NFC West: Seneca Wallace

Mathews-KaepernickAP PhotoClay Matthews and Green Bay had all offseason to digest what Colin Kaepernick did to them in January.

The final season at venerable Candlestick Park begins in style as the San Francisco 49ers host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

It is a rematch of an NFC divisional playoff game in the same building. The 49ers completely outclassed the Packers on Jan. 12, as first-year starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick and crew had their way with a defense that looked slow and lost in a 45-31 San Francisco victory.

Packers team reporter Rob Demovsky and 49ers team reporter Bill Williamson have plenty to discuss. To the questions:

Williamson: Rob, I think we have to start this off with this simple query: Can the Packers stop the read-option of a Kaepernick-led offense?

Demovsky: Bill, that’s what everyone has wanted to know since Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards against them in the playoff game. The number 579 -- the total yards of offense the 49ers piled up that day -- has been burned into the brains of the Packers’ defensive players. Almost every day in practice during training camp, the defense went off to one end of the field by itself and worked against the read-option. But the Packers haven’t seen any of it in live action since that playoff game, so at this point, there’s no way to know whether they’re any better equipped to handle it now.

Williamson: That’s the thing. Green Bay will be coming into this game nervous. The read-option has been on the minds of this coaching staff and its players all offseason, yet the Packers don’t know for sure if they can handle it any better than they did the last time they saw Kaepernick. Kaepernick and his coach, the always-confident Jim Harbaugh, believe in their system and their personnel. They are going to challenge the Packers right away. I fully expect Kaepernick to come out gunning to make a statement -- a full-tilt San Francisco offense. If Kaepernick has early success, it could open the offensive floodgates. Now, if the Green Bay defense holds Kaepernick early, the Packers will get a confidence boost and should hang around all day.

Rob, just how confident do you think the Packers will be if they get a ton of read-option right away?

Demovsky: Clay Matthews said this week that the Packers know they have to take their shots at the quarterback when he tries to get outside the pocket, and if they do, perhaps they can get Kaepernick to sit in the pocket more, which ultimately is their goal. They want to make him a pocket passer if at all possible. That’s their best chance for success.

There are other issues to this game, of course. Bill, considering the fact that the Packers will start a rookie, David Bakhtiari, at left tackle and a former undrafted free agent, Don Barclay, at right tackle, how big of an advantage does a pass-rusher like Aldon Smith have against Green Bay?

Williamson: Other than Kaepernick and Aaron Rodgers, Smith might be the most important player on the field Sunday. He can change the game by himself, as his 33.5 sacks in two NFL seasons attests. Bakhtiari and Barclay have an incredible challenge ahead of them. It is also bad news for Green Bay that 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith is healed from a triceps surgery. Aldon Smith had all 19.5 of his sacks in the regular season with Justin Smith playing with him, and none in 2012 without him. Having the Smith & Smith show together could mean a long day for Rodgers.

Demovsky: But won’t the 49ers have to respect the Packers’ running game a little bit more with the addition of rookie Eddie Lacy? He looks like their first legitimate running back since Ryan Grant in 2009. If the Packers can establish Lacy on first down, they might be able to keep themselves out of obvious passing situations, and then Aldon Smith wouldn’t be able to tee off and jet-rush up the field on every second and third down.

Williamson: That is certainly the Packers' hope. It is clear that getting their ground game back on track was a focal point of the offseason. This is a passer’s league, but getting yardage on the ground and keeping Kaepernick off the field will surely help Green Bay’s cause as much the relief that it would give Rodgers. But here’s the rub -- San Francisco is a monster against the run. The 49ers allowed just 3.7 yards per rush last season, third-best in the NFL. The Packers will be hard-pressed to break their streak of 43 regular-season games without a 100-yard rusher.

Demovsky: Bill, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how the Packers are going to defend Kaepernick & Co., but don’t forget that January's playoff game was tied 24-24 midway through the third quarter, and the Packers' offense was having a decent day -- Rodgers throwing for 257 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Can the 49ers secondary hold up against Rodgers and the likes of Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson?

