NFC West: Greg Manusky

Double Coverage: Rams at Colts

November, 7, 2013
Zac Stacy and Antoine Bethea AP Photo/L.G. PattersonZac Stacy and the Rams have run well of late. That will be vital against Antoine Bethea and the Colts.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford were supposed to be the key players when their teams meet at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Luck will be on the field taking snaps, but Bradford is stuck being a spectator after tearing his ACL earlier this season.

The Rams have been hit hard by the loss of Bradford: They have lost three in a row and don't appear close to turning things around. Meanwhile, Luck is an MVP candidate despite not putting up off-the-charts statistics. He’s simply overcome the loss of five key offensive players to lead the Colts to first place in the AFC South. Colts reporter Mike Wells and Rams reporter Nick Wagoner break down the matchup.

Wells: Nick, I’m sure most fans thought St. Louis would make progress off its seven wins last season. That doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. How much has Bradford’s season-ending injury affected the Rams? Or do you think they were going to struggle even with him leading the way?

Wagoner: It's been a strange season in which it's really hard to predict what you're going to get from the Rams from week to week. There's no question the team was better with Bradford at quarterback. If he'd been healthy the last two weeks (and making the big assumption that everything else stayed the same), the Rams likely would be sitting at 5-4 right now. The Rams already had a really small margin for error, and it got even smaller when Bradford went down. They have had way too many self-inflicted mistakes to overcome, and they have a knack for not being able to get out of their own way.

We can talk about Luck in a minute, but I wanted to get to a big-picture Colts issue first. The Rams and Colts both began 2012 in something of a rebuilding mode. The Colts were able to do it really quickly, whereas the Rams are still sifting through the process. Aside from Luck, what do you think has been the biggest key to the Colts' turnaround?

Wells: The defense. It took the unit a season to get used to the 3-4 scheme employed by coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. They also acquired players comfortable in the system. Linebacker Robert Mathis is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate with 11.5 sacks. The unit itself isn’t highly ranked – 22nd overall – but it seems to find a way to make plays at the right time. It deserves just as much credit as Luck for the victory over Denver on Oct. 20. The defense must continue to make plays to help out the offense, which is without receiver Reggie Wayne for the rest of the season.

I have to say, Nick, there are not a lot of recognizable names on the Rams' roster. Is there any reason to believe they can go into Lucas Oil Stadium and upset the Colts?

Wagoner: Honestly, I don't see how the Rams can win this one. Credit to the Rams, they've really shown some fight the past two weeks without Bradford. But they were unable to pull off a couple of winnable games because they keep making mistakes they can't surmount. The Rams' best hope in this one is to continue to run the ball well -- which, considering the Colts have the 27th-ranked rush defense, seems possible -- and to get some turnovers on defense.

One area that continues to plague the Rams is defending the run. Tennessee's woeful rushing attack got healthy on the Rams last week. I wonder if the Colts and Trent Richardson can do the same. It seems the return on investment hasn't been there for Indy on the Richardson deal. What's been the struggle, and do you think the Colts can get him and their running game going?

Wells: It seems that every week the talk is about Richardson getting closer to having a big game. But everybody is still waiting. First it was a matter of Richardson getting comfortable with the system the first few weeks after he was acquired from Cleveland. Then offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton came out last week and said he has to do a better job of finding ways to get Richardson out in space. The Colts’ running game was put into some perspective when they ran the ball only four times in the second half last weekend against Houston -- and three of those runs came on their final offensive series when they were killing some clock. Titans running back Chris Johnson had his best game of the season – 150 yards – against the Rams last week. Maybe Richardson will do the same. Finally.

The Colts are pretty familiar with Jeff Fisher from his days with their AFC South rival Titans. Is there any danger of the Rams' coach losing his job at the end of the season?

Wagoner: Short of some wild scandal breaking out, I'd say the chances of that happening are pretty much zero. He's in only his second season, and the Rams knew they had a long road to climb to get back to being a contender. They exceeded expectations in his first season, and that may have sped up the way people view the rebuilding project. But the Rams have always viewed 2014 as the year they hoped to really take a major step forward. This season will likely go down as a disappointment, but if Bradford returns healthy and the Rams have a good offseason, they'll believe they can be back in the mix. The biggest disappointment this season has been the lack of progress by many of the team's young players. That's not to say nobody has made that move; it's just not as many as the Rams would have liked, at least not yet. That said, I do think it's possible Fisher could take a look at some of the guys on his staff. He's a loyal guy and many of his assistants have been with him for a while, but that doesn't mean everyone is exempt.

I do want to ask about Luck, but I wanted to take a different approach than the old "Why is Andrew Luck so awesome?" question you probably get every week. Each of these teams has a No. 1 overall pick at quarterback, but they have very different salaries. How much of a difference has it made for the Colts that they not only got a franchise-changing quarterback but one they don't have to pay like an NFL megastar for a while?

Wells: I’m going to take it beyond the fact that the Colts don’t have to pay Luck megastar money for a while. The Colts will likely have their choice of free agents to choose from because many will want to play with Luck. As one player recently told me, “You want a chance to win a couple of rings? Come to Indianapolis because 12 is going to be here for a long time and he’s going to win this organization some Super Bowls.” The best part from an organizational standpoint is that Luck is in just his second season and his desire to win and get better on a daily basis is something a lot of players in this league wish they had.


Takeo Spikes sighting at Rams Park

June, 11, 2013
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams own the NFL's youngest roster by average age. They could be interested in adding some veteran seasoning at linebacker, it appears.

Takeo Spikes, 36, was seen at Rams headquarters Tuesday night and was reportedly there for a free-agent visit.

Spikes started all 32 games for the San Diego Chargers over the past two seasons. Before that, he started 44 of 48 games during a three-year run with the San Francisco 49ers. He would presumably play middle linebacker in the Rams' 4-3 scheme, backing up James Laurinaitis, if St. Louis were to sign him.

Spikes has been a starter every season since entering the NFL with Cincinnati in 1998. He has started 215 games overall, averaging 14.3 starts per season during a 15-year career. He missed 13 games in 2005 while with Buffalo, but otherwise he has been remarkably durable and consistent at a physically demanding position.

Spikes played 66.9 percent of the defensive snaps for San Diego last season. He was the starter in San Francisco previously until the team decided NaVorro Bowman was ready to take the job. Bowman became an Associated Press All-Pro selection. Spikes signed with the Chargers after San Diego hired the 49ers' former defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky.

Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Laurinaitis and rookie first-round choice Alec Ogletree are expected to start for the Rams at linebacker. The team is remarkably young and inexperienced at the position beyond Dunbar and Laurinaitis, however. Spikes' 215 starts are about double the combined total for the Rams' current linebackers (108).

Three things revisited: 49ers-Chargers

September, 2, 2011
Looking back on three things discussed here before the San Francisco 49ers' preseason game against the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night:

1. Manusky's intentions: Greg Manusky, the 49ers' former defensive coordinator, was on the other sideline for this one. Would he unleash Chargers blitzes similar to the ones New Orleans used to overwhelm the 49ers a few weeks ago? Would San Diego's defensive front dominate the way Houston's did against San Francisco last week? Not in this game. The 49ers' offensive line established a strong running game early, leading to 14- and seven-play touchdown drives on the team's first two possessions. Both teams had their starters in the game during that time.

