NFC West: Gil Haskell

John Carlson came to work one day last summer to discover the Seattle Seahawks were forking over big bucks for another tight end.

The situation went from bad to worse for Carlson when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury requiring surgery. After sitting out the 2011 season and recovering, Carlson has lined up a visit with the Kansas City Chiefs, Bill Williamson notes on the AFC West blog.

Carlson, 27, illustrates the costs of quarterback and scheme instability.

The Seahawks used a 2008 second-round choice for him because their coach at the time, Mike Holmgren, thought Carlson could provide long-sought production at the position. The Seahawks have gone from Gil Haskell to Greg Knapp to Jeremy Bates to Darrell Bevell at offensive coordinator since that time. They have shifted away from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and just about everyone else Holmgren brought to Seattle.

Carlson's production as a receiver suffered. He went from 55 receptions as a rookie to 51 the following year to 31 in 2010. The Seahawks have said they value him, but the money they gave Zach Miller last offseason told everyone which tight end Seattle valued the most.

Miller went from averaging about 60 receptions per season in Oakland to a 25-catch year with Seattle in 2011. He was strong as a blocker, but the drop in receiving production showed Carlson had company among Seattle tight ends struggling to produce in the passing game recently.
Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis will not miss fewer padded practices. Willis on protections written into the new labor agreement: "Honestly, I'm glad they put that in there. At the end of the day, we're high-impact players. For us to go out there and hit each other twice a day and it's me against you and it's everything I've got against you, it takes a toll on your body."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com passes along a team-issued comment from Chargers general manager A.J. Smith regarding the team's contract agreement with Takeo Spikes. Smith: "He is an outstanding player. I love his competitiveness and instincts. I believe he will be an immediate contributor. To me, this is another Randall Godfrey type move for the Chargers."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers did not show interest in Spikes once the negotiating period opened.

Taylor Price of 49ers.com reports from team headquarters as players returned for work following the lockout. Price: "While 49ers players like Willis were extremely eager to begin the 2011 campaign, many of them had trouble finding their lockers first. The typical locker arrangement the players had come to expect was changed by head coach Jim Harbaugh. Now the locker room looks like a sporadic mix of players intertwined with various position groups."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers are adopting a long-term approach under team president Jed York.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune reflects on some of the moments that defined Matt Hasselbeck's legacy in Seattle. Boling: "Years ago at Arizona when Darrell Jackson fumbled the ball 20 yards downfield at a crucial point in the game, the Seahawk who made the recovery was Hasselbeck. He’d gone racing down the field to help and was there to dive into the pile and get the ball. Offensive coordinator Gil Haskell was mad at him after the game because it seemed so reckless for a quarterback, but then he admitted that he’d never seen another quarterback make that play, and that Matt was the 'toughest guy on the team.'"

John McGrath of the Tacoma News Tribune thinks the Seahawks should give Charlie Whitehurst a chance.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says now was the time for Hasselbeck and the Seahawks to part ways. Kelley: "He made himself into a Pro Bowler. He became one of the most respected athletes to play in Seattle and one of the classiest, most humble guys I've covered. But it was time for him to go. The Seahawks will go into this season with two rookies projected to start on the right side of the offensive line. Four of their starting linemen will have a combined total of 27 career starts. That's a prescription for disaster for Hasselbeck, who will turn 36 in September and has had injury and mobility problems the past few years. Truthfully, the end of the Hasselbeck era has been coming since former general manager Tim Ruskell hustled [Mike] Holmgren out the door."

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle says clues were there that Hasselbeck would not return. As coach Pete Carroll put it some time after declaring Hasselbeck's re-signing a top priority, "Well, we had a good dialogue started and we went up to the time frame that we had available so that's all we could do, and then it ended. We weren't able to get anything done at that time so when opportunities arise again where we can get going on it again, we'll be right after it again and see where it all fits. Some time has passed now and there could have been some things that have changed."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says former defensive lineman Richard Harris, 63, has died of a heart attack.

Also from Farnsworth: Seattle players return to work.

