NFL Nation: Rich Bartel

The Arizona Cardinals have parted with five of the seven quarterbacks to drop back for the team since Kurt Warner's retirement following the 2009 season.

John Skelton's release Monday made him the latest post-Warner quarterback cast aside.

The Cardinals announced that move and Brian Hoyer's signing to a one-year deal amid speculation the team would add Carson Palmer via trade with the Oakland Raiders.

The chart ranks Arizona quarterbacks since 2010 by number of pass drop backs, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Those numbers include plays when the quarterback dropped back to pass, then ran with the ball.

Skelton, a fifth-round pick in 2010, had 12 touchdown passes with 22 interceptions and 45 sacks in 17 starts. The Cardinals posted an 8-9 record in those games. That included 5-2 during the 2011 season, results that contributed to then-coach Ken Whisenhunt's decision to name Skelton the starter over Kevin Kolb entering the 2012 season.

Whisenhunt thought the team could win with Skelton as long as the quarterback had help from a strong ground game, talented receivers and a stout defense.

Injuries claimed the Cardinals' top two running backs and multiple starting offensive linemen. Skelton struggled and lost his job to rookie Ryan Lindley during a defeat at Atlanta. Lindley finished the season with zero touchdowns and seven interceptions. Skelton and Lindley combined for two touchdowns with 15 picks in the 10 games they started last season. Arizona went 2-8 in those games.
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' fifth and final exhibition game, this one at home against the Denver Broncos:

1. Lindley's opportunity. Third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley started the game and played extensively. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown in two-plus quarters. He missed a couple throws, including including on a short third-down pass to William Powell in the right flat. But he stood calmly in the pocket with bodies crashing around him. He got rid of the ball quickly. Lindley passed his first test. Update: An injury to Rich Bartel has led Arizona to put Lindley back into the game late in the third quarter. I'll update this item as warranted.

2. Pass protection. Left tackle D'Anthony Batiste gave up immediate pressure on Lindley's first pass attempt. Batiste set to the outside and whiffed against Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers, who beat Batiste to the inside and was untouched. Lindley got the ball out to Andre Roberts from a three-step drop, but by then Ayers was hitting Lindley in the back. Overall, the protection was better than it has been. The Broncos held out nearly all their starters, including top pass-rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. That makes it tough to project how Batiste and right tackle Bobby Massie might fare in Week 1, should they remain the starters. We'll find out Friday whether the Cardinals think Levi Brown has a chance to return from triceps surgery this season.

3. Floyd watch. First-round draft choice Michael Floyd came alive following a sleepy preseason. His 22-yard touchdown reception from Lindley would have made Larry Fitzgerald proud. Floyd was falling backward in the end zone as a defender hooked him. He reached out with his left hand, tipping the ball to keep it from descending. Floyd then cradled the ball with his left hand, finishing the play.
Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt has promised/threatened to leave his starters on the field til they get things right in the team's exhibition game Friday night.

His top two quarterbacks, Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, could use any extra work that comes their way.

E.J. from Redondo Beach, Calif., hit the NFC West mailbag with a request: "Whiz keeps talking about Kolb and Skelton needing to play better (staying in the pocket/finding the open man), but Kolb and Skelton only average about 5-6 attempts per game. How do their snaps/attempts compare around the NFL?"

The Cardinals have played two exhibition games. Most teams have played only one. An injury shortened Kolb's first start. Those and other factors complicate stat comparisons.

Instead, I've put together a chart showing percentages of team attempts for quarterbacks from the four teams with competitions at the position.

Kolb has indeed accounted for the smallest percentage of attempts (13.6) among quarterbacks competing for starting jobs. Tennessee's Nick Stephens has a lower percentage, but he's not a candidate to start. We should expect Kolb to play extensively against Oakland at University of Phoenix Stadium on Friday night, health permitting.

49ers could do worse than Alex Smith

March, 20, 2012
Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers have little choice, in my view, but to reach agreement on a new contract.

The 49ers, having missed out on Peyton Manning, cannot plausibly go from an overtime defeat in the NFC Championship Game with Smith to a relative unknown behind center.

