NFC West: Jason Snelling
Ryan sat down with Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com to analyze key aspects of the game that vaulted San Francisco to its first Super Bowl since the 1994 season.
A few things stood out from a 49ers perspective:
- Not how it works: Ryan suggests the Falcons would have won the Super Bowl had they scored a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal during a drive late in the first quarter. This is quite a leap. Four additional first-quarter points certainly would have helped the Falcons in a game they lost, 28-24. Still, we cannot reasonably assume the 49ers would have approached the rest of the game exactly the same if the score had been different. Score differential drives strategy. First-quarter plays do not stand alone.
- Willis' coverage: Ryan refers to 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis as the "worst cover guy" on the field for one pivotal play. This was the play late in the game when Ryan suffered a shoulder injury. The 49ers' Aldon Smith impeded running back Jason Snelling's release from the backfield. Ryan said he held the ball too long before taking a hard hit from Ahmad Brooks. Referring to Willis as a coverage liability seems like a harsh assessment for a player as great as Willis has been year after year.
- Strategy tips: Ryan goes into the 49ers' tendencies, noting specifically which coverages the 49ers would and would not play during certain down-and-distance situations. Knowing how Ryan feels about specific defensive looks will not necessarily give the 49ers an edge when they face the Falcons during a Week 16 game this season. It cannot hurt, either.
Overall, it's clear this game still bothers Ryan. I wonder how the 49ers might feel about Ryan's selective accounting of it.
Bush would have fit nicely, at least in theory, as a third-down back and change of pace for Rams starter Steven Jackson.
Adding Bush also would have qualified as a flashy move. St. Louis does not appear preoccupied with flashy moves at the moment.
The Rams have holes in their roster, but generally not at key positions. They're set with young starters or future starters at quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive end, middle linebacker and cornerback. They have numbers at wide receiver, but could still use an elite target at the position. They were mentioned as a possible suitor for Sidney Rice, who signed with Seattle, but how serious were the Rams? They could also use a right guard, backup running back and outside linebackers.
The team's reported preference for Jason Snelling and Jerome Harrison over Bush or Darren Sproles also shows the Rams want their backup running back to bring more to the table than specialized skills suited for a limited role. Snelling carried 24 times for 129 yards against Arizona last season, carrying the load effectively for Atlanta after the Falcons lost Michael Turner to injury. Snelling has three career games with at least 24 carries. Harrison has four career games with at least 29 attempts. Bush has never carried more than 21 times in a game.
Snelling or Harrison would provide insurance should an injury sideline Jackson for entire games. Bush would have given the Rams a player to supplement Jackson situationally.
Also from Somers: Daryn Colledge is an option for the Cardinals in free agency.
Bob Young of the Arizona Republic sizes up quarterback options for the Cardinals. On Kolb: "Big arm, young and very mobile. Still unproven, and he lost his job to Michael Vick. Heck, Kolb might just be an A.J. Feeley redux. Plus, he's expensive. Reportedly, the Cardinals might have to part with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, which is pricey enough. Asking for a draft pick too, let alone a first-rounder, amounts to extortion. If you believe all the pundits, this deal has been done for weeks, but the Cardinals are wise to explore other options for leverage purposes if nothing else. Since Tavaris Jackson is headed to Seattle, according to reports on Tuesday, Philadelphia already has lost some leverage."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com will miss Steve Breaston, who has agreed to terms on a deal with Kansas City. Urban: "Personally, he’s a guy I would have liked to stick around (and until he signs another deal elsewhere, I guess the hope remains). But if this offseason hasn’t driven home the point enough, business is business, and that includes the NFL."
Also from Urban: a look at the Cardinals' schedule for training camp.
Ben Malcolmson of seahawks.com passes along photos from Rod Mar showing the Seahawks returning to work.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says linebacker Matt McCoy will re-sign with the Seahawks after the team lost Will Herring to New Orleans.
