Around the NFC West - 9/21/05

Matt Hasselbeck's arm is feeling better, but his third-down percentage is a different story. The 49ers are looking to prove that they're not that same old team. The Rams celebrate an actual special teams highlight...and the Cardinals begin to wonder about J.J. Arrington in today's look around the NFC West.

================
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
================


Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck made it through Week 2 without further injuring his throwing arm. After taking a hard shot during an opening-day loss to Jacksonville, Hasselbeck had been nervous about even being able to play against the Falcons. "I didn't really ever feel that I was all right," Hasselbeck said, "but there was a moment right before the game where I was very happy, maybe even a little emotional, that I was going to play. There were times in the week where I didn't feel that way."

Hasselbeck was not perfect during the 21-18 victory over the Falcons, but he did pass for 281 yards and two scores. And he did avoid throwing an interception. "Last week, there was that interception at the end of the game to the sideline to Shaun Alexander that really was killer," Hasselbeck said of his flawed performance in the opener. "Six minutes to go and down six, that was the last thing I can do.

"You have mistakes and you learn from them and you try to move on."

Hasselbeck started quickly against the Falcons, completing 13 of 16 passes in the first half. His performance came as a bit of a surprise after coaches held him out of practice late last week. "I knew I could probably get out there and throw a pass," Hasselbeck said, "but I didn't know if I was going to be able to throw competitive throws that were going to help our team win. I wasn't sure if I could throw the ball hard.

"I was definitely excited Sunday going into the game knowing how well my arm responded to the treatment."

Hasselbeck said his sore arm should not be a long-term hindrance. "I just needed a couple days," he said. "It is a balance. You give up taking reps in practice for rest. I was just very thankful that coach (Mike) Holmgren gave me a couple days to rest my arm."

PLAYER NOTES

--Hasselbeck needs to pick up the pace on third down, though. He has completed only 5 of 15 passes on third down this season.

--QB Seneca Wallace got lots of extra work late last week while starting Hasselbeck rested a sore throwing arm. "Seneca did a nice job stepping in," Hasselbeck said. "Everybody worked hard and prepared hard. I think it was a valuable experience for him as well. We still got the win. It worked out right."

--RB Shaun Alexander is averaging 108.5 yards per game, but he has yet to get many scoring chances in the red zone. He appears more willing in pass protection this season. That was a criticism that arose when Alexander was seeking a long-term contract.

--WR Alex Bannister was placed on injured reserve with a cracked right clavicle - the third injury to his right collarbone in less than a year. Bannister has been the Seahawks' best player on special teams for the last few seasons. The team appears better equipped to withstand his loss because management overhauled the defense with a fleet of young linebackers.

--Bannister's roster spot was taken by former 49ers and Saints CB Jimmy Williams, who also has extensive special teams experience.

--WR Darrell Jackson is on pace to finish this season with 112 catches for 1,568 yards. That pace is probably not sustainable, but the fast start is a positive sign for the team because Jackson's offensive teammates are also putting up good numbers.

--WR Bobby Engram is on pace for 104 catches and 1,248 yards. That kind of pace is not sustainable, but the Seahawks aren't complaining. Engram has moved into the starting lineup as the No. 2 receiver, but he slides to the slot in three-wide formations. Engram is not a burner, but he has quickness. Engram made an outstanding catch in man coverage down the left sideline after an audible in the Falcons game. QB Matt Hasselbeck threw the ball at the back of the cornerback. Engram reached over the DB and made the grab before the defender could turn around.

--TE Jerramy Stevens made outstanding catches almost every day during camp. Cynics wondered if the former first-round pick would ever make such plays during the regular season. Stevens answered in the affirmative Sunday by diving to grab a 35-yard TD pass. Stevens already has six catches for 90 yards in two games. His production should remain steady while veteran TE Itula Mili works his way back from an intestinal blockage. Seattle is not sure when Mili will be ready, but Stevens has seemingly done enough to remain the starter.

--K Josh Brown is a good FG kicker, but you'll have to trust us on that one. Brown has yet to attempt a FG during the regular season. He made 23 of 25 attempts last season. Brown's kickoffs have been good enough, but he is not a touchback guy.

--MLB Lofa Tatupu is making a quick transition to the NFL. Some wondered if the rookie second-round pick from USC might lack the measurables needed to succeed in the pro game. So far, Tatupu appears up to the challenge. He had six tackles and a sack in the Seahawks' 21-18 victory over the Falcons on Sunday. Teammates have said the defense is running much more smoothly now that Tatupu is making the calls.

