NFC West: Jared Allen

Jared Allen was right all along. The veteran defensive end made two trips to Seattle and came close to reaching an agreement with the Seahawks, but deep down, he believed he was worth more and could get more money elsewhere.

He was correct. Allen agreed to a four-year deal for $32 million with the Chicago Bears on Wednesday. It includes $15.5 million in guaranteed money. That’s more money than the Seahawks were offering in the total deal.

Allen
Seattle was willing to pay Allen between $12 million and $13 million over two years. The guaranteed money probably was around $8 million. Allen and his wife, Amy, made a second trip to Seattle last week, usually a good sign that a deal will get done, but the Allens surprisingly walked away.

Allen said he wanted to think about it. His agent, Ken Harris, said Allen was considering other offers. But no one knew of any better offers that were on the table, so most people assumed Allen would still sign with the Seahawks or possibly retire, as he had threatened earlier.

Allen believed a team would step up and value him more for what he has done in his career -- double-figure sacks in each of the last seven seasons.

He patiently waited for a better deal, and it came from the Bears on Tuesday night. Allen will replace Julius Peppers, whom the Bears released March 11. Peppers was scheduled to make $14 million in 2014, and he counted $20 million toward the salary cap.

Chicago signed former Oakland defensive end Lamarr Houston to a five-year deal for $35 million, so it appeared Chicago was done on the defensive end search. Signing Allen was a surprise, especially to the Seahawks.

Less than 30 minutes before the announcement was made Wednesday morning, Seattle coach Pete Carroll said he was still waiting to hear from Allen.

Even with the signing of Houston, the Bears had money to spend, more money than Seattle. Two days ago, Carroll said the Seahawks were limited in what they could offer because they were looking to extend other contracts.

He didn’t mention any names, but it’s clear Carroll was talking about free safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman, who will be free agents at the end of the 2014 season if extensions aren’t worked out.

Allen’s decision wasn’t just about money. Two other things factored into it. One is playing time. Allen has played more snaps than any defensive end in the NFL over the last five years.

He turns 32 next month, but he doesn’t want to be a situational player. Allen would have been part of a rotation in Seattle with Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett.

Sources also said that Allen’s wife was not enamored with Seattle in her two visits and didn’t like the city. Really? Maybe she was here on a couple of typical rainy and gray winter days, but enjoy those winters in Chicago.

The best thing the Seahawks had to offer Allen was a chance to play for a team that just won the Super Bowl and has a good chance to return. The Bears were 8-8 last season and believe they can contend for a playoff spot this season. It also gives Allen a chance to play twice a season against his former teammates in Minnesota.

So Allen walked away from Seattle’s offer and got what he wanted. The Seahawks offered what they could, and it wasn’t enough. But the bottom line for Seattle remains the same in looking ahead to the big-money deals to come for Thomas, Sherman and quarterback Russell Wilson.
 

It’s almost time to change all those gloomy free-agency grades on the Seahawks. Things are close to getting dramatically better. Seattle may become the best pass-rushing team in the NFL.

The Seahawks are on the verge of making a major free-agent acquisition by adding one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL in former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, who is believed to be close to accepting Seattle's offer.

Allen, who turns 32 on April 3, had 11 sacks in 2013 and ranks 12th in NFL history with 128 sacks in his 10-year career, including seven consecutive years of double-digit sacks. By adding a star player like Allen, the Seahawks' defensive line arguably would be better than it was in 2013, despite losing three players off the line.

[+] EnlargeJared Allen
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesWith his proven pass-rushing ability, Jared Allen would give Seattle plenty to cheer about in 2014.
Defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons were released, and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent. Those three players accounted for 11.5 regular-season sacks in 2013, so Allen, obviously, helps counter that loss.

Granted, he doesn’t answer what the Seahawks lose in run-stoppers with Bryant and McDonald, but they still have defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel, who was re-signed as a free agent. The Seahawks also have two rookie tackles for 2013 in Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams who they believe have bright futures.

By releasing Clemons and Bryant, the Seahawks saved $13 million in cap space, which is why they still had $15.2 million to spend for 2014.

And Seattle won’t have to break the bank to bring in Allen. He originally wanted a deal at $10 million a year, but quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen. Terms haven’t been announced, but he likely will sign for substantially less to come to Seattle.

The Seahawks are in a good position these days. Players want to come to Seattle, knowing they have a chance to win and play in an organization that has become the model franchise for how to treat people with Pete Carroll’s reputation as the consummate players coach.

Surely those things are on Allen’s mind in making his decision. He wants the chance to win a championship before he retires.

Allen also knows he won’t have to carry the whole load on a defense that was No. 1 in the NFL last season. He can be a situational pass-rusher and add to a mix that includes Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, two men who totaled 16 sacks last season.

Some will say that Allen is starting the downside of his career, but coming to a winning team where he won’t need to play 80 percent of the snaps likely will revitalize him.

The Seahawks' front seven on defense already was a scary sight for any quarterback. With Allen in the mix, it will become downright frightening, and probably unstoppable.

