NFC West: Deon Butler

Snap judgments: Seahawks' mindset

June, 18, 2013

Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider made headlines in 2010 for their willingness to constantly churn the Seattle Seahawks' roster. Three years later, they've built the roster to a point where player retention has become a bigger focus.

As the chart below shows, Seattle has on its 90-man roster players responsible for logging 87.4 percent of offensive and defensive snaps last season. That is the highest percentage in the division.

The chart at right shows the 2012 contributors no longer on the roster. Note that tight end Anthony McCoy landed on injured reserve after suffering a torn Achilles' tendon during organized team activities.

Seattle moved on from defensive tackle Alan Branch, defensive lineman Jason Jones, linebacker Leroy Hill and cornerback Marcus Trufant after those players played fairly meaningful roles in 2012. The draft brought defensive tackles Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams. Free-agent addition Cliff Avril will affect the rotation at linebacker, where Hill's production had waned. Antoine Winfield replaced Trufant as Seattle sought to upgrade its nickel corner position.

Note: The percentages at defensive back changed slightly for Seattle since Monday when I included the 122 snaps safety Jeron Johnson played. I had accidentally excluded his snaps from consideration.
Aaron Curry's recent signing with the New York Giants invites a look back at the 2009 NFC West draft class, painful as it might be in some cases.

Four of the 29 players NFC West teams selected in that draft remain with their original teams: Michael Crabtree in San Francisco, James Laurinaitis in St. Louis, Max Unger in Seattle and Rashad Johnson in Arizona.

Unger is the only one of the 29 to earn Pro Bowl honors. Unger and Laurinaitis are the only ones to receive long-term contract extensions from their original teams.

NFC West teams have fired the head coaches and general managers associated with those 2009 selections.

Reasons for those firings went far beyond the 2009 draft, of course. Still, the massive turnover since that draft reflects poorly on what was, by most accounts, a weak class across the league. It also shows how frequently personnel turns over in the NFL. The league has 21 new head coaches and 19 new general managers since the 2009 season concluded.

Curry was widely considered the "safest" choice in that 2009 draft as a fearsome linebacker from Wake Forest. Seattle would trade him to Oakland for seventh- and fifth-round picks before Curry had finished his third season.

Jason Smith, chosen second overall by St. Louis in 2009, supposedly had a mean streak and was a natural leader. The Rams would trade him to the New York Jets for Wayne Hunter after three disappointing seasons.

Beanie Wells came to the Cardinals in the first round of that 2009 draft pretty much as advertised: highly talented, but not very durable. The Cardinals released him this offseason, and Wells remains unsigned amid questions about his knee.

2009 was also the year Arizona sought to upgrade its pass-rush by selecting Cody Brown in the second round. The 49ers tried to improve their depth at running back by using a third-round choice for Glen Coffee. Brown would never play in an NFL game. Coffee would retire after one season.

The chart shows how many regular-season NFL starts each 2009 NFC West draft choice has made, regardless of team.

2012 NFC West practice squad eligibility

September, 1, 2012
NFL teams can begin forming practice squads once eligible players clear waivers Saturday.

A look at which players released by NFC West teams have eligibility:

Arizona Cardinals

Eligible: Crezdon Butler, Antonio Coleman, Blake Gideon, Ricky Lumpkin, Colin Parker, Larry Parker, Steve Skelton, Quan Sturdivant, Everrette Thompson, Martell Webb, Scott Wedige, Brandon Williams, Isaiah Williams, D.J. Williams.

Not eligible: DeMarco Sampson, Alfonso Smith, Ronald Talley, Stephen Williams, Clark Haggans, Russ Hochstein

St. Louis Rams

Eligible: Cornell Banks, Tim Barnes, Tom Brandstater, Mason Brodine, Aaron Brown, Sammy Brown, Kendric Burney, Ben Guidugli, Cory Harkey, T-Bob Hebert, Jamaar Jarrett, Nick Johnson, Joe Long, Deangelo Peterson, Chase Reynolds, Scott Smith

Not eligible: Vernon Gholston, Bryan Mattison, Jose Valdez, Kellen Clemens, Ovie Mughelli

San Francisco 49ers

Eligible: Derek Hall, Joe Holland, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Cam Johnson, Matthew Masifilo, Anthony Mosley, Kyle Nelson, Al Netter, Chris Owusu, Nathan Palmer, Mike Person, Konrad Reuland, Kenny Rowe, Michael Thomas, Kenny Wiggins, Michael Wilhoite

Not eligible: Eric Bakhtiari, Ikaika Alama-Francis, Rock Cartwright, Josh Johnson, Brett Swain

