The Seahawks are 0-6 under coach Mike Holmgren in games immediately following bye weeks. But with a 5-2 overall record heading into a rematch with Arizona, Holmgren can joke about past struggles. "You're the first person that has told me that," he quipped when a reporter brought up the 0-6 mark at his midweek press conference. "It bothers me that that record is what it is. But like I said with any sort of streak, even a winning streak of some kind, that this particular game Sunday is that game at that time with this team.
"What's gone on in the past has very little to do with what will happen on Sunday." That hasn't always been true in the past. Last season, Seattle came out of the bye with a strong start against St. Louis, only to blow a 17-point fourth-quarter lead. The loss defined the season while leaving the defense's confidence in tatters. Blowing late leads became a self-fulfilling prophecy, repeating itself when Seattle blew a 10-point lead in the final minutes of a crushing loss to the Cowboys.
The 2005 Seahawks are different. They turned the tables on Dallas with a dramatic 13-10 victory heading into the bye. They are 2-2 against teams with winning records this season, not a great mark but certainly an improvement over past Seattle teams. There is very little reason to expect the Seahawks to duplicate the horrendous showing put forth in a road loss to Arizona last season. QB Matt Hasselbeck tossed four interceptions in that game, largely because the Cardinals' defensive backs threw off the timing of Seattle's receivers with aggressive tactics. Holmgren hurt his team's cause by handing off to RB Shaun Alexander only a dozen times.
Seattle's receivers appeared vulnerable to press coverage in the Dallas game two weeks ago, but the Cowboys' defensive personnel is particularly well suited to those tactics. The Cardinals mix things up and make teams prepare for multiple formations, but they lack the kind of shutdown corners Dallas brings to the table.
The Seahawks get a boost this week with the return of WR Bobby Engram from cracked ribs. The team went 3-0 without Engram and fellow starting WR Darrell Jackson. Jackson remains out, but Engram is eager to get back on the field. He caught 27 passes in four games before the rib injury forced him out of the lineup.
"He's a warrior," Holmgren said. "He wanted to come back as soon as he possibly could, but we also have to be smart. In the meantime, the other guys have to continue to play and play well. I expect them to. I have high expectations for that group."
WR Joe Jurevicius has played particularly well without Jackson and Engram in the lineup. Youngsters Jerheme Urban and D.J. Hackett have had their moments as well. Seattle has continued to lead the league in total offense with those three carrying much of the load. Seattle racked up more than 450 yards of offense against the Cardinals back in September. Alexander has been particularly deadly against Arizona, rushing for nearly 300 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two games against the Cardinals.
Look for Seattle to ride Alexander heavily in this game.
And while the Seahawks' pass defense remains a bit vulnerable, the Cardinals' offensive line isn't good enough to consistently keep the pressure off newly reinstated QB Kurt Warner. Seattle should be able to punish Warner and survive the occasional defensive lapse.
SERIES HISTORY -- Cardinals lead, 7-6. Seattle has won five of its last six games against Arizona, although the Cardinals won the last meeting in Tempe.
--The bye week left QB Matt Hasselbeck with a little more empathy for what stay-at-home moms go through. Hasselbeck and his wife, Sarah, have three small children. "After seven games, it was great in terms of your body needing to heal up and that kind of thing," Hasselbeck said of the bye. "I'm also now more aware of how hard it is to be at home and what my wife goes through on a daily basis. There was a part of me that was happy to come back to work a little bit just because at times it's so much easier than being at home with the kids."
--Forget about NFL divisional rivalries. Players still live and die with their college teams. That led to some entertaining banter in the Seahawks' locker room as former Alabama RB Shaun Alexander claimed the Crimson Tide would have little trouble with USC, much to the amusement of former Trojan MLB Lofa Tatupu. Alexander was particularly confident after watching Alabama play during Seattle's bye week. "I have not realized our speed on our defense was that fast," Alexander said. "If USC played against us, we'd beat them. It would be close, but USC starts off slow and then they try to bet on the second half. We don't give up any points in the third quarter."
Tatupu had to laugh. "Roll over, Tide," he quipped. "I'll put it this way: We went into Auburn and beat Auburn 23-0. What do you think we would do to Alabama?" It's not that Tatupu doesn't respect Alabama. "They look good," he said. "I don't know if they could handle us now that they lost that receiver." USC and Alabama don't play each other this season, but if they did, Alexander predicted a clear-cut Tide victory. "They would probably score at least 10 to 17 points," he said. "We would probably score like 21."