Along with that, this signing would silence some of the critics who thought the Seahawks were headed down the same road as other Super Bowl-winning teams by losing far more than they gained.

Other than wide receiver Golden Tate, Seattle kept the players they really wanted to keep, like Bennett, McDaniel and kicker Steven Hauschka. And they’ve done it with the thought of looking ahead to upcoming big-money deals for free safety Earl Thomas, cornerback Richard Sherman and quarterback Russell Wilson.

Now they are likely to add one of the premier pass-rushers in the NFL in Allen. If he signs on the dotted line, you might want to change that 2014 free-agency grade to an A, or at least a B-plus.
The chances of free-agent defensive end Jared Allen signing with the Seahawks probably improved on Tuesday night when defensive tackle Henry Melton signed with the Dallas Cowboys.

Allen
Allen met with the Cowboys this week after visiting with Seahawks over the weekend. Allen returned home to Minneapolis Tuesday to discuss his options with his wife. The option of signing with Dallas probably is over now because the Cowboys are out of salary-cap money.

Another option is to retire. Allen, who is 32 and had 11 1/2 sacks last season for Minnesota, said he would quit if he doesn't get the money he believes he deserves. But Allen hasn't said exactly what that number is.

It was thought Allen wanted a deal similar to what defensive end DeMarcus Ware received at Denver, which averages $10 million a year. That's not happening for Allen, but he may be willing to accept a lot less to have an opportunity to win a championship with the Seahawks.

Seattle has $15.2 million left in salary-cap money for 2014. Some of that money will be saved for later moves, but the push could be on to get Allen to sign on the dotted line.
IRVING, Texas -- Henry Melton's visit with the Dallas Cowboys has ended and the free-agent defensive tackle is off to visit the St. Louis Rams, according to a source.

Melton
From all accounts, Melton's visit went well. According to sources, the medical checkup on his surgically-repaired knee came back fine, and he was able to re-connect with the coach that developed him into a Pro Bowler with the Chicago Bears, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

Melton has visited with the Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings since free agency started. Talks with the teams will continue as Melton looks for his next home.

The Cowboys will continue meeting with free-agent defensive end Jared Allen, who arrived in Dallas Monday night and met with coach Jason Garrett and several assistants.

The Cowboys are looking for defensive line help, but so far in free agency have maintained a disciplined approach despite the release of DeMarcus Ware and the loss of Jason Hatcher. Ware has since signed with the Denver Broncos and Hatcher signed with the Washington Redskins.

The Cowboys have roughly $7.6 million in salary cap space. Depending on the structure and lengths of deals, they may need to come up with more cap room by either restructuring or releasing players.

Allen and Frazier praise Percy Harvin

November, 13, 2013
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RENTON, Wash. -- Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen knows he has one more thing to worry about if his former teammate Percy Harvin makes his debut for the Seahawks on Sunday, so Allen has a message for Harvin.

“Our odds maybe go up a little bit if he doesn’t play,” Allen said. “So tell him [not] to get healthy.”

Harvin
Allen was joking, of course. In truth, he wants to see his old teammate back on the field.

“It’ll be fun,” Allen said Wednesday on a conference call with Seahawks’ reporters. “Percy is a heck of a player. He’s so dynamic in the things he can do. But for us, it’s not really about one player. We have to go out there and prepare to win a game.”

Harvin returning would add to that preparation.

“Obviously, Percy is a phenomenal player,” Allen said. “The dude is so versatile. He’s tough and shifty. He’s one of those guys if the ball’s in his hands he makes plays. We wish him all the success; at least I do, just not against us.”

Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier didn’t always see eye to eye with Harvin, but he also had only good things to say about him Wednesday.

“He’s such an explosive player,” Frazier said. “He has the ability to play multiple positions. You can line him up wide, in the slot or in the backfield. He was just as effective there for us as he was as a receiver.

“He gave us so much flexibility on offense. He was a threat to score every time he touched the ball. He provided a lot of positives for us.”

Frazier said Harvin is a rare player that you can’t describe in traditional terms.

“It’s hard to put you hand on it,” Frazier said. “He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s so good at what he does after he catches the ball. He plays so hard and he’s very determined. He really believes he can score every time he touches the ball.”

Frazier was asked if the Vikings have an advantage by knowing Harvin’s tendencies.

"We have no idea what [the Seahawks] are going to do with him,” Frazier said, “so it’s a little overblown in that respect.”
San Francisco 49ers defensive end Justin Smith is expected to need two or three months to recover from triceps surgery scheduled for this week.

That gives Smith ample time to ready himself for the 2013 season.

One question: How many miles remain on the odometer for Smith? The Pro Bowl lineman had started 185 consecutive regular-season games before the injury. He has said he doesn't want to become just a situational player, but it's reasonable to wonder for how long a 33-year-old defensive lineman can play nearly every snap without breaking down physically.

Ray McDonald, Smith's teammate on the defensive line, was one of three NFL defensive linemen to play at least 90 percent of his team's defensive snaps during the 2012 regular season.

