Enemy Intel: Chargers Getting '04 Feeling

Enemy Intel 11.26.05--The Chargers are starting to get the magical feeling of 2004. Plus the Rams look to salvage their season and the Cards look to make somethig out of theirs.

 

Hot Topic

The Chargers are feeling more upbeat about Antonio Gates' chances of playing on Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

Gates, their All-Pro tight end, practiced for the first time this week on Thursday. Gates sprained his right foot on Sunday in the win over the Buffalo Bills.

"I tested it out and basically I'm going to wait until (Friday) and see how it feels," said Gates, the team's top receiver with 56 catches for 784 yards and seven touchdowns. "We'll just decide from there to see if it's sore or I have any pain.

"Still, it feels better, obviously, than it did (Wednesday). So that is a good sign."

Coach Marty Schottenheimer also gave Gates' performance two thumbs up.

"He did some work out here today," Schottenheimer said. "(His availability) is going right down to game time. We are cautiously optimistic. He ran and he cut. It was positive."

Gates is no longer wearing the walking boot his ailing foot has been encased in since he was hurt in the third quarter of Sunday's game. His limp was also gone.

"I'm going to constantly prepare to play this weekend and take care of the foot," Gates said.

If Gates can't go, he would be replaced for Justin Peelle, a fourth-year pro. Peelle, who's forte is blocking and not catching Drew Brees passes, filled in for Gates in the season opener, when he was serving a suspension.

--The Chargers are playing like it's 2004 all over again.

"I think it's safe to say that we are starting to get the feeling that we had last year," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said.

The Chargers head for Washington, D.C., on Sunday to try and extend their winning streak to four against the Redskins. The Redskins are headed the opposite direction, having lost three of their past four.

The Chargers look at their recent past and smile. Last year they won eight straight and nine of their final 10 games to qualify for their first playoff berth since 1995.

And after stumbling from this year's gate and sitting at 2-3 after five weeks, the Chargers have got their groove back.

"It's a confidence level, that attitude that we can move the ball no matter if it's the pass game or the run game," said quarterback Drew Brees, who is coming off a sensational game in the win over the Bills. "We are going to move the ball and score points. That's our job and that's what we do and our attitude is that's just what we do."

The Chargers offense, which is averaging 30 points per game, has been cranking. It is ranked in the top 10 in virtually every critical category.

"That's something that is built up over time," said Brees, who has thrown 18 touchdown and eight interceptions. "It's not something where you just wake up and snap your fingers and it is there."

But escaping the D.C. with a victory is no slam dunk. The Redskins will be in a sour mood after losing to the Oakland Raiders last week.

And as well as Brees and Co. are playing, they know the Redskins defense is no pushover, particularly when egged on by some 90,000 Redskins fans.

"They are a solid defense and have been all year long," Brees said of the No. 10-ranked unit. "They have played well lately and it's a group that, especially with us on the road, thrives off that crowd.

"Plus, they are in a situation now, sitting at 5-5, that it's some what of a must win for them. And it's kind of a similar situation for us. So it should be a heck of a battle."

Added Tomlinson: "You want to play your best football down the stretch and I think we are playing our best football."

SERIES HISTORY: Eighth meeting. The Washington Redskins lead the series 6-1, but the San Diego Chargers won the last time they played, 30-3, at Qualcomm Stadium. The coach for the Redskins that day was current Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer.

Quotes and Notes

--Redskins coach Joe Gibbs was an offensive coordinator for the Chargers under Don Coryell from 1979-80.

While Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer and Gibbs have coached a combined 515 NFL games, this is only the fourth time they have matched wits. Schottenheimer holds a 2-1 edge.

Schottenheimer, unlike when he returns to Cleveland or Kansas City, said he doesn't have the same feeling as when he goes back to Washington, D. C. "I just wasn't there long enough," Schottenheimer said. In his one season there, he went 8-8 after starting 0-5.

The Redskins are 0-3 against AFC West teams this season.

If Antonio Gates (foot) can't play, fourth-year pro Justin Peelle would replace him. "Gates means a lot to us but I'm very confident Peelle can come in and do the job," Brees said.

This marks the second straight week the Redskins will see a former coach on the other sideline. Last week, Norv Turner's Raiders defeated the Redskins, 16-13.

--OLB Shawne Merriman is close friends with Redskins LB LaVar Arrington, and often calls him his big brother.

--If LaDainian Tomlinson can rush for 98 yards Sunday, he will post his fifth straight 1,000-yard season. Only six other players have accomplished that feat.