BY THE NUMBERS: Zero. That's the number of individual 100-yard rushers the Seahawks have allowed in seven games this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think it affects our preparation all that much. There are a couple of differences. Kurt obviously has a lot more experience and so he's probably in a better position to handle changes that a defense might try. The other part of that is he is a little less mobile than Josh (McCown) was, so you can be aware of that, too, defensively." -- Coach Mike Holmgren on facing Warner instead of McCown.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Seahawks have never been a smashmouth running team under coach Mike Holmgren and that isn't likely to change anytime soon. The team runs the ball best when opponents are expecting the pass. "Our offensive linemen, while they're not little guys by any stretch, they're not the biggest offensive line in the league," Holmgren said. "But I think we're pretty athletic. So they can run, they can pull, they can get out in front on the screen, they can do some things that way. "Just to take the ball and give it to Shaun (Alexander) and just say we're going to pound people, I'm not sure that would be the best approach. I think we're most effective maybe when the defense isn't quite sure what we're going to do.
"And then we're very effective running the football. That's the type of linemen we have, I think."
--QB Matt Hasselbeck is coming off a two-interception game. He tossed four interceptions at Arizona last season. Hasselbeck rarely suffers a bad game and almost never has two in a row. With the return of WR Bobby Engram from injury, he appears to be in position to play well at Arizona on Sunday.
--RB Shaun Alexander said he owes some of his recent success against the Cardinals to trash talking. He thinks the Cardinals' defensive players have fired up Seattle's offensive line by talking trash on the field, leading to more aggressive play up front for the Seahawks. Whatever the case may be, Alexander has rushed for nearly 300 yards while scoring seven rushing touchdowns in his last two games against the Cardinals.
--WR Bobby Engram practiced Wednesday and should be ready to start against the Cardinals on Sunday. He caught 27 passes in the first four games before missing three games with cracked ribs. The bye week gave him extra time to recover. He's an important part of the offense and a security blanket for QB Matt Hasselbeck.
--WR Darrell Jackson will not play against the Cardinals. He remains a couple weeks away from giving it a serious go on his surgically repaired knee. Jackson should be ready to contribute down the stretch. He leads the team in receptions with 29 even though he has missed the last three games.
--LB D.D. Lewis did not practice Wednesday. He is questionable on the injury report with a sore knee.
--LT Wayne Hunter remains out with a hamstring injury. He did not practice Wednesday.
--FS Ken Hamlin will receive the balance of his $380,000 salary even after he was placed on the reserve non-football list. Coach Mike Holmgren said paying Hamlin is the right thing to do because Hamlin was the victim of an assault and did nothing wrong. NFL teams can withhold pay from players who suffer non-football injuries.
GAME PLAN: Seattle's best strategy is to get the short passing game going to set up the ground game with RB Shaun Alexander. Last week, the Cowboys did a nice job disrupting the timing of QB Matt Hasselbeck. The offense wasn't very consistent as a result. The Cardinals used similar tactics effectively during a game against Seattle last season, but the Seahawks adjusted nicely when the teams played again earlier this season. The Cardinals lack the defensive personnel to throw off Hasselbeck for long stretches. That should allow Seattle's offense to have its way. Defensively, the Seahawks should be able to pressure QB Kurt Warner, who does not benefit from a strong line.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Seahawks LT Walter Jones vs. Cardinals RDE Bert Berry. Jones has not allowed a sack all season. Berry leads the Cardinals with seven. This is an important matchup because the Cardinals could have trouble getting pressure consistently if Jones locks down Berry for the second time this season. Arizona will have to come with some of the blitz schemes that worked well against Seattle in Tempe last season. Jones has been so consistently good this season that it's tough to imagine Berry giving him problems.
Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant vs. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald. Trufant isn't the most aggressive cornerback and Seattle plays less-than-aggressive coverages anyway. Fitzgerald is a big receiver and he has dominated this matchup recently. Seattle is getting a break this week because the Cardinals will be without WR Anquan Boldin. That should allow the Seahawks to help Trufant in certain situations. But it's realistic to expect Fitzgerald to find the end zone because Trufant hasn't proven he can shut down the top receivers.
INJURY IMPACT: The Seahawks will again be without WR Darrell Jackson, but the expected return of WR Bobby Engram helps the offense a great deal. Engram still has to prove he can hold up against a hard hit. That could be a problem because the Cardinals, for all their shortcomings, do have some hitters on defense. Seattle could be without starting WLB D.D. Lewis, but that doesn't necessarily hurt them because rookie backup Leroy Hill is a better athlete and a much bigger threat rushing the passer. The Seahawks have proven to have much more reliable depth this season, allowing the team to overcome injuries at receiver and defensive back in particular. But if CB Andre Dyson isn't all the way back from a hamstring injury, the Cardinals will like their matchup with CB Kelly Herndon, who has made quite a few mistakes so far.
Wishbone? Wing-T? Nothing the Cardinals have tried has led to much success offensively, especially on the ground.
They operate largely from spread sets with minimal help from a tight end or fullback, though that began to change last week. Their futility rushing the ball has not been a shocker. The line is not loaded with Pro Bowlers. But scoring only seven offensive touchdowns in seven games - all by pass - is surprising as Seattle comes to town Sunday to complete the first half of the season.
