NFC West: Kevin Williams
RENTON, Wash. – The Seahawks have wanted to add veteran depth on the defensive line since the offseason started. It finally happened Thursday when they signed 33-year-old defensive tackle Kevin Williams to a one-year deal in excess of $2 million, ESPN’s Ed Werder first reported and the Seahawks later confirmed.
Williams is a six-time Pro Bowl selection for the Minnesota Vikings, who has 60 career sacks. He was a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000s.
Williams is 6-foot-5, 310 pounds. He started 15 games for the Vikings last season and had 17 tackles and 3˝ sacks. He has started all but five games in his 11-year NFL career. He just completed a seven-year, $50 million contract with the Vikings.
Williams' deal with Seattle likely is contingent of him making the team. If so, the Seahawks probably will use Williams in a rotation with starters Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel. Williams helps make up for the loss of defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent.
Signing Williams also could mean the Seahawks aren’t sure how much second-year defensive tackles Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams are ready to contribute.
The hits keep coming for San Francisco 49ers backup guard Joe Looney after his low block left Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams with an injured knee.
We discussed the block Monday and I concluded that Looney did not violate playing rules when he struck Williams in the knee during the third quarter of an exhibition game Sunday night. There was no penalty flag on the play. The NFL has no plans to fine Looney.
The question was whether Looney had violated unwritten rules. Williams' teammates are predictably standing up for their guy. Looney is predictably saying he meant no harm. I give more credence to what retired offensive lineman Jeff Saturday said while serving in his role as NFL analyst for ESPN. We might normally expect one offensive lineman to stand up for another, but Saturday did not do that in this situation.
"It's definitely a cheap shot," Saturday said. "There was no reason to go low on a guy whose back is turned toward you. ... I've pulled off many a day on a cut block or when you think it's even questionable. You just don't do it. Everybody knows we're here to earn a living for our families and represent more than barbaric play on the field. As a player and as a man you have to have higher principles than even sometimes the rules."
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh used the word "unfortunate" to describe the play.
"I don't think it was a dirty play, don't think it was intentional, don't think there is any malice in the heart of Joe Looney," Harbaugh told reporters.
Williams suffered a hyperextended knee with a bone bruise and postular capsular strain, but no ligament damage. It's not yet clear how quickly he might return.
- Setting tone early matters. The pass Larry Fitzgerald dropped early in the game recalled the field goal try St. Louis missed on its first drive against Green Bay last week. Struggling teams need to get something positive going early. Fitzgerald almost never drops passes. This one hurt.
- About those batted passes. Quarterback Kevin Kolb has had too many passes batted near the line of scrimmage this season. One apparently batted pass against the Vikings actually clanked off defensive tackle Kevin Williams' helmet. That's a pretty good indication the quarterback threw too low. Kolb's accuracy seemed wildly inconsistent in this game. That must change. He threw an early pick off a batted pass and a late one when he badly overthrew his receiver after scrambling.
- Early Doucet is playing hungry. The third-year receiver becomes eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. He looks like a guy playing for a new contract. Kolb targeted Doucet 16 times in this game, twice as many times as he targeted any other Arizona player, including Fitzgerald. Kolb targeted Doucet seven times on third down, completing five of them for 57 yards and four first downs. Kolb never targeted Fitzgerald on third down. Doucet is making effort plays. He dove along the sideline and extended the ball in an effort to get a first down, gaining 11 yards on the third-and-12 play. He blocked his man aggressively through the whistle during a special-teams return.
- Wilson not really enforcing much. At his best, strong safety Adrian Wilson plays the role of enforcer, dealing out big hits and making quarterbacks pay when they scramble. He made no physically dominant plays in this game, as far as I could tell. The Vikings were ready for Wilson when he blitzed. They didn't have to worry about Wilson lighting up anyone on runs along the sideline. Might Wilson get more pass-rushing opportunities under new coordinator Ray Horton? He has no sacks this season and only 6.5 since 2007. He had 13 over the 2005-06 seasons.
- The little things matter. Andre Roberts has made little impact as a starting receiver opposite Fitzgerald. Some of that is understandable. The team loaded up on tight ends this season. Fitzgerald leads the team in targets overall. Doucet has seized third down. One play by Roberts caught my attention even though he wasn't the intended receiver. One play after Doucet's diving extension of the ball gained 11 yards on third-and-12, the Cardinals tried to fool the Vikings with a handoff to Beanie Wells from the shotgun. Roberts tried to block cornerback Asher Allen, but couldn't quite get enough of him. Allen affected Wells just enough to help the Vikings make a stop. Sometimes the Cardinals miss Anquan Boldin more as a blocker than as a receiver.
This item nearly got away from me. Figured it was time to get it posted before Arizona played another game. I'll have an easier time getting to these earlier in the week because I'm not traveling Monday. The plan is to watch games from my home office this weekend.