Smith would have pushed for a spot on the list if an arm injury hadn't forced him to miss time. Even with the injury, Smith ranks among the NFL's top four defensive linemen in total snaps logged over the past two seasons, counting playoffs. McDonald is also on the list.

The 49ers' defensive players have logged high miles over the past two seasons. The team relies upon a smaller number of defensive players than most teams in part because their inside linebackers, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, stay on the field for passing downs.

That is only part of the story.

With Smith and the 28-year-old McDonald playing so extensively for a team that has also played five postseason games over two seasons, the 49ers could clearly use a depth infusion up front on defense.

Silver linings: Rams vs. Vikings

December, 17, 2012
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The facts: The St. Louis Rams fell to 6-7-1 with a 36-22 home defeat to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 11.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • Steven Jackson became the 27th player in NFL history to reach 10,000 yards rushing. Jackson also had eight receptions for 73 yards.
  • Sam Bradford finished with 377 yards passing and three touchdowns.
  • Rookie receiver Brian Quick caught the second touchdown pass of his career.
  • Danny Amendola had a touchdown pass and a 17-yard punt return.
  • The Rams allowed two third-down conversions in 11 chances.
  • St. Louis scored three touchdowns on four red zone possessions.
  • Vikings defensive end Jared Allen finished the game with no sacks.
  • Quintin Mikell and Eugene Sims had sacks for the Rams. Mikell also forced a fumble.
Looking ahead: The Rams visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 16.

Dominant RBs, but Wilson only winning QB

November, 4, 2012
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Russell WilsonAP Photo/John FroschauerRussell Wilson was the difference Sunday as the he passed for 173 yards and three touchdowns.
SEATTLE -- Two teams with dominant running backs traded sledgehammers to the gut Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

The Seattle Seahawks also brought to the fight an efficient, poised quarterback with a veteran's feel for the pocket and the arm strength to fire the ball downfield on occasion.

That was the most meaningful difference between the Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings during Seattle's 30-20 victory in Week 9. It's what matters most for Seattle as the team moves forward with rookie Russell Wilson behind center.

Wilson's three touchdown passes gave the rookie 13 through nine games, two fewer than Seattle managed all last season. He has eight touchdowns against two picks over his past four starts. He has taken one sack over his past two games and never more than two in a game since Arizona brought him down three times in Week 1.

These are the signs of progress Seattle must see this season.

The fact the Seahawks are 5-4 with four home games left on the schedule further validates Seattle's decision to name Wilson the starter over Matt Flynn. That conversation sure did suffer a quick and decisive demise, didn't it? This team is contending not just in spite of its rookie quarterback, but increasingly because of him.

"Hats off to him," Vikings defensive end Brian Robison said. "He's a heckuva player and he has a bright future in this league."

This was only the second time in 24 chances a Seattle team won despite allowing 155-plus yards to an opposing runner. Adrian Peterson was absurdly prolific on his way to 144 first-half yards. He left full-grown NFL linebackers flailing at his vapor trails. That stuff about Peterson undergoing ACL surgery has to be a hoax.

Peterson put the scalpel to Seattle's rush defense. The Seahawks fared much better against him in the second half, limiting him to 182 yards for the game after 200-plus appeared bankable.

The Seahawks' defense deserves a large share of the credit. Defenders who had geared up to stop Peterson showed more patience in the second half, making it tougher for the NFL's best runner to cut back into the clear. Of course, Peterson had only five carries after halftime.

Wilson, running back Marshawn Lynch (124 yards) and the Seahawks' receivers and offensive line get credit, too.

Seattle led by only a touchdown well into the fourth quarter. The outcome could have swung either way. The Seahawks possessed the ball for 10:53 of the game's final 11:49, and that made it impossible for Minnesota to threaten.

Wilson to Lynch for 23 yards on second-and-13. Wilson to fullback Michael Robinson for 16 yards on third-and-1. Wilson scrambling 13 yards on second-and-14. Wilson converting fourth-and-1 on a keeper. Wilson finding Robinson for a 6-yard gain on fourth-and-4.

These were the fourth-quarter plays that let Seattle grind out the victory. Earlier, there were 6- and 11-yard scoring passes to Golden Tate and an 11-yard touchdown to Sidney Rice on third-and-9. Also, a 7-yard pass to Rice on third-and-4 and a 6-yarder to Tate on third-and-5 extended drives that would result in touchdowns.

The first-quarter bullet Wilson threw over the middle to Rice for a 23-yard gain was one he delivered on time and with authority after stepping forward in the pocket.

"He did a great job of avoiding the pressure, buying some time, scrambling a couple times, converting some first downs," said Antoine Winfield, the Vikings' three-time Pro Bowl cornerback.

The Seahawks rushed for 195 yards and passed for 190, the type of balance Pete Carroll and just about every defensive-minded coach loves to see.

What was Wilson's role in it all? The Vikings weren't going to hold a parade for him.

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
AP Photo/John FroschauerMarshawn Lynch and the Seattle rushing game helped take pressure off Russell Wilson.
"When you give up 200 yards rushing, heck, I could be successful as a quarterback," said Jared Allen, the Vikings' four-time Pro Bowl defensive end.

