NFL Nation: 101ESPN St. Louis

The latest turn in the St. Louis Rams' push for an improved stadium situation shortened the existing Edward Jones Dome lease by a decade to 2015. The team is now freer to leave town following the 2014 season, a subject brought to the table Tuesday during my weekly conversation with 101ESPN St. Louis.

I think the Rams are probably more likely to secure a new stadium in St. Louis than to leave town. The team appears to be building equity with fans following a disastrous five-year run featuring a 15-65 record from 2007 through 2011. There isn't a new stadium awaiting the Rams in Los Angeles, which remains a frequently mentioned and overrated suitor.

Neil deMause, who criticizes professional teams' stadium leverage tactics on his "Field of Schemes" blog, summed up the situation in part as an opportunity for St. Louis to test Rams owner Stan Kroenke.

"The NFL is the toughest league for cities to exert leverage with, since media market size doesn't matter nearly so much as a lucrative stadium deal," deMause writes. "That’s how St. Louis ended up grabbing the Rams from much-larger Los Angeles in the first place. But with few other cities even potentially offering new stadiums at the moment, and with Kroenke a local boy, this seems like an opportune time to test exactly how much leverage St. Louis has here."

101ESPN St. Louis audio: Miklasz Show

January, 31, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- Quarterbacks are supposed to earn their money on third down. Some aren't willing to wait that long.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick took note of this after his team lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco completed 11 passes for 141 yards and two scores on second down in that game. He has thrown five of his eight postseason touchdown passes on second down over the Ravens' three playoff games.

Slowing Flacco on second down could be a key for the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. That was among the subjects Bernie Miklasz and I discussed from radio row during our recent conversation on 101ESPN St. Louis.

First, we had to get past just how uncool it sounded to be singling out second-down production from all the potential Super Bowl story lines. That didn't take long, but it got worse Thursday: While hundreds of reporters were crowding into the Beyonce news conference, I was crunching second-down playoff numbers for Anquan Boldin (six receptions for 113 yards and two scores).

Boldin over Beyonce? Belichick, too.

"It felt like defensively we didn’t do a good enough job on second down," the Patriots coach said after losing to the Ravens. "We had them in a number of second-down situations, second-and-10s and those kind of things, and they got off the hook there with a couple passes to [Ray] Rice, [Dennis] Pitta, [Torrey] Smith, a run by [Bernard] Pierce."

Flacco completed only 2 of 7 passes for 43 yards on third down against the Patriots. He has completed 9 of 26 passes (albiet for an impressive 232 yards) on third down in these playoffs. His third-down Total QBR score in the playoffs (42.5) lags far behind his 93.0 mark on second down.

What is at work here? Balanced offenses should be less predictable on second down relative to third down, when defenses often can play the pass.

"Second down, they'll put it in three-wide and throw the ball," 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers said.

The numbers bear this out. Flacco's second-down numbers from three-receiver personnel have been outstanding since Week 15. He has completed 22 of 30 passes (73.3 percent) for 355 yards (11.8 per attempt) with six touchdowns and no interceptions on those plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"When you are playing a really good offenses, everyone thinks third down is the key down," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "Well, you've got to get them to third down to make third down the key down. These guys have been able to make some money on second down either with the throw or the running game.

"They have the balance that keeps you on edge a little bit on defense as far as where you want to lay your eggs."

101ESPN St. Louis audio: Miklasz Show

January, 27, 2013
Passing along: the link to my weekly NFC West conversation with Bernie Miklasz of 101 ESPN St. Louis. We covered coaching changes in Arizona, what a bye week could mean for the San Francisco 49ers, whether Jim Harbaugh is too up-tight as a coach for Super Bowl week and what Rob Ryan's addition to the St. Louis Rams could mean for the team.

The Harbaugh question was not one I had considered in the context of this upcoming Super Bowl matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.

Bernie said he thought Mike Martz and some other Super Bowl coaches were too up-tight heading into the big game, and that their teams were affected negatively as a result. He wondered whether Harbaugh could fall into that category.

Harbaugh is intense. He can be abrasive. I'm not sure I would consider him to be up-tight. We'll get a better feel for this one as Harbaugh conducts his daily media appearances during Super Bowl week.


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