Seattle Seahawks (5-2) at Arizona Cardinals (2-5)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Tim Ryan
SERIES: Cardinals lead, 7-6. Seattle has won five of its last six games against Arizona, although the Cardinals won the last meeting in Tempe. 2005 RANKINGS: Seahawks: offense 1st (3rd rush, 8th pass); defense 8th (16th rush, 10th pass). Cardinals: offense 17th (31st rush, 6th pass); defense 18th (15th rush, 16th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: Look for the Seahawks to rely heavily on RB Shaun Alexander, who scored four touchdowns in the Week 2 meeting after getting just 12 carries in a loss in Arizona last season. The Cardinals will likely attempt to repeat what worked at home last season, which was bumping the Seahawks' receivers and throwing off the timing of QB Matt Hasselbeck. However, Arizona lacks shutdown corners and Seattle racked up over 450 yards in total offense in the first meeting this season. QB Kurt Warner returns to the starting lineup for the Cardinals, who must get improved play from their offensive line. Warner isn't as mobile as Josh McCown, but his experience should allow him to better compensate for the loss of WR Anquan Boldin and adjust to Seattle's defensive alignments. But the real issue has been a non-existent Cardinals running attack that make the offense too reliant upon the deep pass.
FAST FACTS: Seahawks: Alexander needs three touchdowns to become the first player in NFL history with at least 15 touchdowns in five consecutive seasons. ... Are 0-6 under coach Mike Holmgren in games immediately following bye weeks. Cardinals: Do not have a rushing touchdown this season. ... Are 2-0 when they win the turnover battle and 0-4 when they lose it.
--OL Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack is working at several positions now that the team has committed to Sean Locklear as the starting right tackle. Womack backs up both tackle and guard spots.
--DE Grant Wistrom missed practice Thursday with an excused absence. He practiced Friday and is expected to start Sunday.
--WR Peter Warrick is working with the scout team this week.
--WR Bobby Engram (ribs) practiced this week. He is expected to start Sunday.
--LB D.D. Lewis (knee) missed practice again Friday. He is questionable.
--LT Wayne Hunter (hamstring) missed practice Friday. He is doubtful.
--WR Darrell Jackson missed practice again Friday. He is out following Oct. 5 knee surgery.
--WR Anquan Boldin will miss two to four weeks with a bone bruise in his right knee. That's awful news for the Cardinals' offense, but the injury was less severe than the team initially feared.
--WR Bryant Johnson will start in place of Anquan Boldin on Sunday against Seattle. Johnson had a great off-season and looked much improved in camp. But he hasn't been a big part of the offense this year, catching just 15 passes.
--WR LeRon McCoy, a rookie, will be share the No. 3 receiver's duties this week with Reggie Newhouse, who was re-signed this week after being released in training camp. McCoy has great speed but drops too many balls. Newhouse is technically sound but he's not gifted athletically.
--RB Marcel Shipp hasn't scored a touchdown this year, and he's averaging just 2.6 yards a carry. It's hard to gain yardage when you're getting hit in the backfield, however. Shipp has ability, he just needs the room to show it.
--The Cardinals do not have a rushing touchdown this season.
--K Neil Rackers has made 22 straight field goals, a team record, and also has 20 touchbacks to lead the league.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Two months after suffering a mild stroke and missing the Seahawks’ season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes was hospitalized on Friday after suffering what head coach Mike Holmgren described as another “episode” with similar symptoms.
"It wasn't as severe as the first one," Holmgren said, while refusing to say that Rhodes suffered another stroke. "I'll let the medical people define that.”
Rhodes was first hospitalized on Sunday, September 4 after complaining to team doctors that he was not feeling well. He was diagnosed with the stroke during that stay. Rhodes returned to the team in mid-September.
"You look at everything, your diet, your exercise," Rhodes said on September 19. "You are going to look at everything you do. You have to make sure you do things right.
"We do work a lot of hours. All those things add up. This has been a time in my life where I feel like I can survive off three or four hours of sleep. You can't do that on a consistent basis. I think I burned at both ends a little bit too much."
John Marshall, Seattle’s linebackers coach and a former defensive coordinator in his own right with the Carolina Panthers (1999-2001), San Francisco 49ers (1997-1998) and Atlanta Falcons (1983-1985), has been serving as interim defensive coordinator this season. Rhodes had been in the coaches’ booth, consulting with Marshall. Holmgren said that Rhodes will not travel to Arizona for this Sunday’s game against the Cardinals. The Seahawks (5-2) rank eighth in the NFL in total defense this season after ranking 26th overall in 2004. Marshall commandeered the NFL's top defense in San Francisco in 1997.