Art Thiel of Sports Press Northwest calls Tarvaris Jackson a placeholder while the Seahawks search for their next long-term quarterback.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are considering multiple options at quarterback. Hasselbeck was one of the options mentioned, but obviously not a serious one. Hasselbeck's agreement with Tennessee gives Arizona one fewer quarterback to consider as the Cardinals try to leverage a better deal with Philadelphia for Kevin Kolb. Somers: "Kolb is the Cardinals' top choice, and their efforts to get him were bolstered when the Seahawks agreed to terms Tuesday with former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson."

Also from Somers: Jeff King and Ben Graham have agreed to deals with Arizona.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says team staffers were happy to see players back in the building following the lockout. Urban: "There are times when a player comes through the door and freezes, realizing a meeting was going on. Offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges was that guy this morning, until [team president Michael] Bidwill waved him through. As the affable Bridges walked down the side, the staff began to clap, bringing a smile to Bridges’ face. As he went to pass the main stage, he went to shake Bidwill’s hand -- and it turned into a welcome-back hug."

Also from Urban: More on players returning to work.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports from Rams headquarters as players returned to work following the lockout. Also: "Jim Lake has been promoted to equipment manager. He replaces Todd Hewitt, who was fired in January after 16 years in the position and 32 years as a Rams employee. Lake has worked in the club's equipment department for 20 years. In other staff additions, Adam Bailey has been hired as assistant strength coach, Lou Paolillo has been named a coaching assistant/special projects, and Jeremy McMillan becomes the team's nutritionist."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Quintin Mikell's addition to the Rams could spell the end for veteran James Butler. Thomas: "The Rams currently have only three safeties under contract in James Butler, Craig Dahl and Darian Stewart, but did draft two safeties in Ohio State's Jermale Hines and Oklahoma's Jonathan Nelson. The signing of Mikell could put Butler, who counts nearly $3.3 million against the salary, in jeopardy of being a cap casualty."

As the offensive coordinators turn

January, 20, 2011
1/20/11
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NFC West teams have had 14 coaches serving in offensive coordinator roles over the last three-plus seasons.

That's a lot of turnover.

Seattle and San Francisco each will have had four coordinators in four seasons, with the 49ers' Mike Johnson having taken over for Jimmy Raye during the 2010 season.

Darrell Bevell is the favorite for the Seahawks' job after the team offered him the position.

All four teams turned over offensive coordinators from the 2008 to 2009 seasons.

Arizona's Russ Grimm (running game) and Mike Miller (passing game) share responsibilities, with head coach Ken Whisenhunt usually calling the plays.

Why Seahawks' Wallace has value

March, 6, 2010
3/06/10
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Seahawks backup quarterback Seneca Wallace spent six seasons learning Mike Holmgren's offense.

Wallace
Wallace
Wallace's mastery of that offense could make him more valuable to the Browns, who are implementing Holmgren's offense, than to the Seahawks, who are changing offenses for the second consecutive offseason.

Backup quarterbacks don't get many reps. It can take them longer to master an offense.

Former Seahawks offensive coordinator Gil Haskell is helping the Browns install Holmgren's offense. Wallace would give the Browns a quarterback instantly familiar with the terminology and playbook.

Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, citing a league source, said the Browns could have interest in Wallace. I'm not sure how much the Seahawks' new staff values Wallace, but if Seattle could find a suitable backup, parting with Wallace by trade could make sense. It's not like he knows the Seahawks' offense.

Around the NFC West: Rams' sale update

February, 1, 2010
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Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says one of the potential buyers for the Rams is from Canada. Miklasz: "One of the three potential buyers is a group of investors organized by St. Louis Blues chairman Dave Checketts. Multiple sources tell me that another group has strong ties to Toronto, which should concern those who want to see the Rams remain in St. Louis. As for the third potential buyer ... candidly, I've been unable to nail down that part. But I know it isn't anyone from St. Louis. And I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the bidder is based in Chicago." That makes Checketts' bid the one most likely to keep the Rams in St. Louis for the long term.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom as saying the team is closer to being competitive than some people think. "I think fans should be optimistic about the direction of this organization," Rosenbloom told the Post-Dispatch in a rare interview. "We made a sweeping restructuring of the entire organization so that we could be winners on the field — to put us in position to start winning games. Now, this is not a one-season fix. This past season was sort of an interim year in my opinion before we see a more successful on-field product. I think this year it was necessary to get through a lot of stuff."

