NFC West: Maurice Morris

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
10:00
AM ET
video
Catch us if you can.

That’s a message the Seattle Seahawks could send out to the rest of the NFC West.

It is also something the San Francisco 49ers might say to the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. But the Cardinals and Rams might have a statement of their own: We’re coming for you.

By almost everyone’s estimation, the NFC West is the best division in the NFL. It includes a Super Bowl champion in Seattle along with a team in San Francisco that, arguably, came up one play short of reaching its second consecutive Super Bowl.

It also includes a team in Arizona that won 10 games, one of which was a victory at Seattle -- the Seahawks' only home loss in 2013. And there's a team in St. Louis that won two of its last three games to finish 7-9 while playing most of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.

So the question heading into 2014 is whether the Cardinals and Rams are in position to catch the Seahawks and 49ers. Have Arizona and St. Louis closed the gap on what might be the NFL’s two best teams?

The Cardinals have been active in free agency, signing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, tight end John Carlson, receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.

Clearly, the competition in this division keeps getting better.

The four writers who cover the division for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Terry Blount in Seattle, Bill Williamson in San Francisco, Josh Weinfuss in Arizona and Nick Wagoner in St. Louis -- take a look at where things stand in the NFC West on four key topics. We also polled our Twitter followers to find how they viewed the issues.

First Down

The Cardinals have made significant moves in free agency. The Rams, aside from keeping Rodger Saffold, have mostly stood pat. Which is closer to the playoffs?


Terry Blount: This is a no-brainer for me. The Cardinals are a team on the rise with one of the NFL's best coaches in Bruce Arians. He took a 5-11 team and transformed it to 10-6 in one season. He was 9-3 at Indianapolis in 2012 while filling in for Chuck Pagano. Arizona was 7-2 in its last nine games and won three of the last four, with the only loss being 23-20 to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals could become a serious challenger to the two-team stronghold of Seattle and San Francisco. However, I do believe the Rams will have a winning season if they can hold their own in the division games.

Nick Wagoner: It's hard to evaluate this without seeing what happens in the draft, especially with the Rams having two premium picks. Even then it would be unfair to judge right away. Still, I have to go with the Cardinals. They were trending up at the end of the season and patched a big hole with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Losing Karlos Dansby was a blow, but adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a talented stable at the position makes them better. The Rams, meanwhile, are clearly counting on a whole lot of in-house improvement and a big draft. Keeping Saffold was important (and lucky), but it seems risky to pin all hopes on a leap to the playoffs on a group of young players all making a jump at the same time.

Josh Weinfuss: Arizona is the easy answer, and that's not because I cover them. The Cardinals were 10-6 last season and the first team kept out of the postseason. All the Cardinals have done this offseason is fix deficiencies and plug holes. Their offensive line got markedly better with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. Their wide receiver corps and kick return game were solidified with Ted Ginn, and they now have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with Antonio Cromartie coming on board. General manager Steve Keim looked at what went wrong in 2013 and went to work on fixes. It should put the Cardinals over the playoff hump.

Bill Williamson: It has to be Arizona. The Cardinals were so close to making the playoffs last season. They would have likely been dangerous in the postseason too. I like the way this franchise is shaping up. It seems like it is well run and well coached. The roster is also getting deep. Carson Palmer will have to be replaced sooner or later, but the Cardinals are on to something. The Rams certainly have some nice pieces and are probably the best fourth-place team in the NFL, but they aren't close to matching what Arizona has going for it.


Second Down

The Seahawks and 49ers played for the NFC title in January. Any reason to believe either won't return to the postseason?


Blount: They were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and there's no legitimate reason to think they won't be among the best in 2014. Seattle has lost 10 players who were on the Super Bowl roster, but other than wide receiver Golden Tate, none of them were on the team's priority list to keep. The 49ers move into a shiny new stadium. The only question for San Francisco is the precarious relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and team executives. Who knows what the future holds there, but it shouldn't matter on game day.

Wagoner: Aside from some debilitating injuries, it's hard to see how either team has taken a major step back. The Seahawks have lost some good players in free agency, but even those players seemingly already had replacements in place. Nobody does a better job of developing talent than Seattle. The Seahawks still have holes to patch on the offensive line and losing receiver Golden Tate is a blow, so there could be some hope the offense will regress. But the defense makes it all go, and it doesn't look like it's going to lose any of its most prized components. As for the Niners, they are the more likely of the two to take a step back, but it's hard to see them taking enough of one to fall out of the postseason. For most of their key free-agent losses they were able to quickly come up with a replacement as good or better than the player lost, and retaining Anquan Boldin says they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. Plus, they will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree ready for the season. Until proven otherwise, these two teams remain the class of the NFC and probably the NFL.