Williamson: A fine point. Look, the Packers are legitimate. They will not be embarrassed in this game. Rodgers is the best player on the planet. He and his receivers must be accounted for. If the 49ers are vulnerable on defense, it might be in the secondary, where they have the oldest defensive backs in the league. Can older players like Carlos Rogers and Nnamdi Asomugha (who may be slowed by a collarbone injury) keep the Green Bay passing game honest? If Green Bay is going to win this game, it’s going to be because Rodgers is unstoppable. That’s possible.

Rob, as we have discussed the major talking points of this anticipated matchup, an intriguing side story has developed. The Packers have brought in a pair of former 49ers backup quarterbacks in Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien. Do you think they can help Green Bay pull out a victory from the meeting room?

Demovsky: I doubt Wallace can. He wasn’t even with the 49ers for a full week. But you'd better believe they’ve grilled Tolzien about the 49ers. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the biggest reason they brought him in, and if they end up cutting him from the practice squad in a week or two. Now, Tolzien probably won’t know much about the 49ers' game plan for this week, but considering he was with them for both meetings against the Packers last season, he likely has a good working knowledge of how Harbaugh wants to go after Green Bay.

Williamson: I’m with you. These moves add some strategy elements, but this is going to be a big-boy game pitting two of the NFL’s finest teams against one another. Once the game starts, this thing is going to all about Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis, Kaepernick, Rodgers and Matthews.

2013 NFL age rankings at reduction to 53

September, 1, 2013
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The mandatory reduction to 53-man active rosters Saturday provides an opportunity to pass along average age ranks for NFL active rosters overall as well as for offense, defense and specialists.

The chart shows the Detroit Lions as the oldest team and the St. Louis Rams as the youngest. Where the Rams rank comes as no surprise if you've been following their building process in the NFC West recently.

The Seattle Seahawks rank among the younger teams overall. They have the youngest offensive players after releasing fullback Michael Robinson.

The rankings exclude players placed on various reserve lists (physically unable to perform, non-football injury, injured and suspended). Note also that rankings are based on ages calculated to the day, not rounded backward to the nearest birthday. A player born in January will be older than a player born in October of the same year, for example. I've taken into account the difference in making these calculations. Rounding backward to the nearest birthday shaves about a half-year off the average ages.

I've shaded the NFC West teams in the chart for easier reference.

While the Arizona Cardinals did part with older players such as Adrian Wilson, they still have veteran flavor with Yeremiah Bell, John Abraham, Carson Palmer, Darnell Dockett, Daryn Colledge, Larry Fitzgerald and the NFL's oldest specialists.

Seattle got younger by releasing Robinson and 36-year-old cornerback Antoine Winfield. No player on the active roster has had his 32nd birthday. By comparison, six San Francisco 49ers are at least 32 years old.

The 49ers parted with 36-year-old long snapper Brian Jennings, 33-year-old Kassim Osgood and 33-year-old Seneca Wallace. They also added some veteran players this offseason, including Anquan Boldin, Phil Dawson, Nnamdi Asomugha and Adam Snyder. Asomugha and 32-year-old Carlos Rogers help give the 49ers the NFL's oldest defensive backs by average age. We should expect the team to get younger there over the next year, possibly by using an early draft choice for a cornerback.

Note: I have not visited courthouses to pull birth records for NFL players. Neither have teams. As someone who has tracked dates of birth for NFL players since 2007, I know there are times when listed birth dates change or conflict with records listed elsewhere. I make efforts to verify the dates. The team rankings at the extremes are more valuable than the ones in the middle because there is very little difference in average age for some teams.

Three things: 49ers-Chargers

August, 29, 2013
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Three things to watch for Thursday night in the San Francisco 49ers' final exhibition of the 2013 season, set for 10 p.m. ET against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium:

1. Final QB impressions. The 49ers already named Colt McCoy as their No. 2 quarterback behind starter Colin Kaepernick. The team also released Scott Tolzien, further paring down any competition at the position. This game should provide rookie seventh-round choice B.J. Daniels another opportunity to show he belongs in the team's plans as a developmental player. The 49ers haven't drafted and developed a late-round quarterback successfully since ... when? Daniels, Nate Davis, Cody Pickett and Ken Dorsey were the only ones San Francisco selected in the final three rounds over the past decade. Meanwhile, veteran Seneca Wallace should get a chance to leave a positive impression. The team could keep him in mind as a veteran fallback should a need arise in the future.