Also from Thomas: says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo expects a good Super Bowl game after facing both participants during the regular season. Rams defensive end Leonard Little: "Drew Brees has great receivers, and he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league. But Peyton Manning is a totally different beast. I'm not saying that because me and him went to school together [at Tennessee]. He's a totally different animal at quarterback because he's so aware of what the defense is doing. I don't know if he calls his own plays, but sometimes it seems like he calls his own plays because he knows where the defense is going. And when he does that, when he gets on a roll like that, he's hard to stop."

Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times says Rams and 49ers alumnus Mike Martz flew to Jay Cutler's home following an interview with the Bears, but it remains unclear which candidate the Bears will hire as their offensive coordinator.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers safety Dashon Goldson has hired Drew Rosenhaus as his agent, dumping Peter Schaffer. Maiocco: "Rosenhaus also represents Frank Gore, Jason Hill, Demetric Evans, Moran Norris and Marcus Hudson" in addition to guard Chilo Rachal, another recent convert.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers should make a strong play for Donovan McNabb this offseason. Kawakami: "Instead of cautiously tiptoeing into playoff contention, why shouldn't the 49ers embrace this opportunity and try to make a bold quarterback move that might vault them beyond the confines of their paltry division? By the way, that's exactly what they tried last year when they attempted to steal Warner away from Arizona. Why not check with the Philadelphia Eagles and see what it would take to pry loose Donovan McNabb? Would it cost a second-round pick? More? Would McNabb, whose contract expires next season, want a massive new deal, or would he be OK with a more moderate two- or three-year tack-on?" Going after McNabb should be an easy decision. Whether or not the Eagles would trade him -- within the conference, no less -- is another question.

Tom Pedulla of USA Today quotes former 49ers receiver Terrell Owens as saying he would be chasing Jerry Rice's records if only he had played with better quarterbacks. Owens: "I know hands-down I'd be close to Jerry Rice's records if I had been with quality quarterbacks like he had," Owens said. "He had Joe Montana and he finished with Steve Young. That wasn't a drop-off. Say I had been with a guy like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Drew Brees all of my career. Are you kidding me?"

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Pete Carroll is holding his first staff meeting as Seahawks head coach Monday. O'Neil: "Carroll has assembled a staff that includes one of the league's most respected rushing-game architects in Alex Gibbs and a passing-game whiz kid of an offensive coordinator in Jeremy Bates."

Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer says the Browns have hired former Seahawks offensive coordinator Gil Haskell as a football adviser. With former assistant Keith Gilbertson already on staff in a scouting capacity, Browns president Mike Holmgren has the makings of a future offensive coaching staff in place. No one should be surprised if Holmgren returns to the sideline at some point in the future. He is a coach at heart. Gilbertson and Haskell are coaches at heart, not football advisers.

Bob Young of the Arizona Republic looks at reasons for worry and reasons for hope as the Cardinals enter the 2010 offseason with Matt Leinart as their starting quarterback. Young: "Maybe the thing we like most about Coach Ken Whisenhunt is that when he came here, entitlement went right out the door along with Dennis Green. Leinart has a team around him that should be able to move the ball without depending solely on his left arm. We expect to see a more run-oriented, grind-it-out offense featuring running back Beanie Wells, especially if the Cardinals can make defensive improvements so that they don't have to depend strictly on piling up the points to win every Sunday. When Leinart shows that he can operate the offense efficiently and protect the ball, then we'd expect Whisenhunt to start letting him open it up. It's sort of an earn-as-you-learn program."

Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register says Kurt Warner is probably the best Iowa product to play in the NFL. Ed Podolak: "Without question. Kurt was more of a major factor in a team getting to and winning a Super Bowl than any of us. It makes me proud to be an Iowan, because of the way he's represented our state and what I think is good in an athlete at the professional level today. He seems to be somewhat of a throwback from earlier days in sports -- where good athletes were also good guys."

