NFC West: Justin Forsett

New variables, same formula for Seahawks

November, 29, 2012
11/29/12
8:25
PM ET
Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks scored what I saw as a signature victory over the 4-1 Chicago Bears at Soldier Field back in 2010.

"This is very reminiscent of the formula I have become accustomed to -- the big back hitting it hard and the flashy guy and the big receiver and the quarterback getting the ball to every guy," Carroll said following that 23-20 victory. "That is what we have come in here to do."

Some of the leading characters have changed as the Seahawks prepare to visit the Bears in Week 13 this season. Marshawn Lynch, who was making his Seattle debut in that Week 6 game two years ago, remains the big back Carroll referenced. The flashy guy, Justin Forsett, is long gone, as are the big receiver, Mike Williams, and the quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck.

The vision and preferred formula remain the same. That isn't likely to change.

"We're not New England and we're not going to turn into them unless we're down by 20 points where you have to throw it 20 times in a row," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell told reporters this week.

The subject arose this week after the Seahawks stuck with their ground game against Miami when it wasn't working. Seattle will presumably emphasize the run against the Bears. Chicago has allowed 128 yards rushing per game and 4.6 per carry over its past five games, up from 71 yards per game and 3.9 per carry through Week 7. Lynch had topped 100 yards rushing in four consecutive games before the Dolphins held him to 46 yards and 2.4 per rush.

"To have Marshawn Lynch and to be able to hand him the ball, it helps a lot of things, rather than just having Russell Wilson drop back three, five or seven steps and have our guys just stand there and protect," Bevell said. "That brings up other issues. When you establish the run or you’re known for a running game, now we have all of the play-action passes where we put the ball in front of Marshawn and try to get them to react to the run, and then take shots and things over their heads."

This game Sunday marks Seattle's fourth against the NFC North this season. Bevell coached with the Vikings for years, so he's familiar with that division. The chart shows Seattle's offensive production against the Bears' division rivals this season.
The earlier item on third-down conversion rates sparked a conversation I'd like to continue here.

"Do you think the 49ers are relying too much on their receivers to gain YAC and pick up first downs?" DF4949 asked. "It seems that a significant number of their third-down throws are short of the marker. Otherwise, is is a case of Alex Smith regularly checking down on third down?"

ESPN Stats & Information charts where throws were made in relation to the first-down marker. That enabled me to produce the chart below showing NFC West quarterback production based on whether passes were thrown past first-down markers. The chart reads vertically. Shading separates one quarterback from the next.

What the numbers say about each quarterback:
  • Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers: Smith has the division's highest completion rate on passes short of the sticks, and the lowest on passes to the sticks or past them. His yards per attempt on passes at or past the sticks is only 3.6. That ranks 32nd out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks. Smith, Russell Wilson and Blaine Gabbert are the only quarterbacks below 5.5 yards per attempt on these throws. The league average for qualifying quarterbacks is 7.9 yards. Smith was at 8.4 last season. Smith and Vernon Davis have remained productive on these to-the-sticks throws. Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams and Braylon Edwards averaged between 9.3 and 12.0 yards per attempt on these throws last season. Davis has four of the five receptions on these throws in 2012. Crabtree has just one reception on four attempts, good for a 2.3-yard average per attempt. Smith has no completions on five additional targets to Mario Manningham, Delanie Walker and Williams. Sample size remains small for 2012. I'm guessing the 3.6-yard total will perk up.
  • Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals: Kolb has high completion percentages for both categories. The production is quite strong when Kolb is able to get rid of the football. He has taken eight sacks, too many. But the Cardinals would rather have him eat the football than share it with the other team through interceptions on desperation throws. Kolb had one touchdown, one pick, nine sacks and middling numbers on 87 third- and fourth-down dropbacks last season. His numbers weren't much different based on whether he was throwing past the first-down markers. This season, Kolb is playing with backup offensive tackles and diminished options at running back. No complaints here. Kolb and Andre Roberts have connected three times for 36 yards and a touchdown on throws to the sticks. Larry Fitzgerald and Early Doucet have been more frequent targets on the shorter throws.
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: Wilson's QBR score when failing to throw past the sticks outranks those for his NFC West rivals because Wilson has rushed for five first downs on 10 carries in these situations. QBR takes into account rushing. I'm struck right away by the absence of yards-after-the-catch on throws short of the first-down markers for these third- and fourth-down attempts. Robert Turbin has six yards after the catch. Doug Baldwin has four. That's it for Seattle on five completions short of the sticks. No wonder Seattle has zero first downs on these throws. Perhaps Wilson needs to set up his receivers better. Perhaps play design must improve. We just know Seattle needs more production after the catch. Justin Forsett contributed in this area out of the backfield last season, but Seattle still lagged in YAC. The overall production -- before and after the pass -- remains weak even when Wilson does get the ball past the first-down marker.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams: The Rams lead the division in yards after the catch whether or not the ball is getting past the first-down marker on these third- and fourth-down throws. Bradford has completed 6 of 8 passes for 68 yards, one touchdown and six first downs when throwing to Danny Amendola past the sticks in these situations. The team already has six first downs on 16 attempts short of the sticks after collecting seven on 43 such attempts all last season. Having Amendola back from injury has been huge for the Rams' offense. Young depth at running back helps to a lesser extent. Amendola and Daryl Richardson have 48 yards after the catch and three first downs on nine attempts short of the sticks. Bradford has taken seven sacks on these third- and fourth-down plays. The Rams have obvious issues on their offensive line. Bradford seeks turnover avoidance over sack avoidance. That's one area for improvement.

