NFC West: Ron Jaworski

Candlestick Park StadiumHoberman Collection/UIG/Getty ImagesOn Monday night, San Francisco 49ers fans will empty out of Candlestick Park for likely the final time.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The odds are strong that Monday night will see the final game at Candlestick Park when the San Francisco 49ers host the Atlanta Falcons.

Barring a complete breakdown by first-place Seattle, the best the 49ers can do as a playoff seed is No. 5. In that scenario, the only way there could be another game at Candlestick – the 49ers move to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara in 2014 – is if they host the No. 6 seed in the NFC Championship Game.

Don’t count on it. According to ESPN Stats & Information, since 1990, a No. 5 seed has never hosted the No. 6 seed in a title game. So prepare to say goodbye to Candlestick on Monday night.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some remembrances of the historic but uncomfortable hunk of cement by the bay, as compiled by ESPN:

[+] EnlargeChris Berman
ESPNChris Berman reported from the field after "The Catch" game in 1982 at Candlestick Park.
“It was not the greatest-played game, but you couldn't have had more exciting a game. … The ball looks like it’s going into the stands and Dwight Clark leapt like a basketball player, made the catch. But the game wasn’t over. There was still a minute to go almost. … It caught even the city by surprise. It was fresh and it was fun, and who knew what they were building at the time. The whole thing sends shivers down my spine, that I was fortunate enough to be there and see it. It’s an iconic game in pro football history, let alone Candlestick. That’s what Candlestick will be remembered for more than anything else: that play, that game, even though there were some unbelievably great games, all the playoff games the 49ers have had there.”

-- ESPN's Chris Berman, who covered “The Catch” from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship Game

“I have a plethora of memories, phenomenal memories of championship games won and lost, Monday night games, big games, December games, games that decided the home-field advantage almost every year it seemed like. The locker room dripping down from condensation. The high tide would come in and you’d get that smell on the field, really soggy when it started to rain. The infield, when the Giants were playing there, with crushed rock, you’d get skinned up all through September and early October. The wind, obviously, early in the season, was always a factor. The stadium needs to close. She’s gone as far as she can go, it needs to be done. But for me, obviously it’s hard to see her go, it’s hard to see it end, and I’ll always miss playing at Candlestick Park. I missed it the second I left the 49ers, and I still miss being in that park. It will be fun to be there Monday night and see the last game.”

-- ESPN NFL analyst and Hall of Fame 49ers quarterback Steve Young

“When the 49ers beat the Giants on 'Monday Night Football' at Candlestick in 1990, I had this old, beat-up car, a Delta ’88. I bought it for $500. It was the worst car you’ve ever seen. The players all made fun of me. They called me ‘Uncle Buck.’ This Giants game is huge, and before we leave for the stadium from the team hotel Charles Haley says to me, ‘I need to ride over with you in that car to the stadium. I’ve got to get in the right state of mind.’ I told him my car might not make it – it was that bad a car. He insisted on riding with me. So he didn’t take the team bus. It’s the biggest game in my life, and my car’s going to break down on the way to the stadium. I don’t have a parking pass or anything. So Haley is out the window yelling at security to let us in. I am a nervous wreck. I think Mike Holmgren and George Seifert are going to fire me – my coaching career is over. Even when we got to the stadium, I was scared to go in the locker room. Fortunately, we won 7-3 and Haley played his tail off.”

-- ESPN MNF analyst and Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden, who started his NFL coaching career as a 49ers assistant in 1990

[+] EnlargeSteve Young
George Rose/Getty Images"I'll always miss playing at Candlestick Park," Steve Young said. "I missed it the second I left the 49ers."
“My first NFL start was at Candlestick against Steve Young’s 1994 49ers team -- and I was pathetic. But it was going home to the Bay Area, close to where I grew up, buying 75 tickets for family and friends. At the time, you try not to get caught up in the nostalgia, the history and who you are playing because they were just awesome. Though I didn’t play well, it’s still a great memory that I was able to have my first NFL start there.”

-- ESPN NFL analyst Trent Dilfer, a Northern California native and resident who played his first NFL game with Tampa Bay at Candlestick in 1994

“I remember going onto the field at Candlestick and warming up. I would go to every corner of the field and throw the football because the wind was different in every area of the stadium. You think it would go right, and it would go left. Some areas you think it would knock the ball down, it would take the ball up. You wanted to know what the wind was going to do to the football, and I always felt that was to the quarterback’s advantage, knowing the wind current in Candlestick Park.”

