NFL Nation: Deon Butler

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.

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.

Three things: Raiders-Seahawks

August, 30, 2012
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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.

Three things: Titans-Seahawks

August, 11, 2012
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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.

Seahawks' Hawthorne active despite knee

December, 1, 2011
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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.

Final Word: NFC West

October, 21, 2011
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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) 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 suffering 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 relaxL: 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.

Seattle Seahawks cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
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Surprise move: There really weren't any because the Seahawks had already parted with so many familiar names over the past couple seasons. Colin Cole was the most established player shown the door. He had been injured, his salary was $3.75 million and the team had re-signed Brandon Mebane with an eye toward moving Mebane to nose tackle. Those factors worked against Cole sticking around.

Receiver Isaiah Stanback, valued on special teams, landed on injured reserve along with defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson and tight end John Carlson. Rookie safety Mark LeGree, a fifth-round draft choice, was the Seahawks' only 2011 selection to miss the initial cut. Jeron Johnson, one of three undrafted rookies to earn roster spots, beat him out.

No-brainers: Golden Tate's status had drawn considerable attention in recent weeks, but the Seahawks never planned to release him. Tate came through with a strong performance in the final exhibition game, putting to rest questions about his status. Running back Justin Forsett wasn't in danger, either, even though Leon Washington could be moving past him on the depth chart behind starter Marshawn Lynch. With Washington and Forsett sticking around, there was no room for Thomas Clayton. Undrafted rookies Josh Portis (quarterback) and Doug Baldwin (receiver) had clearly done enough to earn spots initially. Both stuck.

What's next: The situation at fullback and tight end bears monitoring with Carlson landing on injured reserve, as expected. Dominique Byrd stuck as the third tight end for now. Assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable has valued h-back types in his offense and it's unclear whether the Seahawks' current personnel addresses that function adequately. Fullback Michael Robinson stuck on the roster as well. Seattle will have to wait six games before bringing back receiver Deon Butler, cornerback Roy Lewis and tight end Cameron Morrah. All are on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. The severity of left guard Robert Gallery's knee injury could influence how the team proceeds on the offensive line.
RENTON, Wash. -- Thoughts and observations after watching the Seattle Seahawks practice Wednesday:

  • Marshawn Lynch jogged on his sore ankle without much trouble. He did not practice, but the injury does not appear serious. Reports of the Seahawks' expected visit with veteran free-agent running back Clinton Portis appear unrelated to Lynch's health. Portis, whose cousin Josh is Seattle's No. 3 quarterback, has been trying to line up visits with teams in an effort to revive his career. The Seahawks appear set at the position for now with Lynch, Justin Forsett and Leon Washington.
  • Washington has embraced the way assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable instructs running backs to read their keys, which includes making cuts properly in relation to defenders' alignment. It's pretty clear Washington will command additional touches on offense this season. He's healthier and more confident.
  • Rookie receiver Ricardo Lockette made one of the more spectacular leaping catches I've seen, snatching the ball for a touchdown while intertwined with safety Earl Thomas. Lockette has phenomenal athleticism, but he's raw and struggling with the things rookie receivers tend to struggle with: mastering the playbook, running crisp routes, catching the ball consistently, etc. Lockette dropped a routine pass after making the spectacular grab.
  • Right tackle Breno Giacomini continues to split first-team reps with rookie first-round choice James Carpenter. Giacomini looks the part at 6-foot-7 and 315 pounds. He also plays with toughness. Giacomini's aggressive tactics incited strong reaction from defensive end Chris Clemons during practice. The two battled hard during and after plays. Giacomini more than held his own. Carpenter continued to have some problems with speed rushers, notably Raheem Brock. The Seahawks will decide by Week 1 whether or not Carpenter is ready for regular-season action right away. He'll be the starter sooner or later. It's just a matter of when. Getting left tackle Russell Okung back from injury would give the team greater flexibility in helping out Carpenter in difficult situations.
  • Okung saw limited work in practice with the second team. The Seahawks hope to have him back from an ankle injury in Week 1.
  • Receivers Isaiah Stanback, Ben Obomanu, Sidney Rice and Mike Williams missed practice. Williams participated in individual drills before resting a sore toe. With so many receivers resting injuries, second-year pro Golden Tate figures to get additional opportunities in the final preseason game Friday. Tate's roster spot appears secure, but he could use a strong performance after a rough preseason.
  • Tight end John Carlson watched practice wearing shorts and his uniform top. He has not yet undergone the shoulder surgery that will end his season. Losing Carlson diminishes the Seahawks' options. Cable likes to use an H-back type, and Carlson was a candidate to fill that role.
  • Receiver Deon Butler did some running and cutting after practice. He remains on the physically unable to perform list and could stay there to open the season.

