NFC West: Torrey Smith


ESPN's John Clayton is listing the Seattle Seahawks second to Green Bay among teams most likely to supplant San Francisco as the NFC team in the next Super Bowl.

Separately, ESPN's Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith like the 49ers' chances for winning it all next season (see video above).

A few things to remember, from my perspective:
  • Health is huge: San Francisco and Seattle were both quite healthy through most of the 2012 season. Injuries caught up to both teams in the end. A fully healthy Justin Smith might have been the difference for San Francisco this season. The defense couldn't finish plays as consistently while Smith played with one healthy arm. That was one reason opponents completed too many deep passes against the 49ers late in the season. For Seattle, losing defensive end Chris Clemons severely hurt the pass-rush and run defense. While it's natural for those teams to lament these injuries, we shouldn't forget how healthy these teams remained in qualifying for the postseason. Frank Gore, Russell Okung and Sidney Rice played full seasons, a bit of a surprise. There are no guarantees good health will continue in the future.
  • QB watch: The Ravens have consistently won with Joe Flacco, but this postseason was the first time I thought Flacco really carried the team. Perhaps that should be encouraging for the St. Louis Rams. Sam Bradford obviously has talent. The Rams could use a Flacco-type transformation for Bradford. Perhaps that can happen if the Rams continue improve the supporting cast. Torrey Smith and later Jacoby Jones gave Flacco receivers with the speed to take advantage of the quarterback's strong arm. Anquan Boldin gave Flacco a big target with the ability to compete for the ball. The Ravens also settled on an effective line combination. I'm not sure whether Flacco's transformation is sustainable, but it's encouraging, at least. For now, the Rams have the third-best starting quarterback in the NFC West. The gap must shrink or disappear for the Rams to join the 49ers and Seahawks in this discussion.
  • Remember Arizona: Not long ago, the 49ers and Seahawks were seen as teams with promising defenses, but no viable quarterback. Both teams had some issues on their offensive lines as well. That is where the Cardinals find themselves heading into the 2013 offseason with new coach Bruce Arians. There are some differences, too, and much personnel work lies ahead. It's sounding like the Cardinals will invest in their offensive line the way their division rivals have done in recent seasons, with varying degrees of success. Arizona still hasn't taken an offensive lineman in the first three rounds over the past five drafts. Their division rivals have combined to draft 10 in the first three rounds over that period.
  • Changing division: The 49ers held on to win the NFC West by a half-game this season. Seattle was gaining in the end. The Rams went 1-0-1 against San Francisco. Winning the NFC West isn't a given for any of these teams. The competition will be fierce. The first-round bye saved the 49ers this season, in my view. Not having a bye forced Seattle to play consecutive games in the Eastern time zone. The Super Bowl hopes for NFC West teams could hinge on which one emerges atop the division.

Final Word: Super Bowl XLVII

February, 2, 2013
2/02/13
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Super Bowl XLVII Final Word: Ravens | 49ers

Five nuggets of knowledge about the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII:

Vernon Davis can be an unstoppable postseason force: The seventh-year tight end has averaged 27.6 yards per reception in four playoff games over the past two seasons. He has 16 catches for 442 yards and five touchdowns in those games. That includes a five-catch, 106-yard performance against Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game.

Since Davis entered the NFL in 2006, no other tight end with even half as many postseason receptions has averaged better than 17.8 yards per catch on them. Davis' five postseason scoring catches are two more than any other tight end since 2006. He faces a Ravens defense that allowed two touchdowns, picked off five passes and ranked second in Total QBR allowed (39.9) when opposing quarterbacks targeted tight ends.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
AP Photo/Dave Martin49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has a passer rating of 101.2 over his first nine NFL starts.
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick: Through nine career starts, his production has put him in elite company. No quarterback making his first nine starts over the past five seasons ranks higher than Kaepernick in winning percentage (77.8), yards per pass attempt (8.6), passer rating (101.2), or Total QBR (84.0).

Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco are among the quarterbacks ranking lower than Kaepernick in those categories through nine career starts since 2008. Although Flacco has come on strong in the playoffs this season, he trails Kaepernick in those key statistical categories even over his nine most recent starts (55.6 win percentage, 7.7 YPA, 97.4 passer rating and 47.0 QBR).

Turnovers: Teams winning the turnover battle have a 7-1 record in the past 10 Super Bowls. The 2005 Seattle Seahawks were the only team in that span to lose a Super Bowl with a positive turnover margin in the game. Baltimore is plus-5 in turnover differential in the playoffs, best in the NFL. The 49ers are tied for second at plus-2. The Ravens are averaging eight points off turnovers per playoff game, best in this postseason. The 49ers are tied for second at seven points per game off turnovers.

The 49ers' pass defense could be vulnerable: Counting regular season and playoffs, Baltimore has completed 40 passes on throws traveling more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. That is nine more than any other team has completed. The Ravens are averaging an NFL-best 2.1 such completions per game, a figure that has risen to 3.3 per game in the playoffs. The 49ers have allowed two in each of their two playoff games, giving them up to Julio Jones (twice), Greg Jennings and James Jones. They had allowed two or more in a game just six times in the regular season, never in back-to-back games. Ravens receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin each have four such receptions in the playoffs, most in the NFL. The 49ers' Davis ranks second with three.


The 49ers' option running game is in focus: San Francisco has averaged 8.4 yards per carry with four touchdowns on 29 option rushes in the playoffs. That is up from 5.4 yards per carry with three touchdowns on 26 option rushes in Kaepernick's seven regular-season starts. As the chart shows, Frank Gore already has more yards on option rushes in the playoffs than he had in the full regular season. Kaepernick gained 99 yards on option rushes against Green Bay in the divisional round. The Ravens faced 15 option runs this season, all against Washington in Week 14. The Redskins finished that game with 93 yards and a 6.2-yard average on those plays.

Prediction: 49ers 27-23: The 49ers have the advantage in weaponry without much question. And although Flacco has never been hotter, Kaepernick has been the tougher quarterback to defend. There's a good chance that will be the case again Sunday.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.

ESPN's Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge are taking opposite sides in picking the Baltimore-San Francisco winner in the Super Bowl.

As they spoke, my mind turned to the few players on each team with the raw athletic ability, notably speed, to make game-breaking plays.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, tight end Vernon Davis and possibly running back LaMichael James are three such players for San Francisco. Receiver Torrey Smith is one such player for Baltimore.

Jaworski is picking the Ravens based on how well Joe Flacco is playing. He'll be covered either way, however. Before Flacco got on a hot streak against Denver and New England, Jaworski cited Kaepernick as the reason he thought the 49ers would win it all.

Quick look at award-winning Fitzgerald

September, 26, 2012
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Larry Fitzgerald is the NFC's offensive player of the week after playing a key role in the Arizona Cardinals' 27-6 victory against Philadelphia.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald's key 37-yard scoring reception and the Cardinals' 3-0 record combined to make him a worthy choice even though his nine catches for 114 yards did not represent an off-the-charts statistical line by his elevated standards.

Somewhat amazingly, Fitzgerald never won the weekly NFC award during his first 116 career games. He has now won it twice in his past 11 games.

The chart, from ESPN Stats & Information, ranks wide receivers by yardage totals for Week 3. Note that Fitzgerald caught all nine passes thrown his way.

Congrats to those of you who left Fitzgerald in your fantasy lineups following a slow first couple games. That list would include my 7-year-old son, but not my wife. Live and learn. The great ones produce eventually.

Related: Chris Brown's piece for Grantland.com on Fitzgerald's big play against the Eagles.


NFC West teams landed the second (Michael Floyd), fourth (A.J. Jenkins) and fifth (Brian Quick) wide receivers selected in the 2012 NFL draft.

ESPN's fantasy analysts, gathered in the video above, mentioned Floyd just long enough to dismiss his rookie prospects based on the Arizona Cardinals' quarterback situation. They mentioned nothing of the others, instead focusing on what production Jenkins' teammate in San Francisco, Randy Moss, might provide this season.

I wondered, however, to what extent our perceptions about quarterbacks match up with the production rookie receivers actually provide. Eleven rookie receivers caught at least 27 passes last season. Several, including undrafted Seahawk Doug Baldwin, fared well without benefiting from what anyone would have called an ideal quarterback situation.

A year ago, we might have downgraded Cincinnati's A.J. Green based on the Bengals decision to go with a rookie quarterback. Baldwin was largely unknown, and critics were questioning Seattle's decision to go with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback. In Cleveland, Greg Little caught 61 passes despite the Browns' obviously deficient quarterback situation.

In 2010, Brandon LaFell and David Gettis ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, among rookies in receptions despite playing in Carolina, where Jimmy Clausen and David Moore were the starting quarterbacks.

Receivers benefit from solid quarterback play, obviously, but they don't always need it to produce.

Arizona Cardinals receiver Michael Floyd was fifth and Seattle Seahawks pass-rusher Bruce Irvin sixth on John Clayton's list of 10 new draft choices likely to make the greatest immediate impact.

"Floyd's presence may force defenses into more zone coverages, because it will be hard to double Larry Fitzgerald and match up man-to-man against Floyd," Clayton theorized. "Irvin is probably the draft's best pass-rusher and should put up double-digit sack numbers early in his career."

Let's consider that a launching point for a discussion EDTGO jump-started from his luxury box in the comments section of an earlier item on Arizona's draft thinking.

"Floyd will be starting and will have the best position of the rookies to get stats," he wrote.

Rookie receivers making at least 10 starts from 2009 through last season averaged 46 receptions for 721 yards and five touchdowns, according to Pro Football Reference. Cincinnati's A.J. Green and Tampa Bay's Mike Williams had the most receptions of the group (65 apiece). Green, Williams and Julio Jones each topped 900 yards. Those three joined Torrey Smith as the only ones with more than six touchdown receptions.

We shouldn't forget about St. Louis Rams second-round receiver Brian Quick. He has a good chance at starting. The Rams thought Quick reminded them of Terrell Owens from a physical standpoint. Owens had 35 catches for 520 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, making 10 starts.

The status for San Francisco 49ers first-round receiver A.J. Jenkins could be tougher to define initially. He could wind up starting if the Randy Moss experiment does not work out. He could also ease into the role, getting fewer opportunities as the 49ers run their offense through other players primarily.

Double-digit sacks from Irvin might be enough to eclipse for impact the projected receiving numbers from Floyd, Quick or Jenkins.

Five rookies since 2009 have collected at least 10 sacks. San Francisco's Aldon Smith, with 14 sacks last season, was the only one to do so as a backup. Von Miller, Brian Orakpo, Clay Matthews and Ndamukong Suh -- all first-round choices, as were Smith and Irvin -- reached double digits in sacks while starting at least 13 games.

Carlos Dunlap had 9.5 sacks in 12 games, none of them starts, for Cincinnati in 2010.

Irvin should benefit from the Seahawks' very specific plans for him. The team got nine sacks in zero starts from Raheem Brock in 2010. Irvin will play a similar role and a similar percentage of the snaps, giving him a very good chance to eclipse Brock's total -- if he's talented enough to produce those numbers. Brock played about 50 percent of the snaps for Seattle in each of the last two seasons.

Who else deserves our consideration?

"Janoris Jenkins has a shot ... assuming he can keep his head on straight," ramm428a wrote.

"Yep," randdles wrote, "Jenkins will get to face five of the top QBs this year, he could make a big impact."

Matthew Stafford, Robert Griffin III, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are among the high-profile quarterbacks Jenkins, a second-round cornerback with first-round talent, will face in his initial season with the Rams. Jenkins will face those quarterbacks by Week 8, giving him a chance to shape perceptions early.

Devin McCourty and Joe Haden are the only drafted cornerbacks to exceed five interceptions as rookies over the past three seasons.

"Michael Brockers could have a huge impact," JohnnyP3180 wrote of the Rams' first-round choice. "Not flashy, but he could make the biggest difference for his team."

That might be true, but as a run stuffer, Brockers probably won't accumulate the stats players often need to draw acclaim. We'll be sure to monitor Brockers' contributions closely regardless.

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Wrap-up: Ravens 16, 49ers 6

November, 24, 2011
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Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 16-6 road defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 12:

What it means: The 49ers dropped to 9-2 and can no longer clinch the NFC West title in Week 12. Their offense was not ready to handle a physical, formidable defense in a big game on the road. This game served as a reminder that defense and special teams will not always be enough for San Francisco to beat strong opponents. But there's no reason for the 49ers to panic. They lost a hard-fought, low-scoring game to a playoff-tested opponent on a short week following a cross-country road trip. No shame there.

What I liked: The 49ers still have not allowed a rushing touchdown this season. This was also the 33rd consecutive game they've played without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Those are the longest active streaks in the NFL. Quarterback Alex Smith found Michael Crabtree for a first down on a third-and-17 play when the game was in danger of slipping away in the second half. Smith scrambled for a first down on a first-and-10 play shortly thereafter. David Akers connected on a 52-yard field-goal try, his sixth successful try in as many chances from 50 yards or longer. The 49ers' defense prevented Ravens receiver Torrey Smith from beating them deep.

What I didn't like: Two penalties against the 49ers made this game an uphill fight for them. A chop block against Frank Gore nullified a 75-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Ted Ginn Jr. Later, the Ravens gained 50 yards when 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown committed pass interference while picking off a pass. The call against Gore seemed ticky-tack to me, but Mike Pereira, the Fox analyst and former NFL officiating czar, said the call was technically correct. The 49ers' offense had problems handling the Ravens' pass-rush, both physically and tactically. Losing right guard Adam Snyder to injury was one factor, but not the only one. Smith took nine sacks, the most for a 49ers team since 1952, according to Pro Football Reference. Smith appeared to lack quick options against pressure, a change from past weeks. Receiver Braylon Edwards was ineffective for the second week in a row. He could have done more to break up the deep pass Baltimore intercepted in the end zone right before halftime. The turnover prevented a field-goal try that could have tied the game. The 49ers were flagged for being offside on their first two kickoffs, the second week in a row special-teams penalties have gone against them. Ginn dropped a pass with 1:15 left when the 49ers trailed by 10, essentially ending the game.

Turning point: The 49ers held a roughly nine-minute advantage in time of possession after driving to the tying field goal on their first possession of the second half. They needed a defensive stop at that point to take control of the game. Instead, the 49ers gave up a 16-play, 76-yard touchdown drive consuming more than seven minutes.

Ravens had the better defense: This could have been a showcase game for Patrick Willis and the 49ers' defense. It was odd to see Ravens fullback Vonta Leach putting a pancake block on Willis early in the game.

Sack disparity: The 49ers allowed nine sacks and never sacked the Ravens. Not since 2006 had one team collected nine or more sacks while allowing none, according to Pro Football Reference.

What's next: The 49ers are home against the St. Louis Rams in Week 13.
Eli Manning and the New York Giants threatened the San Francisco 49ers' pass defense on longer throws.

Victor Cruz gained 36 yards on a deep pass against the 49ers. Hakeem Nicks burned the 49ers for a 32-yard scoring reception. Manning just missed a wide-open Mario Manningham for what was nearly a long touchdown pass in the final minutes of the 49ers' 27-20 victory.

These plays come to mind heading into the 49ers' game Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith have connected four times for touchdowns on passes traveling longer than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. Smith, a rookie with five total touchdowns and a 20.3-yard average per reception, has the speed to get behind defensive backs. Flacco has plenty of arm. The 49ers do not have top coverage safeties.

Even so, the Ravens' ability to consistently exploit San Francisco's defense on these throws appears questionable. Two of Smith's four deep-ball touchdowns came against the St. Louis Rams in Week 3. Nothing about the Rams' defense resembles the 49ers' defense.

One of the remaining two touchdowns on these long passes beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final seconds of the Ravens' victory at Heinz Field game in Week 9. That play, coupled with the deep ball San Francisco allowed in an overtime defeat against Dallas in Week 2, requires the 49ers to be wary.

The chart, from ESPN Stats & Information, shows where the 49ers' defense and Ravens' offense stand on pass plays traveling more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage.

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2011 Week 9: NFC West game changers

November, 8, 2011
11/08/11
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The Arizona Cardinals have not been hurting for drama.

Despite a 2-6 record, they've been tied or close in the fourth quarter against six of eight opponents so far.

No Cardinals finish this season could match the one Patrick Peterson provided with his 99-yard punt return for a touchdown in overtime Sunday.

"Thank goodness that we got him [in the draft]," coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters Monday.

Peterson's play tops our weekly list of game changers in the NFC West -- those plays affecting win probability the most for games involving teams in the division. This week marks the second in a row featuring all five plays from a Cardinals game. Arizona's win probability jumped from 56.8 percent to 100 percent upon Peterson's game-ending return, according to ESPN's analytics team.

The 43.2-point shift was the largest in the division, just ahead of the 41.4-point change when the Cardinals' Calais Campbell blocked Josh Brown's field-goal try as regulation expired.

The most pivotal play in the league from Week 9 belonged to the Seattle Seahawks' next opponent, Baltimore. The Ravens' win probability jumped 81.7 points to 97.8 percent when Joe Flacco connected with Torrey Smith for a 26-yard touchdown on third-and-10 with Baltimore trailing by four and 14 seconds remaining.

The chart breaks out the five most pivotal plays in the NFC West. I've framed them all from the Cardinals' perspective for clarity.

2011 Rams Week 3: Five observations

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
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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.

NFC West Stock Watch

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Steve Spagnuolo, Rams head coach: Cornerback Justin King would make for a convenient scapegoat here after allowing three touchdown passes to Ravens rookie Torrey Smith. Singling out King would also miss the broader point. Spagnuolo tops the list this week not only because the Rams were horrible during a 37-7 home defeat to Baltimore, but also because they've been horrible too frequently in losing their first three games. Their defense has vastly underperformed. That was the one component of the Rams that appeared best positioned to play well based on continuity and personnel. It was also the one area Spagnuolo could influence the most. The Rams rank 32nd in rushing yards allowed.

2. Frank Gore, 49ers running back: Gore is averaging 2.5 yards per carry through three games. He lost a fumble and had a pass bounce off his helmet during critical points of the 49ers' victory over Cincinnati. Gore's rookie replacement hasn't fared any better from a yards-per-carry standpoint, a reflection of shaky blocking. The 49ers haven't fielded offensive lines packed with Pro Bowl players in seasons past, yet Gore managed to get his yardage then. An ankle injury might have slowed Gore some against the Bengals.

3. Kevin Kolb, Cardinals quarterback: Two interceptions and three sacks worked against the Cardinals during their 13-10 defeat to Seattle. Kolb was not entirely to blame for the defeat, obviously, but the Cardinals acquired him with an expectation that he would make a positive difference in games such as this one.

RISING

[+] EnlargeSidney Rice
Steven Bisig/US PresswireSidney Rice provided a spark for the Seahawks' passing attack in his first game of the season, catching eight passes for 109 yards.
1. Sidney Rice, Seahawks receiver: Not long ago, reports of a torn labrum raised questions about whether Rice might be headed for season-ending surgery. Those fears were misplaced. Rice caught eight passes for 109 yards in his Seahawks debut. His shoulder proved strong enough to prevent the Cardinals' Adrian Wilson from wresting the ball away after an early reception. Seattle will have to open up its offense to compete with better teams. That would be impossible without Rice.

2. Vernon Davis, 49ers tight end: Davis met with coach Jim Harbaugh to discuss his role in the offense after catching only seven passes for 65 yards through the 49ers' first two games. The 49ers made him a bigger part of the plan during their 13-8 victory over Cincinnati. Davis caught eight passes for 114 yards, becoming Alex Smith's go-to receiver with the game on the line.

3. Calais Campbell, Cardinals defensive end: The NFC West produced plenty of defensive candidates for a spot on this list. Kam Chancellor, Leroy Hill, Chris Clemons, Ahmad Brooks and Carlos Rogers come to mind. I went with Campbell for the sheer level of his dominance against Seattle. Campbell finished the game with 10 tackles, four quarterback hits and 2.5 sacks, sensational numbers for anyone, let alone for a 3-4 defensive end.

On the Rams' chances for a free fall

September, 25, 2011
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Predictions that a rough early schedule might doom the St. Louis Rams will be difficult to refute at this rate.

They've fallen behind the Baltimore Ravens by a 27-0 score at halftime in the Edward Jones Dome. Sam Bradford is averaging 1.1 yards per attempt. Torrey Smith's three scoring receptions have blown open concerns about depth in the Rams' secondary.

The Rams could easily be 1-6 or worse heading to Arizona for their Week 9 game at Arizona. A heavy dose of NFC West teams late in the year should help the Rams' chances in the division, provided they get healthier and play better than this.

In the meantime, they're home against Washington, then come out of their bye with road games against Green Bay and Dallas, with New Orleans waiting on the other side.

Rams get their receiver, a big one

April, 29, 2011
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The St. Louis Rams weren't going to let the 2011 NFL draft get away without selecting a wide receiver. They took one in the third round Friday, selecting Austin Pettis from Boise State with the 78th overall pick.

Pettis was the eighth receiver selected in this draft. A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Jonathan Baldwin were first-round picks. Titus Young, Torrey Smith, Greg Little and Randall Cobb were second-rounders. Pettis was the first receiver chosen in the third round; Washington took Leonard Hankerson one pick later.

Pettis is a big receiver -- 6-foot-2 and 209 pounds -- known for having sure hands and the ability to make the spectacular grab. He does not fall into the "burner" category, but he fits the mold of bigger receivers favored by new coordinator Josh McDaniels.


Seth Rubinroit of the Daily Trojan checks in with former Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart, who says his NFL career has been a "roller coaster" to this point. Leinart seemed to have fallen off the map since signing with the Texans as their third quarterback. His contract ran through the 2010 season. Leinart: "Houston helped me get my confidence back, being around great coaches and a great team. It has jumpstarted me this offseason. ... I am not going to give up. I am not going to say it has been unfair, but I am just hoping for the opportunity to come. ... You can either give in to all of the criticism, or you can use it as fuel and motivation. I know what I can do. I am just waiting for the opportunity to go show it. ... I have had a lot of learning experiences and ups and downs, but I know that I have grown as a player and as a person, on and off the football field. I am totally ready to take advantage of the next opportunity I get."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com introduces the Cardinals' latest video in their "All In" series. The video shows the Cardinals meeting with Blaine Gabbert and others at the combine.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com looks back at the team's inaugural season. Jim Zorn: "We only won two games that first year, but you would have thought we almost went to the playoffs. That’s how enthusiastic not only we were, but the fans were. Everybody was excited."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times lays out draft expectations for the Seahawks during his latest chat. O'Neil: "Well, if Seahawks are on the clock at No. 25 and Mark Ingram is still there, the Seahawks would have to look long and hard at that one, and it would be tough to justify passing up a young back with that power and that talent just because you have Marshawn Lynch signed for another year. Remember back in 2006 when a quarterback went tumbling down the draft order, and Green Bay -- with John Schneider in that front office -- didn't have a pronounced need at quarterback. But they took Aaron Rodgers. I think the evidence points to the fact that say all you want about drafting to fit the team, but if you've got a player who is seen as a significant value at an important position, they're going to draft him." O'Neil thinks Seattle is most likely to select a defensive end.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune thinks the Seahawks should address their defensive line in the first round. Williams: "I would take Corey Liuget if he is on the board at No. 25 if I was Seattle. He will be an impact player, and with all the injuries they had along the defensive line last year, with Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant and Colin Cole missing a combineed 19 games, I think he makes some sense. Both Pete Carroll and John Schneider said getting more physical up front on both sides of the ball is the team's top priority."

John Clayton tells 710ESPN Seattle he thinks there's a good chance Matt Hasselbeck will not re-sign with the Seahawks. Clayton: "I'm not optimistic now. I'm starting to think that it may not happen. It seems like they did put a good effort in, but they didn't come to the right number. And now it's put the Seahawks in a position where I think what'll happen is, if free agency would start -- and we all don't know when -- I think they'll let him test the market. And that could be dangerous because he could go someplace else. But at this stage I'd say the odds are now slipping away that Matt's going to be here (in Seattle)."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch previews visits the Rams have set up with draft prospects. Thomas: "Heading the list of scheduled visitors is Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones, but several other potential Rams selections at No. 14 overall are scheduled to visit Rams Park today and Wednesday. Among them are Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith, Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget, North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn and California defensive end Cameron Jordan. At least four scheduled visitors are running backs, a sign that the Rams may mean business this year in finding a bona fide backup to Steven Jackson."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com looks at receiver options for the Rams in the draft. Wagoner: "Should A.J. Green or Julio Jones somehow fall into the Rams’ range, though, they would both almost certainly draw serious consideration for the pick. More likely, should the Rams opt to land a pass catcher; it will have to come after the first round barring a trade down in the first round. There are some intriguing options after Green and Jones. Boise State’s Titus Young, Maryland’s Torrey Smith, Kentucky’ Randall Cobb and Indiana’s Tandon Doss figure to land somewhere in the second round or early in the third."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com revisits Gary Plummer's dismissal as the 49ers' radio color commentator. Maiocco: "Plummer certainly did not sugarcoat what he witnessed. There were two separate episodes last season in which Plummer's words on the broadcasts angered many in the organization. In games against Seattle and Philadelphia, Plummer stated flatly that receiver Michael Crabtree and guard Chilo Rachal should be benched. The organization, which controls the broadcasts on flagship station KNBR, does not deny there was friction over those isolated occurrences. But the man in charge of the move is adamant Plummer was not fired because he criticized the team. He says Plummer was given freedom to criticize as he saw fit."

Also from Maiocco: a look at how fans envision the first seven picks of the draft unfolding.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says ex-49ers quarterback Gio Carmazzi decline to participate in an ESPN piece looking at the six quarterbacks drafted ahead of Tom Brady in 2000. Barrows: "The second quarterback taken that year was Hofstra's Gio Carmazzi, who was selected by the 49ers in the third round. The 49ers were so jazzed about Carmazzi that one of the offensive coaches at the time -- I will spare him the embarrassment and not identify him -- stood up on a table during a draft meeting and passionately extolled Carmazzi's virtues. He was the 49ers' quarterback of the future, the heir to Joe Montana and Steve Young. Carmazzi, as any decade-long suffering 49ers fan knows too well, never threw a regular-season pass for the 49ers. (And if you saw his preseason passes, you know why). The Boston Herald, which had a sneak preview of the 50-minute feature, writes that 'Carmozzi (sic) is now a yoga-obsessed farmer who has five goats. He was the only one who did not agree to an interview.' "

Also from Barrows: Two running backs are scheduled to visit the 49ers.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says Cam Newton's ability to lead comebacks at Auburn reminds him of Joe Montana's comeback efforts at Notre Dame.

Video: Rams on the clock

April, 4, 2011
4/04/11
10:38
AM ET
Mike Tirico, Trent Dilfer, Chris Mortensen and Mel Kiper put the St. Louis Rams on the clock in their continuing 2011 NFL draft preview.

Dilfer expects Sam Bradford to put up big yardage numbers in 2011, but the key will be turning those yards into points through better play in the red zone. To do that, of course, the Rams will want more playmakers.

Kiper mentioned Boise State's Titus Young, Miami's Leonard Hankerson and Maryland's Torrey Smith as potential second-round options at receiver for the Rams if the team doesn't find one with the 14th overall choice.

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