Smith cannot plausibly leave the 49ers for a situation far less favorable to his career.

Which side has the most leverage? The 49ers have to know Smith will return at a semi-reasonable price before he'll settle for what could be a backup job for comparable money elsewhere.

Smith is running out of elsewheres, anyway.

I think that explains why team CEO Jed York has rather flatly stated that a contract offer remains on the table and the next move belongs to Smith. That strikes me as a rather arrogant view, but it also reflects the situation quite accurately. The 49ers can afford to wait when they know the likely outcome.

Players can't dive back into preparations for the upcoming season until mid-April, so it's not like the 49ers are losing ground.

Getting Smith back will give the 49ers their best shot at winning given the absence of a viable alternative.

The chart compares the numbers for Smith to those for signed NFC West quarterbacks since Week 13 of the 2010 season, when Smith returned to the starting lineup with a strong showing against Seattle. The 49ers could do a lot worse than Smith, in other words.

The other quarterbacks: Rich Bartel, Kevin Kolb and John Skelton of Arizona; Colin Kaepernick and Scott Tolzien of San Francisco; Tarvaris Jackson, Josh Portis and Matt Flynn of Seattle; and Sam Bradford of St. Louis. Not all of them played in games during the period in question. Flynn played for Green Bay. Kolb played some of the games in question for Philadelphia.
A few thoughts on known contract offers for restricted free agents in the NFC West:
  • The Hyphen: The Cardinals announced a second-round tender for running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, meaning any team signing Stephens-Howling would have to give Arizona a 2012 second-round choice if the Cardinals declined to match the offer. Stephens-Howling was a seventh-round pick. The fact that Arizona values him at a second-round level reflects well on him, and on the team for drafting him.
  • Amendola valued: Jim Thomas' report of a second-round tender for Danny Amendola suggests the Rams' new staff wants to keep the slot receiver. Amendola caught 85 passes in 2010, then suffered a season-ending elbow injury in the 2011 opener. He is 26 years old, has a good rapport with quarterback Sam Bradford and can contribute in the return game.
  • Secondary values: Arizona safety Rashad Johnson and cornerback Greg Toler received original-round tenders. That means Johnson would fetch a third-round pick and Toler a fourth-rounder. The knee injury Toler suffered before last season suppressed his value.
  • No Max Hall: The Cardinals retained rights to exclusive-rights free agents Rich Bartel, Alfonso Smith, Ronald Talley and Brandon Williams. They made no offer to Max Hall, a forgotten man in the team's quarterback race. Hall was once a player the Cardinals liked for his toughness and leadership, but his days in Arizona appear finished.
  • 49ers' LB depth: San Francisco had only two RFA candidates, linebacker Larry Grant and receiver Brett Swain. The team has made no announcement on its tenders, but Grant appears likely to receive an original-round offer, pegging his value to a seventh-round pick, Matt Maiocco notes. Grant played extensively on special teams and filled it pretty well at linebacker when Patrick Willis was out. The 49ers should be able to match any offers, or they could look for depth in the draft. Looks like Swain is head headed for free agency.
  • Seahawks have three: NFL Players Association records show Seattle extending a $1.26 million tender to kicker Steven Hauschka, allowing Seattle the right of first refusal. Guard Mike Gibson and cornerback Roy Lewis are the team's other RFAs. Lewis' agent said he has not yet received word from the team, which has until Tuesday to make RFA offers.

Looks like I've finally made it through a blog post without mentioning -- wait, who wrote that headline?

QBR ranks: Fitzgerald lifts up Skelton

December, 12, 2011
The Arizona Cardinals won Sunday despite finishing with only 12 first downs and a 21 percent conversion rate on third down. They won despite losing the turnover battle.

Their 21-19 victory over the San Francisco 49ers marked the third time since 1940 a Cardinals team has won a game with two-plus interceptions and zero takeaways, according to Pro Football Reference. A combination of stifling defense, poor opposing offense and sensational play from receiver Larry Fitzgerald lifted Arizona.

