NFC West: Jason Babin

Seattle's Clemons primed for Rams encore

September, 29, 2012
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Seattle's Chris Clemons is coming off a four-sack first half against the Green Bay Packers.

The Seahawks' next opponent, St. Louis, noticed.

Rams fans should already be quite familiar with the veteran defensive end.

Clemons has a league-high 6.5 sacks against St. Louis since Seattle acquired him from Philadelphia for defensive end Darryl Tapp (Seattle also received a fourth-round choice as part of the deal). Clemons has collected five of those 6.5 sacks in the Edward Jones Dome, site of the Seahawks-Rams game Sunday. That included three sacks against the Rams in Week 11 last season, when Mark LeVoir was the Rams' left tackle on an emergency basis.

The chart shows sack leaders against St. Louis since 2010. Clemons appears to have a favorable matchup in Week 4.

Former Seahawks draft choice Wayne Hunter is the Rams' starting left tackle after the team lost Rodger Saffold to a knee injury. Hunter has been playing despite a knee injury of his own. He did not practice Friday and was listed as questionable on the injury report. The Rams also claimed tackle Joe Barksdale off waivers from Oakland.

The NFL handed down only one fine from 16 personal fouls stemming from NFC West teams' final games using replacement officials.

The low number was telling.

Commissioner Roger Goodell usually metes out fines for such penalties when the league feels as though the flags were thrown for good reason.

In this case, Seattle's Brandon Browner was the only player receiving a fine for Week 4 flags from NFC West teams' games. He'll pay $7,875 for unnecessary roughness committed against Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings. Officials flagged Jennings, too, but they did not fine him.

The chart shows all Week 4 personal fouls against individual NFC West players or their opponents, sorted by team and shaded for your viewing pleasure.

The NFL did levy a $15,750 fine against Philadelphia's Jason Babin for a horse-collar tackle against Arizona's LaRod Stephens-Howling. Officials did not flag Babin on the play, although the penalty appeared to be blatant.

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.

Expanded list: Most sacks per pass play

December, 8, 2011
12/08/11
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Expanding on an earlier post, this one ranks NFL players by most sacks per pass play through Week 13.

The San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith ranks fourth on the list. The St. Louis Rams' Chris Long is 10th. The Arizona Cardinals' Sam Acho ranks 19th. Ex-Seattle Seahawk Lawrence Jackson is 14th. Ex-Ram Adam Carriker ranks 21st.

Smith is keeping impressive company. The next step for him, likely next season, will be to maintain his pass-rush production as an every-down player, when he'll also have to hold up against the run more frequently. So far, so good.

The St. Louis Rams' Robert Quinn did not quite make the chart. He has five sacks and a 2.2 percentage. Seattle's Chris Clemons has eight sacks and a 2.1 percentage.

Sacks are not the only measure of a player's performance, of course. The best pass-rushers tend to collect a lot of them, however.

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Five things to watch: Seahawks-Eagles

December, 1, 2011
12/01/11
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Five things I'll be watching for when the Seattle Seahawks face the Philadelphia Eagles at CenturyLink Field on Thursday night:

Marshawn Lynch's ongoing revival. Lynch has 443 yards rushing since Week 9, most in the league. He has topped 100 yards in three of the Seahawks' past four games. Lynch appears to be running with more confidence now that his offensive line is opening holes more consistently. The Eagles' past five opponents have averaged only 85.3 yards per game, down from 140.2 previously this season. Seattle needs a running threat to minimize the Eagles' pass rush. The hard-running Lynch showcased nationally against New Orleans in the playoffs has marked his game recently as well. Lynch has 212 yards rushing after contact since Week 9, most in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's up from 127 yards after contact through Week 8.

[+] EnlargeChris Clemons
AP Photo/Julio CortezChris Clemons brings a Seattle-leading eight sacks into the meeting with the team that traded him.
Clemons against his former team. The Eagles generally haven't regretted the higher-profile trades they've made in recent years. Sending quarterback Donovan McNabb to a division rival comes to mind. Seattle came out ahead when acquiring Chris Clemons from Philadelphia for Darryl Tapp and a fourth-round draft choice. This will be Clemons' first game against the Eagles since the trade. He leads the Seahawks in sacks with eight, but Philadelphia has allowed only three in its last four road games. Clemons faces a tough matchup against Eagles left tackle Jason Peters.

