NFC West: Willie Parker

A look at where Steven Jackson stands

February, 26, 2013
2/26/13
10:12
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No NFL player has more offensive touches or yards from scrimmage since 2004 than the St. Louis Rams' Steven Jackson.

That is both good and bad for the Rams' career rushing leader.

Jackson, who plans to void his contract to become a free agent March 12, has accomplished a great deal since entering the NFL as the 24th player chosen in the 2004 draft. He also has high miles as his 30th birthday approaches in July, raising questions about how much longer he can produce.

The two charts show where Jackson ranks in scrimmage yards and rushing yards over the course of his career. Note that NFC West rivals Frank Gore and Larry Fitzgerald also rank among the top five in scrimmage yards over the same period.

Separately, Jackson's rushing total (10,135) is easily best among players who also entered the NFL in 2004. Michael Turner (7,338), Willie Parker (5,378), Julius Jones (5,068) and Kevin Jones (3,176) trail him on that list.

Jackson ranks 26th on the NFL's all-time rushing list after posting his eighth consecutive season with at least 1,000 yards rushing. He needs 509 yards to overtake Ricky Watters for 20th. He needs 1,561 yards to overtake Fred Taylor for 15th. He needs 2,145 yards to overtake former teammate and Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk for 10th on the list.

Jackson would need 3,550 yards to overtake LaDainian Tomlinson for fifth.

Darnell Dockett's contract with the Arizona Cardinals runs through the 2011 season, meaning the team faces little pressure to get something done immediately.

Waiting too long could work against the team, however.

[+] EnlargeDarnell
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireDarnell Dockett has put himself in position to get a new deal before his current one expires.
Dockett has gone from taking Anquan Boldin's publicly indignant approach to patterning himself after Adrian Wilson. Boldin and Wilson are both hard-nosed, hard-working players. Boldin lost in the court of public opinion after teammate Larry Fitzgerald took over as the Cardinals' most productive and highest-paid receiver. Wilson kept a lower public profile and wound up getting the deal he wanted. The longer Dockett lets his play and work ethic do the talking, the more the burden shifts from Dockett to the Cardinals.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt's recent interview with XTRA910 radio in Phoenix -- one dissected for other purposes last week -- shows the Cardinals think Dockett is heading down the road Wilson took.

"When you go about talking about a player and a contract, and you are going to invest the type of money that we'll invest in Darnell, you've got to be sure that he is the right guy doing the right things for you," Whisenhunt told XTRA910. "And that is what I have seen from Darnell this spring and I think he understands that now."

Though still outspoken, mostly via his Twitter account, Dockett's hard work, Pro Bowl credentials and ongoing mentoring of first-round choice Dan Williams is doing his most effective talking. Dockett has been putting the pressure on Williams in the weight room.

"Darnell has taken Dan Williams in there and has just been killing him," Whisenhunt said. "Poor Dan -- I feel sorry for him because Darnell works out hard. But you know what Darnell said? This is a great example of a guy growing up and understanding. He says, 'We're going to need this guy at some point this year for us to win. We're going to have to count on him, so we are going to have to prepare him.' And to me, that is what being a pro is all about."

Whisenhunt said he saw Jerome Bettis take a similar approach with Willie Parker when the three were with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Dockett has put himself in position to get a new deal before his current one expires. Another Pro Bowl season would make it tough for the Cardinals to let him reach the final year of his deal. I'd expect an agreement before then.

