NFL Nation: Greg Salas

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets likely will be facing the New England Patriots with a beat-up receiving corps.

Santonio Holmes (hamstring) didn't practice Wednesday, David Nelson (undisclosed) was limited in positional drills and newcomer Greg Salas, signed Tuesday off the Philadelphia Eagles' practice squad, spent the early part of practice riding a stationary bike. Unless Salas was injured on the drive up the New Jersey Turnpike, it appears the Jets signed damaged goods.

The Jets' other newcomer, WR/KR Josh Cribbs, made his debut on the practice field, wearing No. 16. As expected, he was involved in punt and kickoff returning, and he also ran drills with the receivers.

Holmes showed up midway through the media period at practice -- he walked in with general manager John Idzik -- but he wasn't in pads and did only light jogging. There's little chance he will play Sunday. On Tuesday, they lost Clyde Gates (shoulder) for the season, placing him on injured reserve.

Cornerback Kyle Wilson (head injury) also is a question mark. He, too, was on the bikes.

On the positive side, rookie cornerback Dee Milliner (hamstring) participated in positional drills, working his way back to action. There's growing optimism about his chances of playing Sunday. He has missed three straight games.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ waiver-wire spree didn’t really materialize Sunday. The team was awarded just one player, former Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Shaun Prater.

One possible reason for the relatively light activity: The Jacksonville Jaguars, who are two spots higher than the Eagles on waiver claims, were awarded a stunning seven players. That included two players, DE/LB Chris McCoy and TE Clay Harbor, who were released by the Eagles.

Prater is 5-foot-10, 190 pounds. A fifth-round pick out of Iowa last year, Prater spent his rookie season on injured reserve with patellar tendinitis. He is not expected to be a factor right away. The Eagles will roll with Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher (who played with Prater at Iowa) outside and Brandon Boykin in the slot.

But at least Prater can practice and play. To make room for him, the Eagles released Curtis Marsh, another member of their disastrous 2011 draft class. Marsh had surgery on his broken hand last month and was not available for the last two preseason games.

A couple of other roster-related notes:
  • The Eagles signed four players to their practice squad, all of whom were released over the weekend: OT Michael Bamiro, RB Matthew Tucker, WR Greg Salas and LB Travis Long. They have four more spots to fill.
  • Didn’t do too poorly on my projected 53-man roster, which was posted Friday morning. I had 48 players right. And where I was incorrect, I might have been right in a couple of spots where the Eagles turn out to be wrong.I had McCoy staying and Casey Matthews going. We’ll see how that one turns out.

    I had Salas and Russell Shepard among six wide receivers. The Eagles kept five, including Jeff Maehl. That’s two Oregon guys who made the team that I didn’t expect.

    I thought they’d keep 10 offensive linemen, including Matt Tennant. They went light there, cutting Tennant, and kept one more tight end than I expected: Emil Igwenagu.

    Finally, they kept two more DBs than I expected. One was Colt Anderson, who will play only on special teams. The other was Marsh, who was released today. So maybe I had 4.5 players wrong.
  • Roseman made two trades involving a running back for a linebacker. He got Emmanuel Acho, who made the team, for Dion Lewis, who is on IR in Cleveland. And he got Adrian Robinson, who was cut Friday, for Felix Jones, who made the Steelers roster.
  • The Eagles were off today and have some conditioning work scheduled for Monday. They’ll be off again Tuesday. The practice week for Monday night’s game at Washington begins in earnest on Wednesday.
Most significant move. It’s always eye-catching when a team gives up on a first-round draft pick after just two seasons, but guard Danny Watkins had become irrelevant long before being released Saturday. So the departure of the former firefighter means less on the field than it means symbolically.

It was decisions like drafting Watkins, who was already 26 and had been playing football for just four years, that led to the Eagles’ sharp decline in Andy Reid’s final two seasons. Reid crowed that he had a stud who could step right in and dominate at right guard. After 30 months and 18 starts, Watkins is gone.

Versatility is the key. Head coach Chip Kelly and GM Howie Roseman placed a heavy emphasis on versatility in making decisions, especially at the back end of the roster.

