NFC West: Quentin Groves

Adam Snyder's release from the Arizona Cardinals made him the sixth player to leave the team's roster this offseason after starting at least 10 games for the team in 2012.

Paris Lenon, Kerry Rhodes, William Gay, Snyder and Adrian Wilson each started at least 14 games last season before departing the roster. D'Anthony Batiste, an unrestricted free agent, started 10 games.

Quentin Groves, Beanie Wells, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and LaRod Stephens-Howling were part of a group of former Cardinals to start between five and seven games for Arizona last season.

Rich Ohrnberger, Ryan Lindley, Pat McQuistan, Early Doucet, Greg Toler, Reagan Maui'a, Nick Eason, Vonnie Holliday and Todd Heap started between one and four games for the team before leaving the roster.

You get the point. The Cardinals have a new head coach and new general manager. They weren't very good on offense last season. Some of their players' contracts reflect what the team's previous leadership once thought of those players. They've become outdated. And so the Cardinals are turning over a pretty fair percentage of their roster by design.
PHOENIX -- The Seattle Seahawks and especially the San Francisco 49ers added to their 2013 NFL draft hauls Monday when the NFL awarded compensatory selections to offset net losses in free agency last year.

The 49ers received the 131st overall pick, a fourth-rounder, plus the 246th and 252nd choices, both in the seventh round. The Seahawks received the 241st and 242nd overall choices, also in the seventh round.

Teams cannot trade compensatory picks.

"Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks," the NFL announced. "Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula."

The 49ers received compensatory choices because free-agent losses Blake Costanzo, Josh Morgan and Madieu Williams outweighed free-agent addition Mario Manningham according to the formula. The Seahawks received picks because free-agent losses Atari Bigby, John Carlson, David Hawthorne and Charlie Whitehurst outweighed free-agent additions Matt Flynn and Jason Jones. Update: The NFL clarified that Adam Snyder, who signed with Arizona from San Francisco, factored into the equation awarding the 49ers three comp picks.

I've put together lists below showing all unrestricted free agents added, lost and re-signed by NFC West teams last offseason.

Update: I've also made available for download an Excel file with tentative 2013 draft order, reflecting comp picks and known trades. This is unofficial. The league has not yet released the official order; additional trades could affect it.

The 49ers have a league-high 14 picks, including two picks in each of the second through fifth rounds. They're in prime position to stock their roster for the future.

By my accounting, the Cardinals hold the 7th, 38th, 69th, 103rd, 140th, 174th and 176th picks. The 49ers hold the 31st, 34th, 61st, 74th, 93rd, 128th, 131st, 157th, 164th, 180th, 227th, 237th, 246th and 252nd choices. The Seahawks hold the 56th, 87th, 123rd, 138th, 158th, 194th, 220th, 231st, 241st and 242nd choices. The Rams hold the 16th, 22nd, 46th, 78th, 113th, 149th, 184th and 222nd picks.

Update: The Seahawks sent the 214th choice, acquired from Buffalo in the Tarvaris Jackson trade, to Minnesota as part of the Percy Harvin trade.

Arizona Cardinals

Re-signed: D'Anthony Batiste, Mike Leach, Early Doucet, Jay Feely, Dave Zastudil
Added: Adam Snyder, William Gay, James Sanders, Quentin Groves
Lost: Richard Marshall, Sean Considine, Deuce Lutui

San Francisco 49ers

Re-signed: Tavares Gooden, Carlos Rogers, Alex Smith, Ted Ginn Jr.
Added: Mario Manningham, Rock Cartwright, Josh Johnson
Lost: Josh Morgan, Adam Snyder, Blake Costanzo, Reggie Smith, Madieu Williams, Chilo Rachal

Seattle Seahawks

Re-signed: Heath Farwell, Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan, Michael Robinson, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy
Added: Matt Flynn, Jason Jones, Deuce Lutui, Barrett Ruud
Lost: John Carlson, Atari Bigby, Charlie Whitehurst, Tony Hargrove, David Hawthorne

St. Louis Rams

Re-signed: Kellen Clemens
Added: Cortland Finnegan, Kendall Langford, Scott Wells, Quinn Ojinnaka, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Mario Haggan, Barry Richardson
Lost: Brandon Lloyd, Chris Chamberlain, Donnie Jones, Jacob Bell, Bryan Kehl, Gary Gibson

Updated snapshot for NFC West UFAs

March, 14, 2013
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With Ricky Jean-Francois leaving the San Francisco 49ers for a reported four-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts, I've updated the chart showing which unrestricted free agents from NFC West teams have landed elsewhere.

