The Seahawks are trying to keep their focus on football after free safety Ken Hamlin suffered serious injuries in a fight outside a nightclub early Monday. That could be a challenge given that Hamlin remained in serious condition with a fractured skull and bruising on the brain. The Cowboys visit Qwest Field on Sunday, but for now the focus seems to be on Hamlin and the circumstances surrounding his injuries.
"To think that they just shut it (out), that is silly," coach Mike Holmgren said. "But we're all used to juggling all sorts of balls during our lifetime and during any particular week in our jobs and whatever we do.
"It's OK to continue to pray for Kenny and get ready for a football game. You can do that. We try to compartmentalize it a little bit in our meetings," Holmgren said. "OK, this is what happened and this is where he is. He's going to be better, so let's go. I think they can do that."
The Seahawks will miss Hamlin against the Cowboys. His big-play ability set him apart from the backup safeties in line to replace him. Free safety Marquand Manuel gets the start. He's an assignment-correct player with good smarts and a strong feel for the game. He simply is not the dynamic athlete in the mold of Hamlin. "Marquand is a great safety, mentally and physically," said backup safety John Howell, a player most noted for his special-teams play. "Week in and week out, he's the guy you can turn to with questions.
"His knowledge for the game, his knowledge for the team ... obviously we're prepared and confident with Marquand and he's proven in the past that he can step up to the plate." Hamlin's situation followed a scare involving SS Michael Boulware, who lost feeling in his legs during a victory over St. Louis two weeks ago. Boulware regained feeling and did not miss a game, but he emerged with newfound perspective on how tenuous life can be.
"I'm grateful to be able to play," Boulware said. "It's just a great opportunity to give everything you have because it could be your last chance. I think a lot of guys are going to have a lot of enthusiasm and we definitely have a great cause to play for."
Seattle's defense should get a boost from the absence of Cowboys LT Flozell Adams, who was recently lost for the season. QB Drew Bledsoe might have less time to find WR Terry Glenn and WR Keyshawn Johnson, who are enjoying solid seasons.
On offense, the Seahawks face their toughest test since opening the season with a 26-14 loss at Jacksonville. The Cowboys are fundamentally sound. They rarely miss tackles. They play Bill Parcells' 3-4 scheme with great efficiency; the Giants converted only 1 of 11 third-down chances last week, to cite one example.
SERIES HISTORY: 10th meeting. Cowboys lead, 6-3.
--The last thing coach Mike Holmgren told his team following a 42-10 victory over Houston was to stay out of trouble. The Seahawks had played a Sunday night game and Holmgren knew the opportunity existed for players to be out later than usual. Sure enough, FS Ken Hamlin found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. And because he apparently did not walk away from trouble, he paid a heavy price in the form of a fractured skull and bruising on the brain.
Holmgren addressed the issue with his team this week. He asked players to avoid the section of downtown Seattle where Hamlin ran into trouble. But a coach can do only so much.
"I think it is very much a coach's responsibility to set a tone if you will, or an expectation level for the team off the field," Holmgren said. "I think if you ask the players, they probably might tell you I talk about it too much.
"But I very much believe that part of my responsibility, talking about the dos and don'ts and getting them at least to think about the ramifications and what could happen.
"That was the last thing I told them after the ballgame Sunday night as an example. I do it a lot. That is my obligation absolutely. At some point then, they are responsible for what happens."
--RB Shaun Alexander took a humorous approach to cheering up fallen FS Ken Hamlin, whose condition was upgraded from serious to satisfactory on Wednesday. "I was with him Tuesday and a bunch of guys were with him," Alexander said. "He looks like he got in a fight with me or something. I sat around and cracked every joke that I had to make him laugh and then I tried to go home.
"It was tough, but he's going to be good. He's strong. I was more emotional than he was. He's good. We're going to be OK."
BY THE NUMBERS: 3.3 - Yards per carry for RB Shaun Alexander in three games against Cowboys. He does have five touchdowns, however.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When you talk about Bill Parcells and his defenses, you think about some great defenses. He has the personnel to run his defense and they are playing really great right now." - QB Matt Hasselbeck on facing the Cowboys.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
CB Jordan Babineaux is a former safety who could move back to the position if Seattle faces additional depth problems after losing starting FS Ken Hamlin to injury. FS Marquand Manuel will take over for Hamlin in the starting lineup. S John Howell is another options, but Babineaux's superior skills in coverage might make him an option should something happen to Manuel. Babineaux played particularly well during the Seahawks' 42-10 victory over Houston on Sunday night.
--WR Darrell Jackson remains out while he rehabs from knee surgery. There is no firm timetable yet, but expect Jackson to miss several weeks at the least.
--WR Bobby Engram could return after the bye week, which is Oct. 30. Engram is able to run and move quite well, but he is not yet ready to take a hard hit.
--RT Floyd Womack practiced Wednesday with the first and second units, but he'll continue to serve in a backup role on game days. The team wants Womack to be 100 percent before putting him back onto the field. Womack suffered a triceps injury during preseason and a quadriceps injury two weeks ago.
