GameScout: The NFC West, Week Four

An inside look at the Week Four NFC West matchups: The Rams take on the Giants and the Seahawks oppose the Redskins in a pair of battles against NFC East teams. Meanwhile, San Francisco and Arizona head south for a Mexican standoff.

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Seattle Seahawks (2-1) at Washington Redskins (2-0)
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GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF:
Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/02/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Tim Ryan, Jay Glazer
SERIES: 13th meeting. Washington leads, 8-4. The Redskins have won the last three in the series, although this is the first meeting for Holmgren and Redskins coach Joe Gibbs. The Seahawks are 0-2 at Washington since winning there in 1995.
*2005 RANKINGS: Seahawks: offense 2nd (4th rush, 6th pass); defense 8th (18th rush, 6th pass). Redskins: offense 12th (6th rush, 21st pass); defense 3rd (2nd rush, 10th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Redskins hope WR Santana Moss' two deep touchdown passes against Dallas will force the Seahawks to respect the pass and open more running lanes for RB Clinton Portis. The weakness of Seattle's defense is the linebackers, but the Seahawks do possess plenty of speed. If they are able to bottle up Portis and force the Redskins to travel the length of the field to score, they will have a significant advantage. Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander has been putting up his typical numbers in the running game, but he has also been part of improved pass protection. Washington will bring frequent blitzes in different packages and Seattle must be able to provide QB Matt Hasselbeck with ample time to take advantage of the Redskins' nickel packages. But the Seahawks' biggest challenge could be overcoming another cross-country trip after playing poorly in their season opener in Jacksonville.

FAST FACTS: Seahawks: Alexander's 24 career 100-yard rushing games is tied with Chris Warren for the most in franchise history. ... Hasselbeck has a 41.8 passer rating on third downs this season. Redskins: Seek first 3-0 start since 1991. ... QB Mark Brunell leads the NFL with a 136.9 fourth-quarter passer rating.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Seahawks:


--Although he was placed on the injury report, WR Darrell Jackson travelled with the team to Washington, D.C. and is expected to play. Jackson has a sore knee and saw a doctor on Friday

--QB Matt Hasselbeck took more reps in practice Thursday, but the team is limiting his throws to protect a sore arm. Hasselbeck is not on the injury report because his arm is merely sore, not injured, and he will start Sunday. The soreness did not appear to limit him during a 37-12 victory over Arizona last week. "I am very pleased with how he is playing," coach Mike Holmgren said.

--RB Shaun Alexander's contract status has not changed, contrary to a report on NFL Network suggesting preliminary talks had opened recently. The Seahawks are still taking a wait-and-see approach to a long-term deal. Alexander is scheduled to become a free agent after this season. Several other top backs are expected to be on the market at that time.

--LG Steve Hutchinson's contract status has not changed, contrary to a report on NFL Network suggesting talks aimed at a new deal had broken off. Hutchinson is a player the Seahawks want to re-sign before he becomes a free agent in March 2006.

--CB Kelly Herndon was downgraded from probable to questionable on the injury report for Thursday. He did not practice Thursday for a second consecutive day, but he did practice Friday and travelled with the team to Washington, D.C. His condition was upgraded to probeble on Friday.

--WR Peter Warrick remained questionable on the injury report. He is not expected to see much action on Sunday..

Redskins:

--SS Pierson Prioleau strained a hamstring on the opening drive in Dallas and didn't return. Prioleau hasn't been on the field and is all but out of Sunday's game with Seattle. Matt Bowen, who started the first five games of 2004 before suffering a season-ending knee injury, will start in Prioleau's place. Prioleau hasn't missed a game since November 2001.

--K John Hall, who pulled a quadriceps on his last kickoff against the Bears, hasn't practiced since other than kicking in morning walkthroughs this week. With coach Joe Gibbs saying that Hall --who missed eight games with four different leg injuries in 2004 --won't return to action until he has proved that he's 100 percent, undrafted rookie Nick Novak will continue to fill in.

--LCB Walt Harris missed a third straight practice with a strained left calf. Harris will try to practice today. If he can't, first-round draft choice Carlos Rogers would probably make his first start on Sunday. Harris hasn't missed a game since Indianapolis' 2002 finale.

--P Derrick Frost, signed Monday to replace Andy Groom, will make his Redskins debut on Sunday. Frost, Cleveland's punter last season, is Washington's fifth punter in the last four years following Craig Jarrett, Brian Barker, Tom Tupa and Groom.