This chart also shows available UFAs from NFC West teams. UFAs are defined strictly as those veteran players who became free agents March 12 when their contracts expired. The list does not include released players.

It's looking like the 49ers will again be in position to reap compensatory selections awarded for net losses in free agency based on salary and playing time.
The market keeps moving and changing as the first day of 2013 NFL free agency winds down.

I've put together a chart showing some of the notable happenings for unrestricted free agents from NFC West teams.

NFC West teams are also looking at players from other teams, of course.

Glenn Dorsey and Charles Woodson are scheduled to visit the San Francisco 49ers, for example. The St. Louis Rams are planning to meet with Jake Long and Louis Delmas. The Arizona Cardinals are expected to meet with running back Rashard Mendenhall. Another running back of interest for Arizona, Reggie Bush, is expected to visit the Detroit Lions first.
 

2013 UFA counts for NFC West teams

March, 12, 2013
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The NFL has released its official list of restricted and unrestricted free agents.

The chart breaks down the UFA counts by team in the NFC West.

A quick look at the lists, which include a couple players who have already reached agreement on new contracts:

Arizona Cardinals

UFA offense (4): D'Anthony Batiste, Pat McQuistan, Rich Ohrnberger, LaRod Stephens-Howling

UFA defense (8): Michael Adams, Nick Eason, Quentin Groves, Vonnie Holliday, Rashad Johnson, Paris Lenon, James Sanders, Greg Toler

RFA: Brian Hoyer, tendered to second-round pick.

Note: The Cardinals announced Johnson's agreement to a three-year contract.

St. Louis Rams

UFA offense (8): Danny Amendola, Kellen Clemens, Brandon Gibson, Steven Jackson, Barry Richardson, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Chris Williams

UFA defense (6): Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Mario Haggan, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Rocky McIntosh

RFA: Darian Stewart, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: The Rams announced Hayes' agreement to a three-year contract.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA offense (4): Leonard Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Randy Moss, Delanie Walker

UFA defense (6): Dashon Goldson, Tavares Gooden, Larry Grant, Clark Haggans, Ricky Jean-Francois, Isaac Sopoaga

RFA: Tramaine Brock, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: Walker has reportedly agreed to terms on a contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Seattle Seahawks

UFA offense (2): Cameron Morrah, Frank Omiyale

UFA defense (5): Alan Branch, Patrick Chukwurah, Leroy Hill, Jason Jones, Marcus Trufant

UFA special teams (2): Steve Hauschka, Ryan Longwell

RFA: Clint Gresham and Chris Maragos, tendered to right of first refusal; and Clinton McDonald, tendered to seventh-round choice.

UFA market revisited: How NFC West fared

February, 28, 2013
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Those eagerly awaiting the start of NFL free agency March 12 with visions of your favorite team loading up on accomplished veterans should revisit the list of unrestricted free agents NFC West teams signed last season.

St. Louis, badly in need of a talent infusion following the worst five-year run in NFL history, opened its checkbook to sign a long list of veteran players, some of them at high cost.

That was the exception in the NFC West and I'd be surprised if St. Louis took a similarly aggressive approach this offseason. The Rams have stabilized their roster and positioned themselves to build around young talent.

With that in mind, I'll take a team-by-team look at the unrestricted free agents each NFC West team signed last offseason. UFAs are defined as veterans who reached the market when their contracts expired. Teams also acquired players by other means.