Linebacker Casey Matthews, who plays on all four special-teams units, stayed instead of Chris McCoy, who had a good preseason. Tight end Emil Igwenagu, a strong point-of-attack blocker, beat out Clay Harbor, whose skills were similar to the other tight ends. Wide receiver Jeff Maehl, a high school safety, beat out Greg Salas and Russell Shepard because he’s a tougher special-teams guy.

“We were looking for different skill sets, especially at the back of the roster,” Roseman said. “We felt there was room for some role players on our team.”

What’s next. The Eagles have the No. 4 spot when it comes to being awarded waiver claims. Roseman plans to take advantage of that in order to fill some holes that remain on the roster.

“Sometimes that’s hard to do at this time of year,” Roseman said. “[Jaguars GM] Dave Caldwell’s probably thinking the same thing two spots ahead of us on the wire. We have a draft board set up. We spent an inordinate amount of time on guys we thought would be on the bubble.”

The most pressing needs are in the defensive secondary, where the Eagles are thin at cornerback and simply unimpressive at safety, and at linebacker. There were only three outside linebackers on the roster as of the 6 p.m. deadline.

The cuts:

QB: Dennis Dixon, G.J. Kinne. RB: Matthew Tucker. WR: Greg Salas, Russell Shepard, Ifeanyi Momah, Will Kelly. TE: Clay Harbor. OL: Danny Watkins, Dallas Reynolds, Matt Tennant, Matt Kopa. DL: Antonio Dixon, David King. LB: Chris McCoy, Travis Long, Everette Brown, Adrian Robinson. DB: Trevard Lindley (injured), David Sims. Placed DE Joe Kruger (shoulder) on IR.

Few surprises as Eagles cut to 53

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
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The Philadelphia Eagles got their roster down to 53 with nine more cuts Saturday. The most notable, of course, was former first-round pick Danny Watkins. A few others were more surprising.

Wide receivers Greg Salas and Russell Shepard both had very good training camps. With so many injuries at the position, including projected starter Jeremy Maclin, they looked like candidates to make the team. Both were released. That means Jeff Maehl, who played for coach Chip Kelly at Oregon, made the 53-man roster. Clay Harbor, the tight end who attempted a midsummer conversion to wideout, was also released.

Outside linebacker Chris McCoy, who stood out in Thursday's preseason finale against the Jets, was cut. Emmanuel Acho made the team, as did reserve inside linebacker Casey Matthews. Another linebacker, Travis Long, was cut.

While running back Matthew Tucker looked very good all summer, the Eagles kept just three backs. Tucker, Shepard and tackle Michael Bamiro, a 6-foot-8 behemoth, could all wind up on the practice squad.

The 53-man roster looks like this, pending late additions via trade or the waiver wire:

Quarterbacks (3): Matt Barkley, Nick Foles, Michael Vick

Running backs (3): Bryce Brown, LeSean McCoy, Chris Polk

Wide receivers (5): Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, DeSean Jackson, Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl

Tight ends (4): James Casey, Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, Emil Igwenagu

Offensive Line (9): Allen Barbre, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Dennis Kelly, Evan Mathis, Jason Peters, Matt Tobin, Julian Vandervelde

Defensive line (7): Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Clifton Geathers, Bennie Logan, Isaac Sopoaga, Damion Square, Cedric Thornton

Linebackers (8): Emmanuel Acho, Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Mychal Kendricks, Jake Knott, Casey Matthews, DeMeco Ryans

Defensive Backs (11): Nate Allen, Colt Anderson, Brandon Boykin, Patrick Chung, Kurt Coleman, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Hughes, Curtis Marsh, Jordan Poyer, Cary Williams, Earl Wolff

Specialists (3): Jon Dorenbos, Alex Henery, Donnie Jones
The St. Louis Rams list nine wide receivers on their 90-man roster. That is the lowest figure in the NFL and three below the league average.

The overall number isn't most important to the Rams right now. For the first time in recent memory, they have five young receivers they're eager to build around: Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey and Austin Pettis.