--CB Andre Dyson will not practice this week, but he might be able to play Sunday. His availability will be a game-time decision, coach Mike Holmgren said. Dyson is questionable.
--LB D.D. Lewis will not practice before Friday, but he should be able to play Sunday. The team is listing him as questionable.
--LT Wayne Hunter did not practice Wednesday. He is questionable for Sunday.
--FB Mack Strong practiced Wednesday and plans to start Sunday. He is probable with a chest contusion and shoulder stinger.
--S Ken Hamlin has been moved out of intensive care. Doctors have upgraded his condition from serious to satisfactory.
GAME PLAN: Seattle's coaches need to provide players with the tools to handle the Cowboys' various blitzes and defensive tactics. QB Matt Hasselbeck took too many hits last week for a quarterback whose team rushed for 320 yards. Houston had three sacks against Seattle after getting four in its first four games. Dallas already has 20 sacks. Rookie LB Demarcus Ware has four of them. Hasselbeck must get rid of the football quickly, and coaches must arm the offensive line with solid blitz-pickup schemes.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Seahawks RDE Grant Wistrom, who has one sack in six games, vs. Cowboys LT Torrin Tucker, who is playing only because starting LT Flozell Adams is out for the season with a knee injury. Wistrom has been getting closer to the quarterback in recent weeks, but he still has to do a better job finishing plays. The Cowboys will surely chip at him with a running back. They'll likely send the tight end his way. Wistrom needs to maximize his one-on-one matchups, and the players next to him on the line need to take advantage when Wistrom is doubled.
Seahawks FS Marquand Manuel, making his first start for the Seahawks, vs. Cowboys WRs Terry Glenn and Keyshawn Johnson, who are enjoying solid seasons. Manuel is a heady player, but the Cowboys' receivers won't be looking over their shoulders. Simply put, Manuel lacks the big-play ability of FS Ken Hamlin, the man he is replacing in the lineup. This matchup favors the Cowboys.
INJURY IMPACT: The loss of FS Ken Hamlin deprives Seattle of its biggest hitter on defense. His replacement, FS Marquand Manuel, is a smart player without the same athletic skills. CB Andre Dyson (hamstring) probably won't be 100 percent if he's able to play at all. His status is a game-time decision. Without him, Seattle will be more vulnerable to the Cowboys' passing game. LB D.D. Lewis (knee) will probably play. His replacement, LB Leroy Hill, is more athletic and looks like a future starter. Having Hill on the field helps the pass rush. WR Darrell Jackson (knee) and WR Bobby Engram (ribs) will not play.
Josh McCown has passed for at least 375 yards and set career highs in each of his two starts in place of injured Kurt Warner. The Cardinals are 7-8 in McCown's past 15 starts dating to last year. His likely reward? A nice sideline view of Kurt Warner's return from a groin injury.
Warner has returned to practice after missing the two games. He and McCown are dividing practice time with the first unit and coach Dennis Green said he is unlikely to announce his choice of the starter until shortly before game time when Tennessee visits on Sunday. Green also said that while Warner is back, he is not yet 100 percent. "I actually feel pretty good," Warner said. "Not 100 percent yet, but that is to be expected at this point."
According to Green, "Kurt has made great strides, and we'll determine at a later date if that stride is enough for him to be the starting quarterback or if Josh McCown will continue to start." But if it isn't this week it likely will be the following week at Dallas when McCown's bubble bursts. What then of a still-young quarterback (third-round draft pick, 2002) with an obviously strong arm, good set of wheels, and fine record given what the Cardinals had done before he got his chance and what they have done recently when he has been yanked (0-3 when others started in 2004, 0-3 this year with Warner).
What would it do to McCown if he were to get the hook from Green again after a win and a loss and moving the team well in both games (it led Carolina 20-10 after three quarters and still found a way to lose in the last game before the bye). What could Green do to keep McCown motivated and salve any wounds to their relationship? Would Green have any interest in keeping McCown? Would McCown even want to remain in the program if he were to lose the job again?
The rap on McCown is turnovers. A lost fumble put the team in a 7-0 hole quickly in Mexico City against San Francisco, although McCown rallied the team to its only win. His interception began Carolina's fourth-quarter rally from that 10-point deficit. Warner also has been in this situation before, and, like McCown, had the decision of the coach go against him. Warner lost the job in St. Louis to Marc Bulger upon Warner's return from injury three years ago.
"The key will be how much pain he has and how much strength he has," Green said. "Everyone knows that he is working hard but it's always a combination of the player, trainer and doctor and if they feel the guy is capable of playing. Then it is up to the coach to determine if that player is healthy enough to do his job."
SERIES HISTORY: 8th meeting. The Arizona Cardinals hold a 4-3 lead in the series over the Tennessee Titans but the Titans have won three of the past four and could pull even with another victory on Sunday at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. The teams have not met for eight years. In their last game, on Oct. 26, 1997 in Tempe, the Cardinals had no antidote for Titans quarterback Steve McNair, who passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more in a 41-14 mauling of the Cardinals.
