Behind Enemy Lines – Topsy-turvy NFC West

Losses by the top two teams in the West have thrown the division into "up-for-grabs" status as teams head toward the midway point of the season.

St. Louis – After an improbable loss to the Miami Dolphins on the road the Rams head into their bye week hoping to regroup and retool a sputtering offense and a porous defense.

It would surprise no one inside the Rams if rookie RB Stephen Jackson sees more carries down the stretch than future Hall-of-Famer Marshall Faulk. Jackson has continued to impress with his blocking on passing downs and his abilities to get outside while possessing a body that can run in between the tackles.

The only thing holding Jackson back at this point is his understanding of the offense and that has come along well for someone who missed substantial time in the preseason due to a contract holdout.

Faulk may have reached the point where he is more effective in spot duty saving his 30-plus year-old body for passing downs (where he excels out of the backfield as a receiver) and when the team needs a big play.

While the offense has been inconsistent the biggest worry for head coach Mike Martz is the defensive side of the ball.

Against the one of the worst offenses in the NFL (Miami was averaging 254 total yards and 12.3 points per game) the Rams surrendered 323 yards and 31 points.

"Every dog has its day, and today was their day," Rams defensive tackle Damione Lewis said. "You never know. They could run off six straight wins now. That's the NFL."

``They were more hungry than us, or something,'' defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. ``We just got outplayed.''

One injury of note is the right-shoulder of QB Marc Bulger. Bulger was slammed to the ground by Miami DE Jason Taylor in what the Rams are designating as a "cheap-shot". Bulger will not undergo an MRI unless the shoulder continues to give him problems during the bye week.

Next Game: vs. New England, November 7th

Arizona – The Cardinals played one of their best games of the season in beating the suddenly struggling Seahawks 25-17 at home.

Head coach Dennis Green, now 10-2 following bye weeks, was happy with his teams' performance and he seemed happy that his team came prepared to play.

"Coming out of the bye, you've got to get your motor humming," Green said.

QB Josh McCown was very efficient, passing for 212 yards, hitting 22 of 36 passes for one touchdown and one interception. He made good decisions, save for the one interception that led to a touchdown, and he used his legs when necessary to elude the pass rush.

McCown still is struggling hanging on to the ball, fumbling twice and losing one of those, but all in all it was one of the best days for the youngster from Sam Houston State.

K Neil Rackers hit three field-goals during the game from beyond 50 yards (55,55, and 50 yards) and tied an NFL record set by Morten Andersen in 1995.

"I just hit them the same," Rackers said. "They could have been 20-yarders. The way the ball flies out here, you just want to hit the ball smooth, and it will go."

It was also a record-setting day for RB Emmitt Smith as he went over 100 yards for the 78th time in his Hall-of-Fame career. On the day he rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns.

"Days likes this don't come around that often," said Smith, 35. "To share this moment with that (offensive) line in there . . . understanding where we started last year and where I think we can go, that is a tremendous feeling."

Next Game: @ Buffalo, October 31st

San Francisco – After a much needed bye week head coach Dennis Erickson and his team started preparing for the Chicago Bears in what might be a good chance to get a win versus a team that is struggling offensively.

"We talk about it as a 10 game season. We'll see where we are from there. We are 0-0 in a 10 game season and we'll prepare for that," Erickson said. "Any division, particularly our division, it looks like it will go down to the wire. It just goes to show you that in this league a lot of things don't make sense. But things happen."

QB Tim Rattay did not practice on Monday but he is expected to take the majority of the snaps the rest of the week and he is expected to start against the Bears on Sunday.

Erickson is pleased with his young signal-caller and seems to believe he is turning a corner.

"I believe he's answered a lot of the questions, there is no question about it. Again we have 10 games left. I like what he has done with the injuries and everything and his productivity and some of the things he's done," Erickson said. "We've got to win. As far as Tim's progress is concerned he's doing what he's got to do."

One thing Rattay must improve on is the 49ers lack of consistency in the red zone. The Niners are ranked 13th in the NFL with 342 yards per game but they are ranked 24th in scoring with 17.5 points per game.

Next Game: @ Chicago, October 31st

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


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