Around the NFC West
ARIZONA CARDINALS No offense, but no offense - again. With the St. Louis Rams coming to town on Sunday for the home opener, the Arizona Cardinals offense no doubt will need to produce more than the 12 points it did in its opening loss at the New York Giants. It no doubt will need to rush for more than the 31 total yards and 1.5 yards a pop that it did last Sunday. Cardinals coach Dennis Green has made rebuilding the offensive line among his top priorities since taking over in January, 2004. But so far, the unit isn't playing any better than the overpriced, underachieving players who were their predecessors and sent packing by Green. Green touted the Giants as "a real good defensive team," but that shouldn't be an insurmountable obstacle when confronted by a real good offensive team. And that is what the Cardinals expected to have - a real good offensive team. They have invested heavily in the offense, drafting starting center Alex Stepanovich and right guard Elton Brown in the past two drafts, and signing free agent tackle Oliver Ross last winter. They drafted receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson in the first round, and running back J.J. Arrington and receiver Anquan Boldin in the second round during the past three drafts. They signed free-agent quarterback Kurt Warner in 2005 free agency. The group joins Leonard Davis, the second pick overall in the 2001 draft. That's a lot of high-priced, reputedly high-quality talent. "Obviously we need to run the ball and that is something that we just have to get better at," Warner said. "We don't have to do it first. We could pass the ball well like we did (against the Giants) but you have to be able to balance it out when they start dropping everybody back. "We have to be able to be able to hit them with the ball and make some chunks to put us in better situations other than second and long, third and long. Offensively, we have to look at ourselves and improve across the board." So why is the sum consistently less than the parts? Far less? The lack of production offensively last season grated at Green, who made his reputation as an offensive guru, a strong evaluator of talent. He was dedicated to reversing that during his second season in Arizona. His doesn't sound like a collection that should produce one touchdown and two field goals, even against "a real good defense." "We had a lot of opportunities and we didn't take advantage of them," Green offered. The Rams serve up a defense against which the San Francisco 49ers surprisingly took full opportunity in the opener. And the Rams have to go on the road yet again. And Warner may be buoyed by facing the team with which he twice was NFL Most Valuable Player, won a Super Bowl, and set numerous league offensive records. That is the sort of production the Cardinals believed they were going to get from this unit. And they still might. It isn't Green's fault that Stepanovich broke his hand early in training camp and will be making his return this week. Stepanovich no doubt is better than the four others the team has paraded through the center position during his absence, but he'll be rusty. "You can't win many games scoring 19 points (seven on an interception return by linebacker Karlos Dansby), there is no doubt about it," Green said. "We got stopped on the run and we didn't take advantage of the pass. We did OK on it, but just not enough. "We're going to play again. The running game is one phase of the game, and it wasn't a very good one." But it is the one that Green painstakingly has personally assembled. SERIES HISTORY: 53rd meeting. The Rams hold a 28-22-2 lead in the series over the Cardinals. The Big Red prevailed in the last meeting, 29-7, last Dec. 19 in Tempe, Ariz. Prior to that, the Cardinals had dropped five in a row - including all of them since realignment put them into the NFC West with the Rams - and six of eight against the team that now rules the city that the Cardinals abandoned in 1988. One of the most significant games in the series from the Cardinals' perspective was a cliffhanging 20-17 victory in 1998 at St. Louis that helped them reverse a slow start to finish 9-7 and earn their first, and only, playoff berth since moving to Arizona. NOTES AND QUOTES --- The Cardinals have tried to do their part to assist the thousands of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina who have been housed temporarily in Phoenix at Veterans Memorial Coliseum. ...Several Cardinals players visited the Coliseum to serve dinner and comfort the displaced people, many of whom have lost everything they own. "I just can't imagine losing everything you have worked all of your life for, and I just can't imagine what they are going through," said RB Marcel Shipp, who was among a Cardinals contingent that included WR Anquan Boldin, TE Eric Edwards, G Rolando Cantu, LS Nathan Hodel, S Quentin Harris, T Ian Allen and QB Josh McCown. "My heart and