NFC West: William Powell

Three things to watch for Friday night in the Arizona Cardinals' 2013 exhibition opener against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field (8 p.m. ET):

1. Palmer's debut. Carson Palmer's addition via trade stands as the most significant offseason move in the NFC West. It's not that Palmer was the best player acquired this offseason. Rather, he stands to make the greatest impact through the nature of his position and because the Cardinals have been so bad at quarterback recently. Arizona posted by far the lowest Total QBR score (26.8) and NFL passer rating (65.7) over the past three seasons. So, while we're not going to obsess over how Palmer looks in his Cardinals debut, some level of competency would be reassuring for Arizona. How he connects with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Rob Housler is of particular interest.

2. Mathieu and the DBs. The Cardinals are building their secondary around Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson and 2013 third-round choice Tyrann Mathieu, who figures to play a safety/corner role this season. Peterson has already demonstrated extreme playmaking ability. The Cardinals think Mathieu can also make impact plays with flair. Mathieu's debut carries considerable interest as he starts fresh following a tumultuous run at LSU. Will he stand out right away? Peterson, meanwhile, has been getting reps at wide receiver. It's unclear whether the team will try him in that capacity against Green Bay.

3. Running back picture. Coach Bruce Arians is betting on Rashard Mendenhall reemerging as an every-down back. Mendenhall is scheduled to start against the Packers, and he's a heavy favorite to be the starter this season. Backups Ryan Williams and Andre Ellington are injured and not expected to play. That could lead to additional playing time for Alfonso Smith and rookie Stepfan Taylor. Can one or both of them allay depth concerns at the position? The Cardinals need to be healthier across the board this season, but particularly at halfback, where the team used four starters last season (Beanie Wells 7, LaRod Stephens-Howling 5, Williams 3 and William Powell 1).

Closer look at Wells and NFC West RBs

February, 22, 2013
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At his best, Beanie Wells can be a big, physical runner with a wicked stiff-arm and a strong nose for the end zone.

Wells was not at his best last season.

The Arizona Cardinals running back had 88 carries for 234 yards and five touchdowns in eight games. He was on the field for 152 snaps, a career low and down from 583 in 2011, when Wells rushed for 1,099 yards and 10 touchdowns.



"I think Beanie had a tough stretch this year because of the injuries," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim told reporters from the NFL scouting combine. "He showed a lot of grit, a lot of toughness late in the year when he was able to. He's had some injuries, so he had a difficult time with his cut ability and his lateral movement, but Beanie is still a big horse who can finish runs and create yardage after contact, which is something that excites us."

That last comment ran counter to my perception of Wells last season.

Of the 74 backs with at least 200 yards rushing last season, Wells ranked 73rd in yards after contact per rushing attempt, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Wells was at 1.12 yards per carry after contact. Only New Orleans scatback Darren Sproles had a lower average (1.0) among those 74 players. The average for those 74 players was 1.7. Adrian Peterson was at 2.9.

Keim was alluding more to the ability Wells has shown in the past, when he was healthier. Wells averaged 2.2 yards per carry after contact in 2011. The average was 1.9 in 2010 and 2.1 as a rookie first-round choice in 2009.

Wells is scheduled to earn $1.4 million in base salary for 2013, the final year of his contract. The comments from Keim made it sound like the team was leaning toward sticking with Wells for another season, but that could change depending upon what happens in free agency and the draft. The team has envisioned fielding a strong one-two punch in the backfield with Wells and 2011 second-round choice Ryan Williams, but injuries have intervened. Williams has missed 29 of 32 games.

"I saw Ryan in our weight room the other day, and he's doing fantastic," Keim said. "He's a guy that, watching film with Bruce [Arians], because he got injured early in the season, you forgot the type of run skills Ryan had. We watched him against Philadelphia, we watched him against New England, his lateral quickness, his natural run skills, his avoidability is something he brings to the table. Plus, he's a three-down back. We're expecting big things out of Ryan moving forward."

