NFC West: Tom McMahon

Around the NFC West: Special Rams note

December, 19, 2011
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Injuries affect every NFL team. They're no excuse for sustained failure. Their impact on special teams can be easily overlooked, however.

That came to mind Sunday when the St. Louis Rams suffered continuing problems on their special-teams units. A week after allowing a blocked punt and multiple long returns against Seattle, the Rams' coverage units suffered from additional lapses Sunday during a 20-13 home defeat to Cincinnati. The 56-yard punt return St. Louis allowed to the Bengals' Brandon Tate proved costly.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points to those and other deficiencies in explaining why the Rams lost for the 12th time in 14 games this season. Two penalties against linebacker Chris Chamberlain for unnecessary roughness and one against Harvey Dahl for unsportsmanlike conduct also worked against the Rams. Thomas: "It all started on a 56-yard punt return by Cincinnati's Tate late in the third quarter with the score 6-6. It merely was the latest bust for the Rams' punt coverage team, which has sprung major leaks over the last month and half." Noted: Continuing my earlier thought on in the injury front, the Rams have placed 10 cornerbacks on injured reserve. Six of them remain there. Fifteen total Rams players are on injured reserve, more than the combined totals for Arizona (six) and San Francisco (five). The Seattle Seahawks also have 15 players on injured reserve. They obviously had superior depth.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com passes out postgame grades to the Rams, including an A-minus for replacement quarterback Kellen Clemens. Noted: That grade seems fair under the circumstances. Clemens never really did anything to swing the game for St. Louis, but he was an upgrade over the injured Sam Bradford. Clemens completed 25 of 35 passes for 229 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions, three sacks and one fumble, which the Rams recovered. His NFL passer rating (95.7) was the highest for a Rams quarterback this season, although his Total QBR score was only 24.0 out of 100, a reflection of his inability to significantly improve St. Louis' chances for victory.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams played well enough on defense to win. Burwell: "Blowing the slim margin for error creates the most unfair conditions for the Rams' defense, which holds its ground as long as it can. But every week you see the Rams' offense go out there with head-scratching play calls and mental or physical breakdowns, and the special teams make repeated failures, and tight, competitive game turn into systematic losses. A lot of attention has been drawn to the failures on offense, but it's time to zero in on the strange adventures on special teams, too. Let me see if I can offer up a little unscientific advice to Tom McMahon's unit. Stop punting the ball down the middle of the field. Better yet, stop kicking the ball in the general direction of any people who run sub 4.3 40 yard dashes and make frequent visits into the end zone on punt and kick returns."
Here's the thing about the St. Louis Rams' stunning 31-21 victory against the New Orleans Saints in Week 8: The Rams did not play that well overall, particularly on offense.

This was as much a victory of attitude as it was one for execution. The Rams, after opening the season 0-6, weren't going to accept losing any longer.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says running back Steven Jackson took the lead on this front, addressing the team with words that came to him when he awoke at 3 a.m. on game-day morning. Jackson: "Pretty much what I said was if you've ever been in a fight and you've ever been hit with a punch, you only have two decisions. Either run from the person, the opponent. Or you just dig deep inside and find the will to keep swinging and keep fighting. ... So I challenged them. Not as football players. I challenged them as men." Noted: Jackson is finally healthy enough to lead with his legs as well. He ran with good speed and power against the Saints.

Also from Thomas: This was a different Rams team. Thomas: "Go figure. A Saints offense that scored 34 points and gained 339 yards in the first half last week against Indianapolis, managed just 94 yards and didn't dent the scoreboard in the first half Sunday against the Rams."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says the Rams had reached their breaking point. Saints coach Sean Payton: "They pretty much handled us all day. It has been a while since that has happened. They did a great job. We struggled blocking, we struggled running the ball, we struggled protecting. We didn’t have a lot going for us."

Also from Gordon: a Rams report card featuring all 'A' and 'B' grades. Safety Darian Stewart and the secondary got high marks, as did the linebackers. Gordon: "The man in the middle, James Laurinaitis, played like an All-Pro. The press box statistics credited him with 10 tackles. He also broke up two passes, earned a sack and put two more hits on Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Chris Chamberlain helped set the defensive tone with two early tackles for a loss and Bryan Kehl also earned one while starting in place of Brady Poppinga." Noted: Chamberlain made a couple big hits. Kehl stood out to me in a positive way to a degree I had not noticed this season.

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams had a feeling first-round pick Robert Quinn would block a punt Sunday. Nelson: "Rams special teams coach Tom McMahon approached Quinn 'two or three days ago,' Quinn said, and told Quinn that he had a dream that he would block a punt. 'He said he had the same thing last year with Danny Amendola returning a touchdown,' Quinn said. 'I said to myself, 'Let me see if this is really true.' "

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com hands out accolades, including this one for rookie receiver Greg Salas: "Salas is quickly becoming a key cog in this offense. Terrific to see how far he’s come in a few weeks under the tutelage of Nolan Cromwell. He had five catches for 47 yards and added a run for eight more." Noted: Salas was among those playing with attitude in this game. This was by far the most confidence he has shown outwardly to this point in his NFL career. A little success has gone a long way with him.