Holmgren told the assembled media that Rhodes "started feeling really tired last night" and called his doctor after arriving at work at the Seahawks' headquarters on Friday morning. Holmgren said that Rhodes was advised to return to the hospital.
"He was cutting back on some of the things he was doing, but clearly he wasn't cutting back enough," Holmgren said. "He's his own worst enemy sometimes. So now we're going to take a little different look at it."
Holmgren said Rhodes, who has been the defensive coordinator of the Seahawks for the past three seasons, has been feeling better since his mild stroke. "His blood pressure was down," Holmgren said.
Holmgren had met with Marshall about Sunday's game plan. "Everything is in place. John has been calling the defense."
--The Seahawks have added practice squad safety Etric Pruitt to the active roster. Pruitt will replace Ken Hamlin, who suffered head and hand injuries during an altercation in Seattle's Pioneer Square in the early morning of October 17.
Pruitt was drafted in 2004 (sixth round, 186th overall) by the Atlanta Falcons when current Seahawks president Tim Ruskell was Atlanta's Assistant GM.
In a recent chat with Seahawks.NET, Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com commented on the possibility that Pruitt might be added to the roster. “Pruitt is an interesting guy. Personally, I had him as a 2nd-day draft pick and that is where he ended up with Atlanta,” Rang said. “He is similar to (Ken) Hamlin in that he is at his best being physical, especially near the line of scrimmage. (However), he tends to cheat towards the line and go for big hits, which sometimes gets him beat deep. He isn't the caliber of athlete (size/speed ratio) that Hamlin is, but is a legit player. I was surprised to see him released from Atlanta and feel that he is a nice fit in Seattle's aggressive, fairly simple scheme."
Marquand Manuel, who started at free safety in Seattle’s 13-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys on October 23, is expected to retain his starting role in Hamlin's stead.
--The return of WR Bobby Engram from cracked ribs is a significant development for the Seattle offense. The Seahawks did manage to go 3-0 without Engram and fellow starting WR Darrell Jackson, who remains sidelined by a knee injury. But the depth at receiver was severely tested during a nail-biting victory over Dallas before the bye.
Clearly the Seahawks could use another veteran receiver with the experience to get off the line of scrimmage and get open. Engram is exactly that kind of player. Despite missing three games, Engram still ranks second on the team with 27 catches, an average of nearly seven per game. If he keeps up that pace for the remainder of the season, beginning Sunday in Arizona, Engram would match a career high with 88 receptions. Engram has looked good in practice since returning Wednesday. He is expected to start Sunday opposite veteran WR Joe Jurevicius. Engram's cracked ribs have not yet healed 100 percent, but they are close enough. He suffered the injury while making the first of his nine catches during a game at Washington last month, so toughness should not be an issue.
"He's a warrior," coach Mike Holmgren said. "He wanted to come back as soon as he possibly could, but we also have to be smart."
Engram remained listed as probable on Friday.
"It's great to have Bobby back," QB Matt Hasselbeck said.
The offensive line will look dramatically different this Sunday against Seattle as the Cardinals search for solutions to their many offensive woes. On the surface, the changes seem prompted by injuries. Right tackle Oliver Ross returns to the lineup after missing a month with a broken hand. His replacement, Fred Wakefield, struggled in recent weeks.
Right guard Elton Brown, a rookie, is expected to miss several weeks with a meniscus tear in his knee, but Brown was close to losing his job anyway. Alex Stepanovich, who has started the past 23 games at center, will move to right guard, and backup Nick Leckey will get his first start at center Sunday against Seattle. Stepanovich should function well at guard. He played there in college at Ohio State, and took some snaps there earlier this season when the team went to the shotgun formation. Stepanovich's right hand was heavily wrapped at the time, and he was unable to snap.
Had Stepanovich been healthy in training camp, this move might have been made then. Leckey is unproven at center, but Stepanovich should be a better guard than Brown, at least at this stage of Brown's career.
The Cardinals need help desperately up front. They are 31st in the NFL in rushing, averaging 71 yards a game. Their pass protection has slipped lately, too, and quarterback Josh McCown took a beating last week in Dallas.