The Cardinals seemingly had added enough decent parts to give them the kind of high-scoring offense that coach Dennis Green made his reputation on at Minnesota. There was enough there that the Cardinals were the preseason favorite of almost everyone to win the NFC West. But quarterback Kurt Warner, signed last winter as a free agent, sat out four games with a groin strain. Coach Dennis Green said Wednesday that Warner will be back under center against Seattle, replacing Josh McCown, who started in his absence.
Right tackle Oliver Ross, signed as a free agent to boost the run blocking, has missed four games with a broken hand. He might return this weekend, but whenever he makes his comeback it is reasonable to expect some rust on his game for a couple of outings. Right guard Elton Brown has been up and down as a rookie starter and now has a knee injury that might sideline him Sunday. And rookie running back J.J. Arrington, who gained 2,000 yards at California to lead the NCAA last season, is on pace to reach 2,000 yards in the NFL about midway through his 10th season (76 yards in six games). Of all the newcomers to the offense, Arrington by far has been the most disappointing.
So as the Cardinals approach the midpoint of the season, they have received very little collectively from four key additions who were viewed as the pieces necessary to complete a high-scoring attack. With McCown at the throttle, the Cardinals moved the ball through the air for big yardage, largely because they can't run and have no other choice. But while they gained yardage, they couldn't stick the ball in the end zone. Warner will get another chance to change that beginning Sunday.
Despite a week of work emphasizing the run during their bye, the Cards came back with a mere 55 rushing yards against Tennessee in a game they won because their defense scored, and 71 rushing yards last Sunday when they were mauled by three touchdowns at Dallas. The worst thing they could do is give up on the run. But they also have to be realistic.
And now, that shortcoming will be magnified with the expected loss Sunday of receiver Anquan Boldin, who suffered a bone bruise in a knee at Dallas. He is questionable. Without Boldin, the Cardinals' best offensive player, the Seahawks can gang up on receiver Larry Fitzgerald and force the Cardinals to try to beat them with tight end Eric Edwards or running backs Marcel Shipp and Arrington.
Not a pretty picture for a team that probably needs a 7-2 finish to have shot at making the playoffs. That's seven wins in a half season. The Cardinals have won that many in an entire season only seven times in the last 20 years.
Not a pretty picture, indeed.
SERIES HISTORY: 14th meeting. The Arizona Cardinals hold a 7-6 edge over the Seattle Seahawks, however the Seahawks have won five of the past six since they were tossed together into the NFC West in realignment. In the last meeting, a 37-12 rout in Seattle on Sept. 25, Running back Shaun Alexander rushed for four touchdowns. The most memorable game in the series from the Cardinals' perspective came in 1976, in the Seahawks' very first game in the NFL. Seattle was in position to score and win in the closing minutes but the Cardinals' defense thwarted it and the team prevailed, 30-24.
--WR LeRon McCoy can only hope his emergence in the sports world is the equal of coach Dennis Green's slip of the tongue - twice. With WR Anquan Boldin (knee) possibly out on Sunday when Seattle visits, seldom-used McCoy could move up to fourth receiver and see action. Early this week, when discussing his options if the Cards are without Boldin, Green referred twice to McCoy as "LeBron James," once with reporters and again later on Green's radio show.
--How bad is it going for a team that approaches the season's midpoint with a 2-5 record, after being the preseason pick to win the NFC West? It is so bad they're reduced to talking about their kicker. But, then, K Neil Rackers is having the kind of season that people would want to talk about. If Rackers were on a good team, he would be a no-brainer to make the Pro Bowl. On a bad one, he still should have a chance. He leads the NFL and has set a franchise record with 22 straight field goals without a miss. He has made 11 of them from 40 yards or longer, one short of his franchise record. Rackers also is the league leader in touchbacks on kickoffs (19) and league leader in kicker scoring (73 points).
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 - Offensive touchdowns scored in seven games - all by passing.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't want to do anything stupid. If it is just a bruise, I don't want to do anything to hurt it worse than what it was." - WR Anquan Boldin, on the bone bruise to a knee suffered last Sunday at Dallas and whether he would play this weekend vs. visiting Seattle.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The team is pulling out the stops in an attempt to improve an embarrassing running game. It is going away from the three-wide formations and putting blocking FB Jarrod Baxter and TE Eric Edwards on the field at the same time. And that will likely continue Sunday against visiting Seattle with WR Anquan Boldin iffy because of a knee bruise. Boldin's absence would lend itself to the use of two-wide sets with more blockers on the field. While the tweaks are a commendable attempt to goose the rushing game, it hasn't produced results. When the team still struggles to gain 80 yards a game on the ground, it quickly becomes one-dimensional, to the delight of opposing defenses.
--QB Kurt Warner will return to the starting lineup Sunday against Seattle, Cardinals coach Dennis Green announced Wednesday. Green did not give a reason for choosing Warner over Josh McCown. Warner started the first three games, but was knocked out of the 37-12 loss in Seattle on Sept. 25 with a right groin strain. McCown started the past four games, including the team's only two victories.
