NFC West: Terrell Suggs

How nice of the Baltimore Ravens' Terrell Suggs to give the San Francisco 49ers' Michael Crabtree a primer on recovery from a torn Achilles tendon.

Suggs, who suffered a similar injury last offseason, returned to game action in November.

"You've got to see the big picture," Suggs told CBS' Clark Judge. "There's going to come a point in your rehab where your body is not going to respond like it normally does or like you want it to. You're not going to be able to explode like you want to. Your conditioning is not going to be right. You're going to get discouraged because the recovery is very difficult."

Suggs went into detail about his rehabilitation and how his experience could apply to Crabtree, who is younger and plays a different position.

"For me, my explosion didn't really get there until the end of the season," Suggs said. "So, my guess is that he wouldn't be Michael Crabtree right off the bat. But through work and continually strengthening his Achilles it eventually will come back, and he'll be able to be the Michael Crabtree of old."

Denver Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas suffered a torn Achilles in early February 2011. He missed the first five games of the 2011 season and then had only seven catches in his first six games back. Thomas then put together a string of four statistically solid games over the final five weeks of the season. He had 94 catches for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012, his first full season back from the injury.
NEW ORLEANS -- A mere 3,565 days have passed since the 2003 NFL draft. That's not nearly long enough for Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to forget about a certain team passing over him in the first round.

Fans of the Arizona Cardinals know what's coming next. They know the Cardinals traded out of the sixth overall slot in 2003, when Suggs was coming out of Arizona State as the top pass-rusher in the draft. They know Arizona used its first-round choices for receiver Bryant Johnson and pass-rusher Calvin Pace instead.

Suggs, speaking Tuesday from the Ravens' hotel at Super Bowl XLVII, thanked the Cardinals for letting him slip in the draft.

This thank you note was delivered unsolicited and with the back of the hand. Suggs was answering a question about his first contact with Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. The two had taped a commercial together before that 2003 draft. The Ravens were picking 10th overall. Lewis told Suggs the two could wind up being teammates. Suggs, admittedly naive at that early stage of his career, figured he'd be long gone by then. He figured the Cardinals wouldn't let him get past that sixth pick.

"Lo and behold, the Arizona Cardinals traded out of the pick," Suggs said. "Thank you all for that. I appreciate that with all my heart. Thank you."

The Cardinals found longtime starters Anquan Boldin, Gerald Hayes and Reggie Wellis later in that 2003 draft. Boldin, traded to Baltimore in 2010, will join Suggs in the Ravens' starting lineup against San Francisco on Sunday.
NEW ORLEANS -- Safety Ed Reed and cornerback Cary Williams were the only Baltimore Ravens defenders to start every regular-season game for the AFC champions this season.

The NFC champion San Francisco 49ers had nine defenders start every game.

Overall, the 49ers had 17 players start 16 games during the regular season. Eight Ravens players started 16 games apiece.

Roster health won't grab headlines the way brotherly coaching rivalries will grab them at the Super Bowl this week, but we all know which subject matters more.

The Ravens have gotten healthier lately, welcoming back Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis to their defensive lineup. But in looking at injured reserve lists for each Super Bowl team, the 49ers come out OK.

Baltimore's IR list features top cornerback Lardarius Webb, inside linebacker Jameel McClain and guard Jah Reid, all starters. It features special-teams contributors LaQuan Williams and Bobby Rainey, plus lesser contributors such as Damien Berry, Emanuel Cook, Christian Thompson, Tommy Streeter and Anthony Levine.

The 49ers' IR list features starting receiver Mario Manningham, No. 2 running back Kendall Hunter, third/fourth receiver Kyle Williams, backup outside linebacker Parys Haralson and backup tight end Demarcus Dobbs.

Defensive lineman Justin Smith's ability to return from a triceps injury suffered in Week 15 has been key for the 49ers. Smith, Suggs and Lewis all returned from arm injuries that threatened to end their seasons.
MoJo from Tucson, Ariz., asks a fairly open-ended question regarding the Arizona Cardinals' leading rusher.

"How much respect did defenses show to Beanie Wells last season?" he asks.

Mike Sando: An answer would be difficult to quantify with information available to me.

We can say with some certainty that opposing defenses were not loading up against Wells relative to other running backs. The opposite appears to be true.

