NFC West: Wilber Marshall

Lawyer Milloy returned to the Seattle Seahawks because the coaching staff promised a more prominent role for the veteran safety.

This had the potential to be one of those offseason storylines that never materializes when it matters.

Six games into the 2010 season, it's clear the Seahawks were serious about featuring Milloy. They've made him a starter and used him effectively on blitzes, most recently against the Chicago Bears in Week 6. Milloy got credit for one sack and he's almost certainly going to get credit for another once the Elias Sports Bureau reviews a sack credited to teammate Raheem Brock. Replays showed Milloy making the play.

That second as-yet-unofficial stat would allow Milloy to join Week 7 Seahawks opponent Adrian Wilson of the Arizona Cardinals among 11 known players with at least 20 interceptions and 20 sacks. Milloy has always been a big hitter, but he hasn't been used consistently as a blitzer. His experience, sense of timing and ferocity make him well-suited to the role.

The chart shows players with at least 20 sacks and 20 interceptions since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. I sorted the chart by most total sacks and interceptions.

How I See It: NFC West Stock Watch

December, 29, 2009
12/29/09
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Falling

1. Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks QB. Eight interceptions in two games will drag down the stock for any quarterback. Hasselbeck appears to be forcing throws as if desperate to make something happen. Brett Favre seemed to go through something similar after Mike Holmgren departed Green Bay and the Packers went through some ups and downs. Hasselbeck held it together most of the season, fighting through various injuries and never complaining about them. Hasselbeck looks like a quarterback determined to go down swinging.

2. Jim Mora, Seahawks coach. Football isn't always fair and Mora certainly isn't solely to blame for what ails Seattle. He's playing with the players former general manager Tim Ruskell assembled and it's clear quite a few of them aren't as good as expected. Still, quite a few other bad teams have occasionally risen up to surprise superior opponents. The Raiders, Browns and Bucs have pulled upsets from time to time. Watching the Seahawks against Green Bay, I had the feeling they wouldn't win one of a 100 games between the teams. If the Seahawks are responding to coaching, they are hiding it well.

3. Keith Null, Rams QB. Three interceptions against the Cardinals gave Null nine picks in three starts. Those struggles are understandable for a third-string rookie quarterback facing a playoff-tested defense on the road (or anywhere). And yet the performance qualified as a step backward after Null performed reasonably well during a 16-13 defeat to Houston a week earlier. Null had one touchdown, one interception and an 81.2 rating in that game against the Texans. He had one touchdown, three picks and a 50.0 rating during the 31-10 defeat at Arizona, dropping his rating for the season to 49.8.

Rising

[+] EnlargeKen Whisenhunt
AP Photo/Matt YorkUnder Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona has improved its record every season.
1. Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals coach. The Cardinals have improved their record every season under Whisenhunt. They made a three-game improvement to 8-8 in 2007, Whisenhunt's first season. The team went 9-7 in 2008 and Arizona will finish no worse than 10-6 this season after beating the Rams in Week 16. Arizona and Minnesota are the only NFL teams to improve their records in each of the last three seasons. This will be the Cardinals' first season since 1975 without back-to-back defeats.

2. Adrian Wilson, Cardinals SS. The veteran defender had a sack and interception in the fourth quarter against St. Louis. The sack made him the 10th player with at least 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in a career since sacks became an official stat. Wilson joins a list featuring Ronde Barber, LeRoy Butler, Brian Dawkins, Donnie Edwards, Rodney Harrison, Seth Joyner, Ray Lewis, Wilber Marshall and William Thomas. Wilson has a career-high five interceptions this season. He needs one interception to tie Kwamie Lassiter (24 interceptions) for sixth on the Cardinals' career list.

3. Frank Gore, 49ers RB. The switch from 14- to 16-game schedule in 1978 diminished the value of the 1,000-yard rushing season in quite a few cases. Gore stands as an exception. He has needed no more than 14 games to reach 1,000 yards in each of the last four seasons, becoming the only 49ers running back to accomplish the feat in four consecutive seasons. Gore worked hard for 71 yards on 28 carries against the Lions while setting a season high with 81 yards receiving. His 48-yard gain on a pass from quarterback Alex Smith showcased Gore's versatility. He is also an excellent pass protector.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals' search for quality outside linebackers continues. As Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic pointed out, none of the team's drafted linebackers has earned a Pro Bowl berth since E.J. Junior in 1985.

Division rivals Seattle (Lofa Tatupu) and San Francisco (Patrick Willis) have each drafted a Pro Bowl linebacker in the last four years. Perhaps the Cardinals' turn comes this year. The team figures to target the position, if practical, somewhere in the first few rounds. The Cardinals will look for players to fit the 3-4 tendencies Arizona will likely show under new defensive coordinator Bill Davis.

Draft Rd. Pick Graves' Team Linebacker
College Conference
2004
2 33 Cardinals
Karlos Dansby
Auburn SEC
2000
2 41 Cardinals Raynoch Thompson
Tennessee SEC
2002
2 49 Cardinals Levar Fisher
NC St.
ACC
2007 3 69
Cardinals Buster Davis
Florida St.
ACC
2003
3 70 Cardinals Gerald Hayes
Pittsburgh Big East
2005 3 95
Cardinals Darryl Blackstock
Virginia
ACC
2006 5 142
Cardinals Brandon Johnson
Louisville
Big East
2005
5 168 Cardinals Lance Mitchell
Oklahoma
Big 12
2008
6 185 Cardinals Chris Harrington Texas A&M
Big 12
2003
6 210 Cardinals Tony Gilbert
Georgia
SEC
2000
7 215 Cardinals Sekou Sanyika
California
Pac-10

The chart -- showing every linebacker the team has taken this decade, with general manager Rod Graves in a leadership role the whole time -- adds perspective.

The Cardinals haven't drafted a linebacker higher than 33rd during that span. Going back further, Graves' teams twice used the 11th choice for the position -- John Thierry (1994) and Wilber Marshall (1984) in Chicago -- but eight of the 35 linebackers Graves' teams have drafted since 1984 have fallen among the 33rd through 51st picks. That was nearly three times the rate for the rest of the league during the same span.

Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. offered a few thoughts on the Cardinals' search for an outside linebacker in this draft:

  • "That is going to be tough. If you look at our first-round mock, four positions will dominate: OLB, OT, QB and WR. Finding that hybrid guy in the late first round is going to be tough. The guy we have them taking is [Connecticut running back] Donald Brown just because of the value."
  • "The guy they could reach a tiny bit for and a guy we are high on is Larry English, outside linebacker/defensive end from Northern Illinois. A lot of people are high on this guy. He is a home run in the second round. If you get him late first, we are not talking about much of a reach."
  • "Another guy who could sneak into the late first round is Connor Barwin, who is just an amazing athlete and has the mental makeup to develop into a very good pass-rusher off the edge. He's going to come off the board fairly early in the second round."
  • "[Connecticut defensive end] Cody Brown is someone we think they can get late in the second round. He could convert to outside linebacker. He is not as talented as the Larry Englishes and the Connor Barwins, but he is a solid outside rusher prospect in a 3-4 scheme."
  • "You see eight guys in the second round [for Graves' teams since 1984]. The thing that jumps out is that out of all these years and all the linebackers, two in the first round, a great deal in the second and the middle rounds dominated, too. Maybe that is what you say. If their running back is there in the first, the good value for an outside linebacker could be from the second round on."

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