NFC West: Miami Dolphins

Arizona-to-Miami pipeline about to gush?

February, 27, 2010
2/27/10
5:09
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Editor's note: This item first appeared on the AFC East blog.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Arizona Cardinals general manager Rod Graves made some comments at the NFL scouting combine that should catch the attention of Dolfans.

Graves spoke about three Cardinals the Miami Dolphins could use: receiver Anquan Boldin, linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Antrel Rolle.

Boldin is under contract, but the Cardinals could trade him.

Graves fielded offers for Boldin last year, but wasn't motivated to deal him. This offseason should be different. Boldin is entering the final year of his contract and practically has begged the Cardinals to trade him for a year.

"Our approach with Anquan is really the same as it was last year," Graves said. "We will look at all the options and exploring and ultimately doing what is best for the team. From our perspective, nothing has changed. We still view Anquan as a valuable member of our football team, and we will weigh the options through the offseason and do what is best for our team."

As for Rolle, the Cardinals are hoping to work out a new contract. He's due a $4 million roster bonus next week with a base salary of $8.1 million. They might release him instead.

"We're going to try hard to get a contract in place with him before we have to make a decision about his contract," Graves said. "If not, we will continue to work with him and treat him as if he is a free agent we are pursuing.

"We've always been under the impression Antrel wanted to remain an Arizona Cardinal," Graves said. "We have been able to develop him and we have seen him develop into an outstanding player and we want to keep that relationship going.

"We're not looking to lose quality players, but again, all of those decisions have to make sense to us from a team standpoint. Obviously, he is a top priority."

Dansby's situation is much different. He will hit free agency on Friday.

Dansby would fill one of the Dolphins' primary needs at inside linebacker and listed the Dolphins among the handful of teams he would like to play for. He led the Cardinals with 113 tackles and recorded one sack, five tackles for losses, one interception and one forced fumble.

Graves sounded resigned to the fact Dansby would be playing elsewhere in 2010.

"We'd like to have Karlos back as a member of our football team, but it has to be a situation that makes sense for us," Graves said. "We have a lot of areas to address, and it has to be a situation that fits for us. We can't keep them all.

"Obviously we will come in with 53 players. I don't mean to be short about that, but we hope to replace him with equal quality or better."

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Seahawks owner Paul Allen ranked 32nd on Forbes' annual billionaires' list despite losing 36 percent of his fortune over the past year, according to the magazine.

The Dolphins' Stephen Ross ranked second among NFL owners at No. 78.

The magazine estimates Allen's holdings at $10.5 billion. That wealth is not in cash, of course, but the estimate represents nearly 82.7 times the $127 million salary-cap limit for each NFL team.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

The difference between a winner and a loser rarely looks as blatant as it did Dec. 21 in Foxborough, Mass. The Arizona Cardinals had a better chance dodging the falling snow than they did disastrous plays against the New England Patriots.

The Cardinals certainly didn't look like a Super Bowl team that wintry afternoon. They looked like playoff frauds while the Patriots slapped them around 47-7.

With that, Arizona completed its enigmatic tour against the AFC East.

The NFC West and AFC East were cross-conference opponents this year, pitting one of the weakest divisions against one of the most competitive.

Twice Arizona looked like an elite club. Twice it looked like a team that didn't belong in the playoffs, let alone capable of a Super Bowl run.

Week 2 vs. Miami Dolphins, 31-10 W

What it meant for the Cardinals: An impressive showing, the Cardinals handed the AFC East champs their worst regular-season loss.

After a so-so performance in the season opener, Kurt Warner gave the NFL the first glimpse of what the Cardinals' offense could do. He completed 19 of 24 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin had six receptions apiece for 153 and 140 yards.

What it meant for the Dolphins: Such a thrashing and a 0-2 start had Dolfans dreading another year like their 1-15 campaign. But the loss jolted the Dolphins and, out of desperation for something to stunt a downward spiral, they introduced their Wildcat offense the next week at New England for a season-changing blowout victory.

