Around the NFC West: Cards back off

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are scaling back their workload as the playoffs approach. Somers: "Ken Whisenhunt couldn't follow this plan with last year's team. Those Cardinals were immature, given to wild swings of mood and performance. Over the holidays last year, Whisenhunt put his team through padded practices because he felt the players had relaxed in their preparation."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals need to re-sign strength and conditioning coach John Lott. Bickley: "In these dizzying times, there are five main reasons for the Cardinals' stunning transformation. They are (1) Kurt Warner; (2) great skill players; (3) Ken Whisenhunt; (4) a weak division; and (5) the new stadium in Glendale. But don't underestimate the contributions of Lott, a galvanizing, motivating personality who is partly responsible for the noted increase in this team's stamina, swagger and strength." The Cardinals would hear about it if they let Lott get away. Whisenhunt has consistently credited Lott for helping the Cardinals stay healthier than some teams.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals hope their four Pro Bowl selections aren't available for the all-star game.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com sizes up the team's Pro Bowl selections, passing along this comment from Whisenhunt regarding Darnell Dockett: "One thing that has shown up is you don’t see as many penalties on Darnell. I think he has gotten some of his emotions under control and now he is letting his play speak for himself and I have no doubt that is one of the reasons he is on the team as a starter."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Pro Bowl voters could not ignore Steven Jackson even though the Rams are suffering through a horrible season. Jackson last week: "You work all offseason really hard to hopefully be in the Pro Bowl. And to have a Pro Bowl year that means you're one of the best at your position. So it means a great deal."

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript featuring low marks for the Rams' cornerbacks. Thomas: "I know there are injuries, and the pass rush has been spotty at best, but they'd get a 'D' or an 'F' from me. Ron Bartell has been hurt, but he hasn't been the player he was last season. Bradley Fletcher was coming on before he got hurt. Jonathan Wade in the doghouse. Justin King hasn't been very good, although he tackled better Sunday. Danny Gorrer got schooled big-time by the Cardinals and then dropped a sure INT for a TD. And not one INT from this group the entire season!!!! Unbelievable. Is it the coaching? Is it the talent level? Or a little of both? I don't know."

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says Jackson is buying watches for offensive teammates after earning a Pro Bowl berth. Balzer: "With one game remaining in the season, Jackson ranks second in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,353 and is fourth in combined yards from scrimmage with 1,675. He has rushed for at least 1,000 yards for a franchise-best five consecutive seasons."

Jim Rodenbush of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat expects Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo to remain noncommittal about the team's starting quarterback for Week 17.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with Vernon Davis after players and coaches throughout the NFL helped the 49ers' tight end become a Pro Bowl starter. Davis: "It means a lot to me because that shows a lot of these players -- they respect me and they acknowledge my ability. They know the type of things I can do to a defense."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers think Patrick Willis can still improve quite a bit, even after three Pro Bowl berths in three NFL seasons. Coach Mike Singletary: "Pat has a ways to go before he gets all of it. I don't know how good he can be. But I know he's not there yet. He knows it as well. There is so much more that he can do better. It is amazing to me that a guy could have that much ability as a linebacker. This offseason, I am really excited about some of the things and some of the goals he has this offseason of trying to take that next step. I am excited to see where it goes, but he is exceptional."

Also from Maiocco: 49ers punter Andy Lee is back in the Pro Bowl.

Jerry McDonald of Bay Area News Group says Davis did not expect to be recognized as a Pro Bowl starter because of the big names he was competing against.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says Davis credits Singletary for helping to turn around his career. Davis: "Coach Singletary has really helped me out. Sending me to the locker room really woke me up and made me realize how important the game is. It's not just about you, it's about the team. It did motivate me. It helped me to put my team first and realize the penalties can hurt the team."

Also from Crumpacker: Willis correctly downplays tackles as a meaningful stat.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says former president and general manager Tim Ruskell deserves more blame than coach Jim Mora for the Seahawks' current problems. Kelley on the next team president/GM: "If he keeps Mora, he should ask him to make major changes with his offensive coaching staff. And the new president should turn over as much as one third of the team's roster. I don't think Jim Mora will be fired. I think Ruskell's replacement will see that Mora has had success before as a head coach in Atlanta. He'll probably give Mora another year and a better team. I don't know if keeping Mora is the right or wrong call. I do know that, either way, we'll all know the answer to that question a year from today." Ruskell was riding high after the draft, and rightfully so. He did seem to make the right moves. There's plenty of blame to go around when an organization falls this hard. I'm with Kelley in not being 100 percent sure how the Seahawks should proceed with Mora. But if the team makes a move after only one season, Mora's replacement had better come with some legitimate credentials.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times compares the Seattle receivers' attack on Hugh Millen to something out of pro wrestling. O'Neil: "When KJR tracked Millen down via phone and patched him through, it felt like a professional wrestler being invited to Roddy Piper's Pit only to get clocked from behind by a steel chair as they debated the film-room minutiae of coverage schemes."

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says Seahawks receiver Deion Branch is offering advice to fans. Branch, after taking a supportive call during his radio show from a fan named Jack: "These are the people we play for. If it's 70,000 Jack fans who show up Sunday, that's who we want in the stadium. We don't want the other 15,000 who are straddling the fence, one week we win, the next week we lose. Stay at home. If you're not with us, stay at home. Please stay at home. Deion Branch said that. If you're not with us, stay at home." Criticizing fans generally is not productive.