GameScout: The NFC West

Scouting this week's NFC West games: The Rams welcome the Titans to St. Louis, Arizona tries to live up to their pre-season hype as they travel to Seattle, and a reeling 49ers team faces a stunned Cowboys franchise.

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Arizona Cardinals (0-2) at Seattle Seahawks (1-1)
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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
GAMEDATE: 9/25/05
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Curt Menefee, JC Pearson
SERIES: 13th meeting. The Arizona Cardinals hold a 7-5 edge over the Seattle Seahawks, but the Seahawks have won four of the past five, including the last meeting, 24-21 in Seattle, when RB Shaun Alexander scored three times to ice Seattle's first back-to-back playoff seasons in 10 years. The most memorable game in the series from the Cardinals' perspective came in 1976, in the Seahawks' very first game in the NFL. Seattle was in position to score and win in the closing minutes but the Cardinals thwarted the Seahawks and prevailed 30-24.
2005 RANKINGS: Cardinals: offense 9th (28th rush, 4th pass); defense 8th (20th rush, 6th pass). Seahawks: offense 5th (7th rush, 12th pass); defense 11th (25th rush, 8th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Seahawks' offense has shown the ability to get off to quick starts, while the Cardinals' defense has given up a score on the first drive in each of the four halves it has played. With QB Matt Hasselbeck's arm still not 100 percent following a Week 1 hit, look for Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren to stay committed to the run game to avoid putting Hasselbeck in harm's way against the Cardinals' strong pass rush. Arizona's offense has produced just one touchdown in large part due to an anemic running game. The Cardinals' receivers all have a significant size advantage on the Seahawks' cornerbacks, but Arizona will have a difficult time taking advantage of the mismatch unless it can force Seattle's safeties to respect the run.

FAST FACTS: Cardinals: Have lost 21 of their past 22 road games. ... Lead the series 7-5. Seahawks: WR Bobby Engram is on pace for 104 receptions and 1,248 yards. ... Have been outscored 31-0 in the second half this season. ... Defense has forced no turnovers through two games.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Cardinals:


--QB Kurt Warner is throwing the ball too much, said coach Dennis Green. Warner has passed 87 times in two games. The Cardinals have struggled running the ball, however.

--RB J.J. Arrington returned to practice this week after missing last week's game because of a stomach virus that hospitalized him for a night. He's not likely to start, however.

--RB Marcel Shipp probably will start his second straight game Sunday, and it's a role he might not relinquish. Rookie J.J. Arrington has looked tentative and he's coming off a stomach virus that caused him to miss last week's games.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald should become a go-to guy in the end zone. He's big and has great hands. Kurt Warner probably will try to go to him even when he's covered.

--LB James Darling, the starter in the middle, expects to return next week from a sprained knee ligament.

--CB Antrel Rolle is listed as questionable but he practiced Thursday with no problems. He expects to play Sunday in Seattle. He suffered a bruised knee last week.

Seahawks:

--CB Marcus Trufant played better during a Week 2 game against the Falcons, but he was shaky during the season opener in Jacksonville. Coach Mike Holmgren went so far as to bring Trufant into his office for a pep talk after Jaguars WR Jimmy Smith got the better of Trufant two weeks ago. "The first ballgame against Jacksonville, I expected more from him and I told him that," Holmgren said. "I brought him into my office and we had a nice visit. I think the world of him and I think he is a really good football player. I set the bar very high for him." Trufant responded with a better showing against the Falcons. He has been strong in practice this week, picking off two passes Wednesday.

--MLB Lofa Tatupu is getting high praise from some of his veteran teammates. The rookie from USC has done a nice job making the calls on the field and appears to be a leader in the making. Coach Mike Holmgren did point out this week, however, that Tatupu has barely played. Holmgren made a crack about Tatupu not quite being ready for the Hall of Fame. That said, Holmgren thinks Tatupu is the answer in the middle for a team that hasn't had one in years.

--QB Matt Hasselbeck practiced Thursday for a second consecutive day. He is showing no effects from the sore arm that bothered him last week.