If Marshawn Lynch misses season opener

September, 4, 2012
9/04/12
5:10
PM ET
For weeks, Seattle Seahawks fans wondered whether a DUI arrest might lead to a one-game suspension for running back Marshawn Lynch.

Those fears have subsided in the interim, but Lynch's status against Arizona in the season opener has become an issue. Back spasms are threatening to keep Lynch from playing, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

Lynch missed practice Monday. He hasn't played since the second week of the exhibition season. The running back has regularly missed preseason games in past years, however, so there was nothing particularly alarming about his absence this summer. He started 15 games last season, missing a game against Cleveland when back spasms flared up right before kickoff.

The Seahawks were counting on Lynch against the Browns. They had little time to prepare a plan without him. They also lacked another power back on the roster, leaving Leon Washington and the since-departed Justin Forsett as their leading alternatives. Seattle addressed the issue this offseason by using a fourth-round choice for running back Robert Turbin, who has run well enough to ease fears about losing Lynch for short stretches.

Even with the 222-pound Turbin running well, the Seahawks likely would not be the same without their starting back. Lynch rushed for a career-high 1,204 yards last season. His physical running style gave Seattle a welcome and needed identity on offense.

Heading into the Arizona game with rookies at quarterback (Russell Wilson), right guard (J.R. Sweezy) and running back (Turbin) probably wouldn't faze the Seahawks as much as one might expect. Wilson and Sweezy beat out more experienced competitors. Inexperienced backs can struggle in pass protection initially, however. Seattle might feel more comfortable leaning on Washington in passing situations if Lynch could not play.
Fullback Michael Robinson's recent declaration regarding Seattle Seahawks teammate Bobby Wagner made waves around here last week.

"I call him a baby Patrick Willis because I hadn't seen a linebacker move like that since Pat," said Robinson, who played with Willis, a perennial Pro Bowl selection, on the San Francisco 49ers.

Wagner, a rookie second-round draft choice, did not stand out to me during the Seahawks' exhibition opener Saturday night, but perhaps a certain fullback inflated my expectations beyond reason.

Dave Wyman of 710ESPN Seattle gave high marks for Wagner's performance. Wyman played the position in the NFL for nine seasons. He certainly knows what to look for in one. Wyman: "I'm always impressed when I see a rookie have poise and look like he's in control. It's almost like he's back in college. I don't know what's going through his mind, so maybe there were some things out there that kind of threw him off, but it certainly didn't look like it. Bobby Wagner looked like he fit right in with that defense. Really fast, he had a really nice tackle, took on some blocks really well, made some little mistakes that you see rookies do, but other than that, I thought he showed really well." Noted: This assessment should be very encouraging for Seahawks fans.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune runs through the Seahawks' roster by position. He has a hard time envisioning Tarvaris Jackson figuring into the team's plans.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com recaps the exhibition opener, raising a question: Why not start Russell Wilson against Denver in Seattle's next game?

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' approach to late-round draft choices -- going after players making position changes, in some cases -- has paid off under the team's current leadership, as the selection of J.R. Sweezy this year indicates. Noted: Former Seahawks president Tim Ruskell fared pretty well in seventh rounds especially. Doug Nienhuis, Ben Obomanu, Ryan Plackemeier, Steve Vallos, Justin Forsett, Courtney Greene and Cameron Morrah were among Seattle's seventh-rounders from 2005 through 2009. All played in the NFL. Obomanu, Vallos, Forsett, Greene and Morrah remain active.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals tight end Jeff King never missed a practice -- not even in junior high -- until sitting out with a quadriceps injury this offseason.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com saw a more spirited practice Monday as coach Ken Whisenhunt ramped up the intensity following two disappointing exhibition games. Also, the team is giving D'Anthony Batiste a shot at right tackle.

Also from Urban: Defensive coordinator Ray Horton thinks his players might be suffering from overconfidence.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Jeff Fisher found some positives in the team's 35-3 defeat to open the exhibition season. Also: "On the 63-yard screen pass for a touchdown to Donald Brown, television replays showed a Colts blocker clearly grabbing the jersey of Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis to keep him from tackling Brown near the line of scrimmage. It also showed Michael Brockers being held by another blocker a few yards down the line of scrimmage. After the game Sunday, Fisher pointed out the missed calls but didn't dwell on them. On Monday, he made it clear he wasn't piling on the replacement officials."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com lists Fisher's disappointments from the first game, and also this: "Fisher said his team was extremely vanilla while the Colts did quite a bit of scheming. That doesn’t mean there’s a right or wrong way to do but just different philosophies. Fisher said the Rams will steadily add more and more to the pregame schemes in each game though the final preseason contest will likely be fairly plain as well."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com saw good things from Mario Manningham in the 49ers' practice Monday.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee quotes 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on the team's defensive effort against Minnesota in the exhibition opener. Fangio: "I just think we got a little full of ourselves."

Taylor Price of 49ers.com saw good things from quarterback Alex Smith in practice. Price: "Smith displayed excellent downfield accuracy while completing three deep sideline throws in the same midfield team period. First, Smith found a familiar target, locating tight end Vernon Davis 30 yards down the field on a deep wheel route against the coverage of linebacker Michael Wilhoite. On the very next play, Smith attacked the left sideline again, this time on a 30-yard deep throw to veteran wideout Randy Moss. Smith completed his third deep sideline pass of the period to running back Kendall Hunter."
NFL teams are pretty much finished tweaking their rosters until training camps begin later this month.

