NFC West: Steve DeBerg
Bruschi, who played his final NFL game for New England at Seattle in 2008, likes what he sees from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
"There are various quarterbacks that the Patriots will go up against where I'll say, 'He'll give you your chances,' " Bruschi said. "With Wilson, he'll give you one chance. He's that smart of a decision-maker."
Bruschi pointed to play-action situations as crucial for the Patriots to exploit. He thinks this could be the week New England tries to go deep, using play-action fakes to spring receiver Brandon Lloyd down the field. Reiss notes that the Patriots' defense has been vulnerable to play-action.
The charts show play-action stats for quarterbacks and the defenses they will be facing in Week 6. There's one chart for each game involving an NFC West team.
The first one shows the Patriots' Tom Brady with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 131.3 NFL passer rating in play-action situations.
Brady will be facing a Seattle defense that has allowed only 48.3 percent completions on play-action throws (excluding screens). That is the fifth-lowest percentage allowed and well below the 60.4 percent NFL average, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The second chart shows the San Francisco 49ers' offense with what appears to be a strong play-action advantage over the New York Giants' defense.
A strong ground game doesn't always translate to play-action success. It's not a requirement, either.
Kansas City's Jamaal Charles leads the NFL in rushing yards. The Chiefs' quarterback, Matt Cassel, has the NFL's lowest passer rating on play-action throws. Arizona's Kevin Kolb averages 11.5 yards per attempt with two touchdowns and a 128.6 rating on play-action throws even though his team ranks last in yards per rush (2.7).
The 49ers are both good on the ground and on play-action throws. Quarterback Alex Smith ranks third in passer rating on play-action throws. The 49ers also lead the NFL in yards per carry (6.1).
The third chart shows Arizona's opponent, Buffalo, with two picks on play-action throws. The Bills' and Cardinals' defenses have combined for 11 sacks when defending play-action. Six is tied for the NFL lead. Five is tied for second.
Arizona has given up 17 sacks over its past two games. Properly selling the run is one way the Cardinals can slow down opposing pass-rushers.
Steve DeBerg, one of the best play-action quarterbacks when he played, explained some of the finer points as part of a 2008 piece from ESPN's Greg Garber.
"It's interesting that a lot of quarterbacks don't like play-action," DeBerg said then. "I didn't like it when I first started playing because I didn't like taking my eyes off the defense. In my opinion, it's the best pass protection you can have."
The final chart suggests the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins could be dangerous against one another in these situations.
The Rams' defense has allowed only two touchdown passes all season, both on play-action throws. Detroit's Matthew Stafford threw one of them under pressure for the game-winning score with 10 seconds left in Week 1. Robert Griffin III threw the other for a 68-yard strike to Leonard Hankerson.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has one play-action scoring toss, a 1-yarder to tight end Matthew Mulligan against Washington.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says the 49ers' search for a GM will be a 'sham' if current team executive Trent Baalke gets the job quickly. Lynch: "The 49ers are either creating a huge smoke screen to conceal their true desire to hire someone other than Trent Baalke as their general manager, or their GM search is a sham. Yet another league source said Baalke's hire was a done deal. Not only that, reports and sources say his hiring has been in the works for several weeks." Hiring from within isn't necessarily a bad thing. It would be puzzling, however, for the 49ers to hire Baalke quickly without following through on team president Jed York's pledge to consider as many people as possible.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says former Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist is the latest candidate to interview for the 49ers' GM job.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News offers details on Willis' hand injury. Brown: "Willis provided new details about the second hand surgery that will keep him out of Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals. He said X-rays after last week's game revealed that bones in his hand had moved, despite a pin that had been surgically inserted to keep it in place. Willis said he thought the X-ray was just a formality and was laughing right up until the moment the doctor gave him a serious look."
Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat wonders how the 49ers will approach a meaningless game after coming out flat with the playoffs on the line.
Also from Branch: checking in with Nate Davis.
