NFC West: William Gay

NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each NFC West team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson is back as the starting left corner in a revamped secondary. The team must discover during training camp which corner will start opposite him. Newcomers Antoine Cason and Jerraud Powers are the leading candidates. Arizona has quite a few options. Rookie Tyrann Mathieu figures prominently into the Cardinals' plans as a hybrid corner-safety type. Slot corner Javier Arenas, acquired from Kansas City, and 2012 third-round choice Jamell Fleming are also in the mix. The Cardinals will have three new starters in their secondary after parting with cornerback William Gay, free safety Kerry Rhodes and strong safety Adrian Wilson. Greg Toler, James Sanders and Michael Adams are also gone. Those six combined to play nearly 70 percent of the snaps in the secondary last season. Rashad Johnson was starting to overtake Wilson. He projects as the likely strong safety, with veteran newcomer Yeremiah Bell at the other safety spot. Bell played under new coordinator Todd Bowles previously.

St. Louis Rams: Cornerbacks Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins provide the foundation for a secondary that expects to play quite a bit of man coverage behind an aggressive front seven with improved speed. Finnegan is the most accomplished and highest-paid member of the secondary, but he insists Jenkins is the best defensive back on the team by a wide margin. That might be true from a talent standpoint. The team will be looking for Jenkins to demonstrate improved consistency in his second season. Trumaine Johnson, a third-round choice in 2012, also figures prominently. A DUI arrest and previous off-field troubles in college raise questions about his long-term reliability, however. The situation at safety is ... different. The Rams want to develop third-round pick T.J. McDonald quickly. Darian Stewart projects as the other primary safety. The team signed veteran Matt Giordano as insurance. Former starting safeties Craig Dahl and Quintin Mikell are gone. The Rams must determine this summer what they have at safety.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers demonstrated by their actions this offseason a general belief that the secondary's issues late last season stemmed more from a diminished front seven than from talent deficiencies on the back end. Dahl, signed from the Rams this offseason, provides a veteran insurance policy in case rookie first-round pick Eric Reid isn't ready to start immediately at free safety. San Francisco must replace former starter Dashon Goldson, who signed with Tampa Bay in free agency. C.J. Spillman, primarily a force on special teams to this point in his career, also factors as an option there. The 49ers have never appeared particularly concerned about losing Goldson over the years, but trading up 12 spots to select Reid showed they value talent at the position. Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner return as the other three starters. Beyond identifying an immediate starter at free safety, the 49ers need to figure out this summer whether free-agent addition Nnamdi Asomugha can help them.

Seattle Seahawks: All four starters return from arguably the best secondary in the NFL. Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and new nickel corner Antoine Winfield have all earned Pro Bowl or Associated Press All-Pro honors within the past three seasons. Jeremy Lane and Walter Thurmond are talented backups with limited starting experience. The team must figure out this offseason whether Thurmond factors in for the long term. Thurmond beat out Sherman for the starting job heading into the 2011 season. However, repeated serious injuries have derailed his career. Winfield is probably safe as the nickel corner this season, but the gap between Winfield and the team's other options is smaller than Winfield's credentials would suggest.
Adam Snyder's release from the Arizona Cardinals made him the sixth player to leave the team's roster this offseason after starting at least 10 games for the team in 2012.

Paris Lenon, Kerry Rhodes, William Gay, Snyder and Adrian Wilson each started at least 14 games last season before departing the roster. D'Anthony Batiste, an unrestricted free agent, started 10 games.

Quentin Groves, Beanie Wells, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and LaRod Stephens-Howling were part of a group of former Cardinals to start between five and seven games for Arizona last season.

Rich Ohrnberger, Ryan Lindley, Pat McQuistan, Early Doucet, Greg Toler, Reagan Maui'a, Nick Eason, Vonnie Holliday and Todd Heap started between one and four games for the team before leaving the roster.

You get the point. The Cardinals have a new head coach and new general manager. They weren't very good on offense last season. Some of their players' contracts reflect what the team's previous leadership once thought of those players. They've become outdated. And so the Cardinals are turning over a pretty fair percentage of their roster by design.