Perhaps Allen should start for the Vikings, then. Minnesota rushed for 243 yards and two touchdowns, but the Vikings' second-year quarterback, Christian Ponder, completed only half his 22 attempts for 63 yards and a pick. Ponder was operating on the road against a tougher pass defense than the one Wilson faced. Still, though, 63 yards?

Allen, understandably steamed following a rough defeat, did offer some real insight.

"I mean, they don't allow [Wilson] to sit in there and drop back," he said. "They do play-action off everything. You've got run action. You've got Lynch, who is running the ball and then [Wilson] comes back and if his first read is not open, he breaks the pocket and makes plays downfield."

Wilson was playing downhill Sunday, no question.

Seattle cornerback Marcus Trufant, playing for his job now that Walter Thurmond is close to returning, forced and recovered a first-quarter fumble, setting up the offense at the Minnesota 17. Later, a trick play produced a 25-yard gain, Rice to tight end Zach Miller. There were sideways passes to utilize Tate's considerable running ability.

This was not Aaron Rodgers carrying his team, obviously. But it didn't have to be.

"The guy [Wilson] knows how to make plays, he knows how to create his own windows, but you live with that if we stop the run," Allen said. "Again, you stop the run and you force him to drop back. He gets out of the pocket and he can make every throw downfield. Good for them, but that ain't what beat us. We gave up 200 yards rushing."

Wilson did lead a pass-oriented attack to a 24-point showing at Detroit last week. Before Sunday, Wilson had thrown eight of his 10 scoring passes from inside the pocket, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That included four of five over the previous three games. He moves with purpose and can turn sure sacks into positive yardage.

The Seahawks are increasingly putting Wilson in the shotgun formation, with promising results. This was his second consecutive game with two scoring passes from the shotgun after having two over the first seven games. He completed 10 of 14 passes from the formation Sunday after using it only 52 percent of the time previously this season, an unusually low rate in the current NFL.

The Vikings, having already lost road games to rookie first-round quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, had gone 2-0 at home against the NFC West's Alex Smith and John Skelton. They hoped to force Wilson into 35-plus passes, but with Lynch flourishing and Ponder floundering, that wasn't an option.

"You have to make a rookie quarterback drop back, disguise some coverages and create some turnovers," Winfield said.

Wilson attempted 35 passes against Detroit and played well enough to win. Seattle lost that game when its defense couldn't stop the Lions on third down. Defensive breakdowns easily could have become the story Sunday without those three scoring passes from Wilson.

Luck tossed two touchdowns without a pick against the Vikings. Griffin beat them for two touchdowns rushing and one passing with an interception.

The Seahawks, after scoring three red zone touchdowns in September and five in October, produced four Sunday. They did it against a Vikings defense that had allowed opponents to score eight touchdowns on 11 red zone possessions over the previous three weeks.

Wilson did not clear a particularly high bar Sunday, in other words. All he did was provide the Seahawks with exactly what they needed, and much more than they have gotten from any other quarterback lately. This wasn't the last time.

Wrap-up: Vikings 21, Cardinals 14

October, 21, 2012
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Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 21-14 loss at Minnesota in Week 7:

What it means: The Cardinals fell to 4-3 with their third consecutive defeat. They've got San Francisco, Green Bay (road) and Atlanta (road) on the schedule from here. The team will need better play from quarterback John Skelton to avoid dropping to 4-6. It's fair to wonder whether the Cardinals will see rookie Ryan Lindley at quarterback at some point over the next few weeks, either through injury or Skelton's poor performance. (Update: Skelton finished strong, completing 11 of 14 passes with a touchdown in the fourth quarter).

What I liked: The Cardinals stuck with the running game early and got better production. LaRod Stephens-Howling tied the game at 7-7 with the team's first rushing touchdown since Week 2 and third of the season.

Paris Lenon's interception set up the scoring drive. Sam Acho made a diving interception right before halftime. The Cardinals' ground game and defense put the team in scoring position frequently enough to keep the game competitive -- if only the offense could capitalize.

Left tackle D'Anthony Batiste fared far better than expected in pass protection against Vikings defensive end Jared Allen.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals' run defense struggled from the beginning. Adrian Peterson popped a 28-yard run before his 13-yard touchdown run gave the Viking a 7-0 lead. Peterson topped 100 yards rushing. But with Jay Feely missing a field goal try right before halftime and Skelton throwing a pick-six in the third quarter, the Cardinals fell behind and the game slipped away.

What's next: The Cardinals are home against the San Francisco 49ers on "Monday Night Football" in Week 8.

