NFC West News & Notes - 9/27/05

After three weeks of NFL action, the Seahawks and Rams are 2-1 and looking ahead. The 49ers are experiencing growing pains, magnified by the impatience of their new coach. And the Cardinals, a preseason media darling, stand at 0-3, watching their season fall apart.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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RB Shaun Alexander is taking steps toward becoming the kind of runner the Seahawks might consider signing to a long-term deal. The team has made no statements on the matter, but Alexander is running harder and doing more of the little things this season.

The 28-year-old runner carried 22 times for 140 yards during a 37-12 victory over Arizona on Sunday. He ran hard throughout the game. He got in the way of pass rushers just enough to spare QB Matt Hasselbeck from unnecessary damage. And when the goal line neared, Alexander did what he does best: score touchdowns.

Alexander's four rushing TDs tied the team record he already shared with former Seahawks RB Curt Warner. Alexander also recorded his 24th game with at least 100 yards on the ground, tying former RB Chris Warren for the franchise record. Warner did it 23 times.

The highlight Sunday came on one of Alexander's non-scoring runs. He ran to the right on a sweep, then cut back to the left for a 45-yard gain after Arizona sniffed out the initial play.

"This was supposed to be a sweep around right end," FB Mack Strong said, "and normally nobody can ever cut those back all the way."

Alexander finished a yard short of the NFL rushing title last season. He did become the only player in NFL history to score 15 touchdowns in four consecutive seasons, and he is already one-third of the way to making it five years in a row.

If this keeps up, the Seahawks will have to decide whether to reward Alexander with a big-money contract. The team signed him in July to a one-year franchise deal worth $6.32 million with the understanding that management would not slap him with the franchise tag in 2006. The arrangement gave Alexander additional incentive to play well.

A week ago, Alexander broke from his usual style by lowering his shoulder and running over a safety to pick up the needed yardage on third-and-1. The trend continued against Arizona.

"Right from the beginning, I thought he ran real hard," coach Mike Holmgren said. "I thought he slammed it up in there pretty good.

"Now, he made a couple plays by doing what he does and that's starting over there and coming back over this way. I've said it many times: I don't want to take that away from him because he makes plays.

"But there were times in there when we called plays basically up the gut on short yardage situations or second-and-2 and he was running it like he wanted to get the two yards. That's a good thing."

Alexander's pass protection still needs work, but he does at least seem more willing in that department.

"He is working harder at that, he really is," Holmgren said. "And it's the least fun thing to do for a running back. But he is improved.

"He and I have been down the road a few times. I can tease him about that a little bit. But it's nice to see him do that because he is capable and it helps everybody out when he does that."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Seahawks rolled out the red carpet Sunday while inducting former coach Chuck Knox into their Ring of Honor. The occasion gave current coach Mike Holmgren a chance to remember the days when Knox took him under his wing. The year was 1992 and Holmgren had just been named coach of the Packers. Knox was coaching the Los Angeles Rams.

Knox took Holmgren aside while the two were scouting college players at the Senior Bowl. Knox talked to the new coach about what to expect.

"I remember going home that evening and thinking, 'He didn't have to do that, at all,'" Holmgren said.

When the Rams visited Lambeau Field later in 1992, Holmgren showed up on the sideline wearing only a sweater despite frigid conditions in an effort to appeal to Knox's tough side. "They were all dressed like the Michelin Man with masks, so I couldn't even find him in the beginning," Holmgren said. "As soon as I hit the field, I knew I had made a huge mistake." When the two finally met, Knox said, "Mike, you're cold, aren't you?"

--Former Seahawks DE Chike Okeafor made a lot of noise when he signed with Arizona in the offseason. Okeafor bad-mouthed his former defensive teammates for having a losing attitude. He later criticized Seahawks management for the way contract negotiations were handled. Okeafor fell silent when the Cardinals and Seahawks played Sunday. He never came close to a sack while working against Seahawks RT Sean Locklear. Okeafor's replacement, DE Bryce Fisher, collected a 9-yard sack among several impact plays. "I believe that I am good enough to be a starter in this league, and be a playmaker," Fisher said. "Hopefully we can keep things going." Fisher, a free-agent addition from the Rams, ranks tied for fifth in the NFL with three sacks in three games.