2. Backup running backs: Kendall Hunter carried nine times for 51 yards in the first half. Anthony Dixon finished the two early touchdown drives with 1-yard runs. Hunter had a 21-yard run. Dixon did his job around the goal line.

3. Overall vibe: The first-team offense finished a mostly rough exhibition season on a positive note. Alex Smith completed 8 of 10 passes for 45 yards. He was not sacked or intercepted. Backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw two first-half interceptions, continuing a rough preseason for him. It's never a shock when a rookie struggles making the transition to the NFL, however. The 49ers were more interested in seeing Smith and their first-team offense function decently. Mission accomplished. The Chargers did not play their starters on offense, so it was tougher to evaluate the 49ers' defense. First-round pick Aldon Smith and free-agent Demarcus Dobbs, both rookies, caused problems for the Chargers' backup offensive front.

Note: I filed this late in the third quarter, figuring the first and third items were covered, and running plays late in the game wouldn't be all that critical.

Three things: 49ers-Chargers

September, 1, 2011
Three things to watch for in the San Francisco 49ers' road game against the San Diego Chargers at 10 p.m. ET:

1. Manusky's intentions: The 49ers had all sorts of problems against the New Orleans Saints' blitzes to open the exhibition season. Pass-protection problems persisted against Houston last week even when the Texans weren't blitzing. The Chargers' defensive approach against San Francisco hinges on what their coordinator, Greg Manusky, has planned for his former team. Manusky had been the 49ers' defensive coordinator since 2007 until the team hired Jim Harbaugh as head coach in January. Vaughn Martin has three of the Chargers' seven sacks in the preseason. It's unclear how long each team's starters will be in the game.

2. Backup running backs: Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon are seeking to improve their standing behind starting running back Frank Gore. Hunter has 24 carries for 174 yards and a touchdown, highlighted by his 53-yard scoring run. Dixon has 27 carries for 84 yards. Xavier Omon could get extensive time in this game as well, although the starters will be on the field to begin the game.

3. Overall vibe. Exhibition results are meaningless. The games themselves carry value, particularly for unestablished teams seeking to build offensive rhythm. The 49ers -- and certainly their fans -- could use a positive experience on offense heading toward the Week 1 opener against Seattle.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune passes along notes from Seahawks practice Sunday. He says veteran cornerback Marcus Trufant is enjoying a strong camp to this point. Also: "All three quarterbacks looked good, but Charlie Whitehurst had another very strong practice when he passed with improved confidence. He gunned one into a small window to Pat Williams, and also was accurate on a couple short passes to the backs that he had missed on occasionally earlier in camp."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seahawks defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson.

Clare Farnsworth of was there when Whitehurst defended his title in the team's second annual home-run derby. Farnsworth: "Whitehurst hit three balls over the fence that separates the practices fields from the berm at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on five swings. Rookie free agent punter John Gold was second with two. ... Last year, Whitehurst had to hit 13 homers in 17 swings to outlast defensive end Ricky Foley in a slug-off to win the inaugural event."

Also from Farnsworth: Seahawks notes, including one about 6-foot-3 rookie cornerback Richard Sherman enjoying a strong camp.

More from Farnsworth: The Seahawks have been pleased with Tyler Polumbus' play in relief of Russell Okung. General manager John Schneider on how Polumbus performed against San Francisco in the 2010 opener: "In that first game, Tyler stepped in and played against Greg Manusky’s group. Those guys were playing 140 mph and Tyler played well."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers notes from Seahawks practice, including one about Brandon Browner getting work at first-team cornerback. Also: Receiver Patrick Williams shined in practice.

Also from O'Neil: He thinks Leroy Hill appears poised for a bounce-back season that could make Hill one of the bargains of free agency.

More from O'Neil: Whitehurst has gained momentum recently, but Tarvaris Jackson remains the Seahawks' starting quarterback.

Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle details Golden Tate's mindset coming off a disappointing rookie season.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic profiles new Cardinals linebacker Stewart Bradley, whose interests include architecture, the arts, speaking French and paying a mean inside linebacker (when healthy). Defensive coordinator Ray Horton: "Ohhhhh, watch out downhill. He's going to come downhill and hit you. He's a very smart player and aggressive. And he's a lot better in coverage than I really thought he was."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic analyzes the Cardinals' preseason game against Oakland. Somers: "Beanie Wells run hard and made some nice cuts. I thought he also missed a couple of opportunities. On replay, it appeared he had a chance to out-run the safety on his 15-yard run. I'd rather see him try to out-run the safety and then lower the shoulder if he has to nearly the goal line. Instead, Wells cut it back and was tackled at the 8. His pad level on the goal line series was way too high. If he gets lower, he scores. It was the first game and those are things he can easily improve upon."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals' tight ends are contributing.

Darren Urban of gets Hamza Abdullah's thoughts on spending an evening at the White House with the president. Abdullah: "Once-in-a-lifetime. It was just so humbling. And I continue to say that because it’s something money can’t buy you. You’re not famous, it’s just something where, you are chosen. You feel blessed. The man has a million different things on his plate, but he’s relating to you."

Also from Urban: Horton's plans for pressuring quarterbacks.

More from Urban: Where Dan Williams stands as the Cardinals push their second-year nose tackle to improve his conditioning.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reflects on Robert Quinn's long-awaited NFL debut. Coats: "Because of NCAA sanctions handed down after his sophomore season at the University of North Carolina, the Rams' first-round draft choice hadn't suited up for a football game since December 2009."

Also from Coats: Ron Bartell, James Laurinaitis and James Hall are among the injured Rams players expected back on the practice field this week.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' work is only beginning despite a solid showing in the first preseason game. Thomas: "From a St. Louis perspective, if there are any clouds in an otherwise sunny picture, it's at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where injuries have cropped up."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks the Rams' aggressive mindset, on display against Indianapolis in the first preseason game, will serve them well. Miklasz: "They were surprisingly sharp and in the mood to attack. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo and assistants obviously have ratcheted up the urgency, which is the right approach for the shortened period of preparation. This isn't a normal preseason. This year it doesn't make sense to take the customary, casual approach to these rehearsals."

Nick Wagoner of looks back on the team's victory over the Colts.

Also from Wagoner: Josh Brown's long-range ability on field goals.

Matt Maiocco of describes the 49ers' attempts to recreate the drive leading to "The Catch" for fans watching practice at Candlestick Park. Maiocco: "Rookie outside linebacker Aldon Smith deflected Alex Smith's pass at the line of scrimmage on third-and-goal from the 2, which prevented what should've been an easy touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis. He also batted down an earlier pass on first-and-goal from the 10."

Also from Maiocco: Alex Smith is not taking the starting quarterback's job for granted.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has this to say about Daunte Culpepper's scheduled workout with the 49ers: "He started for the UFL's Sacramento Mountain Lions last year. "It's an opportunity to look at a veteran quarterback, put a third guy on the roster who's been there before and has game experience," [Jim] Harbaugh said. "So, see where he's at physically, see where he's at mentally, emotionally and having a workout. Looking forward to a good workout."