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

December, 5, 2012
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Arizona Cardinals: Kevin Kolb (ribs) does not appear close to returning. John Skelton will start at quarterback. Receiver Andre Roberts (ankle) and defensive end Ronald Talley (ankle) did not practice. Defensive end Calais Campbell, held out of the Cardinals' Week 13 game, practiced on a limited basis. He's recovering from a calf injury. Campbell has six career sacks against Week 14 opponent Seattle. That is the most for Campbell against a single opponent. Safety Kerry Rhodes (quadriceps), linebacker Reggie Walker (knee) and running back Beanie Wells (knee) were also limited. Wells played 43 percent of the snaps against the Jets. Fellow running backs William Powell (35 percent) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (19 percent) also played extensively. Cornerback Justin Bethel (shoulder), receiver Early Doucet (ribs), snapper Mike Leach (back) and linebacker Paris Lenon (shoulder) practiced fully Wednesday.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams held out receiver Danny Amendola (foot), linebacker Mario Haggan (elbow), center Scott Wells (knee), tight end Mike McNeill (thigh) and running back Steven Jackson (foot). Amendola's status is one to monitor closely. He played against Arizona two weeks ago despite being listed as doubtful on the Friday injury report. He did not play against San Francisco last week. Rookie receiver Chris Givens appears to be developing quickly and has taken over some of the shorter routes previously reserved for Amendola. With Amendola out, Givens and Brandon Gibson each played 90 percent of the snaps at receiver. Givens was the player quarterback Sam Bradford targeted. He has 16 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown over the last two games. Austin Pettis (66 percent) and Brian Quick (15 percent) also factored.

San Francisco 49ers: Receiver Mario Manningham (shoulder) and cornerback Tarell Brown (hamstring) missed practice Wednesday. Nickel corner Chris Culliver (illness) was limited, as was kicker David Akers (pelvis) and outside linebacker Aldon Smith (shoulder). The team listed cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee), linebacker Patrick Willis (shoulder), running back Frank Gore (wrist), linebacker Tavares Gooden (elbow, knee), guard Mike Iupati (shoulder) and linebacker NaVorro Bowman (shoulder) as full participants in practice. Depth at wide receiver is more of a concern with Manningham hurting and Kyle Williams on injured reserve. Michael Crabtree (62 percent), Randy Moss (41 percent), Manningham (36 percent) and Ted Ginn Jr. (18 percent) logged snaps at receiver against St. Louis. The 49ers have hinted that rookie running back LaMichael James could make his 2012 debut shortly. Gore played 87 percent of the snaps against the Rams, an unusually high number. Veteran Brandon Jacobs played 11 percent. He does not represent the change of pace Kendall Hunter provided before landing on injured reserve. James would.

Seattle Seahawks: Starting left guard James Carpenter is finished for the season. His absence requires an adjustment, but the change could produce an upgrade in the short term. Carpenter wasn't healthy and it showed in his play. John Moffitt is a natural candidate to start. Seattle has had eight linemen start this season. That is tied for third-most in the NFL behind Philadelphia (nine) and St. Louis (nine). The Seahawks held out defensive end Red Bryant, who surprised the coaching staff by playing -- and playing well -- against the Bears despite a foot injury. Bryant wore a boot on his foot in the locker room after the game in Chicago. Cornerback Marcus Trufant also missed practice. He has a hamstring injury. It sounds like the team will try Jeremy Lane at nickel corner while Trufant recovers. Walter Thurmond is expected to play right corner while Brandon Browner serves a four-game suspension. It's possible Thurmond could play inside as well. Receiver Sidney Rice does not have a concussion, according to the team, but he was listed as limited with a head injury after absorbing a hard hit while making the winning touchdown catch Sunday. Leroy Hill (ankle) was limited. Coach Pete Carroll sounded excited about Hill's replacement, Malcolm Smith.

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.

Wrap-up: Packers 31, Cardinals 17

November, 4, 2012
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Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 31-17 defeat to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Week 9:

What it means: The Cardinals fell to 4-5 with their fifth consecutive defeat. The slope appears to get more slippery following a Week 10 bye. The team visits the Atlanta Falcons to kick off a four-game stretch featuring three road games. Running back Beanie Wells is expected to return Nov. 25, but the Cardinals' troubles go beyond one player. Even their defense is sagging. Arizona has allowed 17, 19, 21, 24 and 31 points during its slide.