--QB Josh McCown will be replaced by Kurt Warner in Sunday's game against Seattle, Cardinals coach Dennis Green said. McCown started the past four games after Warner was sidelined with a groin injury, including Arizona's only two victories. McCown has started all eight of the Cards' victories since Green took over as coach last year, but he has now been replaced in that role three times by Green.
--WR Anquan Boldin suffered no ligament or meniscus damage, according to MRI results on his knee. He did suffer a bone bruise at Dallas and might sit out this weekend. He will sit out two to four weeks. Boldin was the only offensive threat who commands double-team attention from a secondary.
--DE Bertrand Berry has 33 sacks since 2003, tied for most in NFL with Dwight Freeney of Indianapolis.
--OLB Karlos Dansby is only linebacker in the league with three sacks and two pass interceptions.
--WR Bryant Johnson, a 2003 first-round pick who despite being the fastest of the Cardinals top three wideouts has little to show for it, would move into the lineup along with WR Larry Fitzgerald if Anquan Boldin (knee) does not play Sunday vs. Seattle.
--WR Reggie Newhouse was re-signed to a one-year contract. He was released in the final roster cut in September after playing in three games in 2004. He caught one ball for 5 yards. He will be the fourth receiver while Anquan Boldin recovers from a bone bruise in a knee.
--CB Dyshod Carter was released. He was signed Oct. 12 and had two tackles in two appearances on special teams.
--S Adrian Mayes (hamstring) reached an injury settlement and was released from injured reserve.
GAME PLAN: If anybody has any good ideas, Dennis Green would be all ears. This is a team that can't run or stop the run, and given the widespread injuries along both lines, there is nothing to indicate that will change against visiting Seattle on Sunday. With WR Anquan Boldin (knee) missing the game, it is more important than ever for the Cardinals to establish the run. And with Seattle RB Shaun Alexander having rushed for seven TDs in his last two outings vs. the Cardinals, it is equally imperative that the defense find a way to step up and end the barrage of 100-yard games by opposing backs.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Cardinals run blocking, which has been putrid to date in an offense that has yet to score a rushing touchdown, vs. Seahawks OLB Jamie Sharper, who embellished a so-so year with a big performance vs. the Cardinals on Sept. 25 in Seattle. The Cardinals don't have a great blocking tight end or fullback. They could pull a guard, but right-side starter Elton Brown has a knee injury that could shelve him this weekend and the replacements are scary. The team has to concoct some blocking scheme to prevent Sharper from having another game like the last one, in which he led Seattle with six tackles and forced a fumble as the Cardinals limped home with 226 total yards and no touchdowns in a 37-12 mauling.
--Cardinals defensive front seven, which has struggled with three starters lost for the season, vs. Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander, who rushed for 140 yards and a whopping four TDs vs. the Cardinals in a 37-12 win on Sept. 25. The Cardinals are fresh off of making Dallas rookie Marion Barber look like an All-Pro (127 yards, two touchdowns). But Barber seemingly came from nowhere. Alexander does this to just about everyone, giving rise to suspicion that there's nothing to keep him from doing it to the Cardinals again. And if another foe can run at will, good luck trying to control the passing game. It would be the making of another three-touchdown rout of a team that is fading fast. And if that's not enough, consider these ominous statistics: Alexander leads the NFL with 12 TDs, three short of becoming the first player ever with 15 in five consecutive seasons; his 12 career rushing TDs vs. the Cardinals are his most vs. any team.
INJURY IMPACT: The Cardinals had only two legitimate threats in an offense that has scored seven touchdowns in seven games - all via the pass. And now one of those threats - WR Anquan Boldin (bone bruise, knee) - is out for at least two weeks. The team was relieved to learn early this week that the knee injury he suffered last Sunday at Dallas does not appear to include any structural damage, only a bone bruise. The good news is he isn't facing six to eight weeks on the shelf, as he did a year ago when he had preseason knee surgery on a meniscus tear on the same knee. But without Boldin, the Cardinals appear to have no chance. WR Larry Fitzgerald now will be smothered by the Seahawks defense because there will be no adverse consequences for doing that. Third WR Bryant Johnson has shown very little and there is no threat of the run.
--RG Elton Brown, a rookie starter, faces uncertainty Sunday. He suffered a knee injury and the team continues to attempt to gauge the seriousness. It is believed that the injury is a bruise and not a tear to any structural tissue.
--RT Oliver Ross, acquired during free agency to bolster the run blocking, should return this week after missing four games to a broken hand that required surgery.
--Having now lost three of their top six defensive linemen for the season (DT Kenny King, wrist; DT Russell Davis, biceps; DE Calvin Pace, cut arm), the Cardinals are struggling for depth in the area where they went to training camp believing they were best supplied. That's only going to hurt their already weak run defense, especially as games wear on and rotation players who are inexperienced have to be used.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
Don't tell anyone that the success of the Rams' season could be determined on Nov. 13, but it's not that much of a stretch. With the week off for their bye, the Rams will have an opportunity to be refreshed and get healthy for that Nov. 13 game at Seattle. The Seahawks are 5-2, have already defeated the Rams once, and play Arizona this week.