--QB Drew Brees has a 96.2 rating on third downs, fifth-highest in the NFL.

--How important is TE Antonio Gates? When he has multiple touchdown games, the Chargers are 5-0.

--WR Keenan McCardell is six catches shy of hitting the 800-mark of his career.

--The Redskins' director of player development is J.J. Jefferson, the Chargers' first-round pick in 1978.

--Schottenheimer continues to praise WR Keenan McCardell - for his toughness. "He is doing a great job in our run-blocking," Schottenheimer said of McCardell, who also has seven touchdown receptions.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 - This is the Chargers' fourth trip to the East Coast since Oct. 2. To date, they've defeated the Patriots and Jets, while falling to the Eagles.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We still have to go out and find a way, that's just the way it is. There is not one guy on this team that we just can't do without. That's why it's a team game." - QB Drew Brees, when asked how big of blow would it be if All Pro TE Antonio Gates can't play with a foot injury.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Tight end Ryan Krause was put on injured reserve because of a chronic foot problem. The team elevated Landon Trusty off the practice squad. They went ahead and brought back Brock Edwards to the practice squad. The Chargers are just happy the tight end they are putting on IR is Krause, and not All Pro Antonio Gates.

Also, the Chargers kick coverage team has been terrible. Looking for any edge, the Chargers have tinkered with going with P Mike Scifres on kickoffs instead of PK Nate Kaeding. Kaeding has been bothered by a sore back and it has hampered his distance and hang time on kickoffs. But early in the week, coach Marty Schottenheimer said the team was sticking with Kaeding.

Player Notes

--LT Roman Oben (foot) didn't practice again on Thursday and it is looking as if he will miss Sunday's game. Leander Jordan would get his third NFL start at left tackle if Oben can't go.

--OLB Steve Foley (strained abdominal) has practiced all week and appears primed to return to the starting lineup.

--ILB Ben Leber (foot) didn't practice Thursday and it appears his season is close to being over. He will undergo foot surgery next week, which will likely land him on injured reserve.

--C Nick Hardwick's ankle held up well last week and he should be even stronger this week.

--LT Leander Jordan has done well - save one play which nearly cost the Chargers the game against the Jets - in his two games while replacing Roman Oben.

--RB Michael Turner continues to impress with his spot play. Turner is averaging 4.6 yards per carry - better than even Tomlinson.

--WR Reche Caldwell has had a resurgence after two fumbles on two catches put him in Schottenheimer's doghouse. In the past two games he has eight catches for 83 yards with a long of 39.

--OLB Shaun Phillips could see his playing time diminish if Steve Foley returns this week. But Phillips has learned both sides of the outside linebacker's spots, so he could still see the field when Foley is in there. Phillips has played well in Foley's absence and has five sacks, second-best among Chargers.

GAME PLAN: Look for the Chargers defense to really get after Redskins QB Mark Brunell with their blitz packages. Outside of Santana Moss - and he is a good one - the Redskins have few threats on the outside. That would allow the Chargers to blitz and not be concerned with Brunell making them pay by a standout receiver burring someone in single coverage. Moss, no doubt, will draw a lot of attention. But the Chargers could exploit the lack of a threat on the opposite side, and blitz Brunell more than they might if an offense had more balance in their wide outs.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

The Chargers pass rush, led by rookie Shawn Merriman and his team-high seven sacks, vs. the Redskins pass protection, which must keep somewhat mobile Mark Brunell in one piece. Rival quarterbacks can no longer sit back in the pocket and pick apart the Chargers suspect pass defense. Merriman has been on fire of late, collecting six sacks since becoming a starter four games ago. But don't overlook Shaun Philips, another linebacker with a burst - Schottenheimer said Philips' first step reminds him of Derrick Thomas, when Schottenheimer was coaching him in Kansas City. The Redskins use a lot of two tight-end sets, which could make getting to Brunell more difficult. Brunell doesn't run around like he did long ago when he was with the Jaguars, but he is deceptive in that he has the knack to evade an oncoming rusher. Among the keys is if NT Jamal Williams can again collapse the pocket on the inside, when going against C Casey Rabach. If Williams can, that opens things up on the outside for Merriman, Phillips and Co.