Pettis, Givens and Quick are returning. Austin and Bailey are new. Danny Amendola, Danario Alexander, Brandon Gibson, Greg Salas and Steve Smith are among those gone from this time last year.

For a closer look at rosters for the Rams and their NFC West rivals, check out my latest roster file, ready for download here.

Enjoy your Saturday -- the second-to-last one before training camps open.

Peterson not alone among down returners

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
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Every NFC West team ranked among the NFL's top 11 in punt-return average last season. Each averaged at least 11.0 yards per return, 1.5 above the average.

Only the San Francisco 49ers have maintained their performance this season. They rank seventh with an 11.3-yard average, down only modestly from 12.4 in 2011.

Arizona's inability to spring Patrick Peterson for long returns this season has resulted in a 7.4-yard, 48.6 percent reduction per return this season. Only Chicago has suffered a greater percentage decrease in punt-return average from last season. The Cardinals have fallen from second to 22nd in punt-return average.

The St. Louis Rams rank third in both gross decline (4.5 yards) and percentage decline (40.5 percent). Seattle's average has dropped from 11.1 yards to 8.7, a reduction of 21.4 percent, 10th-greatest in the NFL.

I haven't seen a great explanation for why prolific punt returners see their averages swing wildly from season to season. It's happening for Peterson and the Chicago Bears' Devin Hester this season.

Hester has throughout his career experienced two highly productive seasons at a time, followed by two down seasons. That has happened twice. If the cycle continues, his average will balloon again in 2014, provided he remains a productive player.

Hester is averaging 8.0 yards per return this season after averaging 16.2 (2011), 17.1 (2010), 7.8 (2009), 6.2 (2008), 15.5 (2007) and 12.8 (2006) previously.

Peterson is averaging 7.7 yards per return with no touchdowns this season, down from 15.9 yards with four touchdowns last season. His 80-yard return for a touchdown in Week 12 last season staked the Cardinals to a 20-10 lead at St. Louis. Arizona won the game, 23-20.

The teams play Sunday, also in Week 12, this time in Arizona.

St. Louis' average has fallen as well, dropping from 11.0 last season to 6.6 this season. Nick Miller, no longer with the team, had an 88-yard touchdown return last season. Greg Salas, also no longer with the team, had a 29-yard return. Austin Pettis, who has only one return this season, had a 9.3-yard average on 15 of them last season.

Danny Amendola leads the Rams this season with an 8.4-yard average and a long return of 22 yards. Janoris Jenkins has a 4.8-yard average on nine returns. Amendola is not expected to play against Arizona. He has a foot injury.
The St. Louis Rams used two mid-round draft choices for wide receivers in 2011.

They also acquired veteran Brandon Lloyd during a trade.

Those moves fit the Rams' plans at the time, but times have changed.

The Rams have a new general manager and new coaching staff. Some of the players they targeted for 2011 offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels don't fit as well under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Case in point: The Rams traded Greg Salas, a fourth-round choice in 2011, to McDaniels' new team, the New England Patriots, for what ESPN's Adam Schefter reported as a late-round choice in 2015.

Austin Pettis, the receiver St. Louis took in the third-round a year ago, remains on the roster, albeit on the reserve/suspended list through Week 2.

The Rams used 2012 second- and fourth-round choices for wide receivers. They also signed veteran Steve Smith.

Salas lined up primarily in the slot last season. Danny Amendola is expected to play there extensively now that he has recovered from the arm injury that ended his 2011 season after one game. Smith also has slot experience.

Salas joins Lloyd with the Patriots. New England signed Lloyd in free agency.