What I liked: Arizona's defense held the Packers to a three-and-out and missed field goal after Green Bay opened its first possession from the Cardinals' 20-yard line. Defensive ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett shared a sack to set back the Packers on that drive. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald's diving effort to cap his 31-yard scoring reception gave Arizona life in the second half. Andre Roberts had a 40-yard reception, Michael Floyd had a 37-yarder and Rob Housler had a 22-yarder. The Cardinals downed four of Dave Zastudil's punts inside the Green Bay 20-yard line. The coaching staff gave rookie Nate Potter a chance at left tackle. Potter had issues, but this was a good time to give him reps. Quarterback John Skelton took only two sacks, a low number for Arizona.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals gave up four touchdown passes to Aaron Rodgers, including two to Randall Cobb. And when Tom Crabtree slipped behind inside linebacker Paris Lenon for a 72-yard scoring grab in the second half, the Cardinals were pretty much finished. The Arizona ground game continued to struggle without Wells and Ryan Williams. LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell found little room to run. Early Doucet continued to struggle with dropped passes. The two he dropped gave him six drops for the season, twice his total for 2011. Outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield suffered an injured ankle. Patrick Peterson averaged only 4.8 yards per punt return. He has zero returns for touchdowns after getting four as a rookie in 2011. The Cardinals, meanwhile, allowed a 28-yard return and 15.3-yard average to Cobb.

What's next: The Cardinals have a bye before visiting the Falcons in Week 11.

Silver linings: Cardinals vs. Bills

October, 15, 2012
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The facts: The Arizona Cardinals fell to 4-2 with a 19-16 home defeat to the Buffalo Bills in Week 6.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • The Cardinals had 30 rushes for 182 yards, a huge improvement from the first five games. William Powell carried 13 times for 70 yards.
  • Larry Fitzgerald caught six passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. He joined Randy Moss as the only players to reach 10,000 yards receiving before age 30.
  • Cornerback Patrick Peterson picked off a pass in the final minutes of regulation, when the team needed to rally.
  • Jay Feely set a career best with a 61-yard field goal to help force overtime. The kick was 5 yards longer than any other Feely has made.
  • Dave Zastudil had a 41.8-yard net average on five punts.
  • Rookie Michael Floyd had a 24-yard reception.
  • O'Brien Schofield collected two sacks and two quarterback hits. That gives him four for the season, nearly matching his 4.5-sack total from last season.
  • Daryl Washington finished with 14 tackles, one for a loss.
  • The Cardinals allowed only 19 points. They have allowed 21 points or fewer in every game this season. The Cardinals are the only team that can make that claim after Seattle gave up 23 points to New England.
Looking ahead: The Cardinals visit the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7.
A periodic look at which players are playing and when, continuing with the Arizona Cardinals' offense:

Final Word: NFC West

October, 12, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

All about third down. The San Francisco 49ers' offense took considerable criticism after converting just once on 13 third-down plays against the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers' defense deserves some third-down scrutiny heading into the rematch at Candlestick Park. The 2011 49ers held the Giants to 4.6 yards per play with no touchdowns on first and second downs during the teams' regular-season game last season. Everything changed on third down. The Giants averaged 8.8 yards per third-down play against the 49ers. They gained 127 yards and scored two touchdowns on 10 third-down pass attempts against the 49ers' nickel defense, without taking a sack. The 49ers were much better getting third-down pressure in the playoff rematch, but the Giants still averaged 7.2 yards per pass attempt with seven first downs on third-down plays against the 49ers' nickel defense.

Letting Welker catch it. The Seahawks' matchup against Patriots receiver Wes Welker will be a difficult one. The key, coach Pete Carroll has said, will be for Seattle to limit the damage once Welker inevitably gets the ball in his hands. This probably is an underrated aspect of the Seahawks' league-leading defense. Seattle is allowing 4.09 yards after the catch per reception. That ranks second in the NFL behind Minnesota (3.9) and just ahead of Green Bay (4.12). The figure for Seattle was 4.9 last season and 5.8 in 2010. Welker averages 6.4 YAC/reception, a significant figure given how many passes he catches (NFL-high 30 over the past three games, with 6.5 YAC/reception on those catches). The Seahawks have allowed 3.6 YAC/reception against wide receivers lined up in the slot, where Welker lines up most of the time. That figure ranks 12th in the NFL (the range is 1.9 to 8.1, with 4.5 as average).