The Chargers' top-ranked run defense against a Redskins running attack led by Clinton Portis, who has rushed for 5,270 yards since the 2002 season, the third-most in the NFL. The Chargers are coughing up but 78.1 rushing yards per game. Twice this year, they have kept teams under 40 yards: Oakland (39) and Philadelphia (24). Over their last five games in which they have gone 4-1, the Chargers are allowing but 62.4 yards. But look for them to do more than just tackle Portis, as Donnie Edwards and others will try to stripe the ball from his as well. Portis fumbled twice in last week's game, something the Chargers aren't overlooking.

INJURY IMPACT: LT Roman Oben (foot) didn't practice and is questionable, and they way he is still limping he looks like the low side of questionable. Leander Jordan would replace him. TE Antonio Gates (foot) didn't practice and is questionable. Still in a boot and has yet to test his foot. It would be a surprise if he goes Sunday. Justin Peelle would replace him. OLB Steve Foley (abdominal strain) was able to work on Wednesday. ILB Ben Leber (foot) wasn't able to work and he won't play on Sunday; he's a backup.


Hot Topic

For the second time this season, the Rams have lost quarterback Marc Bulger to a shoulder injury. After Bulger suffered the first injury Oct. 17 against the Colts, the Rams won their next two games with Jamie Martin under center and without wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.

Facing a possible lost season with a record of 4-6, Martin returns, this time with Holt and Bruce back on the field. Rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick again will be Martin's backup, and he took more snaps in practice this week than he did the last time he was one injury away from playing. Martin did suffer bruised ribs last week against Arizona.

Interim coach Joe Vitt was pleased with Martin's work this week.

"He was really sharp the last two days, really sharp," Vitt said Thursday. "His ribs were a little hurt going into (Wednesday's) practice, but I thought he was really sharp. He threw the ball well, good anticipation. He had a good zip on the ball. The receivers did a good job of running routes and catching for him."

Asked if he is comfortable giving Martin the entire playbook to run, Vitt said, "He has the entire playbook, but then we'll whittle it down. He's been in this system his whole life, so he knows what to do. He knows where to go with the ball, he knows his progressions. He knows his pre-snap reads, he knows all that stuff. We haven't cut it back for him."

As for what has impressed him about Fitzpatrick, who played well in the preseason and beat out Jeff Smoker for the No. 3 job, Vitt said, "He's mobile. He has a strong arm. He's extremely smart. He's really devoured the offense. He understands it. He can make the impromptu play. He stays alive. He's accurate on the run. He's really got a great future."

But for now, as the Rams try to salvage something positive out of this season, Martin is the man.

"I have come to expect good things from Jamie," Holt said. "He's been here before; he's been in this situation before. We rolled with Jamie the last two games before we went into the bye week. He has proven that we can win with Jamie. We are OK, we are fine with Jamie. We are fortunate enough to have a guy that understands the system."

Martin has a passer rating of 83.2 in the four games he's played, and he says he's ready.

"This is my career," Martin said. "I'm a career backup to be ready in these situations. Having those two games earlier in the year under my belt really helps to kind of calm down this week and know what to expect and hopefully have some good games."

Also ready will be Fitzpatrick.

"You're always excited about the opportunity to play," Fitzpatrick said. "Hopefully everything goes well and Jamie throws for 300 yards and we win the game. But if something happens and I have to go in, I'm definitely going to try to seize the opportunity."

--A little more than three weeks ago, Joe Vitt was the toast of the town. The Rams' interim coach had guided his team to home wins over New Orleans and Jacksonville and brought their record to 4-4.

Vitt was hailed for his no-nonsense approach and credited for motivating his team with movie clips or speeches. The day before the win over the Saints, there was a clip of Jim Valvano's famous "Never Give Up" speech. The following week, there was a scene from "The Gladiator," played the day before the win over the Jaguars.

However, there has been little talk of motivational tactics the last two games, as the Rams have virtually taken themselves out of playoff contention with a road loss to Seattle and a stunning home loss to Arizona.

It was bad enough to lose to the Cardinals, a division rival, but even worse to have it happen at the hands of former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner.

Wide receiver Torry Holt refuses to concede. While acknowledging that "we have to run the table," Holt added, "and hope that some teams lose to give us a shot to get in. And we have a very tough table to run. We have some good football teams coming in. Right now everyone is scratching and clawing to get in. We definitely have to get some sense of urgency in order to run the table and hope for some other teams to give us an opportunity."