Week 4 at New York Jets, 56-35 L

What it meant for the Cardinals: Although the final score made it look like the Cardinals' defense was abysmal, seven turnovers (three interceptions, four fumbles) set up the Jets like they were in a college-overtime format. The Jets recorded five sacks.

The only positive spin was their ability to battle back from a 34-0 halftime deficit to get within 13 points in the third quarter. The Cardinals slipped to 2-2 with the loss and, while Warner's 472-yard day was remarkable, looked nothing like NFC contenders.

A vicious hit by Jets safety Eric Smith broke Boldin's face and raised concerns of how the Cardinals' offense would cope without him. The Cardinals won twice without him to reinforce they were a team worth watching.

What it meant for the Jets: After a 1-2 start, the record-setting victory sent the Jets on a scalding stretch in which they won seven out of eight games to become a fashionable Super Bowl pick. Anybody wondering if Brett Favre had anything left to give had to be won over by his performance: 24-of-34 for 289 yards and a personal-best six touchdowns. Little did we know ...

Week 5 vs. Buffalo Bills, 41-17 W

What it meant for the Cardinals: They rebounded against a team that was gaining favor as an AFC contender. The Bills were 4-0, but the Cardinals smashed them apart to rise above .500 for good.

Warner continued to generate MVP buzz by completing 33 of 42 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Arizona's defense was brilliant with four takeaways and five sacks.

What it meant for the Bills: Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson crashed through the line and delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit that concussed Bills quarterback Trent Edwards. The collision might have altered Buffalo's course 180 degrees. After their bye, Edwards started the next game against the San Diego Chargers and was outstanding, but then he fell apart in a nauseating stretch of seven losses in eight games.

Week 16 at New England Patriots, 47-7 L

What it meant for the Cardinals: The defeat was meaningless in the sense Arizona already had locked up a first-round home playoff game, but the damage to their confidence was potentially ruinous. This was their low point of the season, and the playoffs were starting in two weeks. But it served as a wake-up call.

The Cardinals already had clinched the NFC West, and when they stepped off the bus at Gillette Stadium they saw miserable conditions -- a combination of cold, wind and freezing rain. Mentally, the Cardinals stayed on the bus.

Warner was 6-of-8 for 30 yards before giving way to Matt Leinart. The Cardinals rushed for 44 yards. They had the ball for a measly 21:25.

What it meant for the Patriots: Their fans still point at this game as an example of postseason injustice. The Patriots pulverized a playoff team but had to stay home in January. The Cardinals qualified with a 9-7 record because they won their division, while the Patriots became only the second 11-win team since the NFL-AFL merger not to get in.

Matt Cassel had another sensational game in his first career snow game. He completed 20 of 36 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns.

Silver linings: Rams vs. Dolphins

December, 1, 2008
12/01/08
10:04
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The facts: The Rams fell to 2-10 following a 16-12 defeat to the Miami Dolphins in Week 13.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.

  • Steven Jackson ran effectively in his first game back from injury. He carried 15 times for 74 yards in the first half.
  • Rookie linebacker David Vobora held up "fairly well" under the circumstances while making his first NFL start, coach Jim Haslett said. Vobora's presence in the lineup had raised natural questions, but the Rams held the Dolphins to one touchdown and three field goals.
  • Rookie guard John Greco, filling in for Richie Incognito, played extensively in a regular-season game for the first time. The Rams need to develop young offensive linemen.
  • The Rams, with Brett Romberg starting at center for the second time this season, ran the ball effectively and did not allow a sack. Orlando Pace helped limit the Dolphins' Joey Porter to one tackle and no quarterback hits.
  • The Rams also set aside playing time for safety Todd Johnson, who replaced veteran Corey Chavous for stretches. The team needs Johnson or another young safety to emerge for next season.
  • Rookie receiver Donnie Avery did not catch a pass, but he drew a pass-interference penalty to move the Rams into scoring position on their first drive.
  • Kicker Josh Brown made all four field-goal attempts, including a 51-yarder. He has made 5 of 7 tries from 50 yards or longer. Only the Lions' Jason Hanson (7-of-7) has made more field goals from 50 yards or longer.
  • The Rams converted 7 of 14 times on third down while winning the time-of-possession battle. St. Louis hadn't converted half its third-down tries in a game all season.
  • Ball-hawking safety Oshiomogho Atogwe forced another fumble and nearly picked off another pass.
Looking ahead: The Rams face the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Dec. 7.