Final Word: NFC West

October, 19, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 7:

Wind up the pass-rushers: Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Clay Matthews and Jared Allen are pass-rushers to watch in games featuring NFC West teams Sunday. Long and Quinn have combined for 10 sacks for the St. Louis Rams. They'll be facing a Green Bay offense that has stabilized since allowing eight first-half sacks against Seattle. Matthews has eight sacks for the Packers and will match up against Rams left tackle Wayne Hunter, a backup who has missed recent practices with back trouble. Meanwhile, Minnesota has to like Allen's chances working against Arizona Cardinals left tackle D'Anthony Batiste. According to Stats LLC, Batiste ranks second only to Cardinals right tackle Bobby Massie in sacks allowed this season. The totals are nine for Massie and 7.5 for Batiste.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Tim Fuller/US PresswireSam Bradford and the Rams have struggled against the Packers in recent seasons.
Airing it out: The St. Louis Rams, 3-0 at home heading into their game against Green Bay, have lost their past three to the Packers overall. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has more touchdown passes in the past week (six) than the Rams have managed in their past four games against Green Bay dating to 2006. Sam Bradford topped 300 yards passing without finding the end zone during a 24-3 defeat at Lambeau Field last season.

Seeking faster start: The Cardinals have won 11 of their past 15 games overall, but not because of the way they've started on offense. Arizona's offense has only two first-quarter touchdowns since Week 6 last season, a span of 17 games. That is tied with Jacksonville and Indianapolis for the fewest over that stretch. The Jaguars and Colts have played one fewer game apiece during that span.

Outside looking in: Five of the six TD passes Rodgers threw last week were perimeter passes, defined as those caught outside the yard-line numbers. The Rams are allowing a league-low 4.9 yards per attempt on these throws, with two touchdowns and four interceptions. However, the Rams collected three of those perimeter picks way back in the season opener. They allowed one of those scoring passes to Miami's Ryan Tannehill last week. Tannehill completed six such passes while posting a 101.3 NFL passer rating on those throws.

Point taken: The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers combined to allow 19 points against each other Thursday night. The Rams have allowed 33 over their past three games. The Arizona Cardinals head to Minnesota as the only NFL team yet to allow more than 21 points in a 2012 game. The Vikings have scored 26 against Jacksonville, 24 against San Francisco and 30 against Tennessee in their three home games. They have allowed 20 total points in their past two at home. The Cardinals have scored 19 points over their past two games after scoring at least 20 in each of their first four.

Note: ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this entry.

Around the NFC West: Why 49ers lost

September, 24, 2012
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The San Francisco 49ers weren't at their best Sunday. That wasn't the takeaway from their 24-13 defeat at Minnesota, at least in my view. The first two touchdown plays Christain Ponder made for the Vikings would have been nearly impossible for anyone to stop.

Ponder's touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph required athleticism and accuracy. Safety Dashon Goldson was bearing down on the quarterback. Ponder leaped and was fading backward when he released a tight-spiraled pass with pinpoint accuracy.

Later, Ponder felt the pocket collapsing around him. He shifted from quarterback to runner without hesitation and was gone up the middle before anyone could catch him. The 23-yard touchdown stretched the Vikings' lead to 14-3 with 5:29 left in the second quarter. Again, not much the 49ers could have done about this one.

Throw in the mistakes San Francisco made -- some off-target passes, an interception, Frank Gore's lost fumble, getting a field-goal try blocked, too many penalties -- and the 49ers suffered their most lopsided defeat under coach Jim Harbaugh. They previously lost by 10 to Baltimore, three to Dallas, three to the New York Giants (in the playoffs) and two to Arizona.

Jess Myers of the San Jose Mercury News passes along thoughts from various 49ers defenders. He didn't see the Vikings' running game as decisive even though Adrian Peterson ran well. Inman: "The bigger problems were multifaceted offensive tool Percy Harvin and second-year Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. When nothing was open downfield, Ponder often would scramble away from the pass rush and find Harvin open in the flat. Harvin had nine catches for 89 yards, and Ponder finished with two touchdown passes while producing zeros in two vitally important stats: sacks and interceptions."

From Cam Inman of the the San Jose Mercury News: "Alex Smith accounted for two fourth-quarter turnovers, including his first interception in 250 passes and a lost fumble on a final-drive sack by Jared Allen. Smith also kicked himself for overthrowing Randy Moss for a potential second-quarter touchdown."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Moss thanks Vikings fans for applauding him. As for the times Smith missed Moss? Smith: "He and I have to connect. I have to (throw) better balls there on both those occasions, because those were both key plays."

Also from Barrows: Justin Smith thought the 49ers lacked their usual edge. Smith: "We just came out a little flat and weren't able to get a stop. Hats off to them. They came out with a good game plan and moved the ball on us. We just need to tighten up."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com offers Mike Singletary's reaction to beating his former team: "I think more than anything else, I was just very, very pleased to see our guys respond to the challenge of playing San Francisco. They are playing very well right now. We are coming off a loss last week, and we bounced back and really showed a lot of character and I'm very excited about that."

Also from Maiocco: Goldson disputes a personal foul called against him.

More from Maiocco: Isaac Sopoaga and Patrick Willis were walking despite the injuries they suffered against Minnesota. Details were scarce.