Size against speed on the outside. The Seahawks' big cornerbacks, Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, each picked off a pass last week. They have the size to throw off bigger receivers. Raw speed can be tougher to handle, as Browner found out against the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Wallace. The Eagles are without starting wideout Jeremy Maclin, but they still have DeSean Jackson. Jackson hasn't topped 100 yards receiving since an Oct. 2 game against San Francisco. He's averaging 17.0 yards per catch, though. Browner leads the NFL in penalties with 16, including 10 for defensive holding, defensive pass interference or illegal contact. A calf injury limited Sherman in practice this week. The Seahawks listed him as questionable. Eagles quarterback Vince Young has three touchdowns with no interceptions on his 40 shorter passes (those traveling 10 or fewer yards past the line of scrimmage). He has no TDs and five picks on his 45 longer throws, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Breno Giacomini at right tackle. He faces a difficult matchup against Jason Babin, who leads the Eagles in sacks with 10. Giacomini seemed to fare well against Ryan Kerrigan and the Washington Redskins last week. He's fiery, competitive and likes to hit people. The Seahawks can help him by running the ball at Babin. They might need to help Giacomini in obvious pass-rushing situations, however. Babin spent part of the 2008 season with Seattle. He has 22.5 sacks in his past 27 games after collecting 4.5 over the previous three.

Concerns at linebacker. Knee problems are again bothering Seahawks middle linebacker David Hawthorne. His movement appeared restricted against the Redskins. Hawthorne was limited in practice this week. Seattle's run defense should improve with Alan Branch returning from an ankle injury, but Hawthorne's status will be important if the Eagles lean on LeSean McCoy. Philadelphia had only 17 rushing plays against New England last week, its lowest total in a game since Week 17 of the 2009 season.

NFC West-enabled players of the week

November, 30, 2011
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The NFL named Arizona's Patrick Peterson its special-teams player of the week in the NFC after the rookie scored for a fourth time this season on a punt return.

Baltimore's Terrell Suggs was named top defensive player in the AFC. Washington's DeAngelo Hall won the top defensive weekly honors for the NFC. Beanie Wells arguably should have been a fourth.

That means half the AFC and NFC weekly award winners earned special commendation for their efforts against teams from the NFC West. No asterisks, either.

Peterson's 80-yard touchdown return, his second score on a punt return against St. Louis this season, helped the Cardinals beat the Rams, 23-20. Suggs' three-sack game against San Francisco helped the Ravens beat the 49ers on Thanksgiving, 16-6. And Hall's performance against Seattle, featuring seven passes defensed and a clinching interception, was enough for him to get notice as well.

My early favorites for NFC West-enabled honors for Week 13:
  • Demarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys: He has 14 sacks heading into a game against Arizona and one of the NFL's most frequently sacked quarterbacks, either Kevin Kolb or John Skelton.
  • Justin Smith, San Francisco 49ers: He gets to work against a Rams offensive line featuring Adam Goldberg subbing at left tackle.
  • Aldon Smith, 49ers: Like Smith, he also gets to work against the left side of the Rams' line.
  • Frank Gore, 49ers: He faces the Rams' league-worst run defense one week after Arizona's Beanie Wells rushed for 228 yards.
  • Jason Babin, Eagles: Babin has 10 sacks this season. He'll be working against the reconfigured right side of the Seahawks' offensive line.

Wells set a franchise record for rushing yards and it wasn't enough for him to beat out New Orleans' Drew Brees as offensive player of the week in the NFC.

NFC West Penalty Watch: Ref was right

October, 21, 2011
10/21/11
11:30
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Right tackle Anthony Davis had played a strong first half for the San Francisco 49ers against the Detroit Lions in Week 6.

His reward, miscast blame, was only fitting for an offensive lineman.

"Illegal formation, offense, No. 76," referee Mike Carey announced to a packed Ford Field and millions watching on television.

All Davis had done was hustle to the line of scrimmage in time for quarterback Alex Smith to spike the ball with 8 seconds left in the half and the 49ers driving. Davis first had to sidestep Carey, who was blocking his path, but by all accounts, he arrived at the line and set himself in time for the snap.

No matter.

Adding to the confusion, Carey announced in administering the 5-yard penalty that there would be no 10-second clock runoff "because the offense got set before the foul."

