NFC West: Rams-Seahawks 091309

Personnel report: Seahawks running game

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
2:04
PM ET
Down Dist. Seahawks Personnel Group in Week 1 Ball Carrier Yards Gained
1 10 Base Julius Jones
62
1 10 Base Jones
4
2 10 Base Jones 2
2 10 Base Edgerrin James
2
1 10 Base Jones 1
1 10 Base Jones 1
1 10 Base Jones 0
2 2 Base James 0
2 2 Base Jones -1
Avg. 7.9

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


The highlights showed Seattle's Julius Jones breaking a 62-yard touchdown run against the Rams during a 28-0 victory in Week 1.

That run was very much an aberration among the Seahawks' nine rushing plays from their base offense featuring two backs, two receivers and one tight end. Aberrations count, of course, but the other eight base run plays netted 9 yards total. The chart breaks them out by runner.

Julius Jones, Edgerrin James and Justin Forsett averaged a more evenly distributed 4.7 yards per attempt with three receivers on the field. Their 10 rushes from these personnel groups gained 8, 7, 6, 6, 6, 6, 4, 2, 1 and 1 yards.

I'll be surprised if Seattle runs the ball consistently well from its base offense against the 49ers in Week 2, although the 49ers' 3-4 scheme shouldn't present additional problems. Seattle's zone blocking tendencies require relatively few adjustments against 3-4 defenses. The Seahawks also tuned up against 3-4 teams during preseason and they know the 49ers well.
  • Download: This Excel file features a sortable Seahawks offensive play-by-play sheet complete with my observations on select plays, plus a second sheet summarizing production across personnel groups. Alternate download link here.

Among the other things I noticed in watching this game a couple times:

(Read full post)

Personnel report: Rams running game

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
10:46
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Rams Personnel Group in Week 1 Carries Yards Per Carry Pass Attempts Yards Per Attempt
Base 9 2.9 7 5.0
1RB-1TE 6 5.0 22 6.2
2RB-2TE 1 10.0 1 0.0
1RB-2TE 1 9.0 4 4.8
3TE 1 2.0 1 0.0
2RB-0TE 0 0.0 1 0.0
4WR 0 0.0 0 0.0
Totals 18 4.3 36 5.3

The Rams know they need to run their offense through running back Steven Jackson, but how should they make that happen?

Sticking with their base offense means pairing Jackson with fullback Mike Karney. Jackson was thrilled when the Rams signed Karney because he knew the potential benefits in the run game.

Putting Karney on the field with Jackson usually comes at the expense of second tight end Daniel Fells, however, and Fells has the athleticism to become an occasional receiving option. The Rams need all the receiving options they can get and Karney isn't going to help in that area.

Against Seattle, the Rams ran the ball nine times from their base offense -- two backs, two receivers, one tight end -- and averaged 2.9 yards per attempt. They gained 9 yards on their only carry with one back (Jackson) and two tight ends (Randy McMichael and Fells). They gained 10 yards on their lone rushing attempt with two backs (Jackson, Karney) and two tight ends. They gained 2 yards and the first down on their lone rushing attempt with three tight ends.
  • Download: This Excel file features a sortable Rams offensive play-by-play sheet complete with my observations on select plays, plus a second sheet summarizing production across personnel groups. Alternate download link here.

I'll be watching to see how the Rams run the ball across their various personnel groups. They signed Karney to pound the ball. Will they be better running the ball with Karney on the field? We don't have near enough evidence at this point. Just something to consider. One way or another, they need to run the ball effectively.

A few other things I noticed about the Rams in Week 1:

(Read full post)

Spagnuolo clear: It's his sideline

September, 15, 2009
9/15/09
7:58
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

A quick observation while replaying the Rams-Seahawks game: Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo isn't a very big guy, but he can have a forceful sideline presence.

Running back Steven Jackson had just gained 10 yards up the right sideline with about 2 minutes left in the first quarter when Seahawks safety Jordan Babineaux tackled Jackson at Spagnuolo's feet. Backup running back Samkon Gado confronted Babineaux, blocking the safety's path back to the field. Spagnuolo reached between Gado and Babineaux, placing his left hand on Gado's upper chest and moving him backward. Spagnuolo then walked toward Gado, admonishing him and forcing him deeper into the sideline.

You called it: Wall of Fame adds a name

September, 14, 2009
9/14/09
7:33
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


All rise. The great JohnnyBloodletter -- all one word -- joins the NFC West Wall of Fame after predicting the 49ers' victory over the Cardinals -- and the 20-16 final score -- in the "You Called It" contest for Week 1.

No one predicted the 28-o final score in the Seahawks' victory over the Rams. jdaddyo81 came closest with a 28-7 prediction. destrjl1380 was next with a 28-9 prediction.