Seattle Seahawks

Eligible: Pierre Allen, Allen Bradford, Kris Durham, Cooper Helfet, Rishaw Johnson, Jermaine Kearse, Kyle Knox, Cordarro Law, Pep Levingston, Ricardo Lockette, Sean McGrath, Kris O'Dowd, Josh Portis, DeShawn Shead, Vai Taua, Korey Toomer, Lavasier Tuinei

Not eligible: Phillip Adams, Deon Butler, Paul Fanaika

Note on eligibility

Straight from the collective bargaining agreement:
"The Practice Squad shall consist of the following players, provided that they have not served more than two previous seasons on a Practice Squad:
  • "players who do not have an Accrued Season of NFL experience;
  • "free agent players who were on the Active List for fewer than nine regular season games during their only Accrued Season(s).

"An otherwise eligible player may be a Practice Squad player for a third season only if the Club by which he is employed that season has at least 53 players on its Active/Inactive List during the entire period of his employment.

"A player shall be deemed to have served on a Practice Squad in a season if he has passed the club's physical and been a member of the club's Practice Squad for at least three regular season or postseason games during his first two Practice Squad seasons, and for at least one regular season or postseason game during his third Practice Squad season.

"(For purposes of this Section, a bye week counts as a game provided that the player is not terminated until after the regular season or postseason weekend in question.)"

Seattle Seahawks cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
Click here for the complete list of Seattle Seahawks' roster moves.

Most significant move. The Seattle Seahawks emerged from last season with high hopes for Josh Portis as a developmental quarterback. The arrival of Matt Flynn in free agency and new starter Russell Wilson through the draft left Portis on the outside. The Seahawks released him, leaving Wilson and Flynn as the only quarterbacks on the initial 53-man roster.

Some teams with rookie starters brace themselves for what they know will be a long season. The Seahawks think Wilson upgrades the position immediately. They appear unworried by rookie walls and all the other ominous metaphors that typically pop up with inexperienced players behind center. The team could always consider adding a third quarterback in the future, but the value wasn't there given what Seattle thinks about its top two quarterbacks.

Onward and upward: Portis, cornerback Phillip Adams, guard Rishaw Johnson, linebacker Korey Toomer and defensive tackle Pep Levingston (injury settlement) have all shown positive signs. Toomer in particular appears to have practice-squad potential, at least.

The cut list also included Pierre Allen, Cordarro Law, Allen Bradford, Paul Fanaika, Jermaine Kearse, Kyle Knox, Sean McGrath, DeShawn Shead, Lavasier Tuinei, Cooper Helfet (injured) and Vai Taua (injured).

Receivers Deon Butler and Kris Durham lost out as former mid-round draft choices. They remain young and could carry appeal, as could speed receiver Ricardo Lockette. But with veteran Braylon Edwards playing well enough to earn a roster spot comfortably, there were fewer spots for less-proven prospects at the position.

Note that the unspectacular but steady Ben Obomanu stuck on the roster, at least for now. Seattle hasn't fared as well upgrading depth at receiver as it has at other positions. Obomanu's continued annual presence as a 2006 seventh-round choice reflects that, in my view.

What's next: The Seahawks could use depth at linebacker, one reason I was a little surprised to see the team release Toomer, a rookie fifth-round choice with speed. Another linebacker, Matt McCoy, landed on injured reserve.

Seattle also could consider pursuing a slot receiver as insurance against lingering injury concerns for Doug Baldwin.

It's looking like running back Marshawn Lynch will avoid, for now, a suspension stemming from his DUI arrest earlier this offseason. That was a potential concern, mitigated some by rookie Robert Turbin's emergence.

While cornerback Walter Thurmond went on the reserve/physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list, offensive lineman James Carpenter did not. With Carpenter available early in the year, the Seahawks appear relatively set on their offensive line. Rookie J.R. Sweezy's emergence as the potential starting right guard was another factor there, even with guard Allen Barbre going on the reserve/suspended list.

Three things: Raiders-Seahawks

August, 30, 2012
Three things to watch for Thursday night in the Seattle Seahawks' final exhibition game, this one at home against Oakland (10 p.m. ET):

1. The feel on Flynn. Russell Wilson is the starting quarterback in Seattle. How will Matt Flynn respond after losing the competition? A sore elbow prevented Flynn from playing in the team's most recent game. I'll be interested in whether he appears healthy and comfortable heading into the season.

2. Irvin's impact. A rookie situational pass-rusher from the NFC West broke out with a 2.5-sack game in the exhibition finale one year ago, a sign of life before he set a franchise record with 14 sacks. That was Aldon Smith in San Francisco. Seattle's Bruce Irvin is the rookie situational rusher from the NFC West looking to make an impact this year. He has zero tackles or sacks during three preseason games. Will that change?