A football fan shouldn't require an advanced degree to grasp the rules. A longtime acquaintance of mine, Richard, does own such a degree, as a physics professor, and he wasn't sure what Carey was talking about, either. That made me feel a little better.

"Was that the correct ruling?" Richard asked via Facebook. "If so, why don't NFL teams exploit this rule? It seems only logical that the team would instruct players to be alert and have the two players closest to the ball hustle to take the ball and snap it as soon as the umpire marks it as ready to play."

The other players would freeze momentarily, satisfying the requirement for being "set before the foul" (Carey's words).

"Best of all," Richard added, "using this strategy it is highly likely that defensive teams will be caught offside, so the penalties should offset, effectively giving offensive teams a free stoppage of the clock on every play during a 2-minute drill."

Not so fast.

A few things to know regarding this situation, based on conversations I've had with the NFL office and in consultation with the rulebook:
  • Carey was correct in calling illegal formation. Davis was technically the guilty party, but it wasn't his fault. Receiver Ted Ginn Jr. had lined up off the ball on the right side of the formation. Rules require teams to have at least seven players on the line at the snap. Of the seven, the players furthest outside the formation on each side must be eligible receivers. When Ginn lined up off the ball, Davis became the player on the line of scrimmage furthest outside the formation on the right. He was not an eligible receiver, however. Hence, the penalty for illegal formation.
  • Carey was correct when he said there should be no 10-second runoff. However, to Richard's question about offenses gaming the system, one little-known aspect of the rules requires offensive players to line up within an imaginary "box" near the line of scrimmage before getting set for the snap. That box exists roughly between the line of scrimmage and where a quarterback would line up in a shotgun snap. If the offensive players do not set themselves in that area, officials are to penalize the offense for a false start, which would carry the 10-second runoff in the final minute of a half. That would prevent offensive players from setting themselves 10 or 15 yards from the line of scrimmage while two teammates hurried to execute a spike.

Davis incurred another penalty for illegal formation in this game when officials determined he had lined up too far back, getting a head start in pass protection on a third-and-5 play. The two penalties gave Davis six for the season, tied for fifth-most in the league. Six of the 11 players with at least six penalties play for NFC West teams.

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This wasn't what St. Louis Rams rookie Austin Pettis had in mind for making opponents pay during punt returns.

Pettis absorbed two brutal hits from the Washington Redskins while fielding punts in Week 4. The NFL responded by levying a $20,000 fine against Niles Paul and a $15,000 fine against Perry Riley. Paul's hit was helmet-to-helmet.

Both hits drew 15-yard penalties for unnecessary roughness. In both cases, the NFL ruled Pettis to have been a defenseless player under the circumstances.

The NFL levied another fine, this one against Redskins defensive lineman Rob Jackson, for a hit on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. The league ruled Jackson had driven Bradford to the ground unnecessarily. That fine was for $15,000, bringing the total to $50,000 in known fines against Redskins players for this game.

Also in the NFC West, Seattle's Sidney Rice drew a $7,500 fine for making a throat-slash gesture, while Arizona's Patrick Peterson drew a $5,000 fine for roughing the kicker.

These were in addition to a $25,000 fine against San Francisco 49ers tackle Anthony Davis for two tripping penalties, and a $15,000 fine against the Philadelphia Eagles' Jason Babin for a hit on 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.

Gore: 'We knocked the fight out of them'

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
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San Francisco 49ers fans should enjoy this one. Philadelphia Eagles fans, not so much.

"I think the Eagles, they didn't want to play no more," Gore said on a video clip I just saw on ESPN. "We kept pounding and kept pounding and making plays and we knocked the fight out of them."

It's too bad the 49ers and Eagles do not play again this season. San Francisco's 24-23 victory has already produced fines against Eagles defensive end Jason Babin and 49ers tackle Anthony Davis.

Gore carried for gains of 4, 8, 4, 5 and 5 yards on five successive plays as the 49ers ran out the clock, supporting his contention that his team pounded away and, just maybe, took the fight from the Eagles.

NFC West Penalty Watch: Flags flying

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
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It's been a rough first four games for NFC West teams in the penalty department, and not just in the tripping department.

Officials have flagged teams from the division 153 times, assessing penalties covering 1,054 yards. The other divisions average 118 penalties and 835 penalty yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. No division has as many in either category.