--TE Itula Mili practiced Thursday for a second consecutive day. He is still regaining strength after missing the first two games with an intestinal blockage.

--RT Floyd Womack missed practice again Thursday, as expected. He remains sidelined by a triceps injury.

--LT Wayne Hunter missed practice again Thursday, as expected. He remains sidelined by a hamstring injury. Hunter hurt the hamstring while rehabbing from a knee injury.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Cardinals:


If there was a lesson to be learned from last week's 17-12 loss to St. Louis, it's that quarterback Kurt Warner is going to have to take an occasional chance in the red zone. The Cardinals were inside the Rams' 12-yard line four times but came away with only three field goals. The offense supposedly is built around its top two receivers, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, yet Warner didn't throw a pass to either one in the end zone.

Warner acknowledged that he might have to force an occasional pass into tight coverage and trust that Boldin and Fitzgerald can make plays.

"It's always a difficult thing to do," Warner said. "As a quarterback, you never want to take a shot that's not an educated risk, but I'm beginning to learn, because of people telling me and showing me on film, those are a little more educated than they might have been elsewhere." Dennis Green would like see a better balance between the two receivers. In the first game, Fitzgerald caught 13 passes and Boldin only four. Last week, Boldin had eight catches and Fitzgerald four.

Ideally, Green would like see each with about eight catches a game and average a touchdown a game. "If they do that, I think that'll take care of a lot of problems we have scoring touchdowns," he said.

Seahawks:

The Seahawks should be able to rush the passer against the Cardinals' one-dimensional offense. Arizona simply doesn't have a very good offensive line. One big question for Seattle, however, is whether the cornerbacks can match up with the Cardinals' receivers.

CB Marcus Trufant, CB Andre Dyson and CB Kelly Herndon give up close to four inches and 30 pounds to the Cardinals' WR tandem of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. That's a concern, particularly given Trufant's so-so play early in the season. Trufant played better during a Week 2 game against the Falcons, but he was shaky during the season opener in Jacksonville. Coach Mike Holmgren went so far as to bring Trufant into his office for a pep talk after Jaguars WR Jimmy Smith got the better of Trufant two weeks ago.

"The first ballgame against Jacksonville, I expected more from him and I told him that," Holmgren said. "I brought him into my office and we had a nice visit. I think the world of him and I think he is a really good football player. I set the bar very high for him."

Trufant responded with a better showing against the Falcons. He has been strong in practice this week, picking off two passes Wednesday. He took Holmgren's words to heart. "It was just a talk, kind of saying that he expects a lot out of me and he wants me to play big," Trufant said. "That's what I try to do. He just wanted me to know he expects a lot out of me."

Trufant is coming off his second shoulder surgery in two years. He is also playing on the right side for the first time in his career. Seattle needs him to have a big year.


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Tennessee Titans (1-1) at St. Louis Rams (1-1)
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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 9/25/05
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots
SERIES: 10th meeting, Rams lead regular season series 6-3. The last meeting was in Super Bowl XXXIV after the 1999 season, won by the Rams, who kept Kevin Dyson out of the end zone on the final play, preventing overtime.
2005 RANKINGS: Titans: offense 22nd (18th rush, 21st pass); defense 15th (19th rush, 12th pass). Rams: offense 8th (17th rush, 9th pass); defense 14th (3rd rush, 22nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Titans know they must run the ball to control the clock and keep the Rams' high-powered offense off the field, but it won't be easy against a St. Louis defense allowing just 58.0 rushing yards per game. What the Titans can't afford is a lot of third-and-long situations in which they'll have to provide blocking help for RT Michael Roos working against Rams DE Leonard Little. The Titans can't afford a slow start offensively because even though the Rams have yet to click on all cylinders offensively, they also have yet to play at home, where they averaged 22.9 points last season. The Titans have a very young secondary that will come under serious heat from Rams QB Marc Bulger. If Tennessee can't get in Bulger's face and force a few mistakes, the Titans could find themselves in a deep hole early on.

