NFC West: Ian Williams
Catch us if you can.
That’s a message the Seattle Seahawks could send out to the rest of the NFC West.
It is also something the San Francisco 49ers might say to the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. But the Cardinals and Rams might have a statement of their own: We’re coming for you.
By almost everyone’s estimation, the NFC West is the best division in the NFL. It includes a Super Bowl champion in Seattle along with a team in San Francisco that, arguably, came up one play short of reaching its second consecutive Super Bowl.
It also includes a team in Arizona that won 10 games, one of which was a victory at Seattle -- the Seahawks' only home loss in 2013. And there's a team in St. Louis that won two of its last three games to finish 7-9 while playing most of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.
So the question heading into 2014 is whether the Cardinals and Rams are in position to catch the Seahawks and 49ers. Have Arizona and St. Louis closed the gap on what might be the NFL’s two best teams?
The Cardinals have been active in free agency, signing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, tight end John Carlson, receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.
Clearly, the competition in this division keeps getting better.
The four writers who cover the division for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Terry Blount in Seattle, Bill Williamson in San Francisco, Josh Weinfuss in Arizona and Nick Wagoner in St. Louis -- take a look at where things stand in the NFC West on four key topics. We also polled our Twitter followers to find how they viewed the issues.
The Cardinals have made significant moves in free agency. The Rams, aside from keeping Rodger Saffold, have mostly stood pat. Which is closer to the playoffs?
Terry Blount: This is a no-brainer for me. The Cardinals are a team on the rise with one of the NFL's best coaches in Bruce Arians. He took a 5-11 team and transformed it to 10-6 in one season. He was 9-3 at Indianapolis in 2012 while filling in for Chuck Pagano. Arizona was 7-2 in its last nine games and won three of the last four, with the only loss being 23-20 to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals could become a serious challenger to the two-team stronghold of Seattle and San Francisco. However, I do believe the Rams will have a winning season if they can hold their own in the division games.
Nick Wagoner: It's hard to evaluate this without seeing what happens in the draft, especially with the Rams having two premium picks. Even then it would be unfair to judge right away. Still, I have to go with the Cardinals. They were trending up at the end of the season and patched a big hole with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Losing Karlos Dansby was a blow, but adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a talented stable at the position makes them better. The Rams, meanwhile, are clearly counting on a whole lot of in-house improvement and a big draft. Keeping Saffold was important (and lucky), but it seems risky to pin all hopes on a leap to the playoffs on a group of young players all making a jump at the same time.
Josh Weinfuss: Arizona is the easy answer, and that's not because I cover them. The Cardinals were 10-6 last season and the first team kept out of the postseason. All the Cardinals have done this offseason is fix deficiencies and plug holes. Their offensive line got markedly better with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. Their wide receiver corps and kick return game were solidified with Ted Ginn, and they now have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with Antonio Cromartie coming on board. General manager Steve Keim looked at what went wrong in 2013 and went to work on fixes. It should put the Cardinals over the playoff hump.
Bill Williamson: It has to be Arizona. The Cardinals were so close to making the playoffs last season. They would have likely been dangerous in the postseason too. I like the way this franchise is shaping up. It seems like it is well run and well coached. The roster is also getting deep. Carson Palmer will have to be replaced sooner or later, but the Cardinals are on to something. The Rams certainly have some nice pieces and are probably the best fourth-place team in the NFL, but they aren't close to matching what Arizona has going for it.
The Seahawks and 49ers played for the NFC title in January. Any reason to believe either won't return to the postseason?
Blount: They were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and there's no legitimate reason to think they won't be among the best in 2014. Seattle has lost 10 players who were on the Super Bowl roster, but other than wide receiver Golden Tate, none of them were on the team's priority list to keep. The 49ers move into a shiny new stadium. The only question for San Francisco is the precarious relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and team executives. Who knows what the future holds there, but it shouldn't matter on game day.
Wagoner: Aside from some debilitating injuries, it's hard to see how either team has taken a major step back. The Seahawks have lost some good players in free agency, but even those players seemingly already had replacements in place. Nobody does a better job of developing talent than Seattle. The Seahawks still have holes to patch on the offensive line and losing receiver Golden Tate is a blow, so there could be some hope the offense will regress. But the defense makes it all go, and it doesn't look like it's going to lose any of its most prized components. As for the Niners, they are the more likely of the two to take a step back, but it's hard to see them taking enough of one to fall out of the postseason. For most of their key free-agent losses they were able to quickly come up with a replacement as good or better than the player lost, and retaining Anquan Boldin says they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. Plus, they will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree ready for the season. Until proven otherwise, these two teams remain the class of the NFC and probably the NFL.