Organized team activities have passed, as have minicamps.

It's a good time to reassess where teams stand and where they might be headed at various positions based on the admittedly limited information available at this time. So, beginning with this item and continuing through Tuesday, I'll offer up for consideration roster breakdowns for each NFC West team, beginning with the offenses.

Quarterbacks (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.8

Safest bets: Matt Flynn, Russell Wilson, Tarvaris Jackson

Leading contenders: Josh Portis

Longer odds: none

Comment: The plan calls for Jackson, Flynn and Wilson to take turns with the first-team offense when training camp opens. The roster spots for Flynn and Wilson appear most secure. Jackson's situation appears most volatile. He could start, he could serve as a veteran backup at a reduced salary or he could be released. Seattle has to hope Flynn or Wilson takes advantage of the opportunity, on the theory that Jackson has most likely peaked. The Seahawks still like Portis as well, but keeping four quarterbacks isn't a realistic option.

Running backs (7)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.1

Safest bets: Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, Robert Turbin, Michael Robinson

Leading contenders: Kregg Lumpkin, Tyrell Sutton

Longer odds: Vai Taua

Comment: Turbin becomes the big back Seattle wanted as insurance for Lynch. Washington emerges as the undisputed change-of-pace back after the Seahawks decided against re-signing Justin Forsett, who landed in Houston. Robinson's value on special teams and at fullback would seem to buy security for him at a position of decreasing value around the league.

Wide receivers (13)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.3

Safest bets: Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate

Leading contenders: Kris Durham, Ricardo Lockette, Ben Obomanu, Mike Williams, Deon Butler

Longer odds: Phil Bates, Charly Martin, Lavasier Tuinei, Cameron Kenney

Comment: Baldwin appears to be the receiver Seattle can count on the most. That is good and bad. The team needs Rice to hold up physically after undergoing surgeries on both shoulders this offseason. Concussions were another problem for Rice last season. Tate was ascending when last season ended. The broken hand he suffered this offseason prevented Tate from participating fully in minicamps. He needs to avoid additional setbacks to build on last season. Durham could make Williams expendable. Lockette's speed separates him from the other receivers on the roster. He's raw, but two long receptions late last season showed big-play potential.

Tight ends (5)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.2

Safest bets: Zach Miller, Kellen Winslow

Leading contenders: Anthony McCoy, Cameron Morrah

Longer odds: Sean McGrath

Comment: Winslow's addition altered Seattle's outlook at the position. The team hopes to use him in tandem with Miller to force unfavorable matchups upon opponents. The plan will be to pound away with Lynch if defenses play sub packages against Miller and Winslow, or to pass if teams show base looks. That was part of the plan a year ago as well, but John Carlson's injury limited Seattle's options. Carlson's departure in free agency stung. Winslow was a viable fallback even though knee problems limit his speed and prevent him from practicing regularly.

Offensive linemen (15)

Average number kept since 2003: 9.1

Safest bets: Russell Okung, Paul McQuistan, Max Unger, John Moffitt, Breno Giacomini, James Carpenter, Deuce Lutui

Leading contenders: Alex Barron, J.R. Sweezy, Frank Omiyale, Allen Barbre, Rishaw Johnson, Lemuel Jeanpierre

Longer odds: Edawn Coughman, Paul Fanaika

Comment: Seattle has kept 10 offensive linemen in Week 1 during each of its first two seasons under coach Pete Carroll. Short-term injury concerns generally play into any decision to keep more than nine. Seattle figures to save a spot early in the season by leaving Carpenter on the physically unable to perform list. That would leave room, in theory, for three players from the "leading contenders" list above. Jeanpierre has value as a guard with the ability to back up at center. Moffitt also got work at center this offseason. Johnson made a positive impression as an undrafted rookie this offseason. Barbre will serve a suspension to open the season. Barron could project as a swing tackle.
NFC West fans had running backs in mind during our chat Thursday.

We had Joe C. from Fort Worth asking for projected carry breakdowns in Arizona if the Cardinals' Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are both healthy. k1joyce from Massachusetts, fearful over what would happen if Seattle lost Marshawn Lynch to injury, pointed to the "seldom-talked-about lack of depth" at the position for the Seahawks. Jim from California wondered which running backs the San Francisco 49ers would keep.

I didn't get to all those questions, but in an attempt to size up the position for each NFC West team, I've put together potential depth charts for running backs in the division. Every team has six halfbacks, so the chart balances. The order will shake out during training camp, of course. I've got an eraser handy.

Every team in the division but Seattle has used a second-round choice for a running back in the past two drafts. Arizona did so with Williams in 2011. San Francisco (LaMichael James) and St. Louis (Isaiah Pead) used second-rounders for runners this year.

Seattle used a 2012 fourth-round choice for Robert Turbin. The team also added Kregg Lumpkin in free agency. Both are bigger than former backup Justin Forsett. That was by design. The Seahawks now have multiple backs with the size to carry the ball on early downs, but it's too early to know whether the team could maintain its physical approach on offense without Lynch. It wasn't possible last season. Now, it's possible, but no sure thing.