FAST FACTS: First meeting since Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV, 23-16. Titans: Coach Jeff Fisher seeks 100th career victory. ... Are a league-best 45-36 (.556) on the road under Fisher. Rams: NFL-best 39-9 regular-season record at home since 1999. ... Have won eight of their past 10 home openers.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Titans:

--WR Drew Bennett returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday with a heel injury. He appears to be fine.

--CB Michael Waddell is expected to play nickel back with rookie Vincent Fuller out after surgery to repair a fractured right fibula.

--DT Albert Haynesworth remains day-to-day with a left knee injury and didn't practice Thursday. The Titans pass rush and run defense will suffer greatly if he's unable to play as he demanded and beat double teams against Baltimore. If he's out, the Titans will only have three defensive tackles up, and Bo Schobel will play as the fourth end.

--LB Peter Sirmon remains day-to-day with a right knee injury and didn't practice Thursday. If he's out Rocky Boiman will start and Brad Kassell will stay on the field with Keith Bulluck as part of the nickel package.

--CB-KR Pacman Jones will work as the kick returner if WR Courtney Roby (toe) cannot play.

--WR Courtney Roby looks unlikely to play because on an injured big toe on his left foot. That opens the door for Roydell Williams to play for the first time, though it's PR Andrae Thurman who plays Roby's Z receiver position.

Rams:

--LB Brandon Chillar is seeing a lot of playing time in first- and second-down passing situations.

--LB Chris Claiborne is on the field for fewer plays because of the use of Brandon Chillar on first- and second-down plays that the coaches believe are passing situations.

--LB Dexter Coakley has been off the field in many situations on first and second down when the coaches believe it is a passing situation. LB Brandon Chillar has been on the field in those defensive alignments.

--CB Terry Fair not only practiced for the second day in a row, but participated in team work including some reps with the first unit. Fair is looking to return after suffering a neck injury Aug. 29. He remains questionable for this week's game against Tennessee.

--P Reggie Hodges was named the club's special teams player of the week after averaging 42.9 yards per punt and 40.1 net against Arizona.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Titans:


Just when the Titans were about to face their first passing team of the season, they lost rookie nickel back Vincent Fuller. He had surgery Tuesday to repair a fractured right fibula, but won't be placed on IR. The Rams are sure to attack the Titans' inexperienced secondary, which will have Andre Woolfolk on the left, Tony Beckham and Pacman Jones splitting time on the right, Michael Waddell as the nickel and one of several candidates as the dime.

The Titans could use whichever corner is not playing on the right, they could shift Andre Woolfolk inside, they could turn to rookie seventh-rounder Reynaldo Hill or they could use a safety like Justin Sandy (though he's been out with a foot injury) or Donnie Nickey.

Hill, who played special teams against Pittsburgh and didn't dress for Baltimore, said he hopes this is his chance. "If Vince was healthy it would be a different story," he said. "But there may be an opportunity now for me to show the coaches I can do it."

Whoever is playing corner will need to do whatever he can to throw St. Louis' talented receivers off their routes. The Titans may find out quickly if they are talented enough to jam the likes of Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.

"When (Marc Bulger) gets sacked, it because he has to hold the ball because somebody is off of their timing," Woolfolk said.

Rams:

As the Rams prepare to play the Titans on Sunday, much of the focus is on Tennessee's ground game, and the fact the Rams defense has stepped up against the run this season. After being ranked 29th in 2004, the Rams are now third in the NFL against the run, having allowed a total of just 116 yards in the first two games, with an average per attempt of 3.1.

"It doesn't mean anything," defensive tackle Damione Lewis said of the stats. "The most important thing to us is the W column. You have got to win. It all attributes to us winning. You can hold them under 100 yards and play great pass defense, but the biggest stat is keeping them out of the end zone." Still, Lewis, along with Jimmy Kennedy and Ryan Pickett, have started playing up to expectations, although Lewis now the third tackle in the rotation. He and Pickett were first-round picks in 2001, while Kennedy was a 2003 No. 1 pick.

