NFC West: Santana Moss
Wait, this just in: We've reached that point, as of now. The exercise isn't all that inane, I promise, because when the Seahawks look to upgrade a defense that led the NFL in fewest points allowed, nickel corner is one position they'll target. It's an important one, too, given how much time defenses spend in their nickel and dime personnel packages.
The short-term outlook does appear to be looking up, however. With cornerback Brandon Browner returning from suspension this week, Seattle can again field its preferred base and nickel secondaries.
The nickel defense gets our attention here.
Browner and Richard Sherman are the outside corners. Marcus Trufant is the nickel corner. Safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor round out this fivesome.
The chart shows stats for Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III when targeting wide receivers from the slot against nickel/dime defenses. It also shows slot-receiver stats against Seattle's defense when Browner, Sherman, Trufant, Thomas and Chancellor were on the field together.
I would have expected less impressive defensive stats for Seattle in these situations.
Miami's Ryan Tannehill did complete all four attempts for 58 yards when targeting slot wide receivers against this Seattle personnel grouping. That was in Week 12, the most recent game for Browner. Earlier, New England's Tom Brady completed 9 of 12 such passes for 127 yards and a touchdown against the Seahawks, but Seattle also picked him off twice on these throws.
Santana Moss is the Redskins' player to watch in these situations. He has 30 receptions for 467 yards and six touchdowns from the slot against nickel/dime defenses this season, regardless of quarterback. He has gained 208 of those yards after the catch.
This matchup will be an important one for Seattle to win, even if others get more of our attention.
Up next: How RG III fares on third down when shadows cover at least 48.3 percent of the playing surface at FedEx Field. I'm kidding, for now.
- About those young safeties. The Redskins enjoyed early success against Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor when Rex Grossman found Fred Davis for a 31-yard gain to the 2-yard line on Washington's first drive. Thomas blitzed and got into the backfield quickly, only to chase a ghost. Grossman faked a handoff inside, then faked one to Jabar Gaffney on an end-around. Thomas followed Gaffney long enough for Grossman to find Davis. Chancellor, having already leveled Santana Moss earlier in the drive, whiffed on Davis when trying to hit him instead of wrapping up. These were errors of aggression.
- Competitive battles on the lines. The Seahawks' left tackle, Russell Okung, continues to play better as his ankle injuries fade from memory. He faced difficult matchups against the Redskins' Stephen Bowen and Brian Orakpo. All parties made positive plays. Okung stood out early when the Seahawks got the Redskins' front flowing to the offensive right, setting up Marshawn Lynch's cutback for a big gain. Okung drove Bowen across the formation and landed on him. Okung took an awkward hit from teammate Breno Giacomini late in the game and was limping. Trent Williams, the Redskins' left tackle, was jabbering at various Seahawks throughout the game. He was the aggressor and seemed to get the better of his matchups. Two young Seattle linemen, center Max Unger and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, looked good.
- Guards were hustling. Robert Gallery and Paul McQuistan made excellent blocks well downfield to spring Lynch's 20-yard scoring reception.
- Redskins' trippy field-goal team. Red Bryant's power was part of the story behind the field-goal attempt he blocked in the second quarter. The Seahawks bunched defenders over the right side of the Redskins' protection. A twist left the Redskins' Will Montgomery trying to block two players at once, including Bryant. He had no chance. The tighter splits linemen use when blocking for field goals prevents them from moving backward freely without tripping over teammates' legs. Montgomery tumbled over backward as Bryant rushed through.
- Sprinting through the whistle can help. The Seahawks allowed their first rushing touchdown since Week 4 when Roy Helu sprinted around the left side for a critical 28-yard run with 9:57 left in the fourth quarter. It's unrealistic to expect every player on defense to run his absolute hardest throughout every moment of every play. The Seahawks would have been better off her if Leroy Hill had done that on this play, however. Hill let up when Chancellor appeared likely to make a tackle near the line of scrimmage (after Helu hurdled Roy Lewis). Hill accelerated when Helu broke free, but he let up again when Helu reached the 10-yard line. Hill was a couple yards behind and to the inside. He wasn't going to catch Helu, most likely. This was the signature play in a poor tackling game for Seattle.