Sounding off: NFC West on the airwaves

September, 16, 2009
9/16/09
10:14
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The latest in our periodic spin around the NFC West radio dials:
49ers

KNBR680: president Jed York

KNBR680: coach Mike Singletary

KNBR680: blogger Kevin Lynch

KNBR680: snapper Brian Jennings

KNBR680: reporter Matt Maiocco

Cardinals

XTRA910: safety Adrian Wilson

KTAR620: coach Ken Whisenhunt

Seahawks
710ESPN Seattle: me

710ESPN Seattle: analyzing Jim Mora's comments

710ESPN Seattle: Jim Mora's news conference

950KJR Seattle: former offensive coordinator Gil Haskell

950KJR Seattle: Deion Branch, Nate Burleson, Seneca Wallace

950KJR Seattle: analyst Hugh Millen

950KJR Seattle: Millen continued

950KJR Seattle: tight end John Carlson
Rams

101ESPN St. Louis: reporter Jim Thomas

As always, please leave links to additional audio in the comments section, if possible (comments feature has had some issues). I'll add items as needed.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Seahawks' potential issues on the offensive line jumped out from the first day of training camp. Former offensive coordinator Gil Haskell noticed when visiting practice recently, saying as much during an interview with Dave Mahler of KJR radio in Seattle.

Matt Hasselbeck called the situation -- Mike Wahle retiring, Chris Spencer missing time with an ankle injury and Walter Jones missing most of camp to this point -- less than ideal during the Seahawks Huddle on 710ESPN Seattle.

The Seahawks have good situations at receiver and tight end. They are just OK at running back. This season hinges largely on the line's ability to protect Hasselbeck and get the most from Julius Jones, T.J. Duckett and Justin Forsett in the backfield. That seems unlikely if injuries keep forcing the team to move players around constantly.

Spencer downplayed the instability during the early part of that Seahawks Huddle show. Also during the show, Hasselbeck explained how rookie hazing has flourished now that Mike Holmgren isn't around. The rookie draft choices must state their names, drafted rounds and signing bonuses before singing to the team. Aaron Curry apparently waffled, but Lofa Tatupu and Patrick Kerney weren't going to let him off the hook.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Ken from parts unknown writes: What do you think about this "Steelers West" stuff? It's flattering, but I think the Cardinals instead are the Colts West. Classic pocket QB, deadly passing game, pragmatic regular season approach, fast undersized defense, a great safety, and who do we hand the ball to but Edgerrin James himself?

Mike Sando: I like the comparison. Cris Collinsworth took it another step by comparing the Cardinals' postseason improvement to what the 2006 Colts accomplished when they won the Super Bowl. I would not necessarily say the Cardinals were pragmatic about their regular-season approach, but Arizona would certainly accept the same result in a Super Bowl, minus the rain and Devin Hester's kickoff return.


Blake from Moraga, Calif., writes: Do you think that if the 49ers didn't lose by a yard to kurt warner's team (bring back any memories?) that he would even be in this position, much less the playoffs?

Mike Sando: I'm not sure. If the Cardinals had lost that game and gone in the tank, no. If they had lost that game, then bounced back with a vengeance to beat good teams down the stretch, yes. The Cardinals did what they had to do to win the division. And now they have proven they belong in the playoffs. The 49ers haven't even committed to a starting quarterback, so I think they have some ground to make up.


Mike from Seattle writes: Mike, Tim Ruskell kind of addressed the wide receiver position. How serious of a run do you think Seattle will make at TJ Houshmandzadeh? And, if not him, who would be other FA candidates at WR? Thanks!

Mike Sando: Ruskell has said the Seahawks will protect themselves from a repeat of what happened to them at receiver in 2008. I do not know how seriously the Seahawks would consider a potentially expensive free agent at the position. Potential free agents include Amani Toomer, Bryant Johnson, Justin McCareins, Jabar Gaffney and a handful of lesser-known players. It's not a position of strength in free agency, for sure.

(Read full post)

NFC West stock watch: falling

January, 20, 2009
1/20/09
2:46
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

1. Anquan Boldin, WR, Cardinals. Though Boldin has been the epitome of a team player during his career, he left the opposite impression by feuding with offensive coordinator Todd Haley during the NFC Championship Game and then reportedly skipping the postgame celebration. The Cardinals won't feel pressure to rework Boldin's contract if these perceptions linger.