--QB Josh McCown, if he gets the starting assignment, would be gunning to become the first NFL player in five years to pass for at least 375 yards in three straight games. But he is in danger of losing the opportunity to the man who last did it, Kurt Warner, then with the Rams. McCown established career highs in passing the past two games while Warner's injured groin kept him sidelined. McCown has at least two touchdown passes in four of his last five starts dating to last season. McCown is 7-8 in his past 15 starts. ... Warner was 0-3 in his three games before suffering the injury.
--WRs Anquan Boldin (36-547) and Larry Fitzgerald (36-504) are the only teammates in the league with at least 35 catches and 500 yards each. Each had at least 100 yards receiving in the past two games. The last tandem to reach 100 yards each three games in a row was Derrick Alexander and Tony Gonzalez of Kansas City five years ago.
--K Neil Rackers should get some sort of award for NFL bail-out champion of the year. He continues to lead the league with 18 for 18 field-goal kicking (9-9 beyond 40 yards), providing the bulk of the scoring for an offense that ranks third in the league at 378.8 yards a game but can't seem to punch it in for touchdowns. Rackers also is the league leader with 16 touchbacks on kickoffs, providing a field-position advantage for a defense that continues to lose players to injury.
--Here's something you wouldn't expect from a team that is 1-4 and perilously close to falling out of playoff contention: The Cardinals are mauling foes 51-13 in second quarter of games. An equally eye-opening statistic to counter-balance that: The team has scored touchdowns on only two of 15 possessions inside the 20-yard line (13.3 percent), the worst red-zone percentage in the league.
--Construction on the $480 million, retractable-roof, retractable-field stadium in Glendale, Ariz., remains on schedule for an August, 2006 opening. The field will be contained in a tray weighing 17 million pounds, measuring 234 feet wide by 403 feet deep by 3 feet high. It is estimated to be able to move indoors from the natural sunlight in 45 minutes on rails. The unique venue will include what the team is selling as "lofts" rather than luxury suites. "When people look back 20-30 years from now, I think they will realize this building has a timeless design," said team vice president and general counsel Michael Bidwill.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 - Most games the Cardinals can lose among their closing 11 and still have a reasonable chance of making the playoffs.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The only way for us to get better is to change what we are doing. We probably have had more negative-yardage runs than anybody in the game." - Cardinals coach Dennis Green, regarding a major emphasis on rejuvenating the rushing offense during the bye week.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
DE Calvin Pace's season-ending injury at home (he said he slipped and fell through a glass door during the break while in Atlanta, suffering a gash on his arm that required surgery) leaves the team perilously thin at defensive end on a front that already has lost starting NT Russell Davis (biceps surgery) for the year. Pace was the top backup on both sides. Now the only backup is Antonio Smith, a 2004 fifth-round pick. That's going to crimp the five-lineman schemes the team has used effectively in situations and also means that starters Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor are going to have to take virtually every snap.
--DE Calvin Pace, the No. 3 end who was seeing extensive playing time in the rotation, was lost for the season after suffering a serious cut on an arm while at home in Atlanta during the bye week - he said he slipped and fell through a glass door, suffering a gash on his arm that required surgery. He had surgery and was placed on the non-football injury list. That means the team does not have to pay him. The Cardinals are continuing their investigation into exactly what happened before making a decision on whether to continue to pay him. If they choose to dock him, Pace will be out nearly $475,000.
--QB Kurt Warner (groin) has returned to practice but according to coach Dennis Green, "He is not 100 percent yet." Green will decide later this week whether to continue to start backup Josh McCown, who had career bests in passing yardage each of the past two games as the starter, or Warner, who started the first three games before his injury.
--CB David Macklin (hamstring), a starter, has returned to practice, alleviating a critical depth shortage that saw the team ending its last game before the bye with an undrafted rookie and a backup safety making an emergency position change at the corners.
--CB Raymond Walls (groin), a backup who became a starter after Antrel Rolle's knee injury, has returned to practice.
--CB Eric Green (shoulder), who would be in the lineup if healthy in place of fellow injured rookie Antrel Rolle, remains iffy this week.
--RT Oliver Ross (fractured hand), has a protective device but continues to be limited to light work on the practice field. His initial return date was estimated to be Oct. 30 but he could see some action Sunday. Fred Wakefield, a converted defensive end, has been starting in his spot.
--KR/PR Reggie Swinton (toe) is reduced to light work on the practice field but is expected to be ready by Sunday.
--QB Rohan Davey, signed four weeks ago as an insurance policy, was released, an indication that starter Kurt Warner's groin injury is very nearly healed. Davey did not see any game action.
--FB Jarrod Baxter was signed in an attempt to goose the running game. He is a former starting lead blocker for Houston.