--RB Shaun Alexander has tied the franchise record for 100-yard games. He now has 24 in five-plus seasons with the team, matching former RB Chris Warren and surpassing former RB Curt Warner (23). Alexander rushed for 140 yards Sunday, his second 100-yard game of the 2005 season.

--K Josh Brown had not attempted a FG before Sunday. He made both attempts during a 37-12 victory over Arizona. Brown made 23 of 25 last season. He is an accurate kicker.

--RB Josh Scobey averaged 28.5 yards on his kickoff returns Sunday, helping Seattle enjoy improved field position. Field position had been a problem in the first two games.

--CB Andre Dyson will return this week after missing playing time due to illness.

--CB Kelly Herndon should return this week after suffering a stinger Sunday.

--RT Floyd Womack will not return until the St. Louis game. Current starter Sean Locklear will return to the bench at that time.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. CARDINALS

PASSING OFFENSE: B+ --
Two dropped passes prevented a perfect grade here. Everything else worked almost to plan. QB Matt Hasselbeck completed 20 of 31 passes for 242 yards and an 88.4 rating. He missed a few throws but did not take a sack. WR Darrell Jackson dominated against a rising young CB for the second week in a row. Arizona's Antrel Rolle was in coverage much of the way as Jackson caught eight balls for 125 yards. Falcons CB DeAngelo Hall didn't fare any better a week earlier. The Cardinals had to respect TE Jerramy Stevens down the middle of the field, creating opportunities for the receivers.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A --
RB Shaun Alexander ran with determination once again and the Cardinals had no answer for him. Alexander's running allowed Seattle to put together four 80-yard TD drives, and Alexander finished each one with a rushing TD. FB Mack Strong did a nice job clearing out the Cardinals' LBs and DBs. Seattle also continued to get outstanding blocking from its receivers. WR Joe Jurevicius is a big guy (6-5, 230) and a willing blocker downfield. Alexander's best run was one coaches did not draw up. He reversed field to the left for a 45-yard gain after the Cardinals shut down an attempted sweep to the right. Alexander is not a burner, but he showed surprising speed in accelerating away from defenders.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- The pass rush was outstanding. Seattle pounded Cardinals QB Kurt Warner from the beginning. Warner left the game in the first half and did not return. DE Bryce Fisher got three hard hits on Warner early in the game. Seattle still suffered from the occasional lapse in pass defense, as when FS Ken Hamlin blew a coverage and Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin escaped for a 45-yard reception. That play was the exception, however. Seattle continued to improve its blitzing. SS Michael Boulware helped seal the outcome by sacking QB Josh McCown and forcing a fumble the Seahawks recovered at the Arizona 1. The pass rush was hugely important because Seattle lost CB Andre Dyson (illness) and CB Kelly Herndon (concussion).

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Cardinals gained only 90 yards on the ground and 40 of that was not by running backs. DT Marcus Tubbs and DT Chuck Darby dominated against the Cardinals' shaky interior line. Both men found their way into the backfield repeatedly. DE Grant Wistrom was also disruptive. He nearly took the handoff from McCown on one play, knifing through to drop RB J.J. Arrington for a 2-yard loss.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The punting game remains a concern. P Leo Araguz ranks 23rd in the league for net average after the Seahawks allowed a 15-yard return Sunday. K Josh Brown attempted (and made) his first FG tries of the season. RB Josh Scobey averaged a healthy 28.5 yards per kickoff return as Seattle improved its starting field position. The punt-return game remained shaky as WR Peter Warrick averaged only 4.7 yards per return. CB Jimmy Williams gained no yards on his only punt return of the day.

COACHING: A -- The plan was simple. Run the ball and punish Warner. The Seahawks accomplished both goals. Coach Mike Holmgren gets credit for going with a quick-passing game that helped hold the Cardinals without a sack. Holmgren also stuck with the running game, a smart tactic given the Cardinals' problems with Alexander in recent matchups. Alexander now has seven rushing TDs in his last two games against the Cardinals. Holmgren wisely stuck with what was working best. The defensive plan was to pressure and punish the QB. Seattle did a nice job unveiling blitzes that Arizona could not handle.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Through three games, kicker Neil Rackers has been the team's most valuable player, which tells you something about the Cardinals' state of affairs. Sunday's loss to the Seahawks dropped the Cardinals to 0-3, and now people are wondering if the Cardinals are the worst team in the league.

It would be hard to argue against it.