JohnnyBloodletter also prevailed among those picking both NFC West outcomes correctly. He predicted a 27-10 Seahawks victory, missing by 11 points (the difference between 28 and 27 plus the difference between zero and 10). jaston19 was next with a combined 14-point differential (31-10 Seahawks and 20-17 49ers).

salukice also missed the 49ers' score by one point, predicting a 20-17 victory. destijl1380, Rick Curtis and jrfspike had the 49ers winning by a 21-17 final score. Great work by all. And now, a look at the wall:
  • Elion245. Forecast the Redskins' 20-17 victory over the Seahawks in Week 12 (2008).
  • Leesters. Forecast the Bears' 27-3 victory over the Rams in Week 12 (2008).
  • habitat730. Forecast the Cardinals' 34-10 victory over the Rams in Week 14 (2008).
  • IamJonasJones. Forecast the Cardinals' 30-24 victory over the Falcons in a wild-card playoff game (2008 postseason).
  • JohnnyBloodletter. Forecast the 49ers' 20-16 victory over the Cardinals in Week 1 (2009).
The fine print: Those submitting predictions for "You called it" must pick the winner correctly for their scores to be considered. Scoring is easy to calculate. The difference between a 20-17 prediction and a 31-14 outcome would be 14 points. We would calculate this by adding the difference between 20 and 31 to the difference between 17 and 14.

Observations from Rams-Seahawks game

September, 14, 2009
9/14/09
5:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Initial impressions of the Seahawks and Rams after watching their game late Sunday night:
  • Seattle remains in the embryonic stages offensively. I would expect improvement. Tight end John Carlson is the guy Matt Hasselbeck trusts the most, along with Nate Burleson. Hasselbeck holds the ball too long sometimes when he isn't quite sure where a receiver will be. Seattle could be dangerous if the team can get to midseason with a good record.
  • Aaron Curry transforms the Seattle defense. He brings an enforcer mentality and backs it up with size and athletic ability. He gets under other players' skin. Seattle hasn't had that type of mentality on defense for quite a while. Can the Seahawks sustain it against better teams?
  • One more note on Curry: The game was out of reach when the Rams' Steven Jackson finally broke a long run. Curry caught him from behind.
  • The Rams are smarter defensively from a scheme standpoint. Coach Steve Spagnuolo and defensive coordinator Ken Flajole kept Hasselbeck guessing early in the game by mixing up double-team coverages on receivers. Hasselbeck eventually figured out where to find Carlson.
  • Seattle was a difficult first destination for the Rams because of the noise. The Rams lack firepower at receiver and that will hurt them all season, but opening the season at home would have given St. Louis a better chance to function.
  • Backup Seattle linebackers Will Herring and David Hawthorne seemed to fare well once starters Leroy Hill and Lofa Tatupu left the game. Herring played well during preseason. Hawthorne has improved and become more than just a hitter. But with only six linebackers on the roster heading into Week 1, the team needed to sign D.D. Lewis as insurance once injuries affected Hill and Tatupu. Hill's injury appeared more serious.
  • The Rams cannot trust right guard Richie Incognito to keep his composure. There's a difference between playing with an edge and falling over the edge. I seriously question whether Incognito can ever show the necessary self-control.

Those are a few first impressions after watching the game on replay. I'll take a closer look upon returning home late Monday night.

Around the NFC West: Seahawks dominate

September, 14, 2009
9/14/09
9:52
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


The Seattle Times names John Carlson the Seahawks' player of the game.

Aaron Fentress of the Oregonian says the Seahawks showed signs of a potential return to prominence.

710ESPN Seattle provides audio links to interviews with Matt Hasselbeck, Julius Jones and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

John Boyle of the Everett Herald offers a Seahawks report card with an "A" grade for the receivers and tight ends.

Brian McIntyre of scout.com says 2008 first-round choice Lawrence Jackson made a positive impact for the Seahawks against the Rams.

Art Thiel of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks might have reason for optimism in part because of what Aaron Curry brought to their defense.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Curry made his presence felt from the beginning. O'Neil: "The first defensive play of Aaron Curry's NFL career ended with a shoving match against Rams running back Steven Jackson. The second play concluded with Curry depositing St. Louis guard Jacob Bell on his keister. Consider it a strong message from a strong man. Seattle's rookie linebacker is 254 pounds of bad intentions until the whistle blows."

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says Carlson was almost solely responsible for rescuing the Seahawks from a shaky start.