Wells ranked 18th out of 19 qualifying backs in percentage of first- and second-down rushes against "loaded" fronts, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Loaded fronts are those featuring more defenders in the box than the offense has blockers to account for them. The list featured backs with 200-plus carries on first and down.

The percentages would not account for plays when teams passed the ball, perhaps as a response to those loaded fronts. In the Cardinals' case, it's plausible to think opponents would make Larry Fitzgerald the focus of their game plans, limiting how frequently they felt comfortable dedicating additional resources to stop a running back.

However, it's also clear Wells didn't fare well enough against those loaded fronts to force adjustments from defenses. He averaged 4.53 yards per carry against unloaded fronts and only 1.46 yards per carry against loaded ones. That differential, displayed in the second chart, exceeded three yards per attempt, the largest gap among the 19 qualifying backs.

For example, Frank Gore and Steven Jackson both averaged about .74 fewer yards per carry against loaded fronts. Marshawn Lynch averaged 0.5 fewer yards per carry. Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendhenhall, Baltimore's Ray Rice and Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew averaged at least 1.6 additional yards per carry against loaded fronts.

But with a relatively small percentage of carries coming against loaded fronts, one long run could skew the averages.

Lynch had 40- and 29-yard runs against loaded fronts. Gore had two 14-yard runs against loaded fronts. Jackson had 13- and 10-yard runs against them. Wells' longest run against a loaded front covered six yards. He also lost six yards on such a run.

Blocking is another factor to consider. Perhaps the Cardinals did not block these runs as well as other teams blocked them.

That leads me back to the original point. It's tough to quantify a respect factor even though some evidence suggests Wells wasn't commanding as much as other backs commanded.

Jeff from Las Vegas asks what happens when a player such as Terrell Suggs suffers a serious injury before the season.

"Does he still get paid in full, or at some reduced rate?" Jeff asks. "Does it matter if he was working out or doing some activity not related to football? Do most players have insurance to cover their salary?"

Mike Sando: The collective bargaining agreement does allow teams to withhold salary from players suffering non-football injuries.

Suggs has built up considerable equity with the organization during his career, however, and it's not like he was jumping a Harley-Davidson over the fountains at Caesars Palace. Players routinely work out on their own. Sometimes, they get hurt.

Suggs' coach, John Harbaugh, recently said Suggs will remain a team leader while rehabbing. Withholding Suggs' salary would be inconsistent with those comments.

Suggs' contract calls for him to earn $4.9 million in base salary for 2012. His deal runs through the 2014 season. The team would have the right to place Suggs on the "non-football injury" list and withhold salary while Suggs' contract continued to run.

Players placed on the non-football injury list while in the final year or option year of their contracts can have their contracts tolled, or frozen.

"However, if the player is physically able to perform his football services on or before the sixth regular season game, the club must pay the player his negotiated Paragraph 5 Salary (pro rata) for the balance of the season in order to toll such player's contract," the labor agreement reads. "If such player is taken off N-F/I during the period when such action is allowed by League rules, his contract will not be tolled."

Those are the contractual considerations. Some of them do not apply to Suggs because he's not in the final year of his deal. Again, I wouldn't expect the Ravens to play hardball with someone they value so much.

As for players purchasing insurance against such injuries, I doubt it's very common.

Costs would seem prohibitive for lower-profile players earning less money. The payoff wouldn't seem sufficient for players having already earned millions. However, I do not know how many players have such policies.

NCAA players sometimes purchase such insurance, but very few have ever collected, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Jason from Madison, Wisc., viewed Merril Hoge's recent comments in response to Kurt Warner as evidence there's no room on ESPN for views "that are not full-bore in support of a sport." He says Hoge wouldn't know to what extent repetitive blows to the head have contributed to issues observed in boxers and, perhaps increasingly, in football players.

"If the possible outcome is permanent brain damage," Jason writes, "and you do not know exactly what level of contact causes it, are you really being the less reasonable person if you say, 'I am not sure if I would let my kids participate' instead of blindly following along with the pack trying to find way to rationalize what they have done and are doing?

"You are coming off as nothing but an NFL cheerleader and as such it is apparent that your content is not worth reading."