Wells will probably get more carries than Williams this season even though Williams, when healthy, excites the Cardinals at least as much. Both backs are coming off knee surgeries. Wells figures to be healthier first. He will presumably get most of the carries early in the season. We still don't know when Williams will resume full participation or how well he'll perform upon returning. The injury he suffered (torn patella) was serious. The Cardinals are optimistic, but there's still uncertainty.

The situation behind Frank Gore in San Francisco is more confusing. The 49ers wanted to upgrade their backups while preparing for life after Gore. Anthony Dixon faces an uphill fight for a roster spot, it appears. He played five percent of the snaps last season. Kendall Hunter played 28 percent, a figure that also appears likely to fall.

The Rams finally have some youth behind Steven Jackson. I could see them using another relatively early pick on a back in 2013. Jackson is scheduled to earn $7 million in each of the next two seasons. He turns 29 next month and will be looking to reach 1,000 yards for an eighth consecutive season.

Good teams tend to become popular. Popular teams tend to attract wagering.

Teams attracting significant wagering become heavier favorites as oddsmakers hedge against potential losses.

The San Francisco 49ers provide a case study for Vegas 101. Success last season helped them rank eighth in popularity among American fans in recent ESPN polling. So, when sports books set the 49ers' championship chances at a relatively modest 10-1, fans and/or wise guys apparently couldn't resist.

Mike Wilkening of Pro Football Weekly says heavy betting on the 49ers has moved their Super Bowl-winning odds to 4-1 recently, making San Francisco the heaviest favorite in the NFL. Jay Rood, vice president of race and sports at MGM: "Is this an accurate reflection of what I believe to be the case, that they’re the favorites for the Super Bowl? No. We’re trying to manage (the) liability at this point." Noted: The 49ers were 40-1 long shots to win the Super Bowl a year ago. That kind of relative skepticism sets up well for a motivational-minded head coach. When the 49ers enjoyed success last season, the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh would sometimes refer to Frederick P. Soft, a fictitious character representing accolades that can soften up a team. Mr. Soft would certainly welcome news that the 49ers are now Super Bowl favorites, at least according to Vegas.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com updates the 49ers' safety situation minus unsigned franchise player Dashon Goldson. He cites a source saying Goldson wants a deal averaging $8 million per season, and the 49ers probably would not go past a $7 million average. Noted: The franchise tag sets Goldson's value at $6.2 million per year, an average favorable to the team.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says stories about Alex Smith having an edgier attitude have become an annual rite of 49ers offseasons.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News sits down with 49ers receiver Mario Manningham to relive the former Giants receiver's pivotal catch against New England in the Super Bowl.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News passes along 49ers notes, including one about wireless data upgrades at Candlestick Park.

Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic says rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley has earned high praise for a player drafted in the sixth round. Quarterbacks coach John McNulty, on accuracy issues that affected Lindley late in the quarterback's career at San Diego State: "He was doing some things footwork-wise to get himself kind of overextended, which was taking a little off his accuracy. But I don't think that's a problem anymore. And you see at times when he just kind of presses and gets pressured and he's (thinking) he's going to complete the ball no matter what. That sometimes happens to a guy with that much experience and success, but sometimes you just have to throw it away and go on to the next play."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com, mindful that Cardinals first-round choice Michael Floyd had DUI troubles in college, says this following the DUI arrest of Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon: "There had to be a little feeling about 'there-but-by-the-grace-of-God-go-I' vibe. ... There are no real parallels between Blackmon and Floyd, other than they play the same position. But obviously, the Cards are counting on their guy to work out well and make all the right choices."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com looks at ways fullback Michael Robinson is preparing for life after football. Farnsworth: "Robinson’s first on-camera reporting gig was covering Penn State basketball games. From that acorn of an assignment, the tree that is 'The Real Rob Report' has blossomed. In 2006, his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers, Robinson started doing 'The Rookie Report.' That morphed into 'The Real Robinson Report,' which became 'The Real Rob Report' last offseason. As anyone who has seen Robinson’s video reports knows, they are long on personality and short on strategy."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times appreciates the way Justin Forsett approached his job during the running back's time with the Seahawks. O'Neil: "He was a great teammate and a more productive player than anyone had a right to expect from a seventh-round pick. Remember all the time and money Seattle spent on free agents? Guys like Julius Jones, T.J. Duckett and Edgerrin James. Well, Forsett averaged more yards per carry than all of them. Forsett was great pro who wanted the best not necessarily for himself, but for the team."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune offers thoughts on the Seahawks' linebacker situation as part of his latest chat. Williams: "At linebacker, I think the middle linebacker job is Bobby Wagner’s to lose, but he should get some stiff competition in Barrett Ruud and Matt McCoy. Look for K.J. Wright to play middle linebacker in obvious passing situations because of his length and familiarity with the scheme."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says on-field success could be a big key for the Rams as the team seeks stadium upgrades. Burwell: "Sometimes, public sentiment can be a bit impulsive and swayed by the whims of playoff fever. A bad team doesn't render much passion for public support. But what could happen if the Dome is filled every weekend with delirious supporters caught up in NFL fever? What if new coach Jeff Fisher and his tag-team partner general manager Les Snead put together a squad in their first year that is in playoff contention all season long? What if they perform some sort of major miracle and really do find a way to do one of those worst-to-first overhauls that the NFL is known for? Could that be the sugar that makes the price tag for the Dome a bit easier to swallow?"

