NFC West: Lawrence McCutcheon

Hall of Famer Barry Sanders will forever be known as an all-time great running back driven into premature retirement by his team's losing culture.

Sanders should get no sympathy from Steven Jackson.

Sanders' Lions reached the playoffs in five of his 10 seasons, posting between nine and 12 victories each time. They never won fewer than five games in a season.

Jackson's St. Louis Rams have never won more than eight games in a season. His teams have fared so poorly, in fact, that Jackson ranks last on a list of 87 top running backs ranked by team winning percentages. Chase Stuart, best known for his work at Pro Football Reference, published the list at his new site, Football Perspective.

Sanders ranked 68th.

The list considers runners with at least 5,000 yards rushing and 7,500 yards from scrimmage. The winning percentages were weighted to favor runners' most productive seasons.

"For example, if a player gained 10 percent of his [career] yards from scrimmage in 1999 and the team went 15-1 that season, then 10 percent of the running back’s weighted winning percentage would be 0.9375," Stuart explains. "This is designed to align a running back's best seasons with his team's records in those years.

"For example, Emmitt Smith played two of his 15 seasons with the Cardinals. But since he gained only 6.5 percent of his career yards from scrimmage in Arizona, the Cardinals' records those years count for only 6.5 percent -- and not 13.3 percent -- of his career weighted winning percentage."

The methodology is a little confusing at first glance, but the results make sense.

Jackson has played eight seasons, fighting off injuries and the malaise perpetual losing cultivates. He has played eight seasons without flinching. His bruising style naturally raises questions about how long Jackson might hold up physically. But it's also fair to wonder how much losing such a passionate player can withstand before deciding he's had enough.

The backs listed atop Stuart's list faced no such issues.

Former Los Angeles Rams great Lawrence McCutcheon, named to five consecutive Pro Bowls under coach Chuck Knox, tops the list with a .741 weighted winning percentage. Roger Craig, named to four Pro Bowls with San Francisco, ranks third at .723.

NFC West alums Garrison Hearst (20th), Shaun Alexander (22th), Ricky Watters (23rd) and Wendell Tyler (24th) are all at .585 and higher. But four of the six players at the bottom of the list also spent some of their careers with franchises currently aligned in the division. That includes Hall of Famers Ollie Matson and O.J. Simpson.

Silver linings: Rams vs. Saints

November, 16, 2009
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The facts: The Rams fell to 1-8 with a 28-23 home defeat to the Saints in Week 10.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • The Rams finished with 434 yards and three touchdowns. Both figures were season highs.
  • Steven Jackson rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown. He is averaging better than 100 yards per game rushing and needs only 85 yards against the Cardinals to reach 1,000 for the season. Jackson passed Lawrence McCutcheon for third on the Rams' all-time rushing list.
  • Receivers Donnie Avery and Brandon Gibson gave the Rams a badly needed boost at the position. Getting Avery healthy -- or at least healthier -- during the bye week was key. Avery set a career high with two touchdown receptions. Gibson caught seven passes for 93 yards. The yardage total was a season high for a Rams receiver. It was easy to forget that Gibson was a rookie getting substantial playing time for the first time.
  • Marc Bulger finished the game with a higher passer rating than Drew Brees.
  • Chris Long collected his second sack of the season.
  • Both starting safeties picked off passes for the Rams. Oshiomogho Atogwe's pick was his first since the season opener. He has 15 since 2007.
Looking ahead: The Rams face the Cardinals at home in Week 11.

Around the NFC West: Martz fallout

December, 31, 2008
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says Mike Martz and Mike Singletary clashed several times late in the season. You wouldn't know it from the politely worded statements each man released after Martz's firing.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Martz and 49ers president Jed York provided conflicting accounts of Martz's hiring in San Francisco. Martz expressed surprise at his firing. Background: After last season, general manager Scot McCloughan went on the record as saying Martz would not be a good fit for the job, only to have head coach Mike Nolan hire Martz anyway. Even if York didn't say anything directly to Martz, as Martz suggests, everyone knew where management stood on the matter. 

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' decision to rush into an agreement with Singletary shows the weakness of the team's current management. Signing Singletary so quickly meant the 49ers couldn't consider Mike Shanahan, an obviously superior candidate with roots in the 49ers' tradition. I'm not sure the 49ers could have landed Shanahan, but now they'll never know.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the Martz firing came down to a simple philosophical difference. Singletary wants to run the ball. Martz would prefer to throw it. Singletary was smart in making this decision now instead of a year from now, but hiring a seventh coordinator in seven seasons continues a regrettable pattern for the 49ers.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News lists former Rams coach Scott Linehan as a potential candidate to replace Martz. Under Linehan, Rams running back Steven Jackson once finished a season with 346 carries, most in franchise history since Eric Dickerson's tenure. I have not confirmed Linehan as a candidate yet, but hiring him would make sense.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals cornerback Rod Hood feels "due" to start making plays instead of allowing them. The Seahawks' Deion Branch was the most recent receiver to exploit Hood.

Also from Somers: Anquan Boldin's shoulder injury appears to be history.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' defense can't be trusted. Coordinator Clancy Pendergast says the defense was fine until the Minnesota game.

Craig Harris of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals have experienced a 15 percent increase in retail sales at the stadium, its Tempe headquarters and on its Web site this season.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the playoffs are making 37-year-old quarterback Kurt Warner feel a little younger.

Art Thiel of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says outgoing Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren remains a candidate to run an organization. And he says the Seahawks might be wise to let him run theirs at some point in the future.

Greg Johns of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer provides highlights from Holmgren's hour-long media session Tuesday. Holmgren was at peace with his decision to step away: "As we were losing games, I'd think, 'Oh man, I wish I had another shot at fixing this and righting the ship.' But I've thought long and hard now about the decision in a calm, less emotional way. And it was absolutely the right decision. That's why I script the first 15 plays, so I'm not out there at the beginning of the game all gaga."

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer quotes Holmgren on expectations for the 2009 season. Holmgren predicted fewer injuries and a better record.

Also from Farnsworth: a look into the Seahawks' free-agent future, starting with Leroy Hill.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Holmgren gets to leave the Seahawks on his own terms, a contrast from coaches in other organizations, including Shanahan in Denver.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks and the NFL were better off for Holmgren's decision to forego a career in real estate.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune looks at Holmgren's style in handling reporters, backed by examples and anecdotes from through the years.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune provides highlights from Holmgren's farewell news conference, noting that the ex-coach does not plan to serve as TV analyst during the playoffs.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlines the Rams' process for finding a new head coach. Former St. Louis players Dan Dierdorf and Marshall Faulk will serve as consultants. Bobby Beathard and Lawrence McCutcheon will take active roles in the process. Winston Moss gets the first interview. Jim Haslett will be a finalist.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams general manager Billy Devaney appears to have a good plan for finding the next head coach, a departure from form for the Rams.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com also likes the Rams' plan.

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