"I have great respect for him because he is a very passionate player and he wants to win," Whisenhunt said. "We're going to get through this thing. We're going to get this thing with Darnell worked out. That is something that I think both sides want to do."
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News offers thoughts and observations on outgoing 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan. Kawakami: "I think McCloughan’s a pretty good judge of talent. I think he’s loyal and probably was too loyal to Mike Nolan over their first three-plus years together. I think McCloughan was not totally on-board with the promoting of Mike Singletary as interim coach, but McCloughan made it work. (He wasn’t on-board with the hiring of Mike Martz as OC the year before, and that DIDN’T work.) ... I think McCloughan was learning on the job, and I think he definitely upgraded the talent level of the roster. But yes, there were things I’d wondered about–periods when McCloughan was not seen or heard from, at least publicly, which I always thought was strange for an NFL GM. I don’t know if that’s tied to what is forcing him out. I presume it is, but I could be wrong. Maybe Scot will explain it to us at some point."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says McCloughan is on his way out. White: "According to multiple sources, the dismissal is strictly for personal reasons involving McCloughan and no one else. This move is not for football reasons and no crime was involved."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers locked out reporters from their facility and declined to comment on McCloughan's status, all while McCloughan watched an NCAA tournament game in San Jose. Barrows: "The only thing that is certain at the moment is that McCloughan is not taking part in the day-to-day operation of the team."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Paraag Marathe, recently promoted to executive vice president of football and business operations, could assume more power on the football side. Also: "McCloughan did not report to the 49ers’ offices in Santa Clara on Thursday, and sources indicate his departure from the organization is imminent."

Also from Maiocco: 49ers coach Mike Singletary could influence the 49ers' draft board in the coming weeks.

Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com says the 49ers' draft will have McCloughan's fingerprints all over it even if the GM isn't involved on draft day. Rang: "While the perception is that draft boards are fluctuating every day with the improved workouts players are putting forth in Pro Days across the country, in reality, much of the hard work in preparing for the 2010 draft has already been done. Whether he's the one actually making the pick or not, the 49ers 2010 draft will have Scot McCloughan's fingerprints on it. Considering that the 49ers appear poised to take control of the NFC West -- largely based on players McCloughan drafted -- that's a good thing."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers need a new general manager and one with gravitas. Cohn: "Who is that person? Please tell me. Is there anyone in the 49ers organization capable of identifying that man and persuading him to sign on? I don't see anyone like that. And let's face it, the departure of McCloughan so unexpectedly and at precisely the wrong time is a terrible indicator of the 49ers' present state and a horrible omen for the future."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the atmosphere was casual when the Seahawks introduced new quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and said he would challenge Matt Hasselbeck. Coach Pete Carroll: "We would not have done this if we didn't think we were bringing in a highly competitive player. We're counting on Matt to lead this thing, and Charlie is going to take his shot at it every turn."

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com explains why Carroll likes his new quarterback: "Carroll said Whitehurst fits what the Seahawks are looking for in their offensive system: a big, athletic quarterback with good mobility and a strong arm."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seahawks general manager John Schneider has been sizing up Whitehurst for years. Williams: "Schneider said the first time he saw Whitehurst was as college quarterback at Clemson in 2005, where Whitehurst threw well in bad weather for a workout in front of NFL scouts. Schneider said Whithurst’s performance stuck with him, and he considered him a player with a lot of potential."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' new leadership hasn't earned full trust. Boling: "What they have going for them is that what’s been done in the recent past hasn’t worked. And starting over seems a reasonable approach."

John Morgan of Field Gulls sounds unimpressed by Chris Clemons, acquired by Seattle from Philadelphia.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says it's hardly a given that Neil Rackers will return to the Cardinals. Urban: "The things that make Rackers so valuable — his quirky ability to do crazy, effective onside kicks and his kamikaze willingness to tackle on kickoffs — are also the things (because of the mentality needed) that give pause when it comes to the end of games. Personally, I hope Rackers returns, because he is a weapon in so many facets. But that’s far from a lock right now."

Also from Urban: Matt Leinart says he's hungrier than ever heading toward the 2010 season as the Cardinals' starter. Leinart: "I know I can be a starter in this league, but when you have Kurt (Warner) in front of you , a veteran going to the Hall of Fame, you know your position and you have to prepare just having to be ready if the opportunity comes. Now, it’s a totally different mindset because this is my time, the opportunity I have wanted and it is here. I am more focused and hungrier than I have every been in my entire football career, college and pro."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams met with Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford in Florida.

