NFC West: Vinny Testaverde

Years ago, conventional wisdom would have applauded Carson Palmer for topping 4,000 yards passing with the Oakland Raiders last season.

Now, conventional wisdom has evolved to the point where mainstream analysis discounts those 4,000 yards because Palmer, entering his first season with the Arizona Cardinals, accumulated those yards in a losing context. Palmer went 4-11 as a starter.

Andy from New York hit the NFC West mailbag with a challenge we'll take up here. He thinks Palmer deserves more credit than he's getting.

"After two minutes of research, I found on the Hall of Fame's website that only 48 quarterbacks have thrown for more than 4,000 yards in a season (a combined 110 times)," Andy wrote. "Of those 110, only 18 times has it been done on a losing team (14 more times with a .500 record). If it is so 'easy' for a QB to rack up yards when playing from behind (when the defense knows it is a passing situation), why has it been accomplished only 18 times on a losing team in the entire history of the NFL?"

It's an interesting point. Passing for that many yards in a season requires some talent, obviously. But there is nothing inherently magical about the 4,000-yard plateau. Palmer passed for 3,970 yards while posting a 4-12 record in 2010. The 48-yard gap between 2010 (3,970 yards) and 2012 (4,018 yards) means nothing.

Palmer, Jon Kitna and Drew Brees each owns two seasons with at least 4,000 yards and a losing record. Elvis Grbac, Josh Freeman, Trent Green, Jeff Garcia, Bill Kenney, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, Matthew Stafford and Vinny Testaverde have each done it once.

Some of those quarterbacks were or are great players. Others were not so great.

ESPN developed the Total QBR metric to measure a quarterback's contributions to winning, whether or not the quarterback accumulated lots of passing yards. Manning scored a league-high 84.1 out of 100 last season. Mark Sanchez scored a league-low 34.0.

QBR can tell us something about the recent run on 4,000-yard seasons. Quarterbacks have combined for 42 of them since 2008. The QBR score Palmer posted last season (44.7) ranked 42nd out of those 42 on the list. The chart shows the seven times over the past five years when a quarterback passed for at least 4,000 yards without posting a winning record. Palmer probably had the worst supporting cast, but if anything, QBR affirms the general feeling on Palmer.

Now, back to Andy's point. Why aren't more quarterbacks from losing teams passing for 4,000 yards regularly? I'd venture that most quarterbacks good enough to pass for that many yards will be good enough to help their teams win most of the time. The question here is whether Palmer is one of those quarterbacks. Recent evidence suggests he might not be, but I think his prospects will improve with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts, Rob Housler and possibly even Patrick Peterson catching his passes.
A veteran NFL official mistook Vinny Testaverde's green-annd-white New York Jets helmet for the football crossing the goal-line plane back in 1998.

The gifted touchdown lifted the Jets to a 32-31 victory, dropping the Seattle Seahawks' record to 6-7 while severely damaging Dennis Erickson's chances for returning as head coach.

"Jet's win just plane crazy: Zzzebras call TD even though Vin can't crack goal," the New York Post proclaimed.

"Vinny falls short on Jets' final chance, but refs say it's ... CLOSE ENOUGH," the New York Daily News wrote.

Seven years later, officiating played a role in the Seahawks' Super Bowl XL defeat to an extent great enough for the referee, Bill Leavy, to issue a public apology years later.

Those two events frame reactions such as the one I received via Facebook from a Seahawks fan unmoved by suggestions officials handed a cheap victory to Seattle against Green Bay during the Monday night game at CenturyLink Field.

"In a time like this, Sando, we need a voice like yours to speak up for the alienated nation which is Seattle and tell the national media that we don't feel one ounce of regret and refuse to apologize to a league whose officials have cost us a playoff game (Vinny Testeverde's helmet TD) and a Super Bowl," Seahawks fan Floyd wrote. "This karma has been a long time coming."

First off, the defeat to the Jets was not, by itself, enough to keep Seattle from the playoffs that year. It put a damper on the season and might have played a role in the team finishing 8-8 instead of 9-7, but that is impossible to know.

What I'd like to do here is promote a better understanding for why fans feel the way they're feeling following what happened Monday night.

Floyd went first. Now, let's dive into the NFC West mailbag.




Ken from Yakima, Wash., disliked the way Seattle won but thought there were too many bad calls and non-calls to say for sure which team should have won the game.

Sando: I felt like the Packers did enough in the second half to win the game. They were the team trending in the right direction as the game progressed.

The frustrating part, from players' perspectives, was trying to figure out how officials were going to administer certain calls. Michael Robinson, the Seahawks' veteran fullback, said holding was one such penalty. He said the regular officials granted some leeway as long as offensive players kept their hands inside the frames of the players they were blocking. The officials working the game Monday night applied what Robinson thought were inconsistent and unreasonable standards.




Gary from La Conner, Wash., thinks Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is being disingenuous when he defends the call favoring Tate.