Hurdles rising for NFC West left tackles

September, 18, 2012
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Arizona, St. Louis and Seattle won games Sunday with the following backups getting most or all of the snaps at left tackle:
  • D'Anthony Batiste, Cardinals: He's starting in place of the injured Levi Brown. Batiste struggled against Seattle's Chris Clemons in the opener. I thought he was generally effective during the Cardinals' 20-18 victory at New England. He had problems during a third-down sequence deep in Cardinals territory, drawing a flag for holding and then giving up a sack. Batiste was not consistently a liability, however. The Cardinals helped him on occasion but did not consistently funnel extra blockers toward Batiste's side. Batiste was not a significant limiting factor for the offense. In fact, I thought pressure came from other areas more frequently. Quarterback Kevin Kolb did a good job moving in concert with his linemen, so there were fewer surprises for the guys up front.
  • Wayne Hunter, Rams: Hunter took over for Rodger Saffold after Saffold suffered a sprained knee during the Rams' victory over Washington. The Rams had to settle for a field goal before halftime after a holding penalty against Hunter moved back the offense. A third-quarter holding penalty set back the offense again. The Rams were best when Sam Bradford threw quickly from three-receiver sets. That could be a remedy for their tackle situation. Bradford completed all nine of his third-down attempts against the Redskins. The Rams expect Saffold to miss at least one month. They caught a break against Washington when the Redskins lost Brian Orakpo to a season-ending injury. Hunter could be matched against Julius Peppers in Week 3.
  • Frank Omiyale, Seahawks: Omiyale started against Dallas while Russell Okung was recovering from a bruised knee. Okung is expected back to face Clay Matthews and the Green Bay Packers' defense on "Monday Night Football" in Week 3. The Seahawks helped Omiyale some of the time. Omiyale held up without assistance when protecting Russell Wilson's blind side during a 22-yard scoring pass to tight end Anthony McCoy. Dallas' Demarcus Ware finished the game with no sacks. Seattle rushed for 182 yards while allowing only two sacks, one of which resulted from an unblocked rusher coming free on Wilson's front side, away from Omiyale. Seattle got through this game as well as could be expected. The team has averaged 3.5 yards per rush with Okung and 4.4 yards without him. The per-carry average was slightly higher without Okung last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. There are other variables, however. Okung is easily the most talented option at tackle.

Looking at the schedule, every NFC West left tackle faces a tough test in Week 3. San Francisco's Joe Staley matches up against Minnesota's Jared Allen. Batiste faces Philadelphia's Trent Cole. Hunter draws Peppers while Okung or Omiyale faces Matthews.

Depth gone as Cardinals lose another OT

September, 2, 2012
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Personnel evaluators would not rank Levi Brown or Jeremy Bridges among the NFL's dominant tackles.

Brown and Bridges were the only experienced ones for the Arizona Cardinals, however. Now, both will enter the 2012 season on injured reserve.

Brown will miss the entire season. Bridges' situation remains a bit murkier. As Darren Urban noted, the veteran swing tackle tweeted Sunday that he was heading to injured reserve after suffering a torn thumb ligament requiring surgery.

New rules allow teams to designated one injured player for a return after Week 8. I would expect Arizona to save that designation for a more valuable player. As much as the Cardinals couldn't afford another injury at tackle, the drop from Bridges to a veteran free agent might not be severe enough to warrant waiting out this injury. It's also possible Bridges will need a full season to recover.

Bridges, 32, owns 55 regular-season starts. He brought a nasty edge to the line, the type coaches value. Bridges' finest moment in Arizona came when he stepped into the lineup against Minnesota during the 2009 season and battled evenly against Vikings defensive end Jared Allen. The Cardinals allowed zero sacks in that game. It was the first time Bridges ever started at left tackle.

Once a torn triceps felled Brown, the Cardinals appeared likely to enter this season with D'Anthony Batiste at left tackle and rookie Bobby Massie on the right side. Bridges was there as insurance for both spots. Without him, rookie seventh-round choice Nate Potter becomes the only pure tackle among the Cardinals' backups.

Batiste owns four career starts and none since 2007.

Camp Confidential: Cardinals

August, 23, 2012
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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- One quarterback at Arizona Cardinals camp was fighting to win back the starting job he'd never really earned. The team had paid millions to him, but questions persisted over his toughness, durability and leadership.

Another quarterback at Cardinals camp had outperformed his status as a late-round draft choice. He was bigger and had a stronger arm. Teammates responded more favorably to his presence on the field, it seemed, but he wasn't the most accurate passer, which was a concern.

If those descriptions stirred thoughts of Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, respectively, you'd be correct. But the same passages applied to the Cardinals' ill-fated 2010 quarterback race between Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson. Back then, Arizona cut Leinart, struggled with Anderson and finished with a 5-11 record.

The comparison naturally did not sit well with Ken Whisenhunt, the Cardinals' sixth-year head coach. He sees a team that has won with both Kolb and especially Skelton behind center. He sees a team returning a 1,000-yard rusher, a fleet of perimeter playmakers featuring the incomparable Larry Fitzgerald and a defense that dominated during a 7-2 run to finish last season.

"The biggest difference, in 2009, we were a damn good football team at 10-6, but how many [key] players did we lose after that year, five?" Whisenhunt said.

Four, if we count Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle.

"This year, we didn’t lose that," Whisenhunt said. "That is the biggest difference in how I feel from 2010 and the way I feel in 2012."