For Vitt, he has to keep his team on the same page, and ensure that it doesn't totally collapse. Asked how he can motivate the team for the rest of the season, Vitt said, "Again, nobody has to come to work on Wednesday. They really don't. Anybody that doesn't want to play, they can stay home. We get to come to work. This is the National Football League. This is a great game. I still get excited about playing on Sunday. I still get excited about going to work on Wednesday.

"I told the players, 'This is Thanksgiving week. We have a lot to be thankful for.' Things aren't the way we'd like them to be right now, but they are the way they are, and it's up to us to get it changed. I think the true test of a man's character comes out when times are tough, and times are tough. Make no doubt about that, they're tough. We'll take roll call, see who's here, put a smile on our face and go prepare to play. That's the bottom line. We're going to go prepare to play. We're all disappointed, but the last time I looked, none of us always get what we want. We usually get what we deserve. It's up to us to fix it."

Running back Steven Jackson said, "We (have to) go back to work. There is no need to keep your head down. We have to finish out strong and we have a lot of games to play. We can't just give up because we lost. We're all professionals here and we just have to go out and get ready for practice later on this week."

When it was noted to Vitt that some players have voiced the feeling that they have lost confidence and asked how he can help that, Vitt said, "I tell you what, we're all men. What I'm not going to do is take an air hose and stick it in their ear and start pumping them up. I'm not going to do that. This is a great game, and we're blessed to be a part of it. I'm excited after 27 years to go coach this game. If they're not excited to play the game, then just let us know. We'll bring the next guy on, but I don't feel that.

"I think a lot of emotions talk after a game. None of us slept last night. We all feel terrible. With 10 minutes left to go in the game, we're winning the game. It's ugly, but it's a winnable game. Well, we lost the game, and now it is what it is. I've said it before; I don't think anybody out there, or here, is going to feel sorry about our sad story. It's up to us. I told the players this morning they're either going to be part of the solution, or part of the problem. They're going to have to define that themselves."

We'll learn how it's defined after the Rams play the 1-9 Texans Sunday in Houston.

SERIES HISTORY: First meeting.

Quotes and Notes

--The team's defense continues to shoot itself in the foot with penalties, many coming in critical situations. CB Chris Johnson was called for hands to the face on a third-and-12 play the Rams had stopped. The Cardinals continued the drive to a touchdown.

LB Pisa Tinoisamoa was called for holding on second-and-16. Arizona had four first downs by penalty and three were on third down.

"You cannot win with the number of penalties we have, especially being untimely penalties," interim head coach Joe Vitt said. "We're going to continue to address it; we're going to continue to coach against it."

Particularly vexing to Vitt is that he has had officials at practice the last three weeks, and the infractions in workouts have decreased. But Vitt said he won't change his approach.

"You know, the one thing I'm not going do right now is I'm not going to change my approach," Vitt said. "We're going to stress it every single day. We're going to coach against it every single day. But all of a sudden if I start going up and down with my emotions and the assistant coaches start doing that, then panic sets in. So no, we're just going to continue to coach hard against it."

Said wide receiver Torry Holt, "I think on both sides of the ball the mistakes we're having and the penalties that we're having is, I would say, a lack of focus, on both sides of the ball. We as players have to take onus to that and get better on that. Coach Vitt has brought refs in to try to help us with that, and we still come out here on Sundays and make the same mistakes. So, we as players have to take onus to that and continue to get better at that and move forward."

--Defensive end Brandon Green is expected to start again instead of Anthony Hargrove, who has rarely made plays, while continuing to be undisciplined in run defense.

Said interim coach Joe Vitt of Green, "All he does is make plays, and all he does is work hard every day. He's a quick twitch, undersized athlete, has great knowledge of the game, has an outstanding work ethic. He's assignment conscious and a big part of our football team, a great acquisition."

Asked if Green had earned another start, Vitt said, "We'll talk about that as the week goes on, but in my mind he has. He really played well."

--Amid every possible problem this team has had this season, one more was added Sunday against Arizona during a halftime show that featured bands from different armed forces in honor of Veteran's Day.

Near the end of halftime, Rams punter Bryan Barker came on the field and began warming up by kicking balls over the heads of the performers.

After the team received numerous complaints Monday, Barker apologized in a statement.

"I apologize to anyone who was offended by my actions Sunday," the statement said. "It was not my intention to be disrespectful to our military personnel. We have a short time to prepare for the second half, and I was only following my regular routine in getting warmed up. It was unfortunate it happened as we were saluting our armed forces, and for that I deeply apologize."