Should Seattle beat Arizona, a Seahawks win Nov. 13 would put them three games ahead of the Rams, but actually four because Seattle would own the head-to-head tiebreaker. A Rams win would move them to within one game of Seattle, and over .500 at 5-4. The Rams are confident most of their injured players will be back. Said quarterback Marc Bulger, who has missed two games with a shoulder injury, "I'm 100 percent sure. I'll be fine. I'm not going to do much this week. But I'll be back."
Interim coach Joe Vitt, while guiding the Rams to consecutive wins, likes the bye coming at this point. "It's really perfect," he said. "It's going to give our staff a chance to get some rest, which they need. And it's going to give our players a chance to heal up. ... We feel that after the bye, we're going to be almost full tilt."
Wide receiver Torry Holt also hopes to be able to play against Seattle after also missing two games with a knee injury. He resumed running earlier this week.
He said, "I did some running, and things felt good. So, I'm shooting for the Seattle game. I'm going to be here all through the bye week and get some work and rehab, and hopefully I'll come back next Monday ready to roll." Vitt is not as confident that wide receiver Isaac Bruce will be available. Bruce has been out since injuring his toe Sept. 25 against Tennessee.
"I'm not a doctor, I can't tell you (when he'll be back)," Vitt said. "(But) Isaac, when he can play, he will play. This is doing nothing but making him stronger, this time he's going through right now, and when he's ready to go, he'll go." The two victories have come with Jamie Martin at quarterback, Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald as the starting wide receivers and Tyoka Jackson subbing for Leonard Little at defensive left end. Cornerback Corey Ivy started for inactive cornerback Travis Fisher (groin) against Jacksonville.
Holt joked that he should remain on the sideline so the streak continues.
"I don't want to come back because I don't want to screw up the chemistry," he said. "I told them you guys are doing so well, I don't want to screw anything up. A couple of fans made some comments ... I said (the team) has done a fantastic job. It's very exciting and very pleasing to see how well they responded and how well they are playing as a group." With the emergence of running back Steven Jackson, Vitt is looking forward to having all the team's weapons back.
"Steven has proven that he has the ability to take over a game, and I think that we have to play that card," Vitt said. "We have to try to get him 20 touches a game; we'd be crazy not to. When you've got Torry back and you've got Marc back - and we'll get Isaac back - now you're going to present some real problems to a defense. They can't sit in an eight-man front, they can't sit in a two-deep shell. It's a real cat-and-mouse game now. So, it should be exciting."
We'll see just how exciting on Nov. 13
--Rookie RT Alex Barron had a stretch in the second quarter Sunday where he had five penalties, including three for false starts. In one possession, he had penalties on three successive plays. But in the second half, Barron settled down and had no penalties. "We have great veteran leadership on this team," interim coach Joe Vitt said. "There is nothing that I can say to Alex that Orlando (Pace) hasn't already said to him, Marshall (Faulk) hasn't said to him, the offensive line coaches haven't said to him. Adam (Timmerman) is in his ear. They're just trying to build the kid up.
"This kid is going to make some mistakes along the way, he's young. But, he's athletic, he works hard, he wants to be a great player and you have to work through those things. That's not the time to holler and scream, and now you're a master of the obvious. Now's the time to pick the kid back up again, and let's get him going in the right direction." As for the second half, Vitt said, "He threw some nice run blocks down that stretch, he sure did. He's a tough kid now, and he's tough mentally. He has great pride in what he does, and he wants to be the best. Our football team has really kind of gravitated to him, because everybody likes working with him. Everybody likes being around him. He's going to be special."
--Rookie CB Ron Bartell was beaten on one long pass, but played his second straight solid game Sunday against Jacksonville. Said interim coach Joe Vitt, "He played really well. In fact, the one long ball that was caught, when I saw the offense running up there, I should have challenged it. I really should have, and I didn't. I thought it was incomplete when I saw the offense running up there quickly to try and get a play off. I'm debating, do I want the three time outs left in case I lose the challenge. I should have challenged it, because I think it was an incomplete pass."
As for Bartell's play overall, Vitt said, "Bartell is really playing well. He has length, he has a second gear, he's playing with a lot more poise now, he's playing with his feet on the ground, he's playing with great anticipation and he's really starting to play with a lot of confidence. He's another one that could really be special for us down the stretch here."
--With no practices this week, interim coach Joe Vitt said the coaches will do mostly "self-scouting." Asked about that process, Vitt said, "Defensively, what we are going to do is take every run over 10 yards, every pass play over 20 yards (and look at) what was the coverage, who was the man responsible, what situation did we call it in, what was the line stunt when we called it ... things like that. And check our hole card (to see) if we're doing the right thing."