Quarterback John Skelton finished the game with a career-high NFL passer rating of 106.5. But with Cardinals receivers gaining 180 yards after the catch, a season high by 84 yards, Skelton emerged from the game with a middling 44.1 out of 100 in Total QBR.

Huge gaps between NFL passer rating and QBR have been fairly common in the NFC West this season. QBR has sometimes downgraded Skelton's teammate, Kevin Kolb, and 49ers starter Alex Smith even when raw passing stats suggested they played well.

Those quarterbacks' season-long QBR scores are all below 50, which represents average play. Sacks have been a leading factor most of the season.

Cardinals receivers, running backs and tight ends have also gained significant yards after the catch. Quarterbacks share blame for sacks and credit for yards after the catch under the QBR formula, one reason Arizona's scores have lagged.

Fitzgerald made the pivotal plays for Arizona on offense. Among his contributions:
  • Throwing the key block on Early Doucet's 60-yard scoring reception;
  • Tracking down 49ers safety Dashon Goldson following an interception return in Cardinals territory, saving a potential touchdown;
  • Heading off another potential Goldson interception with a leaping grab, followed by an improbable spin move and dash for the end zone for a 46-yard touchdown;
  • Setting up another Cardinals touchdown by turning a short pass into a 53-yard gain.

The Cardinals, more than any NFC West team, have proven an ability to strike for big plays on a historic scale.

From 1990 through last season, no Cardinals quarterback threw two scoring passes of at least 40 yards in the same game, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Skelton did it Sunday. Kolb did it against Carolina in the regular-season opener. Those games featured the team's highest totals for yards after the catch. That helps explain the gaps between triple-digit passer ratings and roughly average QBR scores in those games.

The chart shows game-by-game and full-season QBR scores for NFC West quarterbacks heading into the St. Louis Rams' game against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night. Seattle's Tarvaris Jackson now holds the top season-long QBR score for the division after Smith's season-low 9.4 QBR against Arizona dragged him down.

Note: Check out newly configured expanded QBR pages showing breakdowns across multiple categories, including by division. The 49ers' Smith owns the four highest scores among NFC West quarterbacks this season.

Quick thoughts on how NFC West passers graded out in Week 14 according to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point:
  • John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals (44.1 QBR, 106.5 NFL rating): Skelton completed 19 of 28 passes for 282 yards with three touchdowns, two interceptions, one sack and one fumble (lost). He scrambled six times for 25 yards. Skelton played poorly enough to lose the game, then well enough to win it thanks to tremendous play from the Cardinals' defense and what should stand as one of Fitzgerald's finest games. Skelton showed great improvement from his previous start against the 49ers. He played better than expected against a strong defense, and he did it without taking many practice reps. This was a step forward for Skelton and his efforts to remain a viable No. 2 quarterback. His size and strength gave him and advantage over Kolb when it came to extending plays.
  • Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers (9.4 QBR, 62.3 NFL rating): Smith completed 18 of 37 passes for 175 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions, five sacks and one rush for minus-3 yards. He did not fumble. The 49ers suffered no turnovers, in part because the Cardinals failed to capitalize on a couple prime opportunities, including one on a pass Sam Acho tipped to himself. Smith did little to lift an offense whose troubles extend beyond the red zone. He faced third-and-12 or longer five times. Protection faltered, and Smith wasn't able to find quick outlets against pressure. Coach Jim Harbaugh said the game plan called for more passes than usual. The odds were against Smith and he could not overcome them.

The chart below shows how quarterbacks from games involving NFC West teams fared in Total QBR for Week 14.

The clutch-weight average column reflects game situations, not how well players performed during those situations. Any clutch average above 1.0 reflects a quarterback performing in higher-pressure situations.

QBR: When average QB play is enough

December, 5, 2011
Kevin Kolb needed merely to be average for the Arizona Cardinals to realize a significant gain in the standings.

That was my theory heading into the 2011 NFL season.

The team was so bad at quarterback in finishing 5-11 last season, my thinking went, that even mediocre play might get them into the .500 range. Kolb has too frequently been less than mediocre this season, but that changed during the second half and overtime of the Cardinals' 19-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 13.

Total QBR, which pegs average quarterback play at 50 on a 100-point scale, says Kolb has played near an average level four times this season, including when he posted a season-high 54.0 score Sunday. The Cardinals are 2-2 in those four games. They are 0-4 when Kolb has posted a QBR score significantly worse than average.

So, while an improved defense largely accounted for the Cardinals' victory Sunday, slightly better than average quarterback play was critical, too.

Kolb remains the only projected NFC West starter without a single-game QBR score of 55 or higher. He faces a tough test when San Francisco visits University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 14. Average might not be good enough then, but with three of their final four games at home, the Cardinals still have a chance to approach that .500 range -- right where we thought they might land, albeit by less conventional means.

Quick thoughts on how NFC West passers graded out in Week 13 according to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point:
  • Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks (76.9 QBR, 142.3 NFL rating): See full breakdown from Friday.
  • Alex Smith, 49ers (68.7 QBR, 142.3 NFL rating): Smith completed 17 of 23 passes for 274 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions, four sacks, no fumbles and no rushing attempts. He finished with the highest single-game NFL passer rating of his career. Smith also posted a high QBR score, but the blowout affected how much credit he got for plays deemed less important to winning. QBR does not necessarily tell us how well a quarterback executed his team's game plan. It does not necessarily tell us whether he threw pretty passes. It tells us how his passes, runs, penalties and sacks affected win probability on a per-play basis, weighted for game situations. Smith has largely done what the team has asked him to do. The team has not always asked him to be the difference in winning. For that reason, his QBR scores have sometimes lagged despite seemingly efficient play. The downfield throws Smith made Sunday helped him finish with his sixth QBR score of 65 or higher. That level, if sustained over the course of a season, would reflect Pro Bowl-caliber play. QBR says Smith has achieved that level more often than not recently.
  • Kevin Kolb, Cardinals (54.0 QBR, 109.9 NFL rating): Kolb completed 16 of 25 passes for 247 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions, five sacks and no fumbles. He ran three times for 20 yards, including once for a 17-yard gain to the Dallas 5-yard line on the Cardinals' first possession of the second half. Kolb passed for only 44 yards in the first half and took four of his sacks then. He played much better from that point forward. The QBR score was only slightly above average because Kolb took so many sacks. And because LaRod Stephens-Howling did most of the work on the winning 52-yard touchdown reception in overtime, Kolb did not get as much credit for that throw as NFL passer rating gave him.
  • A.J. Feeley, Rams (11.4 QBR, 58.1 NFL rating): Feeley completed 12 of 22 passes for 156 yards with no touchdowns, one interception, four sacks, one fumble (lost) and no rushing attempts. Austin Pettis dropped an early third-down pass when a conversion was within reach. Danario Alexander failed to hold onto a deep pass at the goal line. The game wasn't very competitive, however, and that meant even strong plays from Feeley would not have registered as much with QBR once the score was lopsided.

The chart below shows how quarterbacks from games involving NFC West teams fared in Total QBR for Week 13.

The clutch-weight average column reflects game situations, not how well players performed during those situations. Any clutch average above 1.0 reflects a quarterback performing in higher-pressure situations.

Note in the chart below that Dallas' Tony Romo added far more expected points through his passing than any quarterback listed. The negative totals he posted for rushing, sacks and penalties left his QBR score in the mid-50s, however.

QBR ranks: Can Cardinals develop QBs?

November, 21, 2011
Most young, inexperienced quarterbacks are going to struggle on the road against top NFL defenses.

John Skelton's performance for the Arizona Cardinals against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 11 undercut even the most guarded expectations. Skelton finished the game with a 10.5 NFL passer rating and 0.9 Total QBR that ranked among the lowest recorded since ESPN began tracking the stat for the 2008 season.

The performance came at a time when the Cardinals' ability to develop quarterback talent was already inviting tough questions. Injured starter Kevin Kolb has struggled and arguably regressed during his first seven starts with the team, while ex-Cardinal Matt Leinart has a shot at taking the Houston Texans to the playoffs.

The questions we discussed when the Cardinals acquired Kolb linger:
  • Was Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt a driving force behind Ben Roethlisberger's historic rookie season in Pittsburgh, or mostly a beneficiary of it?
  • Was Whisenhunt pivotal in restoring Kurt Warner's career by persuading Warner to reform his Mike Martz-coached penchant for the daring? Or did Whisenhunt luck into a Hall of Famer, with former coordinator Todd Haley taking the lead internally?

These questions might not have clear answers. But continued struggles at quarterback will amplify them, particularly if Leinart appears vastly improved under Gary Kubiak in Houston.

Total QBR, which measures how quarterbacks affect their teams' chances for winning, shows Kolb and Skelton lagging badly. Their scores are in the 30s out of 100, with 50 being average and 65 over a full season representing Pro Bowl-caliber play. Warner was at 66.5 for the 2008 season and 64.5 the following year.

The first chart shows QBR scores for NFC West quarterbacks by week and for the season.

Rich Bartel's low score in Week 5 reflects, in part, the hopeless circumstances he inherited late in the game at Minnesota. There was nothing he could do to improve the Cardinals' win probability in a meaningful way.

Quick thoughts on how NFC West passers graded out in Week 11 according to Total QBR, with NFL passer ratings in parenthesis as a reference point:
  • Alex Smith, 49ers (69.5 QBR, 81.8 NFL rating): Smith completed 20 of 38 passes for 267 yards with two touchdowns, one interception, no sacks, no fumbles and seven carries for 17 yards. Smith was right when he said the 49ers squandered multiple opportunities in the passing game. The interception he threw came after the game was well in control, however, and there was never a point when the 49ers appeared in danger of losing. Those factors helped Smith post a strong QBR for the second week in a row, the third time in four weeks and the fifth time in seven weeks. Taking no sacks helped his cause. Smith did a very good job putting both hands on the ball when the Cardinals got enough pressure to force a scramble.
  • Tarvaris Jackson, Seahawks (41.3 QBR, 55.6 NFL rating): Jackson completed 14 of 24 passes for 148 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions, four sacks, no fumbles and two carries for 10 yards. Jackson tossed interceptions on his first two passes, which is no way to start a game. His QBR score was below average, but still much better than the score for his Rams counterpart. Jackson played well enough to win under the circumstances, even if he didn't play well overall. Jackson continued to show a strong rapport with rookie receiver Doug Baldwin, finding him for third-down completions covering 35, 15 and 10 yards -- all for first downs.
  • Rich Bartel, Cardinals (23.8 QBR, 52.5 NFL rating): Bartel completed 10 of 22 passes for 86 yards with one touchdown, one interception, one sack, no fumbles and one carry for 9 yards. The game felt out of reach by the time Bartel entered to start the fourth quarter. His 23-yard scoring pass to Larry Fitzgerald stands as a career highlight so far. It made no difference in the game, however.
  • Sam Bradford, Rams (13.7 QBR, 60.5 NFL rating): Bradford completed 20 of 40 passes for 181 yards with one touchdown, one interception, five sacks, two fumbles (both lost) and no rushing attempts. This game marked the third of the season for Bradford with a QBR score between 12-14, and he has yet to post one higher than 55.3 this season. Bradford's QBR last season was 41.0. It featured a 94.7 against Denver, an 80.5 at home against San Francisco and a 69.4 against Washington. Unfortunately for the Rams, Bradford was better when Josh McDaniels was trying to stop him than he's been with McDaniels trying to help him. That is confounding even though injuries have affected the offense quite a bit, including Bradford.
  • John Skelton, Cardinals (0.9 QBR, 10.5 NFL rating): Skelton completed 6 of 19 passes for 99 yards with no touchdowns, three interceptions, one sack, one fumble (Arizona recovered) and no rushing attempts. Whisenhunt criticized him for missing reads, setting up wrong in the pocket and playing like a rookie. Skelton will likely remain the starter against St. Louis in Week 12 if Kolb's foot and toe aren't sufficiently healed. Otherwise, Kolb gets the start.

The chart below shows how quarterbacks from games involving NFC West teams fared in Total QBR for Week 11.