Percy Allen of the Seattle Times says Nate Burleson proved he's all the way back from knee surgery. Burleson: "At the very beginning of my recovery when I had the surgery, I couldn't bend my knee and I had doubts if I could make it back. It was like Day 2 or Day 3, and the doctors said this happens every time, but in your mind you're thinking, 'I can't bend my knee. How am I going to be able to run again? How am I going to be able to jump again? How am I going to be able to move and shake again?"

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says a nasty defense marked Jim Mora's first game as the Seahawks' head coach. Brewer: "The Seahawks played with an edge, with nastiness. They played with charisma. They attacked the game, even when things weren't going their way. Their defense frustrated the Rams all afternoon. And when the offense found rhythm after three turnovers in the game's first 12 minutes, a rickety game turned into a rout."

Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune says injuries to Leroy Hill and Lofa Tatupu did not appear to be serious.

Also from Divish: Burleson bounces back.

More from Divish: assessing Curry's impact.

Joe Barrentine of the Tacoma News Tribune put together a Seahawks photo gallery for Week 1.

Don Ruiz of the Tacoma News Tribune quotes the Rams' Jackson as calling Curry a "natural rusher" for Seattle.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks showed progress toward mastering Greg Knapp's zone blocking scheme. Tackle Sean Locklear: "We'd rather run block than pass block any day. It’s good to know that we can help ourselves, and it's up to us now. If it keeps getting worse, you’ve got to pass the ball. But we kept getting runs here and there and it looking promising."

Also from Williams: Mora used the word "surreal" to describe his first regular-season game as Seahawks coach.

49ers, Seahawks get help from upstairs

September, 13, 2009
9/13/09
10:47
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Two replay challenges helped the 49ers and Seahawks prevail in Week 1.

Alert coaching staffs contributed in both cases.
  • Update: The Seahawks' challenge was within the final 2 minutes of the half, so I hereby rescind all credit given to Seattle coaches.

The Rams were still in the game against Seattle when they returned a blocked kick for an apparent touchdown. The replay official challenged the touchdown, claiming the Rams had 12 men on the field. Officials reversed the call.

In Arizona, officials claimed the 49ers had 12 men on the field during a first quarter punt return. The penalty would have resulted in an automatic first down for the Cardinals. Instead, coach Mike Singletary successfully challenged the call. The 49ers took over in Cardinals territory, putting them in position for a field goal that gave them a 6-0 lead.

Coaches take heat for poor game management. The 49ers' staff -- and the replay official in Seattle -- deserve credit for paying attention to the little things.

Nine thoughts from Gate C9

September, 12, 2009
9/12/09
5:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Nine thoughts from Sea-Tac's Gate C9 on my way to Phoenix to see the Cardinals and 49ers:
  • LaDainian Tomlinson is one of my running backs in the NFC West Gridiron Challenge. He has 402 carries for 1,906 yards and 19 touchdowns in 16 career games against the Raiders.
  • Barring a lopsided game, Steven Jackson's rushing numbers against Seattle will provide a feel for the Rams' offense and the Seahawks' defense. Jackson has rushed for 64, 70, 93 and 66 yards in four road games against the Seahawks. The Rams spent lots of cash in free agency for center Jason Brown this year and left guard Jacob Bell a year ago. How those two play against Seattle's Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane could be telling. Cory Redding and Aaron Curry give the Seahawks more size in their front seven. Based on my most recent listed weights and projected starters, the Seahawks have on average the second-heaviest front seven in the NFL.
  • The Cardinals had only five runs of 20 yards or longer during the 2008 regular season, tied with Indianapolis for fewest in the league (the Panthers and Giants had 24 apiece). The Cardinals were one of five teams without a run of at least 40 yards. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, speaking Saturday on Sirius radio, said he was encouraged when Cardinals broke two 20-plus runs during the exhibition season. The 49ers allowed only eight 20-plus runs last season, tied for seventh-fewest in the league. The Cardinals drafted Beanie Wells to break long runs.
  • The 49ers' Justin Smith, Parys Haralson and Nate Clements have given the Cardinals' offense some problems in the past. I thought Smith was particularly disruptive against the Cardinals in Arizona last season. Haralson had two sacks against the Cardinals in the 2008 opener. Clements has played Larry Fitzgerald tough most of the time.
  • NFC West teams are taking different approaches to encouraging leadership. The Rams' Steve Spagnuolo has emphasized team while going out of his way to avoid anointing players as leaders. The Rams are electing captains on a week-by-week basis. The 49ers' Mike Singletary has taken a different approach. His decision to anoint Vernon Davis a season-long team captain seemed to be made with the intent of the designation becoming self-fulfilling. Davis had made strides, no question. Naming him a captain puts pressure on Davis to live up to the designation. It's a smart gamble by Singletary given how much the 49ers have invested in Davis.
  • The Seattle and Arizona defenses have stressed accountability this offseason. Seahawks coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley have called out players in front of their teammates. Coaches pointed out "loafs" as part of team video study sessions early in the offseason. Players took on those duties as training camp approached. Both defenses need the emphasis to carry over into the regular season.
  • None of the current starting quarterbacks in the NFC West was drafted by his current team. The Seahawks and 49ers have extra first-round picks in 2010. The Rams could be in the market for a quarterback -- and in position to draft one early -- depending on how Marc Bulger plays this season.
  • Rams tackle Alex Barron can't escape Seahawks pass rusher Patrick Kerney. Barron moved from right tackle to left tackle, only to have Kerney move from left defensive end to right defensive end. Should be a good matchup.
  • The 49ers and Seahawks are each counting on an unproven safety. The 49ers went with Dashon Goldson. The Seahawks went with Jordan Babineaux. Both teams wanted more playmaking from the position. I'm anxious to see whether those players justify the moves.