The totals count declined penalties.


The chart below shows all 14 NFL players with at least five declined and assessed penalties this season. Five of them play for NFC West teams.

On a side note, penalties for unnecessary roughness are on the rise, with 57 having been called through the first four weeks of the season. There were 25 through the first four games of the 2007 season. That number has risen to 37 (2008), 41 (2009), 53 (2010) and now 57.

I doubt players have gotten any rougher unnecessarily. Officials are likely calling these penalties more aggressively. Calls for unsportsmanlike conduct are also up. There have been 17 through four games this season, up from an average of nine at this point in the previous four seasons.

Around the NFC West: Tripping on fines

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
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The Philadelphia Eagles' defensive scheme and personnel puts extra pressure on opposing offensive tackles.

Defensive ends line up wider than in most schemes, putting them in position to rush the passer. This would not necessarily excuse the two tripping penalties called against San Francisco 49ers tackle Anthony Davis during a 24-23 victory over the Eagles in Week 4.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the NFL has levied a $25,000 fine against Davis for the violations. Noted: These were not stick-out-the-leg-after-getting-beat violations. In both instances, Davis was diving at Babin's legs in a manner that was obviously coached, but he also spun his body in a manner that whipped Davis' legs around. His actions looked more like cut blocks than tripping when I watched them, but the spinning action was there. The NFL rule book defines tripping as "use of the leg or foot in obstructing any opponent (including a runner)." I didn't think Davis used his leg or foot to obstruct Babin. He dove at Babin's legs, but in doing so, his own legs did spin around in a manner that caught the officials' attention.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Alex Smith has improved against the blitz and now ranks behind only Tom Brady in NFL passer rating on these plays. Noted: ESPN's game charters have Smith ranking fourth in NFL passer rating when opponents send five or more pass-rushers and first in that category when opponents send a defensive back as a pass-rusher. Smith has completed all nine attempts for 136 yards and two touchdowns against DB pressure this season. Surprisingly, rookie Cam Newton is second in NFL rating on these plays, just ahead of Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Rodgers. The 49ers' offense clearly has options for quarterbacks against pressure, and Smith knows how to use them.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times examines Seahawks coach Pete Carroll's end-of-half decision-making, which has been questionable. O'Neil: "While you can wonder about the wisdom of Carroll's risk tolerance, the one thing you have to give him is that he's consistently brazen. Or did you forget Game 3 of last season, and that fire drill that occurred at the end of the first half against the San Diego Chargers?" Noted: Carroll sometimes makes decisions without as much regard for consequences as a typical NFL coach might have. I suspect that stems from his years coaching at USC, where he could get away with taking chances or managing situations more loosely because he had the superior talent most of the time. That is one area where Carroll could improve, in my view.

Christian Caple of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks' Marcus Trufant missed practice with a back injury. Noted: Trufant's good health has been key to his play this season. Injuries have slowed him in the past. This is a situation to monitor, for sure.

John McGrath of the Tacoma News Tribune introduces Justin Forsett's invention: a shower pill. Read on.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals want to limit Joey Porter's playing time to improve his effectiveness. That would translate to more playing time for O'Brien Schofield. Somers: "The Cardinals thought Porter had to play too much in 2010, too, so this wasn't the plan entering this season. When camp opened, Porter had just taken a pay cut, from $5.75 million to $1.5 million. Schofield was one-and-one-half years removed from the knee surgery that caused him to fall in the draft. Now at full health, Schofield was expected to contend for a starting spot. But Schofield couldn't take Porter's job. Porter, a former Pittsburgh Steelers standout, is intimately familiar with the new defense installed by coordinator Ray Horton, who came from Pittsburgh, and Schofield has struggled to learn the new concepts. In training camp, Schofield admitted he needed to study harder." Noted: The Cardinals simply haven't been able to develop young pass-rushers to this point. Missing on Cody Brown in the draft still hurts them.