I'll be heading home here shortly, then heading to CenturyLink Field on Friday night for the Seahawks' game against Oakland.
The knee injury receiver Terrell Owens suffered this offseason got me thinking.

Surely the NFL can do more to protect defenseless receivers who are taping shows for VH1 or conducting personal workouts.

At least no one can blame Owens' fate on the helmet-to-helmet collisions that made headlines last season. That discussion led to concerns suggesting receivers could face more damaging hits to their lower bodies as defenders sought to avoid incurring fines with hits to the helmet.

A quick look at higher-profile NFC West injuries suffered at the position does not validate those concerns:
  • Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals: Houston Texans safety Eugene Wilson hit Fitzgerald low during the exhibition season, leaving the Pro Bowl wideout with an injured knee. This hit, more than any other that left an NFC West wideout injured, fit the profile. Fitzgerald was leaping when he made the reception on the play in question, however. The pass from quarterback Matt Leinart was a little high. Those factors contributed as much or more than Wilson's approach to the play, I thought.
  • Steve Breaston, Cardinals: He underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in September. Breaston has had knee problems in recent seasons. He played at least one game with the injury before undergoing surgery. I do not recall a specific play leading to the injury.
  • Ted Ginn Jr., San Francisco 49ers: The knee injury Ginn suffered against Seattle in the opener looked like a fluke play. Cornerback Kelly Jennings tackled Ginn low because there wasn't another alternative. Jennings was trailing Ginn and had to dive to make the tackle.
  • Dominique Zeigler, 49ers: Zeigler was injured on a special-teams play.
  • Kyle Williams, 49ers: The rookie suffered a turf-toe injury, not the type of injury in question here.
  • Mike Williams, Seahawks: Williams suffered a foot injury against New Orleans, not the type of injury in question here.
  • Deon Butler, Seahawks: No one sought to hit Butler low on this play. Butler got caught in traffic and suffered a freak injury.
  • Mark Clayton, St. Louis Rams: Clayton suffered a torn patellar tendon going after a ball along the sideline. No one hit him low.
  • Donnie Avery, Rams: Avery suffered a torn ACL during the exhibition season after landing awkwardly while trying to make a reception.
  • Mardy Gilyard, Rams: Gilyard underwent surgery for a wrist injury this offseason. The injury had lingered for some time. It wasn't related to getting hit low.
  • Dominique Curry, Rams: Curry suffered a torn ACL while covering a punt in Week 3.

The NFL's emphasis on protecting defenseless receivers from head injuries could still promote other types of injuries, as some have feared. I did not see evidence of that happening in the NFC West last season.
A quick look around NFC West team headquarters from reporters monitoring potential fallout from the court ruling striking down the NFL lockout:
The courts might have struck down the lockout, but nothing much has changed. We're still waiting to see whether the courts allow the lockout to stand pending an appeal. In the meantime, teams appear ready to greet players and tell them, in effect, that there's nothing to see here.
Larry Fitzgerald's arrival with the Arizona Cardinals via the 2004 NFL draft serves as the starting point for the latest item looking at recent NFC West choices.

Fitzgerald already has 613 receptions, far more than any other NFC West receiver over the last seven seasons.

In fact, the wide receivers with the most receptions for the Cardinals' division rivals during the same time period -- Torry Holt (St. Louis), Bobby Engram (Seattle) and Arnaz Battle (San Francisco) -- have long since moved on. I ran across Engram in the 49ers' main lobby Wednesday; he's a quality control coach with the team.