Also from O'Neil: thoughts on Seattle's contract agreement with Sidney Rice. O'Neil: "It's a big-budget deal, but not all that much bigger than the $40 million deal Seattle gave T.J. Houshmandzadeh in 2009. Of course, Houshmandzadeh was 31 then, Rice is 24. Houshmandzadeh's yards per reception declined in three successive seasons before coming to Seattle while Rice is just two years removed from a Pro Bowl season with more than 1,300 yards receiving."
Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says Rice's addition is consistent with the Seahawks' plans under coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. Brewer: "Their goal is to build a championship team with mostly young, athletic 20-something players who possess prototypical size. They want to be an attacking defense-centered team with a mobile quarterback guiding an offense that makes opponents choke on the running game. And they want to build from within, using the draft as their primary resource and filling out the roster with smart free-agency moves that help them acquire players who still have an upside. To be certain, it's not a revolutionary plan. But the entire front office's commitment to it, how it permeates every tactic, is special."
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seahawks center Max Unger, who is returning from a toe injury.
Jacob Thorpe of 710ESPN Seattle passes along Brad Childress' thoughts on Tarvaris Jackson. Childress: "He's got plenty of arm, I think he can command a football. I've always believed that an NFL quarterback, it ought to be like a yo-yo on a string. If they say put it on the front shoulder, put it on the front shoulder, if they say put it on the back shoulder, put it on the back shoulder. I wouldn't say anything about his accuracy; I think it's improved over the course of time."
Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle provides thoughts on Matt Hasselbeck from the quarterback's former Seahawks teammates. John Carlson: "We knew that was a possibility all along. I wish him the best, I wish he was here, because he's a good friend of mine and he's a leader for this team and this organization. He's beloved in this city for what he does on the field but also what he does off the field, so he will be greatly missed. But this is football and there's a business side to football, as we all saw in this lockout, and he's going to be playing football somewhere else. I wish him luck. Wherever he ends up I wish him luck and wish him well except for when he's playing against us. Matt's a great guy and he's such a tremendous asset in the locker room, but there's been a lot of turnover over the last couple of years. I'm going into my fourth year here and I've had three head coaches and four offensive coordinators, and a lot of turnover in the locker room and the front office, so that's just kind of the way football is, at least in my experience. That's just how it works."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch lists rookie free-agent additions for the Rams.
Also from Thomas: Josh McDaniels has much work to do as the Rams' new offensive coordinator. McDaniels: "I'm trying to meet as many of the guys as I can, whether they be new to the building, or guys that were here last year. I haven't met every player yet."
More from Thomas: Jason Snelling and possibly Jerome Harrison are running backs the Rams will consider in free agency.
More yet from Thomas: a look at the Rams' camp schedule.
Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch polls colleagues for thoughts on how the lockout will affect the Rams. Jeff Gordon: "Installing a new offense will be a process. I’m sure quarterback Sam Bradford will adapt easily enough after getting a head start on the playbook, but the the team will add rookies and other newcomers to the personnel mix under a new coordinator. Many teams are in similar situations after missing all the work time, but this training camp will become a crash course in the Air McD scheme."
D'Marco Farr of 101ESPN St. Louis says Quintin Mikell will impress Rams fans. Farr: "Oshiomogho Atogwe was more than adequate in this role, but I believe Mikell will be an upgrade. His familiarity with the scheme should allow him to have more leeway to become a playmaker once the opposing offense calls an audible when they smell the blitz coming. Last season this was a major flaw in the Rams defense as teams routinely exposed the holes in the secondary when trying to pressure the quarterback. Seattle backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst had a career day hitting multiple open hot reads in the flats or over the middle once the Rams committed more than four rushers to get after the quarterback. The disguise often worked against the Rams and the Seahawks were able to pick up key first downs that extended drives and bleed valuable clock time."
