NFL Nation: Braylon Edwards

Edwards release is short-sighted

August, 26, 2013
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In a conversation two weeks ago about his future with the Jets, Braylon Edwards was confident he'd make the 53-man roster. He felt he had a strong ally in GM John Idzik, a former Seahawks executive who watched him play last season.

"The talent is there, that's what people need to realize," Edwards told ESPNNewYork.com. "John Idzik was in Seattle. If he saw a diminished player, I don't think he would've brought me here."

As it turned out, Edwards was wrong about Idzik. On Monday, Edwards was released by the Jets -- hardly a surprise, but a move that raises questions. The Jets could've used Edwards' veteran presence at wide receiver, a position filled with durability and maturity concerns. They apparently felt Edwards was expendable with the return of Santonio Holmes, who practiced Monday for the first time on his surgically repaired foot, and the addition of Mohamed Massaquoi.

Let's not put Massaquoi in Canton. Remember, he was released by the Jaguars, a team desperate for wide receivers. There's always a chance the Jets could re-sign Edwards after Week 1, when his salary wouldn't be guaranteed, but that doesn't seem likely -- unless there's an injury. The problem with Edwards is that he doesn't play special teams, and it's hard to justify him as a No. 5 receiver if he's not contributing in the kicking game. That's why the Jets should've made him their No. 4.

Right now, the Jets' depth chart looks like this:

Starters: Holmes, Stephen Hill

Backups: Jeremy Kerley, Clyde Gates

Competing for roster spots: Massaquoi, Ryan Spadola, Ben Obomanu

Camp Confidential: New York Jets

August, 9, 2013
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The New York Jets haven’t faced expectations this low since 2006, when they hired a relatively anonymous New England Patriots assistant named Eric Mangini. Somehow, they made the playoffs under the baby-faced head coach.

The odds of duplicating that this season are about the same as seeing two Butt Fumbles in one lifetime.

Even the bombastic Rex Ryan, who once guaranteed a Super Bowl, has refrained from delivering a headline-making prediction. The Jets are rated in many power polls as a bottom-five team, but that stoked Ryan’s fire to only a medium flame.

“If you’re a competitor, how does that thing not get to you?” Ryan said. “How does that not motivate you? It’s almost like, ‘Well, OK, we’re going to show you.’”

In the not-so-old days, Ryan would’ve said something like, “We’ll see who has the egg on their face when we’re in the playoffs.”

Ryan has toned it down because he recognizes the enormity of the challenge.

The Jets, coming off a dysfunctional, Tim Tebow-obsessed 6-10 season, are rebuilding. New general manager John Idzik parted ways with 11 starters (including All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis), tore apart the front office and changed the culture.

Idzik, hired even though he has little background in personnel, instilled a buttoned-down, almost paranoid environment in an organization once known for its wacky ways.

The circus is gone. The Kremlin is here.

It’s a change for the fun-loving Ryan, but he has bought in because he’s coaching for his job. He joked recently that if the Jets are in position to draft Jadeveon Clowney, the presumptive No. 1 pick in 2014, he won’t be around to see it.

Earth to Ryan: You won’t be around if you finish with as many as six wins. Idzik inherited Ryan, at the urging of owner Woody Johnson, and he will hire his own man if the team shows no improvement.

In a way, Ryan is in an almost impossible situation. His roster was gutted, leaving a team many scouts believe has only four top-tier players: cornerback Antonio Cromartie, defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, center Nick Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

Throw in a potential quarterback controversy, and you’re looking at a long year in New York.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Rich Schultz"He can do more" than Mark Sanchez, one veteran player said of rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
1. Who plays quarterback? The competition is billed as Mark Sanchez versus Geno Smith. In reality, it’s Smith versus Smith. It’s his job to win. If the second-round pick proves capable of functioning in an NFL offense, he’ll be the opening-day starter.

Sanchez will start the first preseason game, but his performance is virtually meaningless. The Jets know what he can and can’t do, and it has been a “can’t-do” situation over the past two seasons. If it weren’t for an $8.25 million guarantee, he probably would have been cut loose in the offseason.

The organization wants a fresh start at quarterback. It went into camp thinking Sanchez would win by default, but Smith, shaking off a lackluster spring, has impressed with his arm strength, accuracy and athleticism. “He can do more” than Sanchez, one veteran player said. The question is whether or not Smith can handle it from a mental and maturity standpoint. When his brain catches up to his arm, it’ll be his team.

