predict exactly what might happen.
Will Leinart start at quarterback for the Cardinals in Week 1? Will he serve as the backup? Will the Cardinals release him? Might they trade him?
The next week to 10 days should provide answers. NFL teams have until Saturday to reduce their rosters to 53-man limits, with the 75-man deadline passing Tuesday.
After looking at the Seahawks' roster earlier Monday, here's a quick run through the Cardinals:
Average number kept since 2003: 3.0
Keepers: Derek Anderson
Looking safe: Max Hall
On the bubble: Leinart, John Skelton
Comment: Coach Ken Whisenhunt's handling of Leinart suggests there's more than tough love at work here. It's fair to question whether Leinart fits into the team's plans at all this season. The smart move, it seems, would be to keep Anderson, Leinart and the winner of the Hall-Skelton competition. But it's clear Whisenhunt isn't convinced Leinart has what it takes to be a starting quarterback.
Running backs (8)
Average number kept since 2003: 5.3
Keepers: Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Jason Wright
On the bubble: Reagan Maui'a, Charles Scott
Also: Alfonso Smith, Nehemiah Broughton
Comment: Scott arrived via trade this week after Broughton suffered a season-ending knee injury. Maui'a could be the choice heading into the regular season. Scott provides depth for the final exhibition game, but it's unlikely he would be refined enough as a blocker to factor into the offense in a meaningful way. Smith's speed caught my attention early in camp.
Wide receivers (11)
Average number kept since 2003: 6.1
Keepers: Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, Early Doucet
Looking safe: Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams
On the bubble: Onrea Jones, Max Komar
Also: Isaiah Williams, Darren Mougey, Mike Jones, Ed Gant
Comment: Gant serves a suspension to open the season. Roberts will make the team as a third-round pick. Williams pretty much wrapped up a spot with his latest strong performance (at Chicago). Jones and Komar could be competing for a sixth and final spot at the position.
Tight ends (4)
Average number kept since 2003: 3.1
Keepers: Ben Patrick, Anthony Becht, Stephen Spach
Also: Jim Dray
Comment: The team released Dominique Byrd on Monday. The top three appear set. Not much drama here. Dray looks like practice-squad material.
Offensive linemen (12)
Average number kept since 2003: 8.9
Keepers: Lyle Sendlein, Alan Faneca, Brandon Keith, Reggie Wells, Levi Brown, Deuce Lutui, Rex Hadnot, Jeremy Bridges
Looking safe: Herman Johnson
Also: Ben Claxton, Tom Pestock, Jonathan Palmer
Comment: Lutui could be trending toward a spot back in the starting lineup despite reporting to camp overweight. Johnson also reported overweight. He isn't a starter, and that's why I listed him separately from the keepers (even though it's an upset, most likely, if Johnson does not stick).
Defensive line (9)
Average number kept since 2003: 7.4
Keepers: Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Bryan Robinson
Looking safe: Alan Branch, Gabe Watson, Kenny Iwebema
Also: John Fletcher, Jeremy Clark
Comment: This position appears pretty much set. I would expect seven to earn roster spots.
Average number kept since 2003: 7.1
Keepers: Gerald Hayes, Paris Lenon, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington
Looking safe: Will Davis, Cody Brown
Bubble: Monty Beisel, Reggie Walker
Also: O'Brien Schofield, Steve Baggs, Mark Washington, Chris Johnson, Pago Togafau
Comment: Hayes and Schofield could open the season on reserve/physically unable to perform, opening two roster spots. Beisel and Walker could be competing for the final spot at this position.
Defensive backs (13)
Average number kept since 2003: 8.9
Keepers: Adrian Wilson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Kerry Rhodes, Greg Toler, Trumaine McBride, Matt Ware
Looking safe: Michael Adams, Hamza Abdullah, Rashad Johnson
On the bubble: Marshay Green
Also: A.J. Jefferson, Trevor Ford, Justin Miller
Comment: Toler could be passing McBride on the depth chart as the starting right cornerback, fulfilling expectations. Johnson appeared more physical early in camp. Haven't heard much about him lately, though.