The Rams receiving corps now includes Brandon Gibson, Smith, Amendola, second-round choice Brian Quick, fourth-rounder Chris Givens and the suspended Pettis.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Thoughts and observations after watching the St. Louis Rams' first training camp practice under new coach Jeff Fisher on Sunday at team headquarters:
  • Backfield shines: Quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson stood out right away. Bradford appears so much healthier than he was last season. He threw with accuracy and authority. Jackson's size always impresses, but his quickness was also apparent Sunday (Jackson says he's at 5.1 percent body fat, by the way). Jackson legged out runs to the end zone, hustling on every play. He's setting an example for the team's younger players (the Rams have the NFL's youngest roster on average following an offseason overhaul).
  • Secondary watch: It's far too early to make roster determinations based on a few reps here or there on the first day. I did notice Craig Dahl working with the No. 1 defense. Darian Stewart was the starter last season. Rookie second-round choice Janoris Jenkins worked with the starting defense opposite Cortland Finnegan, with rookie Trumaine Johnson next onto the field among corners. Finnegan might project as the best option in the slot, at least for now.
  • Line shuffle: Quinn Ojinnaka got the first-team work at left guard. Robert Turner was at center while Scott Wells continues to rehab from knee surgery.
  • Early feel at receiver: The team ran through several combinations at wide receiver. Second-round pick Brian Quick wasn't working with the starters initially. Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson got first-team work, as did Steve Smith and Greg Salas. Gibson made a few impressive catches. He's fared well in camp and the preseason previously, but it hasn't translated well to the regular season. Amendola is the safest bet to earn consistent playing time. The other receivers have more to prove. Hamstring trouble will sideline Danario Alexander for the time being. Alexander has fought hard to overcome injuries stemming from chronic knee trouble. It might be a losing battle.
  • Amendola's elbow: Amendola appears full strength after recovering from a dislocated left elbow and torn triceps. On one play, he reached back with his left arm toward a pass and landed a bit awkwardly, with no ramifications. That seemed like a clear indication Amendola feels comfortable playing without restriction.
  • Don't do that: That was second-year linebacker Justin Cole making contact with Jackson around the knees.
  • Little-known player to watch: Defensive end Eugene Sims figures to get more playing time in a reconfigured rotation. I'll be interested in watching him once the Rams put on full pads Wednesday.
  • The Long precedent: The Rams' four-year extension with Chris Long marks one of the very few times the team has re-signed one of its draft choices in recent seasons. Ron Bartell got a new deal previously. Oshiomogho Atogwe signed one, but it was a stopgap deal, not a legitimate extension. Other than that, the Rams have waved goodbye to a long list of draft choices. The trend is changing. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, a second-round pick in 2009, figures to have a new deal in the near future. Fisher and staff say they place high value on middle linebackers. They love Laurinaitis.

These were a few first impressions. I'll be at Rams camp much of the week. There was enough left over from Sunday to produce additional items beginning Monday. Interviews with Chris Long, Sam Bradford, Steven Jackson, Jeff Fisher and others are helping provide a better feel for the team.
The injury Ryan Williams suffered during his second NFL exhibition game was relatively unusual for football players.

"My kneecap was in my thigh," the Arizona Cardinals' running back said during a team-produced video on his rehabilitation. "It was just kind of like, 'What?' "

A torn patella tendon ended Williams' rookie season before it officially began.

The running back expects to return for training camp and the 2012 regular season. Cadillac Williams and Earnest Graham returned from similar injuries, but each situation is different. The Cardinals cannot know how the knee will respond. No one can.

Cadillac Williams returned, only to injure his other knee. Suffering a second injury so quickly complicated comparisons to other running backs returning from a single torn patella.

Ryan Williams is not yet even 22 years old, however.

"He has youth on his side, for sure," ESPN injury expert Stephania Bell said Thursday. "What you worry about is, it takes a lot to get any kind of explosiveness or power back. You're not talking about strength, but quickness."

Williams, a second-round choice from Virginia Tech, impressed the Cardinals with his ability to change directions without losing much speed.

"It is reasonable he could be back when the season starts," Bell said, "but will he really be back? That is going to remain to be seen and like these guys coming off ACL surgeries, it may take a while to see what his max is that he can return to."

The Cardinals need Williams in part because their primary back, Beanie Wells, has struggled with injuries, fighting through knee trouble last season after undergoing surgery.