2. How will they score points? The Jets finished 28th in scoring last season, and they will be hard pressed to improve that ranking. They have a suspect cast of skill-position players, including past-their-prime pass-catchers (Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow), a lead back who’s never had more than 137 carries in a season (Chris Ivory) and an injured former Super Bowl hero who may never be the same (Santonio Holmes).

New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is an experienced playcaller, but it’s hard to call plays when you don’t have the talent. The Jets need productive seasons out of wide receiver Stephen Hill and tight end Jeff Cumberland, who have a combined total of 53 career receptions. Holmes could be a factor at some point, but he probably won’t be ready for Week 1 as he continues to rehab a surgically repaired foot. Get the picture? It looks bleak.

Because of the uncertainty at quarterback and the lack of playmakers on the perimeter, the Jets absolutely must be a strong running team. That’s not out of the question -- the line is solid -- but they will see a heavy dose of eight-man fronts and run-blitzing defenses.

3. Can Ryan hold it together? After back-to-back seasons out of the playoffs, Ryan faces a make-or-break year. He has two years left on his contract, meaning he’ll be extended or fired after the season. He has no previous background with Idzik, making it a tenuous situation.

Thinking self-preservation, Ryan has taken control of the defense, becoming the de facto coordinator. He did it this way in 2009, when he felt most comfortable as a head coach. He’ll leave the offense to Mornhinweg, whose pass-happy philosophy might not be a good fit with Ryan’s defensive-oriented approach.

[+] EnlargeIdzik/Ryan
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsRex Ryan, left, will likely need more than last season's six wins if he wants new general manager John Idzik, right, to keep him around.
Ryan’s job security will be an issue throughout the season, especially if the Jets get off to a bad start against a tough schedule. It could become a feeding frenzy for the New York media. It may not be playoffs or bust, but another losing season probably will mean the end of the Ryan era.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Once again, the Jets will rely on their defense -- and that’s not such a bad thing.

Under Ryan, they’ve finished no worse than eighth in total defense, and they have the talent to keep the streak alive. There could be some growing pains as Ryan integrates seven new starters, but the unit should get stronger as the season progresses.

Revis is gone, traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the Jets will be OK outside with Cromartie and top pick Dee Milliner. They’re good enough to play man-to-man coverage, which will allow Ryan to crank up his blitzing schemes.

They don’t have a big-time pass-rusher -- the glaring deficiency -- but this is the most athletic defensive line of the Ryan era. And it should be, considering they’ve drafted linemen in the past three first rounds. If Quinton Coples and rookie Sheldon Richardson develop as quickly as Wilkerson, already one of the league’s best 3-4 ends, this group will be fun to watch.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and the Jets’ quarterback situation is as murky as any in the league. It’s a controversy waiting to happen.

Sanchez still has the loyalty of a few holdovers in the locker room, but there are many players intrigued by Smith’s skill set. If Sanchez wins the job and struggles, it could create a division in the locker room.

Nothing drains the energy out of a team more than a quarterback mess. It happened last year with Sanchez and Tebow, although this could be more volatile because Smith -- unlike Tebow -- can actually play the position.