2. Mike Holmgren's Seattle staff. The Seahawks flushed out both of Holmgren's coordinators, Gil Haskell and John Marshall, plus position coaches Keith Gilbertson and Dwaine Board.

3. Mike Singletary, head coach, 49ers. Scott Linehan turned down his offer to become offensive coordinator, and it's unclear whether Singletary has a viable backup plan.

4. Jim Haslett, former interim coach, Rams. The Rams left the impression Haslett would be a serious candidate to keep the job, but they clearly wanted to hire Steve Spagnuolo or Leslie Frazier. In the meantime, the Packers hired Dom Capers over Haslett as their defensive coordinator.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers held a phone interview with Broncos assistant Pat McPherson, a candidate to coach quarterbacks for the 49ers. McPherson would likely coach the position if the team hired Broncos assistant Rick Dennison as offensive coordinator.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers have discussed the possibility of hiring an offensive coordinator from within. Also, the Broncos might have interest in 49ers offensive assistant Adam Gase.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says McPherson served as position coach for Jake Plummer, who posted a 39-15 starting record with McPherson coaching the position.

Richard Obert of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals continue to fight through personnel issues at tight end.

Also from Obert: Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb trains in Arizona.

Mike Hlas of the Cedar Rapids Gazette checks in with former Redskins and University of Iowa defensive back Matt Bowen for scouting reports on Kurt Warner and McNabb. Bowen played with Warner and against McNabb.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie claims to be the fastest player on the Cardinals, and he's willing to back it up.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with Steve Breaston, who disputes Rodgers-Cromartie's claim while declining to prove it until after the season.

Also from Urban: The Cardinals passed out shirts featuring a simple message. "PROVE IT," the shirts read.

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune thinks Rodgers-Cromartie can become a perennial Pro Bowl cornerback. 

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer shares his thoughts on changes to the Seahawks' coaching staff. Farnsworth: "Seeing [Gil] Haskell go is almost as difficult as watching Holmgren walk away. Like [Mike] Holmgren, Haskell is a good coach and an even better person. But [Greg] Knapp's name as the eventual O.C. surfaced a year ago, when [Jim] Mora was named the head-coach-in-waiting. Knapp and Mora worked together previously in San Francisco and Atlanta, and it was imperative that Mora have his 'own guy' running the offense because his expertise is on the defensive side of the ball."

Judd Zulgad of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune says Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier emerged from his Rams interview hopeful the team would hire him as head coach. Frazier: "I felt really good about the interview. I had no second guesses about, 'Maybe I should have said this or that.' I put everything out there that needed to be out there and now it's a matter of if I'm the right fit for what they're looking for." 

John Clayton says the Rams' interest in Steve Spagnuolo and Jason Garrett shows money isn't a problem for the team in its search for a new head coach.

Mailbag: Cardinals fan from Allentown

January, 13, 2009
1/13/09
12:45
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Rob from Allentown, Pa., writes: Mike, I am a lifelong Cardinals fan who has been living about an hour north of Philly for the last 2 years. This weekend, I'll be flying out for the game, and sitting in the End Zone. I still can't believe the Cardinals are in the NFC Championship game, at home no less!

So far everything I've read has the Cardinals with no chance against the Eagles. Do you think that actually gives the Cards an advantage? See the last 2 weeks when NO ONE gave the cardinals a chance at winning and how the team responded. Look for a sea of RED on Sunday! Go Cards!!!!!

Mike Sando: What a great trip for you, and better yet if the Cardinals find a way to win.

I do think the mindset you described is helping the Cardinals focus and stay true to their assignments. It helps create an us-against-the-world mentality, and that is usually a good thing.

The Eagles' defensive personnel is the key variable in this game, in my view. I think Philadelphia is set up to make the Cardinals work hard for their yards. The Eagles have the ability to pressure the quarterback. I thought Carolina's defensive line had problems getting pressure. The Panthers' blitzed infrequently.