Weinfuss: The only reason either of them won't make the playoffs in 2014 is because the Cardinals or Rams will take their place. The gap between the top and bottom of the NFC West has closed significantly this offseason, making the West much like the Southeastern Conference in college football; everybody will beat up on each other. It's likely the West, if it's anything like last season, can see three teams in the playoffs -- its champion and the two wild cards. If one of the teams between Seattle and San Francisco were not to make it, it's tough, but I think Seattle might slip. The Seahawks lost a significant part of their defensive line and will be going through a Super Bowl hangover. That's risky to deal with and still make the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco will be hungry from losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.

Williamson: I believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. So it's difficult to fathom that either team won't find its way into the playoffs, barring major injuries. Arizona, though, could create an issue for the Seahawks and 49ers. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games, so both Seattle and San Francisco have to be careful or things could get tricky. In the end, I can see all three teams making the playoffs. This is the reason this division is so intriguing and so fun: Every game is critical. There is just not much room for error. Look at the 49ers last year. They went 12-4, but a 1-2 start hamstrung them. They could never fully recover despite having a great overall regular season. The same intensity will be a factor in 2014 in the NFC West.


Third Down

Will Rams quarterback Sam Bradford come back strong from an ACL injury, and what effect will he have on St. Louis having its coveted breakthrough year?


Blount: I think Bradford will be fine as far as the ACL goes, but this is a make-or-break year for him in my view. Bradford was playing pretty well before his injury last year, but the verdict still is out whether he can be an elite quarterback. He enters this season with the best supporting cast he's ever had, but playing in this division with teams that emphasize physical defensive play makes it difficult to show improvement.

Wagoner: All indications from the Rams are that Bradford's rehab is coming along well and he's on schedule to make his return in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He apparently had a clean tear of the ACL, but he has been rehabbing for a handful of months and should resume throwing soon. Bradford's healthy return means everything to the Rams' chances in 2014. Believe it or not, this is his fifth season in the NFL and, much like the team, this is the time to make some noise. The Rams attempted to open up the offense in the first quarter of 2013 with Bradford to miserable results. They switched to a more run-oriented attack in Week 5 and the offense performed better. Bradford also played better as the run game opened up play-action opportunities in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Rams choose to go a bit more balanced with Bradford at the controls or if they continue at the same run-heavy pace they played with backup Kellen Clemens. Either way, Bradford's contract has two years left on it. If he wants a lucrative extension, this is the time to prove he's worth it.

Weinfuss: Short answer, yes, Bradford will come back strong. Just look at how he started in 2013. He was on pace for a massive year statistically before he got hurt. If he can pick up where he left off, Bradford will return with a bang and show he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As we've seen, a top-tier quarterback can be the difference between sitting idle in the standings and having a breakthrough year. With the talent that surrounds the Rams, with tight end Jared Cook, running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, among others, Bradford may singlehandedly help close the gap between the Rams and the top of the NFC West.

Williamson: I have to be honest: I'm not a big Sam Bradford guy. I think he's just OK. Just OK doesn't cut it in this division, especially considering the defenses he has to play six times a season in the NFC West. He's serviceable, but he's not the answer. Given the state of this division, I cannot envision a scenario where Bradford is the reason the Rams become the class of the NFC West. I think they can get by with Bradford for the short term, but the Rams are going to have to start thinking about the future at this position much earlier than expected when Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft.


Fourth Down

If you had to start a team with either Seahawks QB Russell Wilson or 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whom would you choose?


Blount: You must be kidding. Give me Wilson every time, every day in every situation. Yes, Kaepernick is 5 inches taller than Wilson. Is there really anyone left who thinks Wilson's lack of height matters? Wilson also is at his best in pressure situations. He lives for it. And he is a more polished person on the field, and off it, than Kaepernick. That's not an observation. It's a fact. But this isn't a rip on Kaepernick. You would be hard-pressed to find any 25-year-old as polished as Wilson. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, and probably will soon. But if I'm starting a team, whether it is in football or almost any other life endeavor, I'll take Wilson without a doubt.

Wagoner: Wilson. For those of us covering other teams in the division, it's hard not to admire what he brings to the table. He presents himself as the consummate professional, and even opponents praise him for his work habits, intelligence and ability. He's already got the Super Bowl ring, and it's easy to see how he could add a few more. He's not all the way there in terms of his potential either, and it's probably safe to assume he's just going to keep getting better as his career goes along. That's nothing against Kaepernick, who is a unique talent in his own right, but there aren't many young quarterbacks in the league worth choosing over Wilson.

Weinfuss: Russell Wilson would be my pick, mainly because of his poise and maturity behind center. Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly talented, but I get the sense he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. He's tough to bring down, especially in the open field, but when he's pressured in the pocket, Kaepernick seems to panic and I wouldn't want that in a quarterback. I also think Wilson, despite his physical stature, is built to last. He's heady enough to stay out of harm's way, and his poise in the huddle will go a long way in leading a team.

