GameScout: The NFC West, Week Five

Ready for Sunday's matchups? The Seahawks and Rams renew a bitter rivalry, the 49ers take on Peyton's Aerial Display, and the Cardinals hope to get real against the Panthers. You can find the insider's take right here!

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Seattle Seahawks (2-2) at St. Louis Rams (2-2)
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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/09/05
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Curt Menefee, JC Pearson
SERIES: 14th meeting. The Rams lead the series, 9-4, after winning all three meetings last season. The Seahawks are 0-3 at St. Louis since a 17-9 victory in 1997.
2005 RANKINGS: Seahawks: offense 2nd (7th rush, 8th pass); defense 14th (25th rush, 7th pass). Rams: offense 4th (21st rush, 2nd pass); defense 25th (8th rush, 27th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Seahawks lost to the Rams three times last season, and enter this key divisional road game with WRs Darrell Jackson (knee) and Bobby Engram (ribs) unlikely to play. But RB Shaun Alexander averaged 150.7 rushing yards in the three meetings last season and will be the focal point until the Rams prove they can stop him. The Rams wouldn't mind this turning into a shootout, but that depends on their suspect offensive line. If St. Louis can protect QB Marc Bulger early on, the Seahawks will be forced to bring extra rushers, thereby leaving the secondary vulnerable. Seattle's defense must improve on third downs after allowing Washington to convert 13 of 18 last Sunday.

FAST FACTS: Seahawks: QB Matt Hasselbeck needs one 300-yard passing game to break Dave Krieg's franchise record of 11. ... Alexander has 24 career 100-yard rushing games, tied with Chris Warren for the most in franchise history. Rams: RB Marshall Faulk needs 41 rushing yards to pass Thurman Thomas (12,074) and Franco Harris (12,120) for 10th-most all-time. ... Bulger is 28-12 (.700) as a starter.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Seahawks:


--DT Marcus Tubbs was added to the injury report Thursday with a sore quadriceps. He practiced on Friday. The team expects Tubbs to start Sunday.

--WR Darrell Jackson discovered he will need surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus. As reported by the Tacoma News Tribune's Mike Sando, the damage was discovered on Friday by a Miami-based orthopedist when Jackson flew to Florida for a second opinion on what was previously concerned a bone bruise. Team doctors did not discover additional damage to the bruised bone but the continued swelling and discomfort prompted Jackson to seek a second opinion.

Initial thoughts are that Jackson will miss 4 weeks following the surgery.

--WR Bobby Engram remained doubtful with cracked ribs.He is not expected to travel with the team to St. Louis.

--TE Jerramy Stevens does not appear to be bothered by the dislocated finger he suffered Sunday. Look for Stevens to continue playing a prominent role in the offense.

--RT Floyd Womack continued to get some reps with the starting offense Thursday, but he probably remains a week away from starting. So far, the team appears ready to stick with second-year RT Sean Locklear heading into a tough matchup against Rams LDE Leonard Little. Womack has not played since straining his left triceps during the final exhibition game. He spent Friday attending a family funeral.

Rams:

--TE Brandon Manumaleuna, who is not expected to play Sunday because of a knee injury, did some work with the scout team in practice Thursday, but coaches then told him to go the sideline. "He's champing at the bit," assistant head coach Joe Vitt said. "But it's Mike's orders (coach Mike Martz) to keep him out."

--CB Chris Johnson returned to practice Thursday after missing work on Wednesday because of the stomach flu.

--DE Leonard Little, who was limited in practice Wednesday because of a foot injury, did some work in team drills Thursday, but not at full speed.

--FS Michael Hawthorne remains the starter despite a tough outing Sunday against the Giants.

--RB Steven Jackson isn't totally over the bruised sternum that affected him in last week's game against the Giants. "My chest is coming along," he said. "It's coming along pretty well. It held up pretty well last weekend, it's just something that is going to take time to get better and better. I'm still going to wear the protective pad." Jackson is not listed on the injury report this week.

--LB Dexter Coakley missed some practice time because of a back injury, but is probable and expected to play Sunday against the Seahawks.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Seahawks:

The Seahawks are running out of receivers heading into their matchup Sunday at St. Louis. The team will find out what it has in Joe Jurevicius, D.J. Hackett, Peter Warrick and even Jerheme Urban.