Average number kept since 2003: 2.9
Keepers: Jay Feely, Ben Graham, Mike Leach
Comment: Arizona has three on the roster and that's how many the team will keep. Simple enough.
Also from Somers: Nose tackle Gabe Watson and receiver Andre Roberts suffered sprained right shoulders. Just what the Cardinals need: another banged-up receiver.
More from Somers: Anderson's touch might be improving, but not all at once. Somers: "Anderson showed the inconsistency that's kept him from seriously challenging Leinart, at least so far. He threw a beautiful 37-yard strike to (Stephen) Williams, putting the Cardinals at the Titans 6. The Cardinals had a perfect call on the play after. Anderson faked to Beanie Wells, the Titans bit, and receiver Steve Breaston was open in the end zone. But Anderson put too much on the ball and Breaston had no chance. Coaches have been working with Anderson on showing some touch in those situations and believe he is improving. If the Cardinals score there, then we would all be talking an awful lot today about a possible QB competition." Instead, we're talking about ... a possible QB controversy.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com thinks little will come of the Cardinals' offensive struggles Monday night. Urban: "My guess is the Cards will break down the tape, see the Titans bringing the house (and Leinart under heavy pressure nearly every play), see the running game providing no support, and figure with a better game plan, Leinart would have been OK."
Also from Urban: The Cardinals will remain in Nashville before heading to Chicago for their game Saturday.
More from Urban: Larry Fitzgerald appears close to receiving medical clearance to return from a sprained knee.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says it's unclear where Brandon Jones fits in the Seahawks' receiving rotation. Jones obviously felt the situation was unsettled enough for him to compete for a spot.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times questions whether the Seahawks will keep a true fullback on their initial 53-man roster. Quinton Ganther worked ahead of Owen Schmitt in the second exhibition game.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says cornerback Roy Lewis has been "one of the pleasant surprises" during Seahawks camp. Also at corner: "(Walter) Thurmond’s play has tailed off a bit, but he still has enormous potential and would not make it through waivers if Seattle tried to put him on the practice squad. Cord Parks and Marcus Brown are likely competing for a practice squad spot."
John Morgan of Field Gulls liked what he saw from Marcus Trufant when the Seattle cornerback challenged a pass for Greg Jennings in the most recent exhibition game.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams aren't handing the starting job to Sam Bradford yet, even though Bradford will start Thursday night at New England while A.J. Feeley recovers from a thumb injury. Coach Steve Spagnuolo: "A.J.'s the starter right now (if healthy); Sam's the backup. A.J. has a little better command of the offense. If you based it on two games, A.J.'s been able to move the football team when he's been in there. That's really what we want. Sam has a little bit of a ways to go in that. But at some point, if we feel the guy that is behind the starter can do a better job, to me, that's when you make the move. I don't know if that'll be next week. If it'll be three weeks. If it'll be four weeks. Sam still has a lot of things (to learn)."
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says at least one Rams player was already familiar with newly signed receiver Danario Alexander.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea offers a player-by-player review of the 49ers' offense against Minnesota. On first-round rookie tackle Anthony Davis: "Started at right tackle and played the first three quarters, taking part in 38 snaps. He was called for a false start on the second drive. He could not hold his block on Jayme Mitchell, causing Dixon to be thrown for a 2-yard loss in the second quarter. Starting defensive end Ray Edwards was difficult for him to handle, but Davis did a good job of riding him out of the picture on a third-and-11 pass to Walker for a first down to set up the 49ers' only touchdown."