BY THE NUMBERS: 12,129 - Career rushing yards for RB Marshall Faulk, who moved past Franco Harris into 10th place on the all-time list against Jacksonville. Faulk is currently 114 behind Marcus Allen and 183 behind Jim Brown.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was sickening for me. I really wanted to continue to play and keep that streak going. I take pride in that. To me, it's a matter of showing your peers in the National Football League that you're durable. And for me to be pulled out for a couple weeks, or pull myself out for a couple weeks to get healthy, was tough. But it's been a good two weeks. The guys have stepped up in my absence, and done a fantastic job. This whole football team has." - WR Torry Holt on missing the first games of his career the last two weeks of the season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--RB Marshall Faulk now has 12,129 career rushing yards and passed Franco Harris on Sunday to move into 10th place on the all-time list. Faulk is currently 114 behind Marcus Allen and 183 behind Jim Brown.
--DE Leonard Little met with the Rams' coaches this week after returning to St. Louis after the Oct. 17 murder of his brother Jermaine. Coaches hope Little will be able to play Nov. 13 against Seattle.
--G Claude Terrell is expected to return for the Nov. 13 game against Seattle after missing the Jacksonville game because of a neck injury.
--LB Chris Claiborne has been on the field more the last few weeks, as the Rams have often kept linebackers playing even when opposing offenses go to a three-receiver formation.
--P Bryan Barker has stabilized the team's punting situation following the Oct. 10 release of rookie Reggie Hodges.
INJURY IMPACT: The bye has come at a good time for the Rams considering the top players that have been sidelined in recent weeks because of injuries. Expected back Nov. 13 at Seattle are QB Marc Bulger (shoulder), wide receiver Torry Holt (knee) and CB Travis Fisher (groin). Still up in the air is how long WR Isaac Bruce will be sidelined because of a troublesome toe injury.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Coach Mike Nolan could have taken a short-sighted approach to the 49ers' rebuilding in the offseason. The 49ers had a lot of room for improvement, but Nolan said he does not believe in "quick fixes." He was reluctant to sign a handful of veterans who would've given the 49ers immediate upgrades but would not have fit into Nolan's long-term plans. The 49ers gave some hope last week that Nolan's plan is working with an upset victory over the Buccaneers.
"It reinforces what we've been saying all along, not only to the team but to the outsiders as well," Nolan said. "Our guys believe in what we're doing. There is an atmosphere and attitude in this building that is going to stay." Now, they're looking to make it two victories in a row when they face the Giants at Monster Park. But the 49ers will be starting their fourth quarterback in five games, as second-year Cody Pickett is likely to get his first career start.
Rookie quarterback Alex Smith, who replaced Tim Rattay as the starter after four games, and Ken Dorsey are both injured. Although Dorsey practiced Wednesday and could be available, he will not start due to a left ankle sprain. Rattay was traded to the Buccaneers on Oct. 18, leaving Pickett as the next in line. The 49ers even signed free agent Jesse Palmer this week, and he might enter Sunday's game as the backup.
The 49ers have equaled the number of victories they achieved last year under the regime of general manager Terry Donahue and coach Dennis Erickson. But even after finishing with a league-worst 2-14 record, the 49ers did not make significant offseason upgrades to the unit. "We didn't have a tremendous amount of (salary-cap) money," Nolan said. "More importantly, I didn't know about the whole team. So instead of saying, 'He's out, he's in,' and 'Let me get the guys I know' ... I wanted to give our guys a chance.
"It wasn't a situation where I had a lot of money to do things. That's where the quick fix comes along, and I don't believe in that because you don't build a foundation. I knew when I came in here, the building was gutted and we had a lot of work to do." The only starters the 49ers acquired through free-agency were left tackle Jonas Jennings, who signed a seven-year, $36 million deal, and defensive end Marques Douglas, whom the 49ers awarded a three-year, $4.5 million deal. They also signed veteran receiver Johnnie Morton to be the team's No. 3 receiver, and kicker Joe Nedney replaced Todd Peterson, who signed with the Falcons.
"Marques has done a great job for us," Nolan said. "Unfortunately, Jonas has been out. He would've kept doing well for us, and Johnnie has worn down just because of the amount of reps he has to take. Johnnie is a 15- to 20-play-a-game guy." Each of those acquisitions is expected to have more than just short-term benefits for the organization. Douglas and Jennings figure to be with the 49ers for a while. Morton signed a two-year deal and is on the down side of his career, but his familiarity with receivers coach Jerry Sullivan enables him to take on a role as a mentor to the team's young wideouts that could have benefits long after he leaves.
Douglas said he suspected that the 49ers would have some rough days, but he stands firmly committed behind the direction of the organization under Nolan.
"When you lay that first brick to the house, you want to wait around and see what the house is going to look like," Douglas said. "This year is the first brick. I think we have many more games and more bricks to that house. Once we're done, we'll be happy."