Arizona Cardinals

2012 UFA signings from other teams: cornerback William Gay, linebacker Quentin Groves, safety James Sanders and guard Adam Snyder

Comment: Gay started and played 93 percent of the defensive snaps as a replacement for Richard Marshall, who left in free agency. He wasn't a star, but the defense was solid. Gay gave Arizona the snaps it sought. Groves played 43 percent of snaps as a situational pass-rusher. The Cardinals needed him when an injury sidelined O'Brien Schofield. Sanders played 11 percent. Snyder started 14 games and played much of the season with an injury for a line that was among the NFL's least effective for much of the season. Arizona's young tackles made progress. I thought the team overspent for Snyder, a player San Francisco eagerly replaced with the undrafted Alex Boone, who provided a clear upgrade. Note that three of the four UFA additions last offseason played defense. Arizona needs to target offense this offseason. New coach Bruce Arians and new general manager Steve Keim have praised the existing talent. Arizona might not load up on free agents the way some teams do when new leadership takes over.

St. Louis Rams

2012 UFA signings from other teams: linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, linebacker Mario Haggan, defensive end William Hayes, defensive tackle Kendall Langford, defensive lineman Trevor Laws, guard Quinn Ojinnaka, tackle Barry Richardson, receiver Steve Smith, center Robert Turner and center Scott Wells

Comment: The Rams were major players in the UFA market. Results were mostly positive. Finnegan gave the Rams the production and veteran presence they sought. He was instantly a playmaker for St. Louis. Dunbar was much better than I had anticipated and well worth his contract, which included a $1 million signing bonus and $1.5 million annual average. Hayes provided good depth on the defensive line, and at a reasonable cost ($900,000 for one year). Langford needed time to transition from the 3-4 scheme he ran previously in Miami. The Rams signed him after Jason Jones signed with Seattle instead. Injuries prevented Wells from stabilizing the offensive line, a major disappointment and a reminder of the risks associated with signing older players from other teams.

San Francisco 49ers

2012 UFA signings from other teams: fullback Rock Cartwright, quarterback Josh Johnson, receiver Mario Manningham

Comment: Does this look like a team poised to strike for Darrelle Revis in the trade market? Does this look like a team ready to throw around cash in free agency? Not based on the list of signings last offseason. The interest San Francisco showed in Peyton Manning doesn't apply here. Indianapolis released Manning. Manning was not a UFA. I'd put him in a separate category, anyway. Teams make exceptions for Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Back to the 2012 UFA list. Cartwright and Johnson never played for the team. Neither earned a spot on the 53-man roster. Both served a purpose by initially increasing competition at their positions. For example, Anthony Dixon moved fro halfback to fullback and became a more valuable player, including on special teams. Johnson provided early insurance, but in retrospect, Colin Kaepernick was obviously ready to serve in the No. 2 role before becoming the starter. Manningham provided sufficient value before a knee injury ended his season. The 49ers missed him late in the season, including during the Super Bowl.

Seattle Seahawks

2012 UFA signings from other teams: quarterback Matt Flynn, defensive lineman Jason Jones, guard Deuce Lutui and linebacker Barrett Ruud

Comment: Flynn would have started if Russell Wilson hadn't emerged unexpectedly as the clear choice. Seattle invested $6.5 million per year in Flynn, a sum the team could live with even if Flynn became the backup. It's tough to fault the Seahawks for signing Flynn. They had no idea Wilson would be available in the draft, or that Wilson would perform at such a high level so early in his career. Jones finished the season on injured reserve. That made it impossible for him to provide the interior pass-rushing push Seattle sought when signing him to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. Lutui and Ruud never earned roster spots. Neither was a liability financially. Both were low-cost insurance policies. Seattle parlayed Ruud into a 2013 draft choice by trading him to New Orleans after the Saints lost Jonathan Vilma.

Silver linings: Cardinals at Seahawks

December, 10, 2012
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The facts: The Arizona Cardinals fell to 4-9 with a 58-0 road defeat to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • The Cardinals took three or fewer sacks for the fifth week in a row, another sign that young tackles Nate Potter and Bobby Massie are improving. Arizona has allowed 12 sacks in its last five games, down from 25 over the previous five.
  • Arizona finished the game with a higher third-down conversion rate than the Seahawks posted.
  • The Cardinals' completion percentage was up more than 16 points from the previous week.
  • Patrick Peterson intercepted a pass for the third week in a row. He has six picks this season.
  • Arizona allowed one or fewer passing touchdown for the ninth time in 13 games. This was also the ninth time Arizona held an opponent to less than 55 percent completions.
  • Punter Dave Zastudil had a 40.2-yard net average.
  • LaRod Stephens-Howling had a 38-yard kickoff return.
  • Quentin Groves had a sack, two quarterback hits and a tackle for loss.
  • Andre Roberts had a 24-yard reception.
  • Arizona moved up from ninth to eighth in projected 2012 NFL draft order.
Looking ahead: The Cardinals are home against Detroit in Week 15.