my prayers go out to them and hopefully they can get back on their feet," Shipp said. McCown said it is the moral duty of high-profile, well-to-do community members such as professional athletes to step forward. This is what being in our position is all about," McCown said. "It's nice to be able to bring some positive light to these kids and to bring a sense of love and kindness to these people who have gone through so much. "It has been fun playing with the kids. It's fun because they don't quite understand who you are and then they see you on the video game and it is more realistic to them. That is what it is all about. Letting them have the experiences and just to be able to brighten their day for a little bit, makes it special." --- OLB Karlos Dansby not only had two interceptions in the opener, he made receiver-like acrobatic moves to snag both from QB Eli Manning. Although the fourth receiver spot is not solid and Dansby once was a receiver, in high school, he is happy where he is, he said. On the first pick, while hitting the ground, Dansby rolled to his feet and took it into the end zone 18 yards for a touchdown and the lead over the New York Giants. "I got a chance to make a play," Dansby said. "I was a receiver, so it was natural." Dansby, in his second season from Auburn and among four rookie starters for the team in 2004, also sacked Manning in the opener. --- The Cardinals, while continuing to struggle on the field, continue to e good corporate citizens off the field. They will participate in the "Fiestas Patrias" celebration on Friday and Saturday, leading up to their home opener against St. Louis on Sunday. They will offer giveaways and provide an inflatable quarterback toss - elements that they hope will be missing from their Sunday game plan. "Fiestas Patrias" is presented by the Southwest Hispanic Culture Association to commemorate Mexican Independence. The Cardinals continue to be responsive to the large Hispanic population in metropolitan Phoenix. --- The Arizona Republic reports that 32,835 tickets have been sold for the Cardinals game at Mexico City on Oct. 2 against San Francisco, the first NFL regular-season game to be played outside the United States. The league and the team were hoping for a sellout at 104,000-seat Azteca Stadium, one reason why the Cardinals agreed to sacrifice one of their home games, which typically draw no more than 45,000 - and often far fewer than that. But if they are to get there, they now have less than a month to move about 71,000 tickets south of the border. --- A bit of bright news in a disaster area: Cardinals coach Dennis Green has won seven of his 11 home openers as an NFL head coach. Among the setbacks, though, was a 23-12 drubbing in his only home opener with the Cardinals, suffered at the hands of Super Bowl champion New England last Sept. 19 at Sun Devil Stadium. BY THE NUMBERS: 0.95 - Cardinals' average yardage per rush on their final 20 attempts in their opener after rookie RB J.J. Arrington opened the game with a 12-yard burst on his first pro carry. QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was just the design of the defense. They were doing certain things certain ways, and it's kind of the nature of the beast. One guy in this offense has a lot of success. It can be somebody completely different the next game. Larry did a great job running his routes and making plays." - Cardinals QB Kurt Warner, on WR Larry Fitzgerald's career highs of 13 catches - one for a TD - and 155 receiving yards in the opener. STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL --- Emphasis is high on special teams after the team gave up touchdowns on a kickoff return and a punt return in the opener, turning a game the Cardinals controlled into a rout against them. "Everything kind of broke down," Coach Dennis Green said. "We had some pretty decent coverage on kickoffs and punts at different times, but we didn't do it consistently." --- Another thing the team did not do consistently well is run the football in their opener. After rookie starter J.J. Arrington sliced for 12 yards on his first pro carry, the team compiled 19 yards in their final 20 rushes - not even a yard a carry. The line was makeshift in the middle and inexperienced on the right side. The return of injured starting center Alex Stepanovich this Sunday will help, but he will be rusty. RG Elton Brown will make his second pro start. RT Oliver Ross, although experienced and effective during his days at Pittsburgh, will make his second start with his new team after having missed a large portion of preseason to a knee injury. But even the normally upbeat Green lamented that the rushing game "is not going very well at all." PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES --- WR Larry Fitzgerald, a 2004 first-round pick, had career highs with 13 catches and 155 receiving yards in the opener against the Giants. --- SLB Karlos Dansby, a second-round pick