Behind Enemy Lines – West heats up

Until Sunday's debacle against the Rams at Qwest Field, the Seahawks had been running away with the division. Now anything goes in the wild, wild NFC West.

St. Louis – Even though they have a future Hall-of-Famer in their starting backfield, the Rams most effective running back may be the one who starts the game on the bench.

Rookie first-round draft choice RB Steven Jackson has an unheard of blend of size (6'2", 240), speed (4.4) and vision that make him dangerous in every aspect of the game. During short stints on the field, Jackson has proven to be a thorn in the sides of defenses, running for 185 yards (a robust 6.9 yard average) and one touchdown.

Defenses have to go from Marshall Faulk's slashing, make-you-miss style to Jackson's sheer power and cutback abilities.

Head coach Mike Martz has used Jackson sparingly as Jackson missed most of the preseason while negotiating his contract, but his time on the field has increased as each week of the regular season has gone by. Look for Jackson to be splitting time with Faulk to keep the 10-year veteran fresh and to keep defenses guessing what type of offense will hit them on any given play.

After one of the biggest comebacks in team history, head coach Mike Martz thinks his team might have turned the corner in how they approach and play the game.

"It was such a thrill to be on the sideline and watch them, their attitude, how they responded to everything, how positive they stayed throughout the game, even the first half," Martz said.

Martz's team was down by 17 points with 8:52 left in the game and went on a torrid comeback to defeat division leading Seattle 33-27 in overtime.

"Obviously this is a terrific win for this team. It's obviously understated. We ARE getting better. They did not get disillusioned. We have a lot of young players that are learning how to compete. We had some players show up in this game and make plays to help us win this game, guys like (Shaun McDonald) and Kevin Curtis and of course Brandon (Manumaleuna) and the running back, Steve Jackson. DeJuan Groce came in and did a tremendous job.

Next Game: vs. Tampa Bay, October 18th

San Francisco – The 49ers finally got their first win of 2004 when they defeated the up-and-coming Arizona Cardinals at home 31-28, but the win came at a huge price as franchise linebacker Julian Peterson tore his Achilles tendon late in the first quarter.

Peterson joins a growing list of starters on the beleaguered Niners who are already missing four starters along the defensive side of the ball. Peterson and CB Mike Rumph are both expected to miss all or most of the remainder of the season with injuries and they are joined by DE Andre Carter and MLB Derek Smith who aren't expected back until the end of October at the earliest.

Rumph has been replaced by rookie CB Shawntea Spencer as the third corner in the rotation and while he has shown flashes he is still a work in progress.

LB Jeff Ulbrich slid over to replace Smith and he has been serviceable there but without Peterson he will be called on to make more plays.

The biggest loss, besides Peterson, is Carter as the team has lacked anything that has resembled a pass-rush. Carter has suffered from a back ailment since week one and it is unknown whether his problem is chronic or just a tweak that will heal with rest and rehabilitation.

Exacerbating the problem with injuries is the fact that the 49ers are in cap purgatory due to $27 million in "dead money" they are paying players who are no longer on their team. Signing players to fill holes in the roster has proven difficult as the team, strapped for cash, can barely pay veteran minimums to players needed to possibly see significant time in place of the injured starters.

One example to look at is the injury-induced hole at defensive end that couldn't be blacker right now. Because there's not enough money in the till to bring in a player like, say, ex-49er Chidi Ahanotu to help shore up the position, the Niners have been forced to settle for one scrub after another. Early last week, ex-Saint DE Melvin Williams became the seventh defensive lineman signed by the Niners since the team made its final cuts the first week of September.

QB Tim Rattay had one of the best days passing the ball in 49ers history against the Cardinals, completing 38 of 57 passes for 417 yards and two touchdowns. He also passed for 169 yards in the 4th quarter, this with his top two wideouts ailing and on the sideline.

Next Game: @ New York Jets, October 17th

Arizona – The word of the season for the Cardinals defense is "vanilla". Defensive coordinator Charlie Pendergast has simplified his defensive philosophy that allows players to run to the ball on every play and take care of business without thinking about things too much. Where players were thinking in the preseason, now they are just reacting and going on instinct and it has allowed them to post some impressive defensive numbers.

Pendergast's straightforward, aggressive tactics, combined with the constant possibility that head coach Dennis Green will replace non-producers in a heartbeat, has resulted in a dramatic turnaround, as well as a major boost in the defense's confidence.

The defensive line has been a pleasant surprise and a big reason why is DE Bertrand Berry. Berry has a great motor and his play is infectious with the rest of the players along the line. On Sunday, against the 49ers, Berry had two sacks and five tackles and constantly pressured San Francisco QB Tim Rattay.

Rookie first-rounder Larry Fitzgerald, who is being counted on to be the big-play wideout he was in college, finally had a break-out game as he burned a suspect 49ers secondary for 94 yards on five receptions and his first touchdown, a 24-yard beauty from QB Josh McCown.

McCown had his second solid game in as many weeks, completing 19 of 34 passes for 231 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Another key is he is not holding on to the ball too long and thus is not coughing it up like he did in week three against Atlanta where he fumled three times and lost all three including two inside the Falcons' 10 yard line.

After another tough loss the dejected Cardinals players walked off the field hurting over a loss in a game that most feel they should have won.

"When you have been around the game a long time, you get some tough losses, and this ranks up there with 'em," head coach Dennis Green said. "Any time that you go on the road, you have to continue playing. They (San Francisco) made a lot of plays in the fourth quarter and in OT. They just didn't miss any plays."

Next Game: vs. Seattle, October 24th

.NET Reporter Scott Eklund writes for Seahawks.NET every week. Feel free to contact him at sctthawk@yahoo.com.


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