--WLB LaVar Arrington should play more on Sunday than he did on Sept. 19 in Dallas when his limited action surprised him and Redskins fans. That was the word from assistant head coach defense Gregg Williams, who spoke to the media on Thursday for the first time in two weeks.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Seahawks:


Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant will have to be at his best against playmaking Redskins WR Santana Moss. Washington has not made many plays in the passing game, but Moss served notice of his abilities with two quick-strike TD catches against Dallas two weeks ago. Seattle has played good team defense overall, but occasional leaks in pass coverage have remained a problem each week.

Trufant is returning from off-season shoulder surgery. He is also playing on the right side for the first time. He could need some time to get fully comfortable and play with confidence.

Redskins CB Shawn Springs, a former Seahawk who played with Trufant in 2003, said he thought Seattle's scheme made its corners vulnerable. "I love Tru," Springs said. "I see Tru and I think sometimes it's tough for him because with Ray (Rhodes') system, there ain't nothing fancy, you've just got to play. Sometimes I think people game-plan him a little bit because it's tough when they know what position he is (in)." Springs said he benefits from playing in a more complex scheme that keeps opponents guessing.

Redskins:

The Redskins have played 18 games in assistant head coach Gregg Williams' defense. They have yielded 100 rushing yards to only three backs (Baltimore's Jamal Lewis, Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson and Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis with a measly 3.3 a carry each) during those 18 games. But as good as Brian Westbrook, Tiki Barber, Ahman Green, Kevin Jones, Julius Jones, Thomas Jones et al are, none of them measures up to the back who comes to Washington on Sunday.

Seattle's Shaun Alexander led the NFC with 1,696 yards and 16 touchdowns last year and is second in the NFL in both categories this year with 357 yards and five touchdowns. Alexander's 5.6-yard average is tops among backs with at least 26 carries. Redskins left end Renaldo Wynn said the run defense that was the NFL's second-best in 2004 and has that same lofty status so far this year will be ready for Alexander.

"Alexander is a great back," Wynn said. "He has great vision. If there's any breakdown in our defense, Alexander will find the weakness. He can cut it back and take it the distance. This is a big test for us. But this is our home. We'll be doggone and let anybody come in here and run for 100 yards on us. Playing the run is a mindset, first and foremost. It's about being physical. Every guy has a certain responsibility and we depend on every guy to play his gap."

That gap control has been solid so far. Chicago's Thomas Jones averaged 2.1 yards a carry against Washington, 4.3 against the Bears' next two foes. Dallas' Julius Jones, Thomas' younger brother, didn't get inside the Washington 10-yard line but scored three touchdowns in his other two games. The Redskins have allowed an NFL-low five rushing first downs and no back has managed even a 10-yard gain.


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St. Louis Rams (2-1) at New York Giants (2-1)
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GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF:
Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/02/05
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Bill Maas, Chris Myers
SERIES: 37th meeting. Rams lead, 25-11, but the Giants have won two straight.
*2005 RANKINGS: Rams: offense 7th (18th rush, 8th pass); defense 13th (3rd rush, 27th pass). Giants: offense 19th (17th rush, 15th pass); defense 31st (24th rush, 30th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Eli Manning continues to improve with each start and the Rams are allowing just 67.7 rushing yards per game, but the Giants can't get away from their ground game. New York's defense has plummeted to second-worst in the league thanks to a shaky secondary that will be without CB Will Peterson and has yet to face a passing attack anywhere near as potent as the Rams'. If the Giants can't control the clock, Rams QB Marc Bulger could have a field day. However, the Rams have to be concerned about RT Alex Barron going up against DE Michael Strahan in his first career start. St. Louis will likely leave a tight end back to help in obvious passing situations, although coach Mike Martz is never predictable. With two of the top seven scoring teams in the league, it could come down to which offense gets the ball last.

FAST FACTS: Rams: Are 14-4 (.778) in October under Martz. ... RB Marshall Faulk needs 57 rushing yards to pass Franco Harris (12,120) for 10th-most all-time. Giants: Manning has thrown 75 consecutive passes without an interception. ... TE Jeremy Shockey needs four receptions to reach 200 in his 42nd career game. Only Kellen Winslow (39) will have done it faster if Shockey reaches the milestone Sunday.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Rams:


--G/C Richie Incognito, the Rams' third-round draft pick this year, signed a four-year contract Thursday. Incognito underwent knee surgery in May, and has been rehabbing at a center in Arizona. After reporting to the team, he will be placed on the reserve/non-football injury list and is not expected to play this season.