"Carroll knows the score," Gary writes. "Rather than manning up and saying, 'Yeah, we caught a break but will take it,' he defends what cannot be defended. Anyone who is remotely objective who watches the video of that play knows Jennings came down with the ball, clutched to his chest, on the ground, game over. The best Tate ever had was one arm on the ball and that was after the players were on the ground. That is obviously clear from the video. Any other coach in the league would have manned up. But not him. Yuck!"

Sando: I've heard quite a few people say it's not Carroll's job to apologize for what happened. I don't have a huge problem with Carroll's take on the matter. I do think Tate's repeated proclamations regarding his obvious push-off -- "I don't know what you're talking about," he said -- comes off as flippant and immature. The broader response from the Seahawks' locker room was less abrasive.




Joe from Anchorage, Alaska asks rhetorically how much preconceived notions about which team should have won affected the general reaction to bad calls.

"I know you were covering the Seahawks during Superbowl XL, so you could see how Seattle fans felt about the officiating in that game," Joe writes. "Here was a clear case of poor officiating affecting the outcome of a game, in the biggest game of the year; the official even apologized years later. There was nowhere near the coverage in one entire offseason that there has been regarding last night's play. I also don't recall any Seahawks players saying the Steelers needed to 'man up' and give the win to the Seahawks. What are your thoughts on the reason this particular play has incited so much controversy?"

Sando: The Packers' standing in the league affects the reaction, sure. Having the New York Giants, New England Patriots or Pittsburgh Steelers victimized would have resonated as well. When a lower-profile team beats a higher-profile team, the story often becomes about the higher-profile team losing, not the lower-profile one winning.

That wasn't what was primarily at work Monday night. The reaction to the Packers-Seahawks ending hinged on a single play changing the outcome with no time on the clock. When I covered Super Bowl XL from Ford Field, I left the pressbox for the postgame locker room without knowing officiating would be a big issue. The TV analysts had been talking about it. Seahawks fans were sensitive to it. I wasn't aware of their concerns and did not, on my own, see officiating as decisive in that game. I just wasn't conditioned to think that way. That situation was different in that fans were upset by a series of calls over the course of the game, not a singular, decisive call at the end.

ESPN's analytics team determined that the play Monday night carried the largest change in win probability for any play since the 2008 season, which is as far back as our win probability models go. The Super Bowl had no comparable plays.




Matthew from Bremerton, Wash., wants my thoughts on this statement: "Had the refs not called a phantom pass-interference penalty against Kam Chancellor on third down during the Packers' touchdown drive, which even the analysts said was a bad call, Green Bay never would have scored. Thus, the 'bad call' would have been a moot point. Both teams were screwed by the refs, so it's really unfortunate that they are making a big deal of the one play, and not even speaking of the other."

Sando: I've heard this one quite a bit, but it's ultimately unpersuasive. We could go back and replay the game a hundred times based on one play here or there. What about the ridiculous interference penalty against Sam Shields when Sidney Rice was clearly the one interfering? What about the roughing penalty against the Packers to nullify what would have been a killer interception by Seattle's Russell Wilson?




Brian from Seattle says he understands why the final play is getting so much attention.

"But why is it that with our defense playing as one of the best in the league, the Seahawks still don't get any love from the national media?" he asks.

Sando: Well, the Seahawks moved into the top 10 of our power rankings this week. Would people rather watch analysis regarding this highly controversial play or a show breaking down some of the better defenses in the NFL?




Hugh from Moss Landing, Calif., compares the Tate-Jennings replays to the Zapruder footage. He thinks Tate established possession first.

"When the two were in the air, Jennings touched it first, was the first to have both hands on it, then Tate managed to put both hands on it," Hugh writes. "Tate was the first to have both feet on the ground, at which point he did have both hands on, though not as securely.

"Then Jennings came down, and Tate let go with his hand to reposition it. Simultaneous catch. The question should be whether the rules should be changed. Should a replay allow the detection of a penalty? The league allowed that there was interference, which should be the disputed issue, I think."

Sando: I don't think we want officials watching replays to look for pass interference, holding or other more subjective penalties. I do wonder if there should be some allowances made on the final plays of games. Clearer language regarding simultaneous catches could be helpful. The interference from Tate was so blatant, however, that any official monitoring the situation should have seen it.




John from Bakersfield, Calif., agrees with my contention that the NFL had a clear disincentive against finding fault with how their replacement officials ruled on the question of a simultaneous catch.

"This season has turned very ugly, very quickly," he writes. "From the Saints fiasco and the unbelievably harsh penalties that ensued over supposed player safety, to watching unqualified officials make a mockery of the game and endanger all players, it seems the league is begging for the government/courts to step in and get a little fairness back into the game.

"The owners and their chosen man seem to think they can do what they want with impunity in all matters. It seems they are turning the game into a political statement, and I don't think they understand all the anger the 99 percent or the 47 percent or any other high percentage of average working people feel toward the ruling class these days. The nation could go Wisconsin in a heartbeat over this folly to break a small union."

Sando: You're onto something here, John. NFL owners won big during the labor negotiations, in my view. I think the commissioner has felt empowered. Owners are feeling empowered.