Kurt Warner has been very effective against blitzes this season. However, I think the Eagles will be confident enough in their blitz packages to take their chances that way. If that happens, the Cardinals will have to do a very good job picking up blitzes. That might allow for sending fewer receivers into their routes. The Eagles have the ability to cover down the field. A team strong in blitzing and coverage creates problems for offenses. Are the Cardinals good enough to move the ball anyway?

The Cardinals' running backs haven't been air-tight in protection on a consistent basis, including a couple of times when Edgerrin James appeared to miss blocks against the Falcons. When the Cardinals protect well -- see J.J. Arrington's block to set up Warner's 29-yard touchdown pass against the Panthers -- the Cardinals' passing game can have its way.

I do wonder how consistently well the Cardinals can pass protect against the Eagles. The Cardinals' offensive staff will need the right plan.

(Read full post)

Mailbag: Seahawks and a 3-4 defense

January, 9, 2009
1/09/09
11:50
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Hannan from Hershey, Pa., writes: Hey Mike, I've been reading your blog and I had this wacky thought for next year. What if the Seahawks switched to a 3-4 scheme with Jim Mora Jr.? Think about it, we have Kerney on one end, Jackson/Tapp on the other. We can let R. Bernard walk in free agency, I think Mebane has earned a starting job. J. Peterson can be our pass rushing OLB, while Hill (he must be resigned), Tatupu, and another ILB to be named (possibly DD Lewis) can stop the run. It's a crazy and bold idea, but to me it makes sense.

Mike Sando: The Seahawks are looking at coordinator candidates with 3-4 backgrounds, but Jim Mora will run the defense. His background is with the 4-3.

This sets up the possibility of at least running hybrid-type schemes or having the flexibility to use some 3-4 fronts and packages. I see no advantage in making a full conversion to a 3-4, based on the personnel and based on Mora's background.

Patrick Kerney and Darryl Tapp aren't nearly as big or physical as the typical 3-4 defensive ends. Brandon Mebane might be able to play the nose, but the rest of it would be a stretch on a full-time conversion, in my view.

Running a hybrid defense sounds good in theory, though I would rather have a defense play one style effectively than two styles less effectively.


Rich from Bellevue, Wash., writes: Heya, Mr. Mike. About the Cards-Panthers game this weekend. Everyone is talking about how the Cardinals' defense will have to match its intensity and discipline and all from last week in order to have a chance this week. But is that really realistic? How much of last week's heroic defensive effort was due to intensity and discipline, and how much was due to them having a "tell" that let them anticipate the snap? Since they won't have that against Carolina, how much of a chance do they really have to match up?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals' ability to get a jump off the snap helped but was not necessarily the difference in that game against the Falcons. More broadly, though, I do think it's unrealistic to expect the Arizona defense to have the same energy level for a full game, minus the home crowd. But we shall see.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Scott Linehan and Rob Chudzinski should be the top two candidates for the 49ers' opening at offensive coordinator. Both are reportedly candidates to interview, although the team called such talk speculative.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at the 49ers' running backs after Frank Gore. Is DeShaun Foster a solid No. 2?

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects pass-rusher Travis LaBoy to return from an ankle injury in the divisional round. Receiver Anquan Boldin's status remains uncertain. Boldin missed practice all week. The Cardinals won't have to make a decision until 90 minutes before kickoff Saturday. That means we might not know until 6:45 p.m. ET on game day. If Boldin plays, will he be able to contribute over the course of a full game? That seems unlikely.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the Seahawks plan to interview Raiders special-teams coach Brian Schneider. The Seahawks are also working on a short list of candidates at defensive coordinator. The Browns' Mel Tucker is on that short list. I do not expect Seattle to make a "name" hire at defensive coordinator. The Seahawks will look for a solid coach, but head coach Jim Mora will run the defense. Expect the arrangement to resemble how Mike Holmgren and Gil Haskell handled the offense in recent seasons. Meanwhile, former Lions coach Rod Marinelli remains a potential candidate as Seattle's defensive line coach, but he his visiting with the Texans and appears to be considering his options carefully. Also: Seattle re-signed receiver Billy McMullen to a future contract.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com looks at pros and cons associated with hiring Mike Martz as the Rams' offensive coordinator under Jim Haslett. Haslett wants to establish an identity in the running game. Martz is known for his creativity and aggressiveness in the passing game. Haven't we been down this road before? Retaining Haslett and bringing back Martz would hardly represent a clean break from the Rams' past. But Martz's addition might energize fans who miss his high-flying style of offense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Thanks to those who dropped by the weeky chat at noon ET. A few highlights, one pertaining to each team in the division:

Tyler from Phoenix wrote: Break down the Cards-Panthers game. What chances do the Redbirds have?