Eight in the Box: Under the radar

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
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NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at the top under-the-radar move made by each NFC West team thus far this offseason:

Arizona Cardinals: A soft market for cornerbacks helped the Cardinals sign former San Diego Chargers starter Antoine Cason to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Scouts Inc. gave Cason a 79 grade, tied with Chris Gamble, Brent Grimes, DeAngelo Hall and Quentin Jammer for highest among corners on the market this offseason. Arizona has rotated corners through its lineup with moderate success in recent seasons. There's no sense in overpaying when Patrick Peterson is anchoring the other side as a top-five overall selection. Cason has good size at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. He is on the younger side (turns 27 in July). He has never missed a game in five NFL seasons. He has started 45 of 48 games the past three years. Cason should provide an upgrade from 2012 starter William Gay.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams made waves by signing Jake Long and Jared Cook to deals with a combined $35 million in guaranteed money. Their move to bring back defensive end William Hayes on a three-year deal was important, too, even though it went under the radar. St. Louis led the NFL in sacks last season. Hayes had seven of them while playing 34.2 percent of the defensive snaps. He combines with Chris Long (11.5 sacks in 2012) and Robert Quinn (10.5) to give St. Louis a strong pass-rushing combination at defensive end.

San Francisco 49ers: Glenn Dorsey is too big to go under the radar, but anyone familiar with his time in Kansas City wouldn't think much of his signing in San Francisco. The 49ers seem to have big plans for Dorsey, however. They gave him a modest deal totaling $6 million over two seasons, a reflection of how far Dorsey's stock has fallen since the Chiefs made him the fifth overall choice in 2008. Dorsey wasn't to blame for the scheme change in Kansas City that made him less valuable to the defense. The 49ers run a base 3-4 defense that wouldn't seem to suit Dorsey's strengths as an up-the-field tackle, at least on the surface. I do think San Francisco has a specific role in mind for Dorsey, increasing the chances he makes a positive impact as a low-cost player with obvious talent.

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks made high-profile moves almost exclusively this offseason. They landed Percy Harvin, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett before trading away quarterback Matt Flynn. There isn't much from which to choose in the under-the-radar category. Defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, signed from the Miami Dolphins as a cheaper alternative to Alan Branch, will have to suffice. McDaniel has been mostly a backup and rotational player during his seven NFL seasons. "He has great length with good power and plays with good pad level," Scouts Inc. wrote in its review of him. "He isn't a quick-twitch athlete and is inconsistent to get off blocks and show range to the pile. He has limited pass-rush skills and hasn't made great progress given his time in the NFL." How's that for under the radar?
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each NFC West team has been a winner or a loser in free agency.

Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals set a low bar in free agency and cleared it pretty easily. They weren't in position to attack the market aggressively because they had some salary-cap and player-valuation issues to address in the immediate term. New coach Bruce Arians and new general manager Steve Keim parted with Kevin Kolb, Adrian Wilson, Kerry Rhodes, William Gay, Beanie Wells and Early Doucet. Some of those moves cleared significant cap room, but the dead money left over was enough to crimp the Cardinals' style. The first nine players Arizona signed in free agency (Frostee Rucker became the 10th on Wednesday) counted $12.9 million against the salary cap in 2013. That was about how much the team cleared by releasing Kolb and Rhodes. Call it addition by subtraction and give the Cardinals a passing grade in free agency under difficult circumstances. Quarterback Drew Stanton and running back Rashard Mendenhall are the only offensive players added to this point in the process. Arians thinks better health will restore the offensive line. He also loves the talent at that position in the draft. The team is setting itself up to draft for offense, it appears.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams are losers in free agency if you think they "lost" Danny Amendola, Steven Jackson, Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Gibson and Robert Turner. The team was willing and sometimes even eager to move on from most of those players, however. The Rams plan to develop their younger players while acquiring more of them through free agency and the draft. They paid big money for two free agents, and both are relatively young, a plus. Tight end Jared Cook is not quite 26 years old. Left tackle Jake Long could be an old 27 based on recent injuries, but he's right around the league average for age. We could mark down St. Louis for losing both starting safeties (Quintin Mikell was released for cap purposes) and failing to land a replacement. The draft appears strong at that position, however, and Mikell could be re-signed at some point. We're only 10 days into the process, and the Rams haven't made any ridiculous moves. Getting Long on a relatively short-term deal (four years) seemed like a positive.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers watched longtime contributors Delanie Walker, Isaac Sopoaga and Dashon Goldson sign elsewhere. That was the plan given the price tags associated with all three players. The 49ers knew they couldn't pay premium dollars to those players after fielding the NFL's most expensive defense last season. Their disciplined approach to the market has served them well in recent seasons. This year, it helped them find room on the balance sheet for receiver Anquan Boldin, acquired from the Baltimore Ravens. The signing of Glenn Dorsey to the defensive line seemed curious at first, but it's clear to me the 49ers have special plans for the player drafted fifth overall back in 2008. Although Phil Dawson's signing stabilizes the kicking situation, his $2.35 million cap figure for 2013 means the team will again be paying a bit of a premium at the position, particularly with former kicker David Akers' terminated contract still counting against the cap. With 14 draft picks, couldn't San Francisco have found a rookie to do the job at lower cost?