--ESPN NFL analyst Ron Jaworski, who played at Candlestick as a member of the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles

“The Eagles played the 49ers the last game in the final week of the 1993 season on 'Monday Night Football.' So we play the game and it ends up tied. They played a full 15 minutes of overtime, and with four seconds left Philadelphia was going to try a field goal. The kicker hooks it. He’s going to miss the field goal but the defender came in and roughed the kicker. So the game is over, the overtime period is over, but with a foul on the last play of a period, you extend the period. The Eagles re-kicked and won the game 37-34. It was the longest regular-season game in NFL history -- a full game, a full overtime, plus one play.”

--MNF rules consultant and former NFL official Gerry Austin, who refereed the longest regular-season game in NFL history at Candlestick on Jan. 3, 1994
ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski made headlines recently when he said San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick -- he of 10 NFL starts -- has a chance to be become an all-time great player at the position.

In an Insider piece, Jaworski looks at second-year startersInsider (yes, Kapeernick is in his third season, but second as a starter) and what to expect.

Of course, Jaws expressed his love for Kaepernick’s game. But there are some challenges he wants to see answered. Here is some of what Jaworski had to say about Kaepernick headed into 2013:
Because the 49ers don't appear to have a receiver who can take the top off a defense, I think opponents may try to crowd the line and force Kaepernick to beat them deep. Kaepernick has the arm and the accuracy to burn them, but will the Niners have the receivers who can win that matchup down the field? In the face of that new wrinkle, I want to see if he'll continue to make the correct decisions.
Meanwhile, here is a fantasy look at Kaepernick as he heads into Sunday’s season opener against Green Bay.

ESPN's Ron Jaworski ranked San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick No. 11 when ranking the 32 projected NFL starting quarterbacks for 2013.

Jaworski now says he thinks Kaepernick can become an all-time great. Jaworski, speaking in the video atop this item, pointed to Kaepernick's arm strength, accuracy and mobility. He also pointed to the coaching Kaepernick is receiving from Jim Harbaugh and staff.

Early returns are indeed promising. Kaepernick ranked second to Peyton Manning in Total QBR as a starter for the regular season and playoffs. Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Eli Manning rounded out the top 10.

Smith's presence on that list stands out, because he hadn't produced at that level previously. I do think the offense in San Francisco forces teams to account for the run, setting up quarterbacks for success on early downs. That is when Smith in particular flourished. As Jaworski points out, there is no denying the physical ability Kaepernick brings to the position. Put him in the 49ers' system and the potential is there, no doubt.

Now that we've begun work on that Hall of Fame bust, let's revisit what Jaworski said when ranking Kaepernick 11th among starters earlier this offseason:
"Normally 10 NFL starts is not enough for me to evaluate a player so highly, but this kid has special talent, is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback with a power arm and outstanding athleticism.

"Remember this? It was a signature play of the 2012 season. It was Kaepernick’s first touchdown run against Green Bay that really caught my attention. You see the press man coverage with two deep safeties. It turned out the Packers doubled Michael Crabtree. But the point is the same. This is what mobile, athletic quarterbacks can do versus man-to-man coverage, especially on third down. It forces defenses to rethink their concepts, it limits their tactical options.

"I remember Kaepernick’s first start against the Bears. It was immediately evident that he gave the 49ers every dimension in the passing game. And I love the way Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman set up Kaepernick with defined reads through the use of shifts and formations.

"Watch what happened here from the coaching tape. All that pre-snap movement was designed to get Vernon Davis matched on linebacker Lance Briggs. As favorable as the matchup was, that was still not an easy throw.

"That’s why Kaepernick has a chance to be very special. He has a complete throwing skill-set with a powerful arm that I absolutely put at gun level. His ball comes out with a lot of energy and velocity. And Kaepernick can drive the ball down the field, on the move, with accuracy.

"Kaepernick is one of the four or five most physically talented quarterbacks in the entire NFL. It will be fascinating to see how he adjusts to the loss of Michael Crabtree, but the elite skill-set is still there."

2013 Jaws QB ranking: Wilson 12th

July, 11, 2013
Someone recently asked whether I thought ESPN's Ron Jaworski would list the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick or the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson higher in his ongoing quarterback rankings for 2013.