They can't score touchdowns, as evidence by Rackers' workload. He has made all 10 of his field goal attempts. The defense is not any better. Opponents have scored touchdowns at the beginning of halves in all three games, helping to set a negative tone. Things could get worse, too, as injuries have begun to pile up.

Quarterback Kurt Warner suffered a groin pull near the end of the first half and didn't return.

His backup, Josh McCown, started last year but lost his job to Warner this off-season. McCown, however, might be a better fit to play behind this offensive line than Warner. The line has had trouble protecting Warner, who isn't nearly as mobile as McCown. Warner, however, is steadier, while McCown makes an occasional bad decision.

Nose tackle Russell Davis has a left biceps injury and is undergoing testing, and offensive right tackle Oliver Ross has a hand injury that's being evaluated.

Their status is unknown for Sunday's game against the 49ers in Mexico City.

NOTES, QUOTES

--At 0-3, the Cardinals only hope they have hit rock bottom. "I've never been down 0-3 in my life," receiver Anquan Boldin said. "So this is new territory for me. We've got to get one soon, like (this) week." Said receiver Larry Fitzgerald: "You can't go any lower."

--The Cardinals trailed just 10-9 at halftime, and Seattle hadn't scored in the second half of either of their previous games. That trend, however, was broken as the Seahawks put up 27 points in the final half. "It seemed like everything they (the Seahawks) wanted to do (they did)," defensive tackle Russell Davis said. "In the first half, we weathered the storm. They had the first opening drive that kind of shook us up a little bit. But we came out the second half feeling good. We had a good grasp of what they wanted to accomplish. But it just got out of control."

--Coach Dennis Green spent the off-season overhauling his offense, firing coordinator Alex Wood and receivers coach Robert Ford, signing quarterback Kurt Warner and offensive tackle Oliver Ross in free agency, and drafting running back J.J. Arrington. Still, the offense hasn't improved, and the defense has regressed. It's not working Green said. "I'm surprised we haven't been able to do more. ... The whole thing isn't working. We've been playing very poorly in the second half. For just some reason, it's not happening in the third and fourth quarter."

--The Cardinals have lost 19 of their past 20 road games, dating back to 2001. Yet the organization gave up a home game this weekend to play San Francisco in Mexico City.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Kurt Warner has a strained groin and could miss some time. No prognosis was available Monday. An update won't be available until Wednesday when the injury report is due.

--RB J.J. Arrington appears to have lost his starting job. He started Sunday in the same backfield as Marcel Shipp, but Arrington saw only spot duty the rest of the game. He had five carries.

--WR Anquan Boldin continues to be a focus of the offense, but he has yet to score a touchdown. The team's red zone offense has been horrible, and quarterback Kurt Warner has had trouble getting Boldin the ball in those situations.

--NT Russell Davis has a biceps injury that could cause him to miss some games. He's undergoing tests early this week. His loss would be huge, because his backup, Langston Moore, has barely played this year. Davis is the team's best run-stopper on the defensive front.

--OT Oliver Ross has a hand injury that's being evaluated. His status for Sunday is unknown. Ross has not played well but team doesn't have a solid alternative. His backup is Fred Wakefield, in his first year at the spot after converting from defensive end.

--KR Reggie Swinton has done little since being picked up shortly before the season started. It was hoped that Swinton might provide a spark, but he has appeared tentative in returning kicks and punts. Receiver Bryant Johnson returned two kickoffs in the second half and also returned a punt.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. SEAHAWKS

--PASSING OFFENSE: D --
The team is producing few big plays, and it has trouble scoring in the red zone, an indication that the passing game isn't clicking.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Marcel Shipp has been effective but he's not getting the ball enough. Part of the problem is the team has fallen behind early in the fourth quarter and has to abandon the run.

--PASS DEFENSE: D -- The Cardinals had no sacks and no interceptions. Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was efficient.

--RUSH DEFENSE: F -- Shaun Alexander shredded the Cardinals for 140 yards on 22 carries. He also scored four touchdowns.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Neil Rackers made all four field goal attempts and is perfect on 10 attempts this season. The return teams haven't produced.

--COACHING: F -- The offense can't score in the red zone, and the defense is at it worst when it should be at its best: coming out at the beginning of each half. Another sloppy performance.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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It will be a busy week for Rams first-round pick Alex Barron. Not only was Barron active for the first time for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans, but he entered the game with 2:31 to play in the third quarter and was at right tackle for the rest of the game.