[+] EnlargeLaRod Stephens-Howling
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireLaRod Stephens-Howling may now get more carries in Arizona with Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams injured.
Behold 'The Hyphen.' LaRod Stephens-Howling's return from a hip injury comes at the right time for Arizona. Fellow running backs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are out. Stephens-Howling has been a utility player for Arizona, not an every-down back, because he lacks the size needed to run on early downs, week after week. Desperate times call for desperate measures, however, and that could mean leaning on Stephens-Howling a little more regularly. The 5-foot-7, 180-pounder set career highs with 21 carries and 92 yards during a victory over Seattle in Week 17 last season. Four of his longest runs that day -- 39, 8, 8 and 7 yards -- came on first down with no more than two wide receivers on the field. Can Stephens-Howling, William Powell and Alfonso Smith help the NFL's worst rushing offense (2.7 yards per carry) exploit Buffalo's league-worst rushing defense (5.7 yards per carry allowed)?

First-and-Long. The Miami Dolphins made left tackle Jake Long the first player chosen in the 2008 NFL draft. The St. Louis Rams took defensive end Chris Long with the second pick. Both players will be on the field at the same time when the Rams visit the Dolphins, but they'll be matching up against younger players. Jake Long faces 2011 Rams first-rounder Robert Quinn, who is coming off a three-sack game and has already exceeded his total for last season. Chris Long faces Dolphins right tackle Jonathan Martin, a second-round choice this year. Both Longs should like their chances in these matchups. If Quinn's speed can factor in the pass rush, perhaps St. Louis can force Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill into mistakes.

Readying the stat sheet. Last week, the 49ers had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher and two 100-yard receivers for the first time since 1961. Meanwhile, the Giants became the first NFL team since 1960 to have one player rush for at least 200 yards (Ahmad Bradshaw) while another player caught three touchdown passes (Victor Cruz). There is more. The 49ers have won each of their past two games by 30-plus points, the first time since 1961 they've accomplished the feat (they have never done it three games in a row). The Giants have set a franchise record for any four-game stretch with 1,877 yards against Tampa Bay, Carolina, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

Note: ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this entry.

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

October, 10, 2012
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Arizona Cardinals: Life without the injured Ryan Williams at running back begins Sunday against a Buffalo defense that allowed 621 yards to San Francisco, including 311 on the ground. Utility back LaRod Stephens-Howling expects to return from a hip injury. He was limited Wednesday. Arizona will presumably incorporate Stephens-Howling into its no-huddle offense and into its spread passing sets. He's not an every-down back, but when healthy, Stephens-Howling provides big-play ability in doses. The Cardinals did not sign a veteran back after losing Williams (for the season) and would-be starting back Beanie Wells (until Nov. 25). William Powell and Alfonso Smith are the leading candidates to carry the ball on early downs. Defensive end Darnell Dockett (hamstring) played sparingly in Week 5 and was limited Wednesday. Tight end Todd Heap practiced on a limited basis. A knee injury has kept Heap out for the past three games. Cornerback Greg Toler, who pulled up with a hamstring injury while allowing a touchdown pass at St. Louis, did not practice. Cornerback Michael Adams also missed practice with a hamstring injury. The Cardinals figure to need their cornerbacks against Buffalo, a team that uses three-plus receivers extensively. Fullback Anthony Sherman (22 snaps at St. Louis) and outside linebacker Quentin Groves (six snaps) also sat out. Sherman has a knee injury. Groves has a hamstring injury. Quarterback John Skelton is back from his ankle injury, but he's not full strength. Kevin Kolb remains the starter.

St. Louis Rams: Leading receiver Danny Amendola will miss roughly six weeks, beginning with St. Louis' game at Miami. That will probably affect the Rams' ability to throw quickly and productively against pressure, and to convert on third down. Amendola ranks third in the NFL behind Wes Welker and Victor Cruz with 24 receptions from the slot. He made eight of those receptions on third down. Safety Quintin Mikell practiced without limitation Wednesday less that a week after suffering a concussion against Arizona. Linebacker Mario Haggan (thigh), fullback Brit Miller (ankle) and left tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) did not practice. Saffold has missed three games and was expected to miss at least four. Defensive linemen William Hayes (back) and Eugene Sims (head), key contributors both, were limited in practice.