Quick note on penalties

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
5:29
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

I'll have an update on penalty numbers across the division as time permits. Those who ripped Seattle's Josh Wilson for appearing on our most recent list of players with at least three penalties can offer apologies in the comments section.

Remeber that illegal-contact penalty against him during the Giants game in Week 5? The league, which reviews penalties week to week, decided Julian Peterson was the culprit. That leaves Wilson with two penalties this season.

Also on the penalty front, the ESPN Stats & Analysis team has put together a list of opponent false-start penalties by stadium. The louder the stadium, the more likely an opposing offense might jump early. The Eagles' opponents have committed nine such penalties in three games at Philadelphia, most in the league. Next up on a false starts-per-game basis: Miami 2.5, Seattle 2.33, Carolina 2 and Detroit 2.

The most false-start penalties by visiting opponents since 2005: Seattle 74, Minnesota 63, the Meadowlands (Giants) 52, Philadelphia 51 and Chicago 49.

Getting a drop on NFC West teams

October, 2, 2008
10/02/08
2:56
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
TeamPass AttemptsDropped PassesAttempts Per Drop
Arizona144436
St. Louis122430.5
San Francisco111522.2
Seattle97713.9

The Seahawks have dropped one pass for every 13.9 attempts this season, easily the worst in the NFC West based on the drop totals Pat Yasinskas lists on his NFC South blog.

Pat's list shows the Dolphins as the only team without a dropped pass this season. The Eagles, Lions and Broncos have the most.

I took the drop totals for NFC West teams to calculate how frequently teams in the division suffer from dropped balls. The Cardinals have the best receivers in the division and that comes through in the chart. Their receivers have dropped one pass for every 36 attempts.

No wonder Matt Hasselbeck is so eager to welcome back Bobby Engram and Deion Branch.

Glass suddenly half full for 49ers

September, 22, 2008
9/22/08
5:31
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers' schedule doesn't look quite so difficult now that the Saints and Patriots have fallen short of widespread expectations. Why can't the 49ers win at New Orleans in Week 4? Why can't they beat the Patriots at Candlestick Park the following week?

I ask the questions because the next two games provide the 49ers with an unexpected opportunity to have a 4-1 record heading into a tough three-game stretch featuring the Eagles, Giants and Seahawks. Losing the next two games would leave the 49ers at 2-3 heading into those games.

The 49ers are playing with great excitement and confidence on offense. That excitement is affecting the rest of the team. Now is the time for the 49ers to ride their momentum into games against flawed teams.

The Saints' defense ranks among the NFL's five worst in total yards, yards per play, yards per rush, passing yards, sacks per pass attempt and points. The Patriots just made Ronnie Brown look like a Hall of Famer.

I like the 49ers' chances on offense against the Saints. The 49ers' defense won't have to worry about Saints receiver Marques Colston or tight end Jeremy Shockey, both injured. That makes it easier for the 49ers to focus on Reggie Bush.

Warner, Cards have seldom been better

September, 17, 2008
9/17/08
12:18
PM ET
 
 Harry How/Getty Images
 Kurt Warner, right, connected with Anquan Boldin six times for 140 yards and 3 scores last Sunday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Kurt Warner highlights blurred together during the Arizona Cardinals' 31-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Week 2.