Williamson: I'd take Kaepernick. I know it's a tough sell right now, since Wilson's team has beaten Kaepernick and the 49ers three of the past four times they've met, including the NFC title game, and the fact that Wilson has won a Super Bowl. I respect the value of Super Bowl wins and believe quarterback is the most critical position in sports. I'm sure I will smell like a homer with the Kaepernick pick. But moving forward, I just think Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. I think he can take over games more than Wilson can at a higher rate. Players built like Kaepernick and as athletic as Kaepernick just don't exist. He is special. He works extremely hard at his craft and is well coached. I'd take him, and I wouldn't look back. This isn't a knock on Wilson. He is proven and is going to be great. But if I'm starting a team, I'm taking Kaepernick, and I bet more general managers would agree than would disagree.

 
Aaron from Chicago wants to know why the Seattle Seahawks keep acquiring personnel from his favorite team, the Minnesota Vikings.

Cornerback Antoine Winfield was the latest addition to the "Minnesota West" roster in Seattle.

"Ever since we controversially signed Steve Hutchinson from them," Aaron writes, "it has seemed as though the Seahawks go out of their way to snatch whatever Vikings they can to stick it to us. It started with them signing Nate Burleson, then Sidney Rice and Heath Farwell, Darell Bevell and Tarvaris Jackson (for whatever reason). They even outbid us for T.J. Houshmanzadeh a few years back. They signed Ryan Longwell at the end of this past season. Obviously, it has continued with Percy Harvin and now Winfield."

Sando: It's a remarkable pattern, but there's likely no revenge factor. The people running the Seahawks during the Hutchinson controversy are long gone from the organization. They were involved in adding Burleson and Houshmandzadeh, but they had nothing to do with the Seahawks' more recent deals for Rice, Farwell, Bevell, Jackson, Harvin or Winfield.

Bevell's hiring as the Seahawks' offensive coordinator stands out as a factor behind the team's decisions to sign Rice and trade for Harvin.

John Schneider's presence as the Seahawks' general manager since 2010 provides a strong link to the NFC North in general. Schneider, after spending much of his career with the Green Bay Packers, played a role in Seattle adding former NFC North players such as Breno Giacomini, Will Blackmon, Cliff Avril, Steven Hauschka, Brett Swain, Frank Omiyale and others. Also, Schneider and Bevell were together in Green Bay. However, Seattle has added many more players without ties to the Vikings or the NFC North.

For a while, the Detroit Lions signed or otherwise acquired a long list of players with Seahawks ties. There were some connections between the organizations -- former Lions coach Rod Marinelli and former Seahawks GM Tim Ruskell shared a history with Tampa Bay, for instance -- but some of the overlap defied explanation.

Tyler Polumbus, Burleson, Will Heller, Rob Sims, Lawrence Jackson, Maurice Morris, Julian Peterson, Trevor Canfield, Marquand Manuel, Kole Heckendorf, Kevin Hobbs, Logan Payne, Chuck Darby, Keary Colbert, Billy McMullen, Travis Fisher, Cory Redding, John Owens, Joel Filani, T.J. Duckett, Kevin Kasper, Etric Pruitt and Mike Williams were among the players to play for both organizations.

Update: The Burleson signing did have a retaliatory aspect, as ZippyWasBanned noted in the comments section. Seattle signed him to an offer sheet featuring "poison pills" similar to the ones that helped the Vikings land Hutchinson.
Strong safety Adrian Wilson cast his recent contract extension as a move to finish his career with the Arizona Cardinals.

Jackson
A salary reduction for 2012 was also part of the agreement.

Along similar lines, I'd like to know what the St. Louis Rams' Steven Jackson has in mind when he suggests an extension could be in the works for him as well.

Protecting the interests of all parties can be a challenge when great players are nearing the latter stages of their careers. Jackson, like Wilson, would ideally finish his career with St. Louis. He has plenty to offer in the short term, but there's no reason for the Rams to make a meaningful commitment beyond Jackson's current deal.

Jackson is scheduled to earn $7 million in 2012 and again in 2013, the final two years of his contract. He'll be 31 years old when the deal expires. How much longer than that does Jackson plan to play? How much longer than that will the Rams want to pay him? How long can Jackson remain productive?

The market for 31-year-old halfbacks barely exists. Jackson might become an exception, but the Rams should not realistically bet that will be the case.

NFL teams entered Week 1 last season with seven halfbacks age 31 or older at that time: Ricky Williams, Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson, Chester Taylor, Larry Johnson, Maurice Morris and Derrick Ward. Those players combined for 16 regular-season starts. Retirement awaits some of them now.

Jackson has plenty to offer in the shorter term. Unlike many high-profile players, he has played well enough to justify the high salaries awaiting him late in his contract. His current deal seems appropriate for what Jackson has to offer and what the future probably holds -- a couple more good seasons for the Rams' all-time rushing leader.
Torry Holt's formal retirement from the NFL -- as a St. Louis Ram, fittingly -- will touch off the usual discussions about Hall of Fame worthiness.