The loss of starting WRs Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram robs the offense of two proven and experienced playmakers. Jurevicius should be more than adequate in relief because he's a big, experienced target with sure hands and a knack for getting open. Jurevicius has two touchdowns among his seven catches this season.

The bigger question is whether Warrick can start to resemble the player who caught 79 passes in 2003, before he suffered a knee injury. Warrick's lone reception this season was a 42-yarder from backup QB Seneca Wallace during garbage time against Arizona. He missed practice last week thanks to a hamstring injury.

Hackett could be the X-factor. He's big at 6-foot-2 and faster than the other receivers. Hackett has the ability to get deep, but he lacks experience. This game provides an outstanding opportunity for Hackett to make a case for more playing time. Coach Mike Holmgren thinks the second-year pro from Colorado has the tools to become the kind of deep threat Seattle has lacked. Now, Hackett has to do it.

Urban is a bit of an insurance policy because he can play all three receiver positions. The team re-signed him this week. Urban previously spent much of the 2003 and 2004 seasons on the practice squad. In limited duty last season, he caught six passes for 117 yards and a touchdown. Urban's big challenge has always been getting off the line of scrimmage cleanly.

Rams:

Rams coach Mike Martz missed a second day of practice Thursday while doctors look to confirm that he has bacterial endocarditis. It is still expected that Martz will coach the team in Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks, though there has been some talk of him being in the press box instead of on the sideline.

Late reports indicated that Martz did attend practice Friday.

"Right now, it's a day-to-day thing," said assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who has talked to the media with Martz unavailable. "Mike is doing well. Mike came in this morning like he did yesterday, he scripted the practice, he set the format for the practice, scheduled times, he reviewed yesterday's film, met with the offense and went over the corrections of yesterday's film so they could be done with the players. He had to get some tests this afternoon. I don't know how many tests he had to get done. I only spoke with him briefly because we had defensive meetings, but he was in this morning..

Said Vitt, "Mike wants to be with the team. This is where Mike belongs. It's killing him, and our players were elated to see him. There was a sense of calm when they saw his face, so we're working through this thing right now. We're working through it positive. Our players are working their butts off. Our coaches are pulling together, and these are trying times, but we'll pass the test."

Dr. Greg Ewald, an associate professor of medicine in the cardiovascular department at Washington University, said people get endocarditis when "you get an infection, and then the bacteria adheres to the heart valve. And that sort of causes turbulent blood flow and more chance for bacteria to kind of glom onto this thing. It basically is a focus of infection that doesn't go away easily unless you treat it with intravenous antibiotics."

Treatment can often last four to six weeks, but that is so it is certain all the bacteria have been destroyed. Ewald said patients normally begin to feel significantly better very quickly after beginning to take antibiotics.

Said Ewald, "With just a few days to several days of antibiotics, he'll probably feel a lot better than he's been feeling the last few weeks if this has kind of been smoldering for a while. So he may be kind of at the low point right now."

Rams running back Marshall Faulk is one player that wouldn't even consider the possibility of Martz not coaching Sunday.

"I don't know why we're talking about this," Faulk told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "There's no way he's not going to be there. Let's be real. There's no possibility that exists other than death for him not to be there. He'll be there. That's it."


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Indianapolis Colts (4-0) at San Francisco 49ers (1-3)
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GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF:
Sunday, 4:05 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/09/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Dick Enberg, Dan Dierdorf, Armen Keteyian
SERIES: 41st meeting. The Indianapolis Colts lead the series, 22-18. The series originated in 1953 and the teams met twice annually through the 1969 season. Since then, the two franchises have met six times (1972, 1986, 1989, 1995, 1998, and 2001). San Francisco has won five of the last six meetings, including a 40-21 decision at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis on November 25, 2001. The Colts' last appearance in San Francisco was on October 18, 1998 with the 49ers rallying from a 21-0 second-quarter deficit to post a 34-31 victory at 3Com Park. Wade
2005 RANKINGS: Colts: offense 17th (16th rush, 15th pass); defense 20th (12th rush, 21st pass). 49ers: offense 30th (31st rush, 28th pass); defense 32nd (19th rush, 32nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The 49ers' main goal is to protect rookie QB Alex Smith in his first start, which comes against a defense that has allowed a league-low 26 point through four games. Look for San Francisco to leave a tight end behind to help in blocking Colts DE Dwight Freeney and for Smith to take a lot of three-step drops and be moved out of the pocket to utilize his mobility. San Francisco is averaging a league-worst 23:12 in time of possession, but that might improve only because their defense will struggle to stop the Colts offense from scoring at will. The 49ers' secondary has been decimated by injuries, which means the Colts will have enormous mismatches any time they go to three and four receiver formations.