Seattle Seahawks: Jason Jones is the only Seattle free agent to sign with another team this offseason. Seattle appeared to upgrade from Jones by getting Tampa Bay's Michael Bennett on a one-year deal counting $4.8 million against the cap. Signing Bennett and former Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril to short-term deals makes the Seahawks a pretty clear winner in free agency to this point. Percy Harvin was not acquired in free agency, so he isn't counting in the equation. His addition addressed the position, however, diminishing the need for Seattle to sign a veteran wideout. Upgrading the pass rush was really the only priority for the Seahawks once the Harvin trade went through. Bennett and Avril combined for 18.5 sacks last season. Both are playing on short-term deals with plenty to prove and only short-term cap ramifications for the team.
PHOENIX -- The Seattle Seahawks and especially the San Francisco 49ers added to their 2013 NFL draft hauls Monday when the NFL awarded compensatory selections to offset net losses in free agency last year.

The 49ers received the 131st overall pick, a fourth-rounder, plus the 246th and 252nd choices, both in the seventh round. The Seahawks received the 241st and 242nd overall choices, also in the seventh round.

Teams cannot trade compensatory picks.

"Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks," the NFL announced. "Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula."

The 49ers received compensatory choices because free-agent losses Blake Costanzo, Josh Morgan and Madieu Williams outweighed free-agent addition Mario Manningham according to the formula. The Seahawks received picks because free-agent losses Atari Bigby, John Carlson, David Hawthorne and Charlie Whitehurst outweighed free-agent additions Matt Flynn and Jason Jones. Update: The NFL clarified that Adam Snyder, who signed with Arizona from San Francisco, factored into the equation awarding the 49ers three comp picks.

I've put together lists below showing all unrestricted free agents added, lost and re-signed by NFC West teams last offseason.

Update: I've also made available for download an Excel file with tentative 2013 draft order, reflecting comp picks and known trades. This is unofficial. The league has not yet released the official order; additional trades could affect it.

The 49ers have a league-high 14 picks, including two picks in each of the second through fifth rounds. They're in prime position to stock their roster for the future.

By my accounting, the Cardinals hold the 7th, 38th, 69th, 103rd, 140th, 174th and 176th picks. The 49ers hold the 31st, 34th, 61st, 74th, 93rd, 128th, 131st, 157th, 164th, 180th, 227th, 237th, 246th and 252nd choices. The Seahawks hold the 56th, 87th, 123rd, 138th, 158th, 194th, 220th, 231st, 241st and 242nd choices. The Rams hold the 16th, 22nd, 46th, 78th, 113th, 149th, 184th and 222nd picks.

Update: The Seahawks sent the 214th choice, acquired from Buffalo in the Tarvaris Jackson trade, to Minnesota as part of the Percy Harvin trade.

Arizona Cardinals

Re-signed: D'Anthony Batiste, Mike Leach, Early Doucet, Jay Feely, Dave Zastudil
Added: Adam Snyder, William Gay, James Sanders, Quentin Groves
Lost: Richard Marshall, Sean Considine, Deuce Lutui

San Francisco 49ers

Re-signed: Tavares Gooden, Carlos Rogers, Alex Smith, Ted Ginn Jr.
Added: Mario Manningham, Rock Cartwright, Josh Johnson
Lost: Josh Morgan, Adam Snyder, Blake Costanzo, Reggie Smith, Madieu Williams, Chilo Rachal

Seattle Seahawks

Re-signed: Heath Farwell, Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan, Michael Robinson, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy
Added: Matt Flynn, Jason Jones, Deuce Lutui, Barrett Ruud
Lost: John Carlson, Atari Bigby, Charlie Whitehurst, Tony Hargrove, David Hawthorne

St. Louis Rams

Re-signed: Kellen Clemens
Added: Cortland Finnegan, Kendall Langford, Scott Wells, Quinn Ojinnaka, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Mario Haggan, Barry Richardson
Lost: Brandon Lloyd, Chris Chamberlain, Donnie Jones, Jacob Bell, Bryan Kehl, Gary Gibson

The Arizona Cardinals cleared $7 million in salary cap space Thursday by releasing cornerback William Gay and linebacker Stewart Bradley.