--CB Terry Fair had his contract terminated Thursday to make room for G/C Richie Incognito on the roster. Fair is expected to be re-signed when Incognito is placed on the reserve/non-football injury list.

--RB Steven Jackson returned to practice Thursday, and while listed as questionable, is expected to play Sunday against the Giants.

--LG Tom Nutten, who did not practice Wednesday because of a toe injury, was back working with the first unit Thursday.

--FS Michael Hawthorne, listed as questionable because of an ankle injury, returned to practice Thursday and is expected to play Sunday against the Giants.

--FB Brandon Manumaleuna, who missed part of practice Wednesday because of a knee injury, didn't miss any work Thursday and will play Sunday.

--WR Isaac Bruce missed Thursday's practice, and remains a game-day decision for Sunday's game because of a toe injury.

Giants:

--In addition to the all-but-official switch of Nick Greisen for Reggie Torbor, it is possible that Curtis Deloatch will play at RCB for Will Peterson. Two reasons there - Peterson is nursing a sore back and he didn't play well last week anyway. Peterson is in jeopardy of missing the remainder of the season.

--TE Visanthe Shiancoe, the backup to Jeremy Shockey, has caught only one pass for 5 yards this season, but earned praise from the coaching staff for his improved blocking and special teams skills. There is a strong chance that he will start to become more involved in the offense as well, according to reports.

--RG Chris Snee has quietly become a much better blocker than he was last year as a rookie, and it appears that RB Tiki Barber, when he runs those plays that allow him to pick his hole, tends to pick Snee's.

--DE Osi Umenyiora is finally vindicating general manager Ernie Accorsi, who spent a second round draft pick on him in 2003 despite his lack of experience at an obscure school, Troy (Ala.) University. Umenyiora stars at RDE and had seven tackles and a fumble recovery against San Diego.

--LT Luke Petitgout will have his hands full against St. Louis, not only because he draws RDE Anthony Hargrove, a much improved player, but because in sure passing situations he has to find a way to deal with Brandon Green. Hargrove is in his second year, Green in his third.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Rams:


Wide receiver Kevin Curtis is the man on the hot seat, but it's a role he is accustomed to. With wide receiver Isaac Bruce doubtful for this week's game against the Giants because of a toe injury, Curtis will get the nod as the starter opposite Torry Holt. Even if Bruce is able to play, he probably wouldn't be on the field as much as usual. With Bruce inactive for last season's playoff game against Atlanta, Curtis caught seven passes for 128 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown.

Asked if he will prepare any differently, knowing he will probably start, Curtis said, "It doesn't change it a whole lot. Every week, I've got to be ready like last week when Isaac did go down. ... I've just got to make sure I'm on top of it."

Of course, he acknowledges being able to contribute more by virtue of playing more. He said, "The more playing time you get, the more comfortable you start feeling out there. Even this past week, in the second half when I was in there every play, I started feeling more comfortable. I was a little bit more into the game. It's a good experience for me."

Quarterback Marc Bulger said the team just plays its offense, regardless of who is on the field. "We have the luxury of having four really good receivers when we are in our quad package," Bulger said. "At the same time, since Isaac is going to be down, Dane (Looker) can step in and play the fourth receiver, but Kevin, like I said after the game, could start for most teams. And there are different things that Kevin does better than Isaac, but at the same time, there are a lot of things that Isaac brings to our team that we will miss, route-running and blocking and just being that leader out there. So, we'll miss him if he can't go, but Kevin, he knows what he's doing."

Pinned down to what Curtis does better than Bruce, Bulger said mainly Curtis' pure speed. "Not saying Isaac is slow," Bulger laughed. "But Kevin is special, and we can take advantage of it." Asked about Bulger's comment, Curtis said, "Oh, I don't know if I want to say that. I'm not better than Isaac. I would say almost everything he does is a lot better than I do. There might be something where we might be different, but we're obviously not the same player.