--CB Dyshod Carter was signed for depth after starter Antrel Rolle (knee) and Eric Green (shoulder) suffered injuries.
--RG Jeremy Bridges was re-signed. He was waived in September after starting eight games in 2004.
--S Aaron Francisco was promoted to the 53-man roster from the practice squad.
--RT Ian Allen (back), who started most of preseason while Oliver Ross was injured, was placed on injured reserve.
--LB Eric Johnson (hamstring), a backup, was placed on injured reserve.
--S Adrian Mayes (hamstring), a key backup, was placed on injured reserve.
--LB Isaac Keys, who was in the program in 2004 and was among final cuts this year, was re-signed to the practice squad.
GAME PLAN: Run, baby, run, has not exactly been this team's mantra, but coach Dennis Green is beginning to wish that it was. Injuries to the offensive line thwarted the early-season development of what was anticipated to be enough of a running game to present a threat to a defense. That's really all the Cardinals need, the threat of the run. They also need a bit more of a commitment to it. They give up on it too quickly. They need to continue to hammer away. They're coming of an intense bye week of run-game work. It would not be understating the case, however, to say that rookie RB J.J. Arrington has been a disappointment even in the face of the line injuries. Marcel Shipp, a very underrated veteran, has won the starting job from the third successive more esteemed back (Thomas Jones and Emmitt Smith were the others).
There are decisions to make up front defensively, with the loss of backup DE Calvin Pace, a 2003 first-round pick who was in the five-down schemes that were beginning to work effectively situationally. The team is down to three ends, the backup being Antonio Smith, who followed a disappointing rookie season with a strong performance in NFL Europe. He has gained the trust of the coaches, but he is still learning.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Cardinals RTs Oliver Ross and/or Fred Wakefield, looking to rejuvenate the league's 29th-ranked rushing game, vs. Titans LDE Kyle Vanden Bosch, a second-round pick by the Cardinals in 2001 who is second in the NFL with 6.5 sacks. Vanden Bosch was an animal in college, but in blowing out each knee during his first three seasons he never had the opportunity to show what he could do as a pro. He now has capitalized on that opportunity with the Titans, who have moved him to the left side and schemed to take advantage of his skills. The Cardinals signed Ross as an unrestricted free agent last winter to shore up their running game, but a hand injury sidelined him before the bye. He has not yet returned to practice but may be ready by Sunday. If he is not, Vanden Bosch then would be going against an old friend, Fred Wakefield, who was the Cardinals starting LDE when Vanden Bosch was their starting RDE. Wakefield was moved to offense during the off season and got his first pro start on that side of the ball two games ago after Ross was injured. Controlling Vanden Bosch will be critical to establishing the running game, which was a major point of emphasis during he bye last week.
--RDE Bertrand Berry, a 2004 Pro Bowler who knows how to get to the quarterback, vs. Titans LT Brad Hopkins, a two-time Pro Bowler and his team's best hope up front for a shaky offense. This is a match-up of premier players surrounded by mediocre units. The Titans are looking for a breakout day but they're not going to have one if Berry forces Steve McNair to run for his life or if Chris Brown, who isn't duplicating his 2004 5-yard-a-carry average, continues to have nowhere to run. The Titans are, however, very successful keeping drives alive on third down, and Hopkins is a key reason.
INJURY IMPACT: QB Kurt Warner (groin) is expected to be ready, giving coach Dennis Green a decision to make - and Green said early this week that he is unlikely to announce his choice until shortly before game time. While Warner was unable to lead the team to a win in his first three starts, he was not as mistake-prone with the ball as replacement Josh McCown, which played a factor in McCown losing the job last season despite his going 6-7 as the starter and at one point leading the team to wins in three of four games after a 1-4 start. McCown had two games to make his case playing in place Warner, and it was a split decision. McCown put up big yardage numbers and got the team a win over San Francisco in Mexico City, but in the loss to Carolina showed that he will make mistakes under pressure in key situations. That won't escape the attention of Green or the Tennessee Titans as they prepare.
Tennessee no doubt will look at the Carolina game film and slobber over the potential for torturing the Cardinals CBs, but the story should be different by the time the Cardinals face the Titans on Sunday. Most of the injured corners are expected back, including starter David Macklin. But Eric Green (shoulder) remains questionable.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
It appears the Rams will play Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints with Jamie Martin at quarterback. Starter Marc Bulger suffered a sprained shoulder against the Colts on Monday night and is listed as questionable on the team's injury report. However, Bulger missed two games last season with a similar injury, and it's difficult to imagine him being back just six days after experiencing the current injury. Martin replaced Bulger Monday night, and also played part of a game last season when Bulger was injured.
That occurred when then-backup Chris Chandler melted down in games against Carolina and Arizona, and Martin replaced Chandler against the Cardinals. If Bulger is out, rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick would be the backup, with the possibility of Jeff Smoker being the emergency quarterback. Smoker was cut by the Rams in training camp because of the emergence of Fitzpatrick, and was signed to the practice squad Wednesday.
Bulger remains hopeful he can play sooner instead of later.
"Hopefully, we'll get some good news ... and they can shoot some crazy stuff in there, and I can come back sooner. Maybe. We'll see." An MRI and X-rays were negative, leaving him with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. The injury occurred as Bulger was getting in position to make a tackle after an interception. Colts linebacker David Thornton blocked Bulger and he landed hard on his shoulder. Bulger said, "I'm sure it (block) was clean. I didn't give myself up. He made a block and finished it. It doesn't happen if I don't throw the interception. So that's the frustrating part."
Said running back Marshall Faulk, "When you lose your starting quarterback, your chances aren't good. For Marc to go down on that play, it's like a double whammy right there. But things happen in this game." Martin threw two interceptions in the second half, as the Colts came back from a 20-14 halftime deficit to score 31 unanswered points.
With the Rams not practicing Wednesday, interim coach Joe Vitt said Tuesday of the quarterback situation, "I don't want to assume anything yet. I think it's a hypothetical situation, but I will say this: Jamie Martin was born and raised in this system. He knows this system as good as anybody." As for his thoughts on Fitzpatrick, Vitt said, "I think Fitz is a great player, I really do. I think he's going to be a hell of a player for a long time. I think with a kid like that, because he has some great physical skills, he's on his game mentally, that maybe you go into a game with a package for him. Maybe a little boot package, move the pocket, a couple of dropbacks, maybe some misdirection runs because of his athleticism, shade it down for him. Those are options.
"He's doing a great job. I think what you saw in the preseason, some of his better games, is what you are going to get. I think he's a bright star, I really do."
SERIES HISTORY: 66th meeting. Rams lead, 36-29. These teams met twice a year from 1970-2001 before the realignment of divisions. Since then, they have played just once, a 28-25 overtime victory for New Orleans in St. Louis last season. The Rams have lost just 10 of 54 regular-season games at home since 1999, and three have come against the Saints.
--The Rams might adjust their defense because of opponents being successful running the ball when they have three receivers on the field.
In those situations, starting linebackers Chris Claiborne and Dexter Coakley are off the field, while linebacker is Brandon Chillar plays, along with five defensive backs. "People have been attacking us with that package all year long, and it started in San Francisco," interim coach Joe Vitt said. "My only explanation is, they probably want to keep Coakley and Claiborne off the field. This week, we're going to have to adjust. We're going to adjust the first- and second-down sub packages, as opposed to third-down sub packages."
Against the Colts, Coakley was brought in in some of those situations because, as Vitt said, "You have to keep your best players on the field." Claiborne was on the field for just 12 of the Colts' 72 offensive plays. Concluded Vitt, "There are some teams in the National Football League that leave their three linebackers on vs. three-wide receiver sets and limit their coverage and become real good at them and try to keep their best players on the field."
--Mike Furrey made his first start as a free safety against the Colts, and Vitt said he did a good job. "He played with a lot of poise," Vitt said. "He played with some real good anticipation. He broke well to the ball, and he made some nice tackles in the open field. It was some nice stuff from Mike against a real good opponent."
--Head coach Mike Martz has returned home from the hospital, and is beginning to feel better as medication for endocarditis is apparently working. Martz has communicated with the team's coaches during his absence. After the loss to the Colts, interim coach Joe Vitt said he had talked to Martz. Said Vitt, "He's bleeding for us right now, and, like I said, he feels for us." Asked how Martz felt having to watch a game from home, Vitt said, "I didn't ask him, really. I could tell by his voice that it wasn't easy."
--The Rams did not practice Wednesday, and will have regular practices Thursday and Friday, and then a longer than normal day-before-the-game practice Saturday.
BY THE NUMBERS: 34 - Consecutive plays the Colts ran from Rams territory in the second half.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They went in with great intensity. Early in the game I felt we gained control of the game. It was at our tempo. We played with a lot of passion. We talked all week long that we had to protect the football, and we did not. Any time you're minus three in the National Football League on the road against a good football team, you really diminish your chances of winning a football game. We talked about creating turnovers on defense, communicating, getting lined up, playing with discipline in the defense. We did not force the turnovers on defense. We communicated well, but in spurts we lacked the discipline on defense that we need." - Interim coach Joe Vitt on the loss to Indianapolis.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Because of injuries and lack of depth in the secondary, the Rams gave tryouts Wednesday to CBs Terrell Buckley and Aaron Beasley and safety Lynn Scott.
--QB Marc Bulger, who suffered a shoulder injury in Monday night's game against the Colts, is considered questionable for Sunday's game against New Orleans.
--WR Isaac Bruce, who has missed three games because of a toe injury, has been upgraded to questionable on the team's injury report. Bruce has been doubtful on the report for the three games he's missed.
--WR Torry Holt played Monday night despite a knee injury that left him at about 65 percent. This week, Holt is listed as probable on the injury report.