Also, the battles became personal during the lockout. The tenor of the league changed. The commissioner has sent messages to players through fines and bounty suspensions. He has sent messages to the officials by remaining unflinching amid officiating disarray. The league and its teams have sent messages to their own employees through reduced benefits, temporary pay freezes and staff reductions. The common theme through those messages: The NFL does what it does because it can. No one can really hold the league accountable.
Regular blog commenter 4949Centennial hit the NFC West mailbag after watching the San Francisco 49ers' defense struggle against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the team's third preseason game.

"How concerned 49ers fans should be after Denver game?" he asks. "IMO, not much, but wanted to get your take."

Sando: The 49ers have a well-coached defense stocked with front-line talent. They'll be fine as long as their key players remain available to them. Aldon Smith's health is one variable to watch.

The 49ers are not going to dominate on defense from wire to wire this season. They open at Green Bay. They play road games against New Orleans and New England. Even last season, the 49ers gave up yardage in huge chunks against the best offenses they faced.

To review, "The 49ers allowed 422.5 yards per game last season when facing Michael Vick, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning and Tony Romo, up from 270.1 yards per game against all other quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Jay Cutler join Manning and Stafford on the schedule this season."

The 49ers should be better on defense even if their final stats aren't as good. They'll be more familiar with the scheme. They should be better at cornerback. The front seven remains fearsome.

But it's also possible the defense will find itself in tougher situations. The offense was sensational in avoiding turnovers last season. A few more turnovers would put opponents in better position to score points. The special teams were similarly dominant last season. A less dominant performance in that area would put additional stress on the defense.

I'm guessing the 49ers will take a couple steps backward from a statistical standpoint. But their defense should again be a strength and something that helps their chances in the postseason.

Some of the most dominant defenses in NFL history feasted on weak quarterbacks. As we discussed, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens faced Jay Fiedler, Brad Johnson, Kordell Stewart, Steve McNair, Mark Brunell, Vinny Testaverde, Jake Plummer, Kent Graham, Tim Couch, Scott Mitchell, Akili Smith, Doug Pederson, Ryan Leaf and a declining Troy Aikman.

How the 49ers' schedule shapes up will hinge, in part, on how well several less-proven quarterbacks fare this season. That list includes Christian Ponder, Mark Sanchez, Ryan Fitzpatrick, John Skelton/Kevin Kolb, Russell Wilson, Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill.
The NFC West's dominance extends beyond fighter jets, croc files, athlete award eligibility, currency collection and retractable playing surfaces.

A look through the celebrity golf leaderboard from Lake Tahoe, Nev., shows Ken Whisenhunt, Jerry Rice and Marshall Faulk finishing among the top 20. Whisenhunt, who grew up around the game in Augusta, Ga., site of the Masters, was tied for 13th with 49 points in Stableford scoring, just ahead of Rice (15th) and Faulk (20th).

These guys need to get NFC West alumnus Trent Green out on the course a little more often. Green, former quarterback for the St. Louis Rams and three other teams, finished 80th in the 83-man field, barely beating the notoriously swing-challenged Charles Barkley.

Indeed, golf is a humbling game. It's tough to envision Barkley beating anyone after watching him swing a club. The retired NBA great did cruise past musician Jay DeMarcus (minus-83) and Sacramento Kings rookie Jimmer Fredette (minus-88).

Tony Romo, Chris Chandler, Mark Rypien, Billy Joe Tolliver and John Elway finished among the top 15 with at least 47 points. Fellow quarterbacks Joe Theismann, Trent Dilfer, Vinny Testaverde, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Jim McMahon and Steve Beuerlein put up respectable or semi-respectable scores.

All quarterbacks do not make for competitive golfers, however.

Green scored minus-65 points. Arizona Cardinals linebacker Joey Porter finished 78th at minus-61. Chiefs coach Todd Haley, the Cardinals' former offensive coordinator, tied with New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker for 64th at minus-9.

With any luck, it's about time to put away the clubs and tee up another kind of ball.
Steve Wyche of NFL.com says the Rams will hold workouts in Arizona beginning this week, with James Laurinaitis and Ron Bartell among those taking the lead. Wyche: "Not all of the work will be on field either. Bartell, Laurinaitis and other players have video of previous years' games, and players will get the chance to break down film during the minicamp. Laurinaitis stressed the importance of getting as much film and class work done now so players will be ready when the lockout ends. Laurinaitis added that quarterback Sam Bradford has plays from new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' playbook but without being coached how McDaniels wants the plays to be run, there is only so much to be gained."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coaches and staffers spent Tuesday building a playground for a school serving autistic children. Players generally would have participated in large numbers, but with the lockout, this year was different. Coats: "Other than second-year linebacker Josh Hull, who is rehabbing a knee injury, none of the players was on hand because of the lockout, although the NFL had granted a waiver for players and coaches to mix. Many were assembling in Phoenix, where a five-day session of player-organized workouts is to get under way."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis offers thoughts on the Rams' playground-building efforts.