Taylor Price of says the team worked on picking up blitzes during practice Sunday after a rough outing in that area Friday night.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat joins fans in mocking Smith as Joe Montana in recreating the famous 1982 drive. Cohn: "Harbaugh is trying to sell the organization and himself on Smith. He can’t fool the Faithful." I think Harbaugh hopes to get through one season with Smith as one of his quarterbacks and likely the starter while Colin Kaepernick develops. The commitment is for one season.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News offers transcripts from interviews with Harbaugh and Smith. Smith is wearing a new face mask this season, one offering greater vision now that the quarterback isn't scrambling as much.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Braylon Edwards impressed fans on Sunday with a one-handed catch.
Takeo Spikes is taking the most impressive neck in the NFC West to the San Diego Chargers. The San Francisco 49ers will be worse for his departure in the short term even though they've already gotten far more from Spikes than seemed reasonable when they signed him.

Spikes, 34, has produced consistently and at a high level for the 49ers since joining the team three years ago. But with a new staff taking over, it's unclear if the 49ers will value players the same way they did previously. The team needs NaVorro Bowman, chosen 91st overall in the 2010 draft, to take over the job at some point. That could happen right away with Spikes departing, but the lockout has prevented the new staff from developing younger players.

The 49ers will be fine at inside linebacker as long as Patrick Willis remains atop his game. But with Spikes gone and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin unsigned for 2011, Willis might suffer from less protection around him. How new coordinator Vic Fangio structures the defense remains another variable.

The fit in San Diego should be a good one for Spikes now that the 49ers' former defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky, is running the Chargers' defense.

Warning: This job hazardous to career

February, 9, 2011
Mike Martz, Todd Haley and Josh McDaniels US PresswireThe NFC West's recent coordinator turnover has included Mike Martz, Todd Haley and Josh McDaniels.
Those over-the-counter drug commercials filled with hope, sunshine and a long list of potentially disastrous side effects come to mind when NFC West teams hire coordinators these days.

Ray Horton, fresh off a Super Bowl appearance and a successful run as the Pittsburgh Steelers' secondary coach, should be thrilled to have emerged as a favorite to run the Arizona Cardinals' defense.

Becoming a coordinator for the first time stands as a career achievement, particularly for someone such as Horton, who has invested more than 25 years as an NFL player and position coach.

But if the NFC West were living under the same guidelines pharmaceutical companies must follow, the Cardinals would punctuate their interview with Horton by listing the primary side effect associated with the job: quick unemployment.

High rate of turnover

NFC West teams have employed 22 coordinators since 2008. Horton would make it 23.

Only four NFC West coordinators are returning from last season.

Two -- Russ Grimm and Mike Miller in Arizona -- divide responsibilities for the running and passing games, respectively. They work under an offensive-minded head coach, Ken Whisenhunt, who has frequently handled the play calling. The division's two other returning coordinators -- St. Louis' Ken Flajole and Seattle's Gus Bradley -- are defensive coordinators under defensive-minded head coaches.

Since 2008, NFC West teams have fired six coordinators. They have decided against retaining five left over from previous staffs. They have lost two to head coaching jobs and allowed another, Greg Manusky in San Francisco, to make a lateral move while the new head coach, Jim Harbaugh, pursued others for his staff.

Four NFC West coordinators are heading into their first season on the job, with Horton potentially becoming the fifth.

The situation in Arizona

Whisenhunt has sought to transfer the Pittsburgh model to Arizona since leaving the Steelers to become the Cardinals' head coach before the 2007 season. Grimm, who coaches the offensive line and running game while serving as assistant head coach, came along with him from Pittsburgh.

[+] EnlargeKen Whisenhunt
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireCardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt is searching for another defensive coordinator.
The Cardinals have twice tried and failed to land Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler as their defensive coordinator. They interviewed Todd Bowles, the assistant head coach and secondary coach for the Miami Dolphins, before the Super Bowl. They reportedly reached out to Green Bay Packers assistant head coach and linebackers coach Winston Moss.

But it's the Pittsburgh model they want to establish in Arizona.

Whisenhunt's background on offense makes him ideally suited to oversee that side of the ball. That offensive background also makes him more reliant on his defensive coordinator to run the defense. Hiring the right defensive coordinator can be critical for an offensive-minded head coach. That is the case here.

Don't forget the players

Horton's immediate boss in Pittsburgh, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, likes to dispel the notion that he's some sort of defensive guru devising novel schemes to outwit less resourceful opponents.

LeBeau provided one of my favorite quotes from Super Bowl week when a reporter asked how he manages to disguise his defenses.

"That’s easy," LeBeau said. "You just get Troy Polamalu in your backfield and he’ll move around and disguise anything you want to do. Usually it works when he’s doing it."

The Steelers have dynamic players at outside linebacker, a position critical to making a 3-4 defense succeed. The Cardinals have gotten old at the position without developing suitable replacements, one reason Bill Davis lasted only two seasons as coordinator.

"The bottom line is always going to be who is playing for you and how good are they," LeBeau said, "because they are the ones, in the final analysis, who are going to go out there and make your defense successful."

Horton's credentials

Whisenhunt and Grimm can tap into their own playing careers when relating to players. I've always sensed that Whisenhunt valued that part of the coaching equation.

Neither of the Cardinals' previous two coordinators under Whisenhunt played in the NFL. Horton, a second-round draft choice in 1983, played six seasons for Cincinnati and four for Dallas, transitioning from cornerback to free safety. Being a former player isn't enough by itself, obviously, but Horton's playing career could make him more credible initially.

And for the first time, Whisenhunt would have a defensive coordinator versed in the Steelers' scheme and mindset.

Horton's background coaching the secondary, as opposed to linebackers, further distinguishes him from his immediate predecessor. It also distinguishes him from most coordinators running a 3-4 scheme under offensive-minded head coaches, a distinction I find relevant because defensive-minded head coaches tend to oversee that side of the ball.

Arizona was among eight NFL teams that went into the 2010 season with an offensive-minded head coach and a defensive coordinator running a 3-4 scheme. Six of the eight defensive coordinators had backgrounds coaching linebackers. One, Romeo Crennel in Cleveland, traced his coaching roots to the defensive line. The Packers' Dom Capers was the only one with a background in the secondary, although he had been a head coach twice before joining Green Bay.

Three-four schemes rely heavily on blitz combinations featuring linebackers. Horton's background coaching the secondary wouldn't preclude him from knowing the ins and outs of linebacker blitzes. At the least, he might approach the defense a little differently than a former linebackers coach might.

"He’s been around the game a lot and he’s won a Super Bowl as a coach and as a player," Polamalu said of Horton. "He’s had so much to do with the success that we’ve had as a secondary."

Around the NFC West: Cards' candidates

January, 28, 2011
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals will not hire a defensive coordinator until after the Super Bowl. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "I interviewed a couple of guys at the Senior Bowl and felt good about that. But there are guys on both teams I'm interested in talking to after the Super Bowl." Whisenhunt confirmed Todd Bowles' candidacy.