--C/G Richie Incognito is eligible to begin practicing this week after recently signing and being placed on the non-football injury list. When Incognito begins practicing, the Rams would have 21 days to evaluate him before deciding whether to activate him or keep him on reserve for the remainder of the season.
--QB Jeff Smoker, cut by the Rams at the end of training camp, was added to the practice squad on Wednesday. If QB Marc Bulger is unable to play Sunday, Smoker might be added to the roster and dress as the emergency quarterback.
GAME PLAN: With the possibility that Jamie Martin will start at quarterback Sunday, expect the Rams to run on the Saints' 26th-ranked run defense. New Orleans has allowed 129.0 yards a game rushing and 4.4 yards per rush. Defensively, the Rams must limit big plays and win the turnover battle. After starting strong, the Rams are now minus-9 in turnover ratio (second worst in the league), and the defense has no takeaways in the last three games.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Rams DL vs. Saints OL: The Rams have to get penetration and disrupt the New Orleans running game, and a key will be the health of the Saints' line. Three starters - Jammal Brown (ankle), Kendyl Jacox (knee) and Jermane Mayberry (shoulder) are all questionable, and backup Montrae Holland (knee) is also questionable. Rams DLE Leonard Little will be going against the hobbled Brown, if he plays, but Little's status is unknown after going home to Tennessee to be with his family following the Monday murder of his brother.
INJURY IMPACT: QB Marc Bulger was on pace for 5,000 yards when he suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter of Monday's game against Indianapolis. Bulger hopes to play this week, but the earliest seems to be next week's game against Jacksonville. After that game, the Rams have a bye. ... WR Isaac Bruce is getting closer to being able to play. Bruce has missed three games because of a toe injury.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
With all of the 49ers' offensive struggles, coach Mike Nolan figured they needed a quarterback who can create. Although sixth-year veteran Tim Rattay might be a better player right now than rookie Alex Smith, the 49ers believe Smith gives them a better chance to make things happen. So, Smith will start for the second straight game Sunday when the 49ers face the Redskins at FedEx Field. Ken Dorsey will serve as the 49ers' backup quarterback after Rattay was dealt to the Buccaneers for a sixth-round draft pick.
Less than two months ago, Rattay decisively beat out Smith for the starting job entering the regular season. But after the 49ers lost three consecutive games, Nolan pulled the plug on Rattay as his starter and elevated Smith into the starting role. Nolan said his decision to go with Rattay after two exhibition games had a lot to do with some miscalculations he made about the quality of offensive players surrounding the team's quarterback.
"At the time, I felt that we had a little bit more playmaking ability in our offense," Nolan said. "For example, I thought the tight end was going to be a live target for him. (Eric Johnson) turned out to go on IR, but I thought he was going to be a guy that could make the operation work and get the ball to our playmakers. "Obviously, with (receiver) Arnaz (Battle) hurt and with the tight end out, we didn't have as much. I found that he (Rattay) was a guy that executed the operation of the offense well, but without a lot of playmakers, his abilities as a quarterback were just as a pocket passer."
With the trade, Nolan has sent further proof that he plans to stick with Smith through all of his struggles this season. Smith had a horrendous debut as the team's starter, throwing four interceptions, losing one of his two fumbles and getting sacked five times in a 28-3 loss to the Colts on Oct. 9.
Nolan said the only thing that can get Smith out of the lineup for the remainder of this season is an injury. "Alex is the guy we drafted with the first pick and I expect him to be the future of the franchise from the quarterback position," Nolan said. Rattay was expendable because the 49ers kept four quarterbacks on their 53-man roster at the start of this season. Dorsey began the season as the No. 3 quarterback, and promising second-year player Cody Pickett was the fourth-stringer.
"There was a high-percentage chance that right before the (trade) deadline somebody would be looking for a quarterback," Nolan said. "If you don't get it done now, then you won't get it done later. It just so happened that Tampa Bay was on a real hunt because they had an injury, and a significant one with their starter."
Rattay has a chance to be a factor for the Buccaneers, who lost starting quarterback Brian Griese for perhaps the entire season with a knee injury. Chris Simms will be the first Tampa Bay quarterback to get a chance.
Dorsey, the 49ers' new backup, started seven games last season in place of Rattay. He completed 54.5 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and nine interceptions. While compiling a 1-6 record as a starter, Dorsey's passer rating was 62.4. Dorsey has not played in a game this season, and he has not seen much practice time either. Generally, the starter takes all of the practice snaps, while the backup runs the scout team.
Dorsey often remains long after practices throwing passes to receivers looking for extra work. He has also regularly seen tossing balls at a net target after practice.
"I've said all along Ken was an odd-man out, but I believe he'll be a very capable backup," Nolan said. "I believe it will take him a few weeks to get into the flow. Hopefully, Alex stays strong and stays healthy, and we won't have to go to Ken any time soon."
SERIES HISTORY: 27th meeting. The 49ers lead 16-9-1, but the Redskins have won two of the last three meetings since 1999. Before that, the 49ers had won seven straight over the Redskins.