Howard Balzer takes a closer look at contracts for the Rams' rookie draft choices. Balzer: "In the last four days, the Rams have signed wide receiver Chris Givens (fourth round), guard Rokevious Watkins (fifth), linebacker Aaron Brown (seventh) and running back Daryl Richardson (seventh). All players signed four-year contracts with Givens receiving $2,597,028 including a signing bonus of $490,028, while the total value of Watkins’ deal is $2,291,300 including a signing bonus of $191,300."
NFC West teams added or re-signed 38 unrestricted free agents during the recently completed UFA signing period. They lost or did not re-sign 47 such players.

One key difference between those groups: age.

The St. Louis Rams in particular used the UFA signing period to get younger. The 12 UFAs they added (11) or re-signed (one) averaged 2.49 years younger than the 20 UFAs they lost (six) or have not re-signed (14). The gap was 1.39 years younger on average throughout the division. The Rams have the youngest roster in the NFL, based on averages I maintain for every team in the league.

Some older UFAs never sign another NFL contract. They disappear from rosters and realize, perhaps a year or two later, that they've been retired.

The chart shows age differences for the 38 UFA players added or re-signed versus the 47 lost to other teams or still unsigned. According to the NFL, 143 UFAs changed teams across the league this offseason. Another 112 re-signed with their 2011 teams.

Unsigned players remain free to sign with another team, but the NFL will not count them as UFA signings. The distinction matters in part because only UFA additions and losses count toward the formula for determining compensatory draft choices. That formula relies heavily on player salaries. UFAs available this late in the process generally wouldn't command enough money to affect compensatory picks, anyway.

A quick look at which UFA players from NFC West teams did not sign or re-sign as UFAs:
The 27 unsigned UFAs from the NFC West average 31.38 years old, about 3.3 years older than the 22 UFAs signed from other teams.

Nine of the 27 are at least 33 years old. Another 12 are between 29 and 32. Justin King, former cornerback for the Rams, is the youngest at 25 years old.
Peter from Rutland, Vt., points to Anthony Dixon's failed third-and-1 rushing attempt in the NFC Championship Game as one reason the San Francisco 49ers might have signed former New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs.

This play escaped my attention in the Jacobs item Tuesday. I suspect the play-by-play file I consulted did not encompass the NFC Championship Game.

"Dixon got stuffed by the Giants on a key third-and-1 attempt," Peter recalled. "He danced instead of smashing. That's why they took a chance on Jacobs. Dixon is not a reliable power back."

Perhaps, but Jacobs failed to convert a fourth-and-1 rushing attempt in the same game, and he has never been known for his hard-nosed running.

Dixon converted both of his rushing tries during the regular season when needing a single yard on third or fourth down. He missed that one attempt during the postseason, but Jacobs converted only 4 of 8 regular-season tries and 5-of-11 overall when counting the postseason.

I went back and watched Dixon's failed play just to be sure what happened. Dixon did not set a new standard for powerful running on the play, but neither did he have much room to run.

The 49ers shuffled their offensive line and brought onto the field two defenders, Justin Smith and Isaac Sopoaga, for additional blocking. The line, left to right, featured Vernon Davis, Alex Boone, Adam Snyder, Jonathan Goodwin (center), Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, Joe Staley and Smith. Sopoaga lined up to the right in an offset-I formation.

The blocking was not very good. Mathias Kiwanuka shed Smith immediately and blocked Dixon's path off tackle. Chris Canty got between Anthony Davis and Staley in time to affect Dixon. Dixon did hesitate and step to the side as he sought an opening. Again, though, the blocking was not great.

While an NFL offense should be able to pick up a third-and-1 on the ground, I've thought the 49ers needed to occasionally break from tendency in these situations, not just with a pass but with a deeper strike to Vernon Davis. Previous 49ers coaching staffs succeeded with this tactic.

The 49ers had beaten the Giants for an 18-yard pass to Delanie Walker on a third-and-1 play when the teams met back in Week 10. Perhaps the 49ers' staff knew the Giants would be ready if they tried another pass. And, as noted, the team should be able to pick up a third-and-1 rushing play.

But with such a heavy formation to the right side, the Giants were ready for Dixon. They also took advantage of the fact that Smith, though a great player, plays defense and isn't a polished blocker.

The chart shows 2011 regular-season conversion stats for NFC West running backs on third and fourth downs with 1 yard needed for a first down. There's a reason teams use quarterback sneaks.
We made it through the NFC West chat without any scandals erupting or starting quarterbacks taking free-agent visits.

We learned that former San Francisco 49ers guard Chilo Rachal planned to visit the St. Louis Rams, another indication that the 49ers are content starting fresh at right guard.

The Rams need a left guard and have not re-signed Jacob Bell, who played for new Rams coach Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. Bell, 31, missed the final four games of the 2011 season with the Rams after suffering a knee injury.

Full chat transcript here. Highlights below:
Caleb from Orofino, Idaho asks what are the Seattle Seahawks intentions at running back behind starter Marshawn Lynch, especially now that Michael Bush is off the market.

Mike Sando: The Seahawks will try to sign a power back to spell Marshawn Lynch. Kregg Lumpkin is someone they are reportedly going to visit with. He is 5-11 and 228 pounds. Broke into the NFL with Green Bay when Seahawks general manager John Schneider was with the Packers. We could also see Seattle draft a bigger back. The plan will be to have two bigger backs, plus Leon Washington as a change-of-pace runner. They probably will not want to have two change-of-pace guys at the expense of a second power guy, which explains why Justin Forsett might not be back.