Darren Urban of wonders which Green Bay assistants could appeal to Whisenhunt. Urban: "What is interesting will be who he might look at from Green Bay, since there has long been speculation on who he will target with the Steelers. The Packers run a 3-4. Does he try to talk to defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who was a DC in Carolina for six seasons? Safeties coach Darren Perry, with whom Whisenhunt coached with in Pittsburgh? Assistant head coach Winston Moss? (These are just guesses, of course. We’ll see what happens after the Packers and Steelers actually play)."

Clare Farnsworth of checks in with general manager John Schneider for thoughts on how the Senior Bowl fits into draft-related analysis. Schneider reflected on what Ron Wolf told him years ago. Schneider: "He always used to say, 'An all-star game can only help somebody, it can’t hurt somebody.' Because really what you’re focusing on is how they played in the fall. Some of the biggest mistakes, just from a pure evaluation standpoint, that I have made have been from all-star games -- because the guy had a real nice week at the Senior Bowl. So I might have gone the other way, and not really truly stuck with my feelings on how I felt about him in the fall."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times has this to say about Seattle's search for quarterback help: "People are going to spend a lot of time talking about the four quarterbacks who are considered potential first-rounders, but Andy Dalton is one of two quarterbacks Seattle could be targeting later in the draft. The other is Christian Ponder from Florida State. Both of those QBs had great three days of practice. In fact, if you were going to evaluate the quarterback play strictly on the three days of practice, Ponder and Dalton performed more consistently than Jake Locker."

Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest wonders whether Ponder could be the right fit for Seattle's offense.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are deciding whether to raise ticket prices for 2011. Thomas: "In recent years, the Rams have ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in annual revenue. In terms of ticket prices, only seven NFL teams had lower prices than the Rams' per ticket average of $65.80 in 2010, according to a study by Team Marketing Report. In an unprecedented act since the franchise moved to St. Louis in 1995, the Rams lowered prices on about two-thirds of the seats in the Edward Jones Dome in 2010. Even so, the Rams struggled to meet sellout requirements all season, needing corporate help to get all eight home games on local television."

Nick Wagoner of continues his look back at the Rams' 2010 season.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with former 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky for thoughts on acquiring outside linebackers for a 3-4 defense. Manusky: "There's not enough to go around. It's getting harder to find those guys because there's so many more teams that want them. Some of these guys are going to get picked higher than they would have because the pool is getting limited. Teams will start reaching."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers do not plan the type of roster overhaul Seattle made after changing over its coaching staff. General manager Trent Baalke: "We're still working through with the coaches exactly what they're looking for at each position. … But the systems on both sides of the ball should marry up very well with the personnel that we have now and the personnel that we've been looking for."
Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune says 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky appears close to taking the same job with San Diego after interviewing with Arizona and Dallas. This news affects the Cardinals more than it affects the 49ers. We already knew Manusky was likely to leave the 49ers after Jim Harbaugh's hiring. We do not yet know how the Cardinals plan to fill their vacancy at defensive coordinator after firing Bill Davis. Reports have suggested Pittsburgh's Keith Butler, a person the Cardinals pursued for the job in 2009, might be off-limits. Do the Cardinals have a viable plan beyond Manusky and Butler? It's too early to answer that question, but not too early to ask it. The team hired from within when coach Ken Whisenhunt fired previous defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects no significant changes to the Cardinals' offensive staff this offseason. Somers: "Whisenhunt clearly doesn't think changing his offensive staff is warranted. I look for him to turn more of the play calling duties, perhaps all of it, to passing game coordinator Mike Miller next year. I think that will be the only significant change, unless one of his position coaches gets an offer he can't pass up."

Darren Urban of says the team has re-signed fullback Charles Ali.

Also from Urban: a look at plays that defined the 2010 season for Arizona. Urban: "The quarterback shuffle clearly became a major storyline of the season. The first imprint came in San Diego. With the Cards struggling on both sides of the ball and trailing 21-7 (with a Kerry Rhodes fumble return the only Arizona score), Anderson threw an interception returned by linebacker Shaun Phillips 31 yards for a touchdown. When the Cards got the ball back moments later, it was rookie Max Hall – who had briefly played at the end of the Atlanta loss – getting his first significant playing time. It turned into his first start the following week, and from that point on, Hall, Anderson and rookie John Skelton all received their own chunk of time in the starting lineup."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with ESPN's Trent Dilfer for thoughts on Matt Hasselbeck's prospects at Chicago. Dilfer: "If you do what he thinks you’re going to do, and he has any time in the pocket whatsoever, he’s going to slice and dice you. That’s well known throughout the league. I was shocked that the Saints didn’t change things up on him more. They know that about him. And I’m just moving forward to this Bears’ game -- same thing. And I went back and watched the Week 6 matchup -- and I know very little carries over from earlier in the season, I get all of that -- but he was so comfortable with what he was looking at in that game, too. ... Rod Marinelli has to give him some change-ups, especially in the first quarter to occupy some space in his brain. If his brain isn’t cluttered, look for Matthew to deal in this game as well."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seattle linebacker Will Herring, who can't recall quite when he suffered a broken wrist in the wild-card game against New Orleans.

Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times puts Marshawn Lynch's run in perspective by ranking 10 moments in Seattle sports history. Condotta: "The most memorable moment of the first era of Seahawks football might have been an a unlikely play from a most likely source -- a hit by Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent on Denver DB Mike Harden on Dec. 11, 1988. Harden had earlier in the season delivered an illegal hit on Largent that drew a $5,000 fine in a Seahawks loss in Denver. A few months later, when Harden picked off a pass, Largent got his revenge, forcing a fumble with a hard shoulder-first hit that leveled Harden. Better yet, Largent got the recovery as Seattle earned a key victory on its way to its first division title."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times takes a step-by-step look at Lynch's run.

Also from Condotta and O'Neil: Seahawks notes, including one on Raheem Brock's contributions to the Seattle pass rush.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says Russell Okung hasn't been healthy all season. Kelley: "Drafting Okung was the right call. But it seems he's lived a haunted life since draft day. Because he held out, he missed the early days of camp, the important tutoring and technique days before the games began. Then he injured his right ankle in August and missed the first three regular-season games. Then he injured the other ankle in his third NFL start. When he left the practice field Thursday, Okung still noticeably was favoring his left ankle."

Ben Malcolmson of looks at ways the team will stay warm and hydrated in cold conditions at Soldier Field. Malcolmson: "More than 3,000 extra pounds of equipment is being transported to Chicago, raising the cargo load from 14,000 pounds to 17,000 pounds. Besides the suspected winter gear, the equipment department is also packing battery-heated jackets and gloves, cases of hand and foot warmers and enough thermal gear to suit up the traveling party of more than 130 players and staff."

Rod Mar of offers photos from practice Thursday.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams general manager Billy Devaney gives outgoing offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur credit for helping to develop quarterback Sam Bradford. Devaney: "He played a huge part, on and off the field. He helped Sam through the trials and tribulations that a rookie quarterback goes through, dealing with a lot of issues. And then obviously, with the on-field stuff, Pat was a tremendous asset. I think Sam would be the first to tell you what a huge part Pat played in his development."