In the meantime, consider this an appreciation.

Holt was the NFC West wide receiver opponents feared most during the first five or six years following divisional realignment in 2002. He could beat defenses with his speed and then make spectacular, seemingly impossible plays on the ball against coverage.

Terrell Owens left the division following the 2003 season. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin were still ascending. Holt's teammate in St. Louis, Isaac Bruce, remained formidable, but Holt was increasingly the dominant force.

From 2000 through 2007, Holt strung together eight consecutive seasons with at least 81 receptions and 1,188 yards. That included two 1,600-yard seasons and four others with at least 1,300 yards. He averaged 19.9 yards per reception in 2000 and 106 yards per game in 2003, figures that led the NFL in those seasons.

My previous job as a Seattle Seahawks beat reporter provided a first-hand view for some of Holt's finest moments. His eight catches for 154 yards and three touchdowns against Seattle during a 2006 shootout at the Edward Jones Dome stands out. The Rams trailed 27-21 with three minutes remaining when Leonard Little forced a Maurice Morris fumble. Less than a minute later, Holt's 67-yard touchdown catch had the Rams in the lead.

Safety Michael Boulware had deflected the pass and nearly intercepted it. Holt somehow gathered the ball, a deep heave from Marc Bulger, and ran into the end zone for the go-ahead score.

"Until he caught it, I thought I was catching it," Boulware said at the time. "I'm still kind of ... I can't believe that he caught it."

Holt was a Seahawk killer in those days. He finished his career with 91 receptions for 1,247 yards and eight touchdowns in 16 games against Seattle. But Holt did not discriminate. He lit up Arizona with 101 receptions for 1,417 yards and nine scores in 15 games. Holt had 116 receptions for 1,542 yards and seven touchdowns in 21 games against San Francisco, a team he faced in the NFC West before and after realignment.

Purely by coincidence, I cued up that 2006 Seahawks-Rams game on Tuesday night when my kids asked if they could watch an old game on their DVD player before bedtime.

We watched Holt dominate, at one point catching a 9-yard scoring pass against Marcus Trufant before Trufant could even turn to locate the ball. After a while, my youngest son, 7, asked whether Holt was in the Hall of Fame. The question was premature, as Holt will not be eligible for another five years. But the case for him is a strong one.

Holt had more receptions and receiving yards than any player from 2000 to 2009. He was fifth in receiving touchdowns during that time, a respectable total that suffered because the Rams had other options. He won one Super Bowl and played in another.

The Rams have struggled to replace Holt in recent seasons. They hold the sixth pick in the 2012 draft and could select Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, if available. Holt, the sixth player chosen in 1999, set the bar high.

2011 49ers Week 6: Five observations

October, 25, 2011
10/25/11
5:47
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Five things I noticed while watching the San Francisco 49ers defeat the Detroit Lions, 25-19, in their most recent game:
  • Which one is Suh again? Corey Williams, not Ndamukong Suh, was the Detroit defensive tackle posing the most problems. That was the word from a scout I spoke with earlier in the season. It sounded like a contrary opinion, but after charting the 49ers' handling of Suh through the first half of this game, nothing much about him stood out. Of the 28 first-half plays I charted, Suh was not on the field for eight of them. He made one play on the remaining 20 snaps, shedding 49ers guard Adam Snyder to tackle Frank Gore for a short gain. That was it. The 49ers assigned a true double-team to Suh one time in the half. On one play, tight end Delanie Walker surprised Suh with a wham block to free Gore for a 47-yard gain. Walker sealed Suh with a similar block to spring Gore's 55-yard run in the third quarter. The Lions have allowed three 100-yard rushers since Oct. 10.
  • Talent, scheme enable key safety. Aldon Smith's talent came into play on the safety he collected midway through the second quarter. The scheme was another factor. The Lions lined up with three wide receivers. A tight end and running back flanked quarterback Matthew Stafford in the shotgun. The 49ers' Ahmad Brooks and Ray McDonald were down linemen on the left side of the defensive line. Defensive end Justin Smith stood upright about 2-3 yards off center Dominic Raiola, with linebacker NaVorro Bowman behind him. Linebacker Patrick Willis lurked behind Brooks and McDonald, across from the tight end in the backfield, Brandon Pettigrew. Aldon Smith leaned forward from a two-point stance over the left tackle, Jeff Backus. At the snap, Aldon Smith rushed into Backus, then disengaged from him with great suddenness, sidestepping the veteran tackle and rushing toward Stafford while Backus stood there without recourse. Raiola appeared acutely aware of Justin Smith before the snap. Not long before, the 49ers' Pro Bowl end had thrown Raiola to the ground.
  • Whitner times up his blitz perfectly. Veteran safety Donte Whitner gives the 49ers a strong presence against the run. He was 10-plus yards off the ball before rushing into the backfield on a second-and-3 play. Whitner crept toward the line of scrimmage before the snap, but he was still seven yards off the ball when the play began. He knifed through a gap in the line and the Lions did not account for him. The run was to the opposite side, but Whitner was in the backfield quickly enough to bring down Maurice Morris for a 1-yard gain. Whitner latched onto Morris and brought him down decisively with an alligator roll. The 49ers' defense is playing with attitude.
  • 49ers' linebackers due for interceptions. The 49ers have eight interceptions this season, but none by linebackers. That figures to change given how close Bowman, Willis, Brooks and Aldon Smith have been to picking off passes. They all had chances against the Lions. They'll have more chances if they keep playing at a high level.
  • Crabtree's blocking shows up again. Receiver Michael Crabtree was sprinting some 50 yards downfield on Gore's 55-yard run when he dipped his shoulder and drilled unsuspecting Lions safety Louis Delmas. The block wasn't really necessary at that point because cornerback Chris Houston was about to make the tackle, but it showed Crabtree's mentality. He's been blocking well all season.

