NFC West: Rodgers Saffold

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Jerome Bettis became a Hall of Fame candidate after leaving the Rams in a regrettable trade. Thomas: "If the Marshall Faulk trade in 1999 was one of the best in St. Louis sports history, the Bettis deal three years earlier was one of the worst. And ultimately, it cost coach Rich Brooks and general manager Steve Ortmayer their jobs." Bettis averaged 3.2 and 3.5 yards per carry in his final two seasons with the Rams. He then topped 1,000 yards for six consecutive seasons with the Steelers. He finished his career with 91 rushing touchdowns, three receiving touchdowns and 13,662 rushing yards. Said Brooks at the time of the trade: "I wanted a little more speed at the position. 'Jerome is an outstanding player and the Pittsburgh scheme will suit him more than my scheme will. It is a good move for Jerome.'' The Rams felt OK trading Bettis because they had recently drafted Lawrence Phillips. Oops.

Also from Thomas: says Rams receiver Mardy Gilyard underwent wrist surgery recently. Ron Bartell, Chris Chamberlain, Chris Long and Jerome Murphy have also undergone surgical procedures this offseason.

More from Thomas: If he were running the Rams, he would inquire about Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson this offseason. I would expect the Rams to be more aggressive at times in upgrading their roster. They're in better position to take an occasional risk now that they feel better about their leadership and foundation. And they certainly need to acquire weapons for quarterback Sam Bradford.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams can learn from the Steelers and Packers, who have drafted very well. Miklasz: "From 2002 through 2007, the Rams drafted 55 players, and only four remain with the team today: cornerback Ron Bartell, running back Steven Jackson, safety Oshiomogho Atogwe and long snapper Chris Massey. And only one, Jackson, has been voted to the Pro Bowl. The Rams' list of draft-day busts is lengthy and depressing. The Rams are doing better under general manager Billy Devaney. Over the last three drafts the Rams have added important franchise pieces such as quarterback Sam Bradford, middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, offensive tackles Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith, defensive end Chris Long and cornerback Bradley Fletcher. The Rams may have another impact draftee in tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, and other young players have shown promise."

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis marks the 11-year anniversary of the Rams' Super Bowl victory over Tennessee.

Matt Maiocco of sizes up the 49ers' coaching staff, noting that the team still needs a tight ends coach. Maiocco lists the following coaches as retained from Mike Singletary's staff: Tom Rathman, Mike Solari, Jim Tomsula and Bill Nayes.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers are raising -- and lowering -- ticket prices for the 2011 season. Barrows: "According to the 49ers, the average cost of an NFL ticket in 2010 was $101. A 49ers ticket averaged $77 in 2010 and will rise to $83 in 2011. The team also notes that it offers a $59 lower-bowl ticket, which is one of the lowest costs in the league for that level."

Glen Creno of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals ownership has purchased a landmark restaurant where team president Michael Bidwill hung out during his days as a federal prosecutor. Creno: "Tom's has been around in various incarnations for more than 80 years, but it was put up for sale last year when its owner, Michael Ratner, could no longer spend the time he wanted running the place. He was spending most of his time in treatment for esophageal cancer and said that if a buyer couldn't be found, the restaurant would be closed."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects the Cardinals to accelerate efforts to land a defensive coordinator beginning Monday or Tuesday following the Super Bowl. Somers: "There appear to be at least five candidates. Even though Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau has said he won't coach anywhere else than Pittsburgh in 2011, I think Ken Whisenhunt will at least inquire. ... Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler is another prime target. But the Steelers gave him a new contract a year ago and made him 'coordinator in waiting.' The Steelers might well deny Whisenhunt permission. Steelers secondary coach Ray Horton will also draw some interest. ... The Packers run a similar defensive scheme, with the 3-4 as their base alignment. Assistant head coach Winston Moss is highly regarded and coaches the inside linebackers. Safeties coach Darren Perry worked with Whisenhunt in Pittsburgh and is well-versed in LeBeau's system. The Packers have other young assistants, namely cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt, Jr., who are regarded as up and comers, but they are not believed to be under consideration by the Cardinals at this time."

Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer lists recently fired Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates as a potential candidate to replace another former Seattle coordinator, Bob Bratkowski, as the Bengals' offensive coordinator.

Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal says former Seahawks defensive line coach Dwaine Board will coach the Browns' defensive line under new coach Pat Shurmur. Board worked under Browns president Mike Holmgren in Seattle.

Mailbag: Spanning the mighty NFC West

October, 21, 2010
Charlie from Auburn, Calif., writes: I've seriously had it with the play calling Mike Singletary seems to have imposed first on Jimmy Raye and now Mike Johnson.

As evidenced by the two-minute drill last week and against Indy last year, and a few other times, the 49ers, and Alex Smith, can move the ball fairly effectively when in the spread, using 3-4 wide receivers, Smith in the shotgun and running a hurry-up style offense.

Given that Singletary never plays a game aggressively on offense until the 49ers fall behind by three scores, at which point they then fight to come back using the spread, how effective do you think Smith would be as a quarterback in a system that actually was built around his strengths?

Most people I talk to think he's a pretty bad QB, but I think he would at least be in the top 10 given a shot playing in a system like Indy's offense, one where he's in the gun about 70 percent of the time and has 3-4 wide receivers to hit quickly.

Frankly, the 49ers as a whole are built to be a more aggressive offense. Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis should be getting a lot more passes, and they have shown they can run effectively from spread formations, as they did vs New Orleans.

Mike Sando: I understand your frustrations with the offense. Two-minute situations do not necessarily apply over the course of a full game. Defenses play differently when protecting leads late in games. Offenses have an easier time completing passes, dictating tempo and those sorts of things. The 49ers would not necessarily be able to do that at will. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady might make it look easy, but Smith and other lesser quarterbacks couldn't duplicate the results.

Sure, Smith could be better than this if he were in a better situation. He needs to be better in this situation, however. It's not like he's so good in spread situations that the 49ers should abandon plans for a power running game with Frank Gore.

If Smith were struggling in a pass-happy offense, we would probably be asking why the 49ers weren't taking pressure off him by building around Gore.

Tim from Jackson, Wyo., writes: Hey Mike, I attended the Chicago game and saw the hit laid on Jon Ryan. Crowd went nuts. I notice that ESPN has been showing that hit with regularity, and in a jocular fashion. Why is this hit not being used as an example of a hit on a defenseless player? Hines Ward seems to come to mind when one thinks of hits of this sort, and I seem to remember Warren Sapp laying out a Green Bay player, injuring said player pretty severely. Any thoughts?

Mike Sando: I thought the hit was clean. Ryan was charging forward toward Devin Hester and within about 7 yards of him when Earl Bennett blocked Ryan cleanly. Ryan was actively trying to make the tackle. He was not trotting across the field away from the action. It was a brutal and devastating hit, but I couldn't see anything about it in violation of the rules.

Erick from California writes: Who is the best rookie offensive lineman in the NFC West -- Rodger Saffold, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis or Russell Okung?

Mike Sando: Okung hasn't played enough to say for sure, but the way he played in a hostile environment Sunday was impressive. No penalties. No sacks allowed. Drove Brian Urlacher into the end zone on Justin Forsett's 9-yard touchdown run.

Of the other three, Saffold plays the toughest position, left tackle. He's probably been the best to this point based on what the Rams are asking him to do. I'd probably go with Davis next, then Iupati, if we're talking about how the rookies have played to this point. Davis has a tougher job because he's playing tackle. Iupati has more help playing guard.

We're only five or six games into the evaluation, though. I've seen good things from every one of them.

Michael from parts unknown writes: Sando, after browsing through the NFC West roided-out rosters, I am wondering where the teams in the division rank in age by position. Have you done something like that before? Looking at the 49ers' offensive line got me to thinking about it. Their average age on the offensive line is 24.8. That is insanely young for an offensive line, isn't it? Oh and by the way, I read your blog daily. Thanks, Mike.