NFC West penalty Watch: Saintly 49ers?

November, 8, 2012
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Jim Harbaugh and San Francisco's coaching staff will like what they see in the penalty chart: 13 NFC West players with at least five infractions, and only one of them playing for the 49ers.

Seattle's starting offensive tackles, Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini, have combined for 18 accepted and declined penalties. The Atlanta Falcons -- all of them, not just the tackles -- have committed 34.

Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner, who led the NFL with 19 penalties on his way to a Pro Bowl last season, has eight through nine games this season.

Arizona leads the NFC West in penalties with 72, fourth-most in the league.

Seattle, after committing 36 penalties in three games with replacement officials, has averaged only 5.5 per game since then. The drop of 6.5 per game is easily the largest in the NFL, followed by a 5.0 drop by Dallas and a 3.7 drop by Pittsburgh.

The Seahawks are committing the fourth-fewest penalties per game under regular officials.

The Rams are committing an additional 3.3 penalties per game under non-replacement officials, the largest gain. The Cardinals have averaged eight penalties per game with and without replacements.

Factors beyond the status of officials come into play.
Outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield might still be healthy and playing for the Arizona Cardinals if his Week 9 opponent hadn't suffered a hip injury Sunday.

The man assigned to block Schofield, Green Bay tackle Bryan Bulaga, was out of the game when Schofield rushed upfield on a second-and-6 play early in the third quarter.

Schofield had beaten Bulaga's replacement up the field on the play that would end Schofield's season. Defensive end Darnell Dockett, working against a replacement guard after Green Bay moved its regular one to tackle in response to Bulaga's injury, also got good push on the play.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sensed their pressure and broke from the pocket to his right. The chase was on.

Dockett launched his 290-pound body into the air and was horizontal to the ground as Schofield turned back to the quarterback and accelerated right into Dockett's path. The athletic Rodgers pulled into the clear as Dockett's body, now spinning like a helicopter blade, chopped down Schofield from behind in the lower left leg.

The force of the impact dropped Schofield to the ground instantly, contorting his body. Dockett's weight briefly pinned Schofield's leg to the ground as both players slid across the grass. It was clear right away Schofield would not be OK.

The Cardinals did not reveal specifics on Schofield's injury. Coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters the injury would be season-ending, however.

The Cardinals were betting on Schofield and another young outside linebacker, Sam Acho, heading into this season.

They released veteran Clark Haggans and did not address the position in the 2012 NFL draft. Arizona was the only NFL team to emerge from the 2012 draft without selecting a player for its defensive front seven.

So, when Schofield suffered his ankle injury at Lambeau Field, the Cardinals didn't have a rising prospect to plug into the role. They had Quentin Groves, a former starter and backup in Jacksonville and Oakland. Groves, who has 22 NFL starts and 4.5 career sacks, has played roughly one-fifth of the Cardinals' defensive snaps this season. He projects as the starter with Schofield no longer available.

Jamaal Westerman and Zack Nash are the other backup outside linebackers.

Arizona signed Groves in May to a one-year deal worth $700,000. The Cardinals claimed Westerman off waivers from Miami. Nash is an undrafted rookie free agent. Tim Fugger, a seventh-round pick of Indianapolis this year, is an outside linebacker on the practice squad.