San Francisco 49ers: Coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Alex Smith told reporters they're not concerned about the injury Smith suffered to the middle finger on his throwing hand. The injury did not appear serious, but it was initially a concern. This could be the week San Francisco debuts running back Brandon Jacobs, who has not played since suffering a knee injury during camp. Letting Jacobs suit up against the New York Giants, his former team, would seem fitting. The 49ers are getting good play from their existing backs, however, and Jacobs doesn't offer much on special teams. One question is whether the 49ers could use Jacobs in short-yardage situations. Frank Gore has two first downs on six third-and-1 carries this season. Anthony Dixon has one first down (a touchdown) on his only third-and-1 carry. Gore converted the team's only fourth-and-1 rush. Add it up and San Francisco has converted four times in eight short-yardage chances, the same figures Jacobs posted with the Giants during the 2011 regular season.

Seattle Seahawks: Center Max Unger will join the injury report for Seattle this week with a hip injury that was expected to keep him from practicing Wednesday. Former starting guard John Moffitt, a contingency at center when healthy, was also among those missing practice. A knee injury will keep him inactive this week. Eight players have started on the offensive line for Seattle this season, tied with Jacksonville for most in the league. Seattle does have options at center. Lemuel Jeanpierre has started there. Defensive linemen Clinton McDonald (groin) and Jaye Howard (foot) did not practice. The team continues to list running back Marshawn Lynch as limited with a back injury. He has 121 touches this season, second-most in the NFL behind Arian Foster (142). Lynch had 313 touches last season.

Marshawn Lynch active for Seahawks

September, 9, 2012
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Seattle Seahawks will have running back Marshawn Lynch for their regular-season opener despite back spasms that limited him in practice recently.

Lynch is active for the game. Seattle named the following players inactive: Kregg Lumpkin, Byron Maxwell, John Moffitt, James Carpenter, Golden Tate, Jaye Howard and Greg Scruggs.

Moffitt was the starting right guard early in camp, but rookie J.R. Sweezy took over the job. Lemuel Jeanpierre is the primary backup at the interior offensive line spots. He started some last season.

Arizona named cornerback Greg Toler inactive. Others: Ryan Lindley, LaRon Byrd, William Powell, Jamaal Westerman, Senio Kelemete and Pat McQuistan.

Around the NFC West: Kolb better off?

August, 24, 2012
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Kevin Kolb tossed two ugly interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, but still might have improved his standing in the Arizona Cardinals' quarterback race.

"Might have" would be the key phrase there. Kolb looked as good as he's looked all preseason for stretches of the Cardinals' game Thursday night against Tennessee. He did a better job hanging in the pocket early in the game. He bounced back from mistakes. He led a touchdown drive and generally succeeded in the two-minute offense.

But as Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic points out, there's nothing quite like a pick-six to open the second half. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "It numbs you. You've worked so hard to get back into it. At halftime, we said, 'We get the ball back. If we go out and score the game is tied.' And the next thing you know, one play, we're down 13 points. I'm really proud of our guys for fighting back from that point. That's a big deal on the road."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Kolb's competition for the job, John Skelton, missed an opportunity. Skelton: "It's frustrating getting out of the game that early and seeing the offense get into a flow, but you have to make the most of your opportunities and I don’t feel I did."