in 2004, had a career-high two interceptions in the opener, including an 18-yard return or a touchdown, and a sack. --- C Alex Stepanovich, who had surgery on his right hand early in preseason, began snapping last week in practice and is likely to move back into the lineup Sunday. He started all 16 games as a rookie in 2004. --- FB James Hodgins has been placed on injured reserve after tearing an ACL in the opener. He was on IR and missed all of 2004 with a shoulder injury. --- MLB James Darling, starting in place of injured Gerald Hayes, suffered a strained knee in the opener and will miss at least two games, forcing a shuffling among the LBs that will have veteran Orlando Huff moving back inside, where he played at Seattle, and rookie Darryl Blackstock in his first pro start outside. --- C Shawn Lynch, who started the opener as the fifth center to work with the first team since the opening of training camp, was released, an indication that Alex Stepanovich will be back in the lineup. Lynch had never taken a snap in an NFL games before starting the opener against the New York Giants. --- MLB Lester Towns, released in the final cut down, was re-signed in the wake of knee injuries to the top two MLBs -- Gerald Hayes and James Darling. Towns was out of football last season but previously spent four seasons at Carolina, where he appeared in 55 games, including 30 starts. He made more than 100 tackles each in 2000 and 2001. --- WLB Orlando Huff, who played inside at Seattle before signing on as a free agent and moving outside, will start in the middle against St. Louis. --- WLB Darryl Blackstock, a rookie third-round pick, will make his first pro start against the Rams. --- TE Teyo Johnson, a 2003 second-round pick by Oakland, was signed to bolster a very inexperienced group. Johnson (6-6, 260) caught 23 passes for 259 yards (11.3-yard average) and three touchdowns in 24 games that included six starts during two years with the Raiders. --- TE Andy Stokes was re-signed to the practice squad, less than a week after he was released to make room for CB Lamont Reid. The flurry of transactions reinforces Stokes' position as Mr. Irrelevant - he was he final player selected in the 2005 draft (255th overall in seventh round) by New England. --- S Jermaine Hardy was released from the practice squad. --- CB Lamont Reid was signed to the practice squad. He made it to the final cut down and was going to be signed to the practice squad but was claimed by the New York Jets. He lasted four days there. --- DE Antonio Smith was signed to the practice squad. He made All-NFL Europe with six sacks in 10 starts for Hamburg and was on the 53-man roster before the team was forced to cut him to cover for injuries at other positions. --- DE Tyler King was released from the practice squad. GAME PLAN VS RAMS: The defense has been rebuilt the past two years with an emphasis on speed rather than size and it worked reasonably well against the bigger, stronger New York Giants in the opener (275 total yards). But in this weekend's matchup, it is speed on speed. The Giants wanted to smash, but the Rams will want the game to be a blur. Look for plenty of blitzing, designed both to get to QB Marc Bulger and run blitzes to attempt to stop Steven Jackson and/or Marshall Faulk before they get started. The Cardinals' widespread injuries among their blockers produced a predictably miserable running game against the physical Giants. The return of C Alex Stepanovich coupled with a game of experience for rookie RG Elton Brown and free agent RT Oliver Ross with their new team won't hurt, nor will a small, less punishing foe. The team has to find a way to get it going on the ground, and one way might be to use its formidable passing game to spread the field to create open lanes. MATCHUPS TO WATCH Cardinals WLB Darryl Blackstock, a third-round pick, vs. Rams RBs Steven Jackson, who rushed for 50 yards in the opener, and Marshall Faulk, one of the best in the game. Knee injuries to the top two MLBs - Gerald Hayes and James Darling - forced the Cardinals to move starting WLB Orlando Huff to the middle and give the fledgling Blackstock his first pro start outside. He is a ferocious pass rusher but needs work defending the run. The Rams no doubt also will test him by throwing to their backs - the Giants had big success throwing to RB Tiki Barber in the opener. Although the Rams have built their reputation with the pass, their running game also has been formidable for years and always produces big yards against this team. If the Cardinals have to commit safeties to the run, that will only make the pass more dangerous against man-to-man coverage on their speedy receivers. Cardinals CB Antrel Rolle, the eighth player chosen in the 2005 draft, vs. Rams WRs Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, two of the most dangerous in the league. Rolle had a tough initiation to the league against a big, strong receiver, Plaxico