We now have our answer after Jaworski revealed Wilson in the No. 12 spot. Kaepernick will rank somewhere in the top 11.

Here's what Jaworski said about Wilson on SportsCenter:
The second-highest rookie on my quarterback big board comes in at No. 12 -- Russell Wilson. I thought the Seahawks brought him along beautifully. They gave him more volume as the season progressed. And when the playoffs came, Wilson was ready for the challenge.

Both quarterbacks have strong arms, but Kaepernick is bigger and his arm is stronger. I suspect those distinctions could have helped Kaepernick rank higher on Jaworski's list. Reaching the Super Bowl couldn't have hurt, either.

Through the 16-game regular season schedule, Wilson threw the fewest passes of any NFL starter. What showed up quickly was how well he threw the deep ball. The winning touchdown against the Patriots was a big-time throw.

One attribute that separates Wilson from many other quarterbacks is his light, quick, athletic feet. Believe me, that’s a hard throw [referring to a highlight showing Wilson throwing across his body to complete a pass while running away from pressure against the Miami Dolphins]. The defense tactically won on this play. It was a triple A gap blitz. That third blitzer, the safety, cannot be accounted for. Wilson has to move to have any chance. That’s as impressive as it gets. And how about the accuracy, running to his left. There’s a reason for that: proper mechanics. Look how Wilson squared his shoulders to deliver the football. Even though he was moving, he didn’t fall away from the throw.

The ability to avoid pressure, maintain his downfield focus and throw the ball accurately was a constant throughout his rookie season. There were times he ran, and that caused problems for the defense. But he was not a runner. Most importantly, he got down, preventing the kind of hits that negatively impact long-term availability.

The game that showed me Wilson can be a top 10 quarterback was the NFC divisional playoff game against Atlanta. The Seahawks trailed 20-0 at the half. All he did was lead four, second-half touchdown drives in which he was 14-of-16 for 241 yards.

That says it all right there. It’s why throwing from the pocket remains the No. 1 trait for high-level quarterback play, regardless of the player’s athleticism and mobility. It’s the reason Wilson has a chance to be a very good quarterback over a long period of time. He throws it very well from the cradle. The more I studied him, the more I liked his future."

Indianapolis' Andrew Luck will be the only 2012 rookie quarterback ranked higher than Wilson. Robert Griffin III was ranked 13th. Wilson entered last season with little fanfare and struggled for a few weeks. He was ascending by season's end. I would expect Wilson to rank even higher on Jaworski's list one year from now. That could be true for Kaepernick as well, but first we need to see how high Jaworski ranked him.
Listening to St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford's conversation with KREF SportsTalk 1400 in his native Oklahoma reminded me to revisit Ron Jaworski's ongoing series ranking NFL starters.

A few words from Jaworski regarding the Rams' fourth-year starter:

"Bradford has always been a talented thrower. In 2012, he took some sure and steady steps forward as he rebounded from a poor 2011 season.

"There's never been a question about Bradford’s arm talent. He has a strong arm with the ability to make every single throw. He can drive the ball down the field and when he’s comfortable and confident in the pocket, he throws with consistent accuracy.

"Bradford has underrated movement. He can get out of the pocket and use his legs to find room to throw. And he's always been effective off boot action. The bottom line is that Bradford has the throwing skill set to be a top-10 passer in this league.

"What are the concerns when I study Bradford? A lack of efficiency in the red zone. Too many interceptions. And it’s a red zone game. You can’t be a high-level quarterback if you can’t execute there. Bradford at times still struggles with basic blitz concepts that a player with his experience level should understand. This interception against the Vikings was a great example.

"Bradford must eliminate the mistakes that diminish the impact of his ability. This season I would expect a little bit different Rams’ offense. With the talent they now have at the skill positions, don’t be surprised to see more spread with Bradford in the shotgun, a faster tempo, just like Bradford’s days at Oklahoma."

Arizona's Carson Palmer was 23rd in Jaworski's ratings. Jaworski has revealed the starters ranked 13th through 32nd without featuring the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick or the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson. The chart includes 2012 Total QBR figures for the quarterbacks Jaworksi has ranked to this point. Matt Flynn and Kevin Kolb did not have enough plays to qualify for inclusion in various rankings, but I have provided their QBR scores anyway.

We've covered Bradford quite a bit this offseason, including earlier Wednesday. A recent take from Bernie Miklasz included additional perspective regarding Bradford's play in the red zone. As Bernie notes, Bradford improved in that area later in the 2012 season, after coaches helped implement some adjustments.