Players NFC West teams cannot lose

September, 9, 2011
No team in the NFC West and few anywhere have a player as valuable to them as Peyton Manning is to the Indianapolis Colts.

But with Manning lost to the Colts indefinitely following neck surgery, this marks a good time to update the list of "indispensable" players in the NFC West. These aren't always the best players on their teams. They're the players teams can least afford to lose right now.

Thanks to 710ESPN Seattle for the idea. Hosts Brock Huard and Mike Salk were discussing possible candidates for the Seahawks earlier Friday. This was a conversation I wanted to take to the blog.

Arizona Cardinals

1. Kevin Kolb, QB: The Cardinals' entire offseason revolved around upgrading this one position. They liked what they saw from Rich Bartel and John Skelton during the preseason. They hope both look good in the 2012 preseason as well. But they don't want to go through another regular season without a legitimate starting quarterback.

2. Larry Fitzgerald, WR: Receivers can do only so much. The Cardinals went 5-11 with Fitzgerald getting his usual 90 catches for 1,000-plus yards. Still, losing Fitzgerald would hurt more now than in years past because the Cardinals are developing young talent at the position. They don't have Anquan Boldin or Steve Breaston to fall back on. Losing Fitzgerald would deal a strong psychological blow as well.

3. Beanie Wells, RB: Wells has only two career starts. He would not rank among the 10 most accomplished players on the team. But with backup Ryan Williams on injured reserve and former starter Tim Hightower having been traded to Washington, the Cardinals cannot afford to lose their starting running back.

St. Louis Rams

1. Sam Bradford, QB: Bradford answered the durability questions that surrounded him coming out of Oklahoma by taking every offensive snap during his rookie season. Steven Jackson remains the most respected player in the Rams' locker room, but Bradford is most important to the team's success on offense, particularly now that the Rams have better veteran depth behind Jackson.

2. James Laurinaitis, MLB: He's the quarterback of the defense and one of the best young linebackers in the league. The Rams' defense would suffer a great deal from losing other players, including tackle Fred Robbins and either starting defensive end. But Laurinaitis might be the hardest to replace, not just for his ability but also for his energy.

3. Rodger Saffold, LT: This was a tough call. Losing a starting cornerback or even rookie tight end Lance Kendricks would hurt, too. But teams can scheme around holes in their secondaries. The Rams have done that in the past. And Kendricks, though impressive so far, remains an unproven rookie. Left tackle would be the hardest position on the line for the Rams to patch. The offense would change significantly.

San Francisco 49ers

1. Alex Smith, QB: Weary fans are counting down the days til Smith is finished with the 49ers. That is understandable in the bigger picture, but even Smith's harshest critics shouldn't root for the Colin Kaepernick era to begin before its time. The 49ers do not have a veteran backup quarterback on their roster. Losing Smith this early in the season would put Kaepernick in a tough situation. The offense faces enough challenges already.

2. Patrick Willis, LB: As great as Willis has become, the 49ers would also have a hard time playing without defensive end Justin Smith. The team did keep extra defensive linemen on its roster, however. It's easier, in theory, to find 3-4 defensive ends than all-world linebackers. And with Willis set to blitz more frequently this season, the 49ers need him. Larry Grant would probably replace him.

3. Frank Gore, RB: Vernon Davis was nearly the choice here because the team has already lost one tight end to a season-ending injury. But with Braylon Edwards on the team, Michael Crabtree returning from injury and Ted Ginn Jr. reportedly looking good, the 49ers have other options in the passing game. Gore's a huge part of the 49ers' plans for a power offense. The team replaced him better than I would have anticipated last season, however. That's why Davis and Justin Smith drew consideration here as well.

Seattle Seahawks

1. Red Bryant, DE: Opposing coaches tend to take special notice of Bryant's massive frame when discussing the Seahawks' defense. "He weighs around 330 and looks every bit of it," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said this week. It's an exaggeration to say the Seahawks go from very strong against the run to utterly helpless when Bryant isn't available. It's only a slight exaggeration, however. Bryant combines surprising quickness over short distances with sheer size to make running against Seattle difficult. The run defense collapsed without him in 2010.