BY THE NUMBERS: 4-11 - The Rams' road record since the start of the 2004 season, including 1-1 in the postseason. In the 11 losses, the Rams have been out-scored 393-189. They have allowed 30 or more points nine times and 40 or more four times.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think this, and this is something we talked about as a staff. We're going to have to try to demand more prefect practices. If we have a mistake in practice, we're going to have to do the play over again. And if we have to stay out there until 7 o'clock at night until we get it right that is going to have to be the approach." - Interim coach Joe Vitt on how to eliminate mistakes by his team.

Player Notes

--DE Leonard Little was added to the injury report Thursday as probable with an ankle injury. Said interim coach Joe Vitt, "He got a cortisone shot yesterday in his ankle, and you want to rest that thing for 24 hours afterwards. He'll be ready to go tomorrow."

--LT Orlando Pace missed some practice Thursday because of a hamstring injury, but he is listed as probable and expects to play Sunday.

--RB Marshall Faulk has practiced sparingly this week, just like last week because of a knee injury. Faulk is probable and is expected to play his usual role in the offense.

--S O.J. Atogwe practiced better Thursday than he did Wednesday because of a toe injury suffered against Arizona. While he is questionable, interim coach Joe Vitt said, "He moved around really well today. He really did. He practiced really well."

--QB Jamie Martin practiced Wednesday and proclaimed himself fine after suffering bruised ribs in relief of Marc Bulger last Sunday. Martin is expected to start Sunday against Houston with Bulger out because of a shoulder injury.

--QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Rams' rookie seventh-round pick, took a number of snaps with the first unit in practice Wednesday. Fitzpatrick is expected to open the game Sunday against Houston as the backup to Jamie Martin.

--SS Adam Archuleta did not practice and will not play Sunday against Houston because of a concussion suffered against the Cardinals.

--SS Jerome Carter, a rookie, will make his first start this week with Adam Archuleta out because of a concussion.

--CB Travis Fisher, who did not play against Arizona last week, is expected to miss another game this week against Houston because of a lingering groin injury.

--CB DeJuan Groce is listed as questionable, but isn't expected to play Sunday against Arizona because of a concussion.

--G Rex Tucker will be the main backup at guard Sunday against Houston because of a concussion suffered last week by Blaine Saipaia.

GAME PLAN: Offensively, the Rams must find a way to open holes for RB Steven Jackson, in combination with the passing game. The Rams ran more than usual in QB Jamie Martin's previous two starts, but WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce did not play in those games. Both are now back.

On defense, the Rams will try to get pressure on QB David Carr, but they must stop RB Domanick Davis and WR Andre Johnson.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Rams secondary vs. Texans WR Andre Johnson - With CBs Travis Fisher and DeJuan Groce likely out for this game, it will be up to someone from the group that includes rookie Ron Bartell, Chris Johnson or Corey Ivy to keep Johnson from making big plays. The starting secondary will be Bartell, Johnson, SS Jerome Carter and FS Mike Furrey.

INJURY IMPACT: Concussions were in abundance after last Sunday's game against Arizona. Getting knocked out were SS Adam Archuleta, CB DeJuan Groce and G Blaine Saipaia. Archuleta and Saipaia definitely won't play this week, while Groce probably won't. ... Injuries also hit the quarterbacks again as Marc Bulger (shoulder) and Jamie Martin (ribs) were hurt against the Cardinals. Bulger is expected to be out at least three weeks, while Martin should start Sunday. ... The secondary also is affected by injuries to CB Travis Fisher (groin) and S O.J. Atogwe (toe).


Hot Topic

Don't sling shovels of dirt on the Cardinals' season just yet.

It is true that a win over the Rams, no longer an elite team, is no cause for giddiness.

But for Arizona, any win is a good one, and a look ahead makes the most optimistic of long-suffering Cardinals followers begin to wonder if the team maybe, just maybe, could get past Jacksonville on Sunday and then win out.

That, of course, is no easy task given that the Jaguars have won three straight and four of their past five, and have scored at least 20 points in six straight games.

Until the Cardinals mauled the Rams in St. Louis last weekend, it seemed that 20 points would give any foe a reasonable chance of vanquishing the Big Red.

Now, despite continuing injuries along the offensive line, quarterback Kurt Warner is playing like the Warner of old instead of an old Warner. Running back J.J. Arrington no longer is a wide-eyed rookie.

Warner is moving the ball around. Tight ends, for example, caught five balls last weekend, including 9-yard touchdown by Adam Bergen. Prior to that, they'd caught only 14 in nine games.