How the quarterback situation plays out will largely determine whether Whisenhunt is right.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Kolb's adjustment. Going from Philadelphia's West Coast system to the Cardinals' offense has been tougher than anticipated for the Cardinals' would-be starting quarterback. The goal seems so simple: Find ways for Kolb to remain in the pocket and trust the offense. But the instincts Kolb developed with the Eagles keep getting in the way. That could explain what Raiders defensive lineman Tommy Kelly indelicately called "skittishness" -- the tendency for Kolb to bail from the pocket at the first sign of trouble.

Learning the Cardinals' offense hasn't been a problem. Unlearning what he did in Philly? That's another story.

"It's just the way they create the pocket, there versus here," Kolb said. "They teach us to really push up in the pocket in Philly. Two, three hitches up in the pocket when you get up there. You can see that. If you watch Mike [Vick], he has got two really big hitches into his throws. If it’s not there, it’s go or throw, you know what I mean?

[+] EnlargeKevin Kolb and John Skelton
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinJohn Skelton, right, appears to have the upper hand over Kevin Kolb for the Cardinals' starting quarterback job.
"Here, when you get to that 8-yard range [on a drop-back], they want you to hang in that vicinity and just stay there. It is just a different deal. A lot of it is rhythm. As a quarterback, you always want to be on rhythm."

Coaches would rather have Kolb throw the ball away immediately than take off running without clear purpose. The line has a hard enough time protecting Kolb when it knows the quarterback's location. Unscripted relocation has proved costly.

Kolb has a firm command of the offense. He's football savvy and fully capable of processing information at the line of scrimmage. That's what makes his difficulties confounding.

"There haven't been any problems mentally," quarterbacks coach John McNulty said. "He is on top of things, he anticipates things. I think sometimes it’s not as clean or as clear as he wants and then all of a sudden you start moving. And when you make those big, violent moves when the line is not expecting it, then you’re kind of on your own. If we’re not making plays out of it, they’re not worth doing, because all you’re going to do is get hit or go backwards."

2. Shaky offensive line. The Cardinals were auditioning left tackles as camp broke after Levi Brown suffered a potentially season-ending torn triceps tendon. For all the criticism Brown has taken over the years, he was clearly the best offensive tackle on the team. The line was a concern even before Brown's injury. Now, it's bordering on a crisis.

Jeremy Bridges, D'Anthony Batiste, Bobby Massie, D.J. Young and Nate Potter are the other tackles on the roster. Bridges has started 55 regular-season NFL games. Batiste has started four. Massie and Potter are rookies. Young has no starts after entering the NFL in 2011 as an undrafted free agent.

One more time: The Cardinals have drafted zero offensive linemen in the first three rounds over the past five drafts. They did not draft an offensive lineman in any round of the 2011 or 2010 draft. The 2012 draft didn't fall right for them when it came to adding a tackle early. They got Massie in the fourth round, which seemed like good value. He'll start at right tackle eventually, and perhaps right away.

3. Running back health. Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are coming off knee surgeries. The Cardinals felt good enough about their prospects to sail through the offseason without addressing the position. That seemed a little risky.

Likely troubles in pass protection could lead the Cardinals to lean more heavily on their ground game, at least in theory. Wells and Williams would appear to carry greater injury risks than backs without recent knee troubles. Utility back LaRod Stephens-Howling was banged up during camp.

REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

The team showed dramatic improvement, particularly on defense, while finishing with that 7-2 record over the final nine games last season.

Sometimes momentum doesn't carry over. In the Cardinals' case, however, there are reasons to expect sustained improvement.

The 2011 team was breaking in a first-time defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, following a lockout-shortened offseason. Players needed time to grasp the concepts. They got better late in the season. They should be better yet following a full offseason.

Arizona has front-line talent at every level of its defense. End Calais Campbell, inside linebacker Daryl Washington and cornerback Patrick Peterson are dynamic young players on the rise. End Darnell Dockett and strong safety Adrian Wilson are in their 30s now, but both remain productive.

The team has gone 7-4 with Skelton as its starter. That figure doesn't even count Skelton's most impressive performance of the 2011 season, when he replaced an injured Kolb and helped Arizona upset San Francisco.

Skelton might not be pretty to watch, but six game-winning drives in 13 career appearances give him credibility in the locker room. Whisenhunt was with the Pittsburgh Steelers when the team won ugly with a young Ben Roethlisberger. Skelton is not Roethlisberger, but he is a big, strong quarterback with some moxie.

The Cardinals have big-play threats on offense. They finished last season with 15 pass plays of at least 40 yards, more than New England and every team but the New York Giants (18), Detroit Lions (16) and Green Bay Packers (16).

Greater consistency from the quarterback position isn't out of the question. If the Cardinals get it, they'll surprise skeptics.

REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

The team that finished last season on that 7-2 hot streak also went 1-6 to open the season.

And let's face it, the Cardinals, while unfortunate in a few instances early in the year, were fortunate to win seven of their final nine. They claimed four of those seven victories in overtime. Five came against teams with losing records at the time.