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams appear mostly healthy heading into camp.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers could levy $30,000 daily fines against Frank Gore if the running back does not report for training camp. Also: "The only veteran quarterback on the roster, David Carr, was informed Wednesday that he would be released. Teams are allowed to release players Thursday, beginning at 1:01 p.m. (PT)."
Also from Maiocco: The 49ers have signed two draft choices and 18 undrafted free agents.
More from Maiocco: Ray McDonald is getting "starter money" from the 49ers as the team shuffles its line prior to the expected departure of nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee thinks Eric Weddle's deal with San Diego will affect what Dashon Goldson gets in free agency. Barrows: "He is being pursued by multiple teams, including the 49ers. Earlier in the day, the Chargers re-signed one of their safeties, Eric Weddle, to a contract that will pay him $40 million over five years, including $19 million guaranteed. That's the highest contract ever for a safety and one that should serve as a basis for Goldson's deal."
Also from Barrows: Jim Harbaugh's affinity for the tight end position.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Jeremiah Masoli had a feeling the 49ers would sign him.
Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle rounds up 49ers-related news, with notes on Gore, Nnamdi Asomugha and more.
A look at the free-agent priorities for each NFC West team:
1. Sign or acquire a quarterback: You've heard all the potential names by now. Kevin Kolb, Kyle Orton, Carson Palmer, Marc Bulger and Matt Hasselbeck all could be available. The same goes for Donovan McNabb, but the Cardinals aren't interested in him. How much interest they have in the others remains less clear. They liked Bulger as an option last offseason, but the timing wasn't right. Kolb reportedly stands atop their wish list now, although price is a consideration. One way or another, the Cardinals will go into the 2011 season with fresh veteran blood at the position.
2. Firm up the offensive line: Left guard Alan Faneca retired. Center Lyle Sendlein and right guard Deuce Lutui have expiring contracts. Brandon Keith showed promise at right tackle, but he's coming off knee surgery. A better quarterback would help take pressure off the line, but Arizona isn't going to find another Kurt Warner. The team has loaded up at running back, adding second-round choice Ryan Williams to an already crowded backfield. The Cardinals need to re-sign Sendlein. Letting Lutui depart would put them in the market for veteran help. I've looked through the free-agent lists for guards already familiar to the Cardinals. Pittsburgh's Trai Essex, a starter in 21 games over the past two seasons, played for Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm with the Steelers.
3. Work toward a deal with Larry Fitzgerald: Ideally, the Cardinals would have landed their next quarterback in March, then spent the offseason working toward extending Fitzgerald's contract beyond the 2011 season. Fitzgerald is an NFL rarity. He's in line to sign three massive contracts during the course of his career. He signed the first one as the third player chosen in the 2004 draft. That deal ultimately became untenable for the Cardinals, giving Fitzgerald the leverage to get $40 million over four seasons, plus assurances Arizona would not name him its franchise player once the deal ended. Fitzgerald, still only 27, will cash in at least one more time.
Top five free agents: Sendlein, Lutui, receiver Steve Breaston, defensive lineman Alan Branch, defensive lineman Gabe Watson.
St. Louis Rams
1. Upgrade the run defense: The Rams could use another defensive tackle to take their promising defensive front to another level. Adding Fred Robbins in free agency last offseason was a good start. Barry Cofield (New York Giants) and Brandon Mebane (Seattle Seahawks) are scheduled to become free agents this offseason. Cofield played for Steve Spagnuolo and would transition to the Rams' system easily. The Rams could use an in-the-box safety, something they addressed later in the draft. They need to find one and possibly two starting outside linebackers. Chase Blackburn projects more as a backup, but he was also with Spagnuolo on the Giants. Blackburn has played all three linebacker positions. Minnesota's Ben Leber would make sense as well. Paul Ferraro, the Rams' linebackers coach, was with the Vikings previously.