History tells us receivers carry more risk than some other positions. For every Fitzgerald, there seems to be a Koren Robinson, David Terrell or Troy Williamson -- high picks that never came close to realizing their potential. Mike Williams' revival with Seattle last season was an exception.

The charts break down every receiver NFC West teams have drafted since 2004. Will the St. Louis Rams add Julio Jones to their list of drafted wideouts?

As in the past, I'll preface each chart with thoughts from the teams' perspectives.

Immediate needs don't matter so much when front-line talent is available ...

Time to start finding replacements for veterans who might not fit into our plans (Terrell Owens for the 49ers, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt for the Rams) ...

These guys might not start, but every team needs secondary options in the passing game ...

We're getting late enough in the draft to consider grabbing a receiver while a few with decent potential remain on the board ...

Time to fill out the roster and hope we find depth for special teams ...
The St. Louis Rams needed more offensive firepower last season, particularly at wide receiver.

That was obvious at critical moments.

Left unsaid: The Rams have addressed the position. Since 2008, the team has used three draft choices in the first four rounds to select wideouts, tied with six other teams for second-most in the league. But Donnie Avery (2008 second round), Keenan Burton (2008 fourth round) and Mardy Gilyard (2010 fourth round) combined for six receptions last season.

Avery is doing much better following reconstructive knee surgery. Burton is off the roster and has not played in a regular-season NFL game since suffering a torn patella against New Orleans in 2009. Gilyard is recovering from wrist surgery after playing little and failing to catch a pass in the Rams' final 10 games.

The chart shows how many skill-position players NFL teams have drafted in the first four rounds since 2008. I excluded tight ends because some project more as blockers.

I'll break them out by NFC West team:
    [+] EnlargeSam Bradford
    Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesSam Bradford is coming off a record-breaking rookie season in which he threw for over 3,500 yards.
  • St. Louis Rams (4): Quarterback Sam Bradford (2010 first round) is coming off a record-setting rookie season. He could use some help from Avery and Gilyard.
  • Arizona Cardinals (3): Receiver Andre Roberts (2010 third round), running back Beanie Wells (2009 first round) and receiver Early Doucet (2008 third round) remain prominent in the Cardinals' plans. The 2011 season will be a big one for Wells, who looked better as a rookie than he did last season. The knee injury Wells suffered during the exhibition season required surgery. That presumably affected his play.
  • San Francisco 49ers (2): Receiver Michael Crabtree (2009 first) had 55 catches last season, including six for touchdowns. His season was a bit underwhelming, however, as the 49ers' quarterback and coordinator instability continued. Running back Glen Coffee (2009 third round) became a bust when he retired after only one season, citing a lack of love for the game.
  • Seattle Seahawks (2): Receiver Golden Tate (2010 second round) made an immediate impact during minicamps last offseason, only to justify the usual disclaimers about rookie receivers often struggling when the games start counting. Tate's game needs refinement, by his own admission. He has the athletic ability to make plays on the ball and gain big chunks after the catch. Meanwhile, Deon Butler (2009 third round) is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a career-threatening leg injury, coach Pete Carroll said. Butler's on-field future remains in question, however.

I singled out the first four rounds because those choices are more valuable.

NFC West teams have found some bargains at the skill positions in the later rounds since 2008, including: Tim Hightower, LaRod Stephens-Howling and possibly John Skelton in Arizona; Josh Morgan and Anthony Dixon in San Francisco and Justin Forsett in Seattle.

The Rams' late-round selections -- Keith Null, Chris Obgonnaya and Brooks Foster -- no longer play for the team.

Seahawks' big-play prospects vs. Bears

January, 12, 2011
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HasselbeckRob Grabowski/US PresswireMatt Hasselbeck went 25-for-40 for 242 yards and a TD in a Week 6 win over the Bears.
There's folly in asking an aging quarterback to wing deep passes all around Soldier Field in mid-January, especially when that quarterback has never been known for arm strength.

It's also tough to envision the Seattle Seahawks winning their NFC divisional-round playoff game Sunday at Soldier Field without Matt Hasselbeck completing the longer passes that worked so well against New Orleans in the wild-card round.