David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers want to interview at least one GM candidate who will not be available before next week, but Trent Baalke remains the overwhelming favorite to become GM.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com takes a closer look at Craig Terrill's almost accidental development into a kick-blocking machine. Terrill has three blocked field-goal tries this season and eight for his career, tied with Joe Nash for most in franchise history.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times passes along this comment from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll regarding quarterback Charlie Whitehurst: "It's all on him. I've talked about that. This is the big opportunity. This is the big challenge. This is the big spotlight. This is all of that for him." No pressure, Charlie.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says containing Steven Jackson remains the key to beating the Rams. Jackson has never reached 100 yards rushing against Seattle. Nose tackle Colin Cole: "It always starts with Steven Jackson. They’re not going to put the whole offense on Bradford’s shoulders and expect him to win the game for them. It’s not going to happen. They’ve got one of the top-five running backs in the game in their backfield, and he makes that team better. And he’s going to be the No. 1 threat that we have to take away from them as best as we can."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' John Skelton has shown an ability to make plays, at least on occasion, without ideal mechanics. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: ""The one thing that I've been really impressed with John is, at that position, you have to be able to throw the football in all kinds of different physical positions, and I've seen him do that."
Also from Somers: Guard Alan Faneca considers retirement. Faneca proved this season he was not washed up after the New York Jets released him, but suffering through a 5-10 season surely has taken away some of the enjoyment. Faneca: "You know you are getting closer to the end than you are to the beginning, so you just appreciate the moment and treat it as if it is the last time. I've seen guys that haven't known (it was ending)."
Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals rookie receiver Andre Roberts is making strides. Larry Fitzgerald: "He had a rough start and that's been well noted, but you really have to tip your hat for the way he's bounced back. It really makes you proud to see a guy so resilient and dealing with controversy and things not going his way. I told him after the (Cowboys) game how happy I was for him. . . . He's getting better every single week. He can get a lot better and he is getting better."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says unusual weather has forced the Cardinals to brave the elements this week. Whisenhunt even wore sweatpants instead of shorts to one practice.
Also from Urban: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie did not earn a Pro Bowl berth this season, but all was not lost. Urban: "The ironic part is that defensive coordinator Bill Davis actually sees this as Rodgers-Cromartie’s most consistent season of his three. DRC’s work in the film room has greatly improved, and Davis said Rodgers-Cromartie’s mistakes have been minimized. On that point, Rodgers-Cromartie doesn’t disagree, saying that he has learned a lot and has been consistent in practice."
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' last few seasons have made the more appreciative of their current opportunity. Burwell: "Don't tell them they ought to be embarrassed for still being alive and kicking in the NFL playoff hunt with a 7-8 record. Don't tell them that winning the NFC West title is an insult to everyone's football sensibilities, because they just might tell you something you don't want to hear, such as what it has been like to have endured the pain and suffering through one of the most moribund eras in NFL history."
Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues to compare Sam Bradford to other quarterbacks in style and approach. Burwell: "He reminds me a little of Joe Montana for his nimbleness out of the pocket, and Troy Aikman as a big man in the pocket with great accuracy." That's a combination the Rams could live with.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch compares Bradford to other quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall. Miklasz: "You'd have to go back to John Elway (1983) to find the last time a team made the playoffs after drafting and starting a QB chosen No. 1 overall. But even then, Elway had some help; he started 10 games for Denver, with Steve DeBerg making the other six starts."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Mike Hoomanawanui returned to practice for the Rams. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur: "Mike did a good job today. He got a limited amount of reps, and the stuff that we did with him he seemed to be able to function. Obviously, Coach (Steve Spagnuolo) will make the final decision on what happens with Mike, but as far as today goes, it's promising."
Also from Wagoner: The Rams' defensive front has been key this season. Wagoner: "Led by the talented trio of James Hall, Chris Long and Fred Robbins and deploying a rotation that sometimes goes as many as nine deep, the Rams front four has become the lead force behind a defensive resurgence that’s seen them make tremendous strides this season."