Likewise, Morton said he would like to stay with the 49ers for a while. He said he definitely wants to come back to the 49ers next season and beyond.
"After being around the guys and the coaches and the way they run the program, it'll be good," Morton said. "It's just a matter of time. I hate to say that. I know people want to be a little more optimistic and say we can turn it around and have a winning season real fast. That's what we're striving for, but at the same time we're going to have to take our lumps."
SERIES HISTORY -- 32nd meeting. The 49ers lead 17-14, including victories in their last six meetings.
--Quarterback Cody Pickett has seen very little action at his chosen position this season. Since the middle of the team's exhibition season, Pickett has worked on special teams. He has also spent a lot of practice time at wide receiver. On Sunday, he was summoned as the "personal protector" on the 49ers' punt team. He then ran the field and made a tackle against the Buccaneers. Then, he had to go into the game at quarterback because Ken Dorsey had been injured on the play leading up to the punt. Now, Pickett will make his first NFL start on Sunday against the Giants.
"It's been a crazy process," Pickett said. "From when Alex (Smith) was drafted to being the fourth guy and not getting many reps during the preseason. Then, I was asked to cover punts, block for punts and having to play at receiver has been fun. It's been a roller coaster. Now I'm getting an opportunity to play, and I'm looking forward to it."
--Defensive coordinator Billy Davis, who was the Giants' linebackers coach last season, says Giants quarterback Eli Manning is doing a much better job of using all of his offensive playmakers this season. "He can spread the ball to all his weapons, just like his brother does," David said. "The job of a great quarterback is to give the ball to the weapons. They got (Jeremy) Shockey, Tiki (Barber), Amani (Toomer), Plaxico (Burress) ... they got some weapons now. That team's been put together well. We can't put all our emphasis on stopping one because Eli will find someone else."
--K Joe Nedney won Special Teams Player of Week honors for the seventh time. Nedney became the first player in NFL history to win the award with five different teams (Miami, Arizona, Carolina, Tennessee and San Francisco). "I could write a book on how to get cut," said Nedney, who is in his ninth NFL season with seven different teams.
--Quarterback Alex Smith is the only rookie who has started this season for the 49ers despite the club selecting four players in the first three rounds of the draft.
Two of the other first-day picks were offensive linemen David Baas and Adam Snyder. Running back Frank Gore, chosen at the top of the third round, has done well when given a chance. Gore has gained 238 yards on 44 carries for a 5.4-yard average. Coach Mike Nolan stated that generally it is easier to get defensive players on the field right away.
"When you do it on offense, particularly like we did, taking a quarterback and offensive linemen, those are two of the more difficult positions to get on the field," Nolan said. "When I look at the draft, we drafted guys high position-wise that take a little longer to get on the field." But that is not necessarily the case. Thirty-seven rookies across the league started recent games for their teams, and 22 of them play offense. Ten of the rookie starters were on the offensive line.
--Nolan traded away linebacker Jamie Winborn and quarterback Tim Rattay, and then the team became short-handed at those spots because of injuries. But Nolan said his only regret is that he didn't make those trades sooner. "Obviously, if I had known everything I know now, I would've dealt a couple players quicker," Nolan said. "If I could do it all over I'd do a lot of things. There have been several things I've learned."
--Because there is not a lot of talent across the board, the team has decided not to throw some of its young, promising players onto the field to develop -- such as rookie offensive linemen David Baas and Adam Snyder. "If we were a good football team and we had a Baas and Snyder behind a really good line, you can put them in with those other guys because it's already solid," Nolan said. "The offensive line is actually one of the areas as we go forward is going to get good. But secondary is an area that was very evident that we didn't have any depth early."
BY THE NUMBERS: In three games with Alex Smith, Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett at quarterback, 49ers receivers have just nine catches for 99 yards. One of those completions was a 43-yarder to Brandon Lloyd against the Redskins.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're at 2-5, but 2-5 is a lot better than 1-5, which is where we were a week ago. It allows us to stay on track. One is our purpose, which we will never get off of. That's the personnel, structure and chemistry. It's also with our goals; our goals being to take command of the division" -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan on the importance of the 49ers' victory last Sunday over the Buccaneers.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The 49ers are confident that all the tools are there for their offensive line to develop into a strength of the team. Last Sunday, a glimpse of the potential was on display. The 49ers did not allow a sack for the first time in 27 games, and the running game put up some impressive numbers against the No. 1-ranked run defense in the league. Running backs Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore combined for 141 yards on 36 rushes, with Barlow leading the way with a season-high 101 yards.
"They feed off each other," coach Mike Nolan said of the offensive line and Barlow. "That's where you get a great bond between the two. (Tight end) Billy Bajema did a very good job blocking and continues to get better each week. It takes 11 guys to make it happen and it's got to start somewhere, and everything on offense starts with the offensive line."