St. Louis Rams cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
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Surprise move: The situation at wide receiver carried the most intrigue through training camp and the exhibition season. Mardy Gilyard, Donnie Avery and Danario Alexander seemed to have the most to gain, with Mark Clayton's recent signing adding another dynamic. Alexander made it. So did Dominique Curry, a dominant special-teams player last summer until he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Gilyard and Avery missed the cut. That surprised me a great deal, given Alexander's injury history, Avery's recent surge and Gilyard's value on special teams. Clayton went onto the reserve/physically unable to perform list, meaning he'll miss the first six games.

Curry is a special-teams player and a receiver in name only. He made the team despite a broken hand. That's a victory for special-teams coach Tom McMahon.

Veteran defensive lineman Dan Muir, signed in free agency, was also among the cuts.

Gilyard was a fourth-round pick in 2010. The team has drafted 16 players in the first four rounds since Steve Spagnuolo became coach. Gilyard is the only one no longer with the team. He has no eligibility for the practice squad after appearing on the game-day roster more than eight times last season (11).

Unknown rookie Ben Guidugli was one of four tight ends to stick on the initial 53-man roster, beating out Fendi Onobun. Guidugli could be providing depth while the team waits to see whether Michael Hoomanawanui is available for Week 1.

No-brainers: The Rams weren't going to cut rookie receivers Greg Salas or Austin Pettis even though neither rookie lit up the preseason. They took precedence over Gilyard, who was selected when the Rams had a different offensive coordinator. Free-agent linebacker Zac Diles became expendable once the Rams added other veterans at the position.

What's next: Depth at cornerback was and is a potential concern. The Rams kept only eight offensive linemen, including veteran backup Adam Goldberg. They could be in the market for an interior offensive lineman with good size and strength. With seven wide receivers on the roster for now, the team has only four running backs. This is the initial 53-man roster, not the final one, however. There will be changes before Week 1, most likely.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams tight end Daniel Fells faces an uncertain future with the team thanks to the lockout and an expiring contract. Thomas on the Rams in general: "After practicing at Lindenwood University Monday through Wednesday, the venue was switched to Lutheran South High School, where former Rams strength coach Chuck Faucette is now head football coach. About three dozen Rams have participated in this week's practices at one time or another. But heavy rains canceled Thursday's session. Instead, quarterback Sam Bradford and about eight to 10 receivers spent 30 minutes doing classroom work and then worked for about 45 minutes in the gym at Lutheran South. Afterward, many of them stayed around and played a little basketball. Many Rams players will reconvene June 8 in the Phoenix area for another series of workouts organized by cornerback Ron Bartell, linebacker James Laurinaitis and Bradford." Bradford has been teaching the playbook to his offensive teammates. It'll be interesting to see once camp starts whether players retain the information and if Bradford knew enough to teach concepts the way new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will teach them.

Casey Pearce of stlouisrams.com provides details from coach Steve Spagnuolo's recent practice involving members of the business staff as players. Pearce: "The day followed the same schedule Spagnuolo uses for OTAs. It started with a team meeting during which staffers were assigned positions. Special-teams coordinator Tom McMahon then turned on the video projector and taught the group two punt protection calls. Following the special teams meeting, the offense and defense went into separate meeting rooms and then individual position meetings. With the meetings in the books, the staff headed to the training room where head athletic trainer Reggie Scott and his staff taped each staff member’s ankles in preparation for the on-field portion of the day."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis offers thoughts on the Rams' recently concluded player-organized workout sessions. Also: "Mardy Gilyard was a no-show. It is my understanding from a source he had a close friend pass away and decided to attend the services."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says some 49ers players downplay the significance of other teams drawing more players to their player-organized workouts. Maiocco: "The 49ers players had been getting together in relative obscurity. The group of 49ers keeps showing up to lift weights and condition for about two hours in the middle of the day, four days a week. Some of the veterans viewed the publicity generated by the Saints' workouts as a made-for-TV event -- nothing more than a public-relations tool."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers rookie Rashad Johnson is leaning on his more financially established teammates for air fare and a place to stay during player-organized workouts. Johnson, a sixth-round pick, stayed with safety Taylor Mays, a former teammate at USC. Quarterback Alex Smith paid for Johnson's flight. Barrows: "Johnson has a bit of an advantage on his rookie counterparts in that he is already familiar with the routes he will be asked to run. His college position coach, John Morton, has the same job with the 49ers. Indeed, Morton was the one who lobbied the 49ers to take Johnson with the 182nd overall pick. Johnson said the 49ers routes are similar to the ones he ran with the Trojans. But they're called different names and the overall concepts are a little different. And that's what he's trying to master every night while he and the rest of the rookies wait out the lockout."