Sanchez has lost the home fans, who booed him mercilessly last season. If the toxicity carries over to this season, it will create a bad vibe, and that can bring down an entire team. A difficult first-half schedule won’t help matters.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Jets are relying on several players with recent injury histories, including Winslow (limited in camp), Edwards (limited), Holmes, guard Willie Colon, wide receiver Clyde Gates and kick returner Joe McKnight. That’s always a dicey proposition.
  • The Jets have been spoiled for two decades at running back, but not anymore. This marks the first time since 1994 that no one on the roster has a 1,000-yard season in his career. It will be backfield by committee, with Ivory (yet to practice because of a hamstring injury), Bilal Powell and McKnight. Mike Goodson was supposed to be a key player, but he’s dealing with undisclosed personal issues and didn’t report to camp. Powell, a pleasant surprise, could end up as the lead back.
  • Remember all the talk last summer about Tebow and the Wildcat? It was all hot air, as the Jets barely used him. Tebow is gone, but the plan remains. They will use the Wildcat with Powell or wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, and they plan to use the read option with Smith. Ironic, huh?
  • Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman will keep opponents guessing by employing different looks. The Jets remain a 3-4 base defense, but don’t be surprised if they mix in 4-3 fronts. They will blitz a lot more than last season, count on it. You also could see three cornerbacks (Kyle Wilson lining up as a safety) in certain base packages.
  • Wilkerson doesn’t garner too many headlines because he doesn’t say much, but he’s a special talent. He felt he deserved to go to the Pro Bowl last season; he’s ready to break through in ’13.
  • Mornhinweg, a Bill Walsh disciple, employs a West Coast offense, but he’s not the stereotypical West Coast guru. He’s an aggressive playcaller and will take deep shots. That should bode well for Hill, a vertical threat who has matured after a disappointing rookie year.
  • The Jets could have three rookies in the opening day lineup -- Smith, Milliner and Richardson. The last time they had as many as two was 2006, Ferguson and Mangold. By the end of the year, Brian Winters could be starting at left guard. It could be a watershed draft
  • Looking for a sleeper? Keep an eye on second-year linebacker Demario Davis, who replaces Bart Scott. Davis is terrific in pass coverage, so good in space that Ryan is thinking about keeping his base defense on the field against certain three-receiver packages.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What are the three key camp issues facing each NFC West team?

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Offense: Top running backs
Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams have combined for one ruptured patella tendon (Williams), one torn ACL (Mendenhall) and one shoulder surgery (Williams) during the past two seasons. Williams has played five games in two seasons. Mendenhall missed 10 games last season (one to suspension) after returning from his knee injury. So while new quarterback Carson Palmer rightly commands much of the attention heading into camp, the running backs deserve our attention as well.

Defense: Coaching change
The coaching change from Ken Whisenhunt to Bruce Arians cost the Cardinals their defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, just as the defense was gaining momentum. Arizona ranked third behind Chicago and Denver in defensive EPA last season. New coordinator Todd Bowles comes to Arizona after a difficult 2012 season with Philadelphia. Can the Cardinals sustain their recent defensive success under new leadership?

Wild card: Kitchens' health
Quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens underwent emergency heart surgery in early June after experiencing chest pain during practice. Last we heard, Kitchens was recuperating and expected to return sometime during camp, perhaps on a limited basis at first. Kitchens' health is a leading issue for the Cardinals even though the team has enough depth on its coaching staff to cover for him.

ST. LOUIS RAMS

Offense: Second-year second-rounders
Two second-round picks from 2012 will help determine the Rams' trajectory on offense. Receiver Brian Quick and running back Isaiah Pead each started one game as a rookie. Quick played 174 snaps and caught 11 passes, two for touchdowns. Pead played 39 snaps and had 10 carries. It's time for both to become meaningful contributors. They should have increased opportunities after St. Louis parted with veterans at their positions.

Defense: Rookie safety T.J. McDonald
The Rams will want to get McDonald up to speed quickly. They did sign veteran Matt Giordano for insurance, but McDonald, a third-round choice from USC, is the player they envision in the lineup. Coach Jeff Fisher has experience putting rookie safeties into the lineup right away. Tank Williams started all 16 games as a rookie under Fisher with Tennessee in 2002. Michael Griffin started 10 games as a rookie under Fisher with the Titans in 2007. Williams was a second-round choice. Griffin was a first-rounder.

Wild card: O-line health
The Rams are young just about everywhere except along their offensive line. That's OK as long as those veterans avoid some of the injury troubles they've suffered in recent seasons. Left tackle Jake Long has had two arm surgeries the past two seasons. Right guard Harvey Dahl is coming off a torn biceps. Center Scott Wells has had two surgeries on his right knee, plus a broken foot, in the past year and a half. Tackle Rodger Saffold has had a torn pectoral and a neck injury since late in the 2011 season. The group should be healthy going into camp. Will the good health last?

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Offense: Developing wideouts
Eight wide receivers have played in games for the 49ers during two seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh. The list -- Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham, Ted Ginn Jr., Josh Morgan, Braylon Edwards and Brett Swain -- includes zero players the team drafted and developed under Harbaugh. The team will be looking to develop young wideouts A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton and Ricardo Lockette while Crabtree and Manningham recover from serious injuries. Jenkins and Patton were draft choices under Harbaugh. Lockette was signed last season.