Bradford posted an 86.2 Total QBR score in the red zone over the Rams' final eight games. That figure ranked 12th in the NFL and was above the 67.1 average for 32 qualifying quarterbacks. Wilson was first (98.8), Kaepernick was 23rd (39.1) and Palmer was 27th (18.3) in that category over the same span.

That 86.2 figure for Bradford was up from a 4.7 QBR score in the red zone over the Rams' first eight games. That number ranked 33rd out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks over that span. Alex Smith was seventh (78.7), Palmer was 12th (61.7), Kolb was 16th (56.3) and Wilson was 26th (15.7) over their teams' first eight games of the season.

Red zone sample sizes are somewhat limited when reduced to half a season. Qualifying players averaged 40 red zone action plays over their teams' first eight games and 38 over their teams' final eight games.

ESPN's Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge are taking opposite sides in picking the Baltimore-San Francisco winner in the Super Bowl.

As they spoke, my mind turned to the few players on each team with the raw athletic ability, notably speed, to make game-breaking plays.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, tight end Vernon Davis and possibly running back LaMichael James are three such players for San Francisco. Receiver Torrey Smith is one such player for Baltimore.

Jaworski is picking the Ravens based on how well Joe Flacco is playing. He'll be covered either way, however. Before Flacco got on a hot streak against Denver and New England, Jaworski cited Kaepernick as the reason he thought the 49ers would win it all.

ESPN's Ron Jaworski is back with his latest rankings Insider of NFL quarterbacks. He puts Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck just ahead of Russell Wilson among rookies. He's got Sam Bradford quite a bit lower, with a chance to go higher with a stronger supporting cast.

Jaworski offers analysis for each quarterback. What he said about the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick was what stood out to me from an NFC West standpoint.

"Kaepernick is the reason I like the San Francisco 49ers to win it all," Jaworski wrote. "Between his arm strength and his foot speed, there is nothing the Niners' offense can't do. They've got the smashmouth ground game, and the quick-strike deep ball. He has shown good feel in the pocket and, like Griffin, looks to make the pass first and doesn't default to his legs at the first sign of pressure."

Jaworski is expecting the 49ers' coaching staff to have big plans for Kaepernick in the playoffs.

Around the NFC West: Who is dangerous?

December, 24, 2012

Experience warns against reading too much into any one game's outcome.

The Seattle Seahawks, now 10-5 and bound for the playoffs, keep challenging the maxim.

They recently scored 100 unanswered points at home, the largest in the NFL since the 1991 Washington Redskins. They've put up 150 points over their past three games. Their quarterback, Russell Wilson, keeps getting better in the face of any reasonable expectations -- for a rookie or even for a perennial Pro Bowler.

It's not just one game for the Seahawks at this point. It's a growing body of evidence and it's been validated by a 42-13 victory over a very good but increasingly injured San Francisco 49ers team Sunday night.

In the video above, Ron Jaworski and Merrill Hoge discuss whether Seattle or Green Bay qualifies as the most dangerous team in the NFC. There are certainly other worthy candidates. Atlanta has secured the top seed. Washington has won its past six games. But as Jaworski notes, the Seahawks appear strong in the areas where teams need to be strong: quarterback, running back, receivers, defense and special teams.

I'll be back with additional thoughts when our power rankings run later Monday -- one day earlier than usual in light of the holidays.

In the meantime, take a run through the links displayed in the box at right, and please pass along any others in the comments that you found valuable.

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Jaws' QB rankings: Where West stands

December, 7, 2012
Ron Jaworski's latest quarterback rankings for Insider Insider place Seattle's Russell Wilson 19th and climbing, with San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and St. Louis' Sam Bradford not far behind.

Wilson has gone from 31st to 24th to 19th during these quarterly rankings.

Jaws on Kaepernick: "Kaepernick's mobility and ability to extend the play will be a big part of the Niners' offense in the fourth quarter of this season."

Jaws' QB Countdown: Alex Smith

June, 25, 2012
We already knew the San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith would stand as Ron Jaworski's highest-ranked quarterback from the NFC West.

We did not know how high Smith would rank, or what Jaworski would say about him in his ongoing "Countdown" segments for "SportsCenter."

Now we know.