Mike Sando: I think they have an outside chance. The Panthers should be rested and ready after two weeks. The Cardinals should be competitive if they remain as disciplined on defense as they were against the Falcons. Can they do that against the Panthers on the road? You should feel better about their chances after watching them against Atlanta. I think they also need to remember Edgerrin James and the run game. That is a fascinating part of this matchup. Carolina loaded up against the run when the teams played in Week 8. Warner nearly beat them. If the Panthers follow that formula, I'm not sure the Arizona passing game is sharp enough to avoid mistakes.

Adam from NYC wrote: What do you think of Gil Haskell as the OC with the niners?

Mike Sando: I think he would like that job. He has always wanted to call plays. But if the 49ers wanted to head in that direction, they could have hired him by now. I know Gil personally and know what he did well in Seattle. He had a great rapport with players and he did a good job leading team meetings and putting together the game plan. Holmgren called the plays, however, and that made it tougher for Haskell to get the type of promotion he might have otherwise received.

Sarah from Denver wrote: How long will a Rams' rebuilding phase take? I'm not at all optimistic. The D is still a mess, the O-line stinks, Bulger looks like he might be on his way out, etc... Dimitroff and Parcells have given some Rams fans false hope, IMO.

Mike Sando: Who will they hire as head coach? Will ownership arm GM Billy Devaney with the resources he needs to remake the roster? Those are key variables. The Rams need to overhaul their offensive line and strengthen the middle of their defense. They also need to change the culture. Can those things be done in one offseason? Yes, the Dolphins showed they can be done. But you are right in saying the Rams can't just assume they'll make the same sort of turnaround. They could still get to the 8-8 range, though.

Jim from Oregon writes: Every year the debate begin regarding the draft and the top picks. Money value versus player (impact) value. I prefer the option of trading down and collecting additional picks. Have you heard anything regarding the Seahawks? I just think there are too many unknowns (Value, Impact, Uncapped salary, etc.) to "risk" a 4th-overall pick if you cna find a trade partner. What are you thoughts being closer to the organization than the fans are?

Mike Sando: Trading down requires finding someone willing to trade up. And if the analysts are right -- this draft is again heavy on offensive tackles, with perhaps less star power at the top -- finding suitable terms for trading back might not be so easy. I think Seattle needs a high-impact player more than a couple of decent ones. If that were the tradeoff, then keep the high pick and find that impact player.

Full chat transcript here.

Around the NFC West: Knapp, of course

January, 7, 2009
1/07/09
7:09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks followed through on long-established intentions to hire Greg Knapp as their offensive coordinator. Knapp replaces Gil Haskell. The Seahawks have advised several holdover assistants to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Haskell has ties to the 49ers and the Bay Area, but his coaching future remains uncertain.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Knapp's arrival could force the Seahawks to learn a new offensive scheme. How much will change remains unknown.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have scheduled interviews with Josh McDaniels and Rex Ryan. The team does not plan to interview the Bucs' Raheem Morris.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat gives the Rams' offensive line a D-minus grade for its performance in 2008.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers have interviewed Tom Rathman as a candidate to become running backs coach. Rathman was previously expected to accompany Knapp to Seattle, but he would apparently prefer to remain in the Bay Area.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee notes that Rathman followed Steve Mariucci from the 49ers to the Lions before landing in Oakland.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are one of six current NFL teams never to play in a Super Bowl, and the only one of the six with a chance to get there this season.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic sizes up the Cardinals' offensive line, noting that opponents have sacked Kurt Warner only once in the last two games.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Anquan Boldin's status for Saturday remains unclear.

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