Defense: Roles on the D-line
General manager Trent Baalke has suggested the team could stand to expand its rotation on the defensive line. How will that play out once the 49ers are on the field and the coaching staff takes over? What role will newcomer Glenn Dorsey play to that end? Starters Justin Smith and Ray McDonald could benefit from a little more rest now and then. They rank among the NFL leaders in total regular-season and postseason snaps played in the past couple of seasons. Smith, in particular, is hugely important to the defense's success.

Wild card: Eric Mangini
The coaching staff will have a different feel with Mangini as the new senior offensive consultant. Harbaugh has kept together his staff for two seasons, an upset for a team that has enjoyed so much success on the scoreboard and in scheming. We easily could have credited Harbaugh for staying the course in the name of continuity. Adding a coach with Mangini's profile shakes things up. It'll be interesting to see how Mangini assimilates.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Offense: James Carpenter
Carpenter's health is a key variable for the future of the offensive line. Coach Pete Carroll has indicated Carpenter should be available for the start of training camp after missing nine games last season and seven as a rookie. Drafted to play right tackle, Carpenter's future is at guard if he can get healthy, stay healthy and regain quickness. Having Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung and Pro Bowl center Max Unger flanking a healthy Carpenter would give Seattle a line more like the one Carroll envisioned.

Defense: Cliff Avril's transition
Seattle will be looking to see how pass-rushing defensive ends Avril and Bruce Irvin fit at linebacker as the coaching staff promotes versatility through the front seven. Avril is particularly important in the short term because Irvin faces a four-game suspension to open the season while starting defensive end Chris Clemons continues to rehab from the torn ACL he suffered during the wild-card round last season. Carroll has hinted that Clemons could return in time for the season, but that's a best-case scenario.

Wild card: Keep it clean
All NFL players must submit to testing for performance-enhancing drugs when they report for training camp. That's significant for the Seahawks after Irvin became the fifth Seattle player since 2011 to incur a PED-related suspension. What are the chances another player tests positive?

According to New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, his wide receivers could barely catch a cold in this week’s minicamp.

Is anyone surprised by this revelation?

Ryan is coming to the realization of what most people outside the Jets already knew: the offense is a train wreck.

There are too many holes on that side of the football. The quarterback competition has been lukewarm at best, there are off-the-field issues with Mike Goodson at running back, and the wide receivers are either banged up (Santonio Holmes) or experiencing butter fingers in practice (Stephen Hill, Jeremy Kerley).

Let's be frank: New York's offense desperately lacks playmakers. The Jets better fix it ASAP if they want to score enough points to be competitive this season. Two ideas I can think of off the top of the my head would be to add former Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow, who had a terrific tryout this week, as well as former Jets receiver Braylon Edwards. These are two proven playmakers who will make life easier for quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith.

Ryan is in a must-win situation in 2013. Waiting on Holmes (foot) to get healthy or for Hill to come around are dangerous propositions for New York’s head coach. Hill, in particular, is a raw prospect with a lot of measurables. Yet he struggled with drops, injuries and adjusting to the NFL last season. It’s fair to give a rookie a pass, but so far it’s been more of the same for Hill in Year 2.

New offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is a solid coach. His schemes have worked in the past, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the proper personnel. Right now, the Jets are running thin on offensive talent in what amounts to a rebuilding year. However, New York can do a little more this offseason to at least avoid a weekly embarrassment on offense in the fall.
It's easy to get lost in the shuffle when you played during the golden age of the NFL's most celebrated franchise. Dave Robinson was an elite playmaking linebacker on some of Vince Lombardi's best Green Bay Packers teams, but it took 38 years after his retirement before he was recognized as such by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Robinson will be enshrined as part of the 2013 class thanks to the Hall's senior committee, which nominated him and Curley Culp (a Detroit Lions defensive lineman in 1980-81) last summer. As we discussed earlier in the week, a nomination from the seniors committee generally is viewed as an attempt to right a previous wrong, and 25 of the past 30 nominees have been elected by the larger selection committee.

Robinson was one of the first linebackers with the speed an athleticism to cover the emerging tight end position. He had 21 interceptions in 10 seasons with the Packers, including 12 during the period from 1965-67, an NFL-high for linebackers. In Packers history, the only linebackers with more interceptions are John Anderson and Ray Nitschke.