Smith ranks 16th, ahead of Sam Bradford and two of the NFC West quarterbacks still fighting to win a starting job. The No. 27 ranking for Matt Flynn qualifies as the most provisional one of the four simply because he has played so little.

Smith ranked two spots higher than NFC West alum Matt Hasselbeck.

Some thoughts from Jaworski, courtesy of ESPN's Allison Stoneberg:

"Two statistics speak to Smith’s play in 2011. He threw the fewest passes of any 16-game starter, and he had the lowest interception percentage in the National Football League. Smith was managed brilliantly by first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh perfectly understood his quarterback's strengths and limitations.

"The majority of Smith's 20-plus-yard completions came on first down, primarily out of base personnel. Play-action was also utilized. The 49ers got a lot of single-high safety coverages. That defined the reads for Smith. Here [refers to video highlight], he initially looked left; he saw the safety match up to Vernon Davis. He knew he had Michael Crabtree man-to-man on the crosser. The shot plays also came on first-and-10; the result of great design, attacking and breaking down anticipated coverages. Again, it was single high. When the safety jumped the crossing route, Smith hit Crabtree over the top. The wheel route was featured in the 49ers pass game. That played to Smith's passing strengths. He throws with excellent touch and consistent accuracy.

"I was really impressed with Smith in the playoff win against the Saints. He read the blitz, he was decisive and accurate. He pulled the trigger on the tight-window throws. The winning touchdown showed his development as a quarterback. Davis was in the tight slot. Smith's throw had to beat the deep safety to that side. You have to throw it early with great anticipation.

"Right here [more video], Smith began his delivery. That is as good as it gets, folks. The throw made this touchdown. You know what offensive coaches always emphasize? Run the offense the way it is structured and designed. Alex Smith did that with great efficiency. He's not the most physically gifted and talented thrower in the league, but he played at a very high level in 2011, and I expect the same in 2012."

I suspect Harbaugh and Smith can live with that assessment relative to so many others. Jaworski did mention Smith's limitations early. He did credit Harbaugh for "managing" Smith. Those types of comments diminish Smith; Smith and Harbaugh have appeared sensitive to those types of characterizations.

But Jaworski also hailed Smith for his touch and consistent accuracy. He said he expected Smith to continue producing at a high level. If that happens, the already shrinking references to "limitations" and "managing" might disappear from the analyses altogether.

Jaws' QB Countdown: Sam Bradford

June, 21, 2012
A year ago, when the San Francisco 49ers were approaching training camp, ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer told me he suspected Alex Smith would be the best quarterback in the NFC West for 2011.

The thought caught me a bit off-guard. Sam Bradford seemed to be ascending. The Arizona Cardinals were excited about Kevin Kolb. Smith hadn't even consistently proved he could be the best quarterback on the 49ers' roster.

When I followed up with Dilfer -- we had been speaking informally at 49ers headquarters following a practice -- he wasn't necessarily down on Bradford, Kolb or the other quarterbacks. He just thought Smith was better prepared than the others to succeed under the circumstances.

Smith was the best quarterback in the division last season, and now we know another ESPN analyst, Ron Jaworski, expects more of the same this season. "Jaws' QB Countdown" unveiled the St. Louis Rams' Sam Bradford as the 20th-ranked projected starter in the NFL, ahead of Kolb (25th) and Seattle's Matt Flynn (27th). We do not yet know how high Smith will rank, just that it'll be somewhere among the top 19.

In the meantime, Jaworski offered the following on-air thoughts regarding Bradford:
"I remember studying him when he came out of Oklahoma in 2010. What I really liked was his ability to sit in the pocket on his back foot, then drive through his throws and deliver with velocity and accuracy. Then I saw this red-zone throw in his fourth game in his rookie season [20-3 victory over Seattle in 2010], and I was even more impressed.

"Let me show you why that touchdown [a 15-yarder to Brandon Gibson] was so special. The defense dropped eight in coverage. That really squeezes your passing lanes. Here’s the throw. That is where Brandon Gibson caught the ball. Bradford delivered it right here. That is rare anticipation, for any quarterback, much less a rookie. There is no question Bradford is a top arm talent. At his best, he is a commanding pocket passer with a compact delivery and a strong arm. He can also get outside the pocket, extend plays and throw accurately on the run, even deep down the field.