Also from Thomas: Chris Massey gets a new contract. Willie Parker, Reggie Hayward, Jason McKie and Kevin Dockery visit the Rams, with Jimmy Wilkerson on the way.

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat breaks down the Rams' free agents and those the team has signed. Balzer: "James Hall was a leader in the locker room and a solid contributor. His age works against him, but there's not a lot of depth at the position. Hall visited New Orleans, but left without signing a contract."
The latest NFC West chat transcript is available. Highlights below:
Dennis (San Jose): Mike, Do you think that Eddie DeBartolo's influence with Jed York is part of Scott McCloughan's possibly stepping down as 49er GM? Eddie was pretty demanding even of Bill Walsh in his quest for a constant winner, and Scott, even though he is a pretty good evaluator of talent in the early rounds, has not been that dynamic and forcefull in his handling of the QB situation and being active in trade situations.

Mike Sando: Highly doubtful. It just strikes me has highly unlikely that an NFL team would force out its general manager over philosophical differences a month before the draft. Seems more likely there would be some sort of personal reasons that could include anything from a family crisis to who knows what. Parting with a GM for any other reason would be too disruptive.

Ben (Portland): Sando, love the blog. I've got a couple of questions about the Whitehurst deal. Is the sky falling? Do you think we signed Zoltar because we didn't expect Bradford/Clausen at No. 6 or didn't want them? Is there any question that "The Hair" has better tools and mechanics than anybody we could have selected after the first round?

Mike Sando: My theory goes like this. The Seahawks saw Charlie Whitehurst and Kevin Kolb as the only veteran backups worth pursuing as potential starters via trade. They saw Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen as the only potential franchise quarterbacks in this draft. They weren't sure Bradford or Clausen would be there when they picked sixth overall. They probably thought Whitehurst had more "upside" than Derek Anderson. The Cardinals were also interested in Whitehurst over Anderson. Seattle wound up paying a premium for protection at the QB position.

Nick (San Diego): Hey Mike, I always enjoy your column. What do you think about the new FA vets added to the Rams? Any more on the Willie Parker acquisition? In your eyes, are the Rams a team (young) built for the future?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Nick. Hank Fraley should provide better depth inside on the line. Same for Fred Robbins on defense. I agree that the Rams needed to add some seasoning. Neither one of those guys is going to be an impact player. Same for A.J. Feeley. These are veteran role players. Every team needs them, but the Rams need front-line talent. I like some of the things they've done to address their offensive line. Emerging from this draft with a franchise quarterback would signal more clearly that the Rams are set up for the future. They remain in the early stages elsewhere on the roster. As for Willie Parker, he is visiting the Rams and the team does need a backup running back. I'm not sure what he has left. Injuries have been a problem. The move would not be particularly exciting, but Parker is probably a better option than the Samkon Gados and Kenneth Darbys of the world.

SprungOnSports (Long Island): Any word on where Joey Porter will end up? Arizona could really use him.

Mike Sando: I don't think the Cardinals are sweating this one too much, and neither is the rest of the league. Someone recently reached out to me and ripped the Cardinals for failing to pay Porter. I noted that 31 other teams had also failed to pay him. Porter has to know his role for his signing to make sense. His salary is going to define that role. I don't blame Arizona and the other NFL teams for proceeding with some caution. All the peripheral things with Porter are easier to handle if he's an elite player. The consensus right now, obviously, is that Porter is no longer an elite player even though he had 9.0 sacks last season.

Stay tuned on the 49ers front. The team would seemingly have to comment at some point.