Also from Thomas: What happens next for the Rams? Thomas: "The two names most commonly mentioned as possible replacements are former Denver head coach Josh McDaniels and former Minnesota head coach Brad Childress. Both were fired in the 2010 regular season, and both have backgrounds in offense. McDaniels already has been interviewed by Minnesota for the offensive coordinator job there; Childress is headed to Miami to interview for the same position there, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Childress is one of Spagnuolo's best friends in the business; they worked together for several years on Reid's staff in Philadelphia. Childress would run a version of the West Coast scheme. McDaniels' background is different. The former Bill Belichick protégé in New England favors a more wide-open passing game with more downfield throws. Spagnuolo didn't talk specifics about candidates Thursday."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ranks Ndamukong Suh and Maurkice Pouncey as the top two rookies for 2010, ahead of Bradford. Bradford, through the nature of his position, had a greater impact on his team than Suh or Pouncey. Suh and Pouncey were better at their positions. It then comes down to criteria for the award. Miklasz: "Bradford is the most valuable rookie in the league, because he had more impact in transforming a franchise than any player that entered the NFL in 2010. There is absolutely no question about that. I don't know if any NFL player was more valuable -- when we consider off-field impact -- than Bradford this season. But again, if we're limiting the discussion to on-field performance, I have no problem with Suh getting the honor."

Jeff Gordon of says Shurmur's hiring in Cleveland comes as Rams fans complained about the offense's approach. Ross Tucker: "It's so easy in hindsight to blame a play-caller for a certain play because it didn't work. That's always in hindsight. There are a lot of good plays where it was a horrible play call but the defense just screwed up. And vice-versa. There's some great play calls but an offensive lineman misses a block or does this . . . and it doesn't work either. I've never been a big guy second-guessing play-callers or offensive coordinators. There's really only about three, maybe four fan bases in the NFL that really like their offensive coordinator. Think about this, Sean Payton, of the Saints. People like Sean Payton. Then he has that handoff to Julius Jones on fourth and one and now people are criticizing him."

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis offers names of potential candidates to replace Shurmur. John Ramsdell, Bill Musgrave, Jim Zorn and Chris Palmer are on his list. Stull: "Ramsdell helped in the development of Kurt Warner and also helped Marc Bulger to one of his career best years in 2004. Since leaving the Rams, he has been the quarterbacks coach in San Diego, where he has developed Philip Rivers. Ramsdell could be in demand elsewhere, as his name has come up as a possibility to join Ron Rivera in Carolina. One other note, Ramsdell graduated from Springfield College -- same as Steve Spagnuolo."

Matt Maiocco of says during a chat that he doesn't see Donovan McNabb as a good fit for the 49ers. Maiocco: "Mike Shanahan had him for less than a year and decided he wanted no part of him. And he runs the West Coast system. Is McNabb going to work with a young QB? If the 49ers get a guy in the draft they think is their future, that’ll influence which vet they pursue — a short-term fix (Matt Hasselbeck?) or long-term solution (Kevin Kolb?)."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers are closer to putting together a staff now that Stanford has named a head coach.

More from Maiocco: Nate Clements will not be back under terms of his current contract. Clements' salary moves past $7 million in 2011. Maiocco: "The 49ers are expected to approach Clements in the next six weeks to negotiate a new deal. If the sides are unable to reach an agreement, the 49ers would release Clements -- either before the collective bargaining agreement expires on March 3 or after the new CBA is agreed upon."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee provides updates on the 49ers' coaching staff. Barrows: "Tight ends coach Pete Hoener, a favorite of tight end Vernon Davis, interviewed with the Redskins this week, according to a team source."

Around the NFC West: Nate Davis' move

January, 12, 2011
Matt Maiocco of says former San Francisco 49ers third-string quarterback Nate Davis plans to sign with the Seahawks. That makes sense after the man most responsible for drafting Davis, Scot McCloughan, left the 49ers for Seattle last offseason. Davis remains a project. McCloughan drafted Davis with the thought that Davis would need a few years of seasoning. Maiocco: "The Seahawks are allowed to sign Davis because he finished the season on the 49ers' practice squad. The 49ers had one week of sole-negotiating rights to sign him to a contract that will begin with the new league year. After that one-week window, practice squad players become "street free agents" and are free to sign with any team."

Also from Maiocco: a look at the 49ers' potential free agents. On Dashon Goldson: "He recorded just one interception and one sack but the coaching staff graded him out a lot higher than his stats would suggest. He's their best safety, and he should be back -- depending on the system in place."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers tight end Vernon Davis would love to catch passes from Donovan McNabb.

Taylor Price of looks at the team's opponents for 2011.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers general manager Trent Baalke realizes the team's future quarterback is not on the roster. Imagine if he had said otherwise.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Stanford's Greg Roman is a candidate to become the 49ers' offensive coordinator under new coach Jim Harbaugh. White: "Roman is a 13-year NFL coaching veteran who joined Stanford after two years in Baltimore with Harbaugh's brother, John. At Stanford, Roman was the running game coordinator in 2009 and the associate head coach this past season, all while leading the tight ends and offensive tackles both years. He was quarterbacks coach to David Carr for two years in Houston and twice worked for former NFL coach Dom Capers."

Clare Farnsworth of has this to say about Seattle's offensive line: "On a team that has been in almost constant transition, this unit has led the way. Ten different starting combinations. Four different starters at left guard. Three each at left tackle and right guard. Only center Chris Spencer has started all 17 games. But, like the rest of the team, the O-line has come together at the most opportunity time. Matt Hasselbeck was sacked only once against the Saints on Saturday. The running game has produced 141 and 149 yards the past two games -- after breaking into triple digits five times in the previous 15 games."

Also from Farnsworth: Brandon Stokley fills a specific role for Seattle.

Rod Mar of offers photos from the Seahawks' victory over the Saints, including candid shots from the locker room.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Hasselbeck's future with the Seahawks remains in question even after a four-touchdown performance against the Saints.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune revisits Seattle's only road playoff victory, a 1983 upset over Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins. Williams: "Starting quarterback Dave Krieg said the team didn’t get into Miami until 4:30 a.m. on Friday; their charter flight was delayed because of a mechanical issue. They got a few hours of sleep and woke up at 9 a.m. for a short Friday walk-through on a sloppy Orange Bowl field, then played at 12:30 p.m. Saturday."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune revisits Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard touchdown run.

Darren Urban of says San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky interviewed for the same job with Arizona. Urban: "Manusky went to college at Colgate and then spent more than a decade (1988-99) as a linebacker in the NFL. He was teammates with Russ Grimm and Ken Whisenhunt with the Redskins in 1989 and 1990. As a linebackers coach in San Diego and then his stint in San Francisco, he oversaw Pro Bowlers like Donnie Edwards, Shawne Merriman, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams should be set at offensive tackle for the next decade or so after drafting Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold in recent seasons. Running back Steven Jackson: "They have a bright future. To have the amount of starts they had, to be in some big-time games, especially the last two weeks, you hope that those things help them, not only for their skill but for their confidence, knowing that they can play at a high level in big-time games against some key pass-rushers."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers a chat transcript with thoughts on Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's candidacy as head coach in Cleveland. Shumur, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and Browns president Mike Holmgren share an agent. Thomas: "Of course, Spags is thinking of possible alternatives. The danger from a Rams perspective is if the Browns search drags on, more potential coordinators are taken off the market, and then Shurmur leaves for Cleveland. Remember, Holmgren, Shurmur and Spags all have the same agent so I'm sure Spags is pretty tuned into what's going on in Cleveland. As for bringing in a bright college mind to call plays in the NFL, that's a big leap. And I'm not sure if it works."