By my count, Robinson played with 10 other Packers players who ultimately made the Hall of Fame and was coached by an 11th, Vince Lombardi. That's just an incredible number. At various times during his career, he played alongside Nitschke, cornerback Herb Adderly, defensive end Willie Davis, safety Willie Wood and defensive tackle Henry Jordan. Can you imagine a defense with seven Hall of Famers? Wow.

Overall, Robinson is the 22nd member of the Packers organization to be elected to the hall of Fame. Congratulations on an honor that was no doubt worth the wait.
New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan announced Thursday that he expects veteran wide receiver Braylon Edwards to play against the Tennessee Titans on "Monday Night Football." This is a huge game for the Jets (6-7), who are just one game out of the final wild-card spot in the AFC.

What can we expect for the former Pro Bowl receiver? Let’s examine.
  • Health is the first issue. Edwards is still bothered by a hamstring that eventually led to his release with the Seattle Seahawks. He's practicing this week in a limited capacity. Edwards made little impact with Seattle, and hasn't caught a pass since Week 6 against the New England Patriots. To expect Edwards to come in on short notice and dominate is asking too much. Edwards has to play his role and contribute, while other skill players like receiver Jeremy Kerley and tailback Shonn Greene shoulder the load.
  • Learning a new offense is the second issue. Edwards says he’s "coming home" to his former team. But although he's playing with many of the same players from 2010, Edwards is playing in a new system. Brian Schottenheimer’s offense is significantly different from Tony Sparano's offense. That probably means Edwards’ role in the offense also changes.
  • Chemistry is the third issue. Two years have gone by since Edwards last played football with his Jets teammates. Will he hit the ground running and immediately be on the same page? The good news is Edwards and quarterback Mark Sanchez have always had a good rapport. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Sanchez has 10 career touchdown passes to Edwards. The Jets can use another scoring connection from these two against the Titans.

Overall, it's important for the Jets to set realistic expectations with Edwards. He's not the same big-play receiver he was two years ago. But Edwards, if healthy, is still capable of contributing to New York's playoff push.

Jets, Edwards have awkward reunion

December, 11, 2012
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Receiver Braylon Edwards recently called the New York Jets "idiots." Those same "idiots," presumably Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum and his staff, claimed Edwards off waivers Tuesday.

Edwards
AWKWAAAAAARD!

No team welcomes drama more than those zany Jets. They could have added any receiver on the open market, but the Jets zeroed in on the receiver who recently ripped the team. It was a classic Jets move. New York did a similar move earlier this year with Jason Hill, who ripped the Jets and captain Darrelle Revis in 2011.

Should the Jets be applauded for swallowing their pride with Edwards? Or is this another desperate move that adds only to the Jets' "circus" reputation?

Edwards seemed happy about the reunion in New York.

"It feels great to be going home," Edwards tweeted. "Thanks to all of Jet Nation that continuously supported me and pushed for me. I'm back and it's go time."

On the field, New York is only one game out of the final wild-card spot in the AFC with three weeks left. The Jets are taking their shot with Edwards, who can’t be worse than what they already have.

But Jets fans should not expect the Edwards of 2010. He is two years older and suffered multiple injuries since leaving New York. Edwards also has to learn a new offense under first-year offensive coordinator Tony Sparano.