2. Injury list. The 49ers will surely limit or eliminate reps for some key players as the preseason wraps up. Some key depth players will be logging considerable playing time. Can the 49ers get out of this game without losing one of them to a significant injury? By my count, the 49ers lead the NFL with seven players on the reserve/physically unable to perform (PUP) and reserve/non-football injury (NFI) lists: Marcus Lattimore, Mario Manningham, Michael Crabtree, Luke Marquardt, Quinton Dial, Tank Carradine and Eric Wright. No more injuries, please.

3. The spectacular. This is the catch-all category for players who appear to significantly help or hurt their chances through big plays or big gaffes. We'll be watching for them.
A potential competition for the San Francisco 49ers' No. 2 quarterback job might have dissipated before it really began.

Colt McCoy is the guy behind the No. 1 guy, coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters Sunday night following a 34-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at Candlestick Park.

A chronology provides some context:

March 12: The trade sending backup Alex Smith to Kansas City becomes official.

April 2: The 49ers acquire McCoy to be their presumed No. 2 quarterback.

Aug. 8 and 16: McCoy performs unconvincingly in the 49ers' first two exhibition games.

Aug. 22: The 49ers sign free-agent quarterback Seneca Wallace.

Aug. 24: McCoy accepts a reduced salary. The news comes out a day later, at which point McCoy confirms that he accepted the reduction on Saturday night, the 24th.

Aug. 25: McCoy completes 11 of 15 passes for 109 yards and an interception during the 49ers' preseason game against Minnesota. Wallace hardly plays. After the game, Harbaugh tells reporters he "feels real good about Colt as the backup quarterback."

The timeline suggests Wallace's signing helped the 49ers secure a pay reduction from McCoy while providing insurance. That may or may not be the case. We know Colin Kaepernick is the starter and McCoy is the heavy favorite to serve in the No. 2 role, and that Wallace could have some additional time to learn the offense -- perhaps so the 49ers could turn to him later if a need arose.

Teams have until Tuesday to reduce their rosters from the 90-man limit to no more than 75 players. The mandatory reduction to 53-man limits is Saturday.

Three things revisited: Vikings-49ers

August, 25, 2013
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Looking back on three things discussed here before the San Francisco 49ers' third exhibition game of the 2013 preseason, a 34-14 home victory against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night:

1. Seneca's debut. Coach Jim Harbaugh had indicated that all five quarterbacks would play in this game. Plans change. Colin Kaepernick, Colt McCoy and rookie B.J. Daniels were the only quarterbacks to play meaningful snaps. Scott Tolzien reportedly had back spasms. He did not play. The newly acquired Seneca Wallace got into the game late and completed both attempts for 27 total yards. McCoy completed 11 of 15 passes for 109 yards with one sack, one interception and a 65.7 passer rating. McCoy struggled at times, but he also played for a bit with 49ers backups against Vikings starters. He was effective leading a nine-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that ended on the first play of the fourth quarter. McCoy reportedly took a pay cut to improve his chances for earning a spot on the 53-man roster. Harbaugh told reporters after the game that he was comfortable with McCoy in the No. 2 role.

2. Kaepernick's reps. Kaepernick rebounded from a slow start to complete his final six attempts during a drive that ended with his 5-yard scoring pass to rookie Quinton Patton. Kaepernick got into a rhythm during that drive, including when he completed a pass to Vernon Davis on his third read. That drive featured a 19-yard pass to Patton, 10- and 11-yarders to Davis, 15- and 8-yarders to Marlon Moore, plus the scoring pass. Kaepernick moved effectively to buy time and threw accurately. Kaepernick had attempted only six passes during the preseason before Sunday. His final numbers from this game: 7 of 13 for 72 yards, the one score, no sacks and a 95.7 rating.

3. Baldwin's impact. Recently acquired receiver Jon Baldwin had receptions for 19 and 4 yards. These were his first receptions as a 49er and first of the preseason. San Francisco acquired him from Kansas City. Baldwin beat second-year undrafted free agent Bobby Felder off the line before making a leaping catch for the 19-yard gain. Baldwin made a nice catch away from his body on a low pass, gathering the ball and falling forward for a first down on the 4-yard reception. Starting corner Josh Robinson had the coverage on that play. There was nothing spectacular about Baldwin's debut, but it was a start.