Hasselbeck, 35, completed 4 of 6 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints on throws traveling at least 15 yards downfield. This was his best deep-passing performance of the season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Bears, however, allowed only nine pass plays of 30-plus yards this season, one off the NFL lead (Indianapolis) and less than half the average for other teams.

One challenge for Hasselbeck, it appears, is keeping a good thing going against a tougher defense and amid less favorable conditions. For thoughts on his prospects, I checked in with the person best positioned to provide answers. ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer played with Hasselbeck in Seattle and helped teach him the intricacies of a defensive scheme that Bears coach Lovie Smith mastered while working under Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay -- where Dilfer was quarterback at the time.

"The X factor is this: Matthew understands Tampa 2, 3 Sky, fire-zone Bear defense as good as anybody," Dilfer said. "I don’t know if there is a quarterback who could better coach up what the Bears do than Matt."

In an upset of sorts, Hasselbeck fared well on longer passes when Seattle beat the Bears at Soldier Field in Week 6. He completed 4 of 7 passes for 85 yards, one touchdown and a 139.9 rating on throws traveling at least 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. One of those went to Deon Butler, since placed on injured reserve, for a 22-yard touchdown. Chicago held the rest of the league to 29.8 percent completions and a 41.2 rating on these throws.

Early in the New Orleans game, the Seahawks showed an ability to drive for a touchdown without relying on big plays. They went 57 yards in six plays, none longer than the 11-yard scoring pass Hasselbeck threw to tight end John Carlson following a well-executed play-action fake. Working on a short field helped.

"Every other scoring drive had some kind of big-play element to it," Dilfer said, "and the Bears only gave up nine plays over 30 yards in the passing game. They refuse to give up big plays."

Hasselbeck credited Seattle's offensive staff, notably coordinator Jeremy Bates and quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch, for finding ways to exploit the Saints' gambling defense. His own experience against Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, this season and over the years, also came into play.

The Saints sent six or more pass-rushers more frequently than any team in the league this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That played into Hasselbeck's strength. Counting playoffs, Hasselbeck has completed 24 of 38 passes for 378 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions against six or more rushers this season. Two of those three scoring passes came at the Saints' expense.

[+] EnlargeRod Marinelli
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhRod Marinelli's defense has allowed only nine pass plays of 30-plus yards this season.
The Bears take a different approach. They sent six or more rushers 2.8 times per game this season. Converting big plays becomes tougher, even for an experienced quarterback, with more players dropping into coverage.

While Hasselbeck connected on downfield throws against Chicago last time, Seattle averaged only 9.7 yards per reception in that game. The Seahawks' longest pass covered only 24 yards. The team wasn't overly reliant on the long ball, in other words. Receiver Mike Williams caught 10 passes for 123 yards, and the running game produced just enough to sustain a few drives.

That was enough to win while Seattle's defense was holding the Bears' offense to no third-down conversions and 13 points (Chicago also scored on special teams). Winning without the big play could be tougher this time.

"Seattle really has to somehow scheme it," Dilfer said. "Look at the touchdown pass Charlie Whitehurst threw against the Rams (in Week 17), the big plays they generated against the Saints. To me, it almost seems like they fired their gun, they have unloaded their chamber. Bates has to steal some (big) plays against the Bears."

Concerns for Deon Butler following injury

December, 12, 2010
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Video replays suggested Seattle Seahawks receiver Deon Butler had suffered a severely broken leg following his late touchdown reception Sunday.

The scene around Butler after the game supported those concerns.

Butler suffered a broken leg, the Seahawks said. The team will presumably have more details Monday.

Multiple doctors from both teams and various medical personnel surrounded Butler after the game in a side room adjacent to the 49ers' locker room at Candlestick Park. They spilled out of the room into the hallway. Butler was lying down inside the room, awaiting transport to a hospital.

Before heading from San Francisco's locker room to a postgame interview room, 49ers coach Mike Singletary worked his way through the doctors so he could share his concerns with Butler in person. Singletary did not stay long, but the fact that he felt compelled to visit Butler in person spoke to the seriousness of the injury.

"I was just out there and I know what I saw," Seattle receiver Ruvell Martin said. "You can see something sticking out of his leg, so it didn't look so good. ... He just looked at me and goes, 'My leg.' All I could do was just give him my hand and say a prayer for him and try to comfort him as much as I could."