--DT Rocky Bernard has two sacks already, but he still has to prove he can play well for an entire season. Bernard has a history of fading into oblivion following hot Septembers. If this season is any different, it might be because management has shown little tolerance for players who do not meet expectations. President Tim Ruskell severed ties with former starting defensive linemen Antonio Cochran, Cedric Woodard and Rashad Moore.

--CB Marcus Trufant has not made plays since returning from offseason shoulder surgery. Opposing receivers have found too much room downfield. That's a concern heading into a matchup against Cardinals CB Larry Fitzgerald, who has burned the Seahawks before.


=================
ARIZONA CARDINALS
=================


Marcel Shipp is likely to remain the starter at running back after rookie J.J. Arrington missed most of last week with a stomach virus. Arrington wasn't much better Monday, but even when both backs are healthy, Shipp is a better fit. The offensive line is struggling, so there are few holes and seams available. Shipp is more physical than Arrington and more likely to get 3 or 4 yards out of a play that isn't blocked very well.

Arrington also appears to have lost some confidence. He's awful at picking up the blitz. He struggled in that area in the preseason and again in the season opener against the Giants. It's not an uncommon problem for Cardinal rookie running backs. Garrison Hearst and Thomas Jones, two former first round picks, struggled in their years with the Cardinals because there rarely was room to run. Both blossomed elsewhere. But for Arrington to get more time, he's going to have to be less tentative and also not shy away from blocking blitzing linebackers and safeties.

PLAYER NOTES

--C Alex Stepanovich returned last week after missing the opener with a broken hand. Stepanovich, however, was replaced by guard Reggie Wells in shotgun formation after his first snap went wild. Coach Dennis Green hinted that Wells could make the move to center full-time, with Stepanovich playing guard.

--LB James Darling is expected to miss a second straight game with a sprained knee.

--QB Kurt Warner is playing well but he's being asking to throw too much. Warner has passed 87 times in two games. Last week, the run game was going decent but the Cardinals didn't stick with it.

--QB Josh McCown won't play unless Warner is hurt or the game is out of hand.

--RB James Jackson could move into the backup role this week, with rookie J.J. Arrington moving down to No. 3. Arrington missed most of last week with a stomach virus.

--RB Marcel Shipp is a physical running back, and he gave the Cardinals some energy last week. He gained 54 yards on 12 carries and should get the ball more.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald needs to become a target in the end zone. The Cardinals were inside the Rams 15-yard line four times last week, yet they never threw to Fitzgerald in the end zone.

--WR Anquan Boldin played a bigger role in the offense in week two, catching eight passes for 119 yards. But the team needs to throw to him in the end zone, even when he's in tight coverage, and let him try to make a play.

--WR Bryant Johnson dropped a key pass at the 1-yard line last week but he should bounce back. He had a great off-season and appears much improved.

--TE Eric Edwards isn't an integral part of the passing game. The top receiving tight end is Adam Bergen, but he's caught only three passes this season. The tight end won't be an integral part of the passing game.

--TE Teyo Johnson, who spent the past two years in Oakland, could play a more prominent role as the season progresses. He was picked up just last week but he has decent receiving skills.

--K Neil Rackers is coming off his best season and is on his way to another good one. He made all four of his attempts last week.

--DE Bertrand Berry has picked up where he left off last year with some excellent performances. He has two sacks in two games.

--FS Robert Griffith has struggled some in coverage and he's missed a key tackle or two. Griffith, however, also has made some big hits.

--SS Adrian Wilson wasn't used on the blitz at all last week. Wilson is most effective playing close to scrimmage, but he's missed key tackles in the first two games.


==============
ST. LOUIS RAMS
==============


True, there was nowhere for the Rams' special teams to go but up after their dismal performance in the season opener against San Francisco. But the improvement was significant in Sunday's win over Arizona, and it started with rookie punter Reggie Hodges. After averaging 33.0 yards a punt with a net of 14.3 in Week 1, Hodges' average was 42.9 with a net of 40.1 against the Cardinals.

"Very consistent," coach Mike Martz said. "The thing that we have always asked of Reggie is that consistency that allows us good field position. He hung the ball up nice, turned the ball over, difficult balls to return. He was outstanding in this game. It was what we hoped we would get when we drafted him. Hopefully, Reggie can continue along those lines."

Hodges said he felt he would have a good game. "You can usually tell when you're going to do well; I had a good warmup," he said. Of course, he then added, "But I had a good warmup in San Francisco, too." Arizona punt returners brought back only three of Hodges' seven punts for a total of 19 yards.