Weinfuss: The only reason either of them won't make the playoffs in 2014 is because the Cardinals or Rams will take their place. The gap between the top and bottom of the NFC West has closed significantly this offseason, making the West much like the Southeastern Conference in college football; everybody will beat up on each other. It's likely the West, if it's anything like last season, can see three teams in the playoffs -- its champion and the two wild cards. If one of the teams between Seattle and San Francisco were not to make it, it's tough, but I think Seattle might slip. The Seahawks lost a significant part of their defensive line and will be going through a Super Bowl hangover. That's risky to deal with and still make the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco will be hungry from losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.
Williamson: I believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. So it's difficult to fathom that either team won't find its way into the playoffs, barring major injuries. Arizona, though, could create an issue for the Seahawks and 49ers. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games, so both Seattle and San Francisco have to be careful or things could get tricky. In the end, I can see all three teams making the playoffs. This is the reason this division is so intriguing and so fun: Every game is critical. There is just not much room for error. Look at the 49ers last year. They went 12-4, but a 1-2 start hamstrung them. They could never fully recover despite having a great overall regular season. The same intensity will be a factor in 2014 in the NFC West.
@TerryBlountESPN The Cards and Rams are pretty good. They'll be fighting for 2nd place behind the Seahawks.- Danny ®" (@Dah_knee) March 26, 2014
Will Rams quarterback Sam Bradford come back strong from an ACL injury, and what effect will he have on St. Louis having its coveted breakthrough year?
Blount: I think Bradford will be fine as far as the ACL goes, but this is a make-or-break year for him in my view. Bradford was playing pretty well before his injury last year, but the verdict still is out whether he can be an elite quarterback. He enters this season with the best supporting cast he's ever had, but playing in this division with teams that emphasize physical defensive play makes it difficult to show improvement.
Wagoner: All indications from the Rams are that Bradford's rehab is coming along well and he's on schedule to make his return in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He apparently had a clean tear of the ACL, but he has been rehabbing for a handful of months and should resume throwing soon. Bradford's healthy return means everything to the Rams' chances in 2014. Believe it or not, this is his fifth season in the NFL and, much like the team, this is the time to make some noise. The Rams attempted to open up the offense in the first quarter of 2013 with Bradford to miserable results. They switched to a more run-oriented attack in Week 5 and the offense performed better. Bradford also played better as the run game opened up play-action opportunities in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Rams choose to go a bit more balanced with Bradford at the controls or if they continue at the same run-heavy pace they played with backup Kellen Clemens. Either way, Bradford's contract has two years left on it. If he wants a lucrative extension, this is the time to prove he's worth it.
Weinfuss: Short answer, yes, Bradford will come back strong. Just look at how he started in 2013. He was on pace for a massive year statistically before he got hurt. If he can pick up where he left off, Bradford will return with a bang and show he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As we've seen, a top-tier quarterback can be the difference between sitting idle in the standings and having a breakthrough year. With the talent that surrounds the Rams, with tight end Jared Cook, running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, among others, Bradford may singlehandedly help close the gap between the Rams and the top of the NFC West.
Williamson: I have to be honest: I'm not a big Sam Bradford guy. I think he's just OK. Just OK doesn't cut it in this division, especially considering the defenses he has to play six times a season in the NFC West. He's serviceable, but he's not the answer. Given the state of this division, I cannot envision a scenario where Bradford is the reason the Rams become the class of the NFC West. I think they can get by with Bradford for the short term, but the Rams are going to have to start thinking about the future at this position much earlier than expected when Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft.
If you had to start a team with either Seahawks QB Russell Wilson or 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whom would you choose?
Blount: You must be kidding. Give me Wilson every time, every day in every situation. Yes, Kaepernick is 5 inches taller than Wilson. Is there really anyone left who thinks Wilson's lack of height matters? Wilson also is at his best in pressure situations. He lives for it. And he is a more polished person on the field, and off it, than Kaepernick. That's not an observation. It's a fact. But this isn't a rip on Kaepernick. You would be hard-pressed to find any 25-year-old as polished as Wilson. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, and probably will soon. But if I'm starting a team, whether it is in football or almost any other life endeavor, I'll take Wilson without a doubt.