Mindi Bach of CSNBayArea.com says veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes is not attending the 49ers' player-organized workouts because he's not sure whether he'll return to the team. Bach: "Spikes turns 35 in December and is preparing just as hard as he always has for an upcoming season. In another text message Spikes told me he is currently in his hometown of Atlanta working out daily with a group of 15 players which includes OT Wayne Gandy, T Osi Umenyiora, DE Charles Grant and WR Hines Ward. Spikes’ work ethic and leadership have never been questioned. Those who know him know he puts in the work. He runs the miles. He studies the film. He teaches that young player how to reach the next level. He carries himself in the same manner off the field. It takes just moments for anyone who meets Spikes to recognize those traits."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com offers updates from the 49ers' latest player-organized practice.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says left tackle Joe Staley has reduced his weight to 304 pounds in an effort to regain lost mobility. Durability is also key for Staley, who has missed 14 games over the past two seasons.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree rested sore feet while teammates practiced Tuesday. Branch: "Fellow wideout Josh Morgan, who has worked with Crabtree during the offseason, said the third-year wide receiver had aching feet after wearing new cleats during Monday's minicamp-opening practice on San Jose State's field turf. Morgan said Crabtree sat out as a precaution. He wasn't sure whether Crabtree would return to practice today."

Also from Branch: "Given Crabtree’s history, it would be easy to automatically add today’s absence to his diva files. On the flip side, though, he did attend the classroom session and, if his feet hurt, why should he push himself during a lockout minicamp in early June? Let the debate continue and, of course, stay tuned for tomorrow’s edition of the Curious Case of Michael Crabtree."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News provides a transcript from Morgan's post-practice interview.

Vittorio Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle credits 49ers defensive players for attending the player-organized practices despite not having a playbook.

The 49ers have announced a partnership with Stanford University, facilitated by former player Riki Ellison.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com profiles various classes of players by the years they joined the team.

Also from Farnsworth: a look back at the Seahawks' 1998 season. Farnsworth: "The conventional thought at the time was that a one-point loss to the New York Jets in Week 14 -- when referee Phil Luckett mistook the white helmet of quarterback Vinny Testaverde for the ball in awarding the Jets a game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds left in the game -- had cost Dennis Erickson his job. The reality was that (team president) Bob Whitsitt had decided to move in another direction before that game was ever played. Whitsitt explained that he has reached the point where the Everett-born Erickson would either be fired with one year remaining on his contract, or have his contract extended."

Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest says quarterback Matt Hasselbeck appeared to be in full command during the team's player-organized practice Friday.

Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated offers details from the Seahawks' and Cardinals' player-organized workouts in pointing out challenges players faces during the lockout. Trotter: "As well intentioned as those sessions are, they lack the NFL's full-service element. For instance, when Larry Fitzgerald and roughly 30 other players finished an on-field workout on a sunny morning in Tempe, they had to get in their cars and drive down the street to lift weights at Arizona State. Film study was done on personal laptops or in the theater room in Fitzgerald's Paradise Valley home."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers observations from the Cardinals' practice Tuesday. Second-year receiver Andre Roberts is looking good. Somers: "Roberts, I thought, looked very quick and confident. He has come a long way since being drafted a year ago. He didn't start catching the ball consistently until the season was well underway. Stephen Williams also looked good. No question he has the skills and we've seen them on display in the preseason. But can he show them in games that count? Roberts and Williams, by the way, were particularly impressive in one drill where players had to hop over a serious of hurdles. Roberts' feet were hardly ever on the ground, and Williams, well, I'd choose him in a pickup hoops game. He could rebound my missed three-pointers."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com looks back at Boomer Esiason's 522-yard passing performance for the Cardinals.

Also from Urban: a look at the Cardinals' cornerback situation.

A free game of quarterback roulette

April, 5, 2011
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Two notes while on the subject of quarterbacks and when teams select them:
When teams sense an elite quarterback is available in a draft, that quarterback often doesn't make it past the first overall choice. Further evidence: All three quarterbacks taken second overall were the second quarterbacks taken in their draft classes.

Would you rather pull those names out of a hat at random, knowing you would get those players' careers as they played out, or would you rather use one of the top two choices -- or even one of the top seven, given where NFC West teams select -- to select a quarterback in the 2011 draft?
Sam BradfordG. Newman Lowrance/Getty ImagesIt remains to be seen how the Rams will handle quarterback Sam Bradford during his rookie season.
The St. Louis Rams need not look far to see what can happen when an overmatched NFL team mishandles a quarterback drafted first overall.

The division-rival San Francisco 49ers are still trying to recoup their investment in 2005 first overall choice Alex Smith.

The Rams probably will not change offensive coordinators every year for the next five seasons, as the 49ers improbably did in Smith's first five, but they still need to be careful with rookie No. 1 overall choice Sam Bradford.