And there has emerged just enough threat of the run that foes must take it seriously.

It is a more diversified attack than simply heaving it to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin - though Warner still is not above doing that.

"I think we played our best overall game, and that's what you build on," Warner said. "You can't take one step forward and two steps back. We have to build off of this win and make sure we continue to do what we're doing right."

Perhaps even more stunning is that the Cardinals' defense - with five of its top seven linemen out for the year and with its best playmaking linebacker and best cover corner out with injuries - held a Rams ground game that includes Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk to 6 rushing yards, the fewest the Big Red had surrendered in 35 years.

Strong safety Adrian Wilson made like Larry Wilson, a Hall of Famer of Cardinals lore, with three sacks on safety blitzes.

"We're showing people we've got a very good offense, and our defense is capable of getting the job done, too," Fitzgerald said.

After the 7-3 Jaguars, the Cardinals visit San Francisco, which they drubbed in October in Mexico City; host reeling Washington; visit woeful Houston; host Philadelphia without Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens; and finish at Indianapolis, which could have 14 or 15 wins by then and be resting starters for the playoffs.

SERIES HISTORY: Second meeting. In their only meeting, on Dec. 10, 2000, in Florida, Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell threw two touchdown passes and running back Fred Taylor rushed for 137 yards and two TDs as the Jaguars rolled to a 44-10 rout. This will be the first meeting in Arizona in this very brief series.

Quotes and Notes

--Quarterback Kurt Warner once was no stranger to accolades, but this week he received his first NFC Offensive Player of the Week honor as a member of the Cardinals - for his work against his old team, the St. Louis Rams.

The Cardinals' 38 points were a season high, as Warner passed for 285 yards and three touchdowns. He was not intercepted and was sacked only once.

"I wanted to come back and show people I could still play," Warner said. "It's not that I wanted to shove it in anyone's face, but it was nice to come back and be able to perform."

--Wide receiver Anquan Boldin is quick, no surprise to anyone who has attempted to cover him. But Boldin became quickest of the quick when he reached the 200-catch milestone earlier than anyone who has ever played the game. Among his eight grabs at St. Louis was the 200th of his three year career - in his 34th game. That is two games ahead of previous record-holders Lionel Taylor of Denver (1960-62) and Tom Fears of the Los Angeles Rams (1948-50).

Boldin had missed the two previous games with a knee injury.

--It's still early with six games to go, but kicker Neil Rackers hasn't missed yet in 31 field-goal tries.

The last NFL kicker to have a perfect season was Mike Vanderjagt of the Colts in 2003 (37-for-37). Jeff Wilkins of St. Louis did it in 2002, but he attempted only 17 on a record-breaking offense that scored touchdowns instead of field goals. Gary Anderson of Minnesota made all 35 in 1998. He was coached by Dennis Green, now coach of the Cardinals. And Tony Zendejas of the Los Angeles Rams was perfect in 17 tries in 1991.

Rackers is more worried this week about helping the homeless and hungry for Thanksgiving. He was among players distributing turkeys on Tuesday.

"Everyone should have a good Thanksgiving," Rackers told The Arizona Republic. "We've been very blessed this season, especially after being unemployed not too long ago. Once you've been unemployed, when only one team has ever wanted you, you always wonder whether you're going to get another job.

"Anyone who plays in the NFL and doesn't realize how lucky they are, I just can't fathom that. We've all been lucky. The right people at the right time have given us the break we've needed. It's only right to give back to people who never got the same kind of opportunity."

--There has been plenty of talk about the Cardinals' receiving tandem of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, and for good reason. But running back Marcel Shipp (26 catches) and fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo (25) are among only two sets of backfield teammates in the league with at least 25 catches each. The other is Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk and the Rams.

--Fitzgerald and Boldin are coming off yet another game in which they each had at least 100 receiving yards. Fitzgerald, in his second season, leads the league with 18 catches of 20 yards or longer. Boldin has 47 catches in eight games.

--By walloping St. Louis last weekend, the Cardinals won on the road for the first time this season and for only the eighth time in the last 5 1/2 seasons (8-37). Although the Cardinals drubbed San Francisco in Mexico City in October, it technically was a home game. The Cardinals have three road games remaining, including a visit to the 49ers. Also to come on the road, a visit to a weak Houston team and a season-ending clash at Indianapolis, where the Colts could be sitting on 14 or 15 wins and attempting to avoid injuries for the playoffs.