Warner to Anquan Boldin for 79, 27 and 16 yards. Warner to Larry Fitzgerald for 75, 31 and 20 yards. Warner to rookie running back Tim Hightower for 20 yards. Warner to third receiver Steve Breaston for 18 yards. Warner to tight end Ben Patrick for 15 yards.

By day's end, Warner had become the first player in NFL history to attempt at least 20 passes, complete at least 75 percent of them and average at least 15 yards every time he threw. Not the first Cardinals player. The first NFL player. Ever.

"What I watched out there today was a hell of a job by Warner," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said afterward.

It's all good in Arizona right now. The Cardinals are 2-0 for the first time in 17 seasons and Warner's numbers suggest he's back to his old MVP form. But when I asked Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley to single out his quarterback's top three plays of the season, Haley pointed to an incomplete pass among them.

Yes, Haley loved the 79-yard touchdown strike to Boldin early in the Miami game. Warner recognized the Dolphins' blitz almost instantly, saw the safety out of position on the weak side and started his throwing motion before Boldin had made it even 7 yards downfield.

Haley also singled out a crucial third-down pass to Steve Breaston on a flag route during an opening-week victory at San Francisco.

But it was one of only five incomplete passes Warner threw against the Dolphins that validated what Warner also showed during the opener: a newfound ability to bail on a play with an eye toward the bigger picture. It's the No. 1 reason Arizona has a chance to sustain its fast start heading into road games against the Washington Redskins and New York Jets.

(Read full post)

Much to like about Cardinals

September, 15, 2008
9/15/08
11:59
AM ET
 
 Harry How/Getty Images
 Anquan Boldin (81) and Kurt Warner (13) had plenty of reason to celebrate on Sunday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

A few quick observations on the Cardinals as I watch their game against the Dolphins on the DVR this morning:

  • Speed on defense: The Dolphins' Ronnie Brown took an early handoff and ran wide to the right. I counted nine Arizona defenders outside the yard-line numbers on that side of the field. Brown reversed course and ran back to the left sideline. The Cardinals still had the speed to track him down for a loss.
  • Veteran smarts: Kurt Warner's 79-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin looked easy, but the Dolphins had a pass rusher in his face immediately. Warner began his throwing motion before Boldin was 6 yards downfield. The quarterback's quick reaction turned a potential sack into a huge play. The Dolphins made this an easy read by leaving the deep middle uncovered.
  • Target practice: Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald make life much easier for Warner. They catch contested balls consistently and gain yardage after the ball is in their hands. The combination is tough to beat when Warner is making the right decisions under pressure. Through two games, Warner has not suffered an interception or lost a fumble. He suffered 17 interceptions and six lost fumbles in 14 games last season.
  • Nobody's perfect: Neil Rackers sent the opening kickoff out of bounds. Penalties forced the Cardinals into a first-and-20 on their opening drive. Also, rookie running back Tim Hightower fumbled in the red zone. The Cardinals recovered, but rookies must be extra diligent in protecting the football. Pro players know how to knock it loose.
  • Mismatch inside: Injury forced Ike Ndukwe into the lineup at right guard for the Dolphins. The Cardinals' Darnell Dockett camped out over Ndukwe from the beginning, a mismatch the Cardinals used to their advantage early.

This game was over pretty quickly. The Cardinals led 14-0 in the first quarter. The Dolphins never threatened. The 31-10 victory establishes Arizona as the best team in the NFC West through the first two games.

Around the NFC West: Cardinals believe

September, 15, 2008
9/15/08
8:52
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic dares to dream after the Cardinals' first 2-0 start since 1991. Safety Adrian Wilson calls the Cardinals a "great team" as long as they stay together.

Also from Bickley: A look at the key play, Boldin's 79-yard touchdown. The Dolphins covered Boldin with a linebacker on the play.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic wonders which defensive player will dabble on offense next for the Cardinals. Wilson threw a block on offense against the Dolphins. A week earlier, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ran a pass route.