Early indications suggest the Rams would like to follow the plan Philadelphia took with Donovan McNabb back in 1999, when Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was coaching the Eagles' tight ends. Doug Pederson opened as the Eagles starter that season, allowing McNabb to ease into the starting role. McNabb got some reps off the bench before taking over as the starter in November.

In setting expectations for Bradford, I looked at production by rookie quarterbacks since 1970. The list featured several older players, some with experience in the CFL or USFL. I filtered out those players by focusing only on quarterbacks who were 25 or younger as NFL rookies. A quick look at them by games started:

16-game starters

There were only five, in part because the NFL season spanned only 14 games until 1978.

Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Rick Mirer and David Carr pulled it off. All but Flacco, chosen 18th overall by Baltimore in 2008, were drafted among the top three overall choices in their class.

The ones who took the most sacks as rookies -- Carr (76) and Mirer (47) were the only ones to absorb more than 32 -- had the poorest careers. That might suggest the players had a hard time recovering from the beatings they took early in their careers. It also might reveal something about the quarterbacks' ability to process information quickly enough to get rid of the football before trouble arrives.

Offensive lines tend to take disproportionate blame for sacks, in my view. Quarterbacks are often responsible for them as well.

11- to 15-game starters

None in this group threw even 20 touchdown passes in a season (Manning and Dan Marino are the only rookie quarterbacks since 1970 to reach that barrier as rookies).

We should expect modest production from Bradford even if he starts most of the Rams' games.

Ben Roethlisberger was a rarity among this group by completing at least 60 percent of his passes, but rookie completion percentage wasn't a reliable indicator for career success overall.

Some quarterbacks ranking lower played when teams ran higher-risk offenses and rules made it tougher to complete passes.

6- to 10-game starters

Hall of Famers Marino, John Elway, Terry Bradshaw and Dan Fouts fell into this group.

This group featured a solid middle class headed by McNabb, Eli Manning, Bernie Kosar, Jim McMahon, Neil Lomax, Steve Beuerlein, Pat Haden, Doug Williams and Rodney Peete.

There were a few disappointments -- Ryan Leaf, Cade McNown, Kyle Boller and the 49ers' Smith, who still has a shot at redemption -- but this seems like a reasonable number of starts for a quarterback drafted early.

Matthew Stafford and Josh Freeman fell into this category last season.

3- to 5-game starters

Some high picks fell into this category, including Bert Jones, Vinny Testaverde, David Klingler, Tony Eason, Rex Grossman, Akili Smith, Jay Cutler, Tommy Maddox, Jim Everett and 1984 supplemental choice Steve Young.

This group produced relatively few true stars, however. Young was an obvious exception. Boomer Esiason was a good value.

In looking at the list, though, my sense is that a really good quarterback -- particularly one chosen early -- will start more than five games if he gets a chance to start at all in his first season.

2 or fewer starts

Hundreds of rookie quarterbacks failed to start a game and 69 did not attempt a pass. The latter group featured Tony Romo and in-the-news quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and Charlie Whitehurst, but Daunte Culpepper, the 11th player chosen in 1999, stood out as a rare high draft choice among the group.

Unlike Carson Palmer, who sat out his rookie season as a high choice in Cincinnati, Bradford is going to play as a rookie unless he gets hurt.

It's reasonable to expect Bradford to start at least half the games, putting up modest numbers. He'll probably struggle some, and that is OK, but it's a bad sign if the Alex Smith comparisons apply by season's end. Smith tossed one touchdown pass with 11 interceptions as a rookie. He wasn't ready and his supporting cast gave him little chance. That's a bad combination.

Wrap-up: Cardinals 31, Jaguars 17

September, 20, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


The Cardinals don't have to worry about finding ways to get Kurt Warner into a rhythm.

That's a huge relief for Arizona heading into a home game against Peyton Manning and the Colts on Sunday night in Week 3. Warner's ability to complete his first 15 passes and 24 of 26 overall eased concerns that lingered from the Cardinals' unimpressive loss to the 49ers in Week 1. As well as the Arizona defense has played against limited offenses this season, offense is still going to define this team. Getting Steve Breaston back from injury and Anquan Boldin closer to full strength seemed to restore Warner and the passing game overall.

Warner set an NFL single-game record for completion percentage at 92.3 among players with at least 20 attempts (Vinny Testaverde held the record after completing 91.3 percent for the Browns against the Rams in 1993).

That's all great, but Arizona still must prove it can play well consistently, particularly with the NFC West appearing more competitive this season.

This was another case of the Cardinals playing their best when backed into a corner. They knew dropping to 0-2 would have left them in a horrible position with the Colts visiting and either the Seahawks or 49ers taking a 2-0 division record into Week 3. And so the Cardinals responded with an impressive showing. More consistency will serve this team well.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Adam from Seattle writes: Nice Hall of Fame article. Cortez Kennedy deserves a spot by the way he dominated. What current players, such as Shaun Alexander, Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Julian Peterson (no longer in the NFC West, but spent most of his career here), Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, Patrick Kerney, Matt Hasselbeck, etc., do you think will make the Hall of Fame? I believe that Warner, Pace, Jones and Holt will make it, but Im uncertain about what other players may have a shot. What do you think?