Around the NFC West: 49ers intrigue

March, 18, 2010
3/18/10
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Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat quotes sources saying 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan was considering resigning. Maiocco: "McCloughan met Wednesday behind closed doors with the 49ers' upper management at the 49ers' team offices in Santa Clara, sources said. The group included Jed York, executive vice president of football and business operations Paraag Marathe, vice president of football affairs Keena Turner and Michael Rossi, a retired vice chair of BankAmerica Corp., who works as a senior advisor to the 49ers. McCloughan left the 49ers' team offices after the meeting and files were relocated from his office this afternoon." The 49ers did not respond to inquiries, according to Maiocco.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee quotes McCloughan's agent as saying the 49ers' GM does not plan to resign. There's obviously more to this story. Should be an interesting Thursday in Santa Clara.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' gamble on Charlie Whitehurst resembles the chance they took on Matt Hasselbeck nine years ago. O'Neil: "Time will tell whether the sacrifice was worth it. Nine years ago, Seattle traded away a third-round pick for a quarterback who had never started a regular-season game and had attempted all of 29 passes in that time. Not only that, but Seattle gave that guy a new contract. The deal for Matt Hasselbeck didn't turn out to be so bad in retrospect. Will this one work out as well? We have our first yardstick for the Carroll era." More here.

John Morgan of Field Gulls projects which players the Seahawks might miss out on after moving down 20 spots in the second round.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt offered a stronger endorsement of quarterback Matt Leinart after adding Derek Anderson. Whisenhunt: "Derek will get opportunities, especially with our first unit like we've done in the past. But I'm also excited about Matt and seeing how he handles this situation he's in right now."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says "circumstances have changed dramatically" for Whisenhunt to install Leinart as the starter. Bickley: "In this case, you want Leinart to believe that he's assuming the torch from a legend, and not struggling to win a starting job. You want him to believe this is a logical succession, that he's Steve Young taking over from Joe Montana. Whether it's true or not is highly irrelevant. All that matters is if Leinart believes. After all, he will dictate whether the Cardinals continue their playoff run in 2010, or slip back into the muck of mediocrity." Leinart still has to earn it on the field, but I also think it's important for the organization to support him in a way that gives Leinart his best chance at success. Whisenhunt seems to have a good feel for such things.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says it was obvious Leinart would be named the starter. Urban: "Whether Anderson -– who had three touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in 2009 playing for the struggling Browns two years after his big Pro Bowl season -- can surpass Leinart at any point is an unknown. And Whisenhunt clearly didn’t think it was the time to get into the way Leinart could lose his spot."

ESPN's Adam Schefter says former Steelers running back Willie Parker plans to visit with the Rams beginning Thursday. If healthy, Parker could serve as an intriguing change-of-pace back behind Steve Jackson. He turns 30 in November, however, and that is often when running backs slow considerably. Parker missed five games in 2008. He started only three games last season, carrying 98 times for 389 yards and no touchdowns. He has caught only nine passes over the last two seasons and no more than 31 in any season. The Rams do need a backup running back. It's just important to accurately project what Parker offers at this stage of his career without getting caught up in what he once offered the Steelers.

Free-agency class for the ages

March, 5, 2010
3/05/10
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I've counted 43 unrestricted free agents with Pro Bowls on their résumés.

Four are in their 40s, 15 others are at least 35, 21 more are at least 30 and the other three -- specialist Kassim Osgood, safety Roy Williams and running back Willie Parker -- are 29.

Some of them broke into the league under head coaches Dan Henning, Tom Flores, Bruce Coslet, George Seifert, Lindy Infante, Dom Capers, Pete Carroll (the first time), Ray Rhodes (in Philadelphia), Mike Holmgren (in Green Bay) and Dick Vermeil.

Great crop.

The restricted market could be more interesting, but even then, it's tough to justify parting with first- or second-round choices for players seeking lucrative long-term contracts.

Gore, Coffee and running in place

September, 30, 2009
9/30/09
5:45
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Player Plays for 0 or loss Pct.
Glen Coffee 14 40.0
Chris Johnson 21 39.6
Derrick Ward 9 34.6
Donald Brown 10 34.5
Willie Parker 16 30.8
Larry Johnson 16 30.8
Steve Slaton 11 28.9
Frank Gore 11 28.2
DeAngelo Williams 11 26.8
Matt Forte 15 25.4
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers' commitment to running the football has allowed opponents to gang up against Frank Gore and Glen Coffee.

