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Around the NFC West: Alex Smith's balance

There's a difference between caring about what others think and caring too much about what they think.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith has, by all accounts, reached a balance in that area.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News covers that and other ground after a sit-down interview with Smith heading into Week 13. Smith pushed back when asked whether the 49ers would have to crank up their passing game to win in the playoffs. Smith: "Where I’m at, I just don’t give a crap about that right now. We’re winning games, playing football, you know what I’m saying? I’m having such a good time playing football and trying to get better at my position and trying to strive for that each and every week, I guess I just don’t give a crap right now."

Also from Kawakami: a full transcript to his Smith interview.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News passes along Jim Harbaugh's thoughts on possibly clinching the NFC West title Sunday: "It's a big deal. It's a step. We may be ahead on the chip count, but we don't have a seat at the final table."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Frank Gore's receptions have fallen in part because the 49ers need him more in pass protection. Noted: Gore's reception counts diminish by down. Most of his receptions are on first down.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle wonders why teams with winning records have crumbled after playing the 49ers.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Tarvaris Jackson practiced extensively on Tuesday, an indication the quarterback plans to start against Philadelphia on a short week despite his pectoral injury. Coach Pete Carroll: "We have to manage this all the way through this. We don’t have all the answers. We listen very carefully to what he feels like and he’s been tuned in to it and the trainers have stayed very close with him to figure it out. And so far they’ve been able to get him ready to play every week. We really rely on him quite a bit on this. He’s the one who has to tell us what he feels like."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune offers thoughts on Sidney Rice's likely injury absence from Seattle's lineup this week. Williams: "Rice was Seattle’s biggest free agent acquisition during the offseason, signing a five-year, $41 million deal, $18.5 million of which was guaranteed, to join the Seahawks. But the South Carolina product has had trouble staying healthy in his first season in Seattle, missing the first two games of the season with a shoulder injury, and now likely missing a third game because of a concussion. Rice is second on the team in receptions with 32 catches for 484 yards and two touchdowns." Noted: The durability concerns surrounding Rice stemmed from hip surgery. The injuries he has suffered since joining the Seahawks, especially the concussions, weren't predictable.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune appreciates Chris Clemons' contributions to Seattle.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says some of the Cardinals' younger players are making key contributions. Somers: "Every regular starter on offense is under 30. The problem, at least at the beginning of the season, was on defense. Five starters were 30 or older, as were the three backup defensive linemen. The Cardinals needed their young players to develop, and many of them have. Rookie Sam Acho has played well since taking over for the injured Joey Porter, 34, at right outside linebacker five games ago. Acho already has as many sacks, five, as Porter had in 16 games last season. Outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield, in his second year, is working into the rotation at outside linebacker as the playing time of Clark Haggans, 34, decreases. The starting defensive line will be young, and good, if nose tackle Dan Williams ever gets in shape and if end Calais Campbell is re-signed. Neither is a given." Noted: Arizona has the 15th-oldest players on offense and the second-oldest players on defense. The Cardinals have the eighth-oldest backups on offense, the oldest backups on defense and the oldest backups overall, not counting specialists. Those figures are based on the roster information I track for every team in the league. The Cardinals need more youth throughout their roster. They need young depth on the offensive line. They need more young depth at linebacker. They're going to need more young depth at safety, most likely.

Also from Somers: catching up with ex-Cardinal Frank Sanders.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic checks in with Cardinals inside linebacker Daryl Washington.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com also addresses the age issue.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are hearing from their fans. Thomas: "In a season where many observers, including many now-disgruntled Rams fans, thought the team would compete for the NFC West title, the Rams (2-9) have the second-worst record in the NFL. So the frustrated fans booed when the offense sputtered, which was quite frequently. They booed when Steve Spagnuolo let the clock run down at the end of the first half instead of aggressively trying to score a touchdown. They booed when he opted to punt the ball on a pair of fourth-and-1 situations instead of going for it. The booed when Beanie Wells ran roughshod over the Rams for an Arizona franchise record of 228 yards. Spagnuolo may not have heard it all the time. But the players did."

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript questioning the talent on defense for St. Louis. Thomas: "Well, we keep hearing about gap integrity and alignment, but I wonder if the overall talent level just hasn't been good enough. This season, the Rams' defensive tackle play hasn't been very good, and it's clear the team missed DT Justin Bannan on Sunday against Arizona. But for years, even pre-dating Spagnuolo, the Rams seem susceptible to cutback runs and counter action. It is mind-boggling."

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis offers thoughts on would-be Rams owner Shahid Khan making a play to purchase the Jaguars.