Four additional injury situations to monitor, one per NFC West team, as the offseason continues:
  • Arizona: Kevin Kolb, quarterback. Concussion problems have sidelined Kolb each of the past two seasons. Symptoms lingered last season. Quarterbacks are going to take hits unexpectedly, sometimes to the head. Can Kolb stay on the field?
  • Seattle: Sidney Rice, receiver. Rice has undergone surgery on each shoulder. One surgery repaired damage suffered during training camp. The other repaired damage incurred during college. The hope is healthier shoulders will allow Rice to improve strength throughout his upper body.
  • San Francisco: Josh Morgan, receiver. The 49ers were relatively healthy last season, but losing Morgan to a broken ankle cost them as the season progressed, particularly late. Morgan is without a contract for 2012. He has been working out at the 49ers' team facility. Getting him back would help the offense.
  • St. Louis: Rodger Saffold, pectoral. The Rams had injuries throughout their roster, especially at cornerback. Saffold's ability to play four positions on the line, including left tackle, makes him more valuable than members of the secondary. Saffold has said he hopes to be ready by April or May, according to Howard Balzer. He suffered a torn pectoral while lifting weights in mid-November.
News that Sam Bradford remained limited, Chris Long did not practice and Darian Stewart still had not passed concussion testing hung over the St. Louis Rams on Friday.

Bradford, as the starting quarterback, ranks high on the team's list of most important players. Long has 10 sacks and ranks as one of the team's best players on defense. Stewart, though inconsistent, has provided a physical presence with his hitting at safety.

Bradford's ankle injury is threatening to prevent him from getting sufficient work in the offense and with receiver Brandon Lloyd. But with so many problems throughout the roster, including along the offensive line, perhaps there's little to gain by putting Bradford on the field against the San Francisco 49ers' defense in Week 13.

To review, the Rams' injured reserve list already features:
Just about every NFL team has a chance against every opponent. The Rams should not concede the game. But if that ankle is preventing Bradford from practicing much, why play him?

Wrap-up: Cardinals 19, Rams 13 (OT)

November, 6, 2011
11/06/11
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Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals following the Cardinals' 19-13 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 9:

What it means: Rookie Patrick Peterson is becoming a legend already after his 99-yard punt return for a touchdown gave the Cardinals an overtime victory. This was his third punt return for a touchdown in eight games and it came when the Cardinals were desperate for a victory. The last time they won, against Carolina in Week 1, his punt return score was the difference. In the bigger picture, this game hurts Arizona's chances for securing a higher choice in the draft, but the payoff was sweet for the Cardinals.

What I liked: Calais Campbell continued to demonstrate his value on the field-goal block team. His third career block made sure the game went to overtime. Campbell also dominated from his spot at right defensive end. The Cardinals got No. 2 receiver Andre Roberts more involved in the offense. Adrian Wilson made an aggressive play in the Rams' backfield to foil a third-and-1 rushing attempt, forcing the Rams to settle for a field goal and a 6-3 lead. Arizona's John Skelton made a good touch pass to Larry Fitzgerald for the tying 13-yard touchdown in the final five minutes. ... Sam Bradford toughed it out on his sprained ankle, a starting point in his return to the Rams' lineup. Steven Jackson continued his physical running and topped 100 yards on the ground for the second week in a row. He has at least 96 yards in three of his last four games and at least 70 in all four. Rams rookie Greg Salas caught seven passes. Rams safety Darian Stewart was again active, getting a hand on passes well down the field.

What I didn't like: Skelton became the first NFL player since Aaron Rodgers in 2008 to take two safeties in the same game. Both were avoidable. Both were costly in a low-scoring game dominated by defense. The Cardinals had 58 yards and four first downs in the first half. Beanie Wells did not appear healthy and had a hard time getting anything going against the Rams' defense. Bradford took too many sacks. Salas suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury and was carted off the field. Later, medical personnel carted off Cardinals cornerback Michael Adams after a scary collision that appeared to put his head and neck area in jeopardy. Peterson continued having problems with penalties, including with the game on the line.