Schofield had four sacks in nine starts while playing better than 80 percent of the defensive snaps. He lasted until the fourth round of the 2010 draft because he faced an arduous rehabilitation from knee surgery. Knee trouble had occasionally limited him this season.
A periodic look at which players are playing and when, continuing with the Arizona Cardinals' defense:

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

October, 10, 2012
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Arizona Cardinals: Life without the injured Ryan Williams at running back begins Sunday against a Buffalo defense that allowed 621 yards to San Francisco, including 311 on the ground. Utility back LaRod Stephens-Howling expects to return from a hip injury. He was limited Wednesday. Arizona will presumably incorporate Stephens-Howling into its no-huddle offense and into its spread passing sets. He's not an every-down back, but when healthy, Stephens-Howling provides big-play ability in doses. The Cardinals did not sign a veteran back after losing Williams (for the season) and would-be starting back Beanie Wells (until Nov. 25). William Powell and Alfonso Smith are the leading candidates to carry the ball on early downs. Defensive end Darnell Dockett (hamstring) played sparingly in Week 5 and was limited Wednesday. Tight end Todd Heap practiced on a limited basis. A knee injury has kept Heap out for the past three games. Cornerback Greg Toler, who pulled up with a hamstring injury while allowing a touchdown pass at St. Louis, did not practice. Cornerback Michael Adams also missed practice with a hamstring injury. The Cardinals figure to need their cornerbacks against Buffalo, a team that uses three-plus receivers extensively. Fullback Anthony Sherman (22 snaps at St. Louis) and outside linebacker Quentin Groves (six snaps) also sat out. Sherman has a knee injury. Groves has a hamstring injury. Quarterback John Skelton is back from his ankle injury, but he's not full strength. Kevin Kolb remains the starter.

St. Louis Rams: Leading receiver Danny Amendola will miss roughly six weeks, beginning with St. Louis' game at Miami. That will probably affect the Rams' ability to throw quickly and productively against pressure, and to convert on third down. Amendola ranks third in the NFL behind Wes Welker and Victor Cruz with 24 receptions from the slot. He made eight of those receptions on third down. Safety Quintin Mikell practiced without limitation Wednesday less that a week after suffering a concussion against Arizona. Linebacker Mario Haggan (thigh), fullback Brit Miller (ankle) and left tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) did not practice. Saffold has missed three games and was expected to miss at least four. Defensive linemen William Hayes (back) and Eugene Sims (head), key contributors both, were limited in practice.

San Francisco 49ers: Coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Alex Smith told reporters they're not concerned about the injury Smith suffered to the middle finger on his throwing hand. The injury did not appear serious, but it was initially a concern. This could be the week San Francisco debuts running back Brandon Jacobs, who has not played since suffering a knee injury during camp. Letting Jacobs suit up against the New York Giants, his former team, would seem fitting. The 49ers are getting good play from their existing backs, however, and Jacobs doesn't offer much on special teams. One question is whether the 49ers could use Jacobs in short-yardage situations. Frank Gore has two first downs on six third-and-1 carries this season. Anthony Dixon has one first down (a touchdown) on his only third-and-1 carry. Gore converted the team's only fourth-and-1 rush. Add it up and San Francisco has converted four times in eight short-yardage chances, the same figures Jacobs posted with the Giants during the 2011 regular season.

Seattle Seahawks: Center Max Unger will join the injury report for Seattle this week with a hip injury that was expected to keep him from practicing Wednesday. Former starting guard John Moffitt, a contingency at center when healthy, was also among those missing practice. A knee injury will keep him inactive this week. Eight players have started on the offensive line for Seattle this season, tied with Jacksonville for most in the league. Seattle does have options at center. Lemuel Jeanpierre has started there. Defensive linemen Clinton McDonald (groin) and Jaye Howard (foot) did not practice. The team continues to list running back Marshawn Lynch as limited with a back injury. He has 121 touches this season, second-most in the NFL behind Arian Foster (142). Lynch had 313 touches last season.
Arizona: The Cardinals listed 16 players on their injury report for the team's Thursday night game in St. Louis. Cornerback Michael Adams (hamstring), tight end Jim Dray (knee), outside linebacker Quentin Groves (hamstring), tight end Todd Heap (knee), running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (hip), defensive end Darnell Dockett (hamstring), linebacker Paris Lenon (knee), quarterback John Skelton (ankle) and nose tackle Dan Williams (foot) were questionable. Seven others were probable. None was doubtful. Running back Beanie Wells remains out until Nov. 25. Having Stephens-Howling available would give the Cardinals' needed options on offense, particularly in no-huddle situations. Dockett missed the most recent game and he was limited Wednesday. Skelton has practiced fully the past two days, but Kevin Kolb remains the starter.