Edwards has three weeks to make an impact with the Jets. Tannenbaum proved that he is willing to move past their feud by claiming Edwards. Now, it's Edwards' turn to bury the hatchet and perform.
Our weekly look at playing-time trends in the NFC West, with an eye toward the fantasy leagues you routinely dominate:
  • Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald continues to play all or nearly all the offensive snaps for Arizona. His stats should only benefit with John Skelton's return to the lineup. He was a non-factor with Ryan Lindley playing. It's still tough to bank on much, however. Skelton completed 2 of 7 passes for 26 yards and an interception when targeting Fitzgerald in the regular-season opener. The two connected nine times for 149 yards and six first downs against Seattle in Week 17 last season, however. Rookie receiver Michael Floyd played a career-high 94.4 percent of the snaps last week as Arizona played without injured starter Andre Roberts. Roberts is listed as questionable this week. Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling played more than 75 percent of the snaps three times in a four-week period ending in Week 9. He has played less than 20 percent of the snaps over the past two weeks. Beanie Wells' return accounts for much of the difference. Wells has played about 40 percent of the snaps since returning.
  • St. Louis Rams: Brandon Gibson and Chris Givens each played 90.7 percent of the snaps against San Francisco as the Rams played without the injured Danny Amendola. It's unclear whether or how much Amendola might play against Buffalo. It's also unclear how much playing time Givens has earned regardless. Givens ranks fifth among NFL players in receptions (16) and receiving yards (207) over the past two weeks, all with Amendola either out of the lineup or playing sparingly. Sam Bradford has completed 16 of 20 passes to Givens over that span. He has targeted Givens on a wider range of throws after previously looking for Givens mostly on deep ones. Running back Steven Jackson has played better than 70 percent of the snaps in three of the Rams' last four games. He had played that much only twice previously.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Injuries are affecting the 49ers to a degree they have not in the recent past. Receiver Mario Manningham is not expected to play against Miami. Receiver Kyle Williams is out for the season. Running back Kendall Hunter is out for the season. Receiver A.J. Jenkins and running back LaMichael James, both rookies, could now begin factoring in meaningful ways. Frank Gore has played better than 80 percent of the snaps in three of the 49ers' past four games after playing less than 70 percent for the season previously. Fullback Bruce Miller's snaps are up. Randy Moss' snaps have been up. Running back Brandon Jacobs played a season-high 10.4 percent against the Rams. James' expected activation in the near future threatens Jacobs' playing time.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Zach Miller all played about 95 percent of the snaps at Chicago last week. Tate did not play against Arizona in Week 1. He and Rice now lead the NFC West with seven touchdown receptions apiece. Braylon Edwards, released during the week, had been playing between about 15 percent and 30 percent of the snaps over the previous three weeks. Doug Baldwin's improved health contributed to Edwards' release. Baldwin played 50 percent of the snaps at Chicago, his highest total since the opener. Anthony McCoy's snaps fell some against the Bears, but he has earned a role in the offense. Fullback Michael Robinson played season-low snaps against Chicago (17.6 percent), Miami (20.0 percent) and Arizona the first time (21 percent). He is at 35 percent in other games

That is all for now. I'll be heading over to CenturyLink Field in a bit.

Note: ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.

Akers, Davis pay for 49ers' improvement?

November, 14, 2012
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The San Francisco 49ers have improved their offense through diversification.

That was the plan when the team added receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham as free agents. There was also some expectation, since realized, that the 49ers' offensive line would improve as young players gained more experience working together.

The 49ers have 16 touchdowns in 26 red zone possessions (61.5 percent). That is up from 22 in 54 such possessions (40.7 percent) all last season. Third-down efficiency has inched up from 29.4 last season to 35.6 so far this season. The team is averaging 6.0 yards per play, up from 5.0 last season. Rushing plays are producing 5.6 yards per carry, up from 4.1.

It's looking like kicker David Akers and tight end Vernon Davis are paying a statistical price for broader team gains. Davis' decline in production as a receiver could also stem from the way defenses are playing the 49ers, or it could simply be by chance given the relatively small number of games.

As noted Tuesday, Akers' field goal percentage has dropped significantly in large part because the 49ers are finishing a higher percentage of red zone drives with touchdowns, leaving fewer short field goals for Akers to attempt. Despite some recent struggles, Akers is converting at about the same rate on kicks from 40 to 49 yards. His percentage on longer kicks is down from last season, which was a special one for Akers in that category, to a rate more in line with career averages.

Davis, meanwhile, has received high marks from coaches for his outstanding blocking. He was a big part of the receiving offense early in the season. Davis has largely disappeared from the stat sheet over the past four games, however. He has disappeared entirely as a player the 49ers target in the red zone.

Davis
The 49ers targeted Davis twice in the red zone over the first three games. Davis caught touchdown passes on both plays. He emerged from Week 3 ranking second behind Moss (three) in red zone targets among 49ers. Receiver Kyle Williams had the only other target in those situations.

Red zone targets since then look like this: Michael Crabtree 3, Moss 2, Manningham 2, Frank Gore 2, Delanie Walker 1, Williams 1 and Davis 0.

Davis finished last season with seven receptions on nine red zone targets. Crabtree was the only player on the team with more red zone targets (15). Braylon Edwards was third with eight. Davis is too talented to remain in the shadows for long, in my view. I would expect his target numbers to increase as the season progresses. But my preseason expectation for Davis to pick up where he left off in the playoffs has gone from spot-on through three games, when Davis had four touchdowns on 13 receptions, to the opposite of spot-on in subsequent weeks.