Neither move comes as a big surprise.

The Cardinals, like many teams with new coaching staffs and general managers, will experience some roster turnover by design. Bradley in particular made for an inviting target after making little impact as a high-priced free agent under former coordinator Ray Horton. Gay started for the Cardinals as a free-agent addition last season.

The cap savings for Gay increased after the veteran corner triggered contract escalators.

UFA market revisited: How NFC West fared

February, 28, 2013
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Those eagerly awaiting the start of NFL free agency March 12 with visions of your favorite team loading up on accomplished veterans should revisit the list of unrestricted free agents NFC West teams signed last season.

St. Louis, badly in need of a talent infusion following the worst five-year run in NFL history, opened its checkbook to sign a long list of veteran players, some of them at high cost.

That was the exception in the NFC West and I'd be surprised if St. Louis took a similarly aggressive approach this offseason. The Rams have stabilized their roster and positioned themselves to build around young talent.

With that in mind, I'll take a team-by-team look at the unrestricted free agents each NFC West team signed last offseason. UFAs are defined as veterans who reached the market when their contracts expired. Teams also acquired players by other means.

Arizona Cardinals

2012 UFA signings from other teams: cornerback William Gay, linebacker Quentin Groves, safety James Sanders and guard Adam Snyder

Comment: Gay started and played 93 percent of the defensive snaps as a replacement for Richard Marshall, who left in free agency. He wasn't a star, but the defense was solid. Gay gave Arizona the snaps it sought. Groves played 43 percent of snaps as a situational pass-rusher. The Cardinals needed him when an injury sidelined O'Brien Schofield. Sanders played 11 percent. Snyder started 14 games and played much of the season with an injury for a line that was among the NFL's least effective for much of the season. Arizona's young tackles made progress. I thought the team overspent for Snyder, a player San Francisco eagerly replaced with the undrafted Alex Boone, who provided a clear upgrade. Note that three of the four UFA additions last offseason played defense. Arizona needs to target offense this offseason. New coach Bruce Arians and new general manager Steve Keim have praised the existing talent. Arizona might not load up on free agents the way some teams do when new leadership takes over.

St. Louis Rams

2012 UFA signings from other teams: linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, linebacker Mario Haggan, defensive end William Hayes, defensive tackle Kendall Langford, defensive lineman Trevor Laws, guard Quinn Ojinnaka, tackle Barry Richardson, receiver Steve Smith, center Robert Turner and center Scott Wells

Comment: The Rams were major players in the UFA market. Results were mostly positive. Finnegan gave the Rams the production and veteran presence they sought. He was instantly a playmaker for St. Louis. Dunbar was much better than I had anticipated and well worth his contract, which included a $1 million signing bonus and $1.5 million annual average. Hayes provided good depth on the defensive line, and at a reasonable cost ($900,000 for one year). Langford needed time to transition from the 3-4 scheme he ran previously in Miami. The Rams signed him after Jason Jones signed with Seattle instead. Injuries prevented Wells from stabilizing the offensive line, a major disappointment and a reminder of the risks associated with signing older players from other teams.

San Francisco 49ers

2012 UFA signings from other teams: fullback Rock Cartwright, quarterback Josh Johnson, receiver Mario Manningham

Comment: Does this look like a team poised to strike for Darrelle Revis in the trade market? Does this look like a team ready to throw around cash in free agency? Not based on the list of signings last offseason. The interest San Francisco showed in Peyton Manning doesn't apply here. Indianapolis released Manning. Manning was not a UFA. I'd put him in a separate category, anyway. Teams make exceptions for Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Back to the 2012 UFA list. Cartwright and Johnson never played for the team. Neither earned a spot on the 53-man roster. Both served a purpose by initially increasing competition at their positions. For example, Anthony Dixon moved fro halfback to fullback and became a more valuable player, including on special teams. Johnson provided early insurance, but in retrospect, Colin Kaepernick was obviously ready to serve in the No. 2 role before becoming the starter. Manningham provided sufficient value before a knee injury ended his season. The 49ers missed him late in the season, including during the Super Bowl.