Aaron from Wisconsin expects the San Francisco 49ers to be strong on defense again, but he wonders where on the roster they could most use reinforcements.

Mike Sando: Receiver, center and right guard are three positions that need to be addressed. However, I do not think the 49ers absolutely have to draft for one of these positions early. I'd have no trouble with them adding another front-line talent to their defensive front, perhaps someone with the ability to take over when Justin Smith is finally finished (Smith has so far shown no signs of slowing, but he is up there in years and the 49ers should anticipate a drop-off at some point).

Josh from Mesa, Ariz., asks whether the Arizona Cardinals' pursuit of Peyton Manning prevented them from making major moves in free agency.

Mike Sando: My sense is that Arizona wasn't going to be very aggressive in the market this offseason. They won the offseason last year, only to start with a 1-6 record. They seem to like some of their younger players and want to give them a chance to grow. Offensive tackle was one position I thought they might try to address in free agency, but Jared Gaither re-signed with San Diego early in the signing period. There weren't a lot of great options.

Northwest Guy from Gig Harbor, Wash., asks whether the St. Louis Rams have so far had the best offseason of any team in the NFC West by hiring a new coach, adding first-round picks, etc. He suggests the Cardinals and 49ers have been more stagnant in the personnel acquisition.

Mike Sando: Yeah, I would agree on the Rams having a good offseason so far. The Matt Flynn acquisition in Seattle will determine whether the Seahawks have had a good offseason. If he is the answer, their offseason might be the best of any in the division. That's how pivotal the quarterback position tends to be. The Rams have certainly given themselves an opportunity to build for the long term. Ideally, however, they would have added some weapons for Sam Bradford. So far, they have not, and that was their top priority for the short term.

Battles for Seattle lamented during the chat that his question about the Seahawks' draft plans wasn't getting answered, but I did get to it. Thanks again everyone. Always enjoy the chats.
Running back Michael Bush, tight end Jacob Tamme and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe are among the free agents expected to visit the Seattle Seahawks this week.

That was the word Monday from ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Those names make sense for Seattle.

Bush would qualify as the power-oriented backup Seattle has sought for Marshawn Lynch. Bush played for Seahawks' offensive line coach Tom Cable in Oakland, so he would come to the Seahawks already versed in the team's blocking schemes.

Lynch is the clear starter, with Leon Washington providing a change-of-pace element. Justin Forsett, though valuable in the past, became a bit redundant with Washington on the roster. Adding a second power back would allow the Seahawks to run their normal offense if something happened to Lynch. The team would have to adjust its plans considerably if Washington and Forsett were the only viable alternatives, as the case was during a defeat at Cleveland last season.

Forsett is an unrestricted free agent.

At tight end, the Seahawks need depth after losing John Carlson to Minnesota in free agency. Shiancoe played under Seahawks' offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in Minnesota. Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was also with the Vikings at that time.

Tamme spent his first four NFL seasons with Indianapolis, peaking with 67 receptions for 631 yards and four touchdowns in 2010.

Side note: Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne is expected to visit Detroit.

Update: Schefter cites another source saying a Bush visit has not been scheduled, but the Seahawks are very interested in lining up one.

2012 NFC West UFA scorecard: update

March, 16, 2012
3/16/12
12:15
PM ET
Michael Robinson's expected re-signing with the Seattle Seahawks would give the team a league-high four re-signings in the unrestricted free-agent market.

Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan and Heath Farwell previously re-signed.

Seattle and the other NFC West teams have added only two UFAs from other teams, however. I've put together UFA scorecards for each team in the division. Ages are in parenthesis. Here goes ...

Seattle Seahawks

UFA unsigned (age): defensive end Raheem Brock (33), defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson (31), safety Atari Bigby (30), quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (29), linebacker Leroy Hill (29), linebacker Matt McCoy (29), defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (28), linebacker David Hawthorne (26), running back Justin Forsett (26), linebacker David Vobora (25)

UFA re-signed: Farwell (30), Robinson (29), McQuistan (28), Bryant (27)

UFA added: none

UFA lost: tight end John Carlson (27)

Franchise player: none

Comment: Forsett has provided value, but the Seahawks will want to add a power back as depth behind Marshawn Lynch, who re-signed before free agency. Mike Tolbert, a free agent from the San Diego Chargers, could be worth a look if the running back market remains soft. Tolbert weighs 243 pounds, has 21 total touchdowns over the past two seasons, and caught 54 passes in 2012. The price would have to be right after Seattle committed to Lynch.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA unsigned: fullback Moran Norris (33), tight end Justin Peelle (33), safety Madieu Williams (30), quarterback Alex Smith (27), receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (26), guard Chilo Rachal (26), safety Reggie Smith (25)

UFA re-signed: cornerback Carlos Rogers (30), linebacker Tavares Gooden (27)

UFA added: none

UFA lost: guard Adam Snyder (30), linebacker Blake Costanzo (27), receiver Josh Morgan (26)

Franchise player: safety Dashon Goldson (27)

Comment: Randy Moss and potential addition Rock Cartwright do not appear in the listings because they were not unrestricted free agents. Re-signing Alex Smith and finding additional receiver help appear to be the top priorities. The 49ers are showing little outward urgency on either front, however.