--Niners coach Mike Nolan said he is not surprised that Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington has seen a dramatic reduction in playing time. Nolan intimated that Arrington, a three-time Pro Bowl player, has been vastly overrated. "I think perception and reality are a little askew on that one," Nolan said of Arrington being a great player. "He's OK," Nolan said. "I think they have some other guys playing pretty good in front of him, so they made a change." There appear to be some similarities between the Arrington situation and what transpired with the 49ers and Jamie Winborn, who was recently traded to the Jaguars. The 49ers became frustrated with Winborn's free-lancing on defense. The team blamed Winborn for giving up three touchdowns because of blown assignments in the first three games of the season.
--Vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan remains convinced this rookie class is going to be productive for a long time. "It's going to be a good draft," McCloughan said, "especially the second day. All the guys on the first day will all be legit NFL starters. I'm excited about the second day guys, especially the two receivers." McCloughan said he likes what he sees from quarterback-turned-receiver Rasheed Marshall, a fifth-round pick who has yet to catch a pass this season, and practice squad receiver Marcus Maxwell, a big and speedy project who was selected in the seventh round.
--The 49ers remain confident Kwame Harris will develop into a good right tackle after he spent his first two seasons in the NFL struggling at left tackle. Harris has shown some inconsistency at his new position, though. "He's good enough to win with and he's getting better," McCloughan said. "The thing that impresses me about him is that he's a big kid and it's very important to him. He works very hard. The thing that's held him back is he hasn't been able to lift with upper body because of shoulder issues (the last two off-seasons). He needs to add that strength in the upper body. Once he does that, he has a chance to be a good right tackle in the NFL.
"He'll go a couple series and be fine, and doing what he's supposed to be doing. I don't know if it's a new system to him or what but then something happens and he'll have a tough series."
--One of their big priorities remains trying to find or develop some offensive stars. It's no surprise the 49ers have gone 28 possessions without a touchdown and rank 31st in the league in total offense. "The thing that stands out the most is a big-time playmaker on offense," McCloughan said. "Brandon (Lloyd) has made some big plays, and he has the potential to be a good receiver, but you don't have the guy who's the go-to guy on third down and he's going to make the play. That's the one thing that stands out the most. There are good football players here, but the depth wasn't as much as you'd like. There was a reason they had the record that they had. You don't blame all that on the coaching."
--Now that he's back to being the No. 3 quarterback, Cody Pickett might have seen his days as a special-teams contributor come to an end. Pickett has suited up and played special teams in the 49ers' last two games. Moreover, Nolan has also tinkered with the idea of seeing if Pickett can play some free safety. Pickett has been one of the 49ers' better practice players, as he lines up at wide receiver and safety for the scout team. "We'll be able to get Cody in the mix, as far as working more at quarterback and not just on special teams," Nolan said. "Although, I'm still undecided on if I'll have him do both."
--Quarterback Ken Dorsey has been a bit of a forgotten man this season, which he admits has been frustrating. But he said he never considered following Pickett into a prominent role on special teams. "I'll be a holder," Dorsey said. "I'm not a wedge buster or anything like that."
--Nolan is reluctant to talk about how many hours he logs at work because he believes it is a part of the job that is unavoidable. He also said he thinks it is something that should not be glamorized. "Some coaches love to tell everybody how hard they work," Nolan said. "Let's just say I don't believe I get outworked."
Nolan's father, Dick, coached in the league, and he had an opinion about coaches who put in lots of hours.
"Dad said, 'If I'm going against a guy who needs to spend that much time there, then I'm less worried about that ballgame than others,'" Nolan said. "Now my dad was probably a guy who slept in the office too because I hardly ever saw dad. He didn't want anybody to know that. He wanted everybody to say, 'You must be smart, Dick, you're only doing eight-hour days, and you're still beating these guys who are doing 15-hour days.'"
BY THE NUMBERS: The three quarterbacks on the 49ers' roster have combined for eight NFL starts and just one victory. Ken Dorsey threw three TD passes in a 31-28 victory over the Cardinals last year in OT.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Alex Smith is our quarterback and that's it. I hate to mention the 'injury' word, but if something happens, that's the only way he would come out. I'm not looking to pull him out of the game, but I am looking for him to continue to mature each week" - 49ers coach Mike Nolan.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Niners vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan said he would like to see some of the team's younger players get a chance to develop in the second half of the season to get an idea of which direction the team needs to go next season. "As a personnel guy I'd like to see some of the young guys get in there and prove they can or can't do it," McCloughan said. "We know that we're building for next year anyway, but we also need to watch the veterans and see if they are a part of this thing because that will show us how we need to attack free agency and the draft next year.
"You have to build through the draft. You have to have two or three drafts where you get some guys who add depth to you and you feel comfortable about moving them up to starters when guys get hurt." The offensive line is a spot where the 49ers could end up with some youngsters starting before too long.