Also from Urban: non-quarterback notes. Urban: "Running back William Powell is leading the NFL is rushing this preseason. He had another 71 yards (on just seven carries) and has 231 yards on 33 carries (a 7.1 average) and three touchdowns. Yes, it's against deep backups usually, but seven yards a carry is seven yards a carry. When you have the head coach bringing up your name, unprompted, in the postgame presser, that’s a good sign. It’s going to be a tough call between Powell and Alfonso Smith."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com passes along a couple of updates from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Brandon Jacobs will earn a spot on the 53-man roster, and Colin Kaepernick will likely be the No. 2 quarterback.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says Harbaugh and Peyton Manning gave reporters the silent treatment regarding their offseason connections. Manning: "I can't speak for them. It's pretty well documented how all that went down in the offseason. Not really going down memory lane."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Harbaugh applies Indy racing strategies to coaching the 49ers. Harbaugh: "How can we get better, what facet can we tweak to get a little faster, where to reduce drag, where can we save time, where can we be more efficient? That's the whole operation of racing. They do it as a team. Everybody's doing a little. And that adds up to a lot."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune takes a closer look at players fighting for playing time and/or roster spots in Seattle. Williams on Terrell Owens: "He has a lot to overcome. And the fact that he finished without a catch and a bad drop against Denver is just scratching the surface. He still appears to be the same T.O. who complains when things are not going his way. And Pete Carroll will not put up with that from a fifth or six receiver -- see T.J. Houshmandzadeh."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says dropped passes haven't undermined tight end Anthony McCoy in the eyes of coach Pete Carroll.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times silences the alarm bells that rang upon hearing of the "little procedure" Doug Baldwin underwent to remove blood from a hamstring.

Also from O'Neil: Carroll isn't afraid to play rookies. O'Neil: "Carroll once worked for Bud Grant in Minnesota, one of the league's old-salt coaches who believed you lost a game for every rookie you played. But during Carroll's time at USC, he not only began to play his younger players, but he embraced the concept."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at how training camps have changed over the years. Rams assistant Dave McGinnis on the way it was years ago: "We'd have 120 guys in camp. It's an entirely different world. The league has evolved a lot with offseason training, with the type of condition that these players are in, and clearly now with the new CBA, there's new regulations. The first camp I went to was in Platteville, Wis. (in 1986) and it was two-a-days, every day, full pads, on your mark, get set, go. And so it's changed."

Also from Thomas: Injuries are hurting the Rams' depth on the defensive line. Thomas: "The team still has enough bodies at defensive tackle to get them through practice and Saturday's preseason game in Dallas, including Cornell Banks and recently signed John Gill. Meanwhile, defensive end Eugene Sims' ankle injury, which prompted the team to sign Vernon Gholston on Wednesday, wasn't as bad as initially feared. Sims, who was wearing a walking boot Wednesday, does not have a high ankle sprain -- an injury that could have sidelined him a month. As it is, he may miss a week or two."

CANTON, Ohio -- Looking back upon three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' exhibition opener against New Orleans, a 17-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the Hall of Fame Game at Fawcett Stadium on Sunday night:

1. Kevin Kolb's performance. The first item linked above included two questions for the Cardinals' quarterback. One, can he command the offense and finally appear comfortable running it? Two, can he make it through the game healthy after injuries derailed his 2011 season? Unfortunately, "no" and "definitely not" were the respective answers against the Saints. Kolb tossed an interception on his first pass attempt. Kolb, dropping back for his fourth pass attempt, suffered a rib contusion when New Orleans' Sedrick Ellis hit him. Kolb's night was finished, the latest damaging blow to his starting candidacy in Arizona. Injuries have knocked Kolb from preseason and/or regular-season games in four consecutive seasons.

2. Right side of the OL. Rookie right tackle Bobby Massie played extensively. He matched up against third-year Saints defensive end Junior Galette and seemed to do well enough. New Orleans did get pressure against Massie a few times, including once when Massie might have allowed a sack (I did not see the play clearly). Massie cleared out Galette to spring running back William Powell into the clear. Another time, Galette wanted a holding call, but did not get one, when Massie appeared to hook Galette around the collar. Massie disengaged and held up his hands as if to show officials he wasn't holding. Update: Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he thought Massie struggled some while getting needed reps. The team is working with Massie to adjust his setup. The goal is to make Massie less mechanical, Whisenhunt said. That won't happen overnight or after a week of practices, but we should see progress as the preseason continues.