"In 2011, Bradford, with very few exceptions, did not look like the same confident pocket quarterback that I saw as a rookie. He was tentative in the pocket, a function of both erratic offensive line play and receivers that could not win on the outside. But I was troubled by Bradford’s increasing tendency to anticipate the rush. I call that cabin fever. And Bradford struggled with that.

"2012 is an important year. The Rams' new coaching staff will manage Bradford in a run-first approach that ideally limits risk. But this is the NFL. You have to stand firm in the pocket and deliver the football. Right now, Bradford is a question mark."

I think it's clear Bradford has the talent. It's also clear the window could close on him if the Rams don't improve around him. Early indications suggest the Rams' new leadership is on its way to upgrading the roster. The team also has four first-round picks over the next two seasons.

The arrow continues to point up for Bradford's career, in my view. He has shown the competitive drive and toughness players need to persevere. We saw that when Bradford took every offensive snap as a rookie amid concerns over his durability. We saw it again last season when he fought through a high-ankle sprain to return ahead of schedule and stay on the field when he could hardly move.
Alex Smith's commitment to improving his throwing mechanics promises to turn analysts into amateur position coaches during the upcoming NFL season.

Every touchdown pass or interception will invite questions about whether Smith's shoulders were square or whether his front knee was bent sufficiently at delivery.

Matt Maiocco of explains the changes Smith has made to his mechanics by incorporating more of his body into the throw. Maiocco: "The most noticeable difference is that Smith also has greater flex in his left knee. ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, speaking in December, repeated what he has said since 2007: Smith's knee lock was a major issue."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says Smith's work with pitching coach Tom House also addressed the psychological aspect of the game. Branch: "Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who recommended the pitching coach to Smith, credits his meeting with House after the 2003 season for transforming his previous nice-guy style of leadership."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Dashon Goldson played well last season with minimal offseason preparation, something to keep in mind as Goldson remains unsigned this year. Barrows: "Furthermore, Goldson's absence gives the younger players more exposure. As of now, C.J. Spillman is filling in at free safety when the first-team defense takes the field. The 49ers signed Spillman to a three-year extension this offseason. Spillman may be the most physically gifted of all of the team's safeties -- he's certainly one of the more aggressive -- but he lacks experience. Newcomers Mark LeGree and Trenton Robinson, a sixth-round draft pick, also get a bit more action with Goldson's absence."

Clare Farnsworth of says the team's emphasis on speed in the draft should help the special teams, which were already pretty good. Farnsworth: "Red Bryant set franchise records by blocking two field goals in a game and four kicks during the season. Jon Ryan led the NFL and tied a club record with 34 punts downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, broke his club single-season records for average (46.6 yards) and net average (39.3) and also got off the longest punt (77 yards) in franchise history. Steven Hauschka tied club records by kicking five field goals in the upset victory over the Ravens and converting at least one three-pointer in 12 consecutive games. Doug Baldwin blocked a punt that Michael Robinson returned for a touchdown, while Farwell also had a blocked punt to set up a TD."

Also from Farnsworth: Why Jeremy Lane appealed to Seattle in the draft.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seahawks owner Paul Allen has denied rumors his sports empire could be for sale.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says no one is quite sure why Marshawn Lynch calls teammate Matt Flynn by the name "Antonio" -- that's just Lynch.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Landon Cohen's addition to the Cardinals' roster gives the team 90 players. Somers: "The Cardinals had one spot open on the roster and obviously needed some depth at defensive end. Signing Cohen doesn't preclude them from reaching agreement with defensive end Vonnie Holliday or outside linebacker Clark Haggans. Whenever that happens, the club will make a corresponding roster move."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis offers thoughts on the Rams' proposed stadium upgrades. Softli: "While there may seem to be a short-term downside, there is also a huge potential for economic growth that all Missourians can be very proud of once a top-flight facility is built. The bottom line is that this current stadium needs a major facelift, or else another one needs to be built, because this community can’t afford to lose another NFL team and millions of dollars in future revenue."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with new Rams linebacker Mario Haggan, the oldest player on the team at 32. Haggan: "Fresh start for me. Fresh opportunity. This is a young team with an established quarterback. I've heard so many good things about Coach [Jeff] Fisher; you talk to guys across the league and they all wish they could play for him. And it's close to home. Maybe my family can come see me play more in St. Louis."

Also from Thomas: a report from Fisher's first full-squad practice as Rams coach. Fisher: "We added a bunch of things today. We've got a lot of 'base' in, we've got third down, and red zone. Friday, we'll probably do some 2-minute. So we're throwing a lot at 'em. But they've responded very well and they're practicing well together."