Also from Maiocco: a look at the 49ers' defense, with these thoughts on Manny Lawson: "Started at sam linebacker. He came in off the edge to throw Peterson for a 3-yard loss on the first run play of the game. He also tackled Peterson for a 1-yard loss. Credited with four tackles, a very good showing, in his one quarter of work."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee singles out 10 players for their work in the 49ers' effort against the Vikings. On cornerback Phillip Adams: " The rookie broke up three passes, including a very nice play along the sideline on a throw to receiver Marko Mitchell. He also led the 49ers with four tackles. Adams is trying to be the fifth cornerback on the active roster. The fact that he is a strong, big-bodied corner helps his cause because he can contribute on special teams."
Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at the 49ers' competition between LaBoy and Diyral Briggs at outside linebacker.
Also from Barber: What's up with the 49ers' return game? Barber: "(Bobby) Guillory, signed Aug. 11, got all five punt returns against the Vikings, and both kickoff returns. There are two ways to interpret this: (1) The 49ers really want to give Guillory a good look before making a decision. Or (2) they know just what they have in (Ted) Ginn and (Dominique) Zeigler, and can rest them for the regular season." The latter option makes more sense. The team does seem high on Kyle Williams on punt returns.
101ESPN St. Louis: center Jason Brown
101ESPN St. Louis: ESPN's Chris Mortensen on Brian Westbrook
101ESPN St. Louis: Rick Venturi
101ESPN St. Louis: linebacker James Laurinaitis
101ESPN St. Louis: running back Chris Ogbonnaya
101ESPN St. Louis: coach Steve Spagnuolo
KNBR680 San Francisco: columnist Lowell Cohn
KNBR680 San Francisco: coach Mike Singletary
XTRA910 Phoenix: coach Ken Whisenhunt
XTRA910 Phoenix: guard Alan Faneca
XTRA910 Phoenix: nose tackle Gabe Watson
XTRA910 Phoenix: kicker Jay Feely
XTRA910 Phoenix: quarterback Matt Leinart
XTRA910 Phoenix: reporter Kent Somers
XTRA910 Phoenix: receiver Larry Fitzgerald
KTAR620 Phoenix: receiver Stephen Williams
KTAR620 Phoenix: former kicker Neil Rackers
KTAR620 Phoenix: defensive coordinator Bill Davis
KTAR620 Phoenix: Hall of Famer Russ Grimm
KTAR620 Phoenix: quarterbacks coach Chris Miller
KTAR620 Phoenix: quarterback Max Hall
KTAR620 Phoenix: guard Rex Hadnot
KJR950 Seattle: tight end Anthony McCoy
KJR950 Seattle: defensive end Nick Reed
KJR950 Seattle: defensive tackle Craig Terrill
KJR950 Seattle: former coach Jim Mora
KJR950 Seattle: columnist Dave Boling
KJR950 Seattle: running back Julius Jones
KJR950 Seattle: receiver Mike Williams
KJR950 Seattle: receiver Deion Branch
101ESPN Seattle: ESPN's John Clayton
101ESPN Seattle: ESPN's Tim Hasselbeck
101ESPN Seattle: linebacker Aaron Curry
101ESPN Seattle: defensive line coach Dan Quinn
Didn't see much new on the 49ers at this time.