Making it through a 49ers observations item without mentioning Alex Smith stood out to me. I think it reflected the degree to which the 49ers played this game without relying on him heavily, at least until the final two minutes.

NFC West High Energy Player of the Week

September, 28, 2010
9/28/10
3:00
PM ET
NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 3.

The Seattle Seahawks saw little risk in sending the 139th choice in the 2010 NFL draft to the New York Jets for injured running back Leon Washington.

[+] EnlargeSeattle running back Leon Washington
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireSeattle running back Leon Washington had two kickoff returns for touchdowns last Sunday.
They could have drafted a running back -- the Jets used the choice in question for fullback John Conner -- or they could take their chances on Washington's recovery from career-threatening compound leg fractures.

They took their chances and Washington rewarded them with 101- and 99-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns during a 27-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Week 3.

Washington needed only three games to rank first in Seahawks history for most touchdowns on kickoff returns (Josh Wilson, Nate Burleson, Maurice Morris, Charlie Rogers, Steve Broussard, Jon Vaughn, James Jefferson and Zachary Dixon had one apiece). Washington already owned the Jets' record for most kickoffs returned for touchdowns. He's the only player to hold that record for two franchises, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

The Seahawks have made more roster moves than any NFL team since last season. Coach Pete Carroll reflected on this one Monday.

"The obvious guy that shows up as a touchdown maker is Leon coming on board through the trade," he said.

Shock! Another Seahawks-Lions deal

August, 31, 2010
8/31/10
1:48
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The Seattle-Detroit pipeline keeps pumping, albeit with less-than-spectacular results this time.

The latest move between the teams is particularly chuckle-worthy (surely there must be some reason these teams keep hooking up, but I can't find any hard ties). The Lions recently won a waiver-claim battle with Seattle over former Denver Broncos offensive lineman Tyler Polumbus. The Lions held Polumbus for a few days, then traded him to the Seahawks, presumably for something of minimal or even conditional value. Polumbus and Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates were with the Broncos in 2008.

The Seahawks and Lions have made multiple trades and shared multiple players spanning multiple coaching staffs and front offices in recent years.

Among the players to spend time on both rosters: Polumbus, Nate Burleson, Will Heller, Rob Sims, Lawrence Jackson, Maurice Morris, Julian Peterson, Trevor Canfield, Marquand Manuel, Kole Heckendorf, Kevin Hobbs, Logan Payne, Chuck Darby, Keary Colbert, Billy McMullen, Travis Fisher, Cory Redding, John Owens, Jon Kitna (OK, not recently in Seattle), Joel Filani, T.J. Duckett, Kevin Kasper, Ike Charlton (again, not recently in Seattle), Etric Pruitt, Mike Williams and probably a few others.

The market for Oshiomogho Atogwe appears undefined roughly 12 hours into the former Rams safety's life as a free agent.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said his team isn't interested. Rumblings from Miami and San Francisco suggest those teams aren't suitors. The Redskins do not sound particularly interested.

Of course, Miami wasn't considered the most likely destination for receiver Brandon Marshall before the Dolphins acquired him, as one acquaintance noted. Stuff could be swirling beneath the surface in the absence of visible evidence.

ESPN.com's John Clayton pointed to the Detroit Lions as a potential suitor last week. The Lions seem to love collecting former NFC West players. How many do they currently employ? Thanks for asking.

Maurice Morris, Nate Burleson, Rob Sims, Julian Peterson, Bryant Johnson, Shaun Hill, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jonathan Wade, Marquand Manuel, Will Heller, Roy Schuening, Jahi Word-Daniels and Trevor Canfield come to mind.

The Lions have also collected former NFC West head coaches, from Steve Mariucci to Scott Linehan to Mike Martz.


Wrap-up: Cardinals 31, Lions 24

December, 20, 2009
12/20/09
4:21
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The Cardinals' performance against the Lions did nothing to answer any questions still lingering from the team's 24-9 defeat at San Francisco.