That's it for now. I'm heading to Qwest Field early for the Thursday night game.
What it means: This would have seemed unfathomable not long ago, but the 2011 Rams have often appeared as bad or worse than the 2009 team that finished with a 1-15 record. They are 0-4 and reeling heading into their bye week, with a trip to Green Bay waiting for them on the other side. It's tough to blame the Rams' problems solely on injuries. In other words, they are not Danny Amendola and a cornerback away from contending. The Rams will need to dominate their division schedule late in the season to dig their way out.
What I liked: The Rams did not fall behind immediately, as they had against Baltimore a week earlier. This game was closer than that one. The Rams' pass defense prevented Rex Grossman from enjoying the spectacular success Joe Flacco enjoyed when he repeatedly hit deep passes for touchdowns. Cornerback Justin King, beaten deep by the Ravens, picked off a pass in the second half when the Rams needed a boost. Sam Bradford's 15-yard scoring pass to Steven Jackson in the fourth quarter made this a one-score game with 5:45 remaining. James Laurinaitis followed with another interception for the Rams, setting up in Washington territory in the final minutes.
What I didn't like: Rarely did the Rams pose a threat on offense until it was nearly too late. Bradford found himself under pressure again, too often unable to find anyone open. He continued taking far too many sacks. And when he did find receivers down the field, they too often couldn't make plays for him. Steven Jackson's return to a more prominent role made little impact. Jackson had trouble getting anything going on the ground when the Rams needed production early in the game. The defense wasn't all that bad on the touchdown reception Santana Moss made to open the scoring. Moss made a good play on the ball. The Rams don't have anyone making those types of above-average-but-not-great plays. Meanwhile, the Rams' disappointing run defense continued to have problems, enabling Ryan Torain's fourth career 100-yard rushing performance. The Rams' defense would be in much better position if the offense would score a few points on occasion.
Told you so: The Rams shrugged off concerns about their talent at receiver. It was going to be more about Josh McDaniels' system than raw talent at wideout. But with so many returning receivers coming off injuries, the Rams could have done more to protect themselves. It's not like having a healthy Amendola would strike fear in opposing defenses. The Rams need more offensive firepower.
What's next: The Rams have a bye in Week 5 before visiting Green Bay in Week 6.
The Rams have defied everyone's predictions, including yours. They are no longer the weakest link, and in fact look to be the most complete team in the division. Four games into the season, and the division is almost turned upside down. Are you ready to concede that the landscape is changing much quicker than you anticipated?
Mike Sando: The landscape is definitely changing faster than anticipated and the Rams could have the best team in the division as early as next season -- and even sooner -- just because they have Sam Bradford. But my predictions have held up pretty well.
I've predicted every Rams and Cardinals outcome correctly to this point in the season (see all predictions here). I predicted the Rams would get to 4-4 before losing seven of their final eight games. That could still happen, although Bradford has looked good enough for the Rams to expect more, provided their depth holds up well enough over the course of the season (something that did not happen last season).
The Cardinals have indeed been worse than anticipated even though my game-by-game predictions for them remain correct to this point. I had them losing to New Orleans in Week 5, then beating the Seahawks in Seattle. Let's see how they perform over the next couple of games.
On the 49ers, there's no question I thought this team should perform better than it has performed. I stand by that; it's not my fault they're not meeting reasonable expectations. I did warn that this team could struggle some early in the season because three of the first four games were on the road.
If the 49ers do not implode, I still give them a good chance to win the division. They've shown some very good things in games against New Orleans and Atlanta. They simply haven't been able to put things together or finish games, but with a victory over Philadelphia, it's not a huge stretch to think San Francisco could gain ground on every team in the division. That implosion still could happen, though. I do not trust Mike Singletary's coaching or Alex Smith's quarterbacking, and those two areas are hugely important.
Alex from San Francisco writes: Do they keep stats on YAC? When I watch the 49ers play this season, it seems like all of the completed passes are stopped almost as soon as they are caught. Is this an issue of not getting wide receivers into open space, or are opposing defenses scheming this way? It would seem that with big wide receivers and tight ends, the 49ers should be stronger in this area.
Mike Sando: The 49ers lead the NFL in percentage of yards gained after the catch, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This doesn't mean you're on the wrong track. YAC stats include yards gained by running backs after screens and other dump passes, and we all recall Frank Gore racking up lots of ultimately meaningless yardage this way in the Kansas City game specifically.
The 49ers have 920 yards receiving, with 566 of those gained after the catch. That means 61.5 percent of receiving yards were gained after the catch. This is the highest percentage in the league. As noted, though, this has more to do with Gore leading the NFL in YAC (279 yards) than with the 49ers' wide receivers making plays down the field.
Twenty-two of the NFL's top 50 players in total YAC this season are wide receivers. The rest are running backs and tight ends, which makes sense given that they're going to catch underneath passes, then get extra yardage. None of the 49ers' wide receivers made the top 50. Austin Collie (199), Eddie Royal (167), Terrell Owens (152), Wes Welker (131), Santana Moss (126), Lance Moore (126), Miles Austin (120), DeSean Jackson (115), Reggie Wayne (112), Anquan Boldin (110), Danny Amendola (106) and Mark Clayton (100) are the only wide receivers with at least 100 yards after the catch this season.
Brian from Frederick, Md., writes: Mike, is there anyway you can do a piece on budget cuts for the NFC West to show us how much money teams have cut from the team from either trades or releasing players. And also see how much they have spent on players? I know that might take some time, but it would be really interesting to see how well some teams have done so far. Thanks.
Mike Sando: The Cardinals in particular have slashed projected payroll. This has not always been intentional. They happily would have paid Kurt Warner what remained on his contract. They tried to keep Antrel Rolle and Karlos Dansby. Keeping Warner, Rolle, Dansby and Anquan Boldin would have cost tens of millions. Arizona did funnel some money Darnell Dockett's way, but overall, the Cardinals have reduced payroll more significantly than the other teams in the division. It is a subject I'd like to explore in more detail.
Arlan from San Francisco writes: Hey Mike, I was wondering why more teams don't tap into their former greats as position coaches or at least hire them as mentors to teach them how to watch film or read defenses. Is it because great players aren't always great teachers or because they just dont want to do it? It would seem beneficial, especially in the Niners' case, to get someone like Jerry Rice to teach receivers or Steve Young to teach quarterbacks. Maybe even be coordinators. They should understand the flow of a game right, when plays should work and when they shouldn't, right?
Mike Sando: Sounds good in theory, but coaching is a grind and the great players you mentioned have enough money to go on about their lives without working 16-hour days. Also, great players are not always the best teachers.
Mike from Seattle writes: Sando, with all this talk about Deion Branch possibly being traded back to the Patriots, what do you think the chances are of getting Logan Mankins in the deal? The value might not match up, but throw in a draft pick and there might be an outside shot, at least. What do you think?
Mike Sando: That would surprise me for a couple reasons. One, Seattle has already parted with its third- and fourth-round choices for 2011. The team doesn't have much draft capital remaining, and what it does possess should be precious for a rebuilding team. Two, Seahawks general manager John Schneider comes from the Ron Wolf/Ted Thompson personnel tree. That personnel tree generally hasn't valued guards at the going rate for elite ones. That thinking was at least partially in play when Seattle named Steve Hutchinson its transition player. Giving up picks and then huge money for Mankins would not fit that philosophy.
Joel from Seattle writes: I'm a big Seahawks fan. Do you see this team as a possible playoff team this year and future Super Bowl contender in the next three years?
Mike Sando: The state of the division makes every NFC West team a possible playoff team this season. Too much work lies ahead to say Seattle will be a Super Bowl contender anytime soon. The Seahawks probably still need to find their next quarterback. They need to improve their offensive line. They will try to find a dynamic receiver. They need pass-rush help.
The current regime has made some good moves. The only really shaky one, in my view, was trading guard Rob Sims to Detroit. That was clearly an Alex Gibbs-type move, and now Gibbs is gone and Seattle could use Sims. The Charlie Whitehurst move might have been a stretch, although Seattle still wound up getting a good player, Golden Tate, with the second-round pick it acquired from San Diego as part of the deal.
Brady from Port Hadlock, Wash., writes: What do you think the NFC West Standings will be at the end of October? Seahawks 4-3, Rams 4-4, Cardinals 3-4 and 49ers 3-5? Of course, I am a Seahawks fan. It would cool to hear what you think.
Mike Sando: I've got the Rams at 4-4 through October, followed by the Seahawks and Cardinals at 3-4. The 49ers would be 3-5. Seattle would have to win at Chicago or at Oakland (while beating Arizona at home) to reach 4-3. I do think Seattle should beat the Cardinals at Qwest Field. I'm not quite ready to trust this team on the road, but at least the Oakland game is on the West Coast and against a flawed team.
Chris from Portland, Ore., writes: As a Seattle fan, it seems like every year our bye week is really early in the season? Is this true and if so, can you comment on how the NFL determines which week a team will take their bye? It seems like it would be more of an advantage to have the bye later in the year as the wear and tear of the season really becomes an issue.
Mike Sando: I'm not sure what specifically determines bye placements. You are right about Seattle, though. Seattle's bye has fallen in Week 5 or earlier six times in the last nine seasons.
Tim from parts unknown writes: Just like to say you do a great job covering the Rams. We appreciate it, sir.
Mike Sando: Thanks. They're more fun to cover now that they're more competitive.
Nick from Salt Lake City writes: Hey Sando! As always, love the blog and I'm jealous that you got to witness my Rams give it to the Hawks. Guess I'll have to wait til they travel to Denver, but that's neither here or there. My question: How do you think the Rams truly feel about Kenneth Darby and Keith Toston? In a week where the Rams obviously needed my hero, Steven Jackson, don't you think they should have tried to lighten his load at least a little bit with their number No. 2 and No. 3 backs? Any other rumors for prospective signings in the coming weeks? Thanks again for all you do!
Mike Sando: Thanks, Nick. The Rams have to feel better about the situation behind Jackson after watching Darby score touchdowns in the last couple of games. Darby has exceeded my expectations. I would have expected St. Louis to make a move for a Julius Jones type. At this point, it's possible Jones is biding his time and looking for a situation that might offer more carries. The Rams have wanted to upgrade their depth at that position, though.
Atogwe was already playing with a thigh injury. The hit from Moss affected him further. Atogwe was limited in practice Friday, but it's looking like he'll play against Seattle in Week 4.
I went back and watched Moss' block a few more times. Atogwe was fortunate to avoid further injury.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The NFC West Gridiron Challenge is a bigger challenge than I thought.
My team managed all of 63 points in Week 3, with Reggie Wayne and Philip Rivers as my only players in double figures. The total was well below average and bad enough to leave my three-week total in the 41st percentile while dropping my team about 500 spots in the standings. It was a horrific week.
- QB: Kevin Kolb (27 points)
- QB: Drew Brees (6 points)
- RB: Steven Jackson (15 points)
- RB: Maurice Jones-Drew (31 points)
- WR: Santana Moss (23 points)
- WR: Reggie Wayne (18 points)
- TE: Dallas Clark (12 points)
- K: Robbie Gould (5 points)
- Defense: Ravens (22 points)
The chart shows overall leaders through Week 3, plus a couple of stragglers. My wife, who flashed her fantasy expertise by asking me Thursday whether starting Frank Gore would be a good move in Week 4, moved past me in the overall standings despite a so-so Week 3. And in case you're wondering, I told her the truth about Gore's status. I'll probably regret it.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
DANA POINT, Calif. -- A few more NFC West plays of note from officiating director Mike Pereira's annual media session Tuesday at the NFL owners' meeting:
- Seahawks at Bills, Week 1: Seahawks receiver Logan Payne fumbles out of bounds following a 23-yard reception in the third quarter. Under a proposed rule, the clock would start when the ball is placed for the next play, not at the snap. This would remove any advantage gained from fumbling out of bounds.
- 49ers at Saints, Week 4: Saints safety Kevin Kaesviharn blasts 49ers receiver Josh Morgan with an illegal hit to the head. Officials do not throw a flag, but the league levies a $25,000 fine. Pereira singled out this play as an example of illegal tactics.
- Cardinals at Jets, Week 4: Jets safety Eric Smith hits Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin with an illegal hit to the head. Officials do not throw a flag, but the league levies a one-game suspension against Smith. Pereira singled out this play as an example of illegal tactics. He also commended players for getting the message, noting that the league levied two suspensions and a $25,000 fine for illegal hits during the first four weeks of the season, but none thereafter.
- Redskins at Seahawks, Week 12: Redskins receiver Santana Moss provokes Seahawks cornerback Josh Wilson, throwing a punch. The play draws an immediate flag. Pereira pointed to this play, among others, in noting that the NFL would re-emphasize its stance against taunting in its message to teams.
- Giants at Cardinals, Week 12: Cardinals linebacker Gerald Hayes comes off the sideline to taunt Giants running back Derrick Ward after Arizona cornerback Ralph Brown tackles Ward short of a first down with 4:26 remaining in the first quarter. Pereira pointed to this play as another example of taunting, although officials did not throw a flag.
- Vikings at Cardinals, Week 15: Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett pulls down Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson using illegal horse-collar tactics. Pereira singled out this play, among others, while noting that horse-collar penalties roughly doubled from 2007 to 2008. Pereira called this "disappointing."
These sessions are always informative. Pereira, operating in a more relaxed environment than the regular season allows, tends to be freer in his commentary. He said officiating last season suffered from too many high-profile errors, which he candidly called "train wrecks" that negatively skewed the overall view of officiating.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
A final-week voting surge for Anquan Boldin gave the Cardinals the two top finishers in NFC fan voting for the Pro Bowl at receiver.
Boldin didn't just creep up on the Redskins' Santana Moss during the final week of voting. He blew past him with 84,719 additional votes -- 147,459 to 62,740 -- to trail only teammate Larry Fitzgerald in final fan voting.
The surge gave Boldin 532,108 votes. Moss has 487,924. Fitzgerald led NFC receivers with 655,433 votes, easily the most votes for any receiver from either conference.
The league also considers coach and player voting in determining which players represent each conference in the annual all-star game.
Fan voting concluded this week. I'll summarize NFC West results after making available for download a spreadsheet showing the top five vote-getters from each conference at each position, plus the top 10 overall vote getters.
The Cardinals' Kurt Warner finished fifth in overall voting. Fitzgerald was seventh. A quick look at positions where NFC West players finished among the top five:
- Quarterback: Warner was third behind Drew Brees and Eli Manning.
- Receiver: Fitzgerald was first, followed by Boldin.
- Inside linebacker: The 49ers' Patrick Willis was fourth behind London Fletcher, Brian Urlacher, and Antonio Pierce. Zach Thomas was fifth.
- Strong safety: The Cardinals' Adrian Wilson was third behind Chris Horton and Darren Sharper.
- Special-teamer: The Cardinals' Sean Morey was fifth behind Khary Campbell, Chase Blackburn, Keith Davis and Jarrett Bush.
Thanks to the Redskins' strong showing in fan voting, the NFC East fielded 58 players among the top five at various positions.
The AFC North and AFC South were next at 28 apiece, followed by the AFC East (26), NFC North (20), AFC West (13) NFC South (11) and, finally, the mighty NFC West (6).
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Stills also struck an opponent in the head area. Officials penalized the Rams for unnecessary roughness on the play (the penalty was offsetting). Ware unnecessarily grabbed an opponent's facemask, also incurring a 15-yard penalty.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Dave from parts unknown writes: Mike, as a Cardinals fan, I think I need to point out a few statistics to explain why most of us are not optimistic about this game. The cardinals have not won a game in EST since Nov. 7, 2004 at Miami (24-23) and the dolphins were 4-12 that year. The cardinals have not won a cold weather game since Sunday, November 28, 1999 against the New York Giants. If they win this game, even against a terrible Eagles team, I might start to believe.
Mike Sando: Some Cardinals fans seem to be skittish about committing too much to the cause emotionally. I've encountered among some fans a deep-seated mistrust lined with cynicism and hardened by years of broken promises. It's toxic.
The only way this season unravels for Arizona is if something happens to Kurt Warner. Arizona is not unique that way. You think the Colts are a playoff team without Peyton Manning? The Cowboys without Tony Romo?
This Cardinals team is different by definition. How many 7-4 Cardinals teams have lost on the East Coast or anywhere? This is new territory. This is a new team even if the Eagles win Thursday night. Hopefully you can enjoy the moment a little.