I think that helps explain why Gore and Coffee have combined for 25 plays that gained no yards or lost yardage. The totals reflect rushes and receptions.

A few notes on those plays, based on information in my play-by-play spreadsheet:
  • All 25 of the 49ers' plays were running plays.
  • The plays were distributed fairly evenly across quarters, not just when the 49ers were trying to run time off the clock late in games.
  • The plays transcended typical early-down personnel groups.
  • Ten were on first down, 11 on second down and four on third down.
  • The 49ers needed an average of 7.88 yards for a first down on these plays.
  • Nine of these plays were against the Cardinals, six against the Seahawks and 10 against the Vikings.

There wasn't any obvious mitigating factor, in other words.

Related: This chart's original advocate, Paul Kuharsky, advances the subject on his AFC South blog. Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for providing the data.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

DeAngelo Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson, Willie Parker, Warrick Dunn, LenDale White and Dominic Rhodes combined for 1,313 carries without a fumble last season.

Pretty impressive.

NFC West running backs Julius Jones, Frank Gore and Steven Jackson fumbled 15 times in 651 carries.

Not as impressive.

Jones, Gore and Jackson ranked among the seven worst in the league for fumbles per rushing attempt (among players with more than 150 carries).

Something to keep in mind this season.

The Cardinals' Tim Hightower fumbled once in 143 attempts last season. Among runners with at least 100 carries, the Bengals' Chris Perry had the worst rate by far, fumbling five times in 104 attempts, or 4.8 percent of the time.

2008 Ranking NFL Running Back Team Attempts Fumbles Fumble Rate
1
Larry Johnson
KC 193 5 2.59%
2
Julius Jones
SEA 158 4 2.53%
3
Frank Gore
SF 240 6 2.50%
4
Ricky Williams
MIA 160 4 2.50%
5
Adrian Peterson
MIN 363 9 2.48%
6
Maurice Jones-Drew
JAC 197 4 2.03%
7
Steven Jackson
STL 253 5 1.98%
8
Justin Fargas
OAK 218 3 1.38%
9
Brandon Jacobs
NYG 219 3 1.37%
10
Le'Ron McClain
BAL 232 3 1.29%
Draft Round Pick Graves' Team Running Back
College Conference
2000 1 7
Cardinals Thomas Jones
Virginia
ACC
1995
1 21 Bears Rashaan Salaam
Colorado Big 12
2005
2 44 Cardinals J.J. Arrington
Cal Pac-10
1998
4 95 Cardinals Michael Pittman
Fresno St.
WAC
1994
4 114 Bears Raymont Harris
Ohio St.
Big Ten
2008
5 149 Cardinals Tim Hightower
Richmond CAA [I-AA]
1997
6 175 Cardinals Rod Brown
N.C. St.
ACC
2002
6 185 Cardinals Josh Scobey
Kansas St.
Big 12
1996
7 253 Bears
Michael Hicks S.C. St.
MEAC [I-AA]
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals would like to find a potentially dynamic running back in the upcoming draft, as we have discussed.

Their general manager, Rod Graves, will guide decisions on the matter with input from college scouting director Steve Keim, head coach Ken Whisenhunt and presumably others in the organization.

For perspective on decisions the team might make in the 2009 draft, I've singled out the halfbacks Graves' teams have drafted since 1993, when Graves was with the Bears. His teams also drafted fullbacks Joel Makovicka, Dennis McKinley and Ron Janes, but halfback is the position we'll consider for this exercise.

None of the players listed in the chart became long-terms starters for Graves' teams. Raymont Harris started most of three seasons for the Bears.

With that in mind, I checked the Steelers' drafting history at running back during the years Whisenhunt was an assistant for them.