Three things: Vikings-49ers

August, 25, 2013
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Three things to watch for Sunday in the San Francisco 49ers' third exhibition of the 2013 season, set for 8 p.m. ET at home against the Minnesota Vikings:

1. Seneca's debut. Recently signed veteran quarterback Seneca Wallace is scheduled to make his 49ers debut as a candidate for the No. 2 job. Will he provide an attractive alternative to Colt McCoy, Scott Tolzien and rookie B.J. Daniels? Wallace has little time to learn the 49ers' offense. However, the system does overlap with the one Wallace, 33, ran for years while playing for Mike Holmgren and the Seattle Seahawks. "Zebra" is 11 personnel, "Tiger" is 12 personnel, "Eagle" means four wide receivers and so on. Perhaps that will help Wallace make the transition.

2. Kaepernick's reps. Starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick has attempted six passes in the 49ers' first two exhibition games. The other NFC West starters have attempted between 35 and 44 passes through three games. Coach Jim Harbaugh has indicated Kaepernick doesn't really need the reps. He has also said he limits reps based on feel and has limited Kaepernick to guard against something "freakish" happening, an apparent allusion to injury. Those fears appear justified now that the 49ers do not have an appealing backup quarterback, a big change from last season. The 49ers' starter at this point last season, Alex Smith, attempted 19 passes in four 2012 exhibition games, also a low number. Kaepernick attempted 39 as the backup.

3. Baldwin's impact. Recently acquired wide receiver Jon Baldwin is scheduled to make his 49ers debut. The team will be watching to see how Baldwin and the other unestablished wide receivers perform. Baldwin, acquired from Kansas City in the A.J. Jenkins trade, had no receptions in the Chiefs' first two exhibition games. He dropped one pass against San Francisco on Aug. 16.
Reporters surrounding San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh during the NFL owners' meeting in March perked up when he offered high praise for a little-known wide receiver, Ricardo Lockette.

Lockette
"There is something special there," Harbaugh said. "I can feel it."

Harbaugh was feeling what the Seattle Seahawks had felt regarding Lockette a couple years earlier. They loved Lockette's combination of size (6-foot-2, 211 pounds) and speed (4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash). Lockette was raw coming out of Ft. Valley State, but the 61- and 44-yard touchdown receptions he made late during the 2011 season had given Seattle reason to think Lockette was on his way.

Lockette could not keep the momentum going in Seattle. He appears to have a followed a similar course with the 49ers, who released him Thursday to make room on their roster for another ex-Seahawk, quarterback Seneca Wallace. There is nothing preventing Lockette from resurfacing elsewhere or even reviving his career with the 49ers at some point in the future. But if Harbaugh still felt as though Lockette could offer something special at a position of clear need for the 49ers, the team wouldn't be releasing him while the roster limit remains at 90 players.

So, what keeps tripping up Lockette, who had been living with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in an effort to improve his grasp of the game?

Players with the right size and speed cannot always make the talents transfer from the practice field to game situations. Some players have a harder time playing fast when burdened by voluminous playbooks. Some lack a feel for beating certain coverages. Some have better instincts than others possess. Some struggle with consistency when asked to run play after play during practices.

Perhaps Harbaugh can provide some thoughts. He was certainly eager to discuss Lockette previously.
Good morning, NFC West.

I wanted to pass along a link to Jeff Chadiha's column on the Seattle Seahawks-San Francisco 49ers rivalry in case you hadn't seen it.

Rivalries have been pretty tame in the NFC West since divisional realignment in 2002. Rarely has the division featured more than one successful team at a time.

The Seahawks and St. Louis Rams went back and forth across the 2003 and 2004 seasons, when both teams were 8-8 or better (both were 8-8 or better in 2006 as well).

Back then, I recall Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren saying a rivalry isn't really a rivalry until a team wins on the home turf of the opponent.

The 49ers won in Seattle as recently as the 2011 season. The Seahawks haven't won in San Francisco since the 2008 season, when Seneca Wallace tossed two touchdown passes to beat a 49ers team led by J.T. O'Sullivan and Shaun Hill.

That seems like a long, long time ago.

Seattle's 42-13 home victory over the 49ers last season will have to suffice for now.