"The coaches put an emphasis on coverage this week, and if they don't have a good ball to cover, it's not going to look too good for them," said Hodges. "So, I had to make sure I did my part."

Safety Mike Furrey said the focus the entire practice week was on discipline and making plays. "It feels great; we didn't give up anything today," Furrey said after the game. "We put a little extra time in this week as a group. Really, we just started talking about what we would do, so we could kind of realize what other people are thinking when they see stuff. And I think it worked.

"Everybody was emotional, and we were working hard together and doing our assignments. ... We knew special teams were better than what (they have) been, and we wanted to come out this week and shut them down." There were also some adjustments made on coverage team personnel.

"You project some of these rookies based on the preseason and their play, and then when the regular season starts the speed of this game changes so dramatically," Martz said. "They were a little shocked by it. So we had to make a move quickly, and we did that in just a couple of areas that I think helped us. Now I think the guys are a little less jittery or nervous about their role in it and what they are doing."

One change sent rookie safety Oshiomogho Atogwe to the inactive list after he had several special teams errors in the opener.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Marc Bulger has had decent numbers in the first two weeks of the season, but hasn't yet settled into a rhythm and doesn't appear to be as sharp as he is capable of. The first two games have been on the road, and the Rams will have their home opener this week.

--QB Jamie Martin remains as the backup to Marc Bulger, and hasn't taken a snap in the first two weeks of the season.

--RB Steven Jackson continues to improve as a receiver and blocker to go with his excellence as a runner. After gaining 93 yards on just 18 carries against Arizona, Jackson said he wants the ball at least once on every possession.

--RB Marshall Faulk continues to be comfortable with his part-time role in the Rams' offense. Faulk had just five touches against Arizona: three rushes and two receptions. But the Rams had just 55 plays in the game.

--FB Brandon Manumaleuna has been playing a combination fullback/tight end role in the offense.

--WR Torry Holt remains the go-to guy in the Rams' passing offense. He is seeing more and more double coverage, which creates opportunities for the team's other receivers.

--WR Isaac Bruce led Rams receivers with five catches for 64 yards against Arizona, and shows no signs of slowing down as he approaches his 33rd birthday in November.

--WR Kevin Curtis has been drawing more attention from opposing defenses, thanks to his ability to make big plays. Curtis had the opportunity to make some big plays against Arizona, but wasn't able to hang onto the ball after several crunching hits by defensive backs. He had just two receptions for 29 yards against the Cardinals.

--TE Roland Williams has recovered from a knee injury suffered in the preseason, and is expected to be featured more in the passing game.

--PK Jeff Wilkins has been perfect on five field goals and three extra points this season, and has a streak of 278 consecutive extra points, the third-longest streak in NFL history.

--DE Leonard Little is off to a strong start with three sacks in the first two games. Against Arizona, Little had seven tackles, four of which were unassisted, and six hits on QB Kurt Warner.

--DT Jimmy Kennedy is becoming a force in the middle of the Rams' defense. Kennedy had two sacks Sunday, along with a forced fumble and three tackles. Since returning from a foot injury last season, Kennedy has continued to improve each week.

--DT Ryan Pickett was named the defensive player of the game by the coaches for his play against the Cardinals. Pickett had nine tackles (four solo), two sacks and a forced fumble. He has played well the first two weeks after returning from a back injury.


===================
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
===================


Veterans who have been through similar experiences previously with the 49ers will tell you that this feels a lot different. This is not the same 49ers team that struggled to a 2-14 season last year. In the aftermath of the team's embarrassing 42-3 loss to the Eagles on Sunday, the 49ers set out to correct the myriad of problems that were exposed on a warm day in Philadelphia.

And linebacker Julian Peterson, the team's anointed franchise player, promised things would be different this week against the Cowboys. Peterson went so far as to guarantee a victory this Sunday.

"I'm positive we're going to play well," Peterson said. "I'm positive we're going to win." When asked if that meant he was guaranteeing a victory, Peterson answered, "Yes, you can say I guarantee it."

Meanwhile, linebacker Jeff Ulbrich made a guarantee of his own. He said the 49ers would not be like the team last year that won just two games and finished with the worst record in the NFL. Ulbrich said things felt a lot different than last year after a crushing loss. "Maybe last year we were scrambling a little more," Ulbrich said. "We'd get beat and we'd come back on Monday and not always know why. Whereas today, we were able to identify all the problems, and they were all fixable problems."