Willie Parker was undrafted. Jerome Bettis entered the NFL with the Rams. The Steelers did not draft a running back before the fifth round (166th overall) while Whisenhunt was with the team from 2001 to 2006. The team did draft fifth-rounder Verron Haynes and seventh-rounders J.T. Wall, Noah Herron and Cedric Humes.

Perhaps the Cardinals and Whisenhunt can start a new tradition drafting for the positon in Arizona. Tim Hightower showed some promise as a rookie in 2008, but not enough to keep the starting job.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic expects Kurt Warner to re-sign with the Cardinals in the next two or three weeks. McManaman: "That was the word circulating through the Warner camp before and following the Cardinals' 27-23 loss to the Steelers in Tampa. And unless management completely drops the ball and short-changes the quarterback at the negotiating table, it's appears to be a done deal."

Also from McManaman: a quick look at questionable calls in the Super Bowl. Aaron Francisco calls out the Steelers' James Harrison.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt was "humbled" and "stunned" to receive a phone call from the president following Super Bowl XLIII.

Also from Somers: The Cardinals are five weeks behind most teams as they finally dive into offseason preparations.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals said their goodbyes Tuesday, knowing some players would not be back.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says Whisenhunt appeared "bewildered" by the number of penalties called against the Cardinals in the Super Bowl.

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 looks at what the Cardinals' Super Bowl appearance might mean to the team in the future. Seven of the last eight Super Bowl losers missed the playoffs the following season.

Niners tackle Joe Staley blogs about his Super Bowl experience. Watching other teams play made him feel sick, or was it the annoying fan seated behind him? Staley's immediate plans include visiting family in Pennsylvania and hanging out with quarterback Shaun Hill in Missouri. It's a good sign when an offensive lineman chooses to hang out with a quarterback.

Kris Anderson of 49ers.com profiles linebacker Patrick Willis.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat takes a look at free-agent situations around the NFC West. He considers retirement "highly unlikely" for Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner.

Also from Maiocco: a look at how the 49ers contained Larry Fitzgerald during the regular season. The Cardinals were a running team when they visited San Francisco in the opener. And then I thought Nate Clements played well during the rematch in Arizona.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at whether the 49ers will split carries between backs or rely almost exclusively on Frank Gore.

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News contrasts the 49ers and Steelers in showing how Pittsburgh has built a consistent winner. Brown: "So how does Pittsburgh do it? Their transactions in 2004 certainly helped. That off-season, Pittsburgh drafted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first round (11th overall), and quietly landed linebacker James Harrison (free agent) and running back Willie Parker (free agent). That same year, the 49ers' drafted Rashaun Woods."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com suggests the Rams can improve if Steve Spagnuolo can restore their attitudes. Linebacker Chris Draft: "I'm definitely excited. Not just what he's done with the defense in New York, but he is going to come with a swagger. His guys have been playing well, have been playing with passion, playing with physical presence these last few years. That's what we need. We need to have a swagger to us."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams need at least two new starters on their offensive line. Thomas: "To me, the Rams need a new starting center and a new starting tackle at a minimum for the line next season. I don't know if you saw the stat during the Super Bowl, but Bulger has been sacked something like 190 times over the past five seasons, the second-highest total in the league over that period. So it starts there."

Greg Johns of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer summarizes Greg Knapp's comments following Knapp's first interview as the Seahawks' offensive coordinator. Knapp: "One of the strengths of the zone run game is that its history has proven, as the parts have changed -- whether the runner or linemen -- it's still been pretty productive. There's so much turnover now with free agency and coaches, this is a system that maybe lends better to that environment. It provides a quicker learning curve to get on target to have success."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times traces Knapp's NFL roots to his days as camp quarterback for the 49ers and Chiefs.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks will need more than an altered scheme to revive their offense in 2009.

John Morgan of Field Gulls says Florida State's Everette Brown is on his radar as a potential Seahawks draft choice.