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Butler was "unbelievably courageous and tough about it on the field" immediately following the injury.

Butler had just caught a 2-yard scoring pass with 1:55 remaining in the Seahawks' 40-21 defeat when a defender's leg collided with Butler's leg.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 40, Seahawks 21

December, 12, 2010
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' blowout victory against the Seattle Seahawks at Candlestick Park in Week 14:

What it means: The 49ers pulled within one game of NFC West division leaders Seattle and St. Louis, keeping alive their hopes for a division title. Alex Smith reemerged as a viable quarterback for the 49ers, at least for this game. The 49ers (5-8) could pull into a first-place tie by beating San Diego on Thursday night, but only if the Seahawks and Rams lose in Week 15. Both fell to 6-7 Sunday. Seattle faces a tough game at home against Atlanta. St. Louis faces a tough game at home against Kansas City.

What I liked: Alex Smith and tight end Vernon Davis picked up where they left off before a shoulder injury sidelined Smith against Carolina. Davis had caught a touchdown pass in four consecutive games before Smith's injury. Davis caught only one scoring pass while Troy Smith was the quarterback. But with Alex Smith back in the lineup Sunday, Davis caught a 42-yard scoring pass on the 49ers' opening drive. He sustained the drive with a 22-yard reception on third-and-10. Smith has thrown a high percentage of his career scoring passes to Davis. They work well together.

What I didn't like: Seattle's defense missed far too many tackles in the open field. Rookie safety Earl Thomas missed one at the Seattle 47 during Brian Westbrook's 62-yard touchdown reception on a short pass. Cornerback Marcus Trufant missed one that would have prevented 49ers receiver Josh Morgan from reaching the end zone for another touchdown. Speaking of missed tackles, was that 49ers Pro Bowler Patrick Willis on the wrong end of a collision with Marshawn Lynch? Yes, it was, but I had to watch the replay to make sure. I do not recall seeing Willis get crumpled like that. Lynch also dismissed 49ers cornerback Shawntae Spencer with a casually delivered -- but brutally effective -- stiffarm near the 49ers' sideline.

Hero: Alex Smith. He rode to the rescue after the 49ers had lost two of three games.

Goat: This wasn't the first time Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck has struggled badly without top receiver Mike Williams available to him. It might have been his ugliest performance of the season, however. Hasselbeck, who finished with four interceptions, mysteriously threw an end-zone pick to a well-covered Brandon Stokley. Other times, it appeared Hasselbeck threw where he wanted receivers to be instead of where they actually were -- at great cost to the offense. One example: Hasselbeck threw behind tight end Chris Baker over the middle, leading to a pick. Baker and Hasselbeck both appeared mystified by the development.

Hindsight: Why did the 49ers switch from Troy Smith to Alex Smith at quarterback? That was the big question all week. Alex Smith provided a convincing answer with three first-half touchdown passes during a dominating performance. San Francisco turned four turnovers into 20 points in building a 40-14 lead through three quarters.

Injurie(s) of note: Seattle's top receiving threats, Williams and Ben Obomanu, did not play. Injuries made both inactive. The team lost receiver Deon Butler to an injury late in the game.

Tomorrow's Talker: Will the 49ers parlay their blowout victory into a division title? If they did, what would it mean for coach Mike Singletary?

Critical Call: Let's address the critical non-call first. Niners cornerback Shawntae Spencer appeared to prevent Seattle's Deon Butler from getting to a deep ball on a fourth-and-4 play late in the second quarter. The 49ers took over and quickly scored a touchdown on Brian Westbrook's 62-yard catch-and-run, stretching their lead to 27-7. Let's address the critical call next. I'm not sure why Seattle would opt for such a high-risk play from the San Francisco 32 when trailing 20-7 with 3:10 left in the first half. This was an all-or-nothing gamble and it backfired, helping the 49ers break open the game.

Trending: When the Seahawks lose, they really lose. Their previous defeats came by the following margins, in order: 17, 17, 30, 34, 15 and 18 points.

What's next: The Seahawks return home to face the 11-2 Atlanta Falcons. The 49ers visit the 7-6 Chargers in San Diego.

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