Mike Sando: Don't shoot the messenger, Jason. The item presented both views fairly. Warner's comments were reproduced in full and presented first. I thought Warner's response was understandable, and said so. I also thought it was clear Hoge had thought through the issue to a greater degree.

My oldest son plays tackle football and loves it. I would not let him keep playing if he suffered a serious concussion. That is a reasonable stance to me. I also think it's reasonable for Warner to have reservations about letting his sons play. There's room for more than one view on this subject. The way I presented the piece Friday demonstrates as much, in my view.
There is no good time for one of the NFL's elite players to suffer a serious injury.

If the Baltimore Ravens' Terrell Suggs had to endure a torn Achilles' tendon, however, the timing could have been more favorable for the NFC West.

Suggs collected five of his 14 sacks last season against NFC West teams. That included three sacks against the San Francisco 49ers on Thanksgiving, and one apiece in games against Arizona and St. Louis.

Suggs set game highs with 13 tackles, including four for losses, during the Ravens' 30-27 victory over Arizona.

NFC West teams do not play the Ravens in 2012. The Ravens face the NFC East and AFC West as part of their scheduling rotation this year.
This was indeed a special season for the San Francisco 49ers and, by extension, the NFC West overall.

The Associated Press All-Pro Team, announced Friday, includes five 49ers, a league high for any team. Arizona's Patrick Peterson made the team as the return specialist, joining the 49ers' David Akers and Andy Lee to give the NFC West all three specialists.

The 49ers' Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman made it as inside linebackers. Teammate Justin Smith made it as a defensive tackle. He also got votes at defensive end. Smith moves around the line, playing end in the base 3-4.

Aaron Rodgers won 47.5 out of 50 votes at quarterback, a strong indication Rodgers will emerge as the leader in MVP balloting. Those results have not yet been revealed, but they draw from the same group of voters.

The chart shows All-Pro counts by division.

Also making the team: fullback Vonta Leach, center Maurkice Pouncey, guard Carl Nicks, guard Jahri Evans, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, running back LeSean McCoy, tackle Joe Thomas, tackle Jason Peters, tight end Rob Gronkowski, receiver Wes Welker, receiver Calvin Johnson, cornerback Darrelle Revis, cornerback Charles Woodson, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive end Jared Allen, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, linebacker Derrick Johnson, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware safety Troy Polamalu and safety Eric Weddle.

Mike Sando's MVP Watch

December, 21, 2011
Brady, Brees, Rodgers US PresswireGreen Bay's Aaron Rodgers (right), New Orleans' Drew Brees (center) and New England's Tom Brady remain the focus of the MVP conversation.
The MVP Watch list heading into Week 16 is half new and, hopefully, not half bad.

The Big Three haven't changed for weeks. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady have earned their spots at the top. The other seven spots are largely negotiable from week to week.

Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Terrell Suggs, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker appeared last week. All five are sitting this one out for various reasons:

  • Manning: Blame a 1-5 record over the Giants' last six games even though Manning remains supremely valuable to his team.
  • Roethlisberger: A nasty ankle injury and the San Francisco 49ers' defense doomed Roethlisberger to a three-interception performance while raising questions about his status for the near future.
  • Suggs: Great player, horrible defensive performance from Baltimore against San Diego.
  • Gronkowski: How dare the Patriots target other players for a week. Gronkowski went without a touchdown after scoring 11 in his six previous games.
  • Welker: Had four receptions for 41 yards, his second-lowest totals of the season.

Those five remain in the conversation outside The Conversation. In other words, none is going to seriously challenge for MVP honors while Rodgers, Brees and Brady are rewriting record books, but all five remain worthy of a mention.

The same was true for the five players new to the list from last week.

Good seeing you again, Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford. You, too, Tony Romo and Philip Rivers. There was also room for Justin Smith in the No. 10 spot after his 49ers held the Pittsburgh Steelers to three points Monday night. Smith is the best player on arguably the NFL's best defense, and one reason the 49ers have not allowed a rushing touchdown in 15 games or a 100-yard rusher in 36.

Mike Sando's MVP Watch

December, 14, 2011
Eli ManningJim Cowsert/Icon SMITim Tebow isn't the only quarterback gaining ground in the MVP Watch discussion. Eli Manning (above) appears close to joining Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady near the top of the list.
Few players can realistically contend for MVP honors in the NFL with only 11 starts in a full season.