Said coach Mike Martz, "When we drafted these guys No. 1, the first thing that everybody said, this was said to me, for a tackle it usually takes three years to really establish yourself. I think we're kind of seeing a little bit of that, too."

Health has also been an issue. Lewis broke a bone in his foot midway through his rookie season and couldn't even run again until Aug. 2002. Kennedy broke a bone in his foot in Aug. 2004, and returned at the end of last season. After a strong season in 2002, Pickett played most of the next season with a high ankle sprain.
Now, they are all healthy, and it's made a difference. Said defensive captain Tyoka Jackson, "That's huge. I think they have caught a lot of heat in the past because the numbers weren't there, and a lot of people didn't want to focus on health. In this game, health is a big issue. We're always going to be hurt, but when you're injured, that's when you have problems.

"These guys have all been injured in the past. But, right here, right now, we're all hurting, but they are healthy enough to go. There are no real injuries right now. The production is going up, because you have three healthy, big-time players inside."

Said Lewis, "We are happy to finally be able to get out, get our rotation going and get comfortable with how we're playing and get comfortable with the playing time that everybody is getting. Now it's just making sure that everybody is doing their part and trying to bring the best to the team that we can. We're all jelling together, and this is really the first time that we've really had, this early on in the season where we can all sit up and work together. Hopefully it will pay off for us."


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Dallas Cowboys (1-1) at San Francisco 49ers (1-1)
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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
GAMEDATE: 9/25/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
SERIES: 31st meeting. The 49ers own a 16-13-1 advantage. San Francisco is one of only six teams that Dallas does not hold a series advantage over, joining Baltimore, Cleveland, Houston, Miami and Oakland. San Francisco has won 9 of the 15 games played in San Francisco. The Cowboys and 49ers have met in six NFC Championship Games, with the winner claiming the Super Bowl title five times - Dallas holds the NFC Championship series advantage 4-2.
2005 RANKINGS: Cowboys: offense 18th (16th rush, 15th pass); defense 20th (16th rush, 19th pass). 49ers: offense 31st (31st rush, 29th pass); defense 32nd (21st rush, 32nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Cowboys coach Bill Parcells stressed the importance of mistake-free football this week, which is especially important against an inferior 49ers team. Parcells will lean heavily on RB Julius Jones and be conservative with the passing game unless San Francisco is able to build a lead. For that to happen, the 49ers must figure out how to improve a running game that is averaging a paltry 2.4 yards per carry. The Cowboys' 3-4 front will test the 49ers' blocking scheme, but more important is for RB Kevan Barlow to take advantage of what holes are created. That would set up the play-action pass and the potential big plays downfield San Francisco will need to keep the game close.

FAST FACTS Cowboys: QB Drew Bledsoe needs 257 passing yards to pass Joe Montana (40,551) for eighth-most in NFL history. ... Jones has at least 20 carries in all nine career starts. 49ers: Opponents have held the ball an average of 17:20 longer than the 49ers. ... Lead series 16-13-3. ... Seek first 2-0 home start since 1999.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Cowboys:


--QB Drew Bledsoe has 40,295 career passing yards and needs 257 to pass Johnny Unitas (40,239) and Joe Montana (40,551) for 8th in NFL history. He has posted a passer rating of 90 or better in each of his first two games.

--RB Julius Jones has 20 or more carries in all nine career starts.

--WR Terry Glenn had six catches for 157 yards and a touchdown last week, his first 150-yard game since posting 154 for Green Bay against Chicago on Oct. 7, 2002. His average of 22.1 yards per catch ranks third in the NFL among players with nine catches.

--DT La'roi Glover needs 1/2 sack for 70 career sacks, third-most among active DTs. Warren Sapp leads with 79 1/2.

--SS Roy Williams is tied for second among NFL defensive backs with 1.5 sacks.

--KR Tyson Thompson ranks second in the NFL with a 31.3 yards per return average.