Arizona Cardinals

UFA unsigned: defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday (36), kicker Jay Feely (35), long-snapper Mike Leach (35), outside linebacker Clark Haggans (35), outside linebacker Joey Porter (34), offensive lineman Floyd Womack (33), punter Dave Zastudil (33), tackle D'Anthony Batiste (29), safety Sean Considine (29), guard Deuce Lutui (28), safety Hamza Abdullah (28), tackle Brandon Keith (27), receiver Early Doucet (26)

UFA re-signed: none.

UFA added: Snyder (30)

UFA lost: cornerback Richard Marshall (27)

Franchise player: defensive end Calais Campbell (25)

Comment: The Cardinals have been in a tough spot. They would have faced criticism had they declined to pursue Peyton Manning. They could now face criticism for sacrificing the first week of free agency while waiting for Manning. The reality is that Arizona probably wasn't going to be all that aggressive in the market this offseason, anyway. It did hurt losing Marshall to the Miami Dolphins after coordinator Ray Horton called him the Cardinals' defensive MVP.

St. Louis Rams

UFA unsigned: cornerback Al Harris (37), quarterback A.J. Feeley (34), offensive lineman Tony Wragge (32), linebacker Brady Poppinga (32), punter Donnie Jones (31), offensive lineman Adam Goldberg (31), guard Jacob Bell (31), receiver Brandon Lloyd (30), cornerback Rod Hood (30), running back Cadillac Williams (29), defensive tackle Gary Gibson (29), receiver Mark Clayton (29), tackle Mark LeVoir (29), tight end Stephen Spach (29), safety James Butler (29), tight end Billy Bajema (29), quarterback Kellen Clemens (28), running back Jerious Norwood (28), linebacker Bryan Kehl (27), linebacker Chris Chamberlain (26), cornerback Justin King (24)

UFA re-signed: none

UFA added: cornerback Cortland Finnegan (28)

UFA lost: none

Franchise player: none

Comment: The Rams are not looking to re-sign many of their own free agents. They want to turn over the roster, and that is happening in a big way. The team's failure to secure playmaking help for quarterback Sam Bradford stands out as the biggest theme to this point. Finnegan was a welcome addition, but he isn't going to score many touchdowns.

The chart below shows a general overview.

NFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
3/08/12
12:00
PM ET
AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Arizona Cardinals

Key free agents: DE Calais Campbell (franchise tag), CB Richard Marshall, OLB Clark Haggans, WR Early Doucet, T Brandon Keith, G Deuce Lutui, K Jay Feely.

Where they stand: A strong finish to the 2011 season on defense gives the Cardinals a glass-half-full feel heading into free agency. Going from 1-6 to 8-8 was an impressive achievement. Arizona does have serious concerns on its offensive line. The situation at tackle is particularly questionable even if Levi Brown returns (and maybe especially if he returns, depending on your view). The line concerns might actually dissipate some if the team lands Peyton Manning, a quarterback with the ability to beat pressure with quick throws. But tackle is still an area that needs addressing for the long term. Injuries throughout the offensive backfield raise questions about that area as well. Kevin Kolb (concussion), Beanie Wells (knee), Ryan Williams (knee) and Anthony Sherman (ankle) missed extensive time or played at a diminished level for stretches.

What to expect: The Cardinals are one of the teams chasing Manning. That pursuit could consume them for the short term. Landing Manning would signal the end for Kolb in Arizona. The Cardinals have until March 17 to exercise a $7 million option on Kolb, the quarterback they acquired from Philadelphia for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a fat contract. I'm expecting a resolution to Manning's situation before the Kolb bonus comes due simply because interest in Manning should be high enough to accelerate the process. The Cardinals had about $3 million in salary-cap space entering the week, according to ESPN's John Clayton. That figure could increase substantially once the team releases Brown or reworks his contract. Arizona still has strong coaching ties to Pittsburgh on both sides of the ball, but it's an upset if the Cardinals seriously pursue any of the aging veterans recently released by the Steelers. Developing young talent is the priority now. Re-signing Marshall, who fared well at corner, should be a priority. Does free-agent linebacker Stewart Bradley still factor prominently into the team's plans, particularly at such a high price?

St. Louis Rams

Key free agents: WR Brandon Lloyd, G Jacob Bell, CB Justin King, OL Adam Goldberg, LB Chris Chamberlain, G Tony Wragge, TE Billy Bajema, WR Mark Clayton, DT Gary Gibson, P Donnie Jones.

Where they stand: The Rams have no interest in staying the course from a personnel standpoint after going 15-65 over the past five seasons. They will seek fresh talent almost across the board as Jeff Fisher's new coaching staff seeks players for its schemes. The Rams are seeking playmakers in particular, starting at wide receiver. The offensive line needs addressing, although the Rams might try to minimize the turnover at offensive tackle for the short term, figuring they cannot afford to create new needs. But former starting center Jason Brown, benched last season, appears unlikely to return. The team also needs two starting outside linebackers, starting defensive tackles and perhaps two starting cornerbacks on defense.

What to expect: Mass roster turnover. I could see the team retaining as few as one or two players from its list of 21 projected unrestricted free agents. The Rams have a disproportionate amount of their salary cap tied up in recent high draft choices Sam Bradford, Chris Long and Jason Smith. The rookie wage scale will provide them cap relief even if the team remains among the teams picking very high in the 2012 draft. Bradford and Long are cornerstones. Smith could stick around at a reduced rate. The team still has hope for him under new offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan and defensive lineman Jason Jones, both free agents from Tennessee, have ties to Fisher and could make sense for the Rams. Despite the need for playmakers on offense, the Rams did not use the franchise tag on Lloyd, their most talented receiver. Questions persist about how effective Lloyd might be outside Josh McDaniels' offense.