At least they won. Teammates swarmed Anquan Boldin after the receiver scored the winning touchdown, celebrating as if they had just won the NFC West title. And that might be the result, pending the 49ers' outcome at Philadelphia. But there was little else for the Cardinals to feel good about during this game.

Pass protection was too often shaky for the second week in a row, putting Kurt Warner at heightened risk for injury. The passing game wasn't as efficient as expected (the Lions' 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter kept Detroit in the game). The Cardinals' defense could not stop Maurice Morris from topping 100 yards rushing for only the second time since Week 10 of the 2006 season.

Arizona played down to the level of an inferior opponent, rallying only when absolutely necessary.

Beanie Wells' continued emergence stood out as one of the few positives for Arizona. He ran hard and ran well against the 49ers in Week 14. He topped 100 yards rushing Sunday for the first time in the NFL. Wells left the game late after a high-impact collision. If healthy, Wells promises to give the Cardinals a needed dimension on offense. He and Tim Hightower can form an effective tandem.

But the passing game and defense still must play better for the Cardinals to approach their potential. The team could use a better performance on those fronts over the next two weeks, even if the division race is settled before then.

The Seahawks, seeking to salvage their season at Arizona in Week 10, last won a road game against the Cardinals on Nov. 6, 2005.

Shaun Alexander carried 23 times for 173 yards and two touchdowns during a 33-19 Seattle victory at Sun Devil Stadium. The Seahawks, headed to Super Bowl XL after that season, picked off Kurt Warner three times and sacked him four times.

A couple things about these teams have changed since that game. I had some fun sifting through those 2005 rosters.



Players no longer with Seattle

Offense (20): Bobby Engram, Steve Hutchinson, Robbie Tobeck, Chris Gray, Joe Jurevicius, Jerheme Urban, Mack Strong, Shaun Alexander, D.J. Hackett, Maurice Morris, Leonard Weaver, Floyd Womack, Ryan Hannam, Jerramy Stevens, Peter Warrick, David Greene, Wayne Hunter, Darrell Jackson, Itula Mili, Josh Scobey.

Defense (18): Bryce Fisher, Chuck Darby, Marcus Tubbs, Grant Wistrom, Jamie Sharper, Kelly Herndon, Michael Boulware, Marquand Manual, Jimmy Williams, John Howell, Niko Koutouvides, Kevin Bentley, Isaiah Kacyvenski, Joe Tafoya, Rocky Bernard, Etric Pruitt, Rodney Bailey, Andre Dyson.

Specialists (3): Josh Brown, Tom Rouen, J.P. Darche.

Players still with Seattle

Offense (6): Walter Jones (injured reserve), Sean Locklear, Matt Hasselbeck, Seneca Wallace, Chris Spencer, Ray Willis.

Defense (6): Jordan Babineaux, Craig Terrill, D.D. Lewis, Lofa Tatupu (IR), Leroy Hill, Marcus Trufant.




Players no longer with Arizona

Offense (23): Bryant Johnson, Leonard Davis, Nick Leckey, Alex Stepanovich, Oliver Ross, Eric Edwards, Marcel Shipp, Adam Bergen, J.J. Arrington, Josh McCown, John Navarre, Reggie Newhouse, LeRon McCoy, Fred Wakefield, James Jackson, Obafemi Ayanbadejo, Harold Morrow, Jarrod Baxter, Adam Haayer, J.J. Moses, Elton Brown, Teyo Johnson, Reggie Swinton.

Defense (16): Langston Moore, Ross Kolodziej, James Darling, Robert Tate, Robert Griffith, David Macklin, Antonio Cochran, Darryl Blackstock, Orlando Huff, Eric Green, Antonio Smith, Lamont Reid, Quentin Harris, Isaac Keys, Lance Mitchell, Aaron Francisco.

Specialists (2): Scott Player, Nathan Hodel.

Players still with Arizona

Offense (5): Reggie Wells, Larry Fitzgerald, Kurt Warner, Jeremy Bridges, Anquan Boldin.

Defense (6): Chike Okeafor, Darnell Dockett, Bernard Berry, Karlos Dansby, Adrian Wilson, Antrel Rolle.

Specialists (1): Neil Rackers.