"This has always felt like an amped-up rivalry game for me," 49ers left tackle Joe Staley told Chadiha. "It's just that now there will be more attention paid to it by everybody else."

Draft rewind: Seahawks' five-year recap

February, 20, 2013
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A look at the NFC West's best and worst from the past five NFL drafts, one team at a time.

Seattle Seahawks

Best choice: Russell Wilson, QB, 2012 third round. Wilson went from springtime curiosity to surprise opening-day starter to Pro Bowl quarterback in eight months. Seattle has hit big on some other draft choices during the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era, but Wilson stands apart from the rest. No rookie in the 36-year history of the organization has impacted the team as dramatically as Wilson did in 2012. That is a bold statement, but one that required about 30 seconds of verification. Wilson is the first QB draft choice in Seahawks history to succeed with the team. None of the other 15 came close (Mike Teel, David Greene, Seneca Wallace, Jeff Kelly, Josh Booty, Brock Huard, Rick Mirer, Dan McGwire, John Gromos, Sammy Garza, David Norrie, John Conner, Sam Adkins, Steve Myer and Chris Rowland). The 26 touchdown passes Wilson threw during the regular season exceed the Seattle career totals for every one of those other 15 drafted QBs except Mirer, who had 41 touchdowns over four seasons with the team.

Worst choice: Aaron Curry, LB, 2009 first round. The Seahawks thought they were making the surest choice of the 2009 draft when they made Curry the fourth overall choice. Instead, a franchise that had used top-10 picks for defensive stars Cortez Kennedy and Kenny Easley got an all-time bust. Curry had 5.5 sacks, 12 passes defensed and four forced fumbles while starting 28 of 30 games for the Seahawks over two seasons. Something wasn't right, however, and by Curry's third season, the team had seen enough. Seattle essentially bought out Curry's expensive rookie contract to facilitate a trade to Oakland. Lawrence Jackson was a distant second for this distinction.

Verdict pending: James Carpenter, OL, 2011 first round. Wilson's selection in 2012 offsets lingering regrets from the Seahawks' decision to draft Carpenter over Andy Dalton a year earlier. Still, Seattle cannot feel good about how Carpenter's career has unfolded. Carpenter was struggling in pass protection at right tackle before a severe knee injury convinced Seattle that Carpenter's future would be at left guard, next to tackle Russell Okung. The conversion did not go well last season because the knee injury continued to limit Carpenter's mobility. The coming season appears pivotal for Carpenter.

Related: 2011 draft rewind.
Tom Brady was on injured reserve with a knee injury the last time his New England Patriots visited the Seattle Seahawks.

The year was 2008.

The Seahawks had a 2-10 record. Seneca Wallace was their starting quarterback. Mike Holmgren was their coach. Pete Carroll was at USC.

Now, for the really different part: The Seahawks' defense, currently ranked No. 1 in yards allowed, ranked 30th back then. It had allowed six total rushing and passing touchdowns in its previous two games, one more than the 2012 team has allowed in five games this season.

Brady is back and leading the NFL's top-ranked offense against Seattle's top-ranked defense in Week 6. The teams kick off Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field, Brady's first road start against the Seahawks. The matchup has us talking already.

Mike Sando, NFC West blog: The last time an NFC West team drew New England, Arizona pulled off one of the more shocking upsets of the season, holding Brady to 18 points and leaving Gillette Stadium with a 20-18 victory. New England lost Aaron Hernandez to injury in that game. The Patriots have regrouped. They've scored 113 points in three subsequent games. Was that Arizona game an aberration, or should the Seahawks' defense expect similar results?

James Walker, AFC East: It feels like two different offenses since New England’s loss to the Cardinals, Mike. New England looked shell-shocked after losing Hernandez in that game. He's usually such a big part of the Patriots’ game plan that they had trouble adjusting on the fly. But New England made the proper changes. Tight ends no longer are the first option; now receiver Wes Welker is the top target. New England is no longer passing the ball 60 or 70 percent of the time; its run-to-pass ratio was 54-31 this past week against the Denver Broncos. The Patriots also used a no-huddle offense in all four quarters for the first time in that game. Can New England keep up that kind of pace, especially on the road? The Patriots are concerned about crowd noise in Seattle. Will the 12th man affect this game?