FAST FACTS: Colts: Are 19-7 on the road under coach Tony Dungy. ... Dungy played safety for the 49ers in 1979, his final season as a player. 49ers: Have won seven of the past eight meetings. ... S Tony Parrish has started the first 116 games of his career, second all-time among defensive backs to Herman Edwards (135)

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Colts:

--LB Gilbert Gardner has been upgraded from doubtful for this week's game at San Francisco to questionable. Gardner has been nursing a high right ankle sprain since the Colts' final preseason game at Cincinnati. A final decision on his availability won't be made until the weekend, but it appears as if he will be held out for one more week as a precaution.

--CB Nick Harper is expected to start Sunday despite a sore shoulder. Harper, who has not missed any practice time this week, initially felt some pain after the Tennessee game. He practiced Wednesday and Thursday.

--RB Dominic Rhodes has returned to practice and is expected to be available for the San Francisco game. Rhodes has been recovering from a bruised left shoulder.

--DT Vincent "Sweet Pea" Burns remains hopeful of playing against the 49ers on Sunday. Burns suffered medial collateral ligament damage to his right knee in the Colts' opening preseason game with Atlanta and underwent minor surgery in August. He returned to practice this week.

--S Joseph Jefferson will miss the San Francisco game as he continues his recovery from a turf toe injury. Jefferson has missed the last three games.

--RB James Mungro remains sidelined with a sprained right knee. Mungro was injured against Jacksonville three weeks ago.

--TE Ben Utecht is not expected to return to practice until next week at the earliest. Utecht is recovering from bruised chest and ribs that he incurred against the Jaguars.

--DE Josh Thomas is expected to be available for the 49ers game. Thomas has seen light practice this week as he rests a sore right knee, sitting out Wednesday's workout but returning for Thursday's session. He underwent surgery on the knee last season.

--LB David Thornton returned to practice Thursday and will start against the 49ers. Thornton has been held out of Wednesday workouts the last three weeks in order to rest a sore groin.

--S Gerome Sapp will be available for the 49ers game. Sapp has been nursing a sore shoulder, but has not missed any practice time this week.

49ers:

--SS Tony Parrish has been Mr. Reliable for the 49ers' secondary since he came to the team in 2002. Parrish has started all 116 regular-season games of his NFL career, including the first four with the Bears. Since 2001, Parrish leads the NFL with 25 interception.

--DT Bryant Young ranks seventh among active players with 75.5 career sacks. Young is the only remaining player from the 49ers' last Super Bowl championship team. He was rookie in 1994 when the 49ers last won a title.

--FB Fred Beasley was scheduled to undergo an MRI examination to reveal the extent of an injury to his left ankle. Beasley said the ankle has bothered him for weeks. Beasley said he would not know anything until the tests are completed.

--CB Derrick Johnson will not play Sunday against the Colts because of a thigh strain. Johnson had a 78-yard fumble return for a touchdown in his first start last week against the Cardinals.

--LB Julian Peterson is likely be downgraded to doubtful because of a right hamstring strain. Peterson has not practiced since sustaining his injury Sept. 25 against the Cowboys. He did not play in last week's game.

--WR Arnaz Battle is questionable with a right knee strain, and it does not look as if he'll be ready to play Sunday against the Colts.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Colts:


After starting the 2005 season with a 4-0 record and coming off a 31-10 road win over AFC South rival Tennessee last week, it might be easy to expect the Indianapolis Colts to show some complacency heading into Sunday's game at San Francisco. After all, the Colts have been one of the NFL's premier franchises over the past several seasons, while the 49ers are currently in the middle of a wholesale rebuilding project. San Francisco will bring a 1-3 record into this week's game.

But if anyone expects Indianapolis to overlook the 49ers, think again. "I think we have the right approach understanding that it's early in the season and records don't really mean a whole lot," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said this week. "Everybody is in this thing right now and when you watch (San Francisco's) games individually, you see a team that could have easily be 3-1 or 4-0 at this point. That immediately grabs our attention.

"We have had a very business-like approach all season and the key to that is to keep having good weeks of practice. We probably had one of our best weeks of practices last week and we need that again this week. We need to try and go out there and take care of business. But we know that it's on the road, it's a long trip out there and it will be a tough place to play."

