NFL Nation: Matt Stafford

Observation deck: Lions-Bills

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
11:04
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Reviewing the merciful end of the Detroit Lions' preseason, a 35-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Thursday:
  • The biggest news of any preseason finale is whether any prominent players suffered injuries. The Lions suffered no obvious ailments, partly because they rested six (relatively) healthy starters: running back Reggie Bush, receiver Calvin Johnson, safeties Louis Delmas and Glover Quin, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Ziggy Ansah. Also sidelined were receiver Ryan Broyles, running back Montell Owens, tight end Michael Williams and safety John Wendling.
  • The remainder of the starters played two series. First, the good news: The defense didn't allow a first down. It forced a three-and-out on the first possession against Bills emergency quarterback Matt Leinart, and nickelback Bill Bentley intercepted Leinart on the third play of the second.
  • The bad news: The remainder of the Lions' offensive starters -- including quarterback Matthew Stafford -- weren't sharp. Guards Rob Sims and Larry Warford collided in the backfield when both pulled, an error I'm going to attribute to Warford, and Stafford completed only 1 of 6 passes for 12 yards. He threw one interception when a high pass glanced off receiver Nate Burleson's hands. I'm not sure what to make of Stafford's preseason. It wasn't sharp by any means. He completed 49 percent of his passes for 310 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 64.9 passer rating. But Johnson hardly played, and Bush's absence took away Stafford's comfort receiver Thursday night.
  • As long as we're talking about Lions personal fouls -- Oh, wait. Were we? -- let's get on the record that center Dominic Raiola cost the team 15 yards with a personal foul while trying to make a tackle on the interception return.
  • With Johnson and Broyles inactive, the Lions gave receiver Patrick Edwards a long look. Results were mixed. Stafford overthrew him on the first play of the game for what could have been a 63-yard touchdown. On another deep pass, Edwards got open but seemed to slow down when looking for the ball. It glanced off his hands. Meanwhile, he let a third-down catch bounce off his chest but later broke a tackle to score on an 8-yard pass from backup quarterback Shaun Hill. Have the Lions seen enough from Edwards to give him a regular spot in their rotation? I think the better question as final cuts loom this weekend is whether they'll have a choice. It's worth noting that competitor Matt Willis made a sensational 39-yard catch from Hill and just missed a touchdown from Kellen Moore when he couldn't get both feet down in the end zone.
  • Moore wrapped up a strong preseason with a performance that suggests the Lions will at least have a very difficult decision to make. Moore entered in the second quarter and played the second half, throwing two touchdown passes to rookie running back Theo Riddick. Moore finished the preseason with four touchdown passes and a 99.4 passer rating. The Lions might want to use his roster spot to keep a player at another position, but this preseason he has looked at least like a future No. 2.
  • For what it's worth, the Lions started Jason Fox at right tackle and Warford at right guard for the second consecutive week. Does that mean they have won the Week 1 starting jobs? I suppose it depends on how their film grades out from Thursday night. But things appear to be going in that direction.
  • Joique Bell got the start at running back with Bush sidelined, and his best run was a 23-yard scoring jaunt. Mikel Leshoure managed 24 yards on seven carries. Each lost a fumble. At the very least, Bell has earned himself regular-season playing time even with Bush locked in as the starter.
  • Did you notice rookie cornerback Darius Slay matching Bills speedster Marquise Goodwin stride for stride on a go route in the first quarter? I did. I realize speed is a skill and not a reflection of technique, but it's nice to know the Lions have a cornerback who can run step for step with one of the fastest receivers in the 2013 draft.

Mike Sando's MVP Watch

December, 21, 2011
12/21/11
11:44
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Brady, Brees, Rodgers US PresswireGreen Bay's Aaron Rodgers (right), New Orleans' Drew Brees (center) and New England's Tom Brady remain the focus of the MVP conversation.
The MVP Watch list heading into Week 16 is half new and, hopefully, not half bad.

The Big Three haven't changed for weeks. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady have earned their spots at the top. The other seven spots are largely negotiable from week to week.

Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Terrell Suggs, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker appeared last week. All five are sitting this one out for various reasons:

  • Manning: Blame a 1-5 record over the Giants' last six games even though Manning remains supremely valuable to his team.
  • Roethlisberger: A nasty ankle injury and the San Francisco 49ers' defense doomed Roethlisberger to a three-interception performance while raising questions about his status for the near future.
  • Suggs: Great player, horrible defensive performance from Baltimore against San Diego.
  • Gronkowski: How dare the Patriots target other players for a week. Gronkowski went without a touchdown after scoring 11 in his six previous games.
  • Welker: Had four receptions for 41 yards, his second-lowest totals of the season.

Those five remain in the conversation outside The Conversation. In other words, none is going to seriously challenge for MVP honors while Rodgers, Brees and Brady are rewriting record books, but all five remain worthy of a mention.

The same was true for the five players new to the list from last week.

Good seeing you again, Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford. You, too, Tony Romo and Philip Rivers. There was also room for Justin Smith in the No. 10 spot after his 49ers held the Pittsburgh Steelers to three points Monday night. Smith is the best player on arguably the NFL's best defense, and one reason the 49ers have not allowed a rushing touchdown in 15 games or a 100-yard rusher in 36.

Final Word: NFC West

October, 14, 2011
10/14/11
1:30
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» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

Putting Carlos Rogers to the test. Detroit's Jim Schwartz and San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh pointed to the 49ers' front seven when asked why the team has improved in its secondary. The 49ers have had a strong front seven for years, however, so clearly something else is different. Doug Clawson of ESPN Stats & Information passes along this note: Rogers, new to the 49ers this season, leads NFL defensive backs with three picks on passes traveling more than 10 yards downfield. The 49ers allowed 10 touchdowns with six interceptions on these throws last season. The ratio is two touchdowns to seven picks this season. Let's see if the trend holds against the Lions. Matt Stafford is tied with Aaron Rodgers for the most scoring passes on these throws. He has seven, five to Calvin Johnson.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Bruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireThe Lions' Matthew Stafford, among the league's best passers on first downs, has had some trouble producing on third downs.
Attacking the Lions on third down. Stafford has seven touchdown passes with only one interception on first down this season, matching Rodgers for the best totals in the league. The production hasn't been there on third down. Stafford has completed only 50.9 percent of his third-down passes with two touchdowns, two interceptions and weak efficiency numbers (22.3 Total QBR, 71.3 NFL passer rating). The absence of a conventional ground game could, in theory, set up more third-and-long situations. Stafford ranks among the NFL's top three in touchdowns (two) and passes gaining at least 30 yards (three) on third-and-8 or longer, but his first-down percentage on these plays (26.9) ranks only 15th.

Watch for the play-action game. The Lions have thrown out of the shotgun formation more times than any team in the league. They also hand off from the shotgun, keeping teams honest enough for Stafford to lead the NFL in play-action passing in these three areas: completion percentage (80.0), Total QBR (97.5) and NFL passer rating (150.4). The 49ers rank fifth in completion percentage allowed against play-action (53.8), but only 28th in yards per attempt (10.5) and 31st in yards per reception (19.1). Why? The Dallas Cowboys set up their 77-yard overtime reception against the 49ers in Week 2 with a play-action fake that worked beautifully.

Mismatch of all mismatches. The Green Bay Packers have scored more points in third quarters (49) than the St. Louis Rams have scored in all their games combined (46). Second quarters are often when teams hit their stride on offense. The Rams have only three second-quarter points all season. Green Bay has 44. Sure, the Packers have played one additional game, but that doesn't begin to account for the disparity. The Packers scored more points against Denver in Week 4 (49) than the Rams have scored this season.

Clay Matthews alert. The Rams' Sam Bradford has absorbed 18 sacks through four games, putting him on pace to take 72 of them over the season. That would rank tied for second in the sack era (since 1982) with Randall Cunningham, three behind David Carr's record. The Packers' Matthews has only one sack through five games. He had 8.5 sacks at this point last season thanks to a pair of three-sack games. What's up? The Packers are using more three-man rushes. Cullen Jenkins is no longer around to attract attention from opposing lines. Matthews has also been dealing with a quadriceps injury. Might this be his get-well game?

Did we overrate the Beast?

October, 1, 2009
10/01/09
3:00
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  Getty Images
 Quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Jason Campbell lead the two most overrated teams in the Beast.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


It's much too early to make any sweeping statements about the '09 season, but I'm planning to do it anyway. The NFC East is overrated.

I know the division is still showing up atop ESPN.com's Power Rankings -- now syndicated in more than 100 nations -- but that will soon change. The NFC North, commonly referred to as the Favre Division, is on pace to overtake the Beast by next Tuesday -- especially if John "The Professor" Clayton continues to rank the mighty New York Giants sixth overall.

As a former power rankings panelist, I believe the Giants are the best team in the league heading into Week 4. But after that, all bets are off. The Cowboys are 2-1, but our four distinguished voters don't even have them in the top half of the league (No. 17). And only by the grace of God and Clayton did the Redskins end up at No. 26 overall. They deserved much worse after their performance in Detroit.

Now let's take a look at all four teams to see where we may have overrated them. We'll assign them an overrated score on a 1-10 scale. The teams with the highest scores are the most overrated. If you're confused by this ranking system, please skip to the next blog entry:

Anyone who says they have the Eagles figured out is not being truthful: Seriously, how in the world are we supposed to have any feel for this team? They opened by destroying Jake Delhomme's fake elbow and the rest of the Panthers. Now that the Panthers are 0-3, that win doesn't seem quite as impressive. And the Eagles' defense, an alleged strength after Week 1, was awful against the high-flying Saints. The Eagles bounced back with a dominating performance against the Chiefs, but that's a team most teams should dominate.

Eagles coach Andy Reid has brought in the prototypical Wildcat quarterback in Michael Vick, but the formation had nothing to do with the Eagles' win over the Chiefs. The Eagles have an aging star quarterback recovering from a cracked rib and an aging star running back trying to bounce back from an ankle injury. There are simply too many uncertainties in Philly to make any logical guess as to where this team is headed. Reid made the mistake of banking on the highly unpredictable Shawn Andrews to start at right tackle. That's already backfired and I'm not convinced Winston Justice is the answer. Some of us thought the Eagles might have one of the better offensive lines in football heading into the season. That doesn't appear to be the case now.

Overrated factor: 7

I'm pretty sure the Cowboys' pass rush is overrated: The Cowboys are about to face one of the worst 3-0 teams (Denver Broncos) since the merger. After wins over Denver and Kansas City, Dallas will head into a bye with a nice-looking 4-1 record. But there are still some flaws that have emerged. A year removed from leading the league in sacks, the Cowboys were shut out the first two games. They had three sacks in the Monday night win over the Panthers, but two of them came after the game had already been decided.

The Cowboys won't win many games scoring 14 points on offense, although they pulled it off against Carolina. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett seems to be realizing that this team has a new identity. In the post-T.O. era, the Cowboys' best chance for success is in a run-based offense. When Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice are all healthy, the Cowboys potentially have the most dangerous running attack in the league. Unfortunately, Jones and Barber appear to be injury prone at this point in their careers. This may sound crazy, but I think the Cowboys are actually the most underrated team in the division right now. Our power rankings specialists put them at No. 17, which seems ridiculously low.

If this team can find anyone to rush the quarterback opposite DeMarcus Ware (hello, Anthony Spencer?), the Cowboys could get on a roll.

Overrated factor: 3


Why do we always fall for the Skins' offseason tricks? Most of us had the Redskins finishing fourth in the division, but a few brave souls (Mort) felt like they belonged in the playoff conversation. The signing of All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was supposed to make this an intimidating defense. But when Lions rookie Matt Stafford calmly picks your defense apart in a 99-yard drive early in a game, you have some problems.

Redskins owner Dan Snyder spent an enormous amount of money on Haynesworth and cornerback DeAngelo Hall in the offseason, but he neglected other areas. Take the offensive line for instance. The Skins brought in Derrick Dockery to address one of the guard spots and they plucked Mike Williams from the Duke weight loss program. The Skins' other starting guard, Randy Thomas, is already out for the season with a triceps injury and he's been replaced by a former third-round pick who appears to be nothing more than a stopgap.

Throw in the team's embattled head coach/quarterback guru Jim Zorn and you have the recipe for a 6-10 season.

Overrated factor: 9.3

At least the Giants are pulling their weight. Unlike some other coaches in the Beast, Tom Coughlin never makes excuses for his team. This a locker room that has battled through a lot of adversity over the past couple years and it seems to inspire the team rather than bring it down. Losing safety Kenny Phillips to a season-ending knee injury is a big deal because he was on his way to becoming a star, but this team will recover.

Eli Manning's also gaining confidence in his young receivers each week. We spent a large portion of the offseason tracking rumors about Anquan Boldin and Braylon Edwards, but the Giants are getting it done with in-house players. Steve Smith and Mario Manningham have already made some clutch plays this season. I think beating the Cowboys in a close game in front of more than 100,000 fans is something that gave this team a huge boost.

The Giants have definitely replaced the Eagles as the Beast's flagship team. And I don't see that changing any time soon.

Overrated factor: 3.2
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Albert Haynesworth and the Redskins fell to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley


You always hear people talk about how "on any given Sunday" an NFL team can rise up and beat you, but the Detroit Lions had become the exception. On Sunday, the Lions won for the first time since Dec. 23, 2007, and in doing so, have effectively put Jim Zorn's head coaching career in jeopardy.
Week 3 Coverage
• Sando: Singletary stays positive
• Mosley: Did Zorn seal his fate?
• Seifert: GB's bread and butter
• Graham: Owens, Evans MIA
• Kuharsky: Fisher gets some blame
• Walker: Bengals are contenders
• Williamson: Broncos have special coach
• Chadiha: Vick's modest return
• Wojciechowski: Rocky seas for Sanchez
• Clayton: Favre has magic touch
• NFL Nation: Reactions | Wrap-ups | Live


He appears safe for the moment. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Redskins are not expected to make any moves with Zorn, a team source said Sunday night.

However, with Sunday's 19-14 loss to the Lions, the Redskins are now a team in crisis. This wasn't some sort of fluke in which the Lions received a bunch of breaks. They were, in fact, the best team on the field Sunday -- and that leaves the 1-2 Redskins in a tough spot. I guess the eternal optimist would look at the Skins' schedule and think they'll have a good chance to win against their next three opponents -- the winless Bucs, Panthers and Chiefs.

But after observing Sunday's game against the Lions, I wouldn't feel overly confident about the Redskins completing that sweep. I do think that Zorn, who is 9-10 since taking over in 2008, deserves the chance to at least see how things go during the next few weeks. Can he get his players to rally around him? I really have no clue at this point.
Andrew Weber/US Presswire
Jim Zorn’s job may be in jeopardy after the Redskins’ latest defeat.

If the Redskins could somehow rally and be 4-2 heading into an important division game against the Eagles on Oct. 26, then Zorn probably deserves to finish the season. But if the Redskins don't pull out of this tailspin, then I'd expect to see owner Dan Snyder make an in-season change -- perhaps during the bye week after the Eagles game. If you make a change right now, I'm not sure you're helping anything. Snyder hired Zorn to be the head coach, playcaller and quarterbacks coach. For better or worse, he's invested a lot of time and effort in quarterback Jason Campbell. Do we actually think making defensive coordinator Greg Blache the interim head coach would spark this team? I don't think it would make much difference.

The defense should bear just as much of the blame as the offense for Sunday's loss -- maybe even more. It was manhandled in the trenches by a nondescript offensive line, and Kevin Smith surpassed 100 yards on the ground. Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was supposed to transform this defense into something special, but Sunday, Lions rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford was rarely under intense pressure.

It's easy to second-guess Zorn on his decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the Lions' 1-yard line early in the game, mainly because it didn't work. I didn't really have a huge issue with that decision because I thought the Skins' defense would've been up to the task. The Lions instead capitalized on the momentum of that play and drove 99 yards to make it 7-0.

You can cry all day about the questionable pass interference penalty on safety Chris Horton in the fourth quarter, but that's not where the Redskins lost the game. From the start, they couldn't match the Lions' intensity. The Redskins also should have been a desperate team, but that's not the attitude they brought to the game.

Zorn is a cerebral guy who will attempt to convince his players this week that all is not lost. But I sense that his methodical approach is beginning to wear thin in the Redskins' locker room. There just seemed to be no sense of urgency from anyone during Sunday's game.

And there was one final decision by Zorn that didn't make a lick of sense: With the ball on the Lions' 36-yard line with eight seconds left, he called for Campbell to throw short on the hitch and pitch -- and pitch. It was a clueless play, which fit pretty well with the way the Skins played Sunday.

Just from looking at a couple of different polls, I think it's safe to say that at least 65 percent of Redskins fans would like to see Zorn fired right now. But in this case, I don't think a firing will jumpstart the team. Washington has so many flaws that it's hard to really pinpoint anything.

Stafford, a quarterback who'd barely completed 50 percent of his passes through two games, had his way with the Skins' secondary, and the Lions were able to rush for 154 yards. It's time to admit that the Redskins are one of the worst teams in the NFL.

To single out Zorn at this point is the wrong way to go. But then, Snyder has never let logic stand in the way of a rash decision.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree has come off as a prima donna during pre-draft interviews with teams. Thomas: "There are questions about Crabtree's foot and attitude. His diva attitude during pre-draft visits turned off the Rams and the Browns (who pick fifth overall) to the point where neither team is considering Crabtree for their first-round pick." Televised interviews with Crabtree have raised questions in my mind about how the Seahawks might view him as well. Would veteran receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and Nate Burleson be able to mentor him effectively? Might the prima donna tendencies grow worse with money in Crabtree's pockets and people around him telling him how great he is?

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at ways the Rams and other NFL teams process draft-related information. Former Rams coach Dick Vermeil says it's harder for teams to mislead one another.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch expects action from Rams general manager Billy Devaney during the draft. Burwell: "Devaney has said that he'll be aggressive. He is not afraid to take chances, to make moves, to wheel and deal his way around the draft board. I'm still not sure he can pull off a trade to move down in the first round. The better bet is that Devaney will work hard once the draft begins to move up out of that second-round pick (No. 35 overall) into the lower half of the first round."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic outlines what the Cardinals want in a running back to pair with Tim Hightower. Somers: "Hightower would seem to fit the role of the inside pounder, the gainer of tough yards. He proved adept last season at picking up first downs and scoring touchdowns. He struggled some when he was the featured back and ended up with more runs for negative yards than coaches found acceptable. Luckily for the Cardinals, the upcoming draft is deep in running backs. And it's possible that one of the top three -- Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, Ohio State's Chris Wells and Connecticut's Donald Brown -- will be there when the Cardinals pick at No. 31."

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean says nothing appears imminent between Tennessee and Arizona even though the Titans have inquired about Anquan Boldin. My take, lifted from our Thursday chat: "Knowing [Titans GM] Mike Reinfeldt, I'm questioning whether he would want to give up picks for a player, then meet that player's very high demands on a long-term agreement."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com also does not expect the Titans to move seriously for Boldin.

Also from Urban: Larry Fitzgerald is indeed sharing the cover on the 2010 version of John Madden's football video game.

More from Urban: Hightower has dropped 15 pounds and improved his conditioning. Scheduling issues had hurt his conditioning last offseason.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune describes Aaron Curry as the "safe pick [Seahawks general manager Tim] Ruskell covets" in the draft.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says no 2009 NFL draft prospect has made him waffle more than Crabtree. O'Neil: "Dude is a playmaker, flat-out. ... I've worried that the spread offense inflated his numbers, too much. That he might be a product of a system, but then you watch how the man runs after the catch and you imagine what he would do in the Seahawks' offense with the new emphasis on the play-action pass."

Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com says the Seahawks hope to put substance before hype in determining which players to draft. Farnsworth: "There has been talk, from Ruskell, among others, that this draft lacks the franchise-quality players who justify being selected -- and paid -- as Top 5 picks. It's a situation that has prompted the Seahawks to look at top of this draft class differently."

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle offers a first-round mock draft featuring the following NFC West selections: Jason Smith (Rams), Mark Sanchez (Seahawks), Knowshon Moreno (49ers) and Donald Brown (Cardinals). The Moreno pick would not shock me -- the 49ers would arguably be selecting the top back in the draft -- but it would probably shock Frank Gore.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider takes a round-by-round look at draft prospects who might help the 49ers on offense.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat lists the 49ers' top five needs in this order: pass-rusher, offensive tackle, receiver, running back and quarterback.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee lists seven players as possibilities for the 49ers with the 10th overall choice in the draft: Crabtree, Aaron Curry, Tyson Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Michael Oher, Brian Orakpo and B.J. Raji. Barrows: "No one knows for sure, but it's a safe bet the following players are gone before the 49ers are on the clock: quarterbacks Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez, offensive tackles Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe and Andre Smith. (And, yes, A. Smith will be gone)."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 2009 draft could make or break Scot McCloughan's tenure as the 49ers' general manager.

Briandean of Niners Nation suggests which players the 49ers should draft in each round: Oher (1), Larry English (2), Ramses Barden (3), Coye Francies (4), James Davis (5), Devin Moore (5), Mike Reilly (6), Bear Pascoe (7) and
Michael Mitchell (7).

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Seahawks could use a developmental quarterback to groom as Matt Hasselbeck's long-term replacement. At least that's how I see their situation at the position heading into the draft. But if the analysts are correct, this draft lacks promising quarterback prospects after the first round, making it harder to find strong developmental options without investing massive draft capital -- the fourth overall choice, in Seattle's situation.

 
  Rich Kane/US Presswire
  Should the Seahawks invest their first-round choice in a long-term replacement for Matt Hasselbeck?

Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and I debated the subject pretty hard late Monday night. He thinks Seattle needs to draft Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez if either is available. He envisions a scenario whereby injuries continue to slow Hasselbeck, hastening the end of the quarterback's career. If the Seahawks do not draft a top-level quarterback this year, Muench contends, the team might not have another opportunity to find one this early in the draft.

The Muench example: Let's say Hasselbeck lasts eight games in 2008. Seneca Wallace might be able to lead Seattle to, say, a 5-3 record to close the season, securing a 2010 draft choice in the middle of the first round. However, the team would be no closer to developing its long-term successor to Hasselbeck. If Seattle drafted Sanchez or Stafford, one of the rookies would gain eight games of solid experience. Sanchez or Stafford might not post that 5-3 record down the stretch, by the experience would put them in position to take over in 2010. Seattle would then be set up for the longer term.

I can see the reasoning, but I also think the Seahawks need immediate help and I'm not convinced either rookie quarterback is good enough to warrant phasing out Hasselbeck so quickly. Any quarterback drafted fourth overall in 2009 would need to be starting no later than 2011 for practical purposes.

The way I see things, this team isn't winning anything anytime soon if Hasselbeck isn't the quarterback. Enough talent remains for Seattle to contend for the playoffs if key players regain their health, and if the Seahawks get immediate contributions from one of the most talented rookies available. None of us knows which rookies will enjoy the most productive careers, but we do know which players are likely to help the most right away. Probably not the quarterbacks.

"We both agree that Sanchez should not be the starter over Hasselbeck next year or even in the second year, but if you look at what they did with Carson Palmer in Cincinnati, that worked very well for them," Muench said. "I also see your point. I feel stronger the other way. The other argument is to say, 'I don't think they need help at receiver.' If Aaron Curry is there, it becomes more interesting. I think you take Sanchez still. Personally, I don't think drafting Crabtree is that much of an option based on who they have at the position."

Muench does make a strong point. He looks at what the Bears paid for Jay Cutler as evidence that it's easier and more cost-effective to draft a quarterback. "You can trade a first-round choice for a receiver later," Muench said, "but it's going to cost you much more trying to trade for a quarterback."

Strong point. But in applying my feel for the situation in Seattle -- how much the team likes Matt Hasselbeck, how much the team wants an immediate impact from its top choice -- I expect the Seahawks to head in a different direction. I think that's particularly true if Crabtree or Curry remains available. If both are gone, a quarterback might make more sense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com describes Larry Fitzgerald as "totally recharged" following his adventure through Africa and the Middle East. Fitzgerald: "Best trip ever. I am totally recharged. It feels so good to get back in here. I'm so happy to see a good turnout and getting ready to get it again. I was itching to get back in the gym. It's home away from home." Fitzgerald has lots more planned for his offseason, starting with a trip to Minnesota for the annual golf tournament honoring his late mother, Carol.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind says Karlos Dansby's unsettled contract situation could affect the Cardinals' draft plans. I think the team needed to address linebacker anyway. The need certainly grows if getting a deal with Dansby isn't likely.

Dave Mahler of Seattle's KJR radio checks in with Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones. This link goes directly to an audio file. Jones sounds relaxed and upbeat in discussing the change from Mike Holmgren to Jim Mora. Jones says he feels good, still loves competition and feels invigorated learning a new offense. Jones on the Cardinals: "They are a team that won the conference, they won the division, so they are the team to beat. That is your motivation."

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com found a grateful prospective Seahawk in former Western Washington linebacker Shane Simmons. Simmons has worked construction and as a personal trainer since the Raiders released him after the 2008 preseason. Simmons is participating in the Seahawks' minicamp on a tryout basis.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Jim Mora appears comfortable in his new role as the Seahawks' head coach in the post-Mike Holmgren era. Boling: "Here's a difference that's fair to mention, although probably meaningless: Mora has a whistle. Holmgren let others blow the whistle. Draw your own conclusions."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Jones and Seahawks offensive line coach Mike Solari. Solari says the Seahawks installed zone concepts last season in anticipation of using them in 2009. The team did not use them in 2008.

Michael Steffes of Seahawk Addicts isn't buying talk that the Seahawks are seriously considering Matthew Stafford with the fourth overall choice. Steffes: "[Matt] Stafford maybe, but choosing Mark Sanchez would be counter to everything this team has done since 2005. Hopefully there is enough hype that someone wants to move up, but I wouldn't count on it."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck expressed frustration over how his injury situation was handled last season. Hasselbeck put it this way: "Knowing that there's a high likelihood that I'm not going to play and not necessarily being able to come out and say."

Also from O'Neil: Seahawks long-snapper Tyler Schmitt says he's 100 percent after undergoing back surgery last season.

Don Ruiz of the Tacoma News Tribune says Holmgren watched practice at the University of Washington. Holmgren and new Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian have strong ties to USC.

Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times says Holmgren watched practice Wednesday at the University of Washington. Holmgren's son-in-law coordinates recruiting for the Huskies. Sarkisian: "It's an honor and hopefully our kids recognized that and hopefully he can continue to come out. It's fun. ... Hopefully we play a little better as a team the next time he comes out." 

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat leans on draft analyst Rob Rang in assessing which running backs the 49ers might consider in the draft. Iowa's Shonn Greene is one candidate. Rang also thinks Chris Wells could go in the top 10. Rang: "I have a hard time thinking they would do that because I think they have too much respect for what Frank Gore brings. They don't want to [upset him]. But Beanie Wells is a spectacular talent. He's a Larry Johnson -- almost an Adrian Peterson -- kind of talent. But he needs to be coddled, and Mike Singletary's strength probably is not in coddling players."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers are sprucing up their facilities while expanding square footage from 45,000 to 54,000. 

Florida Danny of Niners Nation unveils a roughly 4,500-word dissertation on the 49ers' draft history since 1994. Lots of information in here. I checked some of it against my own information and it matched up. For example, the 49ers have indeed drafted 20 players from Pac-10 schools and 19 from SEC schools since 1994, more than they have drafted from other conferences.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Norfolk State cornerback Don Carey is visiting the 49ers and Seahawks, among other teams. Purdue running back Kory Sheets is also visiting the 49ers.

VanRam of Turf Show Times wonders how the Rams can upgrade at receiver, noting that Football Outsiders has suggested Eagles restricted free agent Hank Baskett. VanRam: "That seems unlikely until you consider that the Eagles are interested in some big names like [Chad] Ocho Cinco and earlier talk about being a player for Anquan Boldin. If that happens, they might be willing to let Baskett walk since they also have Kevin Curtis, DeSean Jackson and Reggie Brown on the roster, unless they see his productivity from last season as a sign of things to come."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says holding training camp away from their facility wasn
't practical for the Rams this year, in part because changes to the coaching staff and front office left little time to formulate plans.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Rob Rang of NFL Draft Scout has updated his 2009 projections. He sends Baylor tackle Jason Smith to the Rams, Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry to the Seahawks, Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin to the 49ers and California center Alex Mack to the Cardinals. Rang: "Detroit's trade for veteran outside linebacker Julian Peterson essentially eliminated Wake Forest's Aaron Curry as a candidate to be the first pick of the 2009 draft. Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford may be able to seal up the top spot with an impressive performance at his March 19 pro day. His only remaining competition is with offensive tackles Jason Smith (Baylor) and Eugene Monroe (Virginia)." Rang thinks Stafford will go first because he doesn't think the Lions can bank on getting one of the other quarterbacks with the 20th overall selection.

Rob Staton of Seahawks Draft Blog analyzes Rang's latest mock projection for Seattle. Rang changed his projection to Aaron Curry. Rang: "Trading OLB Julian Peterson creates a gaping hole at the strong-side position in Seattle's defense. The Seahawks could plug Curry in immediately and, considering they'd be getting the player many believe is the draft's top talent at the fourth pick, the team would be getting optimum value." Staton: "Whether or not the Seahawks would draft Curry is more likely down to whether he'll still be on the board, with almost certain interest from both St Louis and Kansas City."

Also from Staton: Forget about Seattle drafting B.J. Raji.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Peterson trade wasn't made in response to any refusal to accept a pay cut. He says the deal got done because Cory Redding agreed to adjust his contract. In my view, Redding's willingness to rework his deal reflects an eagerness to leave the Lions. In the aftermath of the trade, sources have provided conflicting information as to whether Seattle asked Peterson to take a pay cut at all. Not that it matters at this point. The Seahawks won't have to carry his $8.8 million cap number for 2009.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation would be surprised if the 49ers drafted a quarterback in the first round this year. Fucillo: "So my question is this: Are the folks that are projecting Mark Sanchez or Matthew Stafford to the 49ers lazy, misinformed, some combination of that, or maybe something else? I realize it's not easy to research all 32 teams. However, when it comes to a first round pick, particularly a top 10 pick, a little knowledge is important."

3K of Turf Show Times unveils a two-round mock draft. Baylor's Smith and Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler go to the Rams. Curry and Missouri safety William Moore go to Seattle. Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin and South Carolina tackle Jamon Meredith go to the 49ers. Connecticut running back Donald Brown and Utah defensive end Paul Kruger go to Arizona. Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree goes to the Bengals in this mock.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind looks at the Cardinals' previous first-round draft choices, providing a terrific photo of Andre Wadsworth squeezing the air from a football. Hawkwind: "He was taken after Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, who both received hefty rookie contracts. As a result, he ended up holding out the entire training camp before the Cardinals signed him to a 6-year, $42 million contract, the day before the season opener. Wadsworth played all 16 games and recorded 5 sacks with 57 tackles that year. He followed up his rookie season with an injury-riddled next two years. He required 3 knee surgeries in that span and 4 in his career. He only managed 3 more sacks and played in only 22 games as well."

USA Today runs an interview transcript after speaking with Larry Fitzgerald about his offseason travel plans. He has a home in Cabo, but Fitzgerald says Buenos Aires is the best place he has visited. Fitzgerald: "I enjoyed the culture. The nightlife was a lot of fun, the food was great and the history was awesome. It really reminded me of Europe. The architecture reminded me of France but the nightlife and culture had an Italian feel. It's a great place. I would go back there in a heartbeat. I didn't learn how to tango. I was born with two left feet so dancing is not really my cup of tea."

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says James Butler is six years younger than Corey Chavous and ready to replace him in the lineup at strong safety.

Also from Coats: Mike Karney could fit as the blocking fullback St. Louis wants for its offense. No mention of Leonard Weaver as a potential candidate.

Rich Cimini of the New York Daily News expects the Jets to show interest in receiver Torry Holt once the Rams release him, as expected. Cimini: "Henry Ellard is the Jets' new receivers coach, the same Ellard who served as Holt's position coach for seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. If that doesn't give the Jets an advantage in terms of recruiting and insider knowledge, what does?"

VanRam of Turf Show Times links to a radio show in which Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggests the Rams could try to rework Randy McMichael's contract.

John Morgan of Field Gulls says the Seahawks are "very interested" in Clemson safety Michael Hamlin, who spoke with three members of the organization in one day.

Also from Morgan: He thinks the Seahawks should re-sign Weaver. The price apparently hasn't been right to this point.

More from Morgan: Seven players for the Seahawks to draft. Quarterback Matt Stafford, offensive lineman Max Unger, safety Michael Hamlin, receiver Mike Thomas. defensive tackle Terrance Taylor and snapper Jake Ingram get the call.

NFL.com carries a transcript of T.J. Houshmandzadeh's recent chat. He says the Bengals weren't as serious about re-signing as it appeared. Houshmandzadeh: "They were persistent, but it wasn't persistent with good intentions, in my opinion. They weren't as persistent as it has been reported that they were."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers could have a hard time finding an offensive tackle with the 10th overall choice. Barrows: "The Raiders have pick No. 7 and they definitely could use a tackle. Theoretically, so could Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City and Cincinnati." The Seahawks could consider one as well.

Also from Barrows: Expect cornerback Karl Paymah to visit the 49ers on Wednesday.

Clark Judge of CBSSports.com lists the 49ers among three teams that need to "stay after school" for their efforts in free agency. Judge: "I don't mean to pick on the 49ers, but they have a nasty habit of spending a lot of money on marginal talent. This year's winner is wide receiver Brandon Jones, who picked up a $5.4 million signing bonus. I don't know much about Jones, other than when I watched the Titans, I never had a feeling he was a guy who could beat you." Judge also thinks the Rams paid a premium for Jason Brown.

Jim Corbett of USA Today quotes Kurt Warner as saying he's still willing to take a pay cut to help the team sign Anquan Boldin. Do players really think that's how it works?

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind checks in with Cardinals offensive lineman Elliot Vallejo.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals won't be spending big except to keep their own players.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals want Bertrand Berry to return and a deal appears likely at some point.

Also from Urban: He thinks the Cardinals will not trade Boldin.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

INDIANAPOLIS -- The perceived two best quarterbacks in the 2009 NFL draft are taking their turns under the bright lights in the combine media room at Lucas Oil Stadium.

A few notes and impressions from Georgia's Matt Stafford and USC's Mark Sanchez:

  • Stafford will not throw or bench press at the combine. Sanchez plans to throw and said it would "kill him" to skip throwing drills because he's too competitive.
  • Stafford ate salmon and asparagus during dinner with the Lions. Sanchez had a club sandwich with no mayo in his meeting with the team.
  • Sanchez ate that sandwich at "The Ram" restaurant in downtown Indianapolis, but he mentioned no immediate plans to meet with the Rams' team. He planned to meet Friday night with the Browns, Dolphins, Seahawks and Jets. The Lions, 49ers, Chiefs, Vikings, Redskins, Bucs and Jaguars were on the schedule for Saturday.
  •   2009 Combine: Top QBs speak
      NFL.com Video
      Quarterbacks Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez are excited to participate.
  • Both quarterbacks appeared comfortable with themselves. Their comments generally sounded more natural than coached, although they did hit on familiar themes. Sanchez used the term "gym rat" to describe himself, exactly what teams want to hear.
  • Sanchez's sense of humor shined through. He compared the combine process to speed dating among multiple teams. He provided his own sound effects -- a buzzer -- and had reporters laughing through the manner in which he denied personal knowledge of speed dating. "A friend told me about it," he said.
  • Stafford shot down concerns about his junior status by noting that he played in 39 college games, more than some seniors manage.
  • Sanchez said the pro-style offense he ran at USC would help him make a smooth transition to the NFL.
  • Scheduling conflicts have prevented Stafford from following through on plans to play golf with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Stafford has yet to meet Ryan, but Saints quarterback Drew Brees did offer some advice: "Never lose your confidence."

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Now that the Kansas City Chiefs have replaced general manager Carl Peterson and head coach Herm Edwards with Scott Pioli and Todd Haley, respectively, there is much work to be done.

There are some difficult decisions that need to be made in Kansas City and it all starts with tight end Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez has made it clear that he wants to stay with the team to finish his career.

But he needs to be convinced that the Chiefs can become a contender soon, which may be difficult to do and he may ask to be traded again. The Chiefs don't have to deal him, and they could force him to live by the final two years of his contract if it gets to that point. But Gonzalez is a legend in Kansas City and dealing him will be difficult. The Chiefs need to convince Gonzalez they are going to win soon and he can be a big part of it.

Another decision will be what to do with running back Larry Johnson. That appears to be a much easier decision. The team is expected to try to trade Johnson in the coming weeks. But because of his age and his off-field baggage, the Chiefs likely won't get much for him, so it could come down to him being released. Either way, it doesn't look like Johnson will be in Kansas City next season.

Kansas City also has to decide what to do at quarterback. The Chiefs, who have the third overall pick in the draft, could go with a quarterback such as Georgia's Matt Stafford or Southern California's Mark Sanchez or the team could strike a deal for New England's Matt Cassel. That is a real possibility considering Pioli's ties to the Patriots. But then there's Tyler Thigpen, who did a decent job and who has a supporter in Gonzalez. Gonzalez thinks the Chiefs should fully concentrate on defense and give Thigpen another year to develop.

Kansas City has a load of salary-cap room and it will be able to do a lot in the offseason. Defense needs to be the clear area of concentration. But the idea of getting a quarterback to start the Pioli and Haley era could be too enticing for them to pass up.

Indeed, the Chiefs are going to have to spend the next few weeks and months deciding on several key areas as they try to begin this new era the right way.

Todd Haley speaks about taking over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

The Senior Bowl festivities are underway and 30 of the NFL's 32 teams are in offseason mode. That can only mean one thing: It's mock draft time.

ESPN's own Mel Kiper issued his first mock draft of the year Wednesday night, and Mel has Detroit taking Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick. At No. 9, Kiper's got Green Bay selecting Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. (All picks below No. 16 require an ESPN.com Insider subscription.)

But I think it's also interesting to look at Kiper's "Big Board," a fluid ranking of draft-eligible prospects. As of Wednesday, Kiper's top player was Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Kiper has Stafford ranked as the fourth-best player -- one spot above USC quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Just a little something to whet your appetite with a month to go before the annual scouting combine and three months away from the 2009 NFL draft.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Another prominent former head coach has moved into Green Bay's sights for its open defensive coordinator position. According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, former Buffalo head coach Gregg Williams -- who spent 2008 as the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville -- is under strong consideration as well.

While Nolan remains the leading candidate for the job, Williams has the résumé and schematic experience the Packers apparently are looking for; he has employed various schemes during his stops in Tennessee, Buffalo, Washington and Jacksonville.

No interview is scheduled as of yet. However, the Packers have set up an interview with at least one candidate to join their defensive staff: Denver defensive line coach Bill Johnson, who would serve in the same capacity in Green Bay.

Continuing around the NFC North:

  • The Packers fired offensive quality control coach Ty Knott, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Knott is the eighth, and perhaps last, Packers coach to depart this offseason.
  • Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press on the decision of Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford to enter the NFL draft: "Stafford didn't realize it when he sat before television cameras in Athens, Ga., Wednesday, but he sadly endorsed his professional football death warrant. When the junior Georgia quarterback declared for the NFL draft, he basically told the Lions, "Take me, I'm yours" -- a submission that, if history serves as an accurate barometer, might cost him his sanity as well as his self-confidence." The Lions hold the draft's No. 1 pick.
  • Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News begs the Lions not to take a quarterback with the first pick: "The Lions need a quarterback, sure. They always need a quarterback, although Daunte Culpepper and Dan Orlovsky (if re-signed) are not horrible options. But they do not need to draft one with their hard-earned No. 1 pick. Let me repeat that for the world's most competitively impaired franchise: Do not cave to the oldest crave and gamble on a quarterback at No. 1."
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune believes the Bears offseason overhaul of their defensive position coaches misdirects blame: "As long as the Bears remain committed to [defensive coordinator Bob] Babich and the Cover-2 scheme, and indications are they will continue to be, change will be the enemy. If the Bears report to [training camp] with three new position coaches but Babich still in his current role, even if calling signals becomes a more collaborative effort, then what will be so different really?"
  • Minnesota safety Darren Sharper, a pending free agent, believes there is a 50-50 chance he will return to the Vikings in 2009, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
  • Vikings receiver Sidney Rice caught 15 passes in 2008, down from 31 as a rookie in 2007. Rice blames the drop on a knee injury he suffered in Week 2, according to Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

 
 Jeff Gross/Getty Images
 Kansas City may have found a solution at quarterback in Tyler Thigpen.

Tyler Thigpen has no earth-shattering explanation. He wishes he had something more revealing.

But he just doesn't have a deep, well thought out explanation why he has been so efficient, productive and forceful in his past three starts compared to his first NFL start.

"I don't know," said Thigpen in a South Carolina accent as cool and relaxed as his play. "I guess I just decided to be myself. I just decided to be the quarterback who I am ... That first start, against Atlanta, I admit, I was timid and shy. I'm not anymore."

In the past three games, Thigpen has been one of the more intriguing players in the league. He outplayed Brett Favre in his second start and caught a touchdown pass in his third. He engineered a near game-winning drive in the final minute in his fourth start. The 1-8 Chiefs lost all three games, but they may have gained a future quarterback.

Thigpen has taken control of the Kansas City Chiefs. Suddenly, the Chiefs don't look hopeless anymore and don't look like they will need to go quarterback hunting in the offseason.

If the next seven games are anything like the past three, Kansas City may want to shop for an offensive lineman or an impact player on defense with their first pick next April instead of trading for or drafting a quarterback.

"Hopefully, my play takes care of that stuff," Thigpen said. "All I can worry about in the next seven games is to go game-to-game and not worry about being the future of the Chiefs. That's up to them."

If Thigpen, 24, keeps his composure and swagger, there's no doubt the Chiefs will consider making him the quarterback of the future.

Still, Kansas City never thought it would be in the position to consider Thigpen for anything other than a backup role. The team had high hopes Thigpen prior to training camp. But after a lackluster preseason, Thigpen opened the regular season as the No. 3 quarterback behind starter Brodie Croyle and veteran backup Damon Huard. If anything, Thigpen's best bet was to be a career backup to Croyle, who was being groomed to be the franchise quarterback.

Then Croyle suffered two serious injuries in two starts and was lost for the season. He was put on the injured reserve the same day that Huard was. Thigpen's crowning as the starting quarterback in Kansas City was an emergency reaction.

The Chiefs gave Thigpen a chance to show himself in Week 3 in Atlanta when Huard was banged up. Thigpen threw for 128 yards and was intercepted three times. However, since taking over after injures to Croyle and Huard, Thigpen has been a far different player. He has thrown six touchdowns and has not been intercepted in the past three games.

Using the spread offense in which he excelled at Coastal Carolina, Thigpen looks as comfortable as a five-year veteran. He is extremely accurate and moves well with the ball. Two NFL scouts recently said that they believe Thigpen has the moxie, instincts and athletic ability to succeed in the NFL.

Both scouts said the 6-foot-1, 224-pound Thigpen reminds them somewhat of Drew Brees, whose Saints visit Kansas City on Sunday.

"He's a guy that's progressed every week," Kansas City coach Herman Edwards said of Thigpen this week. "He's gaining confidence in himself and it's a tribute to him and the coaching staff that we feel he can do well. You talk about the guy who's only started four games. He still has a long way to go. He's done fairly well so far."

It's the leadership Thigpen has shown that most impresses his teammates. Kansas City Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters said he saw a different Thigpen prior to the Jets game than he saw during the Falcons game. Thigpen took charge, leading a players-only offensive meeting three days before the New York game. He was a "true leader," Waters said. After the loss to the Jets, tight end Tony Gonzalez admitted that Thigpen's poise and production surprised him, but he was thrilled to have Thigpen as his quarterback.

During the past three weeks, Thigpen has developed a terrific chemistry with Gonzalez and starting receivers Dwayne Bowe and Mark Bradley. Thigpen will have running back Larry Johnson back on Sunday too. Johnson has been sidelined by the team and the league for the the past four games.

While Thigpen said he is comfortable with his play in the past three games and his chemistry with his teammates, he is not satisfied.

"It's been good, but the next step is to win," Thigpen said. "It's coming. It's close .. We've come a long way, but we have to win."

If the Chiefs win in the next seven weeks, the Thigpen era in Kansas City could continue in 2009.

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