Mike Sando: Yes, I can easily slice and dice ages by position. It's just a matter of dragging the the position category into an Excel pivot table window and watching the numbers come up. I plan to update rosters Thursday night. I'll come back with an item breaking down roster ages by position.

Jimmy from San Diego writes: Hey Mike, looking at your MVP Watch, just wanted to comment on defensive players. No defensive players come close to Osi Umenyiora based on his performance this season. Eight sacks, seven forced fumbles (two shy of the NFL record in only six games). I am sorry, Troy Polamalu and Julius Peppers do not stack up. Clay Matthews is having a helluva season, too.

Mike Sando: Yeah, I do not necessary disagree. Part of the challenge in putting together MVP Watch lies in making sure some of the best teams are represented. There's a balancing act between recognizing winners and including a few players having great individual seasons without as much team success.

Philip Rivers made the list, possibly for the last time unless the Chargers start winning again. Ben Roethlisberger could be representing the Steelers on the list relatively soon. Sometimes it feels as though only three or four candidates are truly worthy of strong consideration, making it tough to fill the remaining six or seven spots.

Brian from Scottsdale, Ariz., writes: Is it too early to begin questioning the Cardinals' first-round draft choice, Dan Williams? I know he plays a position that doesn't yield great statistics, and I've read about his deactivation for a game for weight issues. I can't help but think a team should be getting more out of a player drafted this high.Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: Let's see where he's trending a month from now.

My thought was that Williams would take over as the starting nose tackle sometime this season. The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Casey Hampton with the 19th pick in 2001, moving him into the starting lineup for Week 7. Hampton started the final 11 regular-season games and developed into the anchor of the Steelers' 3-4 defense for the next decade (and counting).

Williams hasn't shown much to this point. Missing weight raised questions about him. If he hasn't shown anything a month from now, harder questions would be more appropriate. The team has played only five games to this point.

Nick from Portland, Ore., writes: If you were the Seattle front office (or Pete Carroll), how would you solve your long-term QB questions?

If the Seahawks stay competitive and Matt Hasselbeck stays (mostly) mistake free, conventional wisdom would then suggest Charlie Whitehurst never sees significant playing time this season.

If that happens (and I hope it does), Whitehurst will remain the untested and unproven backup he's always been. Let's say Hasselbeck plays well enough to earn an extension this offseason. Are the Seahawks really going to pay Whitehurst $10 million and never use him in the regular season?

Mike Sando: Whitehurst gets $4 million this season and $4 million next season, with another $1 million available via incentives in each year of the deal. Seems to me Seattle can pay that price to keep Whitehurst as the backup if Hasselbeck plays well enough to command a contract extension.

The biggest question I have is whether the Seahawks would commit to Hasselbeck beyond this season when the rest of the roster figures to get younger. What if Hasselbeck plays just well enough for the Seahawks to post an 8-8 record, win the NFC West title and then lose in the wild-card round? Those parameters could create a dilemma.

I don't think the Seahawks know what they're going to do. They need to see the season play out. Sometimes these questions answer themselves through injury or other means. Ten games remain. There's still time to get some answers.

Kristof from Gainesville, Fla., writes: I'm excited about the Rams' win, but with Laurent Robinson and Mardy Gilyard hurt and with Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton out for the year, can the Rams keep the passing game going? Danario Alexander was great but he, Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola aren't going to scare defenses.

Mike Sando: Robinson, Gilyard and Clayton were not scaring defenses and I say that will all due respect. Clayton in particular was highly productive, but he was not a rare physical talent commanding extra attention from defensive coordinators. The Rams' depth at receiver is thinning. I don't think they've quite reached the breaking point. Losing Amendola might do it, though. They need to get the tight ends going now that Mike Hoomanawanui is healthier.

The Rams are better on defense this season. They're better at quarterback. They have a top running back. Their offensive system has succeeded elsewhere without elite talent at wide receiver. Sam Bradford needs receivers he can trust. Clayton was that type of receiver. Amendola is that type of receiver. Gibson has made some strides.