Also from Somers: The Cardinals knew the Dolphins were no match for them. And they played that way. Somers said the offense looked like it was playing flag football.

More from Somers: What we learned about the Cardinals, notably that Kurt Warner has plenty left at age 37. Also worth noting: Miami's cornerbacks were slow in reacting to motion.

And this revelation from Somers: He was in junior high the last time the Cardinals opened a season with a 3-0 record. That was in 1974.

Richard Obert of the Arizona Republic checks in with the Cardinals' dynamic receiving duo. He also takes a look at the Dolphins' defense.

Scott Allen of RaisingZona.com admits he kept waiting for the Cardinals to play down to their competition. It never happened.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals found another way to win even though the Dolphins caught Larry Fitzgerald after a 75-yard gain. Teammate Anquan Boldin: "He's going to hear about it all week."

Also from Urban: Karlos Dansby said he felt "sick to my stomach" after allowing a late touchdown to the Dolphins during an otherwise impressive performance. Tummy aches aside, the Cardinals' defense sounds hungry. 

More from Urban: The Cardinals talked about putting away the Dolphins early. Then they followed through. Left guard Reggie Wells: "I'm not saying getting excited over a win is ever a bad thing, but you can see a big difference in the locker room after this one. Guys are starting to expect to win. That's what separates the good teams from the bad teams, not going out and wondering what the outcome is going to be. I think that's a huge step forward."

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says 66 percent of 2-0 teams have earned playoff berths over the last 30 years.

Also from Tulumello: Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt loved the team's matchups against the Dolphins' secondary.

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals are giving fans reason for excitement. And reason to ignore the struggling Diamondbacks.

Anthony Martinez of the East Valley Tribune says this was the third time Warner has finished a game with a perfect passer rating. That ties Peyton Manning for the most perfect games in NFL history.

Josh Spivak of the East Valley Tribune checks in with former Arizona State receiver Derek Hagan, who was back in town with the Dolphins.

Quick take: Cardinals 31, Dolphins 10

September, 14, 2008
9/14/08
8:18
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Quarterback Kurt Warner needed only two games to show why Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt named him Arizona's starter over Matt Leinart.

Warner managed the game efficiently and hit key third-down throws while avoiding turnovers during a 23-13 road victory over San Francisco in the opener. Warner opened it up during a blowout victory over the Dolphins in Week 2, completing his first nine passes for 221 yards, an average of 24.6 yards every time he threw.

Arizona is clearly the best team in the NFC West after two games. That isn't saying much given the state of the division, but the Cardinals cannot worry about that. They've won their first two games in a season for the first time since 1991. That is significant as Whisenhunt continues to establish separation between the current team and past failures.

The Cardinals' fast start will prove essential given how much harder Arizona's schedule becomes later in the season. Arizona's next two games are on the East Coast (Redskins, Jets). Buffalo and Dallas will be waiting when the Cardinals return. Then comes a trip to Carolina and, later, road games against Seattle, Philadelphia and New England.

Miami at Arizona: Dolphins DNA profile

September, 14, 2008
9/14/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals can claim their first 2-0 start since 1991 by beating a reconfigured Dolphins team at University of Phoenix Stadium today. The Dolphins were one of the more active teams in free agency as they sought to recover from a 1-15 record last season.

Those interested in taking a closer look at the Dolphins can pick up a roided-out roster with enough information to last until kickoff, and then some. The Dolphins have only 20 of their own draft choices on the 53-man roster, tied for the fewest in the league and 6.2 fewer than average. That includes seven players drafted under current coach Tony Sparano, five drafted under previous coach Cam Cameron, six drafted under Nick Saban and two survivors from the Dave Wannstedt era (Yeremiah Bell and Vernon Carey).

The Dolphins' 53-man roster features 25 players drafted by other organizations, four more than any team in the league and 7.4 more than the league average.

Led by rookie No. 1 overall choice Jake Long at left tackle, the Dolphins are very young on offense. Only the Packers were younger on offense heading into games today. The Dolphins' defensive players are eighth-oldest on average.