San Francisco 49ers

Key free agents: QB Alex Smith, CB Carlos Rogers, FS Dashon Goldson (franchise tag), G Adam Snyder, WR Ted Ginn Jr., WR Josh Morgan, G Chilo Rachal, FB Moran Norris, LB Blake Costanzo.

Where they stand: Coach Jim Harbaugh has said it's a bit unsettling heading through the offseason with his starting quarterback unsigned. Smith and the 49ers are expected to reach agreement eventually. This relationship will almost certainly continue even if Smith does reach free agency without a deal in place. Smith would not fit nearly as well anywhere else. Harbaugh likes to use the word "equity" when describing players he wants to keep. The 49ers would rather bring back Smith than invite the disruption that Manning would bring, were they able to land him. The team needs help at wide receiver and possibly cornerback, depending upon what happens with Rogers. Getting Goldson at the relatively reasonable franchise rate ($6.2 million) was a plus for the 49ers' continuity in the secondary.

What to expect: Not a whole lot, most likely. The 49ers were a good team last season after taking a low-keyed approach to the free-agent market. They will presumably show interest in Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace and any high-profile, productive receiver with the talent to upgrade their offense. It's a small upset if the 49ers land one of them, however, because their philosophy is built on a measured approach resistant to overpaying. They will have to address the receiver position in free agency one way or another, however. Re-signing Morgan would help. Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston, Mario Manningham, Plaxico Burress and Robert Meachem are among the other options in free agency. An upgrade at right guard would help the line, but the 49ers might be apt to develop 2011 draft choice Daniel Kilgore after investing first-round choices in their left tackle (Joe Staley), left guard (Mike Iupati) and right tackle (Anthony Davis).

Seattle Seahawks

Key free agents: DE Red Bryant, LB David Hawthorne, LB Leroy Hill, OL Paul McQuistan, DE Raheem Brock, DL Tony Hargrove, FB Michael Robinson, RB Justin Forsett, QB Charlie Whitehurst, LB Matt McCoy, TE John Carlson, LB Heath Farwell.

Where they stand: The Seahawks' long-term quarterback situation hangs over them as they head toward the 2012 draft with only the 12th overall choice. The team has built up the rest of its roster to a point where sticking with Tarvaris Jackson as the primary starter could hold back the team to a degree it did not through much of last season. Upgrading the pass rush is another priority for the Seahawks. With defensive end Raheem Brock publicly stumping for Seattle to land Manning, his former teammate, I couldn't help but wonder which one of them had a better shot at earning a roster spot with the team in 2012. It might be Manning, even if the Seahawks are relative long shots for his services. Brock failed to provide the pass-rush push Seattle needed opposite Chris Clemons. Linebacker is another position the Seahawks need to address, whether or not Hawthorne and Hill return.

What to expect: The Seahawks have roughly $30 million in cap space, according to Clayton, and will make every effort to land Manning. They feel they've got a shot as long as they can persuade him to get on a plane and check out what they have to offer in terms of the roster, coaching, facilities, ownership and more. If Manning goes elsewhere, I would expect the Seahawks to consider Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn. Securing him at a price lower than what Arizona paid for Kolb would be the goal. As badly as the Seahawks want to upgrade the position, they have said they will not panic. Overpaying for Flynn could represent panic in their eyes. On the pass-rush front, I'm increasingly skeptical the team will shell out for Mario Williams. The price could be too high for a player Houston has decided to let hit the market. Re-signing Bryant is a priority, but using the franchise tag for him was never an option given the $10.6 million price. A deal slightly north of the one teammate Brandon Mebane signed seems likelier if Bryant returns.
The Seattle Seahawks' top priorities in free agency appear clear, at least when it comes to their own players.

Re-sign running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive end Red Bryant.

Lynch's agent of record, Mike Sullivan, recently took a job with the Denver Broncos. That would not affect negotiations as much if Lynch remained with Octagon Worldwide. The agent game can be an unpredictable one, however. That is something to file away.

Bryant has said he strongly wants to re-sign with Seattle.

The charts below expand upon Brian McIntyre's lists. I've added offensive and defensive snap counts from ESPN Stats & Information. The final column shows what players earned per year on their most recent contracts.

The second chart shows restricted free agents. Teams can retain rights to RFAs by making one-year qualifying offers.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Brock Huard, Mike Salk and I offered thoughts on Peyton Manning, the Super Bowl and the Seattle Seahawks' free agents during our discussion Thursday.

I was taking part in a chat and trying to track down Kurt Warner at the same time, but hopefully that wasn't too obvious. The audio has been discounted from free to freer.

Not having the Seahawks' list of free agents handy slowed my response at one point. Upon looking at the list, I would loosely prioritize the top 10 this way: Marshawn Lynch, Red Bryant, Breno Giacomini, Leroy Hill, David Hawthorne, Michael Robinson, John Carlson, Paul McQuistan, Heath Farwell and Raheem Brock.

Those are not necessarily the 10 best Seattle players headed for free agency. Justin Forsett would be on such a list. But with the Seahawks likely adding a bigger back to provide depth behind Lynch, Forsett could be the odd man out.

The Seahawks will presumably seek a younger replacement for Brock. Carlson might search for an opportunity elsewhere after the team signed Zach Miller to a long-term contract. Hawthorne would rank higher if healthy.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider