NFL Nation: Joshua Morgan


The Seattle Seahawks' secondary is whole again now that cornerback Brandon Browner, a Pro Bowl choice one year ago, has returned from a four-game suspension in time for the team's wild-card playoff game against the Washington Redskins on Sunday.



Fellow starter Richard Sherman continued to play nearly all the defensive snaps without Browner. Cornerbacks Marcus Trufant, Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell each played about half the snaps against St. Louis in Week 17.

The assumption is that Browner will resume his role as an every-down player opposite Sherman. How frequently the Redskins use more than two wide receivers will influence how much Trufant and/or the others play Sunday.

The Redskins used three or more wide receivers about 40 percent of the time on first and second downs this season, right around the NFL average, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The rate fell to about 33 percent over the past five weeks. I singled out early downs because most teams use three or more receivers on third down regardless of offensive philosophy.

Play-action tactics could influence the outcome Sunday.

Washington has used play-action 175 times on early downs, most in the NFL. Seattle ranks fourth with 150.

The Redskins have a league-high 12 receptions for 30-plus yards on these plays. Their 1,817 yards passing on these plays leads the NFL by more than 400 yards. The corresponding numbers produce a No. 2 ranking in NFL passer rating (118.9) and No. 5 ranking in Total QBR (87.7).

The Redskins' Pierre Garcon and Leonard Hankerson rank among the NFL's top eight in play-action receiving yards on early downs -- even though Garcon missed six games to injury. Teammate Joshua Morgan ranks 20th.

Garcon has 18 receptions for 445 yards and three touchdowns on these plays. That works out to 24.7 yards per catch. Hankerson has 13 catches for 338 yards and two scores in these situations. His average is 26 yards per catch. The corresponding numbers for Morgan include 17 catches for 262 yards and no scores.

Browner plays aggressively. He's a good tackler and can force fumbles. Aggressive play can lead to aggressive mistakes, however.

Seattle's defense has allowed 7.9 yards per pass attempt with five touchdowns, three interceptions, an 88.4 NFL passer rating and 74.2 Total QBR score against play-action attempts on early downs. The passer rating allowed ranks 13th. The QBR score allowed ranks 17th.

That will be one area to watch Sunday. I offer relate thoughts in the video atop this item.

On a side note, Seattle's Sidney Rice ranks 10th in play-action receiving yards on early downs. He has 16 receptions for 303 yards and four touchdowns in these situations.

Lloyd, Manningham and the WR market

March, 17, 2012
3/17/12
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Brandon Lloyd's contract agreement with the New England Patriots makes official his long-anticipated departure from the St. Louis Rams.

Those wondering why the Rams did not name Lloyd their franchise player should know this: Lloyd is reportedly getting $4 million per year, less than half the $9.515 million price associated with the franchise tag for receivers this year.

The Rams and Lloyd valued one another less once Lloyd's preferred offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, left St. Louis for the Patriots following the 2011 regular season.

Lloyd visited the San Francisco 49ers before reaching agreement with New England, where he was expected to land all along.

The receiver market was already picked over heading into the weekend. The chart ranks by age receivers changing teams as unrestricted free agents this offseason.

New York Giants free agent Mario Manningham visited the 49ers and Rams. His agent was negotiating with the Rams on Saturday, according to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post.

Manningham caught 39 passes for 523 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games last season, with 10 starts. He played more games and had better numbers in each of the previous two seasons.

The Rams are seeking playmakers to help quarterback Sam Bradford, but so far in free agency, their additions have included a center (Scott Wells), a defensive tackle (Kendall Langford) and a cornerback (Cortland Finnegan).

NFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Arizona Cardinals

Key free agents: DE Calais Campbell (franchise tag), CB Richard Marshall, OLB Clark Haggans, WR Early Doucet, T Brandon Keith, G Deuce Lutui, K Jay Feely.

Where they stand: A strong finish to the 2011 season on defense gives the Cardinals a glass-half-full feel heading into free agency. Going from 1-6 to 8-8 was an impressive achievement. Arizona does have serious concerns on its offensive line. The situation at tackle is particularly questionable even if Levi Brown returns (and maybe especially if he returns, depending on your view). The line concerns might actually dissipate some if the team lands Peyton Manning, a quarterback with the ability to beat pressure with quick throws. But tackle is still an area that needs addressing for the long term. Injuries throughout the offensive backfield raise questions about that area as well. Kevin Kolb (concussion), Beanie Wells (knee), Ryan Williams (knee) and Anthony Sherman (ankle) missed extensive time or played at a diminished level for stretches.

What to expect: The Cardinals are one of the teams chasing Manning. That pursuit could consume them for the short term. Landing Manning would signal the end for Kolb in Arizona. The Cardinals have until March 17 to exercise a $7 million option on Kolb, the quarterback they acquired from Philadelphia for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a fat contract. I'm expecting a resolution to Manning's situation before the Kolb bonus comes due simply because interest in Manning should be high enough to accelerate the process. The Cardinals had about $3 million in salary-cap space entering the week, according to ESPN's John Clayton. That figure could increase substantially once the team releases Brown or reworks his contract. Arizona still has strong coaching ties to Pittsburgh on both sides of the ball, but it's an upset if the Cardinals seriously pursue any of the aging veterans recently released by the Steelers. Developing young talent is the priority now. Re-signing Marshall, who fared well at corner, should be a priority. Does free-agent linebacker Stewart Bradley still factor prominently into the team's plans, particularly at such a high price?

St. Louis Rams

Key free agents: WR Brandon Lloyd, G Jacob Bell, CB Justin King, OL Adam Goldberg, LB Chris Chamberlain, G Tony Wragge, TE Billy Bajema, WR Mark Clayton, DT Gary Gibson, P Donnie Jones.