It's just not feasible.

Of course, few can do what Tim Tebow is doing in Denver.

Tebow, who's on pace for 11 starts by season's end, still has not cracked the weekly MVP Watch list. He is coming close, however, and a Tebow-led Denver Broncos victory over New England in Week 15 would be impossible to overlook no matter how inartistic the performance appears through three quarters.

The way the Broncos' second-year quarterback and all-purpose threat suddenly becomes dominant in fourth quarters continues to confound, as does Tebow's unconventional playing style.

I found Trent Dilfer's column helpful in making sense of the madness. The way Dilfer sees things, Tebow and Cam Newton threaten defenses far more than typical scrambling quarterbacks because defenses must respect them as primary runners, not just occasional ones.

"Defenses find themselves in the almost impossible situation of entering a three-reaction mode," Dilfer wrote. "They can't just react to the fake handoff, and they can't just second react to the threat of the pass. They have to react a third time to threat of the run by the quarterback."

As a result, coverages break down badly enough at times to leave receivers not just open, but completely uncovered. Even unrefined passers can complete passes in those situations. Tebow figures to have additional opportunities against the Patriots' weak pass defense. Count me among those who thinks the Broncos have a chance.

Five things to watch: 49ers-Ravens

November, 23, 2011
The San Francisco 49ers step onto the national stage Thursday, which means it's time to consider five things to watch in the most highly-anticipated game of the season for an NFC West team to this point:

[+] EnlargeJoe Staley
Geoff Burke/US PresswireHow will Joe Staley do against one of the league's best pass rushers in Terrell Suggs?
Special teams must bounce back. The 49ers' victory over the Arizona Cardinals last week looked good from afar, but this was easily the worst special-teams performance of the season for San Francsico. David Akers had two field-goal tries blocked. Akers missed another attempt. The 49ers incurred three penalties on their punt-coverage team. Ted Ginn Jr. averaged four yards per punt return and 21 yards per kickoff return, pedestrian numbers. All this came one week after coach Jim Harbaugh pointed to 49ers special-teams coach Brad Seely as a head-coaching candidate. Harbaugh's brother, John, became the Baltimore Ravens' head coach after making a name for himself coaching special teams. Seely will be looking for a bounce-back effort from his unit this week.

49ers left tackle Joe Staley vs. Terrell Suggs. Suggs has gone three games in a row without a sack for the first time since the 2009 season. Staley has been solid for the 49ers. Durability has been a concern for him the last two seasons, however. He made nine starts in 2009 and nine last season, suffering injuries both seasons. Staley has made all 10 starts this season. He now faces a tough matchup on a short week. I'll be watching to see how he fares and how well he holds up physically.

Patrick Willis on a national stage. The 49ers are playing in Ray Lewis' house. It'll be fitting, in a way, if Lewis' injury situation prevents him from playing. Willis, more than any other inside linebacker, appears positioned to pick up where Lewis eventually leaves off. Lewis has said so. The 49ers haven't gotten to play in many prime-time games since Willis arrived as a first-round pick in 2007. This stage provides an opportunity for Willis to show the nation what he's shown 49ers fans for years, that he's the best inside linebacker around.

Big hits from the safeties. Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson have been big hitters for the 49ers all season. The Ravens' Ed Reed continues to set a high standard for the position overall. The 49ers need continued feisty play from Whitner and Goldson, plus heightened awareness from them when the Ravens look for receiver Torrey Smith on deep passes.

The postgame handshake. The Harbaugh-against-Harbaugh storyline has already gotten tiring. The matchups on the field are so much more compelling, at least in my view. Still, I'll be interested in seeing the dynamic after the game given the overall competitiveness of the two. This would be an emotional game even without the sibling rivalry element. The sight of Jim Harbaugh untucking his shirt and dancing around the Ravens' field is one John Harbaugh surely wants to avoid.

NFC West Stock Watch

November, 15, 2011
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. Jason Brown, Rams center. The Rams have paid $7 million per season to Brown since signing him for the 2009 season. They replaced him with Tony Wragge, presumably because they wanted their line to project more toughness and tenacity. The move almost surely foreshadows the end for Brown in St. Louis. Wragge, 32, had started only 15 games, 10 of them in 2008, since making his NFL debut in 2002. The San Francisco 49ers cut him after developing Adam Snyder as a backup for additional positions, including center. Wragge made his first Rams start Sunday and the running game carried on.