Guard/center David Baas, the 33rd overall selection, might have been a starter from the opening week but he sustained a torn hamstring while running July 22, a week before training camp. He did not practice with the team until Aug. 29. Also, guard/tackle Adam Snyder, a third-round pick, saw a lot of action at right guard in the exhibition season, but did not crack the team's starting lineup. "We do have our best guys on the field at this point," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "I'm excited about the future in David Baas, Patrick Estes (a seventh-round pick) and Adam Snyder. (But) I don't think they're at the point right now to unseat anybody."
The offensive line is considered one of the team's liabilities - especially with left tackle Jonas Jennings' potential season-ending shoulder injury - but the 49ers' top personnel executive said the line could turn into one of the franchise's strengths. "I feel pretty comfortable with the guys on the O-line that we took in the draft and the guys already here," McCloughan said. "I feel it's a solid group with some depth, starting next year."
--S Tony Parrish has started all 117 games of his NFL career. His streak to begin a career is the longest for a defensive back since Herman Edwards started his first 135 games with the Eagles, beginning in 1977.
--DE Bryant Young had two multi-sack games in the first five weeks of the season. He has recorded 19 games in which he has recorded more than one sack. His six sacks for the season rank him tied for second in the NFL.
--LB Derek Smith has reached the 100-tackle mark in eight consecutive seasons. He is well on his way to a ninth year, as he leads the 49ers with 43 tackles in the first five games.
--K Joe Nedney has never missed a field goal in his career of less than 30 yards. He is 53 of 53 on such kicks, including two of two this season.
--LB Julian Peterson is expecting to return to action this week against the Redskins. Peterson has been hobbled by a right hamstring strain. He has missed most of the last three games. Peterson is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The 49ers could make him their franchise player for a third straight season but it would cost them at least a one-year tender of $8.7 million.
GAME PLAN: With a full two weeks to prepare, the 49ers will need to pull out all the stops against the Redskins. Coach Mike Nolan has shown a willingness to do a lot of things out of the ordinary. He's called for three onside kicks in the middle of games (two of which the 49ers have recovered), and quarterback Alex Smith has run the option. They will have to come up with a few new wrinkles against the Redskins, who are coming off two tough road losses and need to make sure of a victory against the overmatched 49ers. Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy has to pick a spot early in the game to get Smith to deliver the ball down the field. Without the threat of a deep-passing game, opponents can stack the line of scrimmage and take away the underneath routes. The 49ers spent their bye week examining ways to get their tight end more involved in the game plan. Perhaps, they can design some plays to get Trent Smith, regarded as the best receiver among the tight ends, involved in the offense.
The 49ers also need to grind things out on the ground more than they've been able to do at any time this season. Running backs Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore have to help the defense out by taking some time off the clock with sustained drives. Defensively, the 49ers can't afford to give up the big play. Cornerback Bruce Thornton, who was impressive in his starting debut two weeks ago against the Colts' Marvin Harrison, gets his second career start. One big key for the 49ers is the health of linebacker Julian Peterson, who has been hobbled since Sept. 25 with a right hamstring strain. The 49ers' front seven, playing without starting linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, must do a good job on first and second downs. But a lot of the team's problems have come on third downs, as the 49ers' defense has failed on 48.6 percent of those third-down plays.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
49ers cornerback Bruce Thornton, who elevated to the practice squad three weeks ago, vs. Redskins receiver Santana Moss, who has become Mark Brunell's top target with 33 catches for 631 yards and four touchdowns.
MLB Derek Smith, the team's top tackler, vs. RB Clinton Portis, who has 443 yards rushing on 104 carries.
QB Alex Smith, who was intercepted four times in his starting debut, vs. FS Sean Taylor, who had four interceptions last year and the Redskins are relying on help generate more turnovers this season.
LT Anthony Clement, who is making a rough adjustment to protect Smith's blind side, vs. RDE Phillip Daniels, who can probably expect to see some double teams from the 49ers.
INJURY IMPACT: LB Saleem Rasheed is expected to miss two to five games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus cartilage. ... T Jonas Jennings will not play this week because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Jennings' shoulder is improving but the injury could lead to season-ending surgery. ... WR Arnaz Battle will not play because of a right knee sprain. The club is hoping he can return Oct. 30 against the Buccaneers. ... Linebacker Julian Peterson (right hamstring) did not practice Wednesday but is expected to play Sunday against the Redskins. ... CB Derrick Johnson is expected to return from a left thigh strain to play Sunday against the Redskins. ... CB Willie Middlebrooks should be available, if needed, after missing a game with a groin strain. ... Center Jeremy Newberry will not practice this week but should start Sunday. He is hobbled by a chronic knee problem. ... CB Ahmed Plummer is expected to miss two more games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle. ... WR Derrick Hamilton is still on the physically unable to perform list after sustaining a torn ACL in the off-season. He is not expected to play this season. ... LB Jeff Ulbrich (left biceps), CB Mike Rumph (foot), TE Eric Johnson (foot) and WR Rashaun Woods (thumb) are on injured reserve.