Around the NFC West: Learning the game

December, 15, 2011
There's so much more to the typical NFL play than what we see in the highlights.

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle regularly puts together videos explaining some of the layers. Those interested in learning more about the game -- the strategy behind a specific motion, how to read basic coverage, what makes a good route runner -- need not follow a specific team to appreciate a former quarterback's perspective on the game.

So, pull up a chair and let him walk you through one of the key plays in the NFC West from Week 13. Doug Baldwin's 29-yard scoring reception against St. Louis featured a rookie receiver exploiting a backup nickel corner through play design and execution.

I'll have more on Baldwin a bit later Thursday. Meanwhile ...

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says the benefits of winning outweigh the benefits losing brings in superior draft status. Brewer: "A year ago, before the Seahawks played the St. Louis Rams in a season finale with a playoff berth at stake, many fans preferred a high draft pick to a postseason bid, knowing how incomplete that 7-9 team was. Well, the Seahawks made the playoffs, pulled off a historic upset and advanced a round. Then, with supposedly weaker draft resources, they went out and drafted four players who have turned into starters and then signed undrafted free agent Doug Baldwin, who is the team's leading receiver. The Seahawks are younger and more athletic than they've been in years."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks are unapologetic about focusing on the running game even as the NFL becomes more pass-oriented. Line coach Tom Cable: "Not everybody has a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning. Really, there's some elite guys who have those gaudy numbers, but everybody else is floundering, and they don't know, 'Do we run it today or do we throw it today? Let's try this.'"

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' defense was modeled after the Steelers' unit and is starting to play more like it as well. Browns coach Pat Shurmur did say the Cardinals play their coverages a little differently. Noted: Patrick Peterson was considered best suited for press coverage. He seemed to be playing off the receiver earlier in the season. I haven't noticed to what degree that has changed. Peterson has definitely played aggressively, drawing penalties at times.

Darren Urban of takes a closer look at the Cardinals' defense and passes along this quip from defensive lineman Darnell Dockett: "Once we fully learn the defense, it’ll be over for a lot of people." Noted: I'll have a detailed look at the Cardinals' defensive improvements a bit later Thursday.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is still struggling on his sprained ankle and might not play against the Bengals. Bradford: "The past two games I've gone out there, I feel like we've gone backwards. That is a bit frustrating, but in my opinion as long as it's good to go, as soon as it feels right, I want to be out there with my team trying to help them win."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points to a "perfect storm" of negative factors conspiring to make life rough for Bradford. Miklasz: "The Rams owe it to their fans, and to Bradford, to put him in position where he has a viable chance to succeed. Last season the Rams ran the kind of offense that put Bradford in position to make plays, and to grow. And -- with the help of a soft schedule and a disruptive defense -- the Rams won seven games and were one win from making the playoffs. That guy, Bradford, is still there. It's up to the Rams to make this right."

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says shutting down Bradford for the season could be a wise move in the near future.

Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat passes along Steve Young's thoughts on how Alex Smith and the 49ers can improve in the red zone. Young says he learned the hard way that quarterbacks cannot simply manage the offense in the red zone. They must create, which requires taking chances. Noted: This dovetails with the thinking that San Francisco needs to take more chances in that area of the field. The team has appeared willing to settle for field goals. A strong defense has allowed that approach to work quite a bit this season.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says Smith's need for structure and a script contrasts with the approach that has worked best for Tim Tebow.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says ESPN's Ron Jaworski does not see improvements to Smith's fundamentals this season.

On the air: Cardinals in Week 12

November, 23, 2010
Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden get the call for ESPN when the Arizona Cardinals face the San Francisco 49ers at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 12.

Kickoff is at 8:30 p.m. ET.

This is the Cardinals' first Monday night game since they faced the 49ers in Week 14 last season. This is the first of two prime-time games for the Cardinals in 2010. The Dallas Cowboys visit Arizona on Christmas.

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.

Earlier: 2008, 2009.

On the air: 49ers in Week 12

November, 23, 2010
Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden get the call for ESPN when the San Francisco 49ers visit the Arizona Cardinals in Week 12.

Kickoff for "Monday Night Football" is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET.

This is the second of three prime-time games for the 49ers this season. The team's Week 15 game at San Diego falls on a Thursday night.

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.

Earlier: 2008, 2009.