--Former Cardinals CB Roger Wehrli, a seven-time Pro Bowler with 40 career interceptions, is among 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2006. He started from his rookie season in 1969 until his retirement in 1982.

--Not only were there signs of the current Cardinals coming together during their stunning romp over the Rams in St. Louis last Sunday, there was an equally surprising coming together of former Cardinals - surprising because this sort of touchy-feely gesture normally is not associated with this franchise. Cardinals alumni from their St. Louis era were present to see their old team wallop the Rams 38-28, including Wehrli, Hall of Famer Larry Wilson, Jim Otis, Jackie Smith, Keith Wortman and Mel Gray.

The Bidwill family, which owns the Cardinals, hosted a suite for the alumni players and their guests.

"These guys played for less money, stardom and helped make the NFL as great as it is today," said Michael Bidwill, Cardinals vice president and general counsel.

BY THE NUMBERS: 6 - Rushing yards allowed by the Cardinals against the Rams, the fewest surrendered by the Big Red defense since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's pretty cool. Right now, I don't really think about accolades. I just want to win football games. But someday, whenever I'm done playing, I'll be able to sit back and maybe think about the personal stuff." - Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin, on making his 200th career catch in 34 games, two games faster than anyone ever reached the milestone.

Player Notes

Outside linebacker Karlos Dansby was upgraded from questionable to probable Thursday, an important development as the Cardinals prepare to play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

Dansby is a mainstay on the defense, playing every down, including all nickel situations. He missed last week's game with a groin team, and he was listed as questionable early this week.

The club will need him if it's to slow down Jacksonville's offense, especially its running attack. Dansby is physical and can run.

The Cardinals already are playing without several defensive starters, including nose tackle Russell Davis and end Bertrand Berry.

The situation at offensive guard remains scary. Both starters last week, Alex Stepanovich and Jeremy Bridges, could be out Sunday.

Stepanovich is doubtful with a shoulder injury, and Bridges is questionable because of an ailing ankle. Bridges has yet to practice this week.

If they can't play, they'll be replaced by Adam Haayer (left guard) and Fred Wakefield (right guard). Both are more comfortable at tackle, and they'll be facing two of the best defensive tackles in the league in Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.

--The Cardinals may be forced into yet another lineup shuffle on the offensive line caused by Alex Stepanovich's shoulder injury and Jeremy Bridges' ankle sprain. Neither practiced Wednesday. Stepanovich, the center who moved to right guard when Elton Brown was injured, and then to left guard last week to cover for injured Reggie Wells, suffered his shoulder injury at St. Louis. It appears that Adam Haayer will be the left guard, Nick Leckey the center and converted defensive end Fred Wakefield the right guard.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Kurt Warner is coming off three TD passes in a win at St. Louis, his most since the 2001 finale against Atlanta when he played for the Rams. In his past two starts since returning from a groin injury, Warner has a passer rating of just over 95 and a 64 percent completion rate.

--SS Adrian Wilson is coming off a career-high three sacks at St. Louis, one of which knocked out Rams QB Marc Bulger for at least three weeks. Wilson's five sacks this season are the most in the league among defensive backs.

--K Neil Rackers continues his assault on records. With 31 field goals without a miss, he needs one more to pass Fuad Reveiz for the third-longest streak in NFL history. He became the first ever to make at least two field goals in 11 consecutive games, a salute not only to his accuracy and consistency but also to a sputtering red-zone offense.

--RB J.J. Arrington continues to shake a slow start that cost him the starting position. His strong work in relief of Marcel Shipp has produced 109 yards on 24 carries in his past three appearances (4.5-yard average).

--RG Elton Brown, the starter, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and will miss at least two games.

--C Shawn Lynch, who started the season opener when Alex Stepanovich was injured, was promoted to the 53-man roster from the practice squad.

--TE Teyo Johnson was released following the emergence of Eric Edwards and Adam Bergen among an inexperienced group of tight ends.

--SS Ernest Shazor, regarded in many circles to have been the steal among undrafted rookies, was promoted to the 53-man roster from the practice squad.

--WR/PR J.J. Moses was released with the return from a toe injury by primary return man Reggie Swinton.

GAME PLAN: The Cardinals began to run the ball effectively for the first time last week, restoring balance to the offense and improving their red-zone performance for a season-high 38 points. Of course, it is one thing to do that against the St. Louis Rams defense, but another to do it against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have made a U-turn and find themselves among league leaders in defense.