Taylor Price of 49ers.com profiles 49ers assistant Geep Chryst, whose father coached against Jim Harbaugh's father in the Big Ten. Chryst worked for the Bears when Harbaugh played for them. Price: "Poise under pressure is what Chryst recalled most vividly of his current boss. Though he had held out of camp for a short period, Harbaugh came to the Chicago Bears full of confidence. Chryst recalls Harbaugh nearly crashing his moped into William 'The Refrigerator' Perry’s gold Mercedes. But the rookie quarterback made up for it when he displayed veteran moxie at the team’s rookie talent show. When his partner bowed out of their scheduled embarrassing performance, Harbaugh was left to entertain the veterans all by himself." Harbaugh went solo during a Blues Brothers routine.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the 2006 season ranks among the more disappointing in franchise history even though Seattle went 9-7 and won a third consecutive NFC West title. Farnsworth: "Injuries played a part, as Matt Hasselbeck missed four starts with a bruised knee and leading rusher Shaun Alexander sat out six because of a broken foot. So did ineffectiveness and inconsistency. Even more telling was the fact that the team’s best players who had their best seasons in the run to the Super Bowl in ’05 did not match those efforts. Not even close."

Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic assesses where the Cardinals and other Phoenix-area professional sports franchises stand now compared to five years ago. Boivin: "Has the organization shown vision? Its struggles finding a quarterback after Kurt Warner's retirement shouldn't be ignored but considering where it was under Dennis Green's guidance in 2006, the team is definitely in a better place."
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com offers thoughts on recent NFL drafts after rating them across the league. On the 49ers: "The 49ers have drafted 12 starters the past five years. That's second only to the Houston Texans' 13. While the 49ers have landed a couple standouts (Patrick Willis and Vernon Davis), they have not drafted top-tier players at impact positions, such as quarterback, cornerback and pass-rusher." I took a look at the 49ers' selections over the first three rounds for the time period in question. The team drafted no quarterbacks, one cornerback (Reggie Smith, since converted to safety) and one pass-rusher (Manny Lawson, who has made a greater impact on special teams) in the first three rounds dating to the 2006 draft.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee uses the 49ers' predraft visits as the basis for determining what positions the team might be targeting in the draft. Barrows: "First, it's clear the 49ers are targeting three position groups. Among the known players visiting, three are quarterbacks, three are cornerbacks and three are smallish defensive ends/outside linebackers. That's no surprise. The 49ers have acknowledged that they'd like to improve those positions this offseason. Three players also are tight ends, a position Jim Harbaugh utilized quite a bit at Stanford. The team also is clearly looking at fullbacks." Teams use predraft visits for various purposes. Teams are often seeking additional information on players coaches and scouts had questions about.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Razzano thinks the 49ers will take a quarterback 45th overall. He points to Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton as possibilities.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider sizes up the 49ers' linebackers and asks whether new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has enough with which to work.

Aaron Wilson of National Football Post says quarterback prospect Ryan Mallett is scheduled to visit with the Seahawks on Monday. Wilson: "It's a busy week for Mallett, who's set to visit the Minnesota Vikings on Wednesday and Thursday and the Carolina Panthers on Friday and Saturday. He visits the San Francisco 49ers on April 11, the Miami Dolphins on April 14 and the Tennessee Titans on April 17. Mallett's first visit was with the Cincinnati Bengals. He has conducted private workouts for the Miami Dolphins and the Panthers."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says CenturyLink is in the early stages of "transitional branding" at Qwest Field after the company purchased Qwest Communications recently. O'Neil: "The name of the stadium isn't changing right now, but the logos you see on relating to Qwest's sponsorship of the Sounders will -- and it could be anything from trash cans to napkins to logos on the scoreboard -- are likely to have a new logo. And that new logo could include the logos for both Qwest and CenturyLink, which are now the same company."

Liz Mullen of Sporting News checks in with Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck for thoughts on the NFL labor situation.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic passes along a dissenting view on pass-rusher Von Miller from former Cardnials scout Dave Razzano. Razzano: "I’m not a Von Miller guy at all. I know he had an ankle injury, but I think it’s a cop-out. I’ve look at enough tape. The stuff he does that I don’t like has nothing to do with an ankle sprain at all. ... Von Miller does not have a real competitive demeanor. That's the kind of guy who has 'bust' quality."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com offers personal recollections on former Cardinals safety Pat Tillman. Urban: "I came in to the Cards’ facility on Sept. 11, 2001. It was a Tuesday -- the players’ off day -- but Tillman was there too. And at one point, with the World Trade Center burning but not yet collapsed, Tillman sat next to me in one of the overstuffed, ugly orange-yellow chairs there at the time and lamented the situation. ... Did I know that day he’d eventually give up football for what he thought was a greater purpose? Of course not. Maybe Tillman did, and maybe he didn’t. He never talked about it, having then-coach Dave McGinnis break the joining-the-Army news to a trio of reporters."

Todd Hefferman of The Southern says Southern Illinois University is trying to land the St. Louis Rams for training camp. Hefferman: "Saluki Stadium seats 15,000 and has FieldTurf Duraspine PRO playing surface. SIU also has a grass practice facility south of the stadium that has two 100-yard fields. The Boydston Center, an $11.3 million facility a couple of hundred feet from the stadium that also opened last year, houses new locker rooms, new offices and new meeting rooms."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says Rams special-teams coach Tom McMahon thinks new rules will "eliminate" the kickoff return specialist. McMahon: "We have started looking, trying to get ahead a little bit. Look at where balls are landing and giving them 5 extra yards. It’s scary how many balls are landing in the end zone. It’s almost scary shocking."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams rejoiced Wednesday when coach Steve Spagnuolo gave them the night off -- a sign the hard-charging coach has sought a balance after players wore down last summer.