2. Frank Gore, 49ers running back. Gore carried only six times for zero yards during the 49ers' otherwise memorable victory over the New York Giants. The knee injury Gore suffered did not appear serious, but it's the latest ailment to threaten his availability this season. Ankle injuries slowed him earlier in the season. Gore's franchise-record streak of 100-yard games ended at five, but the injury concerns account for his placement on this list.

3. Rams' secondary. Losing Al Harris to a season-ending and (at his age) career-threatening knee injury weakened an already ravaged St. Louis secondary. One of the few remaining corners, Justin King, suffered a head injury late in the game, although coach Steve Spagnuolo suggested all symptoms cleared quickly. Bradley Fletcher, Ron Bartell, Jerome Murphy and other corners have already landed on injured reserve for the Rams this season.


[+] EnlargeRussell Okung
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenSeattle's Russell Okung has stepped up his play in recent weeks.
1. Ray Horton, Cardinals defensive coordinator. The Cardinals have not allowed a passing touchdown in their last three games after allowing nine in their first six. They became the first team to hold Philadelphia below 300 yards this season. Younger players like Sam Acho, O'Brien Schofield and Patrick Peterson are contributing. Calais Campbell has had some huge games. Yes, the Cardinals have played a couple struggling teams in recent weeks. But after allowing 932 yards over the first two games and 445 to Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, Arizona has stopped the defensive bleeding.

2. Russell Okung, Seahawks left tackle. Okung fared well in matchups against DeMarcus Ware and Terrell Suggs over the past two games. He had help at times, but there's no question Okung is gaining in confidence and ability as his previous ankle injuries fade into the more distant past. His play has helped Marshawn Lynch put together 100-yard rushing performances in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. Seattle has allowed only two sacks in its last two games after allowing 14 in its previous three.

3. Alex Smith, 49ers quarterback. Smith doesn't appear higher on this list because his stock has already been rising steadily throughout the season. Even those surprised the 49ers would lean on him so heavily against the Giants had to admit Smith's performance was only mildly (if at all) surprising in the context of this season. Don't be fooled into thinking the 49ers leaned on Smith out of necessity once Gore was injured, either. They threw 11 times in their first 13 plays because that was the offensive plan.

Sacks piling up against some in NFC West

November, 11, 2011
J.J. Cooper's piece for Football Outsiders, re-tweeted to my attention by Darren Urban, lists four NFC West tackles among nine players responsible for allowing the most sacks this season.

Not to worry, Seattle Seahawks fans. Russell Okung does not appear on the list. He's improved recently, perhaps becoming more confident the longer his ankles hold up.

Arizona's Levi Brown and St. Louis' Rodger Saffold are tied for the NFL lead with 8.5 sacks allowed. As Cooper notes, offensive linemen aren't always responsible for sacks. Quarterbacks are often more responsible for them, in my view. But Cooper said the stats take care to focus only on plays when a blocker fared poorly in pass protection. He also said physical limitations appear more to blame for Browns' troubles than for Saffold's troubles.

Seattle right tackle James Carpenter ranks tied for fourth on the list with six allowed. San Francisco's Joe Staley is tied for eighth with 4.5 allowed.

These numbers line up with perceptions. NFC West teams have used quite a few early draft choices for tackles, with mixed results.

San Francisco 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis has become more consistent. He faces a tough matchup against the New York Giants' Justin Tuck. Staley faces Osi Umenyiora. Okung faces the Baltimore Ravens' Terrell Suggs.