On the trip home from Philadelphia, as many as a dozen players were jostling for position to watch a version of the game film, Peterson said. The 49ers' video department was working on a laptop to prepare the game tape for the coaches' viewing. "Everyone is taking a lot of pride to make sure we don't get to 2-14 again," Peterson said.

Ulbrich said it was a very somber mood on the plane. The 49ers opened the season with a 28-25 victory over the Rams, but came crashing back to earth with their miserable performance against the Eagles. "It was kind of encouraging," Ulbrich said of the team's reaction. "In past times it was almost, I don't know, people didn't let it hurt enough. It was pretty somber back there. Guys were talking about the game and interested in ways to fix it. I enjoyed that."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Tim Rattay compiled the best passer rating of his career in the season opener, but struggled mightily against the Eagles in Week 2. As a result, Rattay's passer rating now stands at an unsightly 62.8. Rattay threw three interceptions against the Eagles, two of which were poorly thrown and one that was tipped at the line of scrimmage.

--QB Alex Smith got his first taste of NFL regular-season action, playing three snaps of mop-up duty in the team's 42-3 loss to the Eagles. There is no quarterback controversy for now, as coach Mike Nolan is sticking with Rattay as the starter. Smith's only pass attempt was incomplete, and he ran once for 3 yards.

--RB Kevan Barlow has struggled to get the run game going through the first two games. Barlow has averaged just 2.3 yards a carry on 24 tries through two games. He will remain as the starting halfback, but rookie Frank Gore might start to see more action if Barlow's production does not improve.

--RB Frank Gore has carried just eight times but he has shown that he might warrant some more playing time. Gore has gained 32 yards on eight carries. If the run game continues to struggle, the 49ers might opt to give him more playing time. Gore showed his inexperience, however, on one play in which he stepped out of the backfield for a deep route down the left sideline. QB Tim Rattay lofted a pass that was underthrown. Instead of turning into a defender, Gore did not make a play on the ball that Eagles LB Dhani Jones intercepted.

--FB Fred Beasley has seen his playing time dwindle, as the 49ers have given more playing time to H-back Steve Bush and backup fullback Chris Hetherington. Beasley rarely got on the field for the second half of the game against the Eagles.

--WR Arnaz Battle is the 49ers' most versatile offensive weapon. Battle leads the 49ers with nine catches for 103 yards in two games. He has also lined up at quarterback in the shotgun formation and run the option. He has 3 yards on three rushes, and completed both of his passing attempts for 27 yards.

--WR Brandon Lloyd, playing with a hamstring strain against the Eagles, had just three receptions for 17 yards. Lloyd is the 49ers' second-leading receiver with six catches for 82 yards.

--WR Johnnie Morton had just one reception for 4 yards against the Eagles. In two games, he has two catches for 34 yards. In an offense that does not have much big-play capability, Morton has been sort of left out as the No. 3 receiver.

--TE Eric Johnson might have to undergo surgery to correct a partial plantar fascia tear. Coach Mike Nolan intimated that Johnson's injury would keep him out a lot longer than originally forecast. He has not practiced since Aug. 9, and now his availability for this season appears to be in question.

--K Joe Nedney has not had a lot of opportunities through the first two weeks. He has only one field-goal attempt, as he made good on a 32-yarder.

--WR Otis Amey, the club's No. 4 receiver, has just two returns in two games, one of which he turned into a 75-yard touchdown. His other return, coming Sunday against the Eagles, went for no yards. Amey has averaged 17.6 yards on five kickoff returns.

--LB Derek Smith leads the 49ers through two games with 18 tackles, 12 of which have been solo. Smith has led the 49ers in tackles each of his first four seasons with the club.

--CB Shawntae Spencer has gotten a lot of action in his first two games, and he has generally responded. Spencer has broken up a team-leading four passes.

--FS Mike Rumph has eight tackles in two games and has shown his potential as well as some of his inexperience. Rumph leveled Eagles receiver Terrell Owens with a big hit after a 20-yard gain, but he later took a bad angle in giving CB Shawntae Spencer help on a play that resulted in an Owens' 42-yard TD catch.

--T Patrick Estes, a rookie who was a backup tight end last season at Virginia, played the entire second half as a backup to starter Jonas Jennings. Estes struggled, surrendering a sack to N.D. Kalu. The nest day the 49ers signed veteran Anthony Clement to be a backup at both tackle spots.

--T Anthony Clement was signed to serve as a backup at both tackle positions. Clement, a seven-year veteran, gives the 49ers their only backup with previous NFL experience. He will be the primary backup for both LT Jonas Jennings and RT Kwame Harris.


SeahawkFootball.com Top Stories