Now, Barron will be preparing for his start, on the road against the New York Giants and matched against defensive end Michael Strahan.

Originally named the starter by coach Mike Martz at right tackle after being selected with the 19th pick in the first round of April's draft, Barron was demoted at the team's June minicamp because he was "overwhelmed" by the Rams' offense. He then missed the first two weeks of training camp, and signed Aug. 12. He started practicing at left tackle exclusively, so he would feel comfortable with his technique while learning the offense, and began working at right tackle in the days before the Week 2 game against the Cardinals.

At right tackle, Grant Williams opened training camp as the starter, but after he injured his back, Rex Tucker was switched from left guard to right tackle. Tucker started the opener against San Francisco, and strained a calf muscle in that game. Blaine Saipaia, who started at right tackle for the last five regular-season games in 2004 and two playoff games, started against Arizona and Tennessee. Saipaia had worked almost exclusively at guard until the week before the Week 2 Arizona game. But things fell apart for Saipaia Sunday. He was beaten for a sack by Kyle Vanden Bosch on the Rams' fourth play of the game, and then exited the game when Vanden Bosch beat him, caused a sack/fumble, which was returned 25 yards by Antwan Odom for a touchdown. That tied the game at 24 with 2:37 left in the third quarter.

With Barron in for the final three possessions of the game, quarterback Marc Bulger was 9-for-10 for 126 yards and the winning touchdown pass to Kevin Curtis. There were no sacks.

Said Martz, "I wish you could have seen his face when I told him he was going into the game. Blocking someone is not going to be an issue for him, it is just a matter of learning what is going on. I wish we had him for those two weeks, but I thought he was extraordinary (Sunday).

"He's just like Big O (Orlando Pace), just as talented, he's just learning what to do. Maybe it's a blessing that he was forced into the hopper. It's his turn. It's his job to lose now. He's our starter."

"That was huge," running back Marshall Faulk said of Barron's performance. "Not just for him, but for us."

Said Bulger, "When you don't notice an offensive lineman that's a good thing. I think he did a great job. I didn't see him do anything spectacular, like help me up, which was good. So, if a lineman doesn't help you up you know he did his job. To come in late in the game like that, in a pressure situation it was good for him."
Asked what went through his mind when he found out he was going into the game, Barron said, "It was unexpected. I heard someone yelling, I looked over there, and I was told, 'You're up.' I just knew I had to do my best."

As for the job being his to lose, Barron concluded, "I just have to study film and do my best every week."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Mike Martz voiced some concern about the turf toe suffered by wide receiver Isaac Bruce in the second quarter of Sunday's game against Tennessee.
"Those toe injuries can be nasty things," Martz said. But Bruce said not to worry. "I pushed off and felt a little pop in my foot," he said of the injury. "I'm optimistic everything is well and I shall be fast, I shall be quick, I shall be explosive, and I shall be in the mix like I've always been."

--Running back Steven Jackson claimed he was OK after the game, but he was hurting from ribs that were bruised in the second quarter. He missed most of the third quarter, but came back to play in the final quarter when he carried five times for 16 yards. "I took a shot to the chest area, kind of got short of breath, and I didn't want to hamper anything," Jackson said of the injury. X-rays were negative. After the game, he said, "Right now, I'm feeling pretty good. I'll get some more things looked at, make sure I'm all right. But I came back at the end of the game, and I expect to be out there next week."

With Jackson out, Marshall Faulk played extensively in the third quarter and gained 46 yards on four rushing attempts, while adding 11 yards on a reception. Earlier, he scored a touchdown on a 13-yard pass play. "In the role that I'm playing, in order to measure myself -- am I being successful? -- I have to set goals, and I did that," he said. "When I touched the ball, it had to be a touchdown or a first down. That's being productive with the plays that you do have."

Said coach Mike Martz, "It's a terrific one-two punch for us. To have those two kinds of players at the running back position is pretty special."

For the game, Jackson and Faulk combined for 18 rushes for 98 yards and four receptions for 37 yards. PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--OT Rex Tucker, who suffered a strained calf in the season opener against San Francisco, ran on Monday and is neared to being able to play. Tucker has missed the last two games, but even after he's healthy, he's not likely to get the right tackle job back from rookie Alex Barron.

--DT Ryan Pickett continues to play very well inside, tying up blockers and making plays in the running game.