2011 Cardinals Week 9: Five observations

November, 10, 2011
Five things I noticed while watching the Arizona Cardinals during their 19-13 overtime victory against the St. Louis Rams in Week 9:
  • Still no Fitzgerald on third down. The Cardinals targeted Larry Fitzgerald for passes 12 times in 35 attempts. That included eight of 17 times on first down, three of 11 times on second down and only once in seven chances on third down. Fitzgerald had no yardage on third down. He has four receptions for 60 yards on third down all season. Early Doucet has accounted for 248 of the team's 467 third-down receiving yardage. Even Andre Roberts has more third-down yardage (65) than Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has generally finished past seasons with closer to 20 receptions on third down. The team's overall third-down struggles could be to blame. Arizona's third-down conversion rate over the past two seasons has fallen to levels the team has not seen since 2001.
  • Too many missed tackles. On one play, Adrian Wilson threw his body at Steven Jackson without wrapping up. On another, Rashad Johnson bounced off Jackson. Linebacker Paris Lenon couldn't bring down receiver Greg Salas. Plays such as those helped the Rams possess the ball for more than 20 minutes of the first half.
  • About that running game. The Cardinals' running backs rushed for 32 yards, including only four yards on first down from starter Beanie Wells. That was probably the most disappointing aspect of the game from a Cardinals standpoint. Arizona is a vastly different team from a temperament standpoint when Wells is healthy enough to run hard. Wells, slowed by knee trouble, had been more productive playing hurt the week before.
  • General thoughts on Skelton. Coach Ken Whisenhunt qualified praise for John Skelton by saying the Cardinals' backup quarterback missed some basic plays. Whisenhunt would know all the particulars. my general feel watching the game was that Skelton seemed more comfortable than injured starter Kevin Kolb. A second-and-9 play early in the third quarter stood out. The Cardinals lined up in an offset-I formation with base personnel. The Rams rushed six and got immediate pressure with safety Quintin Mikell. Skelton dodged Mikell, moved purposefully to his left and threw a perfect touch pass to Roberts between defenders. Roberts dropped the ball or else this would have been a first down. A delay penalty set up third-and-14, but Skelton kept his poise, firing another perfect pass, this one to Doucet for a first down. Skelton has 48 yards on three attempts when facing third-and-11 or longer. Kolb has 95 yards on 19 such attempts.
  • Daryl Washington on the cusp. The second-year inside linebacker often looks like one of the better young defensive players in the league. He's exceptionally active against run and pass alike. He had a chance to make a game-changing play with four minutes left in the third quarter. Arizona trailed, 11-6, when Sam Bradford threw a pass to Salas underneath the coverage. Washington recognized the pass right away, accelerated into position and should have scored a touchdown on the play. Washington did everything but catch the pass. This was a good play that should have been a great one -- emblematic of the team's missed chances this season.

Time ran out on last week before I could finish five observations from the Cardinals' game against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 8. I'll pass along the notes I did take:
  • Humble beginnings. The first offensive play of a road game can be a tough one. The opposing crowd is at its loudest. I've wondered more than once why coaches don't run the ball a little more frequently on first plays, particularly in hostile conditions. The San Francisco 49ers took a sack on their first play at Detroit, for example. Why invite trouble? In this case, the Cardinals came out passing and gave up pressure right away. Terrell Suggs bull-rushed left tackle Levi Brown into Kolb's face before Kolb had time to react. Kolb had room if he would have stepped forward to his right, but in turning back to his left, he ran right into Suggs and fumbled. After a penalty gave the Cardinals a first down, the Cardinals ran the ball three times in a row, moving the chains. Much safer, smarter football under the circumstances.
  • Low man wins. Even the greatest players relearn tough lessons. That seemed to be the case when Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis absorbed a big hit from Cardinals right tackle Brandon Keith, forcing Lewis from the game with a stinger. Lewis was standing a little too upright near the line of scrimmage when Keith blasted him on a Beanie Wells running play to the right side. How much did the Ravens miss Lewis? It's tough to say, but Kolb completed a 66-yard pass over the middle to Fitzgerald on the first play Lewis missed.
  • Missed chance for Wilson. Wilson nearly picked off a pass in the end zone before Baltimore kicked a field goal to tie the game, 3-3. This would have been a difficult play to make because the ball was on Wilson quickly. Wilson, who made an athletic play to pick off Rex Grossman at Washington in Week 2, missed chances against Seattle, the New York Giants and now Baltimore. The Cardinals lost to the Seahawks by three, the Giants by four and the Ravens by three. They were a play or two away.