3. Receiver mix. The Seahawks will likely keep five or six wide receivers on their initial 53-man roster. There's competition for the last couple spots. Braylon Edwards appears to have secured one, but another positive showing wouldn't hurt. Charly Martin, Deon Butler, Kris Durham and Ricardo Lockette are among the receivers I'm interested in monitoring.

Around the NFC West: Boost for 49ers

August, 21, 2012
Getting Aldon Smith back on the practice field nearly three weeks before the regular-season opener counts as a very encouraging development for the San Francisco 49ers.

Smith, coming off a 14-sack rookie season, has been sidelined since suffering a bruised hip against Minnesota in the 49ers' exhibition opener. Having proven himself as a pure pass-rusher, Smith has been working to develop as an every-down outside linebacker. He cannot do that from the sideline, of course.

The 49ers figure to need Smith at full health against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay in Week 1.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says it was unclear whether Smith participated fully in practice. The 49ers, having broken camp, have curtailed media access to the opening of practice, when players are mostly warming up. Barrows: "Smith, who suffered a hip pointer Aug. 10, appeared to be moving a bit more slowly than his teammates and he may not go through a full practice."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says a veteran sportscaster hired to cover the 49ers, among other duties, counts coach Jim Harbaugh among his friends since childhood. Dave Feldman, formerly of ESPN, joins Harbaugh in recounting a hilarious story from their youth, one in which Harbaugh's high school basketball team nearly brawled with fans of the other team.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says 49ers running back Kendall Hunter might appear more explosive as a runner this season, according to one of Hunter's former coaches.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says there were "multiple indications" Russell Wilson would get the start against Kansas City on Friday night. O'Neil: "This would undoubtedly inspire some hand wringing over taking practice time and first-unit repetitions away from Matt Flynn if he does in fact wind up the opening-day starter, but there's a couple of things to keep in mind in that regard: Flynn played the entire first half of each of the first two exhibition games, which is more than a starter typically does. Giving Wilson a chance with the first-unit offense this week might not be anything more than that: a chance." Noted: Coach Pete Carroll is obviously more interested in charting a course for the long term than making sure a certain quarterback gets as many snaps as possible before the regular-season opener. That is a reasonable approach under the circumstances, in my view.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times shares remembrances of George Hickman, a fixture in the Seahawks' and University of Washington pressboxes, and a man with a remarkable story. Hickman died over the weekend at age 88. He'll be missed.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune sizes up Deon Butler's prospects at receiver for Seattle.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with Cardinals tackle D.J. Young, a former practice-squad player with a chance to figure into the rotation now that an injury has felled Levi Brown. Somers: "Young is accustomed to proving himself. He transferred from Bowling Green to a junior college and then to Michigan State, where he wasn't on scholarship his first season. That changed after he started 11 games at right tackle as a junior. Young paid his own bills that year and is still paying off his student loans."

Also from Somers: Expect the Cardinals' starters to play extensively Thursday at Tennessee.

Josh Weinfuss of says cornerback Greg Toler is struggling with knee issues.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains why the Rams are going for it on fourth down regularly during the exhibition season. Coach Jeff Fisher: "Well, I know both kickers can kick 20-yard field goals, 30-yard field goals. In the preseason, why not try to make plays on offense? So that's basically it. Obviously the philosophy changes during the regular season."

Jesse Bogan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the St. Louis stadium authority has made another stadium proposal, but the Rams aren't saying anything until the arbitration process runs its course.

Nick Wagoner of updates Steve Smith's health. So far, so good. Fisher: "Oh gosh, when he was healthy in New York, he went to the Pro Bowl. It’s a matter of us creating opportunities for him to get open. He understands the offense. He is a veteran receiver; he understands defenses and concepts so there is a lot ahead of him this year. We expect him to stay healthy."

Three things: Titans-Seahawks

August, 11, 2012
Three things to watch for Saturday in the Seattle Seahawks' preseason opener at home against the Tennessee Titans at 10 p.m. ET:

1. QB competition. Matt Flynn has benefited from the Seahawks' decision to give him additional reps as the starter for at least this week. He's gotten sharper in practice and has an opportunity to improve his chances at becoming the starter for the regular season. It's a bonus if Flynn gets to work in two-minute situations. That was one area where Seattle struggled with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback in 2011. Jackson had no touchdowns, six interceptions and nine sacks in the final two minutes of halves. Will the offense look better with Flynn in those situations? Rookie Russell Wilson is scheduled to play the second half. That means he'll also have an extended opportunity to prove himself as a potential starter.