Burress of the New York Giants. Now it's this pair, who aren't as big and strong as Burress but are speedy. That will test Rolle's supposed lack of big-league foot speed, and will determine whether the team can afford to bring the safeties up in run support to cover the injuries at MLB and inexperience at WLB, or be forced to use them as a safety net for the corners against the pass. INJURY IMPACT: The Cardinals may finally get some good news. Starting C Alex Stepanovich, who started every game as a rookie last year, but who has been sidelined with a fractured hand since early in the preseason, appears ready to return on Sunday vs. St. Louis. That certainly couldn't hurt a rushing game that opened with a putrid 31 yards (1.5 an attempt) at the New York Giants. The news isn't as good in the backfield. FB James Hodgins, who missed last season on IR with a shoulder injury, blew out an ACL as lead blocker for J.J. Arrington's initial pro carry that netted 12 of the team's 31 rushing yards. Hodgins is lost for the season again, and again has been placed on IR. The team will miss his 264 pounds of blocking. Hodgins was like having an extra guard on the field. TE Eric Edwards, attempting to return from a pectoral tear that sidelined him nearly all of camp and preseason, was shaky in his debut, dropping a wide-open pass and average at best on blocking assignments, causing the team to hit the wavier wire this week and sign Teyo Johnson to augment a very inexperienced group of TEs. But Edwards is expected to start against the Rams. Starting MLB Gerald Hayes (knee) still is a month away from his return, and compounding the problem is that backup James Darling suffered a knee injury in the opener at New York Giants and will miss at least two games. That will force the team to move OLB Orlando Huff to the middle and start rookie Darryl Blackstock on the weak side. ST. LOUIS RAMS It is a matchup rich with storylines. The Rams are heading to Arizona, already having lost to the 49ers on the road, playing another division rival on the road and that once resided in St. Louis. As if that weren't enough, throw in the fact that the Cardinals are quarterbacked by the Rams' two-time MVP that was also the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV and you have NFL theatre at its best. Asked about the schedule that has Kurt Warner playing his two former teams in the first two weeks, Cardinals coach Dennis Green said, "I think it reaffirms my idea that the league has a pretty good sense of humor. I'm just surprised we are not going to St. Louis first. We are very excited to have Kurt Warner. He has been one of the great success stories and a real, true pro through the National Football League. So, I think with us going against New York and at the Rams next week creates a lot of excitement around the league, and that is the business we are in." Said Warner, "I don't think that its coincidence, by any means. I think that they knew what they were doing. I think it adds something to it. It brings a little more national attention, little more excitement between the teams that are involved. So I don't think that it's a coincidence at all. I'm just hoping that we fare a little better against this team than we did the last one." For Rams coach Mike Martz, it is also strange. "Whenever you have a player go onto another team, which we have had a lot of them do, and then have to play them, it is always a little uncomfortable. This is particularly that way for me because we were so close for so many years, and to have him move on and then have to line up against him is odd. It is an odd feeling." Meanwhile, it was Rams quarterback Marc Bulger that replaced Warner, and he has had to live in that shadow since Warner's departure. "He helped me out a whole lot," Bulger said. "He was here and knew the system when I was third, and when I started to play, he was great. When I took over, he was great, and nothing has changed in the past year." Bulger is constantly judged against what Warner accomplished, which is certainly unfair. Asked about whether he has empathy for Bulger, Warner offered a special insight. He said, "I suppose a little bit because everybody expects me to be that too. You don't get rid of it. Thank God that you have those years that you do. It's the same in my situation that I know Marc is dealing with that you have that standard, whether it is me ahead of him or in my situation that every year, every time you step onto the football field they expect you to perform at that type of level and it's hard to do. It was a great run that we had. We had everything going. We had everything clicking. We were together for a long period of time. It was one of those special periods. "Yeah, I feel for him, but at the same time I don't feel too bad for him. The guy has had nothing but success in the league. You can't get caught up with what the media says or what the fans want. The guy's played good football, and