Seattle Seahawks

2012 UFA signings from other teams: quarterback Matt Flynn, defensive lineman Jason Jones, guard Deuce Lutui and linebacker Barrett Ruud

Comment: Flynn would have started if Russell Wilson hadn't emerged unexpectedly as the clear choice. Seattle invested $6.5 million per year in Flynn, a sum the team could live with even if Flynn became the backup. It's tough to fault the Seahawks for signing Flynn. They had no idea Wilson would be available in the draft, or that Wilson would perform at such a high level so early in his career. Jones finished the season on injured reserve. That made it impossible for him to provide the interior pass-rushing push Seattle sought when signing him to a one-year deal worth $4.5 million. Lutui and Ruud never earned roster spots. Neither was a liability financially. Both were low-cost insurance policies. Seattle parlayed Ruud into a 2013 draft choice by trading him to New Orleans after the Saints lost Jonathan Vilma.

Wrap-up: Falcons 23, Cardinals 19

November, 18, 2012
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Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 23-19 defeat to the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome on Sunday:

What it means: The Cardinals have now lost six consecutive games following a 4-0 start. This game was a bit like their season. Arizona started quickly thanks to a strong defense, but quarterback issues dragged it down over time. Coach Ken Whisenhunt emphasized accountability during the bye week. He backed it up by benching quarterback John Skelton while the Cardinals held a 13-3 lead. Skelton missed a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone as the Cardinals failed to fully capitalize on three first-quarter interceptions off Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. The fact that Arizona picked off five passes and still lost highlighted the team's glaring issues at quarterback.

What I liked: The defense was fantastic and did enough to win this game with only average play from the quarterback position. Defensive end Darnell Dockett was disruptive. He batted one pass to set up an interception. He blew up running plays. The bye week seemed to restore Dockett's health and productivity. William Gay, Kerry Rhodes and Greg Toler had first-quarter interceptions. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington added a fourth pick in the second half. Sam Acho produced a fifth, collecting a pass that bounced off teammate Dan Williams' helmet as Williams leaped to defend the pass. LaRod Stephens-Howling gained 127 yards on 22 rushes. He had 52- and 40-yard runs in the half. The 52-yarder featured a jump cut for the ages. William Powell had a 65-yard kickoff return. Punter Dave Zastudil and the coverage units positively affected field position as the Cardinals jumped to their early lead. Toler made an outstanding effort at throwing a loose ball back inbounds so Arizona could recover for a turnover.

What I didn't like: The quarterback play was horrendous by NFL standards. Skelton had completed 2 of 7 passes for 6 yards when the Cardinals benched him. Rookie Ryan Lindley completed 2 of 7 passes for 18 yards on his first seven attempts. He completed 9 of 20 passes for 64 yards (3.2 per attempt) overall. The Cardinals ran the ball well and have talent at wide receiver. They needed more production from their passing game under the circumstances. The offense wasn't alert enough when the Falcons picked up a loose ball and returned it for a touchdown. The whistle had never blown. Arizona gave away free points on that play. Washington, though outstanding this season, committed a 15-yard penalty after the Cardinals stopped the Falcons on third-and-15. The Cardinals, after holding firm defensively much of the day, gave up a quick touchdown drive to lose the lead late. Fitzgerald could not finish a fourth-and-2 reception in Falcons territory as the team made its final push to retake the lead.

Notable: Minus the one game he had missed thanks to injury, veteran safety Adrian Wilson had played a higher percentage of defensive snaps than any Cardinal other than cornerback Patrick Peterson. Wilson wasn't on the field early in the game. His snaps were down overall. Was this one of the switches Whisenhunt had alluded to when he said during the bye that changes would be made? The quick hook for Skelton had to be one. Also, the Cardinals went away from rookie receiver Michael Floyd after he appeared to line up incorrectly, leading to a turnover.

Coaching gaffe: Falcons coach Mike Smith threw his challenge flag before officials initiated a mandatory review following the third-quarter turnover Toler helped to force. Smith's challenge was in violation of the rules. And because he threw the flag before booth officials initiated their review, the play became unreviewable. The Cardinals took over possession, short-circuiting a Falcons drive deep in Cardinals territory. Everyone makes mistakes, but coaches earning millions should know basic rules regarding challenges.