Sando: Yeah, the crowd will be a factor because the defense is good enough to make it one. Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo combined for 19 points in Seattle. Brady and the Patriots are playing better offensively than Green Bay or Dallas, though. One key will be whether Brady can get the ball out to Welker quickly enough to avoid Seattle's pass-rushers. Bruce Irvin, Chris Clemons and Jason Jones could have big games against the Patriots' offensive front if Brady holds the ball. But Welker should have a big advantage against nickel corner Marcus Trufant. Welker leads the NFL with 24 receptions from the slot over the past three games. Seattle's opponents haven't gone after Trufant all that much, but St. Louis slot receiver Danny Amendola did give him some problems. Welker is a tough matchup for everyone and should be a tough one for the Seahawks.

Walker: Seattle’s pass rush is the biggest concern for New England. Brady’s sack totals have gone up each of the past three seasons, and he already has been sacked 12 times in five games. Brady is not a young pup anymore and only has so many hits left in his 35-year-old body. New England’s pass protection hasn’t been the same after losing left tackle Matt Light and Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters in the offseason. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and guard Logan Mankins also have played hurt this year. The Patriots have done things schematically to counter their shaky pass protection. New England is running the ball more, and the no-huddle has slowed down opponents. But you wonder whether the inconsistent pass protection eventually will catch up to New England this season, especially this weekend against a good Seattle defense.

Sando: Seattle's defense was good last season, and it's better in 2012. This is a legitimate top-five defense with big, pressing cornerbacks and the potential for a strong pass rush, particularly at home. The Seahawks are allowing 3.2 yards per carry overall and 3.0 when we remove quarterback scrambles (Brady isn't exactly a running threat). There's speed at every level of the defense. Holding the Patriots' offense to a reasonable level -- say, somewhere in the 20-point range -- should be realistic as long as Seattle fares OK against Welker. The bigger question is whether Seattle's offense can score enough points to win the game. Russell Wilson is coming off his best game, but the offense isn't putting up enough points.

Walker: New England’s defense has improved in a lot of areas. The front seven is more physical and the pass rush is better, specifically with the addition of first-round pick Chandler Jones. However, New England is still 30th against the pass and continues to give up chunks of yards through the air. The safety play has been horrific at times. I think Seattle’s best chance to win is using play-action over the top. Patriots coach Bill Belichick usually tries to take one thing away, and I assume the focus this week will be Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. There will be plenty of opportunities in the passing game if Wilson can take advantage. Speaking of taking advantage, your NFC West division has crushed the AFC East at nearly every turn. What is going on here? Is this a special year for the NFC West, and will Seattle repeat what the Cardinals did by knocking off the top dog in the AFC East?

Sando: I've gone into several of these nondivision games a little skeptical about whether the NFC West team would score enough to win. The offenses in Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis lag in the rankings. But the defenses and special teams have more than made up the difference. I think Seattle has a winning formula and a good shot at pulling it off, but I still think Brady is more likely than Wilson to reach 20-plus points.

I've had similar thoughts before and been wrong. I really thought some of these top opposing quarterbacks would enjoy greater success against the NFC West. Brady, Jay Cutler, Rodgers, Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, Romo, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford are a combined 2-8 against the division, and both victories were against St. Louis. Those quarterbacks have seven touchdown passes and nine picks against the division. Outside the division, NFC West teams have gone 10-0 at home and 11-3 regardless of venue.

I'll probably wind up picking the Patriots, but Seattle's defense gives the Seahawks a good chance.

Walker: It looks as if the AFC East is having a second consecutive down year, and the arrow is certainly pointing up for the NFC West. But the Patriots are a legit team. Barring significant injuries, I expect New England to carry the banner for the division all season. I’m 15-2 predicting AFC East games this year, so I feel pretty confident in my picks. I think New England will pull this one out. The Patriots’ offense is very balanced, and their tempo puts a lot of pressure on teams. If they score points early, it could put too much pressure on Wilson to answer. Wilson has beaten Rodgers, Romo and Newton this year. But I don’t think Wilson will add Brady to that list.
NFL quarterbacks play in different systems with different coaches under different circumstances.

Some are going to suffer additional turnovers for reasons beyond their control.

Alex Smith would know this better than most quarterbacks after changing head coaches and offensive coordinators frequently during his first six NFL seasons.