101ESPN St. Louis: receiver Keenan Burton
101ESPN St. Louis: executive Kevin Demoff
101ESPN St. Louis: receiver Laurent Robinson
101ESPN St. Louis: reporter John Clayton
101ESPN St. Louis: coach Steve Spagnuolo
101ESPN St. Louis: defensive end Chris Long
49ersKNBR680 San Francisco: coach Mike Singletary
KNBR680 San Francisco: reporter Matt Barrows
KNBR680 San Francisco: reporter Matt Maiocco
KNBR680 San Francisco: former receiver Dwight Clark
CardinalsXTRA910 Phoenix: nose tackle Gabe Watson
XTRA910 Phoenix: kicker Jay Feely
XTRA910 Phoenix: receiver Max Komar
XTRA910 Phoenix: safety Adrian Wilson
XTRA910 Phoenix: cornerback Greg Toler
XTRA910 Phoenix: linebacker Clark Haggans
XTRA910 Phoenix: running back Tim Hightower
azcardinals.com: quarterback Matt Leinart (video)
azcardinals.com: coach Ken Whisenhunt (video)
azcardinals.com: In the Red Zone with Whisenhunt
KTAR620 Phoenix: Whisenhunt
KTAR620 Phoenix: general manager Rod Graves
KTAR620 Phoenix: defensive coordinator Bill Davis
KTAR620 Phoenix: special-teams coach Kevin Spencer
KJR950 Seattle: receiver Mike Williams
KJR950 Seattle: former defensive end Bryce Fisher
KJR950 Seattle: cornerback Kelly Jennings
KJR950 Seattle: reporter Danny O'Neil
KJR950 Seattle: linebacker David Hawthorne
KJR950 Seattle: quarterback J.P. Losman
KJR950 Seattle: safety Earl Thomas
KJR950 Seattle: quarterback Matt Hasselbeck
KJR950 Seattle: safety Lawyer Milloy
KJR950 Seattle: running back Leon Washington
This is the first file with audio links of the 2010 season. As a result, some of these interviews are several days old. Remember to put on those headphones if you're at work.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says this 2010 training camp is critical for Cardinals defenders Alan Branch, Gabe Watson and Rashad Johnson. Somers on Branch: "Branch has been the biggest disappointment. The Cardinals traded a fourth-round pick in 2007 in order to move up to select Branch 33rd overall. Yet, he never has started a game and played in only four in 2008. He was listed at 338 pounds in the media guide but often was considerably heavier. This off-season, however, he took his conditioning seriously. He's at 320 pounds, the lightest he has been since he played at Michigan." Branch took a step forward last season and it paid off in a few games, notably against the Minnesota Vikings. Branch appears to have taken another step forward heading into 2010.
Also from Somers: a quick look at rookie tight end Jim Dray.
More from Somers: notes from the Cardinals' practices, including news that first-round choice Dan Williams had agreed to terms and was expected to practice Tuesday afternoon.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Cardinals rookie receiver Andre Roberts suffered through a rough day Monday. Roberts: "With the playbook and plays, I think I am doing pretty good, pretty consistent and not making many mental errors. But I am inconsistent catching the ball right now. … I think I have pretty good hands. I just think it is a loss of concentration. I have to get better."
Also from Urban: Coach Ken Whisenhunt was OK with Darnell Dockett calling out teammate Kerry Rhodes via Twitter this offseason. Urban: "Whisenhunt said he didn’t have a problem when Darnell Dockett called out Kerry Rhodes on Twitter this summer about making sure Rhodes was working and not lounging around. Whiz said Dockett didn’t cross the line. Told Rhodes would rather have not had it out to the public, Whiz cracked, 'There are a lot of things I wish people would keep off the internet.' "
Dockett, via Twitter, volunteers to take Albert Haynesworth's conditioning test barefoot with shades and a headband for $3 million. He'd pass it, too.
But all is not lost for the two-time defending NFC West champion Cardinals.
It'll take a team effort for Arizona to pull off another division title, just as it took one to complete this blog entry -- the fourth and final one in our series asking whether NFC West teams have improved this offseason. Facebook friend Barrett came through with the portion of our analysis focusing on offense. Branden, a Facebook friend I've tailgated with before Cardinals games, joined fellow Cardinals fans Jack and Jacob in filling out the remaining categories. I'm pleased by the final result and hope you find it thought-provoking.
Thanks to all the others who answered the call. My only regret was not being able to use them all.
Barrett: It's Matt Leinart's time to prove capable of leading an NFL team from behind center. If he falters, Derek Anderson will be waiting to show that he can return to his Pro Bowl form from 2007 -- when he had targets such as Kellen Winslow Jr. and Braylon Edwards. Fifth-round rookie John Skelton may have the physical attributes Ken Whisenhunt looks for in a quarterback, but he remains a project. Verdict: worse.