St. Louis: The Rams listed running back Steven Jackson (groin) and left tackle Wayne Hunter (knee) as questionable. Both practiced on a limited basis over the past two days. Both are expected to play against the Cardinals. Jackson was able to run hard against Seattle. Starting left tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) and backup defensive end Eugene Sims (head) will miss the game. The three players listed as probable practiced fully Wednesday. That list included receivers Danny Amendola (ankle) and Brandon Gibson (knee), and backup defensive end William Hayes (knee).

San Francisco: Running back Brandon Jacobs (knee) could be available for the first time this season. The 49ers have good depth at the position already, however, and some of their other running backs contribute more on special teams. If Jacobs doesn't play against Buffalo, I'd expect him to be active against his former team, the New York Giants, a week later. The 49ers are relatively healthy overall. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga (knee) missed the game against the New York Jets and was limited in practice. He could be available this week, but the 49ers probably will not need him much against Buffalo. San Francisco will likely use its sub packages heavily against the Bills' offense. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman (shoulder) and cornerback Carlos Rogers (ankle) were also limited in practice.

Seattle: The Seahawks have used eight starters on their offensive line, tied with Jacksonville for most in the NFL through Week 4. One of the eight, guard/center John Moffitt, will not be available against Carolina. Seattle listed him as out with a knee injury. James Carpenter's return from 2011 knee surgery last week gives the team welcome flexibility. Carpenter started at left guard and survived an injury scare. Paul McQuistan will start at right guard for a second consecutive week. Cornerback Marcus Trufant (back) and defensive end Jaye Howard (foot) missed practice Wednesday. The team gave running back Marshawn Lynch the day off. Trufant's role as the nickel corner gets him on the field for roughly 40 percent of the snaps, depending on the opponent. Carolina's opponents have played with at least one additional defensive back about 60 percent of the time when the score was within eight points and 80 percent of the time otherwise, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Arizona Cardinals held a 17-0 lead over the Philadelphia Eagles with six seconds before halftime Sunday. What happened next sent Arizona on its way to a 27-6 victory and the Cardinals' first 3-0 start since 1974:

    [+] EnlargeJames Sanders
    AP Photo/Paul ConnorsJames Sanders (39) returned a Michael Vick fumble for a touchdown just before halftime.
  • The Eagles went with three wide receivers, two to the left side of the formation. Tight end Brent Celek lined up to the right side, on the line. LeSean McCoy was alone in the backfield behind quarterback Michael Vick.
  • Quentin Groves, Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell had a hand on the ground as defensive linemen for Arizona. Safety James Sanders, subbing for Adrian Wilson, stood up over Celek. Sam Acho and Kerry Rhodes stood at the line near the left offensive tackle.
  • Vick took the snap and looked to his right, away from Acho and Rhodes. McCoy went to the strong side in pass protection even though Arizona had a numbers advantage on the weak side. The left guard and center blocked Campbell. The left tackle blocked Acho. That left Rhodes with a free path to Vick, who was looking the other way.
  • Sanders engaged Celek initially. Vick apparently wanted to find DeSean Jackson in the end zone, but Patrick Peterson and linebacker Daryl Washington had tight coverage. Vick seemed to hold the ball too long, but the on-screen clock showed five seconds remaining when Rhodes first made contact with the quarterback.
  • Sanders could see what was happening. Celek could not; his back was to Vick. Sanders shed Celek, scooped up the ball and raced up the left sideline. The Eagles would have tackled him had Washington not hustled down to block McCoy.
  • Acho was also part of the escort. He noticed receiver Damaris Johnson closing from the outside. Acho accelerated and reached his right arm forward in an effort to grab Johnson's left arm. This was at the 25-yard line. The game clock had expired. Sanders was at the 18. Acho quickly disengaged and held up his hands as if to show he hadn't done anything wrong, but he did appear to make contact with Johnson. Was it a hold? That would have been a controversial call. The chase continued. Johnson tripped at about the 12. He and Acho might have had their feet tangle inadvertently.
  • Larry Fitzgerald had picked up the chase along the sideline at this point. He was running along the sideline, helmet in hand, and actually beat Acho to Sanders in the end zone. Fitzgerald leaped and wrapped his right arm around Sanders' head.