2. Russell Okung, LT: I could make a strong case for including Okung atop this list, but the Seahawks have become accustomed to playing without him. Repeated ankle injuries to Okung have at least partially numbed the Seahawks to losing him for stretches. They're expecting him to start against San Francisco and hoping he'll stay in the lineup this time. But the offensive line is going to experience growing pains anyway.

3. Chris Clemons, DE: For years the Seahawks were searching for someone to give them badly needed pass-rush production. Clemons came through with 11 sacks last season despite playing through an ankle injury. I'll rank him third even though tight end Zach Miller would also be tough to replace with John Carlson on injured reserve. Earl Thomas and Marshawn Lynch also come to mind for Seattle.

Three things revisited: Cardinals-Broncos

September, 2, 2011
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' preseason game against the Denver Broncos on Thursday night:

1. Patrick Peterson's impact: Peterson was in the lineup opposite A.J. Jefferson after the Cardinals lost incumbent starting corner Greg Toler to a season-ending knee injury. That was no shock. Peterson was the fifth overall choice in the draft, after all. If he wasn't going to start after the team traded Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and lost Toler for the season, what would it take? Of course, Peterson is going t play extensively this season whether or not he starts right away. He gained 10 yards on a punt return against the Broncos and nearly had more, but this game wouldn't feature another big play from him. Peterson had returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown in the team's previous exhibition game. He didn't register a stat in this one.

2. Quarterback depth: Kevin Kolb, Rich Bartel and Brodie Croyle played for the Cardinals. The offensive line kept them well protected for the most part. Kolb attempted only two passes, getting out of the game early. Bartel completed 12 of 16 passes for 216 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating was 130.2. This was a positive step for Bartel, a candidate to open the season as the Cardinals' No. 2 quarterback, ahead of John Skelton. Skelton missed this game with an ankle injury. Bartel has played well enough in Skelton's absence to merit strong consideration for the No. 2 role, but Kolb is the only quarterback on the team whose place on the depth chart is entirely secure.

3. Young pass-rushers: Will Davis got pressure a few times. Sam Acho had three tackles. I was looking to see whether or not O'Brien Schofield would make an impact. This was pretty much a throwaway game, however. Brady Quinn started at quarterback for the Broncos, completing 4 of 12 passes with a 2.2-yard average per attempt. The Cardinals were leading 26-0 midway through the fourth quarter when I decided to publish this item rather than wait through the remainder of the game. Bring on the regular season, please.
Three things to watch for in the Arizona Cardinals' preseason home game against the Denver Broncos at 10 p.m. ET:

1. Patrick Peterson's impact: The Cardinals' first-round draft choice returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown in Arizona's most recent exhibition game. He slipped twice on another play, allowing a big gain. Sometimes it's tough to tell how players in the secondary are faring, particularly when watching on TV. Depending on the coverage, someone unfamiliar with the team's playbook will have a hard time saying with much certainty whether a cornerback handled his responsibilities correctly. Sometimes, a safety is to blame when a cornerback appears most culpable. Big plays are tough to miss, however.

2. Quarterback depth: Backups John Skelton (ankle) and Max Hall (shoulder) will not play. Hall is out for the season. The Cardinals will be happy at the position as long as starter Kevin Kolb remains healthy. But depth is a concern. Rich Bartel figures to play more extensively against the Broncos. He has improved his standing this summer and could be a candidate to unseat Skelton for the No. 2 role. The Broncos are coming off a strong pass-rushing game against Seattle. How well will the Cardinals' quarterbacks hold up?

3. Young pass-rushers. The Cardinals went into the 2011 draft thinking they might have a shot at pass-rusher Von Miller. That shot went away quickly when the Broncos made Miller the second overall choice. The Cardinals didn't value any of the other college pass-rushers enough to draft them fifth overall. As a result, Arizona is heading into its final game of the preseason trying to develop young pass-rushers with less impressive pedigrees. Second-year outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield is one of those younger prospects. Schofield has one of the Cardinals' six sacks in three exhibition games.