2. Help out Steven Jackson: Adding a third-down back such as Darren Sproles would lighten the load for Jackson, who has played through several injuries in recent seasons. Jackson has 654 rushing attempts over the past two seasons despite missing one game and playing for a team that has often trailed its opponents. Only Chris Johnson (674) has more carries during that span. Sproles isn't the only viable potential option. Jason Snelling, DeAngelo Williams and Reggie Bush also could become available. Upgrading at right guard would also help out Jackson.
3. Figure out the situation at receiver. It's questionable whether the Rams will find any clear upgrades at receiver in free agency. That could lead them to stand pat at the position. They have quantity, but not enough high-end quality. Adding more quantity wouldn't solve much. Plaxico Burress gets mentioned as an option for his ties to Spagnuolo, but he's been out of the game and might not offer much. The Rams thought about claiming Randy Moss off waivers last season. Moss could make more sense for the Rams now that Josh McDaniels is offensive coordinator. He worked well with Moss in New England. Sidney Rice could also have appeal.
Top five free agents: receiver Mark Clayton, guard Adam Goldberg, defensive tackle Clifton Ryan and tight end Daniel Fells.
1. Sign or acquire a quarterback: Bringing back Hasselbeck remains an option. The team expressed interest in Kolb last offseason. The team could also add a lower-profile veteran to the mix -- perhaps a Matt Leinart type -- for an open competition with Charlie Whitehurst. That would not excite Seattle fans, of course. Getting a young quarterback to build around would be ideal, but the Seahawks are adamant they will not force the situation in the absence of viable options. They weren't going to do it in the draft, when they passed over Andy Dalton for tackle James Carpenter. They probably aren't going to do it in free agency, either.
2. Solidify the offensive line: Tom Cable's addition as assistant head coach/offensive line puts the Seahawks in position to court Oakland Raiders guard Robert Gallery in free agency. Gallery has said he's not returning to the Raiders. Seattle has drafted its starting tackles, starting center and starting right guard in the past few seasons. Max Unger and Russell Okung need better luck with injuries. Okung would also benefit from an experienced presence next to him at left guard. Gallery qualifies as such and he would fit the zone system Cable wants to run. Green Bay's Daryn Colledge could be available, too. He has ties to Seahawks general manager John Schneider. Former Seattle starters Chris Spencer, Sean Locklear, Chester Pitts and Ray Willis might not return.
3. Plug holes on defense. Mebane appears headed for free agency. The Seahawks want him back, but how badly? Mebane could fit better in a purer 4-3 defense. He also might command more money elsewhere. Injuries along the defensive front could also affect the Seahawks' needs. Red Bryant is coming off season-ending knee surgery. Injuries affected Colin Cole and Chris Clemons last season as well. Cornerback is another area to monitor once free agency opens. Does Marcus Trufant still fit at his relatively high price? The Cincinnati Bengals' Johnathan Joseph and other free-agent corners could appeal.
Top five free agents: Hasselbeck, Mebane, Locklear, linebacker Will Herring, defensive end Raheem Brock.
San Francisco 49ers
1. Re-sign Alex Smith: Smith and the 49ers renewed their vows informally this offseason. The official ceremony should come when free agency opens and Smith signs with the team. Smith's name continues to show up on free-agent lists in the interim, but there's no chance he'll sign elsewhere. He's given his word to the 49ers. The team, in turn, has entrusted him with its playbook. Smith even took the lead in teaching what he knew of the offense to teammates. Re-signing Smith takes pressure off rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick. With a new coaching staff, a young prospect in Kaepernick and no access to players during a lockout, this wasn't the year for San Francisco to make a bold play for a veteran passer from another team.
2. Make a decision on Aubrayo Franklin. The 49ers' plans on defense remain a bit mysterious. Coordinator Vic Fangio did not distribute playbooks to players. The team's needs could change based on whether Franklin, a solid nose tackle, leaves in free agency. Franklin's status as a franchise player last season raised the stakes for a new contract. What does Fangio think of him? What specifically does Fangio want from his defensive linemen? How much will Fangio change to suit the 49ers' personnel? How much new personnel might he want? General manager Trent Baalke said the 49ers will not be aggressive in free agency. The team has shown restraint on that front in recent seasons. Losing Franklin would hurt.
3. Figure out the secondary: The pass defense was problematic last season. Personnel changes in the secondary are on the way. Veteran cornerback Nate Clements stands to earn more than $7 million in base salary in 2011. That price appears prohibitive. The team could release Clements or find a way to keep him at a lower rate. Free safety Dashon Goldson does not have a contract for 2011. How much is he worth? Baltimore's Chris Carr is one free-agent cornerback with ties to the 49ers' staff. He and Fangio were together in Baltimore.
Top five free agents: Smith, Franklin, outside linebacker Manny Lawson, center David Baas, linebacker Takeo Spikes.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the San Francisco 49ers will meet with Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Maiocco: "Gabbert has already met with the teams holding the top four picks in the April 28 draft: Carolina, Denver, Buffalo and Cincinnati. The Arizona Cardinals, who hold the No. 5 selection, may also be in the market for a quarterback. Veteran David Carr is the only quarterback the 49ers have under contract for 2011. The 49ers own the No. 7 overall draft pick. Coach Jim Harbaugh also attended Gabbert's pro day on March 17."
Also from Maiocco: a look at some of the local prospects scheduled to visit the 49ers on Wednesday.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says the 49ers are looking at bigger wide receivers.
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Harbaugh has valued fullbacks as blockers, not as multidimensional players. Branch: "Harbaugh’s use of his fullback obviously could change in the NFL, but the way he used Owen Marecic and Jon Polk primarily as lead-blocking battering rams reflects a trend in the league. Last year, for example, Atlanta’s Jason Snelling was the only fullback with more than 25 receptions. In 2000, eight NFL fullbacks had more than 25 catches and five had at least 35. The 49ers will no doubt be looking for a fullback in the draft, if for no other reason than the 250-pound Moran Norris, who had seven touches in 2010, will turn 33 in June."
Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says Seahawks general manager John Schneider offers "cool, confident and quirky" leadership. Brewer: "Schneider will guide the franchise through a well-thought-out and solid process next week. And when he's finished, he'll make some self-deprecating jokes, tease Pete Carroll, crack on reporters and make it seem like he didn't do anything but entertain the masses. Don't let him fool you, though. He knows his stuff. His staff knows its stuff. All kidding aside, the Seahawks figure to do a trustworthy job in this awkward draft."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times passes along Schneider's thoughts on the quarterback situation, noting that Seattle hopes to draft at least one quarterback every year. O'Neil: "That is not a formula followed recently in Seattle, though. In Tim Ruskell's five years as president, the Seahawks chose just two quarterbacks: David Greene of Georgia in 2005, and Mike Teel of Rutgers in 2009. Neither developed enough to ever appear in a regular-season game."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune joins Brian McIntyre for a Seahawks chat. McIntyre on Aaron Curry: "I'm not as down on Curry. Needs to make more splash plays (sacks, forced fumbles, INTs), but he did a lot of the grunt work last year, playing tackle and nose in dime and 'Bandit' packages, allowing teammates to make plays. Is signed through 2014. Most ($8M) of his base salary in 2011 and 2012 base salaries are guaranteed."
Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest says Schneider has settled into his role.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic will be watching to see how many 10 a.m. PT games the Cardinals get when the NFL announces dates and times for its 2011 regular-season schedule. Somers: "Under Ken Whisenhunt, the Cardinals have adjusted their travel schedule on East Coast trips. They usually leave on a Friday, giving them two days to acclimate to a possible time change. In 2008, the Super Bowl, they stayed in Washington D.C., the week between games against the Redskins and Jets. The Cardinals lost both of those games."
Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis sizes up draft needs and possibilities for NFC West teams. He sees Gabbert and Von Miller as first-round possibilities for Arizona. Softli: "John Skelton coming into his second season could be called upon to deliver in flashes but is not ready to compete at the level coach Ken Whisenhunt needs."
"Gore, (Michael) Crabtree, (Vernon) Davis, Josh Morgan and (Alex) Smith are all on my love list this year," Berry proclaims. "I think Davis might regress a little bit, but he'll still be an elite tight end."
Berry ranks Gore fourth overall among all NFL fantasy prospects. He likes the other San Francisco players largely in relation to where he thinks others will value them in fantasy drafts. Berry likes the Seattle Seahawks' Justin Forsett in the later rounds, but he doesn't like the team in general from a fantasy standpoint because too much remains unknown.
One thing I'm not sure about regarding the 49ers is to what degree Crabtree will get into the touchdown mix. Gore and Davis were the primary scorers for San Francisco last season. Crabtree scored only two receiving touchdowns. That number should climb, but by how much?
I'll be organizing a fantasy league on the blog again this season. It'll likely be a Gridiron Challenge league again. We'll have a hard salary cap and the ability to change rosters from week to week, with players' prices changing based on how they perform.
Back to Gore. He was a solid producer last season in terms of final numbers, but his week-to-week production was sporadic. The chart shows the top 30 touchdown scorers in the NFL -- make that the NFC -- last season. Three of the top four were in the mighty NFC West.
A few thoughts on the Seahawks' impending matchup against DeMarcus Ware and the Cowboys in Week 8:
- The Cowboys were not consistently impressive during their 37-21 victory over the Falcons. Atlanta dominated the game early. The Cowboys led by three points deep into the third quarter.
- The Cowboys move Ware, their top pass-rusher, from side to side. By my count, Ware played on the defensive right side for 58 percent of snaps against the Falcons in Week 7. He dropped into coverage six times.
- Ware finished the Atlanta game with two sacks, but he was not consistently dominant. One sack came on a third-and-34 play.
- The Falcons did not consistently double-team Ware. Ware's best play, I thought, came when he defeated three separate blocks. Midway through the third quarter, Ware lifted left tackle Sam Baker off the ground and planted Baker on his back. Ware then discarded fullback Jason Snelling before pushing down receiver Brian Finneran.
- The Cowboys hit hard on both sides of the ball. The Falcons matched Dallas in that area early in the game, but not throughout. The Cowboys forced three fumbles.
- Ware is playing with a stress fracture in his foot. He played just about every snap until the final minutes, when the game was decided. He did come out of the game for two plays after defeating Baker, Snelling and Finneran on the aforementioned rush.
- Seattle will likely have problems with Ware and the Cowboys' defensive line in general. However, Ware was playing at a higher level last season, when he had 20 sacks.
NFC West chat begins at 1 p.m. ET. See you there.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike SandoThe 49ers hold the 10th, 43rd, 74th, 111th, 146th, 171st, 184th, 219th and 244th choices in the 2009 draft. For perspective, I've singled out the last four players chosen in those spots.
The Lions' selection of USC receiver Mike Williams with the 10th overall choice is enough to raise those familiar red flags for receivers drafted in that range. The last 10 receivers drafted between seventh and 10th overall were Ted Ginn Jr., Troy Williamson, the aforementioned Mike Williams, Roy Williams, Reggie Williams, David Terrell, Koren Robinson, Plaxico Burress, Travis Taylor and David Boston.
How many of those once-highly regarded wideouts would you want on your team right now? Not many. Only four have NFL jobs. For those hoping the 49ers might draft a USC quarterback [Mark Sanchez] in the first round instead, it's been done at No. 10 recently and with unconvincing results.
Justin Tuck at No. 74 in 2005 stands out as a terrific value, but I also credit the Giants for developing him.
The 49ers could use a young prospect at safety. They could do worse than the Ravens did when they made Dawan Landry the 146th player chosen in 2006. Landry became a starter as a rookie.