Smith seems to be the right player in the right place at the right time lately.

The San Francisco 49ers' quarterback, credited by coaches for managing risks expertly, has not thrown an interception since a Week 12 game at Baltimore last season. He heads into the 49ers' game Sunday night against Detroit as the only player with no interceptions since that time through Week 1 (min. 100 dropbacks).

The chart, from ESPN Stats & Information, ranks these qualifying quarterbacks by lowest percentage of interceptions and would-be interceptions (passes dropped by defenders).

Smith is riding a franchise-record streak of passes without an interception. The 49ers have gone six consecutive games without a turnover. One more game and they would tie the 2010 New England Patriots for the longest streak in NFL history.

Gunther Cunningham, the Lions' defensive coordinator, says it's only a matter of time before the turnover odds even out. Smith suffered two turnovers, a lost fumble and an interception, during a 25-19 victory at Detroit last season.

The dropped interception stat is one we don't see too frequently. The Lions' Matthew Stafford has more of them since the 2011 opener (six) than any quarterback, including one against San Francisco. Matt Hasselbeck is second with four. Smith had two last season, both during a 48-3 victory against Tampa Bay.

Around the NFC West: Seahawks' struggles

September, 10, 2012
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Seattle Seahawks knocked out the Arizona Cardinals' starting quarterback. Their defense and special teams produced four drives starting in Arizona territory. Officials even gave Seattle a fourth timeout with the game on the line.

None of it was enough for Seattle during a 20-16 defeat to the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times gives rookie quarterback Russell Wilson an "incomplete" grade for his efforts. O'Neil: "Four yards were all that separated Seattle from the kind of comeback it never could manage last season. The proximity only made this loss more painful as the Seahawks ran seven plays from inside the Arizona 20-yard line in the final minute, including four from inside the 10. Wilson threw to four receivers but couldn't complete any one of them." Noted: Seattle quarterbacks have only one fourth-quarter comeback victory over the past three-plus seasons. That one belonged to Charlie Whitehurst against the New York Giants last season. Seneca Wallace had the previous one, way back in 2008. Matt Hasselbeck had 10 of them from the 2002 through 2007 seasons.

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says the manner in which Seattle lost seemed all too familiar. Brewer: "This was neither the ending nor the performance the Seahawks had hoped for to start the year. They had become a trendy playoff pick. Wilson, a 5-foot-11 rookie quarterback, made national headlines after winning the Seahawks' well-publicized competition. If you closed your eyes and absorbed all the optimism, it would probably make you levitate. Well, now you've been reintroduced to gravity. Splat."

Mike Salk of 710ESPN Seattle offers positives and negatives for Seattle from Week 1. Salk: "Wilson was under serious pressure throughout the game, especially in the first half. He did look tentative early (especially on the botched receiver screen to Sidney Rice that should have been ruled a fumble), but he also showed some of the poise and decision making that won him the job. His touchdown pass was a thing of beauty -– changing the play at the line to capitalize on something he had seen, staying calm in the pocket and then firing a strike to Rice. Wow. Furthermore, he threw three balls on the final drive that hit receivers' hands in the end zone. If one of those three had been caught, we are having a very different conversation."

John McGrath of the Tacoma News Tribune thinks a designed rollout near the goal line could have put Wilson in position to win the game with his legs.

2012 Kiper mock 1.0: Seahawks thoughts

January, 18, 2012
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Mel Kiper's first mock draft Insider for 2012 provides the foundation for discussing how NFC West teams might proceed this offseason.

I'll continue with a look at Kiper's plans for the Seattle Seahawks, who will draft either 11th or 12th, pending a coin toss with Kansas City.

11-12. Seattle Seahawks: Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina


Kiper's give: The Seahawks have quietly made major strides in overhauling the roster and finding solutions to grow with in the past two years. Obviously, quarterback remains a big question, but that's not something they can target at this spot in the draft. What they can do is add a final piece to a defense that is young, fast and extremely good in the secondary.