Recently, the Big Red offensive line starters have been shaken up, and the team has gone away from the three-wide formations in favor of using a fullback and tight end - at the same time - in an attempt to get more blocking and make the running game go. It is paying off.

Five of the top seven defensive linemen are lost for the season, including Pro Bowl DE Bertrand Berry, their best playmaker, yet they held St. Louis to 6 rushing yards. They're getting good mileage out of the safety blitz, where Adrian Wilson had three sacks last weekend. Still, with Berry out, and their next-best playmaker, OLB Karlos Dansby, hurting, and their best cover corner, rookie first-round pick Antrel Rolle, still sidelined, it will take not only a Herculean effort by the second team but also some creative scheming by coordinator Clancy Pendergast to find a way to cool Byron Leftwich and the Jaguars offense that has scored at least 20 points in six straight games.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

--Cardinals SS Adrian Wilson, doing a reasonable impersonation of Larry Wilson, vs. Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich, one of the hottest in the league. Wilson had a career-high three sacks on blitzes last week at St. Louis, where he knocked Marc Bulger out for at least three weeks, and he leads NFL defensive backs with five sacks for the season. Turning him loose, a la another former Cardinals safety named Wilson - Hall of Famer Larry, who made the safety blitz famous - seemed to be the key that unlocked a lame unit. But in his past six games against NFC foes, Leftwich has 10 touchdown passes. He leads the league with 857 third-down passing yards, one reason why the Jaguars have won three in a row and four of their past five games, and have scored at least 20 points in their past six. Twenty generally is more than enough points to beat the Cardinals.

--Cardinals RB J.J. Arrington, a rookie second-round pick who finally is seeing the light, vs. Jaguars MLB Mike Peterson, a tackling machine. Arrington was perilously close to being labeled a bust through the first half of the season when he was averaging fewer than 3 yards a rush and was prone to fumbling. He averaged 4.1 yards a tote in a win last weekend at St. Louis, and has shown the moves that made him a 2,000-yard rusher in college last year. According to coach Dennis Green, Arrington is on the verge of a breakout game. But Peterson anchors one of the league's most improved defenses, having led the team in tackles in all 10 games. He also is tied for the league lead in interceptions among linebackers (three) on a unit that leads the league against the pass.

INJURY IMPACT

Once again, the Cardinals got bad news regarding offensive line injuries - and just when the offense finally put it together last Sunday and resembled the high-scoring unit it was anticipated to be. This time, it is the shoulder of Alex Stepanovich, who was moved to left guard last Sunday to cover for the season-ending ankle injury to Reggie Wells, and the ankle of RG Jeremy Bridges, who would have stepped in for injured Elton Brown. Now Adam Haayer is expected to start at left guard, and converted DE Fred Wakefield at right guard. Stepanovich, the starting center last year, missed the opener this season while recovering from preseason surgery on a fractured hand. The team also missed starting RT Oliver Ross for four games, and last week saw Brown undergo surgery on a knee. Only LT Leonard Davis has been on the field every game among the offensive linemen. The result has been predictably inconsistent play, until last weekend's breakout at St. Louis. The likely offensive line lineup against Jacksonville this Sunday, from left to right, will be Davis, Haayer, Nick Leckey, Wakefield and Ross.

The defense, already a fine imitation of a sieve, lost its best player, Pro Bowl DE Bertrand Berry (torn pectoral), for the season. He had surgery and has been placed on injured reserve. Berry joins fellow defensive linemen DT Kenny King, wrist; DT Russell Davis, biceps; DE Calvin Pace, cut arm; and NT Langston Moore, shoulder, with season-ending injuries. The Cardinals, who can't stop the run and rely heavily on quarterback pressure to cover for an ailing secondary, have now lost five of their top seven defensive linemen and find themselves struggling for depth in the area where they went to training camp best supplied. LE Chike Okeafor moved into Berry's right-side spot for several snaps last week to cover the pass-rushing void, with neophyte Antonio Smith then stepping in at Okeafor's left end spot.

OLB Karlos Dansby (groin), the next-best playmaker to Berry, is unlikely to return against Jacksonville. He did not practice Wednesday.

In addition to their defensive woes up front, the Cardinals still are without rookie CB Antrel Rolle, their first-round pick, who is recovering from knee surgery but is not on injured reserve. His return this season remains iffy, however he is expected to return to Arizona from Florida next week to be assessed. The team did not put him on IR because of the chance that he could come back for the final few games.


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