Sando: Max Hall is another rookie quarterback to watch on the Cardinals' roster. I hear they like what they've seen so far. I also think Leinart can outperform the low expectations his critics have set for him. But there's no getting around the obvious here. The Cardinals were better at quarterback when they had Warner.
Sando: This group should only improve as Wells gets more seasoning and the Cardinals give him more opportunities. The knock on him coming out of college was that he was soft. Cardinals players challenged Wells to prove doubters wrong. Wells responded by running tough and running hard. The prime-time game against the New York Giants comes to mind. I think Wells can take it to another level.
Barrett: Even with Boldin being traded away to the Ravens, Larry Fitzgerald will still be a top receiver. Steve Breaston is no stranger to lining up as the No. 2 in Boldin's absence. Early Doucet showed what he is capable of during last season's playoff run. Now, let's see if he can produce similarly over the course of a full season. Andre Roberts is an excellent draft pick for depth to compete with Onrea Jones at the No. 4 spot and I expect him to spell Breaston for punt-return duties. However formidable this receiving corps still seems, the Cardinals will miss what No. 81 brought as a player, competitor, teammate and leader. Verdict: worse.
Sando: The Cardinals somehow won a higher percentage of games recently when Boldin did not play. I agree they'll miss the toughness he brought. Boldin might have helped an inexperienced quarterback such as Leinart more than he helped Warner. Breaston brings more speed to the offense. Depth is certainly worse without Boldin, but it was also apparent Boldin might be declining some. I'll agree with your general assessment.
Barrett: Anthony Becht, Ben Patrick and Stephen Spach are all back from last season, plus Dominique Byrd. Tight ends caught a whopping 23 passes for the Cardinals last season. It seems their primary function in Whisenhunt's offense is to offer run blocking and an occasional check-down. However, this may change ever so slightly as the focus shifts to a more balanced attack. Verdict: same.
Sando: If there's an upgrade, it comes from having Patrick for a full 16 games. He missed the first four last season while serving an NFL suspension. Once Patrick returned, the Cardinals felt more comfortable using two tight ends. Wells had good success running from some of these double-tight personnel groupings. I think we could see more of those now that Warner is gone and the team has fewer front-line options at wide receiver.
Sando: Faneca is a huge name and I think he's got something to prove after the New York Jets dumped him. The word among NFL people is that Faneca has fallen off significantly and he could be a liability. The leadership and toughness he brings will have value, but how well can he play at this stage? I do not know. The Cardinals have in recent seasons stressed the importance of continuity on the offensive line. They'll have new people in three or four of the five starting spots, so the continuity is gone. Throw in a new starting quarterback and there's a lot of work to do. This group is better on paper based on the additions, but I'm not sure it'll be more effective (although the shift to more of a power running game could play to the strength of these linemen, something to keep in mind).
Barrett: Whisenhunt has always geared his offenses to the players' strengths. With key losses in Warner and Boldin and the acquisition of Faneca, it sure looks like the Cardinals are shifting toward a more balanced attack. But one thing is for certain, and that is the quarterback cannot be expected to produce the way Warner did. Verdict: worse.
Sando: You're right about Whisenhunt and his staff. They'll rise to the challenge and give the Cardinals their best chance to succeed on offense. The running game should be strong. They'll play to Leinart's strengths as well. But the points will be harder to come by and that'll make it tougher for the Cardinals to win games. The offense will be different and less prolific.
Branden: The line up front starts and ends with the performance of Darnell Dockett. He has become more of a leader this offseason and his play on the field already speaks for itself. Calais Campbell has made many lists as one of the breakout players in the league. Whisenhunt has brought many of his rookies along slowly, so Bryan Robinson will most likely start at nose tackle, but rookie Dan Williams should get plenty of time and I expect him to take over the starting role by midseason. Depth-wise, Alan Branch and Gabe Watson are in make-or-break seasons, and while Branch showed more ability and versatility last year in his time at defensive end, they will have to step up to strengthen depth at the position. Kenny Iwebema is a serviceable backup and special-teamer. Verdict: better.