The Arizona Cardinals announced Larry Fitzgerald's addition to the game Sunday night after Green Bay's Super Bowl berth knocked Packers receiver Greg Jennings from the game. Fitzgerald was a first alternate this season.
The following Packers will now miss the Pro Bowl: Jennings, starting tackle Chad Clifton, starting outside linebacker Clay Matthews, starting cornerback Charles Woodson, backup cornerback Tramon Williams and starting free safety Nick Collins.
Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett landed on the NFC roster as an injury replacement after Minnesota's Kevin Williams withdrew from the game.
Seattle's Earl Thomas could be in line to replace Collins at free safety. Thomas, a rookie, was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl.
Update: Roman Harper of New Orleans gets the call instead, despite a rough outing against Seattle in the playoffs.
I can see why. Dockett's Arizona Cardinals suffered through a 5-11 season. Their defense struggled. The team even fired its defensive coordinator.
Dockett made the right decision in ultimately accepting the offer.
Accepting the invite was the only way for Dockett, as an alternate, to list a third Pro Bowl on his résumé. Years from now, few will ask how he earned those Pro Bowl trips. This one will count the same as the others.
Williams' Pro Bowl status remains intact because fans, coaches and players voted him to the game. Alternates do not enjoy the same status unless they play.
This was the second season in a row for an NFC West player to benefit from Williams' decision to withdraw from the game. Williams' withdrawal a year ago cleared the way for the San Francisco 49ers' Justin Smith to play in the game. Smith was named to the game as a starter this year. Williams was a backup to Smith and the Cowboys' Jay Ratliff.
Dockett and Smith are defensive ends in 3-4 schemes, but they count as defensive tackles in Pro Bowl balloting.
We can argue about Pro Bowl honors being watered down now that the game is scheduled for before the Super Bowl and so many alternates are qualifying. I have no problem with Smith's selection, though, because he's been a very good player for a long time and a big reason for the 49ers' success against Arizona within the NFC West.
This marks Smith's first Pro Bowl selection.
"This is a great opportunity for me to represent my team in Miami," Smith said in a statement released by the team. "It's been a long time coming. To be able to go there and play with four of my teammates makes it even better."
Smith's selection is similar to London Fletcher's selection for the Redskins. Both have played at a high level for a long time. That should count for something.
- Kurt Warner, Cardinals QB. He is the second alternate behind the Eagles' Donovan McNabb. McNabb will be named to the NFC squad when either Brett Favre or Drew Brees advances to the Super Bowl. Warner would be named to the team if Favre or Brees withdrew from the Pro Bowl after losing in the NFC title game.
- Antrel Rolle, Cardinals FS. He is the second alternate behind the Saints' Roman Harper. If the Saints advance to the Super Bowl, safety Darren Sharper would withdraw from the Pro Bowl. Harper would also make himself ineligible. Rolle would then earn Pro Bowl honors, although injuries might also prompt him to withdraw.
- Sean Morey, Cardinals special-teamer. Morey is the first alternate. He would replace the Vikings' Heath Farwell if Minnesota advances to the Super Bowl.
- Justin Smith, 49ers DE. Though Smith plays end in the 49ers' 3-4 defense, he qualifies as an "interior defensive lineman" in Pro Bowl balloting. He would be named to the game as a second alternate if the Vikings advanced to the Super Bowl. Minnesota's Kevin Williams (starter) and Pat Williams (first alternate) would withdraw.
The Cardinals' Adrian Wilson and the 49ers' Patrick Willis made the team, as did former Seahawks Steve Hutchinson and Leonard Weaver.
Niners tight end Vernon Davis appears capable of making a serious run at the tight end spot next season.
Dockett plays left end in the Cardinals' base 3-4 defense. He moves around, though, and the NFL still lists him as a defensive tackle. The designation should help Dockett's chances for the Pro Bowl because most defensive tackles cannot match his sack totals.
Did I say most? Make that all. Dockett has more sacks this season than any NFL defensive tackle. He has 20 sacks since the start of the 2007 season, more than any defensive tackle, including Albert Haynesworth (17.5) and the Vikings' Kevin Williams (17.5).
No wonder Texans coach Gary Kubiak called Dockett the best player he had seen this season.
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. joined me to discuss them Wednesday.
Beyond the matchups, this game is huge for the 49ers as they try to keep pace with Arizona and the wild-card challengers in the NFC.
49ers front seven vs. shaky Packers pass protection
Matt Williamson: Aaron Rodgers is going to get hit, going to get sacked. There might not be any one area of any team in the league that is worse than the Packers' pass protection. Rodgers just gets crushed every week, but they still make plays in the passing game. He is really tough, he keeps coming back, he is really competitive, he is throwing the ball really well -- but they cannot protect.