"Coming into to play for Isaac, I'm not trying to be Isaac. Those are some huge shoes to fill. I know I'm not Isaac. I go out and do my job. Basically I have a job and I try to do it. I can't try to perhaps be Isaac when I'm out there and do it as he would do it, because that's Isaac Bruce. I'm just going to my best and do my job."

Curtis also credited having Bruce and Holt around for helping his development as a receiver.

"I'm still learning every day," Curtis said. "Ever since I've been here, it's just kind of opened my eyes to what a true receiver he (Bruce) is. I never realized how much he is into route-running and those sorts of things. Just the way they compete. They teach you something every game. There's a reason why they've done what they've done in their careers. They've worked their tails off."

Giants:

The enormity of the Giants' defensive collapse against San Diego last Sunday night is going to result in at least one lineup change, and maybe more. What is almost certain, though as yet unannounced by coach Tom Coughlin, is that Carlos Emmons will move back to strongside linebacker from the weak side, Nick Greisen will move in at weakside LB and second-year man Reggie Torbor will move to the bench. Thus the only one of the three linebackers not affected will be Antonio Pierce in the middle.

"All year we have demonstrated an ability to come back from a bad series and not to have two in a row," said Coughlin. "But Sunday night we didn't do that. We were missing tackles and assignments, they (the Chargers) were running at us from all different angles and, while I agree that (LaDanian) Tomlinson is probably the best running back in the league, it should not have been that bad."

So Torbor, with the least experience (this was his first starting job, and it lasted all of two games) will go to the bench. "If you take a loss like that back on the field with you," said Emmons, "you can get caught up in the problem and lose again. In the NFL, every now and then, you get a game like that when no matter what you do, you can't stop it."

The Giants certainly had one of those. And now, when they face the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, they are not going to fear Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson as much as they did Tomlinson.


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San Francisco 49ers (1-2) at Arizona Cardinals (0-3)
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GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF:
Sunday, 8:30 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/02/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: ESPN, Mike Patrick, Joe Theismann, Paul Maguire, Suzy Kolber
SERIES: 28th meeting. The 49ers lead series 17-10, including victories in the last three meetings. The 49ers' only two wins last season came at the Cardinals' expense.
*2005 RANKINGS: 49ers: offense 29th (27th rush, 27th pass); defense 32nd (19th rush, 32nd pass). Cardinals: offense 18th (28th rush, 9th pass); defense 22nd (28th rush, 16th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Conditioning will play a major role with Mexico City resting over 7,000 feet above sea level. So will turnovers and penalties, which have plagued Arizona's offense. QB Josh McCown starts for injured Kurt Warner, and his mobility could prove beneficial with the 49ers expected to use plenty of blitzes in an attempt to protect their battered and bruised secondary. Offensively, the 49ers want to run the ball to control the clock and limit how much time their defense spends on the field. The Cardinals are allowing 4.7 yards per carry and will be without their top run stopper DT Russell Davis. If the game is close late, the 49ers will need better clutch play from QB Tim Rattay, who has thrown 11 of his 16 career interceptions in the fourth quarter.

FAST FACTS: Estadio Azteca held an NFL-record 112,376 fans for a 1994 preseason game between Houston and Dallas, but now holds a maximum of 85,000. 49ers: First three opposing quarterbacks have combined for a 109.3 passer rating. ... Have won the past three meetings and eight of the past nine. Cardinals: McCown had a career-high 307 passing yards in the last meeting. ... DE Bertrand Berry has 28 sacks in his past 35 games.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

49ers:


--CB Mike Rumph is out for the season after sustaining a torn plantar fascia. Rumph had moved this week from free safety to cornerback as coach Mike Nolan tried to shake up the defense after a poor start. Rumph was the original choice to take over for Ahmed Plummer, who is out for several weeks after undergoing arthroscopic ankle surgery.

--CB Derrick Johnson, a rookie, is likely to start Sunday's game against the Cardinals. Johnson takes over for Mike Rumph, who's out for the season, and Ahmed Plummer, who will miss at least a couple games after ankle surgery. Johnson, a sixth-round draft pick, tied for the NFL lead with three interceptions during the exhibition season.

--CB Willie Middlebrooks, who was signed this week, will see a lot of action as the 49ers find themselves short-handed in the defensive backfield. Middlebrooks will probably split some time with Derrick Johnson at left cornerback, and he will also see action in the nickel and dime packages.

--T Anthony Clement might start Sunday's game at left tackle in place of Jonas Jennings, who is questionable with a right shoulder strain. Clement spent his first seven seasons in the league with the Cardinals. He has not played left tackle since his rookie season.

--LB Corey Smith is expected to see more action Sunday at outside linebacker as the 49ers plan to rotate a lot of different players into the action because of the altitude in Mexico City. Smith's increased role is one of the reasons the 49ers decided this week to part ways with Jamie Winborn.

Cardinals:

--QB Josh McCown will start in place of Kurt Warner, but he needs to play well to hold on to it while Warner is out. If McCown struggles, coach Dennis Green won't hesitate to play John Navarre. McCown is 7-9 as a starter.

--The club signed QB Rohan Davey this week to shore up the position. With Kurt Warner out with a groin pull, the team was down to two quarterbacks.

--RB J.J. Arrington appears to have lost his starting job to Marcel Shipp, who has given the team a spark. Shipp has been effective the past two games but needs to get the ball more. He had 95 yards on 22 carries the past two weeks. He needs to carry the ball that many times in a game.

--The Cardinals are the only team in the league with two receivers who have more than 250 yards receiving a piece. The problem is, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald have just one touchdown. In fact, the Cardinals offense has scored just one touchdown.

--KR Reggie Swinton needs to show something to hang on to his job as a kick returner and punt returner. He's been tentative and receiver Bryant Johnson returned two kicks late in last week's loss to Seattle.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

49ers:


Coach Mike Nolan came to the conclusion this week that he had no spot on the 49ers for linebacker Jamie Winborn. Nolan strongly recommended to Winborn that he pack his belongings and leave the team while Nolan tries to trade the fifth-year pro. Nolan said his decision to get rid of Winborn was not a disciplinary action. He said he was merely doing Winborn a favor.

"Jamie has been relegated to a backup role for us, and he sees himself as a starter," Nolan said. "And in respect to that position, I'm certainly entertaining thoughts of a possibility of a trade." Winborn, 26, a second-round pick in the 2001 draft, started the first two games of the season at outside linebacker but lost his job to Andre Carter last week. Even backup Corey Smith was taking playing time away from Winborn.

"We didn't even know until the defensive meeting," 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson said. "But the coach was very up front with us. I think he just wanted to go in his own direction right now. He knew Jamie had a lot of talent and he didn't want to hold Jamie back, either. It's part of the business." The move was the first major shakeup that Nolan foreshadowed. Following the 49ers' discouraging 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Nolan spoke at length about some players whom he believed do not "trust" the system.

"We will find a place for those that think they have a better idea," Nolan said.

Winborn is scheduled to make $1.75 million, which is guaranteed because he was on the roster for the first week as a vested veteran. "Jamie loved playing for the 49ers, but if he's not in their plans, it's probably better for him to be in a place where he has a chance to make a difference," said Steve Baker, Winborn's agent.

Cardinals:

The Cardinals enter Sunday night's game against San Francisco dangerously thin on defense. Nose tackle Russell Davis is out for the year after suffering a torn left biceps tendon last week. That leaves the team with only six defensive linemen, including a backup at tackle and one at end. Ross Koldoziej moves into the starting lineup, and Langston Moore is the only backup.

The team entered training camp thinking that depth on the defensive front would be a strength. But a wrist injury to Kenny King and the injury to Davis changed that. Depth at cornerback is also lacking. Starter Antrel Rolle likely will have knee surgery that will keep him out at least a month. He's out for Sunday's game and will be replaced by Raymond Walls. David Macklin, the other starting cornerback, has been limited in practice this week by a strained hamstring.

If Macklin can't play, he'll be replaced by rookie Eric Green. With rookie Lamont Reid the only other corner on the roster, the club re-signed veteran Robert Tate on Thursday. That forced them to cut Lester Towns, their top middle linebacker the past two games. He was made expendable by the return of James Darling, who had missed two games with a sprained knee ligament.

The offense is hurting, too. Quarterback Kurt Warner is expected to miss at least a month because of a torn groin muscle. Warner, however, is optimistic that he'll return sooner than that. He reported great progress this week, but then, he is an optimist by nature.

Right tackle Oliver Ross is expected to miss at least a month after suffering a broken bone in his right hand last week. The injury required surgery.

Replacing Ross will be either Ian Allen, a four-year veteran, or Fred Wakefield, in his first year on the offensive line after three years at defensive end.

 


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