Also from Somers: Beanie Wells needs to improve as a receiver. Noted: While Kevin Kolb was primarily at fault for taking a sack on a critical screen play against the New York Giants, I wondered when watching replays whether Wells could have helped out his quarterback a bit by turning back for the ball just a moment earlier. The pressure was coming quickly and Kolb obviously didn't feel comfortable throwing the ball.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com updates Andre Roberts' situation as the Cardinals' No. 2 receiver.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch uses the term "bye week blues" to describe the Rams' injury news during their off week, most recently regarding Danny Amendola. Thomas: "Amendola led the NFL in all-purpose yards in 2010 with 2,364 yards. Operating out of the slot as a receiver, he had 85 catches for 689 yards, finishing third in the league in third-down catches (29). He also finished ninth in the league in punt returns, averaging 11.3 yards per return. With Amendola done for the year, rookie third-round draft pick Austin Pettis takes over the slot receiver role, with rookie fourth-round pick Greg Salas in reserve." Noted: With no practices scheduled through the weekend, the Rams should be safe from additional bad injury news in the short term.

Babin throws accusations at NFL, 49ers

October, 6, 2011
10/06/11
7:53
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Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Jason Babin stood with his arms extended to his sides, as though utterly baffled by the penalty referee Al Riveron had called against him in Week 4.

Roughing the passer was the call after Babin collected one of his three sacks on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, this one on the first play from scrimmage of the third quarter.

Babin put the gesture into words Thursday when the NFL levied a $15,000 fine against him. He mocked the league's system of punishing defensive players. He said teams should hire better offensive linemen if they want to protect quarterbacks.

The 49ers' Vernon Davis and Alex Boone double-teamed Babin on the play in question, but Boone got out of position and inadvertently set a pick on Davis while Babin rushed to the inside. Babin hit Smith right after the quarterback delivered a 26-yard completion to Joshua Morgan.

Babin's helmet appeared to graze Smith's helmet. The defensive end also grabbed Smith around the neck area.

Babin also took issue with the 49ers' tactics on the play, accusing them of coaching running back Kendall Hunter and right guard Adam Snyder to execute a high-low block on the Eagles' other defensive end, Trent Cole.

Replays showed Hunter taking out Cole at the knees on the left side of the offensive formation while Snyder moved toward Cole from his guard spot. Cole got up quickly, tried to bat the pass and then gestured as though officials should have thrown a flag.

Smith was also gesturing toward officials after the play. The league has instructed referees to err on the side of protecting quarterbacks in particular. This call was consistent with that mission, independent of whether the mission is justified.
Steven Jackson, more than any other St. Louis Rams player, commands the respect and attention of teammates.

Even he realizes Sam Bradford is the Rams' future, but when players voted on team captains this year, they elected Jackson to represent the offense.

"I wear it with pride and hopefully I can continue to do so and continue to show these guys the way," Jackson said at the time.

Now, following an 0-4 start to the season, the Rams need Jackson to utilize whatever power he has to affect positive change.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Jackson stopped practice Monday and gathered the offense around him for a motivational talk. He declined to discuss what was said. Coach Steve Spagnuolo on what Jackson was getting at: "Yeah, just some determination. Some will to succeed, some drive for excellence. Just some key points and we appreciate that. I'm sure the guys on defense were doing the same thing. James Hall and I talked this morning. He's great. They get it. These guys are warriors. They've been through this and we've just got to fight our way out of it."

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis passes along a summary of Jackson's remarks via backup guard/center Tony Wragge: "He just reaffirmed what we've talked about as a group, being positive. Play fast, be productive, play hesitant-free football."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com has this to say about tackle Anthony Davis during his player review from the 49ers' victory at Philadelphia: "Started at right tackle, and had a good game in run-blocking but struggled in pass protection. . . . He was called for tripping, when he leg-whipped Jason Babin on 49ers' second play. He did it again in the third quarter and was caught again. . . . Got to the second level to block on Gore's 40-yard run. . . . Babin twice beat Davis twice for sacks. The other sack came when Davis blocked down and Babin sailed untouched toward Smith."

Also from Maiocco: a defensive player review from the game. On first-round choice Aldon Smith: "He saw extensive action in the 49ers' nickel defense and played on both sides of the formation. It was his best game, as he recorded four tackles, 1.5 sacks, a tackle for a loss and three quarterback hurries. . . . Nearly got his first career sack in the second quarter, but Michael Vick escaped and gained five yards. Two plays later, he did get his first sack when he split right guard Kyle DeVan, who was holding, and Ronnie Brown. . . . Got pressure at Vick's feet and nearly had sack. Vick threw incomplete pass instead. . . . Recorded split sack with Ray McDonald."