2. Three rookie draft choices. Defensive end Bruce Irvin (first round), middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and running back Robert Turbin (fourth round) are the ones I'm most interested in watching. Irvin has been too fast for the offensive linemen trying to block him in practice. He has also shown better strength than might have been anticipated. It's an upset if he doesn't get pressure, based on what he's shown in camp. Wagner is the favorite to start at middle linebacker. Speed and strong hands made him appealing to Seattle in the draft. Fullback Michael Robinson compared Wagner's speed to what he saw from Patrick Willis, his former teammate in San Francisco. On offense, Turbin figures to get chances with the first-team offense while Seattle rests starter Marshawn Lynch. Turbin has made a positive impression in camp. We should watch to see if he runs with power. The Seahawks wanted a backup runner with qualities somewhat similar to those Lynch possesses. They figured that would allow them to run their preferred offense even if Lynch were unavailable.

3. Receiver mix. Terrell Owens, Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin and Ricardo Lockette are not expected to play in this game. That opens the door for Golden Tate, Braylon Edwards, Ben Obomanu and Kris Durham in particular to show the Seahawks can count on them. Durham has struggled to this point in camp. He likely needs to fare better during the exhibition games to secure a roster spot. Tate had drawn high praise from coach Pete Carroll. Will it carry over? Edwards came on strong once Owens' arrival ramped up competition for what figures to be one roster spot between the two of them. Other receivers: Deon Butler, Phil Bates, Lavasier Tuinei, Charly Martin and Jermaine Kearse. Bates has impressed as an undrafted rookie. He is 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds.

2012 NFL Draft Machine: WRs catch on

March, 31, 2012
The recently activated 2012 NFL Draft Machine lets us quickly play around with various mock scenarios.

The other eight divisional bloggers and I are working on one for publication Monday.

I'm picking for the NFC West teams and couldn't help but notice how frequently wide receiver factored into the decision making for the St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers in particular.

Justin Blackmon was an obvious consideration for the Rams at No. 6. Michael Floyd entered into consideration for the Cardinals at No. 13. The 49ers do not pick until No. 30, making it less clear which wideouts might be available.

The chart shows current wide receivers for NFC West teams. The Rams' Danny Amendola is a restricted free agent. The others are signed and active.

Enjoy the draft machine. I'll break out my thoughts on NFC West possibilities when our mock runs Monday.

Seahawks' Hawthorne active despite knee

December, 1, 2011
SEATTLE -- The Seattle Seahawks will have middle linebacker David Hawthorne and cornerback Richard Sherman for their game against Philadelphia on Thursday night. Both players are active after missing practice time with injuries.

Inactive for Seattle: quarterback Josh Portis, safety Jeron Johnson, cornerback Byron Maxwell, linebacker Adrian Moten, tackle Jarriel King, tackle Allen Barbre and defensive lineman Pep Levingston.

Inactive for Philadelphia: quarterback Michael Vick, receiver Jeremy Maclin, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, tackle King Dunlap, guard Julian Vandervelde, defensive end Phillip Hunt and the recently signed Greg Lloyd.

Seattle has five wide receivers active despite placing Sidney Rice on injured reserve. Deon Butler, who suffered a career-threatening leg injury at San Francisco last season, is active for the first time this season.

Hawthorne's mobility will be a subject of interest in this game. Knee problems have bothered him at times during the season, including last week. The shortened week of recovery time could work against him.

NFC West injury situations that matter

November, 30, 2011
Arizona: Quarterback Kevin Kolb took all the first-team reps in practice Wednesday for the first time since suffering toe/foot injuries against Baltimore one month ago. That puts Kolb on course to start against Dallas. Running back Beanie Wells was limited, but his 27-carry, 228-yard performance against Arizona suggests his knee injury is no longer holding him back much. And with fullback Anthony Sherman also healthy, the Cardinals' offensive backfield finally appears whole. That gives the team a chance to more accurately evaluate its offense over the final five games of the season. Hamstring trouble continues to limit tight end Todd Heap, but rookie Rob Housler practicing fully. Tight end Jeff King has become a preferred outlet against pressure for Arizona quarterbacks.

St. Louis: The team limited quarterback Sam Bradford in practice as a precaution after Bradford aggravated his ankle injury against Arizona. Bradford remains the expected starter against San Francisco, but with both starting tackles out for the season, his well-being is a concern Sunday. Adam Goldberg is expected to make his second consecutive start at left tackle. He struggled against Arizona's Sam Acho last week. The challenge grows against the 49ers' Justin Smith and Aldon Smith. On defense, Rams safety Darian Stewart remains sidelined by a concussion. He has been a willing hitter and an occasional playmaker. The Rams would miss him.