[+] EnlargeLevi Brown
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe Cardinals may have lost arguably their best offensive tackle, Levi Brown, for the season.
The young talent on defense is backed up with the oldest reserves in the league. The offensive line is solid at center and left guard, but the other three positions should strike more fear in the Cardinals' quarterbacks than in the opposition. Removing Brown from the equation was devastating, given the already tenuous nature of the tackle situation.

Kolb hasn't been able to stay healthy or produce when on the field. That isn't going to change with the floodgates likely opening at both tackle spots.

Skelton has shown greater ability to keep his wits against pressure. Whichever QB starts will need every bit of resourcefulness he can muster against a schedule featuring a long list of able pass-rushers: Jared Allen (22 sacks last season), Jason Babin (18), Aldon Smith (14), Chris Long (13), Chris Clemons (11), Julius Peppers (11), Cliff Avril (11), Trent Cole (11), Mark Anderson (10), John Abraham (9.5), Cameron Wake (8.5), Kyle Vanden Bosch (8), Justin Smith (7.5), Clay Matthews (6) and Mario Williams (5).

OBSERVATION DECK

  • William Gay appears to be running unopposed at right cornerback. Opportunistic rookie Jamell Fleming, a third-round choice, will factor one way or another at the position. Fitzgerald: "[Fleming] is extremely talented. The thing I like about him is he can move around. They’ve got him playing inside a little bit, playing outside. What it shows you is that he is intelligent, he can pick up the defense. He understands terminology, what’s going on, and he plays fast. And the ball just seems to find him."
  • Coaches noticed a big jump from the spring to June to training camp in Skelton's ability to handle pre-snap responsibilities. They hope that progress can help him fare better early in games. One theory holds that Skelton's grasp of a game would improve as he had a chance to study photos of opposing formations on the sideline between possessions. By the fourth quarter, he was up to speed. "We're trying to get to where we have the handle before the game," McNulty said.
  • Losing Brown hurt, but center Lyle Sendlein is arguably the offensive lineman Arizona can least afford to lose. He has started every game over the past four seasons and, like many centers, holds everything together up front. Left guard Daryn Colledge: "If we had to replace one guy, he would be the worst one probably on the whole football team. He is the key cog, especially for this offensive line. He is the captain and he is our guy. Without him, the wheels just might come off."
  • Sixth-round choice Justin Bethel, a free safety, looks like a keeper after making a positive impact on special teams.
  • Inside linebacker Stewart Bradley appears more comfortable in the Cardinals' defensive scheme, but the team still appears to value Paris Lenon as the starter next to Washington. That arrangement is more palatable after Bradley, one of the team's big free-agent signings in 2011, took a pay reduction.
  • First-round draft choice Michael Floyd hasn't stood out yet. Fitzgerald will continue to carry the passing game. Rob Housler will emerge as more of a threat at tight end. Andre Roberts and Early Doucet give the team two strong inside options. Getting Floyd going will be one key to unleashing Roberts from the slot. Roberts has good quickness and instincts. The Cardinals' quarterbacks like the way he moves within zones, but they need to do a better job locating him.
  • The Cardinals think they have a great one in Peterson. The physical attributes are obvious. Peterson also has the necessary desire. Arizona saw it last season when Peterson played through an Achilles injury suffered at Cincinnati.
  • This season as last, the Cardinals are counting on young outside pass-rushers O'Brien Schofield and Sam Acho. Schofield is fighting through knee problems, a potential concern given the career-altering surgery he underwent coming out of college. He played 38 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Arizona will need him to play a much higher percentage in 2012. Can Schofield hold up? Clark Haggans, 35, is the backup.
  • Arizona should be strong at nose tackle with a leaner Dan Williams and underrated backup David Carter at the position.
  • It's tough to envision Kolb emerging as the starter based on what we've seen to this point. There's no clear indication Kolb is close to breaking through. "The only thing I can do is stay patient, know that it’s all part of God’s plan," Kolb said. "My mentality is that I’m going to get through the bad to get to the good. Something good is going to come of it."
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals do not yet know which players will start at offensive tackle for them.

The Cardinals do have a pretty good idea which players those tackles will have to block in passing situations this season.

The list includes Jared Allen and Jason Babin, who combined for 40 sacks last season while ranking first and third, respectively, in that category. Overall, the Cardinals face nine of the 17 NFL players with at least 10 sacks last season, plus another player, John Abraham, who finished with 9.5. There are also players expected to reach double figures in sacks this season after failing to do so in 2011. Mario Williams and Clay Matthews head that list.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic identifies D'Anthony Batiste (left) and rookie Bobby Massie (right) as potential favorites to start at tackle after a triceps injury knocked out left tackle Levi Brown, perhaps for the season.

Batiste, 30, started four games for Atlanta in 2007. Massie, a fourth-round choice, started 29 consecutive games at right tackle to end his career at Mississippi.

The chart shows the Cardinals' 2012 schedule, plus projected top pass-rushers from the left and right sides of each opponent's defense. Those pass-rushers' sack totals from 2011 appear in parenthesis.

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