Key injury: Peterson suffered a hamstring injury, apparently in the fourth quarter.

What's next: The Cardinals are home against the Rams in Week 12.

NFC West penalty Watch: Saintly 49ers?

November, 8, 2012
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Jim Harbaugh and San Francisco's coaching staff will like what they see in the penalty chart: 13 NFC West players with at least five infractions, and only one of them playing for the 49ers.

Seattle's starting offensive tackles, Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini, have combined for 18 accepted and declined penalties. The Atlanta Falcons -- all of them, not just the tackles -- have committed 34.

Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner, who led the NFL with 19 penalties on his way to a Pro Bowl last season, has eight through nine games this season.

Arizona leads the NFC West in penalties with 72, fourth-most in the league.

Seattle, after committing 36 penalties in three games with replacement officials, has averaged only 5.5 per game since then. The drop of 6.5 per game is easily the largest in the NFL, followed by a 5.0 drop by Dallas and a 3.7 drop by Pittsburgh.

The Seahawks are committing the fourth-fewest penalties per game under regular officials.

The Rams are committing an additional 3.3 penalties per game under non-replacement officials, the largest gain. The Cardinals have averaged eight penalties per game with and without replacements.

Factors beyond the status of officials come into play.

Silver linings: Cardinals at Packers

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
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The facts: The Arizona Cardinals fell to 4-5 with a 31-17 road defeat to the Green Bay Packers in Week 9.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • Quarterback John Skelton completed 7 of 10 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown when the Packers rushed him with five or more defenders. His Total QBR in these situations was 91.4, fourth-highest in the NFL for Week 9, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Progress made in that area could explain why coach Ken Whisenhunt, though critical of his team overall, generally spared Skelton in his analysis.
  • Rookie Justin Bethel continued to make strong contributions on the special-teams coverage units.
  • Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett shared a first-quarter sack to help stop the Packers after a turnover set up Green Bay from the Arizona 20-yard line.
  • The Cardinals took two sacks, down from 6.6 per game over the previous five games.
  • Arizona matched a season high by averaging 5.2 yards per play.
  • The Cardinals limited Aaron Rodgers to 46.7 percent completions. He had not been below 62.5 percent in any game previously this season.
  • Cornerback William Gay intercepted Rodgers.
  • The Cardinals had three pass plays of at least 30 yards, two more than the Packers managed. That included Larry Fitzgerald's 31-yard scoring reception in the second half.
  • Andre Roberts averaged 21.5 yards per reception on his four catches, with a long gain of 40 yards.
  • Rookie Nate Potter got experience at left tackle and seemed to do OK under the circumstances.
  • Rookie receiver Michael Floyd had five receptions for 80 yards He has 10 receptions for 116 yards over the past two games. The 80 yards receiving were a career high. The five receptions matched a career high.
Looking ahead: The Cardinals have a bye in Week 10.

NFC West penalty watch: Suspicions true

October, 31, 2012
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The guys at RamsHerd.com had a suspicion the St. Louis Rams' offensive line was racking up penalties at an accelerated rate.

They also had concerns about third-down penalties on defense.

Turns out both suspicions were spot-on.

The Rams have 22 penalties against offensive linemen this season, trailing only Seattle (26). Arizona ranks tied for sixth-most with 17. The San Francisco 49ers are tied for 14th with 14, including 11 over the past four games.

St. Louis leads the NFL in third-down penalties against defensive players. The Rams have 15. Seattle ranks second with 13. Arizona is tied for 11th with eight. San Francisco is tied with Miami and Washington for fewest in the league with two.

Those numbers come from Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information. They include declined penalties and those committed during special-teams plays.
Rick Reilly's piece for ESPN on William Gay tells the Arizona Cardinals cornerback's compelling story.

From ESPN: "Gay was just seven when his mother was shot and killed by his step-father, a senseless act of violence that turned his life upside down. Today, the Cardinals cornerback helps others affected by domestic abuse in Pittsburgh, the home of his former team."

The video is below.

 
A periodic look at which players are playing and when, continuing with the Arizona Cardinals' defense:

Around the NFC West: Rams' new moxie

October, 2, 2012
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The St. Louis Rams won a game Sunday despite allowing 179 yards rushing and failing to score a touchdown on offense.

Their 19-13 victory over Seattle made them 1-0 in NFC West games under Jeff Fisher after the team went 4-26 against the division over the previous five seasons.

One victory is not a trend, of course, but the Rams' performance in reaching 2-2 following a 15-65 run begs for some explanation.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch breaks down some of the differences between Fisher's Rams and previous St. Louis teams. Miklasz: "This group limits the damage. It cuts its losses. It makes plays. It puts up resistance. The Rams are 7th in the NFL in stopping opponents on 3rd down, allowing a conversion rate of 31.1 percent. The Rams lead the NFL with eight interceptions. They’ve been dinged by only two TD passes, which is tied for first. The Rams TD/INT ratio of 0.25 is the best in the league. They’re limiting quarterbacks to a passer rating of 64.2; that’s No. 2 in the league. And that Rams defense that isn’t so rigid against the run? Yesterday Seattle ran the ball four times on third down and short (0-2 yards). The Rams held them to six yards on the four rushes, and twice prevented a first down."

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News offers a report card for the 49ers' performance during a 34-0 victory over the New York Jets. On the pass defense: "Poor Mark Sanchez, he didn’t stand a chance against a revived pass rush that sacked him three times, forced him to commit two turnovers and limited him to 103 yards on 13-of-29 passing. Stars of the game: Aldon Smith (two sacks, forced fumble), Patrick Willis (interception off Ray McDonald tip), Ahmad Brooks (sack), Carlos Rogers (two fumble recoveries after receptions, plus TD return)."

Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh wasn't interested in promoting any frenzy over Colin Kaepernick's performance against the Jets. Ostler: "The coolest play of Kaepernick’s day was very subtle. Late in the second quarter, he handed the ball to Frank Gore. Then Kaepernick trotted toward the sideline, but stayed on the field and lined up as a wide receiver. The Jets saw him and called a timeout. What this showed: The 49ers’ secret weapon is cooler than the Jets’ secret weapon. The Jets have Tim Tebow, who makes foes nervous. Twice this year, Tebow’s presence caused the opposing team to burn a timeout. On Sunday, it was the Jets burning the timeout. Maybe Kaepernick’s appearance on the field early, just after Tebow made a cameo for the Jets, was Harbaugh’s way of giving the middle finger to the opposing coach. I’ll see your Tebow and raise you a Kaepernick."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says second-year guard James Carpenter exceeded expectations in his first game back from a knee injury. Coach Pete Carroll: "James played really well. He did a very, very good job. He had a couple errors in the game, which you just about have to anticipate. But we ran a lot to the left. He did a really good job of covering his guy up."

Also from Farnsworth: Seattle's defense, though generally stout, hasn't been as good on third down.

Art Thiel of Sports Press Northwest seeks meaning in Carroll's lengthy comments about Matt Flynn's health. Thiel: "Carroll has created a controversy when many Seahawks fans were willing to give the benefit of the doubt on Russell Wilson. His inexperience combined with protection failures and the absence of game-changing receivers has made a hash of the offense, failing to get more than one touchdown off an ordinary Rams’ defense in a half-empty road house. Unless Carroll activates Portis until Flynn heals, the Seahawks run a fairly high risk of disaster. Unless, of course, he wants to make another deal for the return of Charlie Whitehurst."

Cole Schultz of Pro Football Focus gives high marks to Russell Okung, Brandon Mebane, Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin for their work against the Rams. Schultz: "Okung was adequate in pass protection (he gave up just a pair of hurries), but in the run game he made life miserable for Robert Quinn and Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Okung forced the duo out of the running lanes multiple times, as evidenced by Lynch’s eight yards per carry on runs to either side of Okung. Much of Okung’s good work was undone by his teammate on the other side. Breno Giacomini had a rough go of it in every facet of play."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the schedule can work in the Cardinals' favor once the team gets through its Thursday night game at St. Louis. Somers: "They will have played 10 games, including the preseason. They have four more before the off week (Nov. 11), then a seven-game run to finish the season. The Cardinals might have drawn up that schedule differently had they been in charge, but not that much differently."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com sizes up the Cardinals' situation at corner, where Greg Toler's return to health is a factor. Urban: "Toler ended up playing across from Patrick Peterson at cornerback instead of William Gay, and in nickel, instead of Jamell Fleming (with Gay staying at nickel). Gay played 50 defensive snaps Sunday, Toler 44 and Fleming 12."