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

November, 9, 2011
Arizona: Kevin Kolb's turf-toe injury will either push John Skelton into the lineup or force Kolb to play at less than full strength. The Cardinals appear likely to go with Skelton against Philadelphia unless Kolb can practice at some point during the week. That is because Kolb is new to the Cardinals' offense and wasn't able to practice last week. "It's not like he can just pick it up and go," coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters. Kolb did not practice Wednesday. Rookie fullback Anthony Sherman continues to miss practice with an ankle injury. Running back Beanie Wells (knee) was limited. The entire starting offensive backfield is hurting, in other words, and that's a significant concern. Tight end Todd Heap's role could increase in his second game back from a hamstring injury.

St. Louis: Quarterback Sam Bradford (ankle), running back Steven Jackson (foot) and emerging safety Darian Stewart (ankle) were among the limited participants in practice Wednesday. Bradford did not practice at all last Wednesday, so his participation this week looks like progress. The Rams remain without starting right tackle Jason Smith (head). They do not seem worse for his absence, but depth on the offensive line is thinner. Depth at linebacker and defensive tackle is running a bit low. Linebacker Bryan Kehl has a high-ankle sprain. Kehl and rookie tight end Lance Kendricks (foot) did not practice.

San Francisco: Frank Gore's injured ankle was the No. 1 concern as the 49ers practiced Wednesday. Gore was in uniform and participating in individual drills, but reports suggested he was favoring the ankle. Still, his participation at all on a Wednesday suggests the injury is something Gore can manage. Defensive end Ray McDonald, sidelined by a hamstring injury last week, also took part in individual drills. Quarterback Alex Smith was fortunate to avoid injury on the big hit he took from Washington's Ryan Kerrigan last week. Consider it a reminder that Smith needs to get rid of the ball more quickly against talented pass-rushers such as Kerrigan and those on the New York Giants awaiting him Sunday.

Seattle: Receiver depth was in flux as the Seahawks practiced Wednesday. Sidney Rice, bothered by shoulder trouble early in the season and foot problems more recently, missed practice with multiple as-yet-undisclosed ailments. Mike Williams practiced despite a foot/ankle injury. Kris Durham went on injured reserve with a torn labrum. Deon Butler came off the physically unable to perform list. Doug Baldwin and Ben Obomanu provide good depth. Coach Pete Carroll was coy on Rice's ailments, but there was no reason to expect Rice to miss the game Sunday. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson continues to play through a pectoral injury that could be affecting his performance on more demanding throws. That's a concern against a Baltimore defense featuring Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and others.