--S Adam Archuleta has now made big defensive plays two straight weeks. In Week 2 against Arizona, it was his sack of QB Kurt Warner that pushed the Cardinals back from the 5-yard line to the 10. Against Tennessee, an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown cut the Titans lead from 10-0 to 10-7.

--S Michael Hawthorne continues to progress in the team's defense, and had an interception against Tennessee. Hawthorne sprained his ankle against the Titans, but the injury isn't expected to be serious.

--RT Alex Barron was the talk of the team after entering the game against the Titans in the third quarter and helping protect QB Marc Bulger for the rest of the game. Bulger was 9-for-10 for 126 yards and a touchdown after Barron started playing and he wasn't sacked for the rest of the game.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. TITANS

PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus -
The only thing keeping this from an A were the four sacks on QB Marc Bulger and three fumbles. But when Bulger had time to throw, he was outstanding. He completed 21 of 28 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns. With WR Isaac Bruce out with an injured toe, Torry Holt led the way with nine receptions for 163 yards, including five for 106 yards in the third quarter. Kevin Curtis scored the winning touchdown on a 10-yard pass in the fourth quarter.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -
Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk combined for 98 yards rushing, but a Faulk fumble led to a Titans touchdown that cut the Rams' 24-10 lead to 24-17. Jackson suffered bruised ribs, but said he will be ready for Sunday's game against the Giants.

PASS DEFENSE: B -
Titans QB Steve McNair completed 24 of 39 passes, but for only 261 yards and a passer rating of 77.0. The Rams got solid pressure, sacking McNair twice and intercepting two passes. An 85-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Adam Archuleta changed the complexion of the game in the second quarter. The Titans were at the Rams' 20-yard line with a 10-0 lead when Archuleta made his big play.

RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -
For the third consecutive week, the Rams did not allow their opponent to rush for 100 yards. Titans RB Chris Brown had a long of 20, but totaled only 83 yards on 20 attempts.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus - The Rams' return game is still poor, although kickoff returner Chris Johnson did average 23.5 yards a return. But the coverage has improved after allowing a punt return for a touchdown on opening week. Kicker Jeff Wilkins was successful on a 46-yard field goal, and has not yet missed a kick this season. He is 6-for-6 on field goals and 7-for-7 on extra points.

COACHING: B - Defensive coordinator Larry Marmie has his unit playing sound, fundamental football, and the defense has seven takeaways, almost half as many as the team had (15) all last season. Big plays have been reduced, and the defense produced stops on final drives the last two weeks.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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Changes will be coming, all right.

Niners coach Mike Nolan said he plans to make some changes in the defensive secondary in hopes of preventing the type of breakdowns in the passing game that have plagued the 49ers through the first three games of the season. Cornerback-turned-safety Mike Rumph is moving back to cornerback, while nickel back Mike Adams will take over as the starting free safety, Nolan said.

"The players I'm talking about are 49ers and they're guys I trust and I say are champions as we go forward," Nolan said on Monday. "But I'll take responsibility in saying I believe I probably got them out of position for a couple games."

Rumph, the team's first-round draft pick in 2002, played cornerback his first three seasons in the league. He was moved to safety during the team's offseason camps, but he had a difficult time making the adjustment to the new position. Rumph will now compete with starting cornerback Ahmed Plummer and Shawntae Spencer for a starting job. Plummer is currently slowed with an ankle injury. Rumph will likely move into the nickel back role, as he appears suited at covering the slot receiver.

Adams, the former nickel back, struggled in coverage in the first three games of the season. He will move back to safety, where Nolan said he believes he is best-suited.

In the minutes after the 49ers' 34-31 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday, a visibly upset Nolan said he believed there was a trust issue with a minimal amount of players on the 49ers.

"I am focused on getting this thing on the right track, whether it's player changes by position or guys that need to trust in their assignments," Nolan said. "It's as much a coaching decision on things as it is player decisions. Again, that leads to me to be confident certain things will get done."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Linebacker Julian Peterson proved to be no prophet, as the 49ers lost 34-31 to the Cowboys in a game Peterson guaranteed the 49ers would win.
Last week, Peterson said he was positive the 49ers were going to win the game. When asked if that meant he was guaranteeing a victory against the Cowboys, Peterson answered, "You can say I guarantee it, yes. I think we're going to play well. I'm positive we're going to win, to be honest. We're going to go out there to win, or they're coming out here to lose."