that's why he's the starting quarterback there, that's why he's been to the Pro Bowl. He's an excellent quarterback and has proven it year-in and year-out. I don't look at it like he hasn't lived up to a standard. I think he has played very good football and has played very well. I don't think he buys into any of that stuff and he just goes out and battles each week and I think that he's done a tremendous job there." On a football level, the Rams know they are facing a quarterback that given time can pick a defense apart. "I think Kurt really, mechanically, looks outstanding right now," Martz said. "They have done a great job with him; they have settled him in there; his footwork, his overall mechanics and just his zip on the ball. He looks very good." Said cornerback DeJuan Groce, "He's still good. He still has it. From watching the film, he still has it. He's still making the nice passes down the field, getting the ball to them ... He still has it. He always had it. The release, arm strength, actually he looks kind of faster now for some reason. He's getting out of the pocket pretty well. I've seen him scramble for about 11 yards. I couldn't believe it, but he did it. He looks healthy." Asked about there being added incentive going against Warner, Groce concluded, "No there isn't any extra incentive. The thing about Kurt (is) that we went against him in practice all the time, so I know what type of quarterback he is. Seeing him play on film, he is pretty much the same. He really hasn't changed too much, he sits back there and gets the ball to receivers." SERIES HISTORY: 53rd meeting. Rams lead, 28-22-2. Since being in the same division starting in 2002, the Rams have won five of six, and had won five straight until losing in Arizona last season, 31-7. Quarterback Marc Bulger missed that game because of a shoulder injury. NOTES AND QUOTES --- Right tackle Rex Tucker injured his calf against the 49ers Sunday and was walking with a boot at practice Wednesday. Tucker, who started the first game of his career at tackle against San Francisco, will not play Sunday against the Cardinals. No timetable has been indicated for hiow long Tucker will be out, but it could be a few weeks. While coach Mike Martz would not commit to as replacement, all indications are that it will be Blaine Saipaia, who started the last five regular-season games there in 2004 as well as two playoff games. Saipaia worked mostly at guard during the preseason, and hadn't taken any snaps at tackle since early in camp until this week. Said Saipaia, "Right now I'm at tackle, but I'm going to play wherever he has me playing. Today I could be a tackle, tomorrow I could be a middle linebacker or free safety or something. Wherever they have me, I'm going to be there. Things change around here. I'm really the swing man around here. I plug in wherever people need me to be. If the coaches decide they need me to be a right tackle that is where I'm going to be." Of Saipaia, Martz said, "He's a very tough guy, very competitive. He's unusual in that he can play, or has played all five positions for us. He's good enough to start at guard or at the right tackle position, and has. He finished the year the last (five) games playing very well. He's certainly a candidate for that as is Matt Willig. We'll just see." --- When the Rams selected Alex Barron in the first round of last April's draft, coach Mike Martz named him an instant starter at right tackle. But he was demoted after struggling in offseason work, and then missed more than two weeks of training camp. After signing, he worked exclusively at left tackle, but is now beginning to get some reps on the right side as he becomes comfortable with the system. Asked about Barron's improvement, Martz said, "I'm a little shocked at his progress just over the last few weeks or so. I'm very happy for him. The big issue for Alex, now, is to put together all the things that we do. To come in as late as he did, has really affected him. Had he not come in so late, who knows where he would be? I'm very pleased with how he handled the situation, he's very mature. He's a tough guy. He's working hard and doing all the things we have asked him to do. He is making progress." When it was noted that left tackle Orlando Pace, the first pick in the draft in 1997, didn't start until well into his rookie season, Martz noted, "I think when Orlando was starting we were trying to find our way offensively, so to speak. We're fairly well established (now), so the expectations for whoever will play at that position are very high." --- Cornerback Ron Bartell, the team's second-round pick, was inactive for the game against San Francisco. Affecting Bartell is that he doesn't play special teams. "He has to make plays," Martz said when asked what Bartell has to do to be active. "He can't make mistakes. He has to be able to use his speed and make plays. He can't guess. He just needs to be very consistent and make plays out here." --- Martz doesn't believe the desert heat should affect his team Sunday in Arizona. "Our guys are in great shape," Martz said. "I don't think this is going to be an issue for us. It was that temperature here last week with the humidity. So, watching our guys on the offense go through 91 plays, and then coming back this week, of course, we ran really well on Monday, it shouldn't be a concern for us. I would be surprised if we have issues with the heat." BY THE NUMBERS: 3.8 - Number of points the Rams averaged on their five red-zone possessions last week. In 2004, the Rams averaged 4.79 points per red-zone trip, 10th in the NFL. Only one team, the Bears, averaged less than four points. QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know yet, we will just have to see. We are working a couple of people in there. We'll see. I don't know what we're going to do yet. Who knows? I might play there." - Coach Mike Martz on who will replace Rex Tucker at right tackle. STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL --- Coach Mike Martz is adamant that the club's special teams will improve, despite the numerous problems that occurred in San Francisco in the season opener. "Oh, I'm very confident. This is going to work fine," he said. "This guy that is coaching the special teams (Bob Ligashesky) is outstanding. He is very superior, and I really, truly mean that. This guy is special. We have some young guys that need to step up that haven't. We trusted them in a vital role and they didn't play well. We will replace them with some veterans if we have to. But that is their role. That is their job. I don't care who is coaching or what team they are on. They have to step up and make plays." Asked about rookies adjusting to regular-season intensity, Martz said, "They get sunburned on the roof of their mouth. Even for guys that have been playing in the league for a long time, when you get out of the preseason and you play that first game, especially a division game, that has a lot of chemistry to it, there is a lot of electricity in the air. It's fast, it's really fast, and they have to get used to it." PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES --- RT Rex Tucker injured his calf against San Francisco and will be out an undetermined amount of time. Tucker was wearing a boot in practice Wednesday, and could miss a few weeks. --- OL Blaine Saipaia is expected to be the starter Sunday at right tackle against Arizona, replacing an injured Rex Tucker. Saipaia started seven games at the position last season (including two playoff games). --- G Claude Terrell was inactive for his first NFL game Sunday, but could be in uniform this week because of the injury suffered by OT Rex Tucker. --- CB Terry Fair did not practice Wednesday and said his neck is still sore. Fair was temporarily paralyzed during the Rams' Aug. 29 preseason game against Detroit. --- CB Chris Johnson is expected to remain as the team's kickoff returner, despite averaging only 13.8 yards a return in the opener against the 49ers and stepping out of bounds at the 1-yard line on the first play of the game. GAME PLAN VS. CARDINALS: Offensively, the Rams will try to run the ball better than they did against San Francisco and build a lead so they don't have to call 65 pass plays. On defense, after stopping the 49ers ground game, the Rams will try to do the same against Arizona, which struggled running in the opener against the Giants. MATCHUPS TO WATCH Rams DLE Leonard Little vs. Cardinals RT Oliver Ross - Little had two sacks and a forced fumble against the 49ers and is looking to keep those happening after a statistically subpar year in 2004. Rams RT Blaine Saipaia vs. Cardinals DLE Chike Okeafor - Assuming Saipaia gets the start at right tackle, he will have to handle the non-stop motor of Okeafor. That's a matchup the ornery Saipaia should be OK with. However, the Cardinals could flip-flop their ends and have Bertrand Berry play some on the left side. That would be a challenge for Saipaia. INJURY IMPACT: RT Rex Tucker will be out at least one game and maybe more after suffering a calf injury against the 49ers. ... CB Terry Fair remains sidelined by neck pain. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS The Seahawks need more from their quarterback and his pass protection to beat the Falcons and bounce back from a season-opening loss at Jacksonville. Otherwise, Seattle could be headed for another turnover-filled disappointment, this time at home. Five turnovers doomed the Seahawks against the Jaguars. In the Falcons, Seattle faces another active defensive team led by an up-and-coming young defensive coach. Jim Mora and the Falcons celebrated almost as though they had won the Super Bowl when Atlanta knocked off Philadelphia on Monday night. Therein lies a potential advantage for Seattle. The Falcons were sky-high for a shot at the team that prevented them from reaching the Super Bowl last season. Now they must travel across the country on a short week to face a team nobody takes too seriously. That aspect of the game works in the Seahawks' favor. But if Seattle doesn't work out some kinks in its pass protection, those factors might not matter. The Seahawks allowed only two sacks against the Jaguars, but QB Matt Hasselbeck found himself under pressure much of the game. "If you get beat physically, that is part of football - the guy across from you sometimes just gets you," coach Mike Holmgren said. "If you go one way when you should go the other way, that is a whole different thing. That bothers me a lot because we practice very hard on our blitz pickup, for example. That happened a couple times." Holmgren was seen yelling Sunday at backup RB Maurice Morris following one apparent gaffe in pass protection. Starting RB Shaun Alexander has long been known as a disinterested pass blocker, although he did get in the way of one rusher Sunday. Seattle needs Morris and/or Alexander to be effective in blitz pickup; otherwise, the team becomes much more limited on passing downs with 34-year-old FB Mack Strong. Hasselbeck can also help the situation by more effectively getting rid of the football. "Matt sometimes can be his worst enemy in an attempt to make the play," Holmgren said. "He will hold on to the last second and absorb punishment when I just assume he throw the ball away and live for another day. "That is something that we are working with him all the time on. He is not necessarily wrong, but for survival over the course of the season, we need to learn to throw the ball away sometimes." SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting. Seattle leads, 7-2. The Seahawks have won three in a row against the Falcons, including a 28-26 victory in the final regular-season game last season (Jan. 2, 2005, at Qwest Field). Falcons QB Michael Vick played sparingly in that game because the Falcons had already secured their playoff positioning. NOTES AND QUOTES --- In 2002, Seattle needed overtime to hold off QB Michael Vick and the Falcons, escaping the Georgia Dome with a 30-24 victory after RB Shaun Alexander broke free for the winning TD run. Seattle was facing second-and-7 from the Atlanta 27 when coaches called for a running play known as "93 Blast". LT Walter Jones took out the outside linebacker. G Chris Gray handled the defensive end. FB Mack Strong attacked an interior linebacker. "When I eventually turned my back, I saw Chris Gray just totally destroy his guy, and Mack Strong must have had a huge block because I saw the hole and Shaun just ran through it," QB Matt Hasselbeck said following that game. --- Coach Mike Holmgren reached into the archives when a reporter asked him whether defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes was suffering from vertigo. "It's a good movie," Holmgren said. "Did you see that movie?" Rhodes has made some progress in recovering from the unexplained dizzy spells that forced him to miss the opener, but he has yet to return to the field. "He still has a little balance issue," Holmgren said, "but it's getting better. The dizziness that he felt, it's improving. He just has to ease back into it." The plan is for Rhodes to watch the game Sunday from the booth at Qwest Field. LB coach John Marshall will continue serving as coordinator. Rhodes will offer input. BY THE NUMBERS: Seattle ranked among the more penalized NFL teams before Mike Holmgren arrived as coach in 1999. That has changed. Last season, Seattle led the league with only 79 penalties, 12 fewer than any other team. Only three teams had fewer penalties than Seattle (five) in the 2005 opener. QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're a passing team, there is no doubt about that; we always have been. We just do what we do. We're going to be fine. When you look up at the end of the year, we're going to throw a lot of yards, we're going to have a lot of yards on the ground, and we're going to score a lot of touchdowns. That's just Jacksonville; they did a good job of stopping what we do." -- RB Shaun Alexander on his 14-carry performance against the Jaguars. STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL The Seahawks shuffled their roster this week by signing former Patriots and Steelers DL Rodney Bailey. To make room for Bailey on the roster, Seattle released WR Jerheme Urban. Bailey, 25, has mostly played end in 3-4 schemes. He is 305 pounds, much larger than Seattle's current ends. Bailey gives Seattle another kind of end, and one large enough to play tackle in a pinch. Adding Bailey begins to offset the talent drain that occurred when Seattle parted ways with former starters Antonio Cochran, Rashad Moore and Cedric Woodard. Unlike Cochran and Moore, Bailey is known as the kind of high-energy defensive player Seattle has sought since Tim Ruskell took over as president in February. Bailey has 9.5 sacks in 48 regular-season