The 49ers' lone win this season came in the season opener against a heavily favored St. Louis Rams team. Several Colts players have pointed to that victory over St. Louis as a prime reason to take San Francisco very seriously.

"They've played pretty well at home, but I think that most teams should. That's a pretty natural concept," the Indianapolis quarterback said. "Everybody wants to defend their home turf. They've scored like 29 points a game at home. They've scored more touchdowns than we have this year."

49ers:

Left tackle Jonas Jennings, the key piece of the 49ers' effort to upgrade its offensive line, might not play again this season. "The MRI doesn't lie," Jennings said of his right shoulder, which has a torn labrum. "It wasn't good. I've just got some things going on that require surgery, but I'm going to try to fight through it. I don't want to just go under the knife and then be out for the year. I don't want to do that while guys are out there fighting."

Jennings will not play Sunday against the Colts at Monster Park. The loss of Jennings is bad for the 49ers, who do not appear to have a proven backup at left tackle to protect rookie quarterback Alex Smith's blind side.

Eighth-year player Anthony Clement, a natural right tackle, started in Jennings' place Sunday night against the Cardinals and had his share of problems against defensive end Bertrand Berry. This week, things will only get rougher for the left side of the offensive line against the Colts' Dwight Freeney, who led the NFL with 16 sacks last season. The 49ers will almost have to double-team Freeney on every pass play if they hope to keep Smith in one piece.

Jennings sustained a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder in the third quarter of the 49ers' Sept. 25 game against Dallas. He underwent an MRI examination the following day that revealed the extent of the damage.

Jennings intimated that if he is not able to play Oct. 23 against the Redskins, he may opt for season-ending surgery. The 49ers awarded Jennings a seven-year, $36 million deal with $12 million in guaranteed money as a free agent this off-season. He spent his first four years with the Bills.

"We have an off week coming up, so hopefully that helps me out," Jennings said. "If I'm going to go out, I'm going to go out swinging. ... I've got to be able to hold another 300-pound man off me."


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Carolina Panthers (2-2) at Arizona Cardinals (1-3)
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GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF:
Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/09/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Matt Vasgersian, Erik Kramer
SERIES: 6th meeting. The Panthers lead the series 3-2. On Nov. 21 of last year the Panthers defeated the Cardinals 35-10 at Bank of America Stadium.
2005 RANKINGS: Panthers: offense 25th (19th rush, 22nd pass); defense 18th (6th rush, 23rd pass). Cardinals: offense 6th (26th rush, 4th pass); defense 11th (21st rush, 8th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Cardinals have been quick to abandon the running game, which has struggled behind poor offensive line play. While Arizona's best offensive athletes are at wide receiver, the Cardinals need to give the ground game a shot to get going. QB Josh McCown tore apart San Francisco, but he still failed to see several wide open receivers and Carolina's secondary is far superior to the 49ers'. Plus, the Cardinals can't afford to get buried in time of possession because their own secondary is very beat up. Carolina likes to pound the ball behind RBs Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster, but QB Jake Delhomme will take plenty of shots downfield. If the Cardinals can't run the ball effectively, look for their defense to wear down as the game goes on..

FAST FACTS: Panthers: Delhomme has a 117.2 passer rating, 13 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in his past five road games. ... Davis has averaged 122.3 rushing yards in five career games against Arizona in which he had at least 15 carries. Cardinals: In their past 20 games, are 7-7 when McCown starts and 0-6 when he doesn't. ... Have outscored opponents 34-6 in the second quarter.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Panthers:

--RB Stephen Davis was back on the field Thursday for Carolina and will start against Arizona. Davis is tied for the NFC lead in rushing touchdowns with six.

--WR Steve Smith could be in for a big game on Sunday with the Cardinals secondary banged up and possibly without their top three corners.

--LT Travelle Wharton played better on Monday night against Green Bay after a rough week against Miami in which he allowed two sacks.

--DE Al Wallace was added to the injury report as questionable after sitting out Thursday's practice with a back injury.

--CB Chris Gamble was limited in practice and remains questionable with an ankle injury.

--DE Kemp Rasmussen was back on the field for Carolina is likely to suit up on Sunday after missing one game with a knee injury.

--TE Mike Seidman will be ready to go for Carolina on Sunday, but it may be hard to keep Michael Gaines inactive after a strong game on Monday night in which he caught two passes for 42 yards and a touchdown.