Mike Sando: Bruce needs to make it. Jones, Pace and Holt are easy choices. Warner probably belongs. He can help himself with another good season. Alexander? I'm not sure. A couple more good years really would have helped him.

The retiring La'Roi Glover didn't spend much time in the division, but I think he deserves strong consideration. Larry Fitzgerald is headed in the right direction and is young enough to have a good chance. Anquan Boldin has a chance if he can play long enough. Enshrinement obviously awaits Jerry Rice. Steve Hutchinson has a good chance. Roger Craig's candidacy is worth discussing. Same for Ricky Watters.


Ryan from Denver writes: I have a question about Brian Dawkins. I know this is outside of your division of expertise, but your recent post on Cortez Kennedy inspired me to ask: Is Brian Dawkins a Hall of Fame player? I say likely, a friend of mine is positive he's not. I'd appreciate your take.

Mike Sando: He brought so much to the Eagles during his career -- enough for me to consider him a Hall of Fame player. He did not earn a spot on our all-decade team only because Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu needed to be on there, in our view. But he has been playing at a high level since 1996. Seven Pro Bowls. Five times All-Pro. He is on the Eagles' 75th anniversary team. I just love what he represents on the field. Tough player. Receivers can definitely feel his presence out there. I thought Boldin felt it last season at Philly.


James from Alberta, Canada writes: The Cardinals' successful run last year was obviously thanks in large part to Kurt Warner's season. But he's 38 years old. I'm wondering what the odds are of a 38 year old QB playing the entire season? Any chance you could whip together some stats on the average number of games played in a season by starting QBs based upon age, or age range? Or maybe games missed due to injury based upon age/age range, since 'starting' QB might be difficult to capture?

Mike Sando: There is always a chance. Thanks for asking. Brett Favre, Warren Moon, Phil Simms, Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie all started 16 games in a season at age 38 or older. Moon had another season with 15 starts and one at 14, all past age 37. Joe Montana made it 14 starts at that age, as did Brad Johnson and Ken Stabler.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Aaron Weinberg of Seahawk Addicts says recent history is against Matt Hasselbeck staying healthy enough to produce at age 34. I looked from 1983 through 2008 for quarterbacks 34 and older who started at least 10 games and finished with passer ratings of 90 or higher. Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, Vinny Testaverde, Rich Gannon, Joe Theismann, Warren Moon, Steve DeBerg, Brett Favre, Trent Green, Jeff Garcia, Steve Beuerlein, John Elway, Brad Johnson, Phil Simms, Dan Marino and Kurt Warner combined to do it 25 times in 26 seasons. Can Hasselbeck join the list?

Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press checks in with former Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson. Peterson: "Football is an adverse sport anyway. But coming from 0-16, a lot of people in the sports world, analysts, have written us down as the 32nd team already, knowing that anything can change, subject to change, injuries can happen, anything. But we're not looking upon that and try to say, 'Oh, we're going to be the same old Lions from last year.' It's a whole new year. We've got a whole new coaching staff, whole new players, a whole new mentality. So this is going to be great for all of us."

Gary Plummer of the 49ers' radio team breaks down a Rams-Seahawks play from last season illustrating the experience that helped Walt Harris make an interception. He also points out areas where Rams receiver Donnie Avery could stand to improve.

Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' scouts think fifth-round linebacker Scott McKillop could be a steal. They'll have a much better idea two weeks into training camp.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says rookie draft choices Glen Coffee and Nate Davis are close to signing contracts. Once they sign, first-rounder Michael Crabtree will become the 49ers' only unsigned draft choice.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee expects the 49ers to sit out the supplemental draft Thursday.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says rookies Cody Brown and Will Davis, making the switch from college defensive ends to NFL outside linebackers, aren't the first Cardinals players to change positions. Antrel Rolle did it entering last season. Roy Green and Fred Wakefield also made successful transitions.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind thinks Pat Ross is the favorite by default to back up Lyle Sendlein at center for the Cardinals this season. Seems to me the Cardinals should be looking to upgrade their depth at that position.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' contract negotiator would be "shocked" if any of the team's rookies failed to sign in time for training camp. Kevin Demoff also left open the possibility of a deal for safety Oshiomogho Atogwe before the July 15 deadline for franchise players to sign long-term deals. Demoff: "We've been talking with O.J. since January. We value O.J. as a player, and we understand where the market is. ... We're not there on a long-term deal yet, but we could be there by Wednesday."

VanRam of Turf Show Times expresses excitement upon reading Football Outsiders' forecast for the Rams. Not that Rams fans should schedule vacation time for Super Bowl week -- yet.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at the likelihood of the Rams trading down from the second overall choice. General manager Billy Devaney says it's unlikely teams will find trading partners as they consider moving down from the top of the draft.