On the air: Cardinals in Week 2

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
12:35
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Bill Mcatee and Steve Beuerlein of CBS get the call when the Dolphins visit the Cardinals for a Week 2 game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Kickoff is at 1:15 MST. I'll track which crews work specific games within the division to see how the networks perceive national interest.

WeekTeamOpp.NetworkCrewCrew Rank
1ARISFFoxSam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Chris Myers5 of 7
2ARIMIACBSBill Mcatee, Steve Beuerlein7 of 7

CBS and Fox each have seven crews. The higher-ranked crews draw more attractive assignments such as Super Bowls, playoff games and marquee matchups.

Predicting the Cardinals' record

September, 3, 2008
9/03/08
5:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Following up on an earlier series, I wanted to post the game-by-game projections for the Cardinals' this season. We hit on this Aug. 28. We hit on the other teams in the division earlier today.

The end of the Cardinals' schedule appears rough. I could see an improved team that doesn't necessarily improve its record from 8-8. Coach Ken Whisenhunt raised that possibility this afternoon when reporters asked him about goals for the season. Yes, the record is important. As for specifics, Whisenhunt outlined a few goals: to become a better road team, to incur fewer penalties and to win more of the close games.

With that, let's run through the Cardinals' schedule and project each game on feel:

  1. Win at 49ers
  2. Win vs. Dolphins
  3. Lose at Redskins
  4. Lose at Jets
  5. Win vs. Bills
  6. Lose vs. Cowboys
  7. Bye
  8. Lose at Panthers
  9. Win at Rams
  10. Win vs. 49ers
  11. Lose at Seahawks
  12. Win vs. Giants
  13. Lose at Eagles
  14. Win vs. Rams
  15. Win vs. Vikings
  16. Lose at Patriots
  17. Lose vs. Seahawks

We could go back and forth on a few of these games. The choices I made seemed reasonable. I generally would not pick Arizona to sweep the 49ers, but I do think the Cardinals have a potential advantage in the first game of the season.

Predicting the 49ers' record

September, 3, 2008
9/03/08
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Optimism flows during the NFL offseason, but the schedule brings harsh realities for a couple of NFC West teams this season. The 49ers and Rams strike me as teams with enough talent to win six or seven games -- perhaps more if things fall right. Those teams' schedules threaten to spoil the fun.

Finding three likely victories in the 49ers' first 10 games is like trying to find a playoff-caliber quarterback for the veteran's minimum salary. It can happen, but the odds are not in your favor. The 49ers have too much talent and too much fight to lose 11 games this season, right? That's how the schedule might break down.

The 49ers need to win at Buffalo and Miami to prove otherwise. They need to steal a victory from the Eagles or Giants. They need to split with the Cardinals and beat the Rams on the road late in the season. I picked the 49ers to surprise the Seahawks in Week 8.

Here's a quick game-by-game look at the 49ers' schedule:

1. Loss vs. Cardinals
2. Loss at Seahawks
3. Win vs. Lions

4. Loss at Saints
5. Loss vs. Patriots
6. Loss vs. Eagles
7. Loss at Giants
8. Win vs. Seahawks

9. Bye
10. Loss at Cardinals
11. Win vs. Rams

12. Loss at Cowboys
13. Loss at Bills
14. Win vs. Jets

15. Loss at Dolphins
16. Loss at Rams
17. Win vs. Redskins

That's it for the NFC West schedule predictions. The records came out at 11-5 for Seattle, 8-8 for Arizona, 6-10 for St. Louis and 5-11 for San Francisco. I ranked the 49ers ahead of the Rams in our Week 1 power rankings, but St. Louis gets the Bears and Dolphins at the Edward Jones Dome. That helps their chances.

Like everyone else, I'm anxious to see what J.T. O'Sullivan and Mike Martz bring to the 49ers' offense. Dramatic improvements could turn some of these projected defeats into victories.

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