San Francisco: The 49ers are expected to have fullback Bruce Miller back from a concussion this week. The team missed Miller against Baltimore. Getting Miller back could help the running game and the offense overall. However, the 49ers could remain without starting right guard Adam Snyder, who is recovering from a hamstring injury. Snyder has been a stabilizing force on the right side of the line. The 49ers might be wise to rest him, in my view. The same goes for receiver Braylon Edwards, whose play has suffered from injuries to his knee and shoulder.

Seattle: Sidney Rice's placement on injured reserve with a concussion hurts the offense. Mike Williams, Golden Tate, Deon Butler and Ben Obomanu figure to get more playing time. The team needs to find out more about Tate and Butler in particular. That should happen over the final five games. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has practiced this week despite the pectoral injury that has affected his play in recent weeks. Defensive tackle Alan Branch has returned to practice this week. The Seahawks' run defense missed him against Washington.

NFC West running out of cornerbacks

November, 14, 2011
Another week, another cornerback injury for the St. Louis Rams.

Al Harris' season-ending knee injury, confirmed Monday by coach Steve Spagnuolo, leaves Josh Gordy, Justin King, Marquis Johnson and Rod Hood as the available corners. King suffered a head injury Sunday, but not necessarily a concussion. That was the word from Spagnuolo, who said King was symptom-free by Monday.

The Rams have another corner, Nate Ness, on their practice squad.

Starters Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher are on injured reserve. Jerome Murphy, the projected third corner, is also on IR, as is another replacement corner, Brian Jackson.

Yet another replacement at the position, Tim Atchison, was lost to injury and reached an injury settlement, making him free to sign with any team once he's healthy.

The Rams' depleted secondary heads into Week 11 against a Seattle Seahawks receiving corps with its own injury issues. Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin suffered concussions Sunday. But with Mike Williams back from injury, Golden Tate contributing Sunday, Ben Obomanu available and Deon Butler coming off the physically unable to perform list, the Seahawks can flood the field with more NFL-caliber receivers than the Rams can defend with NFL-caliber corners.

It's been a rough season for NFC West corners in general. The chart breaks down which ones have been lost for the season.

Around the NFC West: Rams' line blunders

November, 10, 2011
Bernie Miklasz, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist, called it back in September, predicting injury for Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.

"It's just a matter of time before he officially becomes a victim of what could be the most overpaid, underachieving NFL offensive line that I've seen in more than 30 years of covering the league," Miklasz wrote.

And that was after the team had sought and secured a pay reduction from left guard Jacob Bell, whose free-agent signing in 2008 stood as the first huge step in an effort to upgrade the line. The Rams waited until November before making another move signaling their dissatisfaction.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says center Jason Brown, a big-money signing in free agency during the 2009 offseason, has lost his starting job to journeyman Tony Wragge. Noted: This is a significant move for the Rams and one that illustrates the team's struggles in identifying talent for the line. I had noticed and written about Brown's struggles a couple weeks ago. The team also used the second choice of the 2009 draft for Jason Smith. Smith was supposed to provide toughness and leadership as a mainstay left tackle. He has instead been an inconsistent presence at right tackle, currently sidelined by injury. The Rams fared better in using a 2010 second-round choice for Rodger Saffold, their current starting left tackle. But they returned to the free-agent market this past offseason, signing right guard Harvey Dahl in part because 2008 third-round pick John Greco never met expectations and was eventually traded. It's now looking as though the team could have new starters at left guard, center and right tackle next season. When the Rams signed Brown in 2009, general manager Billy Devaney explained the move by saying, "We stressed even during the season about getting bigger on the offensive line, more physical, and he fits everything. [Jason's] smart, big, young, and of strong character. The arrow's still going up on him -- an ascending player."

Also from Thomas: The Rams activated receiver Mark Clayton.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic revisits the Kevin Kolb trade and has a hard time picking a winner after only eight games. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie hasn't exactly lit it up in Philly. Somers: "Unlike Kolb, Rodgers-Cromartie proved he can be successful in the NFL. As a rookie in 2008, he intercepted six passes in the last nine games, including the playoffs. In 2009, he was chosen to the Pro Bowl. Since then, however, his production has declined. The Cardinals weren't eager to trade him, but with Greg Toler, A.J. Jefferson and Patrick Peterson, they thought they could afford to part with Rodgers-Cromartie." Noted: There is no winner at this early stage, but the trade favors the Eagles at present because Kolb wasn't playing for them. The 2012 second-round pick they added becomes more valuable with every Cardinals defeat. Arizona can still come out ahead if Kolb develops into a good starting quarterback.