Controversial call: The Rams went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Arizona 33 with 1:48 remaining and did not get it. They were within range for a 51-yard field-goal attempt. Their kicker, Josh Brown, had made all three attempts Sunday (48, 37, 41 yards). Brown had made 15 of 19 tries from 50-plus yards since signing with the Rams. Field conditions in Arizona appeared excellent. Yes, Jackson was running well, but that was partly because the Rams had done a good job mixing up their play calls. Arizona knew what was coming in this situation. The fact that Arizona blocked the Rams' field-goal try later in the game doesn't validate Steve Spagnuolo's decision.

What's next: The Cardinals face the Eagles in Kevin Kolb's return to Philadelphia. The Rams visit Cleveland.
Brandon Lloyd's arrival in St. Louis has coincided with Steven Jackson's fuller return to health over the past two weeks.

The offense has gone through quite a transition.

With an assist from Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information, I've put together a chart showing how playing time has changed for the Rams' skill players over the last two games.

Some of the changes are injury related (Jackson is healthy, Danny Amendola is on injured reserve). Some are roster related (Lloyd added, Mike Sims-Walker subtracted). Some are a little more complicated (Lance Kendricks seeing the field less frequently).

Of course, A.J. Feeley has taken over for the injured Sam Bradford at quarterback. The offensive line has changed since Adam Goldberg replaced an injured Jason Smith at right tackle.

A few quick thoughts:
  • Rookie Greg Salas is getting significantly more playing time. The team successfully targeted him on a fourth-and-2 play against New Orleans on Sunday. He appears to be gaining momentum. Fellow rookie wideout Austin Pettis has seen his playing time fall.
  • Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui has gained snaps at Kendricks' expense. Kendricks has sometimes struggled with dropped passes, but I haven't figured out for sure why his playing time has diminished. A healthier Hoomanwanui would account for some of the change. The team has run 10 snaps of a grouping with Lloyd, Jackson and all three tight ends.
  • Receiver Danario Alexander was inactive with a hamstring injury against New Orleans. Against Dallas, he played 13 snaps with a group featuring Lloyd, Jackson, Billy Bajema and Hoomanawanui. That five-man combination has played more snaps than any other featuring Lloyd. The runnerup, with 11 snaps, features Brandon Gibson, Kendricks and Salas instead of Bajema, Hoomanawanui and Alexander.
  • Again, this offense remains in transition. We can safely say Lloyd is the focal point at receiver. Salas and Hoomanawanui have been gaining, while Pettis and Kendricks have fallen back some. But the combinations will continue to evolve, particularly once Bradford returns from his high-ankle sprain. Bradford and Kendricks developed a quick connection at training camp.

The chart shows percentages of all offensive plays, whether or not a player was active, sorted by change from the first six weeks.

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NFC West Stock Watch

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks coach. Coaches lose credibility with their players over time when they risk defeat with imprudent decisions. Carroll handled the quarterback situation questionably against Cincinnati on Sunday. He clearly botched the sequence when the first-half clock ran out, preventing the Seahawks from getting points. He did not stop the team from calling another option running play for quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, even though Jackson was still playing with an injury stemming from the last time Seattle called such a play. Making mistakes is bad enough. Refusing to correct them is worse. Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times recently ran through some of the other questionable decisions from Carroll. The Seahawks deserve better for their $35 million investment.

2. Russ Grimm, Arizona Cardinals assistant head coach/offensive line. Grimm's Hall of Fame pedigree and long-established reputation as a top offensive line coach have largely buffered him from criticism. That should change given where the Cardinals' line stands five seasons into Grimm's tenure with Arizona. Grimm hasn't been able to turn a top-five draft choice, Levi Brown, into even an average starting NFL tackle. Quarterback Kevin Kolb, though largely to blame for holding the ball too long, nonetheless needs better protection than the Cardinals' line has afforded him.

3. Charlie Whitehurst, Seahawks QB. Carroll's patience with Whitehurst finally ran out against the Bengals. Whitehurst is likely finished in Seattle unless an injury forces him into the lineup and he suddenly performs at a high level for an extended stretch. The team needed to find out about Whitehurst this season. Carroll made it clear he's seen enough when he benched Whitehurst after only seven pass attempts Sunday. Whitehurst took two sacks during his brief time on the field. He appeared unsettled by the rush and unsure what to do.