Sando: It'll take a while for Williams to hit stride, but his addition can only improve what was already a pretty good situation for Arizona. Having the pressure on Watson and Branch can only help. It's tough for 3-4 defensive ends to get much notice, but Arizona has two of them worth our praise.
Sando: Someone pointed out to me that Porter and Haggans are younger than Berry, but it's small consolation for Arizona. You're right about the young guys needing to step forward. I could see Porter getting close to double-digit sacks even though Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. thinks Porter has declined dramatically. Others have said Porter collected "cheap" sacks in recent seasons. Cheap ones are better than none at all. This group probably isn't going to decline dramatically. It wasn't all that great last season. Okeafor is out of the league, after all, and Berry retired.
Branden: Losing Karlos Dansby will be difficult to overcome because he was a jack of all trades. However, I'm not as high on him as many others were -- Dansby had no Pro Bowls -- and I'm glad the Cardinals did not overpay for him. The addition of Paris Lenon as a stopgap and the drafting of Daryl Washington should help somewhat, but the injury to Gerald Hayes is a major issue. This group is thin and I believe the Cardinals will look to add a veteran when cuts are made. Verdict: worse.
Sando: There's little getting around the problems Arizona faces at this position. We can talk about the defensive line being strong enough to cover somewhat, and that might be the case once Williams develops at nose tackle, but we're not fooling anyone in the meantime. The Cardinals tried to sign Keith Bulluck, but they lost him to the New York Giants. They also claimed Alex Hall off waivers, but the Giants beat them to the punch on that one, too, thanks to a higher waiver priority. Expect Arizona to keep monitoring the waiver wire here.
Branden: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a Pro Bowler, so that helps with one side of the field. Bryant McFadden, traded back to Pittsburgh this offseason, was not much help on the other side last year, but he fared well in run situations. Greg Toler has the physical tools to be a good corner, but he is raw and needs to show his ability this preseason. Michael Adams is a special-teamer and the others, including Trumaine McBride, are OK backups. The Cardinals generally bring multiple safeties on the field in passing situations, so depth isn't a huge concern, but it's a valid question. The performance of this group hinges on DRC's ability to stay healthy and Toler's performance. Verdict: same or better if Toler steps up.
Sando: The Cardinals aren't afraid to make changes, that's for sure. They could have stuck with McFadden, but his contract was a little steep for what they were getting in return. Whisenhunt seemed quite strong in his praise for Toler and he generally isn't wrong on these things. There's potential for this group to drop off, though. At least McFadden was a known quantity. The Cardinals take pride in developing young players and they'll need to be right on Toler to justify their decisions at the position.
Branden: Adrian Wilson is one of the five best safeties in the league, and it is a shame more people don't realize that. I think Kerry Rhodes will actually be an upgrade over Rolle as he knows where he is supposed to be, while Rolle was just learning the free safety position. I think Rolle has the potential to be better in the long run, but the starting tandem should be fine. Second-year man Rashad Johnson needs to step up and perform to the high praise from college coach Nick Saban. He just seemed lost last year. Matt Ware is a solid backup and plays well in passing situations. Hamza Abdullah is also a decent backup. Verdict: same, with the ability to be better in passing situations.
Sando: I've found informed fans to be a bit overly critical of safeties. I'm not saying that's the case with Branden, but there's definitely a feeling among some Arizona fans that Rolle was overrated and Rhodes will actually provide an upgrade. I don't really see it athletically or for the long term, but acquiring Rhodes showed the Cardinals had a plan once Rolle's contract forced their hand. The Cardinals seem encouraged by what they're seeing from Johnson recently. I heard nothing positive about him last season. Re-signing Ware stood out as an underrated move. He's had some value as one of the first defensive backs off the bench.