Matt Maiocco of says the 49ers are having fun with a new play named for a Third Relief Commander at Arlington National Cemetery.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Giants quarterback Eli Manning thought he had sold Frank Gore on attending Mississippi, only to find out Gore was headed for Miami. Manning had fun with the recollection: "He committed. He committed. He had a good visit. I took care of him and he was calling me a few weeks later and making sure we were going to run the counter play. And I told him we'd run the counter play and he needed to come here. And all of a sudden it was signing day and we couldn't sign him. Miami had him hidden or something. They had a plan to keep him down there in Miami." Patrick Willis was also part of that Mississippi team.

The San Francisco Chronicle says Gore expects to play against the Giants despite an ankle injury. Gore: "I'll be all right."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune looks at the Seahawks' efforts to get bigger -- much bigger -- at cornerback under coach Pete Carroll. Richard Sherman is 6-foot-3. Brandon Browner is an inch taller. Boling: "The initial appeal of the jumbo corners was that they could create a better matchup against some of the big receivers the Seahawks face, such as Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald. The question becomes whether the tradeoff is a vulnerability to the smaller, quicker type receivers. The key against those, Sherman and Browner agreed, is to jam them at the line of scrimmage."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Zach Miller's role in pass protection has limited his contributions as a receiver. Noted: Doug Baldwin's emergence has also given the Seahawks a very good target somewhat unexpectedly.

Clare Farnsworth of checks in with newly activated receiver Deon Butler. Carroll: "Well, we’re going to work him in. We know he’s a tremendous speed player and a guy that has come through and made a lot of things happen for us last season, so we’re anxious to fit him back in. Right now, it’s still part of the process to get him situated. I’m not sure how much we can play him yet, but it’s good to get him back on the roster."

NFC West: Injury situations that matter

November, 9, 2011
Arizona: Kevin Kolb's turf-toe injury will either push John Skelton into the lineup or force Kolb to play at less than full strength. The Cardinals appear likely to go with Skelton against Philadelphia unless Kolb can practice at some point during the week. That is because Kolb is new to the Cardinals' offense and wasn't able to practice last week. "It's not like he can just pick it up and go," coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters. Kolb did not practice Wednesday. Rookie fullback Anthony Sherman continues to miss practice with an ankle injury. Running back Beanie Wells (knee) was limited. The entire starting offensive backfield is hurting, in other words, and that's a significant concern. Tight end Todd Heap's role could increase in his second game back from a hamstring injury.

St. Louis: Quarterback Sam Bradford (ankle), running back Steven Jackson (foot) and emerging safety Darian Stewart (ankle) were among the limited participants in practice Wednesday. Bradford did not practice at all last Wednesday, so his participation this week looks like progress. The Rams remain without starting right tackle Jason Smith (head). They do not seem worse for his absence, but depth on the offensive line is thinner. Depth at linebacker and defensive tackle is running a bit low. Linebacker Bryan Kehl has a high-ankle sprain. Kehl and rookie tight end Lance Kendricks (foot) did not practice.

San Francisco: Frank Gore's injured ankle was the No. 1 concern as the 49ers practiced Wednesday. Gore was in uniform and participating in individual drills, but reports suggested he was favoring the ankle. Still, his participation at all on a Wednesday suggests the injury is something Gore can manage. Defensive end Ray McDonald, sidelined by a hamstring injury last week, also took part in individual drills. Quarterback Alex Smith was fortunate to avoid injury on the big hit he took from Washington's Ryan Kerrigan last week. Consider it a reminder that Smith needs to get rid of the ball more quickly against talented pass-rushers such as Kerrigan and those on the New York Giants awaiting him Sunday.

Seattle: Receiver depth was in flux as the Seahawks practiced Wednesday. Sidney Rice, bothered by shoulder trouble early in the season and foot problems more recently, missed practice with multiple as-yet-undisclosed ailments. Mike Williams practiced despite a foot/ankle injury. Kris Durham went on injured reserve with a torn labrum. Deon Butler came off the physically unable to perform list. Doug Baldwin and Ben Obomanu provide good depth. Coach Pete Carroll was coy on Rice's ailments, but there was no reason to expect Rice to miss the game Sunday. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson continues to play through a pectoral injury that could be affecting his performance on more demanding throws. That's a concern against a Baltimore defense featuring Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and others.

Around the NFC West: On the Rams' future

November, 9, 2011
The St. Louis Rams have gone from NFC West favorites to 1-7 in less than two months.