Mike Sando: One hit from the 49ers' Patrick Willis can be one too many. Ask Matt Hasselbeck. Will the Packers adjust?
Matt Williamson: They are starting to wise up a little bit by calling fewer 7- and 5-step drops. They are getting it out quicker and their wide receivers are very good after the catch, which is what they were two years ago. Last year, the Packers were very vertical and they cannot do that as much any more. They have everything but the protection.
Mike Sando: Do you see any problems for the Packers specific to the 49ers' front?
Matt Williamson: Not really. A team like Minnesota just crushes them with Jared Allen and Kevin Williams. I don't see any great angle making the 49ers different from other teams. Detroit sacked Rodgers five times. It happens every week no matter who they play. Even guys like Manny Lawson should give Green Bay's protection all they can handle.
Adrian Wilson ranks first in fan balloting among strong safeties. Antrel Rolle ranks second behind the Saints' Darren Sharper among free safeties.
Those are among the revelations upon looking at Pro Bowl balloting through Monday. Voting is ongoing here.
Among the other highlights, with emphasis on the NFC West:
- The Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald leads NFC receivers while ranking fifth among all players from the conference. Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre are ahead of him.
- No quarterback from the NFC West ranks among the top five.
- The 49ers' Frank Gore ranks third among NFC running backs, with the Rams' Steven Jackson fifth. Peterson and the Falcons' Michael Turner rank ahead of Gore. The Panthers' DeAngelo Williams ranks fourth.
- The 49ers' Vernon Davis ranks third among NFC tight ends. The Falcons' Tony Gonzalez and the Saints' Jeremy Shockey rank ahead of him.
- The Cardinals' Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ranks fourth among NFC cornerbacks behind the Eagles' Asante Samuel, the Vikings' Antoine Winfield and the Packers' Charles Woodson.
- The 49ers' Patrick Willis ranks first among NFC inside linebackers.
- The 49ers' Andy Lee ranks fifth among NFC punters. Former Cardinals and Seahawks punter Jeff Feagles ranks first.
- Speaking of former NFC West players, the Vikings' Steve Hutchinson ranks first among NFC guards. The Eagles' Leonard Weaver ranks second among NFC fullbacks. The Cowboys' Allen Rossum ranks fifth among NFC kickoff returners.
- The Cardinals' Darnell Dockett ranks fourth among NFC defensive tackles behind the Vikings' Pat Williams and Kevin Williams and the Redskins' Albert Haynesworth.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
One more fine: The league hit Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams ($7,500) for an illegal blow to the head against Rams quarterback Kyle Boller.
This game was costly.
The Rams' Quincy Butler drew a $7,500 fine for a horse collar tackle. The Vikings' Artis Hicks drew a $5,000 fine for shoving Rams defensive tackle Gary Gibson, who suffered a broken ankle when he fell awkwardly.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks into the legend of Walter Jones. The Seattle tackle could return from two knee surgeries Sunday. O'Neil: "So many superlatives have been draped across his 6-foot-5 frame that it's hard to realize just how truly remarkable his journey has been. He has gone from super-sized talent hidden away at a small boarding school to a lineman Mike Holmgren called the best offensive player he has ever coached. Not Brett Favre, Joe Montana nor Steve Young, but Walter Jones. And with that assertion, Holmgren joined a chorus that stretches back to the coaches at Holmes Community College."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks face a challenge when Jay Cutler visits Qwest Field.
Also from Williams: Veteran safety Lawyer Milloy could get more playing time with the Seahawks. Williams: "Part of that may be out of necessity. With Josh Wilson suffering a high-ankle sprain against San Francisco and likely out for a month, the Seahawks are down to three healthy cornerbacks. That means starting safety Jordan Babineaux could be needed to fill in at corner in passing situations, with Milloy subbing for Babineaux at safety."
John Morgan of Field Gulls looks into Greg Knapp's play-calling and doesn't like the bootleg.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks are counting on cornerback Kelly Jennings after losing Marcus Trufant and Wilson to injuries.
Taylor Price of 49ers.com says Adrian Peterson isn't the only Vikings player for the 49ers to worry about Sunday.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the Vikings have about 630 pounds of Williamses waiting for Frank Gore. Center Eric Heitmann: "I've played against them a few times over the years. They are very stout run defenders. Pat is very hard to move, and he has a good first step. You can't fall asleep on Pat ever. Kevin is one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL. Has the whole package -- physical, strong, quick, has a good pass rush. They're definitely a group we're going to have to be at our best in order to be successful."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat offers a podcast featuring 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill, who doesn't read blogs and didn't know Maiocco had been producing one for several years. Thanks, Shaun!