Sando's take: Seattle already has a strong defense. Adding another pass-rusher is critical. Chris Clemons is signed through 2012. He needs help. Quarterback is the other obvious need. Kiper projects only two in the first round. Teams selected four among the top 12 choices last year. The Seahawks haven't drafted one in the first round since 1993. Mike Teel, David Greene, Seneca Wallace, Jeff Kelly, Josh Booty and Brock Huard are the only quarterbacks Seattle has drafted since selecting Rick Mirer second overall in that '93 draft. The Seahawks selected those players 142nd overall on average. Needing a quarterback doesn't entitle a team to one. Speculation over targeting Matt Flynn in free agency will continue in the absence of evidence the Seahawks have interest. I'm skeptical.

Wrap-up: Cardinals 20, Browns 17 (OT)

December, 18, 2011
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Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 20-17 overtime victory over the Cleveland Browns at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 15:

What it means: The Cardinals improved to 7-7 with an overtime victory that kept alive their playoff hopes. Arizona would have been eliminated from postseason contention had it lost because Detroit defeated Oakland. Patrick Peterson's 32-yard punt return in overtime proved pivotal as Arizona won for the sixth time in seven games following a 1-6 start to the season. A winning season remains a possibility for Arizona.

What I liked: Quarterback John Skelton led a touchdown drive right before halftime and again when the Cardinals switched to a no-huddle offense after falling behind 17-7 in the second half. Receiver Andre Roberts continued a strong run late in the season, catching the touchdown pass late in the first half. Second-year outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield collected sacks on back-to-back plays, forcing a turnover on the second one. That put the Cardinals in position to kick the tying field goal, erasing that 10-point deficit. A challenge from Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt changed O'Brien's second sack from a sack and incomplete to sack and forced fumble, with Arizona recovering at the Cleveland 5. This was a huge reversal for the Cardinals. Skelton set up the winning field goal by finding a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald for a 32-yard gain on third-and-6. Skelton finished with 313 yards passing.

What I didn't like: The Arizona defense, though improved in recent weeks, gave up a seven-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to open the game. Peyton Hillis ran effectively against the Cardinals on this drive. The Cardinals also had trouble containing Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace, who scrambled and found Greg Little open for a 76-yard touchdown. Penalties against Jeff King and Nick Eason in the return game forced Arizona to start two drives deep in its own territory. Poor red zone execution, specifically a botched shovel pass that led to a sack on first-and-goal from the 5, contributed to the Cardinals settling for the tying fourth-quarter field goal when a touchdown would have given them the lead.

Milestones: Beanie Wells scored his 10th rushing touchdown of the season. He joined Tim Hightower (2008) and Donny Anderson (1973) as the most recent Cardinals players to reach that mark. Tight end Todd Heap also passed a milestone, passing Hall of Famer and ex-St. Louis Cardinals tight end Jackie Harris for 11th on the NFL's all-time list for receptions by tight ends.

What's next: The Cardinals visit the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16.

OK, so it's not quite Brady vs. Tebow

December, 17, 2011
12/17/11
3:00
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For some reason, Tom Brady vs. Tim Tebow is attracting more attention than John Skelton vs. Seneca Wallace heading into Week 15.

Skelton is getting the start for Arizona while Kevin Kolb continues his recovery from a concussion suffered against San Francisco last week. It's possible all four Week 15 games involving NFC West teams will feature at least one backup:
  • Seattle at Chicago: The Bears are without Jay Cutler. Caleb Hanie starts for him. Chicago is 0-3 and averaging 11 points per game since Hanie took over as the starter.
  • St. Louis vs. Cincinnati: Kellen Clemens is expected to start for the injured Sam Bradford behind center for the Rams. Clemens was not even on the Rams' roster until the last couple of weeks. Bradford's injured ankle had him back in a walking boot and missing practices. He's doubtful.
  • Arizona vs. Cleveland: Skelton gets the start for Kolb. NFC West alumnus Seneca Wallace starts for the Browns' injured Colt McCoy. Skelton has done a good job picking up yardage with his feet. He's big, strong and tough to take down. Wallace is fast and athletic enough to moonlight at wide receiver as needed.
  • San Francisco vs. Pittsburgh: Nothing seems to keep the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger from playing. He practiced on a limited basis Friday after resting his injured ankle previously during the week. Charlie Batch would start for Roethlisberger on Monday night, if needed.

Consider it a testament to Tarvaris Jackson's toughness and recuperative powers for his injury status to barely merit a mention. Seattle's starter suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle in Week 5 and missed only one game.

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