The Manusky file: 49ers vs. Cardinals

January, 11, 2011
The San Francisco 49ers' defense gave Arizona problems even when Kurt Warner was playing at a Pro Bowl level for the Cardinals.

Count that among the reasons Arizona is interviewing Manusky as a candidate to replace the recently fired Bill Davis as defensive coordinator. Another: Manusky and the 49ers have posted a 6-2 record against the Cardinals, sweeping them three times in four seasons since Ken Whisenhunt became Arizona's coach.

Manusky could have other opportunities as a coordinator, including with Dallas and San Diego. Manusky has also drawn interest as a head coaching candidate. The Cardinals could do much worse, for sure. Manusky's knowledge of the NFC West, track record in San Francisco and experience running a 3-4 scheme add to his appeal.

The chart shows how the 49ers have fared under Manusky in various defensive categories, ranked by yards allowed per opponent. Asterisks identify opponents the 49ers played only once during Manusky's time as coordinator.

Touchdowns allowed per game exclude return touchdowns.

Around the NFC West: Seismic matters

January, 11, 2011
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times passes along a Seismograph showing seismic activity associated with fan reaction during Marshawn Lynch's 67-yard touchdown run Saturday. More here.

Also from O'Neil: The Seahawks expect middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu to practice this week after suffering a concussion Saturday.

Clare Farnsworth of checks in with Matt Hasselbeck, who says Lance Briggs' absence from Seattle's Week 6 victory at Soldier Field was a big deal. Hasselbeck: "He’s huge. He’s arguably one of the best defensive players in the game. I think he’s a great player. Going into that game, we fully expected him to play. He didn’t play, and that was a big deal. So for us to sit back and say, ‘Oh hey, we beat them at their place. We can do it again,’ that would be a dangerous way to feel. Because Lance Briggs did not play in that game. He is a big, big-time difference-maker and a great football player."

Also from Farnsworth: Hasselbeck "abhorred" missing the Week 17 game against St. Louis.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Hasselbeck rescued his Seattle legacy with a four-touchdown performance against the Saints.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' return trip to Chicago carries different circumstances.

Also from Williams: He passes along Brian McIntyre's weekly Seahawks personnel report.

Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest looks at how Pete Carroll has changed since his last stint as an NFL head coach.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals might have no shot at hiring the Steelers' Keith Butler as their defensive coordinator. Somers: "After the 2009 season, Butler turned down an offer to become the Dolphins' defensive coordinator. According to the Post-Gazette, Butler and the Steelers agreed then to contract language that identifies Butler as 'the coordinator in waiting' for when Dick LeBeau decides to retire." The 49ers' Greg Manusky could be a candidate, but he might have options elsewhere, including at San Diego if Ron Rivera leaves, or at Dallas.

Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says the Cardinals have not asked for permission to speak with Butler.

Darren Urban of updates the Cardinals' search for a defensive coordinator. Urban: "(Ken) Whisenhunt has not said whether a coach’s background on scheme impacts the hire, although the Steelers do run a 3-4 look like the Cardinals. It also seems unlikely to make a significant scheme change in an offseason that could be drastically shortened or even lost because of labor problems and a lockout."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sees no likely in-house candidates to replace Pat Shurmur if the Rams' offensive coordinator becomes head coach of the Browns. Thomas: "Should Shurmur end up with the Cleveland job, the Rams don't appear to have any logical replacements for the coordinator's job in-house. Assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Dick Curl hasn't been a coordinator since 1997 with the Barcelona Dragons of NFL Europe. Wide receivers coach Nolan Cromwell was an offensive coordinator on the college level, but for just two seasons at Texas A&M. He does, however, have a background in the West Coast system, having been wide receivers coach for Holmgren both in Seattle and Green Bay. Running backs coach Sylvester Croom was offensive coordinator for Detroit, but that was 10 years ago-plus (1997-2000)."

Matt Maiocco of updates the 49ers' efforts to hire a coaching staff. Manusky has permission to pursue other jobs. Vic Fangio could have opportunities elsewhere, including at Stanford. Maiocco: "Fangio served as an NFL defensive coordinator for 11 seasons. But Fangio might also be a candidate to replace Harbaugh as Stanford head coach after top candidate Chris Petersen announced he will remain at Boise State." ESPN's John Clayton has mentioned former 49ers assistant Marc Trestman as a person Harbaugh has contacted about possibly becoming offensive coordinator.

Also from Maiocco: a look at how a lockout could affect player personnel for the 49ers. Maiocco: "The only contracts that can be signed before March 3 are extensions. That is, a team can sign a player on its current roster to a new deal. So, the 49ers are allowed to work out contracts with their own scheduled free agents, such as David Baas, Aubrayo Franklin, Manny Lawson, Dashon Goldson and others. (Remember, there was no NFL salary cap in 2010, and there are no indications that one will come back in the future.)"

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says it's likely the 49ers would want to retain offensive line coach Mike Solari, running backs coach Tom Rathman and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.

The 49ers' website passes along an interview transcript featuring linebacker Keaton Kristick.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat previews a potential national broadcast featuring Harbaugh against his brother.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News links to bios for Harbaugh's coaches at Stanford.

Mailbag: Proposed 49ers coaching scenario

December, 30, 2010
George from Orlando, Fla., writes: Maybe I'm too hopeful that Jed York hasn't really made his decision on a GM, but I want to throw out a scenario for you: Howie Roseman (GM of the Eagles); Marty Mornhinweg as head coach, Brad Childress as offensive coordinator and either retain Greg Manusky or hire Jim Mora. Mornhinweg was the 49ers' offensive coordinator in the late 1990s. He and Childress both worked with Andy Reid in Philadelphia. Mora was the 49ers' defensive coordinator overlapping Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator. They could move back to the West Coast offense and bring in Donovan McNabb or Kevin Kolb to groom someone like Blaine Gabbert from Missouri.

Mike Sando: Roseman is already the GM in Philadelphia. He's not coming to San Francisco for a lateral move on the flow chart and a downward move in NFL standing. Mornhinweg as head coach is something John Clayton has raised as a possibility. It's something we should keep in mind. Mornhinweg was with Mora on the 49ers beginning in 1997.

I do think Jed York wants to reconnect with the 49ers' past. Getting back to the West Coast offense would represent a step in that direction. Hiring Mornhinweg would not invigorate the fan base, but he would be an offensive-minded coach with ties to more successful 49ers seasons. He would not threaten the 49ers' current power structure. That could be important to York.

CC from Baltimore writes: I just think you have something against the Rams or NFC West. I don't remember you saying anything when the Chargers were 8-8. This is just another knee-jerk reaction to something that has happened how many times in the history of the NFL? Three. Get over it.

Mike Sando: I don't remember saying anything about the Chargers in 2008, either, but that is probably because I do not write about the AFC West. I don't see anything wrong with the Rams winning the NFC West with an 8-8 record, but it is unfortunate for the NFC West's showcase game to feature teams with losing records.