3. Cornerback competition. William Gay started opposite left cornerback Patrick Peterson, as expected. Michael Adams was the nickel corner with the starting group. Tackling was a problem for the defense overall, including at corner. Gay missed one tackle on running back Mark Ingram early. Adams was the left corner and A.J. Jefferson the right corner with the second unit. Greg Toler also worked with the second unit. He missed a tackle in the third quarter. Teams aren't getting as much contact work in training camps under the current labor deal. That makes it tougher to simulate timing and work on the fundamentals of tackling. Saints quarterback Drew Brees played little, so the Cardinals' secondary didn't get an extended look against top competition. Update: Whisenhunt liked the way his corners played the ball. He thought they were physical. He thought the Cardinals needed to do a better job tackling on check-down plays.
Our two-day look at NFC West rosters continues with projections for the Arizona Cardinals' offense.

Quarterbacks (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.0

Safest bets: Kevin Kolb, John Skelton

Leading contenders: Ryan Lindley, Rich Bartel

Longer odds: none

Comment: Coach Ken Whisenhunt was ready with a quip when asked to pinpoint when the team would like to have its quarterback competition settled. Two years ago, he said. Instead, Kolb and Skelton figure to battle deep into the exhibition season. The Cardinals have five preseason games to use for evaluation. Bartel's grip on the No. 3 job could be ending after Arizona used a sixth-round pick for Lindley.

Running backs (8)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.2

Safest bets: Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams, Anthony Sherman, LaRod Stephens-Howling

Leading contenders: Alfonso Smith

Longer odds: William Powell, Javarris James, Jared Crank

Comment: The Cardinals have been banking on Wells and Williams returning from knee injuries. Neither participated fully in offseason workouts or practices. Wells' agent said the team was playing it safe with his client to maximize Wells' availability in 2012. The team did not make lineup contingency plans in case Wells or Williams isn't ready or suffers additional injuries. It's Wells and Williams or bust at this point. Sherman is developing into a first-rate fullback. Stephens-Howling has been one of the better special-teams players around. Smith also has value on special teams if the Cardinals decide to keep a fifth back in Week 1, as they have done for the past four seasons.

Wide receivers (12)

Average number kept since 2003: 6.1

Safest bets: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Roberts, Early Doucet

Leading contenders: Isaiah Williams, Stephen Williams, DeMarco Sampson, Jaymar Johnson

Longer odds: LaRon Byrd, Stanley Arukwe, Tre Gray, Gino Crump

Comment: The Cardinals have never kept fewer than six wideouts on their Week 1 roster since Whisenhunt became coach. They kept seven in 2009. Arizona appears to have excellent quality through its top four options at the position. Fitzgerald is an all-time great and in his prime. His presence should help free Floyd to produce as a rookie first-round draft choice, provided the team's quarterbacks do a better job finding open receivers. Floyd's arrival signals Roberts' move to the slot, where the Cardinals think he's ideally suited. Doucet was productive from the slot on third down last season.

Tight ends (6)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.2

Safest bets: Todd Heap, Jeff King, Rob Housler

Leading contenders: Jim Dray, Steve Skelton

Longer odds: Martell Webb

Comment: This position should become a strength with Housler's expected emergence as a fast, athletic receiving threat. Again, the Cardinals are counting on Kolb and/or Skelton to find the open receivers they missed too frequently last season. Age and injury concerns follow the 32-year-old Heap into his 12th season and second with the Cardinals. His $2 million salary would not appear to put him at significant risk, provided Heap bounces back this season. King exceeded expectations as a receiver last season. The Cardinals had never kept more than three tight ends on their Week 1 roster until last season, when they kept four.

Offensive linemen (15)

Average number kept since 2003: 8.7

Safest bets: Levi Brown, Daryn Colledge, Lyle Sendlein, Adam Snyder, Jeremy Bridges, Bobby Massie

Leading contenders: Senio Kelemete, D'Anthony Batiste, Nate Potter

Longer odds: D.J. Young, Braeden Clayson, Ryan Bartholomew, Scott Wedige, Chris Stewart, Blake DeChristopher

Comment: Sendlein and Colledge give the Cardinals two solid contributors on the perimeter. The team is counting on Brown to build upon the improvement he showed at left tackle late last season. Brown does appear determined to shake his negative reputation. Questions abound on the right side of the line. Snyder appeared headed for a backup job somewhere when the Cardinals gave him $3.5 million per season, including $5 million up front, to start at right guard. Pairing Snyder with Bridges or Massie on the right side would seem to invite trouble. Perhaps the Cardinals know something others do not. Can line coach Russ Grimm develop the young talent Arizona added through the draft?
NFC West fans had running backs in mind during our chat Thursday.