Note: Thanks to spaumi10 for noticing that Aaron Francisco and Lance Mitchell were initially listed on offense. There was a little cutting and pasting involved with this entry. Missed those two. Thanks!
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Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, Floyd Womack, Jerheme Urban, Leonard Davis, Itula Mili, Joe Tafoya, Wayne Hunter, Josh Scobey, Matt Hasselbeck, Aaron Francisco, Mack Strong, Bryant Johnson, Jerramy Stevens, Larry Fitzgerald, Leroy HIll, Chike Okeafor, Darryl Blackstock, J.P. Darche, John Navarre, D.D. Lewis, Joe Jurevicius, Chris Gray, Lofa Tatupu, Ray Willis, Darrell Jackson, John Howell, Robbie Tobeck, Elton Brown, David Macklin, Marcus Trufant, Leonard Weaver, Seneca Wallace, Kevin Bentley, Karlos Dansby, Oliver Ross, Eric Green, Marcus Tubbs, Nick Leckey, Kurt Warner, Antonio Smith, Josh McCown, Jordan Babineaux, Neil Rackers, Sean Locklear, David Greene, J.J. Arrington, Maurice Morris, Bryce Fisher, Scott Player, Adrian Wilson, Anquan Boldin, Marcel Shipp, Etric Pruitt, Chuck Darby, Antrel Rolle, Niko Koutouvides, Michael Boulware, Andre Dyson, Isaiah Kacyvenski, Bobby Engram, LeRon McCoy, Grant Wistrom, Shaun Alexander, Craig Terrill, Darnell Dockett, D.J. Hackett, Reggie Wells, Chris Spencer, Alex Stepanovich, Jimmy Williams, Tom Rouen, Lance Mitchell, Nathan Hodel, Josh Brown, Rocky Bernard, Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson, Jeremy Bridges, Ryan Hannam, Peter Warrick, Jamie Sharper, Kelly Herndon, Marquand Manual, Rodney Bailey, Eric Edwards, Adam Bergen, Reggie Newhouse, Fred Wakefield, James Jackson, Obafemi Ayanbadejo, Harold Morrow, Jarrod Baxter, Adam Haayer, J.J. Moses, Teyo Johnson, Reggie Swinton, Langston Moore, Ross Kolodziej, James Darling, Robert Tate, Robert Griffith, Antonio Cochran, Orlando Huff, Lamont Reid, Quentin Harris, Isaac Keys, Bernard Berry

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

So, Julian Peterson, did having a couple other ex-Seahawks in Detroit help ease your transition to the Lions?

"Come on, man," Peterson told reporters. "I've been playing 10 years. You think I need somebody to hold my hand? [Laughs.] I mean, no, not at all. I’m glad that they’re here, they’re good players [Maurice Morris and Will Heller], but I didn’t need them to hold my hand for support."

Another reminder that this is the NFL and not high school ball.

Seahawks' weakness: Running back

June, 9, 2009
6/09/09
10:30
AM ET

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

The Seattle Seahawks need to strengthen their ground game. New Seahawks head coach Jim Mora Jr. and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp had T.J. Duckett in their backfield when they all were Atlanta Falcons. Still, loyalty should go only so far.

Scouts Inc.: Weaknesses
AFC: N | S | E | W
NFC: N | S | W
Last season with the Seahawks, Duckett converted 26 of 62 carries into first downs. Duckett rushed for eight touchdowns, but on those 62 carries, he managed a measly 172 yards for an average of 2.8 yards per carry. Granted, in short-yardage situations, runners are not going to often break off long runs, but 2.8 yards per carry is dreadful. Duckett is extremely one-dimensional. He is just a big, strong guy who can get a needed yard. Nothing more, nothing less.

Over the past five seasons, Duckett has 15 receptions. He rarely makes tacklers miss. Plus, even though he has been a successful short-yardage runner, he runs without a great forward lean. For being such a supposed big bruiser, Duckett has shown little ability to carry the load. In 2008, he had one game with more than eight carries. In fact, he only eclipsed a pair of carries in eight of the 16 games he played in last season.

 
  Joe Nicholson/US Presswire
  Julius Jones is the likely candidate to receive the majority of the carries for the Seahawks in 2009.

In 2009, it appears that Duckett is in line for more carries, but I really can't see why. Then again, Seattle just doesn't have many other enticing options to carry the rock. Maurice Morris factored in last season and overall, he was a good-enough complementary option. But in reality, that is what Julius Jones is as well. I will also contend that Morris had the better season.

Jones probably will get the bulk of the carries. While Duckett gets into the end zone with regularity, that is not something Jones does well.

Jones has a lifetime rushing average of 4.0 yards per carry. He is a decent receiver. His power is OK, as is his vision and elusiveness. In just about every way, he is exceedingly average.

When comparing him to the other top option runners around the league, he is flat out subpar. Jones isn't a bell cow runner who can carry the load and put Seattle's opponent away in a close game. He has been around the league now for some time and no longer has much upside to his game. Jones' tools are not bad, but they are only getting worse instead of better. He is what he is. And that isn't good enough.

Justin Forsett has shown signs of being able to stick at this level, but he clearly is not a No. 1 option. At best, he is a change of pace or specialty player.

Running backs are easy to come by. Of all the NFL positions, it could be the easiest one to find a suitable option. Seattle had a fine draft but did nothing to enhance this spot. It is certainly conceivable that they bring in a veteran off the street (Warrick Dunn, perhaps?) who has had success in this league, but right now we can only analyze who is on the roster. There isn't a No. 1 option to be found on this squad.