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 24-21 overtime win against the Miami Dolphins at University of Phoenix Stadium:

What it means: The Cardinals improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1974 with one of the more remarkable victories in a long line of them at University of Phoenix Stadium. Jay Feely's overtime field goal gave the Cardinals only their fifth victory in 81 chances since 1988 when trailing by 13-plus points at halftime. This victory kept the Cardinals alone atop the NFC West.

What I liked: Kevin Kolb overcame eight sacks and a crushing fourth-quarter interception to throw the tying touchdown pass with 22 seconds remaining in regulation. This had the feeling of a defining performance for Kolb, who now has two fourth-quarter drives to the tying or winning touchdown this season.

Arizona continued to produce outstanding results with its blitzes from inside linebackers Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon. Washington forced a critical turnover in the final three minutes of regulation. Lenon forced an interception with pressure in overtime.

The Cardinals battled back from a 13-0 halftime deficit to make the game competitive in the third quarter. Kolb's 24-yard throw to Andre Roberts against a Dolphins blitz required quick thinking. That play sustained Arizona's drive, and Kolb finished that drive with a scoring pass to Larry Fitzgerald.

Strong safety Adrian Wilson made big plays in his return from injury. A third-and-long sack in the second half helped keep Arizona in the game. Wilson ran over Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas before taking down quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Wilson also made a diving attempt to pick off a pass. He snatched the back half of the ball. Officials ruled the play a pick, but replays convinced them to reverse the ruling.

Cornerback Greg Toler picked off Tannehill, atoning for what seemed like a debatable interference call against Toler.

The Cardinals made an effective adjustment to quickly take a 14-13 lead in the fourth quarter. They shifted to heavier personnel, ran the ball on first down, then connected on deep play-action passes for Rob Housler (33 yards) and Roberts (46-yard touchdown). Those plays showed what Kolb can do at his best.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson's 61-yard fumble return gave Arizona possession at the Miami 3-yard line while holding a 14-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter. That play seemed to put the Cardinals in prime position to put away the Dolphins, if not for a turnover on Arizona's ensuing possession.

What I didn't like: Cornerback William Gay struggled against Dolphins receiver Davone Bess and others lining up against him, including Brian Hartline. The Cardinals' previous opponents didn't seem to target Gay as frequently. The Dolphins went after him from the beginning and forced the Cardinals to shuffle their personnel. This was the first time Arizona really missed cornerback Richard Marshall, who signed with Miami during the offseason and was on the field for the Dolphins in this game.

Peterson made uncharacteristic blunders as a return specialist. He risked a turnover early by failing to call for a fair catch when there was no room for a return. He muffed other punts. Peterson even fair-caught a ball at the Arizona 3-yard line, an inexplicable lapse. Peterson returned four punts for touchdowns last season. He made little impact as a returner in the first three games and was a negative factor in this one. Perhaps he's trying to do too much.

The running game continued to falter. The Cardinals went to a no-huddle offense for stretches. Ryan Williams wasn't part of that package, further reducing the running threat. Miami entered this game leading the NFL in yards per carry allowed. Arizona was without running back Beanie Wells and tight end Todd Heap. Arizona was one-dimensional on offense.

Rookie right tackle Bobby Massie surrendered three first-half sacks working against Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake. Miami lists Wake at right defensive end, but he has played primarily on the left side this season. That was the case Sunday. Arizona had to help Massie in protection after Wake's fast start. Wake collected a fourth sack against Massie in the fourth quarter when the Cardinals did not help the rookie.

Kolb had been a little careless in the red zone and it finally caught up with him in stunning fashion. The fourth-quarter pick he threw from the 3-yard line proved devastating. Instead of building on a 14-13 lead, the Cardinals watched Tannehill connect with Hartline for an 80-yard touchdown on the next play. A two-point conversion staked Miami to a 21-14 lead, a crushing swing.

Stunning stats: Hartline caught 11 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown. Bess caught seven passes for 123 yards. Tannehill topped 400 yards passing. All this against an Arizona defense that had contained Tom Brady and Michael Vick, while holding all three previous opponents to fewer than 20 points.

Head-scratching decision: The Dolphins' decision to pass the ball while protecting a 21-14 lead in the final three minutes proved costly. Washington sacked Tannehill and forced a fumble. Teammate Vonnie Holliday recovered. Washington has emerged as one of the best defensive players around. Joe Philbin also chose to ice the kicker with a timeout before Feely's winning field goal try, despite some evidence the tactic isn't always effective.

What's next: The Cardinals visit the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night.

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