Overall, Davis accounted for 22.1 percent of the 49ers' pass targets last season. That has fallen to 16.4 percent this season. The 49ers are targeting wide receivers 59.9 percent of the time, up from 53.2 percent last season. The target percentage for tight ends has fallen from 29.9 percent to 25 percent.

Those figures are from ESPN Stats & Information.

Fantasy Watch: Playing time in Week 7

October, 22, 2012
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Our latest look at playing time in the NFC West, with an eye toward fantasy football:

Wide receivers are the focus this time.

Every team but San Francisco had more than four of them active in Week 7.
    • Arizona Cardinals: Fitzgerald was targeted six times, all from the Cardinals' three-receiver offense. Andre Roberts, Early Doucet and tight end Rob Housler each had four targets from that personnel. Roberts and Doucet got all five wide receiver targets from the four-receiver offense.
    • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers emphasized the run in this game. Seattle took away deeper throws. That explains why running back Frank Gore led the team in receiving yards with 45 this week. Twelve of Alex Smith's 14 completed passes traveled no more than five yards past the line of scrimmage.
    • St. Louis Rams: Quarterback Sam Bradford spread the ball pretty evenly to his various targets. He targeted six players on third down, none more than twice. Steven Jackson and Austin Pettis saw their third-down targets increase in Week 6, the Rams' first game without Danny Amendola. Lance Kendricks and Brandon Gibson went from zero last week to two apiece this week. No pattern there yet.
    • Seattle Seahawks:
      Doug Baldwin's injury left additional snaps for the other receivers. Braylon Edwards has five targets over the past two games after getting one over the previous four. That includes two of the team's four red zone targets over the past two weeks. That could be something to watch given that Edwards did catch a touchdown pass against New England.


    • All for now. About to board a plane from St. Louis to Seattle. Catch you in a bit.

MNF inactives: Jennings in, Baldwin out

September, 24, 2012
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SEATTLE -- Receiver news highlighted the players Seattle and Green Bay named inactive for their Monday night game.

The Packers will have Greg Jennings, who had missed the team's most recent game after suffering a groin injury. Seattle will play without Doug Baldwin, who had been listed as questionable with a shoulder injury.

Baldwin led the Seahawks in receiving last season, but the Seahawks have targeted him only six times this season, completing three passes for 13 yards. Sidney Rice leads Seattle in targets with 13, followed by Braylon Edwards with eight. Golden Tate returned from a knee injury last week and was targeted four times, catching three passes for 38 yards.

Seattle named Baldwin, Jaye Howard, James Carpenter, Byron Maxwell, Lemuel Jeanpierre, Danny Gorrer and Winston Guy inactive for this game. The Packers' inactive list featured Jarrett Boykin, Sean Richardson, Davon House, James Starks, Terrell Manning, Jamari Lattimore and Tom Crabtree.

Four thoughts on Golden Tate's $21K fine

September, 19, 2012
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What comes to mind after the NFL levied a $21,000 fine against Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate:
  • No surprise: The rules are relatively clear if you've got enough time to study them and keep pace with periodic changes to them. I'll admit to needing a refresher periodically. In this case, Tate was delivering a blindside block on Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee. That qualified Lee for protections covering defenseless players. In general, those protections prohibit the blocker from hitting the defenseless player in the head/neck area. They also prohibit the blocker from using his own head to hit the defenseless player anywhere. In my view, Tate did lower his head so that his helmet impacted Lee. He also might have hit Lee in the neck area. Easy call for the league.
  • Lee uninjured: Lee got back up pretty quickly and returned to the game following an examination. That was the most important detail relating to this play.
  • Chunk of change: Tate was scheduled to earn $540,000 in salary this season. The $21,000 represents about 1.2 percent of his career earnings through Week 1. That amount is also the minimum fine for first-time violators of NFL policies on blindside blocks, hitting defenseless players and impermissible use of the helmet.
  • Tate's return big: This play involving Tate has overshadowed the difference he makes for Seattle on offense. The team needs a big season from him. The receiver position hasn't worked out the way Seattle would have drawn it up. Sidney Rice has had injury problems. Kris Durham never developed. Ricardo Lockette has not taken the next step. The more Seattle has to rely on receivers such as Mike Williams (since released) and Braylon Edwards, the clearer it is that the Seahawks need to address that position in the offseason. With Tate back from a knee injury Sunday, Edwards played sparingly. Tate caught three passes for 38 yards.