Seattle still is the team that I am picking to be the most improved in the league this season. If you are going to be weak at one spot, running back isn't such a terrible choice. The Seahawks could use many three-wide receiver, one-tight end sets and the onus of this offense should be placed on Matt Hasselbeck, not their core of runners.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The first stage in the process of determining compensatory choices for the 2010 draft passed quietly with the June 1 deadline for NFL teams to make qualifying offers to unrestricted free agents. No team extended an offer to a UFA candidate. That means no additional UFA signings this offseason will influence compensatory choices.

The compensatory formula is complex. AdamJT13 has come close to solving it. Basically, the NFL awards additional draft choices to teams that lost free agents more valuable than the free agents teams signed. Values are determined by salaries and on-field contributions.

I had pulled a list of free agents NFC West teams added and lost when I noticed AdamJT13 had already done it on his blog. He notes that it's not yet known whether NFL teams extended qualifying offers to any UFAs. I can provide a small assist here by confirming that no teams extended qualifying offers to any UFAs.

A team-by-team look at the early compensatory picture in the NFC West:
Arizona: The Cardinals added two UFAs from other teams and lost four. They paid $5 million per year to cornerback Bryant McFadden. They lost defensive end Antonio Smith to a deal worth $7.1 million per season. How much those players play and at what level they perform could prove influential. And if former Cardinals cornerback Eric Green enjoys a bounce-back season with the Dolphins, that could improve Arizona's compensatory ledger.

St. Louis: The Rams do not appear to be in strong position in the compensatory race. Center Jason Brown, added from the Ravens at $7.5 million per season, should more than cancel out the Rams' three UFA losses (offensive linemen Brett Romberg, Nick Leckey and Brandon Gorin). The Rams also added Kyle Boller, James Butler and Billy Bajema.

San Francisco: The 49ers also do not appear to be in strong position in the compensatory race. Additions Brandon Jones, Marvel Smith, Demetric Evans and Moran Norris could play quite a bit. The players San Francisco lost -- Bryant Johnson, Ronald Fields, J.T. O'Sullivan, Donald Strickland, Bajema and Sean Ryan -- appear unlikely to cancel out the additions.

Seattle: I would like to hear AdamJT13's analysis on the Seahawks' compensatory situation. The team spent $8 million per season for receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and nearly $4.4 million per season for defensive tackle Colin Cole. The team lost defensive tackle Rocky Bernard ($4 million), running back Maurice Morris ($2.1 million), fullback Leonard Weaver (nearly $1.8 million), receiver Bobby Engram ($1.25 million) and offensive lineman Floyd Womack ($1 million) among its seven departures.

AdamJT13 was good about helping out when I asked for his input earlier this year. Here's hoping we hear from him again.
Position ARI SF STL SEA
QB
4 3 4 3
RB 7 5 6 4
WR 8 7 8 10
TE 5 3 5 4
OL 10 11 10 11
DL 11 6 11 11
LB 7 9 7 6
DB 12 11 12 11
ST 4 5 3 5
Totals
68 60 66 65
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The newly updated roided-out rosters are available for download after growing to include Kyle Boller, Laurent Robinson and a few smaller changes.

With Boller signed, the Rams became the sixth team in the league with four quarterbacks. Arizona also has four. The 49ers and Seahawks are among 22 teams with three quarterbacks. Dallas, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Denver have two apiece.

Boller received a $1.25 million salary and a $250,000 roster bonus as part of his one-year deal. The situations for some other backup quarterbacks in the division do not compare because two of them -- Matt Leinart in Arizona and possibly Alex Smith in San Francisco -- lost the starting job after entering the league as first-round draft choices.

In Seattle, Seneca Wallace is scheduled to earn $1.75 million in base salary. He received a $1.6 million signing bonus with the deal he renegotiated before the 2007 season.

In looking at rosters, the Seahawks are light at running back. They have only four on their roster after watching Maurice Morris and Leonard Weaver depart in free agency. Former Raiders fullback Justin Griffith appears to be a candidate to sign after the draft. He has been recovering from a knee injury.

The chart shows all active players and unsigned franchise players. Seattle has only five linebackers without Leroy Hill, one reason the team listed Kelly Poppinga and Shane Simmons as tryout players this week. Both are practicing with the team on a tryout basis.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

A quick look at 53-man rosters from Feb. 1, date of Super Bowl XLIII, provides a reference point for seeing how NFC West teams have changed so far this offseason.

I'll conclude with Seattle.

Gone from the Seahawks' 53-man roster and injured reserve list in the 58 days since the Super Bowl (12):

Offense

Charlie Frye, QB
Koren Robinson, WR
Maurice Morris, RB
Leonard Weaver, FB
Steve McKinney, C
Floyd Womack, OL
Bobby Engram, WR
Will Heller, TE

Defense

Howard Green, DT
Julian Peterson, LB
Rocky Bernard, DT

Special teams

Jeff Robinson, LS

(Read full post)

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