Also from Thomas: Former Rams GM Charley Armey advises against trading down from the top of the draft. Armey: "The No. 1 cardinal rule for me absolutely, without question, is do not trade out of an impact position. Because there's only a few impact players. Some years I've been in the draft, it was only around six impact players. The year Orlando Pace was in the draft [1997], there was only about six. The year we took Torry Holt [1999], there was about 13." He advises the Rams to draft a tackle second overall unless another team offers a blockbuster package in return for that choice. 

More from Thomas: A list of 22 college players who have visited or plan to visit the Rams.

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle uses Matthew Stafford's visit to the 49ers as a vehicle for analyzing first-round quarterbacks. Knapp: "From 1970 to 1990, only seven quarterbacks were No. 1 [overall] picks, and only one was a bust, the latest one -- Jeff George in 1990. All the others made at least two Pro Bowls or won a Super Bowl. [They were Terry Bradshaw, Jim Plunkett, Steve Bartkowski, Vinny Testaverde, John Elway and Troy Aikman.] Of the eight most recent picks, only one has matched Elway, Aikman and Bradshaw's success -- Peyton Manning. Tim Couch is out of football. Michael Vick is behind bars. [Alex] Smith and David Carr have become back-ups, for now at least. [JaMarcus] Russell is unproven. Carson Palmer started off brilliantly but hasn't been able to recover from injuries."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider doesn't rule out Stafford falling all the way to the 49ers at No. 10.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee lists Bay Area college players scheduled to visit the 49ers. Cal center Alex Mack heads the list.

Floriday Danny of Niners Nation continues his pre-draft analysis by looking at draft tendencies during Bill Walsh's second run with the team, from 1999 to 2001. Walsh stockpiled picks, accumulating 27 over the three-year period.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times lists the Seahawks' draft needs in this order: Defensive end, wide receiver, cornerback with size and quarterback for the future.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune summarizes Greg Knapp's comments to KJR radio's Mitch Levy. Knapp, the Seahawks' new offensive coordinator, downplayed the need for a running back. Knapp: "From my experiences of running the zone scheme, a lot of guys have had some career-best seasons in the zone scheme when they didn't have it before ... So, we feel pretty confident in what we saw in practice, and what these guys' traits are."

Also from Williams: Seattle receiver Logan Payne did not undergo knee surgery to repair a damaged MCL last season. Instead, he let the injury heal on its own. Payne said he felt good by December.

John Morgan of Field Gulls looks at running back Cedric Peerman as a potential draft choice for Seattle with the 104th overall pick. Morgan on the running backs: "Let's say this is an unusually weak running back class. A running back class comparable to last year's wide receiver class. Could the first round end without a running back selected? It would be the first time since 1963 -- the first time in the modern era. But it's not a stretch."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic lists Mel Kiper's projections for the Cardinals through four rounds of the draft. He thinks the team would be thrilled to come away with outside linebacker Larry English, running back Shonn Greene, tight end Chase Coffman and defensive tackle Corvey Irvin.

Also from Somers: He doesn't think James Harrison's deal with the Steelers will have an immediate impact on Karlos Dansby's negotiations with the Cardinals. Both are linebackers in name, but their roles are vastly different. Harrison has 24.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Dansby has 24.5 sacks during his five-year career.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with players on the fringes of the Cardinals' roster. Rodney Leisle was working for a company that sells mobile shelving units when the Cardinals called.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind says Antrel Rolle is entering a critical season with Arizona. Will the former cornerback command a lucrative extension as a safety? The deal Adrian Wilson eventually signs -- assuming Wilson does re-sign with the team -- could influence how much Arizona wants to spend on the other safety spot.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jeff Chadiha's piece on the smartest and dumbest NFL moves this offseason ranked Kurt Warner's re-signing with Arizona among the most enlightened.

  Warner

No question, the Cardinals had to bring back Warner. Warner's mostly sensational 2008 season commanded a deal that makes him the starter for 2009 and probably 2010. The question I have is whether the Cardinals can realistically expect Warner to continue performing at a similar level at age 38 and 39.

I flash back to early 2006 when the Seahawks felt compelled to reward Shaun Alexander for his MVP season. Letting Alexander walk after that season would have been politically inconceivable, but such a move would have been prescient.

Like Alexander, Warner is nearing the end of the expected shelf life for players at his position. Unlike Alexander, Warner has quite a few ascending young players around him on offense. That should help him. Also, my perception is that quarterbacks generally do not fall off as quickly as running backs once they hit a certain age.

A few quarterbacks over the past 25 or so years have exceeded 3,000 yards passing past age 37. Warren Moon, Brett Favre, Vinny Testaverde, Doug Flutie, Joe Montana and Phil Simms did it. Several others managed the feat at age 37 -- Rich Gannon, Steve Young, John Elway, Dave Krieg, Dan Marino -- for the final time.

I'm reasonably sure Warner can put up impressive numbers for at least one more season. And if I were the Cardinals, I would rather take my chances with Warner than with any of the other options that were available to them. But to assume Warner will remain atop his game for another year or two? Perhaps we shouldn't go quite that far.