Brock Huard of 710 ESPN Seattle cannot figure out why the Seahawks' Aaron Curry ran out of the play when Michael Turner broke free for a 21-yard touchdown run Sunday, but he also says other players, notably Earl Thomas, could have done more on the play. Huard thought Thomas wasn't excited about taking on the bigger Turner one-on-one.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com hands out awards one-fourth of the way through the season. Thomas is his top Seahawks player. Farnsworth: "This has been apparent to anyone who's watched the Seahawks during their 1-3 start. The second-year free safety is good, and only getting better by the game. Thomas leads the team in tackles (26) and also has been forcing plays by forcing the issue."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks found an impact player in undrafted Stanford receiver Doug Baldwin. Williams: "Half of Baldwin’s 12 receptions have gone for first downs. Those six receptions for first downs have taken place on the all-important third down, with Baldwin tied for ninth in the league in those situations."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says this is the fourth consecutive season the Cardinals have faced the Vikings, and yet another chance to revisit Arizona's decision to draft tackle Levi Brown over running back Adrian Peterson. Somers: "It proved to be a mistake. Four-plus seasons later, there is no arguing that. Peterson has missed two games over the years and averaged 1,445 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns a season. Brown has been durable, too, missing three games in his career. But his performance has been pedestrian, at best, and a liability, at worst. And, because of the way his contract is structured, it will be a surprise if he is with the Cardinals beyond this season."

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic checks in with surprisingly productive rookie nose tackle David Carter, who reveals, among other things, that he was on his high school debate team.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Kevin Kolb's pocket presence should improve with experience. Former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner captured perfectly the idea that a quarterback becomes more purposeful in his movement when he has a fuller grasp of an offense. Warner: "If you are thinking, 'OK, I’m going from one to two to three' (in your progressions) and you know what’s going on and you have a big-picture sense of what the offense is doing, it’s much easier to say, 'OK, I’m going to slide a little bit (in the pocket) because I know I’m going to throw the ball here.' When you have those questions of, 'OK, that’s not open and … I’m not really sure what the next move is,' then you think to yourself, 'OK, I’m just going to get out of here and make a play.' That comes down to feeling comfortable with what you are seeing. To me, it looks like. 'This is my comfort zone right now. It’s not going through my reads, it’s get out on the move and we can make something happen.' "
Nate Clements' long-anticipated release from the San Francisco 49ers is finally imminent.

Clements was going to take a pay reduction in 2011 whether or not the 49ers kept him. By refusing to take one now, Clements ensured his entry into the free-agent market. The team told him of its plans to release him Thursday, ESPN's Adam Schefter notes.

[+] EnlargeNate Clements
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireNate Clements signed an 8-year, $80 million deal with the 49ers in 2007.
Some recently expressed thoughts on Clements remain topical now:

  • Clements' contract with the 49ers was going to count $17 million against their salary cap. Teams can begin releasing players Thursday. They must do so by Friday to avoid paying workout bonuses in full. Clements' deal included a $500,000 workout bonus this year. Releasing Clements makes the 49ers responsible for only $100,000 of that total.
  • Clements' deal includes $42.5 million in salaries for the 2011-15 seasons. The 49ers will not have to pay that money after releasing Clements.
  • The 49ers knew this day was coming from the moment they signed Clements in free agency back in 2007. The deal was heavily back-loaded, but initial reports still focused on the potential $80 million total.
  • Note all the talk about money so far. This move was all about money and less about how Clements has played on the field. The 49ers would be better with Clements on their roster, just not at this price.
  • Free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha remains available. Multiple reports have had the 49ers competing with the New York Jets and Houston Texans for Asomugha's services. Money is almost always the deciding factor in these free-agent signings. I don't think the 49ers will pay to sign Asomugha at any price. Houston is ramping up efforts after finding ways to clear cap space, John McClain reports. There are other cornerback options for San Francisco, including Johnathan Joseph.
  • The 49ers' defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, previously sought to build the Texans' defense around a pass-rusher (Jason Babin) and a cornerback (Dunta Robinson). Fangio's current team used the seventh overall choice for outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who reached agreement on a contract Thursday. Will the 49ers get a top-tier cornerback for him this offseason?

The signing period does not open until Friday. I see no reason for Asomugha to rush into a contract agreement. Why not let the bidding continue?

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