Cardinals:

--QB Josh McCown could win the starting job with another solid outing. Coach Dennis Green hasn't ruled it out. The Cardinals are 8-9 over the past three seasons when McCown starts.

--WR Bryant Johnson is the odd man out when the Cardinals go to a two receiver formation. They used that formation more last week than they have all season because they need two tight ends in the game to provide pass protection.

--TE Teyo Johnson could become the team's top receiving tight end by the end of the season. Johnson was signed after week one and has three catches for 29 yards.

--RB Marcel Shipp needs to get more carries. He's starting the last three games and has 35 carries for 137 yards. Shipp has made some nice runs but this team relies too much on the pass.

--K Neil Rackers has made 16 straight field goals to start the season. That streak is even more impressive when you consider that he came close to missing only one, a 35-yarder against St. Louis. Rackers also has 23 touchbacks, which leads the league.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Panthers:


Steve Smith could be in for a bounce-back week on Sunday when the Carolina Panthers face the Arizona Cardinals. After catching just two passes for 12 yards against Green Bay while being double covered on almost every play, Smith faces a Cardinals team that may be without its top three cornerbacks and forced to start a rookie and a veteran who was just signed by the club last week.

The Cardinals began the season with first-round draft pick Antrel Rolle starting alongside David Macklin and Raymond Walls handling the nickel spot. But Rolle is out at least two months with a knee injury, while Macklin and Walls had to leave last week's game against the San Francisco 49ers with injuries.

If they can't go, rookie Eric Green, a third-round draft pick from Virginia Tech, and Robert Tate, an eight-year NFL veteran who was cut by the Cardinals in training camp but picked up last week as a free agent after Rolle went down, will start Sunday against the Panthers. On top of that, another rookie, Lamont Reid, would likely be the nickel back despite being called up from the practice squad about three weeks ago.

Jake Delhomme is well aware of the Cardinals' injury problems, but said the Panthers can't overlook Arizona's defensive line, which often features five down linemen and consistently gets pressure on the quarterback. "They're a little banged-up in the secondary. I know their first round pick (Antrel Rolle) is gone for the season and a couple of guys got dinged the other night, but they can really rush the passer," Delhomme said. "It seemed like every time either (San Francisco quarterbacks) Tim Rattay or (Alex) Smith dropped back to pass they were getting hit. Same thing when they played against Eli (Manning) and in the Rams game. That's what they do. They'll try to give you some different looks. We need to be efficient with the football and try to run it on them."

The Cardinals haven't been awful against the pass this year, ranked eighth overall in the league in yards allowed. They've only surrendered four passing touchdowns in as many games.

Smith was held to two catches for 12 yards last week by Green Bay, and would love to have a breakout game like he did against Miami. But he'd prefer to do it against the best Arizona has to offer. "I hope Macklin is playing, he's a friend of mine," Smith said. "You always want to see your friend play whether it is against you or on the same team."

Carolina coach John Fox was predictably elusive when asked how much Arizona's injury problems might alter his team's offensive game plan. "I'm sure we'll evaluate it," Fox said. "We've got our game plan in regardless of who plays. That's the problem with this league. You don't really know until an hour and a half before kickoff. We're set up to do what we need to do."

Cardinals:

The Cardinals' starting lineup on defense will look much different Sunday than coaches envisioned at the first of the year. Gerald Hayes was supposed to be the starting middle linebacker, but he was placed on injured reserve this week because of a troublesome left knee. He underwent surgery before the season to repair meniscus damage. Coaches had kept him on the roster, hoping he would return by mid-year. But Hayes wasn't improving as quickly as they hoped. James Darling will continue to start there.

Nose tackle Russell Davis is out for the year with a torn biceps tendon. He's replaced by Ross Kolodziej. The biggest changes are in the secondary. Cornerback Antrel Rolle underwent surgery Monday on his left knee. Coach Dennis Green originally said Rolle would miss the rest of the year, but there is a slight hope he could return.

Rolle will stay on the 53-man roster for now. The other starting cornerback, David Macklin, hasn't practiced this week because of a strained hamstring. He's listed as questionable but it seems to be worse than that.

With Rolle and Macklin out, the starters likely will be rookie Eric Green and veteran Robert Tate, who signed just last week. That leaves rookie Lamont Reid as the only backup cornerback.


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