We had Joe C. from Fort Worth asking for projected carry breakdowns in Arizona if the Cardinals' Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are both healthy. k1joyce from Massachusetts, fearful over what would happen if Seattle lost Marshawn Lynch to injury, pointed to the "seldom-talked-about lack of depth" at the position for the Seahawks. Jim from California wondered which running backs the San Francisco 49ers would keep.

I didn't get to all those questions, but in an attempt to size up the position for each NFC West team, I've put together potential depth charts for running backs in the division. Every team has six halfbacks, so the chart balances. The order will shake out during training camp, of course. I've got an eraser handy.

Every team in the division but Seattle has used a second-round choice for a running back in the past two drafts. Arizona did so with Williams in 2011. San Francisco (LaMichael James) and St. Louis (Isaiah Pead) used second-rounders for runners this year.

Seattle used a 2012 fourth-round choice for Robert Turbin. The team also added Kregg Lumpkin in free agency. Both are bigger than former backup Justin Forsett. That was by design. The Seahawks now have multiple backs with the size to carry the ball on early downs, but it's too early to know whether the team could maintain its physical approach on offense without Lynch. It wasn't possible last season. Now, it's possible, but no sure thing.

Wells will probably get more carries than Williams this season even though Williams, when healthy, excites the Cardinals at least as much. Both backs are coming off knee surgeries. Wells figures to be healthier first. He will presumably get most of the carries early in the season. We still don't know when Williams will resume full participation or how well he'll perform upon returning. The injury he suffered (torn patella) was serious. The Cardinals are optimistic, but there's still uncertainty.

The situation behind Frank Gore in San Francisco is more confusing. The 49ers wanted to upgrade their backups while preparing for life after Gore. Anthony Dixon faces an uphill fight for a roster spot, it appears. He played five percent of the snaps last season. Kendall Hunter played 28 percent, a figure that also appears likely to fall.

The Rams finally have some youth behind Steven Jackson. I could see them using another relatively early pick on a back in 2013. Jackson is scheduled to earn $7 million in each of the next two seasons. He turns 29 next month and will be looking to reach 1,000 yards for an eighth consecutive season.

The following recently released and waived/injured NFC West players are eligible for practice squads if they clear waivers:
Arizona Cardinals

Jared Campbell, Marshay Green, Sean Jeffcoat, Ricky Lumpkin, Jeremy Navarre, Aaron Nichols, Bryant Nnabuife, Kris O'Dowd, Tom Pestock, William Powell, Steve Skelton, Kendall Smith, Thad Turner, Isaiah Williams, D.J. Young.

St. Louis Rams

Damario Ambrose, Tim Atchison, DeMarco Cosby, Tae Evans, Marlon Favorite, Pete Fleps, Cody Habben, John Henderson, Kevin Hughes, Randall Hunt, Thaddeus Lewis, Greg Mathews, Jeremy McGee, Ryan McKee, Jonathan Nelson, Fendi Onobun, Chase Reynolds, Van Stumon.

San Francisco 49ers

Chase Beeler, McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Brian Bulcke, Jack Corcoran, Phillip Davis, Derek Hall, Joe Hastings, Chris Hogan, Ronald Johnson, Alex Joseph, Chris Maragos, Cory Nelms, Xavier Omon, Konrad Reuland, Kenny Rowe, Sealver Siliga, Monte Simmons, Curtis Taylor, Kenny Wiggins.

Seattle Seahawks

Pierre Allen, Dorson Boyce, Chris Carter, Paul Fanaika, Maurice Fountain, David Howard, Michael Johnson, Jameson Konz, Mark LeGree, Ricardo Lockette, Michael Morgan, Josh Pinkard, William Robinson, Owen Spencer, Vai Taua, Patrick Williams.

A few younger players are not eligible, including former St. Louis Rams receiver Mardy Gilyard, who spent 11 games on the game-day roster last season. Players with no accrued seasons or fewer than nine appearances on game-day rosters in their only accrued season are among those eligible. Players can spend a third season on a team's practice squad as long as their team keeps its 53-man roster full at all times.

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