That makes them one of the more disappointing teams in the NFL along with Philadelphia and a few others. Nothing short of a complete reversal over the remaining eight games will invite obvious questions about the team's overall direction. Even a strong finish might not justify staying the course, depending on one's viewpoint.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch touches on these and other issues during his weekly Rams chat Tuesday. He was "dumbfounded" by the team's decision to cover Larry Fitzgerald with a linebacker on a key play Sunday. He thinks Sam Bradford has regressed. And he finds it tough to defend Steve Spagnuolo's 9-31 record as head coach over the last two-plus seasons. Noted: It'll be extremely difficult to justify staying the course if the Rams' record does not improve significantly, and if the feeling after the season is that Bradford has regressed. I don't think Bradford had sufficient support early in the season. The Week 1 injury to Steven Jackson negatively affected the offense and Bradford in particular. The situation at receiver became a mess, and when the team finally did something about it, Bradford wasn't healthy enough to benefit. One so-so game back from injury isn't enough to evaluate Bradford. How the quarterback performs over the second half of the season will largely influence whether the team's current leadership gets another chance, I would think.

Also from Thomas: a look at the Rams' situation at receiver and how Mark Clayton's activation from the physically unable to perform list could change the dynamics. Thomas: "Clayton played flanker, also known as the 'Z' position, most of the time last year before his Game 5 knee injury in Detroit. But he played the slot his first two seasons in the league for Baltimore, so he could pick up some of the slack there following Greg Salas' injury."

More from Thomas: The Rams need help at linebacker and are checking out the possibilities.

Matt Maiocco of has this to say about Alex Smith during a player-by-player review of the 49ers' offense from Week 9: "He started at quarterback and played very well. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 200 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. His passer rating was 109.7. He also was sacked twice, including a devastating blind-side hit from Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan but still managed to hold onto the ball. Took big hit on first-drive sack because he tried to extend the play. Kerrigan's sack occurred 5.5 second after the snap. Smith did well just to keep from fumbling. ... There were a couple dropped passes that could've added another 40-plus yards to his numbers."

Also from Maiocco: a defensive player-by-player review. On free safety Dashon Goldson: "Started at free safety and had an interception in his second game in a row. He also had five tackles and a quarterback hurry. Came up fast from his spot to drop Helu for 2-yard gain on short pass. ... Had tremendous break on pass intended for tight end Fred Davis to make diving interception late in the first quarter near midifield."

More from Maiocco: a midseason report on the 49ers' defense. Maiocco on the defensive MVP: "Middle linebacker Patrick Willis. Again, Willis is the team's best defensive player. And as the 49ers open the second half of the season with a 7-1 record, Willis must be considered on the short list of players in serious contention for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Willis and NaVorro Bowman have formed a sideline-to-sideline tackling duo unmatched in the NFL. Willis was outstanding in pass coverage, too. He also forced three fumbles and recovered two in the first eight games."

More yet from Maiocco: a midseason report on the 49ers' offense. Looking ahead: "The focus of the offense will always be Gore and the run game. But the 49ers must also find a way to get big-chunk plays in the passing game from Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards. The 49ers do not have to open up the offense and change their philosophy in the second half of the season. But they need to take advantage of their big-play chances while also being more consistent on third downs. The 49ers rank 26th in the league, converting just 31.1 percent their third-down chances."

One more from Maiocco: a midseason report on the 49ers' special teams.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has this to say about 49ers rookie Aldon Smith during a defensive player-by-player report: "Smith should be listed as a defensive end as that has been his primary position this year. He enters the game in third-down packages and has rarely been inserted at outside linebacker. In today's NFL, a players who goes in solely on passing downs sometimes ends up playing more than the starter, especially when the 49ers get out to leads in games. Smith has made the most of his snaps. He leads the team with 6.5 sacks and is candidate for defensive rookie of the year. Sunday's game was the first since Week 4 that Smith did not have a sack. 13 tackles, 6.5 sacks.

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News explains why Gore is so close to passing Joe Perry on the 49ers' career rushing list.

Clare Farnsworth of hands out midseason awards and honors Chris Clemons as Seattle's best player. The best addition in free agency? Farnsworth: "Alan Branch. The big signings after the lockout-eliminated offseason were Sidney Rice, Zach Miller, left guard Robert Gallery and QB Tarvaris Jackson. But the best of this class has been Branch, the former Arizona Cardinal who has settled in and exceled at the three-technique tackle spot in the Seahawks’ 13th-ranked run defense. How good has Branch been? Pro Football Focus has him ranked as the best D-tackle in the league."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers thoughts on Deon Butler's activation from the PUP list. O'Neil: "Butler's lower right leg was broken in two places last December in San Francisco. The injury, similar to the one suffered by running back Leon Washington, was serious enough that doctors questioned if Butler could resume his NFL career. Butler's recovery has proceeded in a way that's fitting for someone with his speed: He's returned faster than many expected."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune gives the Seahawks a weak 'C' grade through the first half of the season. Williams on the running game: "Year 3 of Seattle establishing a dominant run game has been much like the first two years -- a disappointment. The Seahawks have 406 rushing yards on first down -- 24th overall in the league. And they’ve run the ball a league-low 175 total rushes. So even with the renewed emphasis with renowned zone blocking guru offensive line coach Tom Cable on the staff, the Seahawks have not run the ball enough. But Seattle did show a marked improvement running the ball last week at Dallas, with Marshawn Lynch rushing for 135 yards on 22 carries – the first time he’s carried the ball more than 20 times this season. Lynch’s and Justin Forsett’s contracts are up the end of the season, while Leon Washington is in the first of a four-year deal, so Seattle could see some personnel changes with this group in 2012." Noted: Former offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates would have to laugh at the league-low number of rushing attempts, given that his allegedly pass-happy approach wasn't what the team wanted on offense. Falling behind in games has its consequences, however.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic looks at where the Cardinals need to improve, notably at quarterback and on the offensive line. Somers on Kevin Kolb: "At least the Cardinals hope whatever is wrong with Kolb can be fixed. Kolb has made plays that provide hope; the 73-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald against the Redskins comes to mind. But Kolb has played poorly over the past month, and now he's dealing with a right-foot injury that includes turf toe. The Cardinals need to find a way to bring out Kolb's best, and maybe that will take a whole season and full off-season."