RISING

[+] EnlargeSteven Jackson
Jeff Curry/US PresswireSteven Jackson celebrates one of the two touchdowns he scored in the Rams' upset win over New Orleans.
1. Steven Jackson, Rams RB. Jackson is the Rams' emotional leader, but that leadership had its limits when a quadriceps injury was preventing Jackson from performing at high level. Jackson has shown over the past two games an ability to run with abandon. Jackson carried 25 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns in the Rams' 31-21 upset of New Orleans. He now has 28 career 100-yard rushing performances with the Rams, one more than Marshall Faulk. Only Eric Dickerson (38) has more in franchise history. Jackson's four receptions tied him with Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch for sixth on the Rams' career list (343 catches). Jackson also moved past Faulk for third on the Rams' list for most yards from scrimmage.

2. Chris Long, Rams DE. Long's three-sack performance against Drew Brees and the Saints came after a quiet week for Long and the Rams' defense at Dallas. This was a breakout game in every way. Long had one sack in each of the Rams' first three games this season. He then went three games without one before breaking through against Saints right tackle Charles Brown. Long next faces an Arizona team that has juggled personnel at right tackle, switching between Brandon Keith and Jeremy Bridges. Long's rise could continue.

3. Robert Quinn, Rams DE. A few unestablished young players in the division qualified for consideration in this spot. Richard Sherman, Greg Salas, Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield come to mind. Patrick Peterson was another consideration, but his punt return for a touchdown wasn't his first of the season, and the Cardinals ultimately lost. The San Francisco 49ers' collective stock has already surged, making it tough to pinpoint one player from that team following a routine victory over Cleveland. I went with Quinn because his stock had sagged quite a bit early in the season. He wasn't even active for the opener. But with a sack and blocked punt against New Orleans, the rookie first-round draft choice played an important role in the Rams' first victory of the season.

Wrap-up: Rams 31, Saints 21

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
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Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 31-21 victory against New Orleans in Week 8:

What it means: The Rams scored one of the biggest upsets of this NFL season, giving them a badly needed boost heading into an easier portion of their schedule. The Rams saw encouraging developments on multiple fronts. This outcome gives them hope for a strong finish to the season, particularly once quarterback Sam Bradford returns from a high-ankle sprain. This game takes the heat off coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney for the time being, at least.

What I liked: The Rams, though badly outmatched based on how the teams had performed before Week 8, were competitive from the start. Their defense kept them in the game early. Rookie Greg Salas' 17-yard reception on fourth-and-2 moved the Rams into position for the field goal that gave them a 3-0 lead. Rookie first-round pick Robert Quinn, who blocked a field-goal try during preseason, blocked a punt in this game, setting up a Steven Jackson touchdown run for a 10-0 lead. Jackson dominated with his running, topping 150 yards. The workload showed he's fully recovered from the quadriceps injury he suffered in Week 1. Chris Long had three sacks, a breakout game. Quinn also got pressure as a pass-rusher at times. The Rams played with attitude. Their defense, despite playing without all its top corners, somehow prevented Drew Brees from building on his five-touchdown game against Indy. Safety Darian Stewart's interception return for a touchdown to close out the Saints provided the proper punctuation to a game the Rams dominated.

What I didn't like: Quarterback A.J. Feeley, subbing for Bradford, missed Brandon Lloyd twice on consecutive plays that should have produced touchdowns. Lloyd dropped a pass to kill a drive in the fourth quarter when the Rams needed to sustain drives. I could go through the game picking nits, but why? The Rams easily could have mailed it in for this game. Bradford's injury gave them an out. They did not do that. They deserve credit for that. Brees' scoring pass in the final seconds made the game appear closer.

Streak ends: Until this game, the Rams had not run an offensive play all season while leading on the scoreboard. The 2005 Houston Texans did not run an offensive play while leading until Week 7 that season. The Rams can finally put to rest this dubious streak.

What's next: The Rams visit the Arizona Cardinals in Week 9.

Final Word: NFC West

October, 21, 2011
10/21/11
1:30
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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.

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