Which NFC West teams had no drops

September, 12, 2012
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The Seattle Seahawks had multiple chances to make the winning touchdown catch against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1.

Edwards
Edwards
Failing to make catches isn't the same as dropping passes, however. Seattle was one of six NFL teams, and the only one from the NFC West, to make it through opening week without what ESPN Stats & Information defines as drops: "passes the receiver should have caught with ordinary effort, and only when the receiver is 100 percent at fault."

NFC West teams suffered two drops by this standard. San Francisco 49ers tight end Delanie Walker suffered one of them. Arizona Cardinals receiver Andre Roberts suffered the other one. The Seahawks and St. Louis Rams had none.

@seehawk80 pointed me in the direction of Brian Nemhauser's piece suggesting Seahawks receivers were getting a "raw deal" by fans suggesting dropped passes doomed Seattle against Arizona.

Some of this is semantics. Coaches will sometimes define a drop as any pass touching a player's hand or hands. That's a high standard and one players should try to meet.

In the Seahawks' case, Doug Baldwin had an opportunity to make what would have been an outstanding diving catch for a touchdown. He did not drop the ball.

Braylon Edwards also had an opportunity in the end zone. In his case, cornerback William Gay successfully walked the line between aggressive play and pass interference, disrupting Edwards just enough to prevent the receiver from extending comfortably for the ball. Was it a drop? Not really. Was it a play a top receiver should make most of the time? Probably.

By ESPN's count, the Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and New York Giants each suffered from a league-high four drops in Week 1.

Chicago, Jacksonville and Kansas City had three apiece. Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Carolina, Baltimore, Buffalo, Seattle and St. Louis had none.

The Rams had 32 last season, third-most in the NFL behind Cleveland (33) and the Giants (33). The 49ers had 27 and the Seahawks had 24. Houston had a league-low 14 drops.

Seattle Seahawks cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
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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.

Thoughts as Seahawks cut Owens, Lutui

August, 26, 2012
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Initial thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' moves as the mandatory reduction to 75-man rosters approaches Monday:
  • Deuce Lutui appeared likely to earn a roster spot, but things changed when rookie seventh-round pick J.R. Sweezy made a surprisingly quick conversion from college defensive lineman to NFL guard. Sweezy suddenly looks like a strong candidate to supplant incumbent John Moffitt as the starting right guard. That made Lutui expendable. Also, Lutui wasn't ideally suited for the Seahawks' zone blocking scheme. He probably would have helped most in pass protection. I think Lutui could help someone. Seems like St. Louis could stand to check him out, at least.
  • Alex Barron's release makes available a veteran tackle with talent and a history of inconsistent play. I thought Barron looked good early in camp. Arizona has obvious needs at tackle. Barron is probably more talented than other players available at this time. We'll have to see if that changes as teams reduce their rosters. Barron can play both tackle spots. He's spent the past month working against Seattle's pass-rushers in practice. He has fared pretty well at times, too. Arizona faces those same pass-rushers in Week 1.
  • Terrell Owens' name was on the cut list, as expected. Braylon Edwards' emergence played a role in Owens' departure.
  • Cornerback Roy Lewis played nearly a quarter of the Seahawks' defensive snaps last season. The team waived him with an injury designation. Lewis could land on injured reserve if he clears waivers. Or, the team could reach an injury settlement with him, allowing Lewis to sign with Seattle or another team once he's healthy.
  • Anthony McCoy seemed to help his cause at tight end against Kansas City on Friday night. He looks like the favorite to become the third tight end now that the team waived/injured Cameron Morrah.
  • Pep Levingston and Jameson Konz also received the waived/injured designation. Levingston impressed during pass-rush drills at times, but Clinton McDonald and others have offered more.
  • I'll be curious to see whether receiver Phil Bates lands on the practice squad. Also waived: tackle Edawn Coughman, cornerback Donny Lisowski, cornerback Ron Parker and running back Tyrell Sutton.
  • Seattle now has 77 players on its roster, by my count. The team must reduce to 75 by Monday at 4 p.m. ET. Placing offensive lineman James Carpenter on the reserve/physically unable to perform list appears likely.

Back to watching the San Francisco 49ers against the Denver Broncos. More in a bit.

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