Darren Urban of says Kolb is "touch-and-go" on a potential return to practice this week. Urban: "Reports on both ESPN and NFL Network both said he was unlikely to play against the Eagles. Kolb, at least publicly, is expressing slightly more optimism."

Also from Urban: Thoughts on Kolb's background in Philadelphia, and on his upcoming return. Urban: "As if he was cleaning up for his high school reunion, Kolb got his hair cut late last week, removing his curly locks and looking much more like a businessman. Perhaps that’s fitting, since -- given the struggles both himself and his current team have had -- this meeting with his former team is less reunion and 'more of a business trip.'"

Final Word: NFC West

October, 21, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 7:

[+] EnlargeCedric Griffin and Beanie Wells
AP Photo/Genevieve RossCardinals RB Beanie Wells is poised to have a breakout game this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Setting the tone with Beanie Wells: The violent stiff-arm Arizona's running back delivered against Minnesota demonstrated, again, what kind of runner Wells can be. The Cardinals should expect a strong effort from Wells against a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that has softened against the run. Arian Foster (155 yards), Ray Rice (107), Maurice Jones-Drew (96) and Joseph Addai (86) have combined for 444 yards against the Steelers this season. Pittsburgh has allowed more yards rushing through six games this season (677) than it allowed through 10 games (630) last season. Wells is averaging 95.2 yards per game, fourth-most in the NFL. He ranks tied for second in rushing touchdowns with six, despite missing one game to injury and having a bye week.

Solving Ben Roethlisberger: The Cardinals' pass defense has been a weakness. Conventional wisdom says defenses are best off keeping the Steelers' quarterback from setting up on the perimeter. So far this season, however, Roethlisberger has completed only five of 14 attempts for 57 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions from outside the pocket. His Total QBR (7.0) and NFL passer rating (48.8) both rank 28th in the NFL from outside the pocket. Roethlisberger ranks among the top 10 in both categories from inside the pocket. He has been particularly effective on play-action passes (five touchdowns, one interception, 87.9 QBR, 117.7 NFL rating).

The Brandon Lloyd effect: Lloyd comes to the St. Louis Rams having suffered only one dropped pass this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Rams "lead" the NFL with 15 drops. They are one of three teams -- Chicago and Week 7 opponent Dallas are the others -- to have more than seven players drop a pass this season (all three have eight). Lance Kendricks (four), Greg Salas (three), Danario Alexander (two) and the recently cut Mike Sims-Walker (two) have more than one drop for St. Louis. Whether or not quarterback Sam Bradford plays on a bum ankle, the Rams have to do a better job executing the basics, starting with holding onto the ball.

Seahawks' QB decisions in focus: Seattle faces Colt McCoy and Andy Dalton over the next two weeks after bypassing both young quarterbacks in recent drafts. McCoy went to Cleveland as a third-round pick in 2010; the Seahawks had no choice in the round that year after trading up to select receiver Deon Butler in 2009. Dalton went to Cincinnati with the 35th pick this year after Seattle used the 25th choice for tackle James Carpenter.

No time for Seahawks to relax: Seattle's road victory over the previously 3-1 New York Giants gave the team a 2-1 record over its last three games, casting the Seahawks as a young team on the rise. The Browns, meanwhile, have beaten only an 0-6 Indianapolis team and an 0-5 Miami team. Winning on the road was once a bonus for Seattle, but with San Francisco running out to a 5-1 start, including 3-0 away from home, the Seahawks need to beat bad teams on the road just to stay within striking distance. They are seeking victories in back-to-back road games for the first time since 2007.