That's it. About to board my flight.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


The weekly prediction thread is back for 2009.

Simply predict in the comments section the winning team and final score for each NFC West game, then prepare for glory. Anyone predicting the winner and score correctly earns public commendation and a spot on the Wall of Fame. Honorees for 2008 include:
  • Elion245. Forecast the Redskins' 20-17 victory over the Seahawks in Week 12.
  • Leesters. Forecast the Bears' 27-3 victory over the Rams in Week 12.
  • habitat730. Forecast the Cardinals' 34-10 victory over the Rams in Week 14.
  • IamJonasJones. Forecast the Cardinals' 30-24 victory over the Falcons in a wild-card playoff game.

Rams or Seahawks? 49ers or Cardinals? Let the world know. I'll record predictions and heap praise upon the prescient.

The fine print: Those submitting predictions for "You called it" must pick the winner correctly for their scores to be considered. Scoring is easy to calculate. The difference between a 20-17 prediction and a 31-14 outcome would be 14 points. We would calculate this by adding the difference between 20 and 31 to the difference between 17 and 14.

Big test awaits Rams' top pick Smith

September, 9, 2009
9/09/09
5:21
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Jason Smith's expected move into the Rams' lineup at right tackle makes sense.

The picture wouldn't look right if the No. 2 overall choice wasn't good enough to start -- particularly at right tackle, as opposed to quarterback -- for a team with a 5-27 record over the past two seasons.

I'm expecting the Rams to help Smith with a tight end or running back, particularly on passing downs. The rookie will be making his regular-season debut in one of the NFL's loudest stadiums. Opponents have committed 78 false-start penalties in their last 32 games at Qwest Field, seven more than the runner-up Metrodome during that span. Left tackle Alex Barron's ability to hold up against Seahawks pass-rusher Patrick Kerney could be a key variable influencing how much the Rams might help Smith, should they choose to do so.

Smith's transition from Baylor has likely required him to think more about technique, with mixed results. He'll line up against Cory Redding, one of the Seahawks' most impressive defensive players in training camp. The Seahawks also figure to line up pass-rushers, notably the very swift Darryl Tapp, on that side.

Whatever the Rams can do to minimize one-on-one matchups for Smith seems like a good idea under the circumstances. The questions facing Redding have more to do with long-term durability than what he might bring to an opening game.

On the air: Seahawks in Week 1

September, 9, 2009
9/09/09
10:35
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Ron Pitts, John Lynch and Rob Desir of Fox get the call when the Seahawks open the 2009 regular season Sunday at home against the Rams. Kickoff is at 1:15 p.m. PT.
Week Team Opp. Network Crew Crew Rank
1 SEA STL Fox Ron Pitts, John Lynch, Rob Desir 6 of 7

CBS has eight crews. Fox has seven. The networks rank their crews, with higher-ranked ones drawing more attractive assignments such as Super Bowls, playoff games and marquee matchups.

For those new to the blog this season, I track which crews work specific games within the division to see how the networks perceive national interest. Earlier: Seahawks in 2008.

On the air: Rams in Week 1

September, 9, 2009
9/09/09
10:33
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Ron Pitts, John Lynch and Rob Desir of Fox get the call Sunday when the Rams visit the Seahawks in Week 1. Kickoff is at 3:15 p.m. CT.
Week Team Opp. Network Crew Crew Rank
1 STL SEA Fox Ron Pitts, John Lynch, Rob Desir 6 of 7

CBS has eight crews. Fox has seven. The networks rank their crews, with higher-ranked ones drawing more attractive assignments such as Super Bowls, playoff games and marquee matchups.

For those new to the blog this season, I track which crews work specific games within the division to see how the networks perceive national interest. Earlier: Rams in 2008.

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