Spagnuolo livened up practice by sending his coordinators onto the field to catch simulated punts from a ball machine. Pat Shurmur (offense), Ken Flajole (defense) and Tom McMahon (special teams) each fielded a punt successfully in a playoff after finishing tied in the preliminary round.

As a result, Spagnuolo canceled the night of meetings for all three coaches' position players.

Watching Shurmur, Flajole and McMahon battle winds while tracking footballs proved entertaining.

"I was really shocked," Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson said. "I thought we were all going to have meetings tonight."

Spagnuolo has run tough training camps in St. Louis while trying to set the tone for a mostly young team.

"If you are a veteran team, you can afford to give guys a night off more and trust them to study their playbook," Jackson said. "When you have such a young team, you gotta try to guide them in a way and it sucks for a veteran because you've been through it. But I think coach is finding that good middle ground to help everyone grow and get better."

Sizing up NFC West coaching staffs

February, 4, 2010
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MIAMI -- With the Seahawks announcing their 2010 coaching staff, I went through every NFC West team's staff to produce a chart allowing for easy comparison.

It's pretty clear the Cardinals do more with less than the other teams in the division. They have fewer assistants than the other teams in the NFC West.

In most cases, I have recreated official titles for each assistant coach. That explains why the Cardinals have no offensive coordinator listed (Russ Grimm coordinates the running game, Mike Miller coordinates the passing game and Ken Whisenhunt calls the plays). I did not create a special category for 49ers receivers coach Jerry Sullivan (he also carries the title senior assistant). Seattle's Carroll is also executive vice president. I did not create an extra category to reflect that title.

I have listed no offensive line coach for the Cardinals. Grimm handles those duties. The 49ers do not list a defensive quality control coach, but clearly someone must break down the upcoming opponents' offensive video (I am checking to see which assistant handles those duties). Update: Outside linebackers coach Jason Tarver handles those duties. Also, I updated the chart to reflect Curtis Modkins' departure from the Cardinals to become Buffalo's offensive coordinator. Ray Brown is the new assistant offensive line coach in San Francisco.

The Rams are expected to hire a receivers coach after Charlie Baggett left. They could hire an assistant offensive line coach to replace Art Valero, who took the same job with Seattle. The 49ers might need to find a new offensive quality-control coach (Shane Day is interviewing with the Bears to coach quarterbacks for Mike Martz).

The Rams and Seahawks list special assistants to the head coach. These are largely administrative positions.

Around the NFC West: Game day here

January, 10, 2010
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Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says it's time to trade pregame storylines for the real thing when Green Bay visits the Cardinals in the wild-card round. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "I think we showed last year our potential and what we can do, but I think we've done it more consistently this year, which, to me, makes you a better football team. When you can show up and win in all facets and do it more consistently, that shows a better football team."

Also from Somers: Anquan Boldin appears likely to test his injured ankle in pregame warm-ups before the team decides whether he can play.

More from Somers: a look at key stats and variables in the Packers-Cardinals game. The Packers are plus-24 in turnovers this season. Somers: "It's an astounding number, keyed by 30 interceptions. The Packers don't commit many turnovers themselves, just eight fumbles and eight interceptions. The running backs have carried 374 times without losing a fumble. The Packers don't beat themselves much, in other words, so the Cardinals can't afford to be careless with the ball. If so, the Packers offensive will capitalize and this game could turn ugly."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic raises questions about how long Kurt Warner will continue playing. Bickley: "As kickoff nears, Cardinals fans will become jittery, nervous. There's a lot on the line, maybe even a window of opportunity. But most will take great comfort in their quarterback and wouldn't trade him for anybody in the NFC. Warner has the experience. He has proven himself over and over in pressure situations. He has been to three Super Bowls, and delivered each time. He rates a big edge over the blossoming Aaron Rodgers, who never has participated in a playoff game."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com suggests injuries were bound to strike the Cardinals at some point.

Brian Jennings of the 49ers picks the Packers to beat the Cardinals in a game that could be a blowout, he thinks, if Green Bay can force a couple of turnovers. Jennings: "If the Cardinals can win the turnover battle, they could win this game. Another thing I can’t overlook is Ken Whisenhunt and his coaching staff. They do a great job of preparing their team for the playoffs. But in the end, I’m going to go with Green Bay. I like the Packers to win 27-23. The game is being played indoors, so I think both teams will probably be able to score a lot of points. If the Packers get a couple of turnovers, it could be a blowout. I think the Packers are really the only team out of the wild-card round that can play in the Super Bowl this year."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers and Browns talked about a potential Josh Cribbs deal before the trading deadline, but the sides could not agree on compensation. Maiocco: "Would the 49ers be interested if Cribbs hit the trade market? I'm sure they would. But at what price, I do not know. But let's not get too carried away with disgruntled Cribbs' trade demands. Heck, the trade period does not open until March."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers have spoken with Larry MacDuff about their opening for special-teams coach. MacDuff coached for the 49ers from 2003 to 2006. Bobby April could be another candidate to coach the 49ers' special teams after Al Everest's firing.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks have indicated "president" is not one of the titles "in play" for Pete Carroll. O'Neil: "Carroll will not have final say over all football decisions as it relates to personnel. The Seahawks have told the Fritz Pollard Alliance that -- if Carroll is hired -- he's not the ultimate authority on draft choices and trades. Carroll is going to serve as final authority on the 53-man roster. The Seahawks specified this to the Fritz Pollard Alliance as well."