2011 Rams Week 3: Five observations

September, 27, 2011
Five things I noticed while watching the St. Louis Rams' 37-7 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3:
  • No one blocked Terrell Suggs. The Rams got cute early with an end-around to rookie tight end Lance Kendricks. Nobody blocked Suggs, one of the Ravens' best players, on the play. How could this happen? The play established two dynamics early. One, the Rams weren't feeling great about their conventional running game even though Steve Jackson was active. Two, they weren't going to fool this veteran Ravens defense, either. Even if Suggs had missed Kendricks, linebacker Jameel McClain was also rushing toward the play unblocked. Losing 8 yards on second down ruined the Rams' opening drive. Later, with the Rams facing third-and-6 while trailing 7-0, they failed to block Suggs coming from the other side of the formation. Again, how can this happen? The Rams had six blockers for six pass-rushers, only to leave the very best rusher of them all, Suggs, completely unblocked. It is possible quarterback Sam Bradford was supposed to account for Suggs after the snap or by setting the protection a certain way, but that was not my inclination. The Rams would be better off punting on third down than allowing Suggs a clear path toward their franchise QB.
  • Flacco had a perfect pocket. The Rams had no shot at pressuring Joe Flacco when the Ravens' quarterback found Torrey Smith for a 74-yard touchdown. Right defensive end James Hall dropped into coverage. Left defensive end Chris Long lined up wide enough to jam Ravens tight end Ed Dickson at the line. Long was at the Baltimore 25-yard line just inside the yard-line numbers and well outside right tackle Michael Oher when Flacco was setting up in the pocket at his own 20 on the hash nearest Long. Running back Ray Rice picked up blitzing linebacker Ben Leber. Flacco delivered the ball before the Rams could do anything about it. Smith's speed on the play was startling. He was at the Baltimore 35 when Flacco released the ball. He covered an additional 21 yards before catching it at the St. Louis 44. Aenaes Williams might not have been able to defend this one. Of the three scoring passes Smith caught, the second one was the truly regrettable one from a Rams standpoint, with safety Darian Stewart getting caught peeking into the backfield.
  • The Jason Smith complaints are overblown. Coach Steve Spagnuolo had seen enough in the second half after Smith, the Rams' right tackle, gave up pressure more than once during a tough stretch. Spagnuolo benched Smith, but singling out Smith for the Rams' problems on the line would be unfair. The rest of the line also struggled once the Rams fell behind. I considered it progress when Smith got into a brief altercation with Lewis, drawing a 15-yard penalty. The Rams need not revisit the Richie Incognito era, but they need their linemen to play with an edge. Smith came to the Rams out of college with a tough-guy reputation that proved misleading. He missed half his rookie season to injuries and has hardly been an enforcer type, one reason guard Harvey Dahl appealed to the Rams in free agency. Smith has played through the ankle injury, first thought to be a high sprain, that he suffered in the regular-season opener. Now, he's scrapping with Lewis.
  • Bradford cannot find anyone open. Bradford scrambled effectively for the Rams early in the game, but only because none of his receivers appeared open. Bradford also paid a price. The Ravens' Haloti Ngata and Ray Lewis buried him following a scramble on the Rams' second possession. Could anyone come up with a worse scenario for the Rams than one pitting Bradford alone in the ring against the tag-team combination of Ngata and Lewis? Not likely. Bradford got up limping. This was surely the play when he suffered the sprained toe that is bother him this week. Ngata, listed at 350 pounds, rolled across Bradford's lower legs after right after Lewis made the tackle. Don't blame the offensive line for this injury. Bradford actually had time to throw very early in the game, but life changed for him once the team fell behind.
  • The Rams have no chance playing from behind. That might change a little once Jackson and top receiver Danny Amendola return to health. For now, though, the Rams just need to survive their rough first-half schedule while hoping their division rivals falter. The final eight games feature six NFC West opponents, plus Cincinnati and Cleveland. Life will get worse before it gets better. Getting Bradford to Week 9 in one piece must be the priority.

We'll find out Wednesday whether Jackson is a full participant in practice. The Rams have a bye in Week 5, but if Jackson is ready to play a bigger role this week, the Rams have at least a chance against Washington on a short week for the Redskins.

Mike Sando's MVP Watch

September, 14, 2011
Drew BreesJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDrew Brees threw for 419 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort at Green Bay last Thursday.
Aaron Rodgers was looking like the 2011 MVP favorite coming off his Week 1 performance for Green Bay on national television Thursday night.

It was tough to imagine a quarterback making a bolder statement than the one Rodgers fashioned while completing 77.1 percent of his passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns against New Orleans.

Tom Brady made sure there would be no imagining necessary. Punctuating his 517-yard, four-touchdown night against the Miami Dolphins with a 99-yard scoring strike to Wes Welker, the New England quarterback reminded "Monday Night Football" viewers why he was the unanimous MVP choice last season.

The race is on, and for the first time in more than a decade, Peyton Manning isn't among the favorites. The Indianapolis Colts said they expect Manning to recover from his latest neck surgery, though.

Watching our top MVP candidates lead their teams up and down the field could qualify as physical therapy for anyone with neck trouble. Brady, Rodgers and the third man in our MVP Watch, Drew Brees, combined for 1,248 yards and 10 touchdowns in Week 1.

There was room for less-established players on the list this week, including a few coming off strong opening performances.

Cam Newton (422 yards), Terrell Suggs (three sacks) and Darren McFadden (15o yards) stood out. Their inclusion this week at the expense of mainstays Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson might be temporary, because MVP winners haven't always started quickly.

When Manning won the 2003 and 2004 awards, his combined Week 1 stats from those seasons were relatively modest: 467 yards passing with two touchdowns and three picks. Brady has fared better in openers during his two MVP seasons, combining for 555 yards and six touchdowns with no picks in those games.

Two of the last three running backs to win the award started slowly. Shaun Alexander carried 14 times for 73 yards in the 2005 opener. Marshall Faulk carried 14 times for 78 yards to open the 2000 season. LaDainian Tomlinson, with 31 carries for 131 yards in the 2006 opener, was an exception.