Also from Maiocco: Peterson has something to prove against the 49ers.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye for thoughts on Favre. The two were together with the Jets, but it wasn't a natural pairing.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Hill isn't gunning for the Vikings even though he spent four seasons with them as a third-stringer. His career there consisted of two kneel-down plays. Hill: "I did good. I got credit for two rushes and minus-2 yards."
David Fucillo of Niners Nation wonders why Hill's numbers dip noticeably in third quarters.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explores the Rams' offensive decline since the Greatest Show on Turf days. Coats: "In a way, the deck is stacked against the regrouping Rams. They're trying to scratch out a productive attack under a first-time head coach whose background is entirely in defense, a first-time coordinator who brought in a new offense, and with an overhauled roster that is young and inexperienced in some key areas. Heading into Sunday's home-opener against Green Bay, the Rams rank last in the 32-team NFL in scoring and 31st in total offense."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' defense is coming up short on third down. That's what happens when a team doesn't rush the passer effectively.
Also from Thomas: The Rams are relatively healthy except for rookie first-round choice Jason Smith.
More from Thomas: The Rams' home opener is sold out, presumably thanks to Packers fans.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Steven Jackson wants more touches after averaging 18.5 through two games. Korte: "Jackson averaged 27 touches in 2006 when he rushed for 1,528 yards and caught 90 passes for 806 yards."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are very pleased with second-year defensive end Calais Campbell. Somers: "Campbell has started only two games, but he has given strong indications that he one day could be better than Smith. And that day could come soon. Campbell, though, doesn't see it like that. He looks at his statistics and kicks himself that he has only a half-sack. He thinks of all the times the quarterback slipped from his hands."
Also from Somers: Cardinals rookie Beanie Wells is carrying a football almost everywhere he goes. The running back must donate $200 to charity every time he drops it. Teammates are encouraged to knock it loose.
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals know what they're up against when Peyton Manning visits Sunday.
The Dude in Brooklyn writes: Sando, I didn't realize you were so expert with faint praise. Your statement that the 49ers have the best defense in the division couldn't have been less enthusiastic. "Based on what we have seen," "I know they played some weak offenses," "there was a sense they were improved" ... that is not the language of a convinced man.
Fair enough. But why, Mike Sando? There is both an easy positive and negative argument for why the 49ers' defense is the best. They were statistically superior in nearly every category and did so with a crappy offense that constantly left them in bad position with three-and-outs and turnovers. Their per-play stats are top-10 or just below.
Over the course of the season, they played all the same teams except for two, so the schedule argument is bogus. If anything, the Cards should be demoted for not having to play their own offense when the rest of the division had to. The squad has a good mix of experience and youth and includes five former or current Pro Bowlers and several players that are developing quite well.
As for the negative argument ... there's almost nothing good to say about the Rams or Seahawks. I'll leave the Rams alone because they're rebuilding. Yes, the Seahawks had major injuries on offense, but the defense was as healthy as the others in the division. It was bad because it was bad. Are the additions going to be enough? How important are the personnel losses? That defense has more questions than answers and did nothing well last year.
As for the Cards, their defense was 19th despite the advantage of a fourth-ranked offense. Some say they have a good secondary, but they couldn't defend the pass all year. Is a nickel back [Bryant McFadden] and a third-rounder [Rashad Johnson] going to solve their pass-defense woes? For those who think the Cards have a good secondary, I'll leave Sando with a homework assignment that will disabuse you of your rose-tinted glasses: What was the last team to allow more passing TD's than the 2008 Cards?
Mike Sando: The Cardinals allowed 36 passing touchdowns last season. I suspect the 1981 Colts were the last team to allow more (37) in a season. Not good.
To address your broader point, we might be answering different questions. The evidence you cited was from last season. Which NFC West team had the best defense last season? The 49ers, of course, by almost any measure. Which NFC West team will have the best defense in 2009? The 49ers, probably.
Back to the Cardinals. When they were bad, they were really bad. When they were good, they were really good. The 49ers were more consistent defensively. Arizona allowed six touchdown passes to Brett Favre in a single game. Horrible. But when the Cardinals needed to control Matt Ryan and Jake Delhomme in the playoffs, they did it well. That means more than how the 49ers fared in a meaningless game against Buffalo.
The Cardinals can play with a violence and ferocity that is unmatched in the division. That is how they recovered a league-high 17 fumbles last season. The 49ers recovered six. The fumble-forcing hit Darnell Dockett put on Zak Keasey last season comes to mind. The knockout shot Adrian Wilson put on Trent Edwards was another example. Patrick Willis is the only other player in the division to inflict that type of punishment (the hit on Jets receiver Brad Smith last season comes to mind).
The problem in this division is that none of the teams can count on having a strong pass rush. The 49ers could develop one if Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson flourish in the
3-4. The Seahawks could rediscover one if Patrick Kerney gets healthy and some of their recent draft choices develop, etc. But can any team in this division truly count on its pass rush?