Wagoner: Wilson. For those of us covering other teams in the division, it's hard not to admire what he brings to the table. He presents himself as the consummate professional, and even opponents praise him for his work habits, intelligence and ability. He's already got the Super Bowl ring, and it's easy to see how he could add a few more. He's not all the way there in terms of his potential either, and it's probably safe to assume he's just going to keep getting better as his career goes along. That's nothing against Kaepernick, who is a unique talent in his own right, but there aren't many young quarterbacks in the league worth choosing over Wilson.
Weinfuss: Russell Wilson would be my pick, mainly because of his poise and maturity behind center. Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly talented, but I get the sense he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. He's tough to bring down, especially in the open field, but when he's pressured in the pocket, Kaepernick seems to panic and I wouldn't want that in a quarterback. I also think Wilson, despite his physical stature, is built to last. He's heady enough to stay out of harm's way, and his poise in the huddle will go a long way in leading a team.
Williamson: I'd take Kaepernick. I know it's a tough sell right now, since Wilson's team has beaten Kaepernick and the 49ers three of the past four times they've met, including the NFC title game, and the fact that Wilson has won a Super Bowl. I respect the value of Super Bowl wins and believe quarterback is the most critical position in sports. I'm sure I will smell like a homer with the Kaepernick pick. But moving forward, I just think Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. I think he can take over games more than Wilson can at a higher rate. Players built like Kaepernick and as athletic as Kaepernick just don't exist. He is special. He works extremely hard at his craft and is well coached. I'd take him, and I wouldn't look back. This isn't a knock on Wilson. He is proven and is going to be great. But if I'm starting a team, I'm taking Kaepernick, and I bet more general managers would agree than would disagree.
@BWilliamsonESPN Wilson. Controls the game & makes all the plays. Kaeps athletic advantage will fade overtime as Wilson's mental edge grows.- HTB (@HoldenTyler) March 25, 2014
A day after a painful 23-17 loss at Seattle, the San Francisco 49ers got some clarity on injuries to two key players.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that linebacker NaVorro Bowman has a torn MCL in addition to a torn ACL on his left knee. The early indications Sunday was Bowman suffered a torn ACL. Also, a source confirmed that guard Mike Iupati broke his fibula in the game. The initial thought by the team was he fractured his ankle.
Bowman's recover will be a storyline throughout the offseason. Schefter reported that tears such as Bowman's are routine enough that he is expected to be ready for the start of the season.
However, the torn MCL complicates matters because it will likely delay his surgery for the torn ACL. Thus, it could extend his recovery time. So, if there are any complications, there is a chance Bowman could miss some time in the regular season.
Bowman's and Iupati's injuries continued a trend of the 49ers suffering major injuries at Seattle. Defensive tackle Ian Williams was lost for the season in Week 2 at Seattle.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The code for San Francisco 49ers to succeed under Jim Harbaugh has not been difficult to crack.
It begins with the defense, a unit that is dominating despite playing without All-Pro linebackers Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis.
Sure, the 49ers have been pretty spectacular on offense at times. But this team lives and dies with its defense. And if the 49ers stick around as serious contenders in the NFC, it will be because of the defense.
After all, it was the defense that a week ago lifted San Francisco out of a two-game funk. And while completely dominating the Houston Texans 34-3 on Sunday night, the 49ers showed the rest of the league that this is still one of the most dominant defenses in the NFL.
And that this is still a Super Bowl contender.
There was serious concern about the 49ers after they were humiliated by the Seattle Seahawks and the Indianapolis Colts in Weeks 2 and 3. They were outscored 56-10 in those two games. The defense looked tired, and injuries were mounting.
Yet it no longer appears to be a crisis situation in San Francisco. The 49ers have responded to those two drubbings by outscoring the Rams (on the road) and the Texans by a combined 69-14.
After Seattle lost to the Colts on Sunday to drop to 4-1, the 3-2 49ers are back in the NFC West hunt. And after a tough start, the schedule now softens a bit for the 49ers. They host Arizona next week, and then travel to play the Jake Locker-less Titans and then the winless Jaguars in London before the bye. If the San Francisco defense continues to play well, turning a 1-2 start into a 6-2 record at the bye appears more than realistic.
There is no reason to think this defense is going to sag now. It has thrived under adversity.
Smith went to an alcohol treatment center on Sept. 24. There is no timetable for his return, but he may not be back until after the Nov. 2 bye. Special-teamer Dan Skuta and rookie Corey Lemonier have played in his place. Willis went out with a groin injury in the Colts’ loss. The team is being cautious with him (he was a game-time inactive Sunday), and barring a setback, Willis might return against Arizona. Meanwhile, Michael Wilhoite has played well in his absence.
This has been a theme for San Francisco this year. For a defense that hasn’t rotated much under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, its depth is really showing.
Glenn Dorsey took over at nose tackle when Ian Williams went down for the season in Week 2. Tramaine Brock has been spectacular as the No. 3 cornerback since Nnamdi Asomugha went down with a knee injury two weeks ago. There is little chance Asomugha wins his job back.
Sunday’s night’s domination did not come without the potential of more adversity. Standout defensive tackle Ray McDonald left with a biceps injury. He said after the game he will have an MRI on Monday. McDonald would be missed if he is out for an extended period of time. However, his replacement, Tony Jerod-Eddie, had an interception Sunday night after McDonald was hurt.
That’s what these 49ers are doing. Backups are producing when the stars are out.
To think the San Francisco defense has allowed just 14 points in two games playing without Smith, one of the most dynamic pass-rushers in the game, and Willis, a potential Hall of Famer, is stunning. How many other defenses could thrive without their best players?
"That’s why we are here," Skuta said. "You see it in practice. You see guys step up when needed here."
Added standout safety Donte Whitner, who had a tremendous game Sunday night: “This defense runs 22, 23 [deep] it’s one of the deepest defenses in the league. Yes, we miss our guys, but we still have to get the job done. You saw that tonight.”
The 49ers forced four turnovers. The 49ers ate Schaub alive on short passes. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Schaub averaged just 4 yards on passes that traveled 10 or fewer yards. All three of Schaub’s interceptions came on short passes.
The 49ers scored 34 points and were runaway winners -- and quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed just 6 of 15 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. San Francisco was in game-management mode because of what the defense was doing.
“We look to set the tone on defense,” Wilhoite said. “That’s the plan every week, and it worked out well tonight.”
There was a lot of concern about the San Francisco defense when this team was 1-2. It had allowed 84 points in three games. But I thought the point was misleading. The defense sagged late in games and got tired after the San Francisco offense couldn’t muster and sustain drives against the Seahawks and the Colts.
Sunday night, the offense, led again by a strong ground game, held up its end of the bargain and again and fed off the defense. That’s how the 49ers win.
"I know some people were worried about the defense earlier," Whitner said. "But this is a strong, winning defense. We are showing that."
The Tree Bowl is upon us.
In one of the more intriguing matchups of Week 3, coach Jim Harbaugh and his San Francisco 49ers will host quarterback Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts -- and their new running back Trent Richardson.
This is a homecoming for Luck and a reunion for both men. Luck played for Harbaugh at nearby Stanford. They were the toast of college football, and Harbaugh played it into a job with the 49ers after the 2010 season. Luck stayed on The Farm another year and had a brilliant rookie season last year.
However, there is much more than the Harbaugh-Luck angle in this game, as both 2012 playoff teams are coming off a loss in Week 2. Colts' reporter Mike Wells and I discuss the matchup in Double Coverage:
Wells: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick looked like he was more than a read-option quarterback when he threw for 412 yards in Week 1, but he was back to normal against Seattle, only throwing for 127 yards. Which game is the real Kaepernick -- the Week 1 performance or Week 2 at Seattle?
Williamson: I think he has shown the real Kaepernick is much closer to the one we saw against the Packers. The Seattle game was Kaepernick's worst in his 12 NFL starts. Kaepernick is still inexperienced and still growing. I think he will learn from the Seattle game. Plus, the Colts' defense is beatable in the air and on the ground. Kaepernick will likely bounce back. I expect to see Kaepernick have some success on the ground, similar to the success Oakland's Terrelle Pryor had against the Colts in Week 1.
Wells: Kaepernick will be a problem for the Colts. The only time the Colts had the answer for Pryor was when he decided to try to beat them with his arm instead of his feet. The Colts intercepted him twice, but I don't see them having that same kind of success against Kaepernick. He's a better runner and definitely a better passer than Pryor. You obviously cover Kaepernick on a daily basis, you know about Luck and you were in Seattle this week. Do you think the 49ers' quarterback deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Luck, Russell Wilson and RG III?
Williamson: Oh, I'm a big Luck fan. As far as I'm concerned, the question should be whether the other young quarterbacks deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Luck. Yes, he is a different quarterback than the other young stars. But this is what Luck has that will never go out of style -- he is a great pocket passer. He is a traditional star who would have been dominant in any era he played. I fancy myself as someone who stays grounded and doesn't speak bombastically about analysis. With that said, on the night Luck was drafted, I predicted his career will end with a ceremony in Canton, Ohio. I truly believe that and look forward to seeing him play in person for the first time Sunday.
Wells: Of course, this game became much more than Harbaugh and Luck when the Colts made the blockbuster deal for Richardson with Cleveland on Wednesday. Will the 49ers prepare as if they'll be facing Richardson on Sunday, or will they go in with the mindset that it'll be Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown, since Richardson will only have two practices and a walk-through to learn Indianapolis' system?
Williamson: It definitely changed the 49ers' week. They are in a tough spot. They made their plan for the Colts and were actually executing it on the practice field for the first time when the trade went down. I don't think the 49ers totally changed their game plan because of the trade. But it altered it. Coaches suddenly had to watch film of Richardson and make adjustments. Because Richardson is a running back, I expect to see him a lot Sunday. He doesn't need a lot of time in the playbook. The Colts gave up a first-round pick for Richardson so they can win now. They will start using him when they can, and I'd think that will start Sunday. But the 49ers are good against the run. They were fourth in the NFL last season. They will attack this curveball with confidence.
Wells: Anything Richardson can give the Colts will be an upgrade over Brown, a former first-round pick who hasn't lived up to expectations. Bradshaw is still rounding into shape after not playing in the preseason, so having Richardson share some of the snaps with him will help the Colts' running game and hopefully open the passing game for Luck. The Colts are dealing with their fair share of injuries, losing starting tight end Dwayne Allen for the season. How big of a loss is nose tackle Ian Williams on defense for the 49ers?
Williamson: It hurts, but it's not devastating. Injuries happen to every team. Williams is a nice player and he was coming into his own. Free-agent pickup Glenn Dorsey was rotating with Williams. Now Dorsey is the starter. I think the 49ers will survive this injury as long as Dorsey stays healthy. There is not much depth behind him.
Wells: The Colts will test Dorsey, because Bradshaw and Richardson are both straight-ahead backs who run like they're angry at somebody. So much is being made about the Luck-Harbaugh reunion, but the real reunion is between brothers Vontae and Vernon Davis. Do you think Vernon will play with a purpose because his kid brother is on the field?
Williamson: It's really interesting, Mike. Vontae has been in the league since 2009, but this will be the brothers' first meeting. The Dolphins played the 49ers the year before they drafted Vontae, and they played the 49ers last season, shortly after dealing Vontae to the Colts. Vernon has been out of practice with a hamstring tweak. However, he has indicated he will play. I fully expect him out there. Vernon is a prime-time guy, and playing against his little brother will get his juices flowing. And of course, Harbaugh can tell Vernon all about the intensity of going against a sibling.
It would be a stretch to say Dorsey was a bust in Kansas City. He was a solid contributor before being hurt in the fourth game last season. He was solid, but never a star for the Chiefs.
However, Dorsey, who signed with the 49ers this offseason, was playing out of position for much of his time there as a 3-4 defensive end. Playing nose tackle for the 49ers might be a better fit. He was rotating with Williams before he got hurt, and Dorsey played in Seattle after Williams went down.
I spoke to ESPN analyst Matt Williamson about Dorsey. Williamson said he thinks Dorsey can help the 49ers.
“He’s an interesting player,” Williamson said. “Being a 3-4 DE never really suited him, but he bulked up and became a good run defender. Williams was more of that fireplug guy on the nose that could only stop the run. I question how well Dorsey will be able to handle the rigors on playing there for 16-plus games, but he is the better talent of the two and a better pass-rusher.”
- Coach Jim Harbaugh said tight end Vernon Davis is day-to-day with a hamstring injury that he suffered late in the loss at Seattle on Sunday. Davis tweeted that physicians instructed him to rest this week, but he expects to play Sunday against the Colts and his younger brother, cornerback Vontae Davis. It will be the first time the brothers face each other since Vontae Davis entered the NFL in 2009.
- Harbaugh said safety Eric Reid continues to have no symptoms of a concussion. Reid left Sunday's game with a possible concussion in the first half. The rookie, who has been outstanding so far this season, will have to pass a league-mandated concussion test before returning.
- Harbaugh said the team did not sign a backup nose tackle -- starter Ian Williams was lost for the season with a broken ankle at Seattle, and Glenn Dorsey will take over -- because of the good work of Tony Jerod-Eddie. Harbaugh said Jerod-Eddie is ready to take the next step and the team “feels good” about it.
- Harbaugh said newly signed Owen Marecic will back up Bruce Miller at fullback and play on special teams. Marecic was a favorite of Harbaugh’s at Stanford.
- Quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the season-ending injury to his friend Williams: “It’s tragic.”
- Harbaugh said he heard there is a “crew” of former Stanford players who will be at the Colts-49ers game Sunday. The Colts, of course, are quarterbacked by Andrew Luck, who starred under Harbaugh at The Farm.
- What happens when you commit four turnovers, as Kaepernick did at Seattle? You fall off ESPN.com’s MVP Watch. Kaepernick was No. 2 after Week 1.
Nose tackle Ian Williams broke his ankle and was lost for the season. We may see the effects of the loss at practice this week. Standout tight end Vernon Davis tweeted late Tuesday night that he needs to rest his hamstring, which was injured late against the Seahawks, but he should be able to play Sunday against Indianapolis. It probably means he will not practice much this week.
Davis could have some company on the sideline. Defensive end Ray McDonald left in the fourth quarter, but X-rays on his right ankle were negative. He could also miss some time this week in practice, at least.
Safety Eric Reid, who has been outstanding in his first two NFL games, missed the second half Sunday because of a potential concussion. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday that Reid did not show any concussion symptoms. He will need to pass the NFL’s concussion test to play Sunday.
Running back LaMichael James has missed the first two games with a knee sprain. There is a chance he returns to practice this week.
The 49ers worked out Kyle Love, who started 25 games over the past two seasons for New England. San Francisco needs depth at the defensive-tackle position with Ian Williams out for the year with a broken ankle -- and could turn to Love at some point.
The 49ers did make two moves Tuesday, signing fullback Owen Marecic and reaching an injury settlement with defensive tackle Will Tukuafu. He could be brought back later in the season.
Dorsey is a starting-quality player, but the 49ers are thin behind him. San Francisco will surely look to add at the position. But don’t expect any quick fixes. There might be some players on the street who can help, but none will be better than Dorsey. That’s fine. The 49ers just need depth there.
There is one available veteran who could potentially be attractive and that’s former Oakland defensive tackle Richard Seymour. He is best suited as a 3-4 defensive lineman.
But there are issues. Seymour will be 34 next month. His play has declined and there have been reports he is only interested in playing with a big contract. There is little chance the 49ers would break the bank for a player who would come in, need conditioning time and then just be a rotational player.
So, in the end, the 49ers will find someone, but don’t expect a major jolt here.
SEATTLE -- Four weeks after being humiliated in Seattle last season, the San Francisco 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl.
So, on the second football Sunday of September, it would be naive to present the Seattle Seahawks' 29-3 victory over the 49ers as the key to the season. It’s just too early.
Just like last December, the Seahawks crushed the 49ers in a matchup of two of the best teams in the NFL. In fact, the 49ers were ranked No. 1 in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings, while the Seahawks were a spot behind them. The Seahawks surely will take over the top spot and the 49ers will fall.
But for now, the only thing it means is the Seahawks are 2-0 and the 49ers, who were flat in this rivalry game after an emotional win over Green Bay to open the season, are 1-1. This win gives Seattle, which has now outscored the 49ers by a tally of 71-16 in the teams’ last two meetings, an early advantage in the NFC West. But the game would have had much larger and lingering aftershocks if the 49ers had stolen a game at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks haven’t lost here since 2011.
In a game that was delayed exactly an hour late in the first quarter because of a lightning storm, the Seahawks waited and then did what they do -- they dominated at home. Now the season moves on, and the 49ers and Seahawks will more than likely be playing for something when they meet in San Francisco in Week 14.
While this Seattle statement doesn’t mean too much in the overall conference race, the 49ers do need to take stock. It was an awful night for them. This loss was as worrisome as the 34-28 win over Green Bay last weekend was promising. Things did not go well at all.
“I’m certainly not proud of the way that we played tonight or coached,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “It was not our finest hour. ... We have to bounce back. We have to bounce back in a big way.”
Regrouping will start with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Nearly flawless last week, Kaepernick struggled Sunday night against the Seahawks’ super-studded secondary. Kaepernick threw three interceptions and lost a fumble. A week after throwing for 412 yards, Kaepernick had only 127 yards through the air. His QBR was 14.0, the worst of his 12-start NFL career. His throws were off all night and he did not look comfortable, even before the weather delay.
Kaepernick did not shed blame.
“We're not going to win games if I play like that,” he said flatly.
The Seahawks took away the instant chemistry Kaepernick had built last week with receiver Anquan Boldin in his first game as a 49er, when Boldin had 13 catches for 208 yards. Against Seattle, Boldin had one catch for 7 yards. It came with the game well out of hand. Tight end Vernon Davis had three catches for 20 yards. Last week, he had six catches for 98 yards.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kaepernick did not complete a pass downfield of 15 yards or longer for the first time in his career. Last week, he had eight such completions. San Francisco's offensive line, which was brilliant against the Packers, sagged some at Seattle. Kaepernick was sacked three times and was under duress 13 of the 35 times he dropped back to pass.
The 49ers also were unable to establish their run game for the second straight week. Overall, it was a poor showing by one of the most dynamic offenses in the league.
“We didn’t execute, across the board,” Boldin said. “We just didn’t do what we were supposed to do.”
This loss is on the San Francisco offense much more than the defense. But the defense did allow Seattle tailback Marshawn Lynch to have a big day. Lynch, who had run for 100-plus yards in his previous three games against the 49ers, had 98 yards rushing, 37 receiving yards and three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving).
Discipline was also an issue for San Francisco. The 49ers were called for four personal fouls. They had 12 penalties for 121 yards. In two games, the 49ers have a whopping 23 penalties.
In addition to all the mistakes and the lack of execution, the 49ers limped out of Seattle. Nose tackle Ian Williams broke his ankle. Rookie safety Eric Reid was being tested for a concussion. Davis left with a hamstring injury. And defensive end Ray McDonald sustained an ankle injury (X-rays were negative).
This night couldn’t have gone worse for San Francisco. It has to be disturbing, and it will be the cause for great self-evaluation inside the team facility in Santa Clara. But as last year’s Seattle disaster showed, a lopsided loss here doesn’t necessarily spell ultimate doom.
SEATTLE -- A few thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks’ 29-3 win over the San Francisco 49ers:
What it means: The Seahawks (2-0) have early control of the NFC West. They needed this win more than the 49ers (1-1) because it is was a home game. The 49ers are going to have to make sure they beat the Seahawks in San Francisco on Dec. 8. This game was intense and closer than the score indicated. But the Seahawks outplayed the 49ers, who were surprisingly flat offensively. The 49ers have to find their offensive spark and clean up the ridiculous penalties that have plagued them the past two weeks. The NFC West race is far from over, but the Seahawks, who haven’t lost at home since 2011, struck first and loudly.
Stock watch: Lots of downward pointing here. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was never comfortable and more of a detriment than a help to his team. San Francisco receiver Anquan Boldin had one catch after 13 last week against Green Bay. The 49ers were very sloppy. They were penalized 12 times for 121 yards and have 23 penalties this season. San Francisco had four personal-foul penalties, which is inexcusable.
Lynch a difference-maker: Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch had another big game against the 49ers. He had 98 yards on 28 carries and scored three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving). On a day when both quarterbacks were off, Lynch was the difference.
Injuries mount: San Francisco nose tackle Ian Williams broke his ankle in the first quarter, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The 49ers confirmed that Williams has an ankle injury, but not the severity. He appeared to be hurt on a low block by Seattle guard J.R. Sweezy. The 49ers can't be pleased. Williams was coming into his own. It will mean more opportunities for free-agent pickup Glenn Dorsey. Also, rookie safety Eric Reid left the game in the second quarter because of a possible concussion and tight end Vernon Davis left late with a hamstring injury. Both will be monitored this week. Defensive end Ray McDonald was also hurt late.
What’s next: The 49ers host Indianapolis on Sunday. It will be a reunion for San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. Harbaugh coached Luck at Stanford prior to coming to the 49ers. The Colts are 1-1. They lost at home to Miami on Sunday. It will be the Colts’ first road game of the season.
“It was a little off,” Willis said of his surgically repaired hand during Sunday’s game. “It should be much better this week.”
Willis had surgery six weeks ago Friday. The typical recovery time is eight weeks. Willis didn’t play in the preseason. He did not seem rusty. He was very active and finished with five tackles.
In other 49ers notes:
ESPN.com’s experts favor the 49ers in Sunday’s huge tilt at Seattle. Thoughts?
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick gets some hometown corn-maze love. Kaepernick clearly approves. He tweeted out this link.
Defensive tackle Justin Smith said practicing against a fast quarterback like Kaepernick in camp helps prepare San Francisco to face a similarly fast quarterback in Seattle’s Russell Wilson.
“We don't have a pocket-passer statue that we practice against,” Smith said.
Nose tackle Ian Williams said he has studied the game of former San Francisco tackle Aubrayo Franklin as he tries to improve his own. Willis said Williams’ game reminds him some of Franklin’s.
The only player not practicing Thursday was running back LaMichael James. He has been out for two weeks with a knee injury. He is expected out a short while longer.
"Let's face it, everyone is worried about the 49ers' defensive line," Andrew from Minnesota wrote. "I think, however, most people are overlooking the Ian Williams contract extension. We all gave puzzled looks at the Ray McDonald extension a few years ago, and that move paid off. Maybe Williams will be an awesome new anchor in the D-line? Thoughts?"
Sando: The five-year extension McDonald signed before the 2011 season did come as a bit of a surprise, mostly for its timing and $20 million value. The 49ers had a new coaching staff, so it was tough to know from the outside which players the team might value most.
McDonald had played more than half the defensive snaps in two of the previous three seasons, however. He had played in 47 of the previous 48 games. McDonald was an established player and someone the team had valued as a third-round choice in 2007.
Williams, 23, was undrafted in 2011. He has played 39 snaps in four games over two seasons. His contract averages $1.5 million per year, less than half the $4 million average for McDonald. The deal for Williams included $2 million in guaranteed money, one-third what McDonald's contract contained.
I tend to think Glenn Dorsey's signing is the more significant one for the 49ers' defensive line. I'm not quite sure what the 49ers have in mind for him, but that signing indicates to me a specific plan is in place for the line in 2013.
As for the draft, I do think the 49ers need to address that position regardless.
McDonald and Justin Smith had both played at least 85 percent of the defensive snaps through Week 15, which was when an arm injury forced Smith to the sideline until the playoffs. Tampa Bay (three) and New Orleans (two) were the only other teams with more than one defensive lineman logging 85-plus percent of his team's snaps to that point in the season. The Bucs and Saints had a combined seven other defensive linemen logging at least 30 percent of the snaps to that point. The 49ers had none.
Tampa Bay and New Orleans ran different defensive schemes, of course. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith played on the line a fair amount for the 49ers depending on the situation. Still, it's a position the 49ers could stand to address. Smith is 33 years old and arguably the most important player on the defense. His contract runs through 2013 and the team will need to find a successor.
San Francisco's draft status could range from 29th through 32nd, depending upon where the 49ers finish in the ongoing playoffs. Kiper slotted them at No. 30 for the purposes of this mock.
30. San Francisco 49ers: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Kiper's give: "At some point, San Francisco has to assume that the ageless Justin Smith might finally need a breather, and Floyd is the type of versatile defensive lineman who profiles well as a 3-4 defensive end. ... Like Smith, he's a powerful player who can push the pocket with power and will free up other pass-rushers, while making tackles for loss on his own."
Sando's take: Kiper is preaching to the choir here. The 49ers entered the 2012 season with the oldest starting defensive line in the league. Smith turns 34 in September and will need surgery on his injured elbow and triceps this offseason. The 49ers tried to address this position in the 2008 draft, but their selection of Kentwan Balmer did not work out. Ricky Jean-Francois has value as a versatile backup. Ian Williams and Tony Jerod-Eddie are the other backups on the defensive line. It's tough to envision the 49ers targeting another position in the first round, at least from a need stand point. The 49ers have not drafted a true defensive lineman in the past three drafts. Aldon Smith, Bruce Miller and Cameron Johnson were listed as defensive linemen coming out of college, but they have transitioned to other positions. Smith plays outside linebacker. Miller plays fullback. Johnson projects as more of an outside linebacker. The 49ers appear mostly set at the skill positions if A.J. Jenkins develops at wide receiver.
Smith has a triceps injury. He wore an elbow brace Thursday.
The 49ers have adjusted their rotation along the defensive line since Smith suffered the injury during a Week 15 victory at New England. The chart shows snap counts for the 49ers' defensive linemen on a per-game basis since Week 14.
Participating in individual drills is a positive first step. The 49ers will monitor Smith to see how the injury responds to the work.