games. He missed last season with a torn Achilles' tendon. PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES --- QB Matt Hasselbeck somehow avoided injury despite taking numerous hard shots during the opener at Jacksonville. "Matt sometimes can be his worst enemy in an attempt to make the play," coach Mike Holmgren said. "He will hold on to the last second and absorb punishment when I just assume he throw the ball away and live for another day. That is something that we are working with him all the time on. He is not necessarily wrong, but for survival over the course of the season, we need to learn to throw the ball away sometimes." --- RB Shaun Alexander seemed unruffled by his limited carries in the opener. He carried only 14 times. "We're a passing team, there is no doubt about that; we always have been," Alexander said. "We just do what we do. We're going to be fine. When you look up at the end of the year, we're going to throw a lot of yards, we're going to have a lot of yards on the ground, and we're going to score a lot of touchdowns. That's just Jacksonville; they did a good job of stopping what we do." --- WR Darrell Jackson now has 35 career TD catches, good for fourth on the Seahawks' all-time list. Jackson had been tied with Brian Blades before catching a TD pass in the opener. Jackson needs one more TD grab to tie Joey Galloway and Daryl Turner for second on the list. Hall of Famer Steve Largent leads the way with 100. --- LB Lofa Tatupu played well in his first regular-season NFL start. Seattle held the Jaguars to 3.8 yards a carry. Tatupu impressed teammates in making all the calls on the field. "If you are looking for silver linings, I think that went pretty darn well," DE Grant Wistrom said. "It was a much better job of getting our checks out there on defense than we had all of last year." --- TE Itula Mili's absence could extend beyond this week. He remains weakened by an intestinal blockage that could require surgery. The team is still hopeful that Mili will not need surgery, which would delay his return considerably. The team is listing Mili as doubtful for Week 2. He is not practicing. --- WR Peter Warrick will join the receiving rotation Sunday after playing only on special teams in the opener. That likely means less playing time for WR Alex Bannister, who dropped a pass in the opener. --- LT Wayne Hunter was listed as doubtful for Sunday. He is not practicing. A sprained right knee is to blame. GAME PLAN VS FALCONS: The Seahawks must establish their running game for the first time this season. That might not be easy given that the Falcons ranked tied for eighth among NFL teams in run defense last season, allowing 105.1 yards per game. Atlanta held Seattle RB Shaun Alexander to 80 yards rushing in the final regular-season game last season. Getting the run game going would allow the Seahawks to better weather the pass rush that Atlanta unleashed against the Eagles on Monday night. Seattle has some weak spots on the right side of its line. The coaching staff needs to devise a protection scheme to keep QB Matt Hasselbeck from getting beat up. That might mean more max-protect sets and more two-back sets. MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Seahawks WR Darrell Jackson vs. Falcons CB DeAngelo Hall. Hall proved Monday night against Eagles WR Terrell Owens that he can match up with the best in the game. Jackson is not among the best in the game and he has struggled against elite corners in the past, notably Ty Law last season. He needs to step up in this game. Seahawks RT Sean Locklear, making his second NFL start, vs. Falcons DE Patrick Kerney. Eagles RT Jon Runyan had some problems against Kerney on Monday night. Runyan is a massive mauler with suspect mobility and athleticism. Locklear is much more athletic and that should help him Sunday. But with only one start under his belt, Locklear lacks the experience to hold up against a top DE for an entire game. QB Matt Hasselbeck will have to watch this matchup closely as he determines whether to throw away the ball or hold it to make a play. Seahawks RG Chris Gray, an aging veteran, vs. Falcons DT Rod Coleman, who gives just about everyone problems. Gray has started 91 consecutive regular-season games, so experience isn't his problem. He simply isn't physical enough to hold up against stud DTs, and Coleman is studlier than most. INJURY IMPACT: TE Itula Mili (intestinal blockage) won't play Sunday. The Seahawks list him as doubtful, but he is not ready. Seattle should be fine at the position as long as Jerramy Stevens and Ryan Hannam stay healthy. Hannam is a good blocker. That opens the door for WR Peter Warrick to get some reps in the multiple-receiver sets. The coaching staff wants to get Warrick involved this week. LT Wayne Hunter (knee) is still a week away. The team doesn't need him to play unless another offensive lineman gets hurt.
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