On San Diego, remember that the 2008 Chargers won their final four games. That team scored 93 points in its final two games. The Rams have scored 75 points in their last four. Both were 8-8, but that Chargers team beat Indianapolis in the playoffs. If the Rams beat Seattle, they'll likely draw New Orleans in the wild-card round. Beating the Saints would silence the criticisms of the NFC West, for sure.

Richard from Queen Creek, Ariz., writes: Hey Mike, like everyone else, love the blog. As a looooongtime Niners fan, suffering through this season was as painful as I remember. That being said, I believe a silver lining may be in sight, albeit a slightly tarnished one.

If I understand the draft order rules right, San Francisco could end up with the second overall pick in the 2011 draft! This may take a bit, but bear with me.

If (big if, but here we go) the 49ers lose to Arizona while Denver, Cincy and Buffalo all win, the 49ers and those teams would be 5-11. Cleveland, Dallas and Detroit could also be 5-11. The 49ers would win (lose?) the tiebreaker based on opponents' strength of schedule. Am I right on this? If so, would they risk another high draft pick on a QB such a Andrew Luck, Gabbert, or Jake Locker?

Mike Sando: This is fun as long as you're not taking this parlay to Vegas, OK? I've gone through the scenario. Add Houston to the list of teams that would have to lose in Week 17. The following things would have to happen for the 49ers to emerge with the second overall choice, provided the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker still favored the 49ers:
  • Denver beats San Diego to finish 5-11
  • Cincinnati wins at Baltimore to finish 5-11
  • Buffalo wins at the New York Jets to finish 5-11
  • Arizona wins at San Francisco to finish 6-10
  • Cleveland beats Pittsburgh to finish 6-10
  • Dallas wins at Philadelphia to finish 6-10
  • Detroit beats Minnesota to finish 6-10
  • Houston loses to Jacksonville to finish 5-11

That scenario would leave Buffalo, Denver, Houston, Cincinnati and San Francisco with 5-11 records. Carolina would be the only team with a worse record. If all that happened and the 49ers emerged with the No. 2 overall choice, sure, I could see them taking the top-rated quarterback.

Jesse from Pleasanton, Calif., writes: A quarterback question for Seattle next season. Mike, what do you think the chances are Seattle will look to pursue Kyle Orton (if avaliable) this offseason? He is a very underrated QB and familar with Jeremy Bates and his offensive system. With a win Sunday, Seattle would be looking at drafting possibly the fourth- or fifth-best QB in next year's draft during round one if they choose that route. Wouldn't a play for Orton make more sense?

Mike Sando: Orton and Bates were never together in Denver. Quite a few people think they were together there. Bates left Denver for USC after the 2008 season. Bates left Denver in January 2009. The Broncos added Orton in February 2009. I do think adding Orton or another veteran quarterback makes sense. We'll need to see what happens with Matt Hasselbeck.

Reinforcing the quarterback position in free agency could give Seattle flexibility in the draft. I still think the team needs to consider drafting one.

Mike from St. Louis writes: Sando, love the NFC West blog, and the whole blog idea in general, so thanks to you and ESPN for keeping this up. I have a question on MVP, and yes it is probably a little biased since I am from Saint Louis. But when the MVP voters assess a player's value, what exactly are they looking for in that particular player in respect to other weapons on the team?

Tom Brady and Michael Vick have been the front-runners thus far (maybe after Tuesday night it might be a little more clear). Brady gets points for not having a superstar cast like Vick. My question is, Sam Bradford's name does not get brought up at all in conversation, understanding that his team could finish below .500, but in terms of pure value to a team, doesn't he stack up well? Brady has better weapons to throw to and New England has proven it could win with Matt Cassel, and Vick has tons of weapons.

Again, maybe it is a stretch, especially since he is a rookie and the MVP sometimes goes to those who have been in the league or on dominating teams, but if football is the ultimate team sport, then how can one player on a dominant team stand out over others? Thanks for taking the question.

Mike Sando: Thanks for the support. The production has to be there and the winning usually has to be there. I think there's a baseline for production that prevents, say, the 24th-rated passer from contending (Bradford is No. 24 in rating). He is 18th in touchdown passes and 13th in passing yards. The MVP would usually have to be closer to setting the pace in the key statistical categories.

I hear what you're saying on Bradford. He has been more valuable than most this season. There just hasn't been enough production or team success to separate him.

Justin from Tucson, Ariz., writes: What are the chances the Cardinals pick up Mike Singletary as their defensive coordinator?

Mike Sando: I would think nil. Singletary has never been a coordinator at any level and he has no ties to Ken Whisenhunt.

Around the NFC West: 49ers' plans

December, 28, 2010
Matt Maiocco of asks and answers questions about the 49ers' search for a general manager and head coach. Maiocco on which assistant coaches the 49ers might want to retain, beyond interim coach Jim Tomsula: "Certainly, running backs coach Tom Rathman, offensive line coach Mike Solari, tight ends coach Pete Hoener and outside linebackers coach Jason Tarver will be considered among those who have a chance to be retained. The organization has a high opinion of defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, but the new coach will have the call. Also, with new offensive ideas coming to the team, it remains to be seen if offensive coordinator Mike Johnson fits what the new coach will have in mind. Of course, a lot of the staff will not return, including a possible retirement. Inside linebackers coach Vantz Singletary, Mike Singletary's nephew, and pass-rush coach Al Harris, who played with Singletary with the Bears, are no longer with the team."

Also from Maiocco: highlights from Jed York's news conference. York: "I've spoken to a lot of people that have been in and around the game this season to get their feedback on how to build a team. I think when you look at teams that have been successful out there, it's not about hiring the flashiest name as your head coach or GM or both. It's about making sure the GM and head coach are really working together. you need your general manager, and your general manager is a person who is going to live and die with the coach."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers a Mike Singletary timeline.

Also from Barrows: The 49ers are in a situation similar to the one they encountered in 2005.

More from Barrows: Unlike in 2005, the 49ers plan to hire a general manager before they hire a head coach.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat wonders whether York has what it takes to hire the right general manager. Cohn: "Jed cannot allow himself to be alone in the interview room with general-manager candidates. He doesn’t know what questions to ask. So much depends on knowing the questions and evaluating the answers. Jed needs wise old heads in the room with him, men who have done it before. How about Carmen Policy and/or John McVay? How about people from the league office? I know for a fact the league wants to help the Yorks because it wants a stronger team in San Francisco."

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Singletary's firing was more emotional for linebacker Patrick Willis.

Cam Inman of Bay Area News Group says hiring Singletary was a mistake, with the team rushing into the decision as if eager to appease a fan base.

Monte Poole of Bay Area News Group says hiring a GM before hiring a coach is a wise move.

Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers are in their current mess because York brought them there. Ostler: "Twice in a row, York -- with assists from his mom and dad -- hired spectacularly wrong coaches. York, 29, has to get it right this time, because you know what the rule is in hiring people to lead your team: Three strikes and you're out ... unless you own the team, in which case you can take all the mulligans you want."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says York is conceding he needs help to field a winner.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are 2-1 with John Skelton as their starting quarterback even though Skelton has not completed even 50 percent of his passes in a game. Multiple return touchdowns put Skelton in position to win against Dallas. There was little sustainable about the performance on offense. Somers: "It's doubtful that Skelton will have shown the Cardinals enough to keep them from pursuing a veteran quarterback this off-season. Skelton has completed just 46 percent of his passes, and he has just one touchdown pass in 101 throws. But he does not have an interception, and he made two important throws during the game-winning drive against the Cowboys. The first was a 26-yarder to Larry Fitzgerald on fourth-and-15, and the second was a 19-yard pass to Max Komar, a play Skelton made after escaping pressure."

Also from Somers: Skelton does appear to do a good job keeping his composure.

More from Somers: Defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson has rejoined the team after a scare Saturday. Somers: "Secondary coach Donnie Henderson is back at work after missing last Saturday's game. Henderson apparently blacked out while driving down a ramp at the stadium and spent the night at a local hospital. Doctors are still evaluating tests, but it appears Henderson might have been dehyrdrated. He watched the game from the hospital. Given that two of Henderson's DBs returned interceptions for touchdowns, Henderson might have to beg to be in attendance for the finale against the 49ers."

Darren Urban of says he thinks the Cardinals' defensive linemen are better suited for the 3-4 than for a 4-3 defense.

Also from Urban: The Cardinals are taking a wait-and-see approach at quarterback. Urban: "There was much praise coming from Whisenhunt Monday toward his young QB, but also much caution. Whisenhunt has repeatedly raved about Skelton’s accountability and temperament for the position. He noted the improvisation skills Skelton showed on the crucial pass to Max Komar -- on the move under pressure -- that set up the game-winning field goal, and the coolness in which Skelton found Larry Fitzgerald on fourth down. He likes the idea Skelton can scramble for a few yards when necessary. Yet there are still issues like calling plays, communicating the offense, even fumbling the snap that teammate Steve Breaston was forced to fall upon to save a turnover."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo knows what critics might be thinking. Spagnuolo: "Here's what I know about this league: if you have one more point than they do at the end of the game, it all counts the same. The goal is to win the football game. Now again, I would say this. There may be another game going forward where you do it differently. We chose to do it this way, it happened to work out, so this time we were right. Could it have bitten us in the butt? Maybe, yeah. But just all things considered and the way it was going and what we were doing on both sides of the ball, I thought it was the right thing. ... And that's all on me. I'll take the full blame if there is blame, you put it that way."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Danario Alexander is getting more playing time for the Rams.

Dan Caesar of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says moving the Rams' Week 17 game to prime time hurts the local affiliate that had been carrying Rams games this season.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks ahead to the Rams' game at Seattle and wonders whether the team, and specifically Spagnuolo, will be uptight.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams seem fine with the idea of playing in prime time. James Laurinaitis: "I would be lying to you if I said I wasn't excited to play in this game. It's exciting. It's exciting for the fans, and it's exciting for us to be in a situation where all America is watching."

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues why the Rams were conservative with a lead against the 49ers. Thomas: "The Rams have a defensive-oriented head coach in Steve Spagnuolo, and that usually means a conservative approach offensively. Spagnuolo has enough confidence in his defense that he’s more than willing to put the game on their shoulders at various times. The tactic has worked most of the time against lesser teams and mediocre teams, but will it be the right thing to do when the Rams are matched up with elite teams in the future? Maybe we’ll find out in the playoffs."

Nick Wagoner of says the team hopes to get tight end Mike Hoomanawanui back from injury this week. Also: "The Rams will not be adjusting their travel schedule at all. They will travel on Saturday afternoon to Seattle and get in around the same time they normally would. The only change is a little different game day because of the wait for the game. But other than that, it will be business as usual."

Clare Farnsworth of offers notes as the team prepares to face the Rams in Week 17. Coach Pete Carroll on left tackle Russell Okung: "Russell did reinjure his ankle some. He’s still hobbling a little bit. If you watch him closely, he’s not 100 percent. But he was determined to get back. The docs were trying to sit him down for a bit and let it rest. He said, 'I can go. I can go.' So we shoved him back out there and he did. He did a nice job of finishing the game. It’s a factor in his play. It is what it is. We’ve just got to keep trying to help him get through it."

Also from Farnsworth: Matt Hasselbeck is determined to play against the Rams, but the Seahawks are preparing as though Charlie Whitehurst will start at quarterback."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says, among other things, that the Seahawks cannot run against anyone. O'Neil: "Not even the Bucs, who were allowing a league-high 4.9 yards per carry entering the game with a defense missing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Marshawn Lynch's 29-yarder in the first quarter was promising. Trouble was that one run accounted for nearly one-third of Seattle's rushing yardage in the game. Seattle still hasn't had a back rush for more than 100 yards this season."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune offers highlights from Carroll's news conference Monday. Boling: "He acknowledged the oddity of a six-win team still contending for a playoff berth, calling it an 'interesting finish to the season.' "

Also from Boling: thoughts on this strange Seahawks season. Boling: "I saw this as a rebuilding season, with it taking time to assimilate and improve. Not one in which they would peak in October."

More from Boling: Whitehurst is the quarterback for now.

Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle says Carroll was in a similar situation when he coached the Patriots.

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

December, 15, 2010
Arizona: Concussion symptoms continue to sideline quarterback Derek Anderson, leaving Richard Bartel as the backup to rookie starter John Skelton. The Cardinals no longer planned for Anderson to start even if he were healthy, but they could certainly use him for depth. Skelton is making his second start. Bartel has practiced with the team for about a week. Running back Beanie Wells practiced Wednesday despite still suffering from the illness that limited him against Denver. Tim Hightower's 148-yard, two-touchdown performance against Denver gives Wells additional incentive, should he need any.

St. Louis: Cornerback Ron Bartell has enough strength back in his shoulder to resume practicing. The Rams will want their secondary closer to full strength against Kansas City, particularly if Matt Cassel is back at quarterback for the Chiefs. Left guard Jacob Bell (bruised knee) and backup running back Kenneth Darby (rib injury) are making progress toward playing, coach Steve Spagnuolo told reporters Wednesday. Bartell's status stands out as a key variable for the Rams this week.

San Francisco: The 49ers listed left guard Mike Iupati as probable with a shoulder stinger, a strong indication he'll play against San Diego. Iupati has become an effective run-blocker. Maintaining continuity also has some value, particularly with left tackle Joe Staley unavailable while he recovers from a broken leg. The team listed linebackers Takeo Spikes and Patrick Willis as questionable with hand injuries. Both have missed practice time. Both have been seen wearing cast-like contraptions. I have a tough time envisioning either player missing this game after defensive coordinator Greg Manusky told reporters he expected them to play.

Seattle: Receivers Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu returned to practice Wednesday after missing Seattle's game against San Francisco in Week 14. Getting both players back is critical for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to snap out of his recent turnover streak, particularly with Deon Butler landing on injured reserve and Brandon Stokley dealing with a tight hamstring. Guard Chester Pitts is returning to practice, but I would think Mike Gibson will remain at left guard for the time being. Defensive backs Roy Lewis (knee) and Walter Thurmond (hamstring) could be limited some during the practice week.