Where they stand: The Rams have no interest in staying the course from a personnel standpoint after going 15-65 over the past five seasons. They will seek fresh talent almost across the board as Jeff Fisher's new coaching staff seeks players for its schemes. The Rams are seeking playmakers in particular, starting at wide receiver. The offensive line needs addressing, although the Rams might try to minimize the turnover at offensive tackle for the short term, figuring they cannot afford to create new needs. But former starting center Jason Brown, benched last season, appears unlikely to return. The team also needs two starting outside linebackers, starting defensive tackles and perhaps two starting cornerbacks on defense.

What to expect: Mass roster turnover. I could see the team retaining as few as one or two players from its list of 21 projected unrestricted free agents. The Rams have a disproportionate amount of their salary cap tied up in recent high draft choices Sam Bradford, Chris Long and Jason Smith. The rookie wage scale will provide them cap relief even if the team remains among the teams picking very high in the 2012 draft. Bradford and Long are cornerstones. Smith could stick around at a reduced rate. The team still has hope for him under new offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan and defensive lineman Jason Jones, both free agents from Tennessee, have ties to Fisher and could make sense for the Rams. Despite the need for playmakers on offense, the Rams did not use the franchise tag on Lloyd, their most talented receiver. Questions persist about how effective Lloyd might be outside Josh McDaniels' offense.

San Francisco 49ers

Key free agents: QB Alex Smith, CB Carlos Rogers, FS Dashon Goldson (franchise tag), G Adam Snyder, WR Ted Ginn Jr., WR Josh Morgan, G Chilo Rachal, FB Moran Norris, LB Blake Costanzo.

Where they stand: Coach Jim Harbaugh has said it's a bit unsettling heading through the offseason with his starting quarterback unsigned. Smith and the 49ers are expected to reach agreement eventually. This relationship will almost certainly continue even if Smith does reach free agency without a deal in place. Smith would not fit nearly as well anywhere else. Harbaugh likes to use the word "equity" when describing players he wants to keep. The 49ers would rather bring back Smith than invite the disruption that Manning would bring, were they able to land him. The team needs help at wide receiver and possibly cornerback, depending upon what happens with Rogers. Getting Goldson at the relatively reasonable franchise rate ($6.2 million) was a plus for the 49ers' continuity in the secondary.

What to expect: Not a whole lot, most likely. The 49ers were a good team last season after taking a low-keyed approach to the free-agent market. They will presumably show interest in Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace and any high-profile, productive receiver with the talent to upgrade their offense. It's a small upset if the 49ers land one of them, however, because their philosophy is built on a measured approach resistant to overpaying. They will have to address the receiver position in free agency one way or another, however. Re-signing Morgan would help. Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston, Mario Manningham, Plaxico Burress and Robert Meachem are among the other options in free agency. An upgrade at right guard would help the line, but the 49ers might be apt to develop 2011 draft choice Daniel Kilgore after investing first-round choices in their left tackle (Joe Staley), left guard (Mike Iupati) and right tackle (Anthony Davis).

Seattle Seahawks

Key free agents: DE Red Bryant, LB David Hawthorne, LB Leroy Hill, OL Paul McQuistan, DE Raheem Brock, DL Tony Hargrove, FB Michael Robinson, RB Justin Forsett, QB Charlie Whitehurst, LB Matt McCoy, TE John Carlson, LB Heath Farwell.

Where they stand: The Seahawks' long-term quarterback situation hangs over them as they head toward the 2012 draft with only the 12th overall choice. The team has built up the rest of its roster to a point where sticking with Tarvaris Jackson as the primary starter could hold back the team to a degree it did not through much of last season. Upgrading the pass rush is another priority for the Seahawks. With defensive end Raheem Brock publicly stumping for Seattle to land Manning, his former teammate, I couldn't help but wonder which one of them had a better shot at earning a roster spot with the team in 2012. It might be Manning, even if the Seahawks are relative long shots for his services. Brock failed to provide the pass-rush push Seattle needed opposite Chris Clemons. Linebacker is another position the Seahawks need to address, whether or not Hawthorne and Hill return.

What to expect: The Seahawks have roughly $30 million in cap space, according to Clayton, and will make every effort to land Manning. They feel they've got a shot as long as they can persuade him to get on a plane and check out what they have to offer in terms of the roster, coaching, facilities, ownership and more. If Manning goes elsewhere, I would expect the Seahawks to consider Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn. Securing him at a price lower than what Arizona paid for Kolb would be the goal. As badly as the Seahawks want to upgrade the position, they have said they will not panic. Overpaying for Flynn could represent panic in their eyes. On the pass-rush front, I'm increasingly skeptical the team will shell out for Mario Williams. The price could be too high for a player Houston has decided to let hit the market. Re-signing Bryant is a priority, but using the franchise tag for him was never an option given the $10.6 million price. A deal slightly north of the one teammate Brandon Mebane signed seems likelier if Bryant returns.

Game-day QB dynamics change with rules

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
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SAN FRANCISCO -- The St. Louis Rams went into their regular season with only two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster.

The Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks named their third quarterbacks inactive Sunday.

Rules changes allow teams to keep 46 players active on game days without a special designation for third quarterbacks. As expected, teams aren't valuing third quarterbacks enough to keep them active at the expense of players more likely to get into games.

The tradeoff is an unlikely one: having to play a non-quarterback under center after losing both quarterbacks to injury during the same game.

Receiver Early Doucet would likely be the emergency quarterback for Arizona. Fullback Michael Robinson is among those in Seattle who might qualify for the role, with running back Leon Washington as another candidate. I'm not sure who would fill the role for the 49ers. Josh Morgan and Ted Ginn Jr. come to mind. Fellow receiver Michael Crabtree played quarterbac in college.

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