Silver linings: Cardinals vs. Steelers

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
9:09
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The facts: The Cardinals suffered a 27-23 defeat to the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII at Raymond James Stadium.

The upside: Even the most difficult defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two, and this one had plenty for Arizona.

  • Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald enhanced their playoff credentials with memorable performances. Warner completed 72 percent of his passes for 377 yards with three touchdowns and a 112.3 rating. He owns the three highest single-game totals for passing yards in Super Bowl history. Fitzgerald set a postseason record for receptions (30), receiving yards (546) and receiving touchdowns (seven).
  • The coaching staff can use the team's performance as a reference point in recommitting to an emphasis on details. As hard as the Cardinals played and as well as they played at times, their own errors proved costly. Coach Ken Whisenhunt can use that realization as a starting point for next season.
  • The heart defensive lineman Darnell Dockett showed late in the game gave him additional credibility as an emotional leader on defense. He was terrific.
  • Steve Breaston's 34-yard punt return provided favorable field position in the second quarter.
  • The Cardinals' defensive linemen continued to get their hands on the ball near the line of scrimmage, setting up an interception at one point.
  • Arizona held the Steelers' Willie Parker to 2.8 yards per carry even though Parker broke one of his 19 attempts for a 15-yard gain.
  • The Cardinals finished with 407 total yards and a 7.1-yard average per play, easily better than anyone had fared against the Steelers' top-ranked defense this season. Pittsburgh allowed more than 300 yards once during the regular season. The Steelers had allowed more than 4.4 yards per play once, and never more than 5.3.
Looking ahead: The Cardinals hold the 31st overall choice in the 2009 NFL draft.

Photoblog: Steelers' Parker gets going

February, 1, 2009
2/01/09
6:59
PM ET

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Steelers running back Willie Parker gets chased out of bounds after a 9-yard gain on Pittsburgh's first drive of the game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Thanks to those who dropped by our weekly NFC West chat. A sampling:

Ernie (Portales, NM): Hey Mike, What do you think the chances of the Cardinals Defense have on slowing down Willie Parker?

Mike Sando: Pretty good. Arizona has played very good run defense most of the time. Adrian Peterson had his way, but other strong running teams, including the Giants, didn't find much room on the ground against the Cardinals.

Ted (SF): Hi Mike, I am a little worried about the Niners and their OC situation. I want some continuity, but not if that means mediocrity. What can we hope for? Thanks for your blogs!

Mike Sando: The 49ers have apparently overestimated how attractive others would view their situation. I think you should be concerned at this point. Firing Mike Martz made sense for obvious reasons, but if you're going to get rid of someone, you'd better have a superior alternative. The 49ers did not have a superior alternative lined up. They can still hire a good coach, but so far, not so good.

Mike (Avondale, AZ): In your opinion, is Boldin gone after this season regardless of the outcome of the Super Bowl?

Mike Sando: No, but I would put the percentage higher now than I would have six weeks ago. Injuries have slowed Boldin. Larry Fitzgerald has become even more dominant. The sideline incident will linger in terms of how Boldin is perceived, fairly or not. And then the overall team success allows the Cardinals to operate from a position of strength in that the organization is definitely bigger than any one player.

patrick (STL): Mike- what are you hearing about "spags" as Rams head coach and the newly appointed OC/DC in Shurmer-Flajole

Mike Sando: The first impression on Spagnuolo was positive. I do wonder if he's banking too heavily on inexperienced people in key positions. This is something I addressed on the blog this morning. The Rams now have a first-time head coach with first-time coordinators on both sides of the ball.

Keith (IOWA): What is your prediction for the Super Bowl?

Mike Sando: I'll make an official prediction as part of our predictions package. That is scheduled for next week. As noted, I'll have fun with it and I'll strongly consider picking Arizona.