Also from O'Neil: Drew Bledsoe, Lawyer Milloy and Lawrence Jackson vouch for Carroll. Bledsoe: "I can't speak highly enough of Pete as a coach and as a person. I really would have loved to have played for the guy for a bunch of my career."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune isn't convinced Carroll would be the right person for the job in Seattle. Boling: "If a deal comes together as reported, five years for as high as $35 million, with possible dual titles of head coach and franchise president, Carroll has two immediate requisites: 1) Put together an all-star staff of assistants, most with NFL experience, and 2) hire an indefatigable GM with a track record of personnel success in the NFL."

Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times says the Seahawks could promote pro personnel director Will Lewis to be their general manager.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' special teams showed progress under Tom McMahon. Thomas: "The Rams' league-wide rankings in net punting (second), punt coverage (fourth) and kickoff coverage (22nd) were the highest for the team in the decade. (That's right, a No. 22 ranking on kickoff coverage was a single-season best for the Rams from 2000 through 2009.) The Rams' ranking in kickoff returns (11th) was their second-highest ranking of the decade; gross punting (fourth) was third-best; and punt returns (eighth) was fourth-best."

Also from Thomas: Rams cornerback Ron Bartell says he knew the Rams were not going to succeed right away. Bartell: "I got into it for the long haul. So I knew it was going to take time. ... We still have the right people in place. I totally, firmly believe that. I think I made the best decision for me. I still think we can get this thing turned around."

Around the NFC West: Cut Incognito?

December, 14, 2009
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Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wonders if the Rams have hit bottom. He also says the Rams should cut Richie Incognito after the guard committed two more 15-yard penalties. Miklasz: "Both infractions came with Keith Null moving the offense and getting into a rhythm; Incognito's penalties put the rookie in desperate passing situations. It was an incredibly selfish and dumb thing to do to a rookie quarterback. Incognito should know better, of course, but maybe he's confused. After all, the Rams continue to accommodate this clown show. Any self-respecting organization with high standards and a code of conduct would boot Incognito out of Rams Park." Getting released from the Rams might come as a relief under the circumstances, but it does appear as though the organization needs to take a strong stand here.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers a Rams report card featuring high marks for special-teams coordinator Tom McMahon, but not many others.

Also from Coats: Good luck stopping Chris Johnson.

More from Coats: The Rams played well on special teams.

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says Rams rookie Keith Null "put himself into the 2010 discussion" despite five interceptions. Null should ideally be the third quarterback next season.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Incognito had left the locker room by the time reporters had finished speaking with Spagnuolo. Guard Jacob Bell: "He claims he's innocent. So, we just have to go back and look at the film. When it starts getting chippy, they're going to look at the guy that they know sometimes causes that kind of stuff. So, whether he did it or he didn't do it, they're going to throw the flag on him. They calmed things down. You realize, 'Hey, they're going to throw a flag for anything now.' So you need to just be careful and realize that's how it's going."

Also from Thomas: The Titans showed the Rams how to play tough and physical. Rams defensive end Leonard Little: "They're bullies. They basically come with a bully attitude. They try to bully everyone they play. They do a good job at what they do. The coach [Jeff Fisher] played in the league. He knows what it takes to win games, and win games late in the season." Fisher on running up the score: "We settled for [field goals] early and we needed to learn to score touchdowns, and if they were unhappy with it -- they faked a punt when they were down by 30. I wasn't doing anything from a personal standpoint. I was trying to score points and coach a football team." With Incognito taking cheap shots and the Rams calling a fake punt, I can see why the Titans showed no mercy, even if they went a little overboard.