Nolan gave the offensive line a pep talk on Friday before the game, and challenged the unit to perform to a higher level. He also asked that the line take on a big-brother mentality for the team's skill players. "With that foundation and with it being built around you, it's as much a mindset as it is a talent issue," Nolan said he told the unit.
Said right tackle Kwame Harris, "He came in there said, 'Boys, the leashes are off. As you go, the team goes.'"
--QB Jesse Palmer, released by the Giants prior to the start of the regular season, was signed Tuesday and could be the team's backup to Cody Pickett on Sunday against the Giants.
--QB Alex Smith is still hobbling around wearing a knee brace. He sustained a second-degree sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee during the Oct. 23 game against the Redskins. He might miss another two games.
--QB Ken Dorsey will not start this week's game against the Giants because of a left ankle sprain. The club is hoping that he will be in good enough shape to serve as the backup quarterback behind second-year player Cody Pickett.
--LB Derek Smith is more than halfway to another 100-tackle season. He leads the 49ers through seven games with 58 tackles. He had 100 or more tackles in each of his first eight seasons, joining Miami's Zack Thomas and Tampa Bay's Derrick Brooks as the active leaders in that category.
--CB Ahmed Plummer is likely to miss another two games, coach Mike Nolan said. Plummer underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his ankle last month. He has missed the last three games.
--S Jeremy Thornburg, who was released to make room on the roster for QB Jesse Palmer, was claimed off waivers by the Packers. The 49ers hoped to sign Thornburg to their practice squad.
--DE Bryant Young had his third multi-sack game of the season against the Buccaneers, recording both sacks in the closing two minutes as the 49ers held onto a five-point victory. He is tied for the NFL lead with eight sacks through seven games.
--RB Brian Allen, originally a sixth-round pick of the Colts in 2002 from Stanford, was added to the practice squad.
GAME PLAN: The 49ers will be starting their fourth quarterback in five weeks, so they will probably have to rely on a similar formula that earned them a victory last week against the Buccaneers. The 49ers got strong play from their defense and special teams to take the heat off their offense. With Cody Pickett calling signals, it might be asking too much for him make a lot of plays to get the offense going. After all, Pickett has not played much quarterback in practice for the last two months. The offensive line will have to respond to the challenge against the Giants. Their first priority is to open holes for Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore in the run game. The 49ers must run the ball effectively to take the heat off Pickett, who has attempted just 11 passes in his two-year NFL career. Pickett is a good athlete, so the 49ers will try to get him outside the pocket on occasion to make plays.
Defensively, the 49ers will have their hands full against the highest-scoring team in the NFL. The 49ers' defense has give up more points than any team in the league. They must find a way to contend with the running of Tiki Barber, as well as the much-improved passing game that Eli Manning has brought to the club in his second season. When the 49ers have been competitive this season, their special teams has played a huge role. Kicker Joe Nedney has been very good this season, as have punter Andy Lee and the coverage units. The 49ers won their game against the Buccaneers last week because they controlled the game of field position.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: 49ers run game, which rolled up 158 yards on the top-ranked Buccaneers last week, vs. the Giants run defense, which ranks 11th in the league and will have to contain Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore on first downs; RT Kwame Harris, who has shown a lot of inconsistency in pass protection, vs. DE Michael Strahan, a seasoned veteran who leads the Giants with 6.5 sacks; OLB Julian Peterson, one of the team's top all-around performers, vs. TE Jeremy Shockey, who has recorded 28 catches for 453 yards and four TDs; 49ers cornerbacks Shawntae Spencer and Bruce Thornton, who had a strong game last week against the Bucs, vs. Giants WRs Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, who have combined for 61 catches for 828 yards and seven touchdowns.
INJURY IMPACT: QB Alex Smith (right knee) did not practice Wednesday and will not be available for Sunday's game against the Giants. Backup Ken Dorsey will not start after sustaining a left ankle sprain in last Sunday's game against the Giants. That means Cody Pickett will get his first career start. Dorsey could be available as the team's backup. ... The 49ers figure to be short on depth in the backfield, as RB Maurice Hicks (knee), RB Terry Jackson (hip/knee), FB Chris Hetherington (hamstring) are all listed as questionable for the game against the Giants. ... LB Saleem Rasheed is expected to miss up to another month after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus cartilage. ... LT Jonas Jennings is still not close to being ready to action because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He is not expected to play this week against the Giants and will require major surgery whenever he decides to end his season. ... WR Arnaz Battle has a chance to return to action Sunday against the Giants. He's missed most of the last four games with a sprained right knee ligament. ... Center Jeremy Newberry will not practice this week but should start Sunday. He is hobbled by a chronic knee problem. ... WR Otis Amey, who has missed two games with a high ankle sprain, is questionable for Sunday. ... CB Ahmed Plummer is expected to miss at least two more more games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle. ... WR Derrick Hamilton is still on PUP after sustaining a torn ACL in the offseason. 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.