That sequence turned a potential 17-7 halftime lead into a 24-0 blowout. I'll be interested in seeing where it ranks among impact plays for the week, as determined by the change in win probability for each team.

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

September, 19, 2012
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Arizona Cardinals: Kevin Kolb is on track to start at quarterback against his former team, Philadelphia, after Week 1 starter John Skelton missed practice Wednesday with the ankle injury he suffered in the opener. Tight end Todd Heap missed practice with the knee injury he suffered against New England on Sunday. Heap, 32, missed six games last season and three the season before that. He was playing well and would be missed, but the Cardinals have options in Jeff King and Rob Housler. A sore knee continues to limit outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield. Backup Quentin Groves has made a push for additional playing time at the position. Running back Beanie Wells continues to practice despite the hamstring issue that bothered him heading into the opener. Ryan Williams (knee) took limited reps Wednesday. Arizona hasn't gotten its ground game going against two strong run defenses.

St. Louis Rams: Steven Jackson missed practice with the groin injury he suffered against Washington. Soft-tissue injuries have been a problem for Jackson over the years. He has now suffered one during a long run in each of the Rams' past two home openers. Rookie Daryl Richardson has run well in relief except for when he fumbled Sunday, but Jackson sets the tone in the running game when healthy. The Rams have serious injury concerns at offensive tackle. Starter Rodger Saffold will miss at least a month after suffering a knee injury Sunday. An ankle injury kept his replacement, Wayne Hunter, from practicing Wednesday. The team also placed rookie guard Rokevious Watkins on injured reserve. Starting center Scott Wells remains out until midseason.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers welcomed back receiver and return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. from an ankle injury, but it's not clear if Ginn will be available against Minnesota on Sunday. The 49ers have been functioning well enough without him. Running back Brandon Jacobs (knee) remains sidelined. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter appear fresh and have been productive. There's no reason to rush back Jacobs at this point, in my view. Depth at outside linebacker has been a bit of a concern since former starter Parys Haralson landed on injured reserve. The team brought back Eric Bakhtiari for depth at the position after losing Haralson's replacement, Clark Haggans, to a three-game suspension. Bakhtiari was with the 49ers in camp, so he knows the defense.

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks hope to have left tackle Russell Okung back from a bruised knee to face Clay Matthews and the Green Bay defense on Monday night. Frank Omiyale started in Okung's place Sunday and did what coach Pete Carroll called a "credible" job. For Seattle, playing one day later than usual has affected the practice schedule. Players are off Wednesday. They'll resume practicing Thursday. Seattle will not issue an injury report until then. Carroll did tell reporters earlier in the week that receiver Sidney Rice was healthy. Rice had left the team's game against Dallas after absorbing a hard hit. He missed some practice time last week with a sore knee.

Around the NFC West: Improved QB play

September, 19, 2012
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You know times are changing in the NFC West when someone assigned to cover the NFL at large dedicates 824 mostly kind words to the division.

You really know times are changing when some of those words focus on improving play at the quarterback position.

Don Banks of Sports Illustrated points to the NFC West's 5-1 record outside the division as evidence. Banks: "The division's current success ratio isn't likely to hold up all year, but on the two most important fronts in the game -- quarterbacking and coaching -- the NFC West looks to be in much better shape than it has for quite some time. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has been a revelation so far in Seattle, and Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is showing signs of returning to his stellar rookie form of 2010 after the struggles of 2011. San Francisco's Alex Smith, once all but dismissed as a long-term starting option for the 49ers, has become the division's gold standard at the position, and even Arizona's Kevin Kolb has returned to relevancy in the past two weeks after losing his job to John Skelton coming out of the preseason." Noted: Kolb's production at New England wasn't all that good, but there were encouraging signs in how he ran the offense. Most striking, I thought, was the way Kolb hung in the pocket. Seems like he can build on that performance.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says outside linebacker Quentin Groves appears to be enjoying a rebirth with the Cardinals after disappointing stops in Jacksonville and Oakland. Groves: "I didn’t study as much as I should, not putting in the extra film work as much as I should, not taking care of my body and eating right as much as I should. By the grace of God, I’ve been an exceptional athlete. To be drafted in the second round and coming into the league, I got complacent. Now I’m back on my grind, doing the little things better. Instead of going home and picking up a video game, I pick up my playbook or pick up my iPad and watch film."