Around the NFC West: Holmgren retrospective

December, 21, 2008
12/21/08
10:21
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune sits down with Mike Holmgren to get the coach's reflections on his Seattle tenure. Holmgren says he had second thoughts about walking away after this season, but the organization had already made plans to name Jim Mora the next head coach. Holmgren on whether he tried to apply the brakes on his departure: "Well, I didn't slam on them; it was slight. I kinda floated an idea out there to see how everyone would feel about it."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times puts together an oral history of Holmgren's tenure in Seattle. CEO Tod Leiweke: "Outside the owner, there's never been a guy who's had a greater impact on the franchise. ... Mike really gave life to the bricks and mortar. Shame on us if we can't continue what he's started and sustain the momentum."

Greg Bishop of the New York Times contrasts Holmgren the family man with Holmgren the coach.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune revisits the 1998 Seahawks-Jets game, which helped speed Dennis Erickson's demise as coach, clearing the way for Holmgren. The Seahawks finished with an 8-8 record that season. They would have missed the playoffs even with a victory over the Jets in that memorable game featuring Vinny Testaverde's phantom touchdown.

Jose Romero of the Seattle Times says some Seahawks are auditioning for jobs under future head coach Mora.

Also from the Seattle Times: A Holmgren poster in PDF format.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch welcomes back Isaac Bruce as a member of the 49ers. He calls Bruce a "cherished friend" and says the return will be emotional.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Jim Haslett has told players to enjoy the final two games of the season. Also, Bruce takes some responsibility for the Rams' current state.

Also from the Post-Dispatch: A look at the matchup between Rams running back Steven Jackson and 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gives the Rams' offense the edge against the 49ers when running and passing.

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle profiles Jason Hill and Donald Strickland, the 49ers' native San Franciscans. As a kid, Hill wondered why Jerry Rice and other 49ers players didn't hang out in the neighborhood.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says a loss to the Rams would damage Mike Singletary's efforts to remove the "interim" label from his title.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Bruce is among those who have benefited from the 49ers' quarterback change.

Also from Maiocco: Bruce still lives in St. Louis, adding significance to his return.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee provides a transcript from Mike Martz's recent question-and-answer session. Martz says crowd noise complicates coach-to-quarterback communication, particularly in Seattle.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic, quoting Cardinals defensive end Antonio Smith, says the team lost its drive after winning the NFC West title.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says at least one Cardinals player -- Sean Morey -- loves to play in horrible conditions.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune looks at Cardinals rookies Tim Hightower and Calais Campbell.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle compares 49ers coach Mike Nolan to a guy "being given a wedgie by a crane operator." Left unsaid: Ratto is operating the crane, and quite ably, too. This is a rollicking read. The way Ratto sees things, Nolan can't win unless 2005 No. 1 overall draft choice Alex Smith wins the starting QB job and plays well. Almost any other scenario could make Nolan vulnerable. As noted here previously, and again in the chart below, every QB drafted first overall since at least 1967 has started in his fourth NFL season. Smith is looking to avoid becoming an exception to the rule.

Meanwhile, Tom FitzGerald of the Chronicle notes that 49ers owner John York huddled with Nolan following practice. York was predictably vague when reporters stopped him afterward. They asked about Nolan's job security. York wasn't going to go there.

Also from FitzGerald: a story on J.T. O'Sullivan's reemergence as a candidate for the 49ers' starting job. This is turning into theater. I'm half-expecting Jim Plunkett, Steve Spurrier and Norm Snead to take reps with the 49ers in the coming days.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals think rookie tackle Brandon Keith could one day become a starter on their offensive line (see last note in story). Keith is a seventh-round choice from Northern Iowa. The Cardinals have drafted eight offensive linemen this decade and all eight remain in the league. Reggie Wells is probably the best among those who remain with the team. Leonard Davis seems to be better in Dallas. I'll throw in a bonus chart below showing summary information for the Cards' OL picks this decade.

 

The Associated Press describes Glenn Dorsey's injury in Chiefs camp. Some thought the Rams should have taken Dorsey second overall instead of Chris Long. Others wondered if Dorsey's injury history might make him a risky choice. Every NFL player gets hurt, so we shouldn't read too much into Dorsey's sprained knee. Yet.

Aaron Fentress of the Oregonian describes the Seahawks' pecking order at receiver. After the top three -- Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson and Deion Branch, in no particular order -- Fentress lists Courtney Taylor and Ben Obomanu. He then places Jordan Kent, Logan Payne and undrafted free agent Michael Bumpus as candidates for the sixth spot. I could see Engram, Burleson, Branch, Taylor, Obomanu and Payne if Seattle keeps six. The team has kept between four and seven receivers on its last five opening-day rosters, an average of 5.2 per season. Keeping six would make sense depending on Branch's health.

Jose Romero of the Seattle Times, making a rare appearance on the Belleville News-Democrat's site, says the Seahawks' young receivers generally stepped up during the scrimmage. Coach Mike Holmgren is putting pressure on them to emerge as the fourth, fifth and possibly sixth receivers.

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