More from Wagoner: Rams veterans are savoring a chance to earn a playoff berth.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
3. Cardinals tight ends. You know the Cardinals' offense is functioning at a high level when tight ends Anthony Becht and Ben Patrick are catching touchdown passes in the same game. The Arizona passing game goes through Fitzgerald and the other wide receivers, but the tight ends could get more chances as the Cardinals embrace two-tight end personnel groups. The Cardinals averaged 6.3 yards per rushing attempt against the Bears when playing with one back and two tight ends. Similar groupings could become more common in the longer-term future if Boldin talks his way out of Arizona -- particularly if the tight ends show they can catch the ball.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The quarterback-center exchange is close to automatic. Key word: close. Rams center Jason Brown said he was slightly quick with his delivery on the snap that left quarterback Marc Bulger with a non-displaced fracture to the pinky finger on his throwing hand.
Brown: "I was a hair of a second early. His hands weren't fully open, so I caught his pinky in an awkward situation. It was a rough day for me (Monday). I never want something like that to be on my watch."
Bulger: "Squeezing my hands a little bit earlier than the ball came up, and my finger was bent a little bit and hit it the wrong way."
Bulger and Brown are counting a combined $14.7 million against the Rams' salary cap, or about 11.5 percent of the general $128 million limit. Having one of them injured during the game's most routine transaction qualifies as a costly fluke.
A similar mishap broke Kurt Warner's finger when he was with the Rams in 2000. The most serious finger injury I recall for a quarterback was the one Steve DeBerg suffered with Kansas City during the 1990 season. The bone popped through the skin. DeBerg played with a pin sticking out of the finger. I remember wincing on his behalf every time he handed off.
Bulger's injury isn't nearly so serious. He would try to play this week if the Rams had a regular-season game, Bulger said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Aaron Weinberg of Seahawk Addicts says recent history is against Matt Hasselbeck staying healthy enough to produce at age 34. I looked from 1983 through 2008 for quarterbacks 34 and older who started at least 10 games and finished with passer ratings of 90 or higher. Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, Vinny Testaverde, Rich Gannon, Joe Theismann, Warren Moon, Steve DeBerg, Brett Favre, Trent Green, Jeff Garcia, Steve Beuerlein, John Elway, Brad Johnson, Phil Simms, Dan Marino and Kurt Warner combined to do it 25 times in 26 seasons. Can Hasselbeck join the list?
Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press checks in with former Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson. Peterson: "Football is an adverse sport anyway. But coming from 0-16, a lot of people in the sports world, analysts, have written us down as the 32nd team already, knowing that anything can change, subject to change, injuries can happen, anything. But we're not looking upon that and try to say, 'Oh, we're going to be the same old Lions from last year.' It's a whole new year. We've got a whole new coaching staff, whole new players, a whole new mentality. So this is going to be great for all of us."
Gary Plummer of the 49ers' radio team breaks down a Rams-Seahawks play from last season illustrating the experience that helped Walt Harris make an interception. He also points out areas where Rams receiver Donnie Avery could stand to improve.
Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' scouts think fifth-round linebacker Scott McKillop could be a steal. They'll have a much better idea two weeks into training camp.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says rookie draft choices Glen Coffee and Nate Davis are close to signing contracts. Once they sign, first-rounder Michael Crabtree will become the 49ers' only unsigned draft choice.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee expects the 49ers to sit out the supplemental draft Thursday.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says rookies Cody Brown and Will Davis, making the switch from college defensive ends to NFL outside linebackers, aren't the first Cardinals players to change positions. Antrel Rolle did it entering last season. Roy Green and Fred Wakefield also made successful transitions.
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind thinks Pat Ross is the favorite by default to back up Lyle Sendlein at center for the Cardinals this season. Seems to me the Cardinals should be looking to upgrade their depth at that position.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' contract negotiator would be "shocked" if any of the team's rookies failed to sign in time for training camp. Kevin Demoff also left open the possibility of a deal for safety Oshiomogho Atogwe before the July 15 deadline for franchise players to sign long-term deals. Demoff: "We've been talking with O.J. since January. We value O.J. as a player, and we understand where the market is. ... We're not there on a long-term deal yet, but we could be there by Wednesday."
VanRam of Turf Show Times expresses excitement upon reading Football Outsiders' forecast for the Rams. Not that Rams fans should schedule vacation time for Super Bowl week -- yet.