Also from Urban: The Cardinals' penchant for blocking field goal tries couldn't stop coach Ken Whisenhunt from worrying about New England lining up for the potential game-winning kick Sunday.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers observations on the Cardinals' victory at New England. He singles out Darnell Dockett as a key player.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers' Aldon Smith avoided serious injuries during a recent car crash in which Smith was a passenger. Smith: "It's life. You can sit here and make it want you want. But really it's life. I'm in a good spot right now. I was able to go out and get seven tackles and two sacks, and now I'm ready for Minnesota and ready for the rest of the season."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com offers thoughts on how each of the 49ers' offensive players performed against Detroit. On left guard Mike Iupati: "Had a much stronger game in run-blocking than pass protection."

Also from Maiocco: a look at how the 49ers' defensive players performed. On free safety Dashon Goldson: "He started at free safety and played every snap. Made a diving interception of a wobbling Matthew Stafford pass late in the first quarter. He got to his feet and returned it 23 yards to set up a 49ers touchdown. Did a great job of flying up from deep in the secondary to drop Joique Bell for a 2-yard gain early in second quarter. He was very decisive in coming up to support the run and finished his tackles. He was credited with six tackles, an interception and a pass defensed."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with newly activated Rams receiver Austin Pettis. Thomas: "To make room for Pettis on the 53-man roster, rookie offensive guard Rokevious Watkins was placed on the injured reserve list. Watkins, a fifth-round pick from South Carolina, suffered what team officials said was a significant ankle injury at the end of the Rams' season-opening loss in Detroit. He was using crutches last week and did not play against Washington. His departure leaves the Rams with two backups on the interior offensive line in guard Shelley Smith and center-guard Tim Barnes."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com looks at the Rams' situation on the offensive line. He credits head coach Jeff Fisher and line coach Paul T. Boudreau for helping the Rams overcome injuries at the position. Gordon: "Boudreau has produced good offensive lines at every NFL stop, including his earlier stint at Rams Park. And Fisher’s make-no-excuses mandate has the team seeking solutions rather than dwelling on problems. Every coach preaches a “next man up” philosophy, but Fisher has the gravitas to make the players actually believe it."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team achieved all 12 of its goals on special teams against Dallas, a first in the career of special-teams coach Brian Schneider. Farnsworth: "Schneider has 12 goals for his units in each game -- from 100 percent effort, to penalty free, to eliminating big plays by the opponent. Achieve one, a Seahawks logo is placed next the category on the large board that hangs in the hallway between the locker room and the training room. Achieve all 12, as Schneider’s units did on Sunday at CenturyLink Field, and it’s Seahawks logos all around. Unprecedented? It’s a first not only for Schneider since he joined Pete Carroll’s staff in 2010, it’s the first time any of his special teams have pitched a 12 -– including his time with the Oakland Raiders (2007-08) and college stints at USC (2009), Iowa State (2006), UCLA (2003-05) and Colorado State (1994-2002)."

Also from Farnsworth: Seahawks notes, including one about the team holding the highest winning percentage in the history of "Monday Night Football" telecasts. Seattle is 17-8 (.680). Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Indianapolis and the New York Giants are next. Also: Frank Omiyale provided a "credible" performance against DeMarcus Ware while subbing for Russell Okung at left tackle.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' current defense might be the best one in franchise history. Boling: "An obvious omission right now, though, is the lack of sacks, as they’ve registered only two in two games. It was a point of emphasis coming into this season, and -- especially in the Dallas game -- defensive coordinator Gus Bradley put together some creative rush packages. Although sacks didn’t result, Pete Carroll said he considered the pressure on the quarterback much improved against Dallas. The other area below standard is stopping third-down conversions. The Hawks have allowed opponents to convert 10 of 23 third downs. The statistics fail to measure the physically intimidating play of this unit, which is its dominant characteristic. And in games at home, it inflames the fans, which, in turn, further energizes the players."

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