49ers:

--TE Eric Johnson was ruled out for the season and placed on injured reserve after re-tearing his right plantar fascia, the tight band of muscle that supports the arch. Johnson had not practiced since Aug. 9 because of the injury.

--TE Trent Smith, who has been inactive for the first two games of the season, might see some action as the 49ers hope to find a pass-receiving threat to replace injured Eric Johnson. Smith spent his first two seasons with the Ravens, where he was injured and never played in a regular-season game. Coach Mike Nolan said he recalled that Ravens coaches referred to Smith as a poor man's Todd Heap.

--FB Fred Beasley, a Pro Bowl player two years ago, has fallen out of favor with the new coaching staff. Beasley is in the final year of his contract and almost certainly will not return next season. Beasley has started to see free-agent pickup Chris Hetherington take some of his playing time.

--T Anthony Clement, signed on Monday as a free agent, will likely be in uniform and may serve as the backup at both tackle positions for the 49ers' game Sunday against the Cowboys.

--C Jeremy Newberry did not practice Thursday and is now listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Cowboys, but the 49ers still expect him to suit up and start. Newberry has a chronic right knee problem and is scheduled to practice just one day a week.

--WR Brandon Lloyd (ankle) returned to practice and is listed as probable for Sunday's game against the Cowboys.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Cowboys:


49ers linebacker Julian Peterson has been the talk of the Cowboys locker room after guaranteeing a victory over Dallas in Sunday's game. "You can say I guaranteed it, yes," Peterson said. "I think we're going to play well. I'm positive we're going to win. We're going to go out there to win or they're coming here to lose."

49ers coach Mike Nolan tried to downplay Peterson's comments, saying they were taken out of context.

"As we all know, there are no guarantees in this life, but if someone makes one you say, 'Well, that's good. I'm glad he's confident,' " Nolan said. Still, Peterson's words are plastered on a bulletin board outside the Cowboys locker room.

They certainly have the Cowboys' attention. "We'll see," quarterback Drew Bledsoe said. "We're going to show up and play the game anyway."

49ers:

It's a new system implemented by new coaches with different players from a year ago at seven offensive positions. And now the 49ers offense has received another blow with news that tight end Eric Johnson is out for the season with a foot injury. Johnson re-tore the plantar fascia muscle at the bottom of his right foot while testing it earlier this week. Johnson, who led the 49ers with 82 catches last season, will miss his second full season in the past three years.

"It is real frustrating," Johnson said. "I can't believe it came on this quick. On Monday I felt a new energy, and I was so fired up to play. To have this happen so suddenly is really disappointing."

The 49ers' offense has been without Johnson since Aug. 9, and his absence has had an impact. Niners offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy compares it to his first year as offensive coordinator of the Saints. His club lost three of its first four games in 2000 before turning it around. Over the final 12 games, the Saints averaged 24.9 points, and McCarthy was hailed as a great offensive mind.

"I'm anticipating the same kind of progress here," McCarthy said of the 49ers. "It might not happen as dramatically as 2000, but the most important thing is to keep pushing forward and for everybody to believe in what we're doing."

The 49ers own the 31st-ranked offense, and are at or near the bottom in virtually every offensive statistic. Their 20 first downs are the fewest in the league, including just two rushing.

"The one glaring statistic we need to improve on is third-down production," McCarthy said. "The most important statistic in running the ball is how many attempts. We need to be up in the 25s and 30s, moving the sticks and getting rid of the three-and-outs."

The 49ers have converted on just four of 19 third-down attempts (21.1 percent), and they have produced one or fewer first downs on 16 of their 21 drives this season in the games against the Rams and Eagles. The 49ers defeated the Rams 28-25, but lost to the Eagles 42-3.

"I think we're getting there, but last week didn't show it," 49ers receiver Arnaz Battle said. "We have a new system and a lot of players in new positions, but I think we're getting close. We just need to get 11 guys on the same page."

All but one of the 49ers' 26 pass completions have gone to a wideout or halfback. Steve Bush has the other reception, a 3-yarder against the Eagles. On that play, he lined up at tight end and went into motion, ending up as a fullback.


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