Around the NFC West: Dockett's demands

December, 6, 2009
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Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Darnell Dockett vows to sign with another team in the NFC West if Arizona doesn't step up with a new contract for him. Dockett: "Honestly, I don't think they'll pay me. It's one thing to say there's a light at the end of the tunnel, but how many guys have been here who never reach that light? Look at Antonio Smith, Calvin Pace, Thomas Jones, Simeon Rice. Look at Anquan [Boldin]. Do you think going into his last season that he'll be interested in signing a contract at that time? You think I'll be anxious to sign a contract at that time? People say, 'Well, look what they did with [Larry] Fitzgerald.' Did you see the situation Fitzgerald had them in? Did you see what Kurt [Warner] had to go through? Kurt had to go to another team. Imagine that. An MVP quarterback took them to the Super Bowl for the first time in God knows how long, and he had to go to another team to get an offer to come back. Look at Karlos [Dansby]. They can't work out a deal with Karlos, because Karlos wants what he thinks he deserves, and the numbers don't lie. You know the saying: Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don't."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are focused on themselves, not the 49ers. Steve Breaston: "They need to watch us, basically. We're ahead. We're in the position that as long as we win games, it doesn't matter what anyone else does."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune lists 11 potential candidates to become the Seahawks' next general manager: Mike Holmgren, Randy Mueller, Tom Heckert, Ruston Webster, Steve Keim, Bill Kuharich, Ted Sundquist, Reggie McKenzie, Les Snead, Jimmy Raye III and Eric DeCosta.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the 49ers appear more talented than the Seahawks heading into their matchup Sunday. Boling: "The Niners even lose better than the Hawks. They lost close at Minnesota (27-24) and at Indianapolis (18-14), sites of two extreme defeats for the Seahawks (35-9 at the Vikings and 34-17 at Indy). I would still suggest the Seahawks have the advantage at quarterback, although the Niners’ Alex Smith (84.7) currently has a better passer rating than Matt Hasselbeck (81.0)."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Tim Ruskell's resignation reminds the Seahawks that jobs are on the line down the stretch. Hasselbeck: "We all know what's at stake. Every single guy in that locker room realizes that just like every other year, how you play will determine your status for the next year. Whether you're in this league or not, whether you're starting or not, whether you're on this team or not. That's unchanged."

Taylor Price of 49ers.com says the 49ers' Delanie Walker is happy for all of the attention Vernon Davis is getting these days.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers coach Mike Singletary wants his defense to improve its tackling. There's no excuse for the 49ers to be a poor tackling team given how much hitting they did during the offseason. Takeo Spikes: "Tackling is a mindset. I don't care how much you work on it in practice, at the end of the day, it's getting 'em down. What can you change in a week's time?"

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says how the Seahawks defend Walker could be a key variable Sunday. Much depends on whether the 49ers continue to shy away from their base offense featuring two backs. Jim Mora: "I've always had a lot of respect for him, and he's developed into a tenacious player. The combination of him and Vernon and [Josh] Morgan and Michael [Crabtree], and [Frank] Gore in the backfield, that's a lot of weapons. They've done a nice job of making you defend the whole field. Walker is a fine player. He might get overshadowed a little bit, but we have a lot of respect for him." More here.

Also from Maiocco: catching up with Nate Davis.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the playoffs are a realistic goal for the 49ers.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams remain unsettled in key areas heading into the final five games. Thomas: "Even if he recovers from his fractured shin bone in time to play a couple of games, quarterback Marc Bulger probably won't have enough time to reinvent himself in the eyes of the coaching staff and front office. Any decision on retaining him, or moving in another direction, will largely be based on what already has transpired."

Also from Thomas: Oshiomogho Atogwe's matchup with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is a key one.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says former Rams coach Mike Martz should be working in the NFL. Miklasz: "Martz's innovations in the passing game inspired a new generation of younger NFL coaches and coordinators. NFL teams are combining to average 66 passes and 471 yards passing per game this season, the second-highest averages since the 1970 merger. Even traditional smash-mouth teams (Pittsburgh) are airing it out and bombing away."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with the Rams' first-year coordinators. Coats: "(Steve) Spagnuolo never had served as a head coach at any level when the Rams tapped him to take over a franchise that had lost 27 of 32 games the previous two seasons. In turn, Spagnuolo hired two men who never had served as coordinators in the NFL: Ken Flajole and, on offense, Pat Shurmur. Toss in a rookie special-teams coordinator, Tom McMahon, and the expression 'starting from scratch' had real meaning."

Around the NFC West: Briggs and the 49ers

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
8:59
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at what might have been if the 49ers could have acquired Lance Briggs from the Bears. Barrows: "The courtship by the 49ers began before the trade deadline in 2007. Briggs on Tuesday said the 49ers offered the Bears a first-round pick for Briggs. Even when the 49ers pulled out of the deal before the deadline, Briggs figured San Francisco would snap him up when the free-agency period opened in late February." The 49ers have generally been fine at linebacker. Takeo Spikes' addition certainly helped.

Also from Barrows: a midseason report card with a "D" grade for the offensive line. Barrows: "The unit has not been close to the powerful force coach Mike Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye imagined. Injuries have plagued the tackle position, while the guard play at the start of the season was terrible. The 49ers rank only 21st in rushing yards, and they have given up 26 sacks, the fourth-highest total in the league."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Isaac Bruce's ankle injury played a role in Jason Hill getting additional playing time. Bruce has enjoyed a great career. I'm not sure what he offers the offense at this point, however. Hill appears to have earned additional snaps.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team wants to incorporate Wildcat formations, but not at the expense of Matt Hasselbeck's contributions.

Also from Farnsworth: Hasselbeck keeps the faith.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks saw the perils of playing a young quarterback when they picked off the Lions' Matthew Stafford five times. O'Neil: "So what will Seattle do with Hasselbeck this offseason? He is signed through 2010. He is 34 and over the past four seasons he has missed time because of an injured knee (four games in 2006), back (nine games in 2008) and rib (two games this season). He is also merely two years removed from a career high in passing yardage and Sunday he surpassed his team record by completing 39 passes. Prudence requires looking for a potential successor at quarterback. Hasselbeck has spent more than a decade in an NFL pocket and has the injuries to prove it."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks are searching for consistency.

Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic follows Cardinals running back Tim Hightower during the NFL's "Take a Player to School" promotion. McLellan: "At the end of his visit, Hightower said he enjoyed his time running around with the students because he wanted to encourage what he calls 'the Playstation generation' to stay outside and have fun."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic assesses the Cardinals halfway through the NFL season. Somers: "If the Cardinals show some maturity, they could enter December with an 8-3 record and their second consecutive division title almost assured." For the record, I managed to exceed 89,000 points in Ms. Pac-Man while taking the kids roller skating Tuesday night. Not bad for the first quarter I've put into that game for a while.

Also from Somers: Don't be surprised if the Vikings-Cardinals game gets flexed into prime time.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with backup quarterback Matt Leinart, who wasn't happy with his performance against the Bears. Leinart: "I don’t question myself. I’ve worked way too hard to get to this point to just say, 'Oh my gosh, I’m terrible.' I’ve come a long way to where I first came into the league. I know I can play well in this league. It’s a matter of getting opportunities and that’s the unfortunate thing, not being able to make up for it. Last week, Kurt [Warner] had five interceptions -- they weren’t all his fault -- but he comes back and throws five touchdowns. That’s the way this league is. You can’t get down on one play. But it’s hard to let it go when you don’t get a chance to go back in."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' special teams are making strides, thanks in part to Danny Amendola's addition. The team's average drive start following kickoffs has improved by 5 yards with Amendola as the return man. Special-teams coach Tom McMahon: "The biggest thing I think he's brought is the guys believe in him -- they just do. They flat-out believe in him because he believes in himself. And he's a tough kid. There's not a lot of kick returners in this league that are his size. You take a lot of hits, and he fights through it."

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript noting that Oshiomogho Atogwe has had a quiet first half to the season. I thought Atogwe was borderline dominant in the season opener at Seattle, at least early in the game. He hasn't stood out much since then.

More from Thomas: The Rams signed linebacker Dominic Douglas from their practice squad.

Around the NFC West: Rams struggle

September, 14, 2009
9/14/09
9:02
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando




Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Steve Spagnuolo's handling of Richie Incognito shows how much the new coach values passion and intensity. Burwell: "It wasn't just Incognito. Marc Bulger bounced up off the ground after getting smashed by a couple of Seattle defenders and tried to take on three Seahawks when they got in his face and started woofin'. Yeah, that's right, the quarterback you love to hate, the QB you swear has all the emotion of a sun dial, the guy you all swear is too low-key, too emotionally detached, was ready to rumble."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch details Incognito's penalties and the Rams' plans to bring in former Giants receiver David Tyree for a physical examination. Thomas: "Baltimore and Jacksonville also are showing interest in Tyree, who was one of the Super Bowl heroes for New York two seasons ago with his 'Helmet Catch' on the game-winning touchdown drive. Tyree also has a reputation as an excellent special teams player."

Also from Thomas: He lists some of the problems that dragged down the Rams in Seattle.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says C.J. Ah You was the 12th man on the field for the Rams when he blocked Olindo Mare's field goal try. Spagnuolo: "I'll take the blame for that. I'm sure guys will be accountable and tell you it was their fault, but I always put that on me. It's from the top down."

Also from Coats: a report card featuring a D-minus grade for Spagnuolo and the Rams' coaching staff. Coats: "There were problems getting personnel into the game, which cost the Rams a couple of timeouts. HC Steve Spagnuolo had a generally rough debut, but he earned points for temporarily benching, but not burying, Richie Incognito after his second personal foul. OC Pat Shurmur’s play-calling was timid and uninspired. The Rams failed to capitalize on the three early turnovers that DC Ken Flajole’s unit provided. The defense remains soft vs. the run, and there was little pressure on [Matt] Hasselbeck. Tom McMahon’s special teams committed a couple of major gaffes."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says during a postgame chat that Bulger kept fighting.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says penalties were largely responsible for the Rams' problems in Seattle. Spagnuolo: "I’m obviously disappointed in the result. I’m not disappointed in the effort. Sometimes it’s hard to see. But on the sideline, I could see it, the passion in those guys’ eyes. I told them in there, we have passionate football players on this team and that’s a good thing. We turn that passion into productive play and we’ll be OK."

Also from stlouisrams.com: Spagnuolo's postgame news conference.

Carthon's departure was in the works

February, 19, 2009
2/19/09
6:59
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Cardinals had already hired Curtis Modkins to coach their running backs. They didn't say anything publicly until the Chiefs announced Maurice Carthon's hiring as assistant head coach.

Carthon coached running backs for the Cardinals in 2007 and 2008. Modkins coached running backs for the Chiefs in 2008.

When Todd Haley left his job as Cardinals offensive coordinator to become the Chiefs' head coach, he wanted to bring along Carthon from Arizona.

The Cardinals allowed Carthon to pursue the promotion. They quickly lined up Modkins, who broke into the NFL with Kansas City in 2008 after six seasons coaching running backs defensive backs at Georgia Tech.

Title Cardinals 49ers Seahawks Rams
Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt
Mike Singletary
Jim Mora
Steve Spagnuolo
Off. Coord.
(shared)
Jimmy Raye
Greg Knapp
Pat Shurmur
OL Russ Grimm
Chris Foerster
Mike Solari
Steve Loney
QB Chris Miller
Mike Johnson
Bill Lazor
Dick Curl
WR John McNulty
Jerry Sullivan
Robert Prince
Charlie Baggett
RB Curtis Modkins
Tom Rathman
Kasey Dunn
Sylvester Croom
TE Freddie Kitchens
Pete Hoener
Mike DeBord
Frank Leonard
Def. Coord.
Bill Davis
Greg Manusky
Gus Bradley
Ken Flajole
DL Ron Aiken
Jim Tomsula
Dan Quinn
Brendan Daly
LB Matt Raich
(shared)
Zerick Rollins
Paul Ferraro
DB Teryl Austin
(shared)
Tim Lewis (shared)
Special Teams
Kevin Spencer
Al Everest
Bruce DeHaven
Tom McMahon

The chart provides a general overview of NFC West coaching staffs. Yellow shading highlights changes from last season. Titles are imprecise in some cases.

For example, the Cardinals do not have an offensive coordinator. They have a running game coordinator in assistant head coach/offensive line Russ Grimm and they have a passing game coordinator in Mike Miller.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

NFC West coaching staffs are mostly complete after the Rams assigned titles to Frank Leonard, Paul Ferraro, Andre Curtis and Clayton Lopez.

The chart shows which coaches retained their titles from the end of last season (gray shading) and which coaches are new to their current roles (yellow shading). The Cardinals could face additional changes if they fill vacancies from within.

Title Cardinals 49ers Seahawks Rams
Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt
Mike Singletary
Jim Mora
Steve Spagnuolo
Off. Coord.
(open)
Jimmy Raye
Greg Knapp
Pat Shurmur
OL Russ Grimm
Chris Foerster
Mike Solari
Steve Loney
QB (open)
Mike Johnson
Bill Lazor
Dick Curl
WR Mike Miller
Jerry Sullivan
Robert Prince
Charlie Baggett
RB Maurice Carthon
Tom Rathman
Kasey Dunn
Sylvester Croom
TE Freddie Kitchens
Pete Hoener
Mike DeBord
Frank Leonard
Def. Coord.
(open) Greg Manusky
Gus Bradley
Ken Flajole
DL Ron Aiken
Jim Tomsula
Dan Quinn
Brendan Daly
LB Bill Davis
(shared)
Zerick Rollins
Paul Ferraro
DB Teryl Austin
(shared)
Tim Lewis (shared)
Special Teams
Kevin Spencer
Al Everest
Bruce DeHaven
Tom McMahon

All four offensive line coaches remain in their roles from last season (subject to change if Russ Grimm becomes the Cardinals' offensive coordinator). Every other core staff position features at least one change in the division.

The 49ers and Rams have the largest staffs with 20 members apiece, counting head coaches. The Seahawks reduced to 18 after moving assistant offensive line coach Mike DeBord to tight ends and eliminating the job of assistant special teams coach John Jamison. The Cardinals have 13 coaches, a number that figures to rise by at least three.

The 49ers and Rams have full-time administrative assistants assigned to their head coaches. The Cardinals do not formally list an assistant strength and conditioning coach, although Pete Alosi does help John Lott in that area.

(Read full post)

Rams' coaching staff grows by three

February, 9, 2009
2/09/09
5:41
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams' coaching staff is tied for the largest in the NFC West after the team added Clayton Lopez, Andy Sugarman and Derius Swinton in moves announced Monday.

The hirings give the Rams 20 coaches, counting head coach Steve Spagnuolo. That matches the 49ers' total. The Seahawks have 18. The Cardinals have 14 after losing offensive coordinator Todd Haley and firing defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

The Rams' and 49ers' totals are higher in part because both teams list their head coaches' administrative assistants -- Bruce Warwick in St. Louis and Bill Nayes in San Francisco -- as staff members. The Rams listed 20 coaches entering last season as well.

Lopez, a Seahawks assistant from 1999 to 2003, joins the Rams as a defensive assistant. A specific title was not given. His background is in the secondary. The Rams have not named a secondary coach. Lopez coached with new Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole in Seattle.

Sugarman, a former Lions and 49ers assistant who was out of the league in 2008, will serve as offensive quality control coach. Swinton spent the past two seasons at the University of Tennessee. He will serve as quality control coach for special teams. Quality control coaches tend to work extremely long hours logging formations, personnel groupings and a long list of other parameters while breaking down video of upcoming opponents, among other often underappreciated duties.

The Rams have not named coaches at tight end, linebacker or secondary. Andre Curtis and Paul Ferraro were hired as unspecified defensive assistants. The Rams have also hired Frank Leonard as an unspecified offensive assistant.

Full Rams staff below:

(Read full post)

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