Branden: The Cardinals had more than 40 sacks last season and I think they can achieve that number again this year with their defensive line and some contribution from the outside linebacker position. I'm concerned about their inside linebackers' ability to stop the run, but again, I think much of that hinges on their ability to penetrate up front. The secondary has a chance to be very good, but I'm not sold. This was not a spectacular unit last year as evidenced by their giving up 90 points in two playoff games. They are more acquainted with the scheme and I think Billy Davis is a good defensive coordinator, but he will have to get creative again this year. The offense will not be scoring 50-plus points this year, so this unit will have to perform well for ...
Sando: Branden's evaluation cut off there for some reason, but that's OK. We've got a deep roster of contributors and I'll lean on them for the rest of this exercise. The last point Branden raised was the one I wanted to touch upon in this space. It'll be tougher getting to 40 sacks again with fewer points on the board. It'll be easier, in theory, for the other team to stick with its running game. That appears problematic for Arizona given the issues at inside linebacker. But if Hayes can return in September, perhaps the Cardinals can stabilize the middle of their defense. They're fortunate to have such a terrific box safety in Wilson. I'll now turn to Cardinals fan Jack for the section on special teams.
Jack: I'm very excited about the special teams of the Cardinals, actually. Stephens-Howling performed quite well as a rookie returning kicks, and he should do even better this year now that he has his feet wet. Breaston didn't do well returning punts last season, so the Cardinals need to make a change, particularly with Breaston as the No. 2 receiver. I hope Andre Roberts gets a shot. As for the kickers, I hope that Jay Feely will be more consistent than Neil Rackers. Ben Graham was great last season, and I expect the same from him this year. Verdict: better.
Sando: Rackers did some great things during his tenure in Arizona, but seeing him line up in the clutch was enough to make even non-fans nervous for him. Kicker is one position where teams can plug in free agents pretty easily, so Arizona could be fine with Feely. Stephens-Howling is already one of the best special-teams players in the league. He deserves Pro Bowl consideration. Cards fan Jacob is on deck with a look at the coaching.
Jacob: What more can be done by Whisenhunt? He is a proven winner and has taken this Cardinals franchise to heights never before imagined. Russ Grimm is widely considered one of the best head-coaching candidates. People will bang on the fact that the cardinals play in the NFC West and have been inconsistent at times throughout the year. However, they are 4-2 in the playoffs under Whisenhunt with both losses to the Super Bowl champions. Winning in the playoffs comes down to game plans, managing the emotions of the game and players -- and that is where Whisenhunt excels. His best coaching job will be showcased this year if the Cardinals can capture another division title. Verdict: same or better.
Sando: I'm sure Whisenhunt is relishing the challenge. The Cardinals are being counted out prematurely. Whisenhunt will probably get the most from them. The coaching staff will deserve high praise if Leinart develops into a winning quarterback. Whisenhunt's Arizona legacy is largely established. He can only help it this season. With that, we go back to Jack for the final two sections.
Jack: I'd love to see the Cardinals take advantage of playing the AFC West this season. They still do have some tough games, though, most notably against Dallas, San Diego, Minnesota and New Orleans. Still, if they don't get eight or nine victories out of this schedule, it will be a disappointment.
Sando: Three of the first four games are on the road. The fifth game is at home -- against the Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints. Welcome back to the lineup, Matt Leinart. Finishing the season against Dallas and San Francisco gives the Cardinals an opportunity to gain ground in the NFC, but neither game will be easy.
Jack: I want so badly to say the Cardinals are better than the 49ers. They can be, but they'll have to prove it. Perhaps the Cardinals' best chance is to take advantage of an easy schedule and snag a wild-card spot. I believe they'll get eight or nine victories, though. I hope for more.
Sando: The Cardinals won 10 games last season with more talent. It's reasonable to expect them to slip back into the 8-8 range. That's where I see the Cardinals finishing and it'll be no shock if they fail to reach .500 for the first time under Whisenhunt. This is a transition year. They'll find out whether Leinart is their quarterback and if they win more than eight games along the way, or even if they avoid a losing season, I'd consider 2010 a success.