The full transcript is available here for those who missed the chat and those seeking to relive the magic.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams allowed 340 yards rushing to the Titans during both teams' exhibition opener tonight. I won't see this one until Sunday, when it's available on NFL Network, but this level of violence might not be appropriate for the kids. Rams quarterback Marc Bulger completed 3 of 9 passes with an interception, good for a 3.7 passer rating.

Exhibition games can be meaningless depending on how teams approach them. The Titans are a hard-nosed, physical team. They pound away in the ground game. Their offensive line is extremely well coached. The Rams lack depth at linebacker. I wouldn't read too much into any exhibition game, but watching the replay should help figure out what happened.

The Titans won, 34-13, but the score was closer (20-13) at halftime. The Titans did rush for 157 yards in the first half. Justin King and Brandon Gorin suffered injuries for the Rams, according to the Associated Press. The Rams' starting offense has now gone nine consecutive exhibition games without scoring a touchdown, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes.

Now, on to the rest of the division tonight.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee shares observations on the 49ers' exhibition opener after watching a replay of the game. Among the topics: Alex Smith's touch (or lack thereof), the soft middle of the 49ers' defensive line, Dontarrious Thomas' move to "Mike" linebacker, Larry Grant's progress at "Ted" linebacker, Vernon Davis' non-effort on a fumble recovery and unexpected problems on special teams.

Daniel Brown of 49ers Hot Read says the 49ers' Justin Smith might have helped teammate Ray McDonald sack the quarterback Friday night, among other notes.

Matt Maiocco of Instant 49ers says it's not unusual for quarterbacks to struggle during the exhibition season while learning Mike Martz's offense. He points to Jon Kitna's subpar stats in the fake games when Martz was the Lions' new coordinator. Also: Jay Moore, on the bubble for a linebacker spot, made plays but was inconsistent against the Raiders. Quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan delivered the ball on time. Damane Duckett's knee injury could be serious. Duckett has practice-squad eligibility. He was also probably fighting for the last spot on the offensive line.

Maiocco is also presumably OK with the 80-man roster limit. Otherwise he might still be writing about how every player on the team fared against the Raiders. Matt could save time in the future by looking over the shoulders of pro scouts in attendance. Check that. Pro scouts could save time by looking over Matt's shoulder. Great work here.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation breaks down each of 49ers receiver Josh Morgan's receptions against the Raiders. Maiocco called Morgan the most impressive rookie receiver in a 49ers camp since Terrell Owens in 1996.

Frank Hughes of Seahawks Insider singles out five Seattle players who "hurt themselves" with their performances in the exhibition opener at Minnesota: running back T.J. Duckett, cornerback Josh Wilson, cornerback Marcus Trufant, running back Julius Jones and defensive end Darryl Tapp.

Hughes' list of players who helped themselves: linebacker David Hawthorne, running back Justin Forsett, defensive tackle Howard Green, running back Maurice Morris, center Steve Vallos, receiver Michael Bumpus, safety Jamar Adams, kicker Brandon Coutu and punter Reggie Hodges. I can add a couple: fullbacks Leonard Weaver and Owen Schmitt. Weaver has been a new player all camp. Schmitt emerged in the game.

Hughes also asks readers what they thought about Kevin Calabro's performance as play-by-play man on the Seahawks broadcast. Calabro was longtime voice of the NBA's Sonics. I watched his Seahawks debut and thought he was very well prepared. Calabro set a high standard for NBA broadcasts and it was clear he wanted to maintain that standard here.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic explains why rookie running back Tim Hightower might be ready to help the offense right away. Edgerrin James is the starter, but Hightower has shown well enough for the Cardinals to release veteran Marcel Shipp. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, formerly of the Steelers, had this to say about Hightower: "He doesn't have quite the speed of a Willie Parker but he reminds me a little bit of Jerome (Bettis) in the way he can see the holes and the way he picks his feet up in the holes. He's a different player. He's got a different skill set, but it was good to see him do some things in live game action at this level."

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