After Sunday's loss, Peterson said it was all a ploy to light a fire under his team after a discouraging 39-point loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

"I didn't want that Philly loss to cost us two games, thinking about how they beat up on us," Peterson said. "I didn't want the guys thinking, 'Woe is me,' and 'Same old Niners.' I wanted to make sure everybody showed up to play.

"Our team responded well, we just need to close (it out)."

--Although it might have been the 49ers' home stadium, it certainly was not their home crowd. The Cowboys had a home-crowd advantage against the 49ers at Monster Park. "I'd like 49ers fans to keep their tickets," Nolan said.

The 49ers had plenty of time to drive for at least a tying field goal late in the game, but the crowd became a factor. The noise from the Cowboys fans was blamed for guard Eric Heitmann's false-start penalty when quarterback Tim Rattay lined up in the shot-gun formation. "We couldn't hear on the one, so we had to go under center for the two-minute (drill)," Rattay said. "But that's something you got to deal with."

--Brandon Lloyd's 89-yard touchdown catch from Tim Rattay was the sixth-longest pass completion in team history, ranking behind Steve Young-John Taylor (97 yards, vs. Atlanta, 1991), Joe Montana-Jerry Rice (96, vs. San Diego, 1988), Montana-Taylor (95, vs. Rams, 1989), Steve DeBerg-Freddie Solomon (93, vs Atlanta 1980) and Montana-Taylor (92, vs. Rams, 1989).

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--LB Julian Peterson is listed as questionable for the game Sunday against the Cardinals with a right hamstring strain. He missed the fourth quarter against the Cowboys with the injury.

--CB Ahmed Plummer has "loose bodies" in his ankle but is listed as probable for the game Sunday against the Cardinals. Plummer is now in competition with Mike Rumph, making the move from safety, for a starting role, along with Shawntae Spencer.

--WR Arnaz Battle, the team's leading receiver through three games, should be able to play Sunday against the Cardinals with a hamstring strain, coach Mike Nolan said.

--OLB Andre Carter started Sunday's game against the Cowboys ahead of Jamie Winborn. Carter saw most of the playing time because the 49ers wanted to present a larger front seven to deal with the left side of the Dallas
line: guard Larry Allen and tackle Flozell Adams.

--S Mike Adams, the team's nickel back for the first three games, will become the starting free safety. Adams takes over for Mike Rumph, who will be given a chance to compete for a starting cornerback job.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. COWBOYS

PASSING OFFENSE: B --
Tim Rattay played very well for the first three quarters but he then played his part in the team's fourth-quarter meltdown. He threw two interceptions, including one that ended the game with a minute remaining. Prior to the fourth quarter, the passing offense was very good. Brandon Lloyd caught spectacular touchdown passes of 89 and 13 yards, as part of a four-catch, 142-yard performance. Arnaz Battle had six catches for 68 yards and one touchdown.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A --
Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore both ran the ball effectively, but the 49ers probably did not run the ball enough. Barlow had 65 yards on 12 carries, while Gore had 42 yards on seven tries. The offensive line did a very good job of creating holes against the Cowboys front seven.

PASS DEFENSE: D --
If it weren't for Tony Parrish's two interceptions, including a 34-yard return for a touchdown, it would be easy to give the 49ers' pass defense a failing grade. Cowboys quarterback Drew Bledsoe picked apart the 49ers when it mattered with 363 passing yards. The 49ers allowed way too many big plays, and the pass rush was virtually non-existent, especially when it mattered.

RUSH DEFENSE: B --
The 49ers managed to keep Cowboys running back Julius Jones contained after he got off to a very strong start. The defensive line and linebackers did a good job in the run game, as Jones managed just 85 yards on 26 carries. Jones, however, scored two rushing touchdowns, and Bledsoe scrambled for another.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus --
Punter Andy Lee had a strong net average of 38.2 yards. The Cowboys average starting point after kickoffs was the 28-yard line, while the 49ers started on average at the 23. The return game did not hand the offense very good field position.

COACHING: D -- The 49ers' strength is supposed to be on defense, but that phase of the game has been horrible through the first three games of the season. A Mike Nolan-coached team should be a lot better defensively. Nolan messed up at the end of the first half when he ordered Rattay to spike the ball on third down with 18 seconds remaining from the Cowboys 3-yard line, rather than trying one last pass into the end zone before sending out the field-goal unit.


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