McCown has been benched this week in favor of Kurt Warner.
New York Giants (5-2) at San Francisco 49ers (2-5)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Bill Maas, Chris Myers
SERIES: 32nd meeting. The 49ers lead 17-14, including victories in their last six meetings. 2005 RANKINGS: Giants: offense 13th (7th rush, 17th pass); defense 30th (11th rush, 30th pass). 49ers: offense 31st (21st rush, 31st pass); defense 32nd (18th rush, 32nd pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The 49ers will start their fourth different quarterback in five weeks, with Cody Pickett getting the call with Alex Smith and Ken Dorsey injured. Considering Pickett has thrown just 11 career passes and has spent the majority of the past two months practicing with the special teams, it's critical for the offensive line to open holes for RBs Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore early on. The weakness of the Giants defense is its secondary, but it's too much to expect Pickett to move the offense through the air with any consistency. But going against the league's top scoring offense, the 49ers know they must put some points on the board. Giants QB Eli Manning is using a wide array of weapons and will test the 49ers' secondary, which is severely lacking depth. San Francisco has allowed more points than any team in the league, and must contain RB Tiki Barber to avoid getting pummeled by the play-action pass.
FAST FACTS: Giants: Manning is tied for the NFL lead with at least one touchdown pass in eight consecutive games. ... Barber needs two touchdowns to become the third player in franchise history with 60 (Frank Gifford, Joe Morrison). 49ers: Have won the past six meetings. ... Wide receivers have caught just nine passes for a combined 99 yards the past three games.
--SLB Carlos Emmons remains just 50-50 for Sunday's game in San Francisco. He suffered a partially torn right pectoral muscle the week before against Denver. "I'm feeling pretty good," he said. "I don't think I'll practice today (Thursday) but I am still planning on playing Sunday."
--Mike Nolan, the first-year head coach of the 49ers, served as the Giants' defensive coordinator from 1993 through 1996, and is father, Dick, was a Giants' cornerback/safety for seven seasons (1954-1957; 1959-1961). He also served as head coach of the 49ers (1968-1975). "We have lots of great memories of the Giants," Mike said, "and my fondest is when I first met Wellington Mara. My dad had talked about him so much."
--In 2004, Auburn's Reggie Torbor was drafted by the Giants as a DE and subsequently switched to SLB. The same project is now underway with 6-4, 268-pound Eric Moore, drafted this year as a DE and now working at SLB. "Why? Because he's a big guy who can run and we have more of a need at linebacker," says head coach Tom Coughlin. "And it's helpful to have guys who play more than one position."
--QB Eli Manning is proving he has yet another dimension - he can play with stunning mediocrity and still manage to rise to an occasion and win. His game vs. Washington (12 for 31 for 146 yards and one TD) was nothing special, but he said the winds in Giants Stadium, famous for their erratic and sudden changes, played a part in it. "I was just being careful," he said. "One pass that should have been a touchdown (in the end zone to WR Plaxico Burress) turned into a pick because the wind held it up."
--WR David Tyree, the team's most dynamic special teams performer, missed last week's game with a bruised elbow and couldn't practice until Wednesday. "You know," he said, "the only thing worse than practicing is not practicing. But I missed playing. It was the first game I didn't play in since I got here (38 straight games)."
--RB Maurice Hicks, the team's top kickoff return man, will not play because of a knee injury. Hicks has averaged 20.3 yards on 26 kickoff returns this season.
--LT Jonas Jennings will not play Sunday because of a torn right labrum that has kept him out of action for a fifth straight game. The 49ers will make a decision on what action to take with Jennings. He could have minor surgery that would enable him to return at some point later in the season. A more serious procedure would keep him out for the remainder of the season.
--WR Arnaz Battle returned to practice Thursday and has a chance to play in Sunday's game against the Giants. Battle has been inactive for three games and was limited in two other games because of the injury.
--QB Ken Dorsey practiced Wednesday and Thursday and should be available to serve as the backup behind starter Cody Pickett on Sunday against the Giants.
--QB Alex Smith will miss Sunday's game against the Giants with a right knee sprain. The 49ers are hopeful he will be able to return to practice next week and play against the Bears, though that seems to be in question, too.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
If Tiki Barber isn't the most popular of the Giants' players, something is dreadfully wrong. He is articulate, intelligent, and personable. He lives in New York City and is constantly appearing on behalf of charities and other organizations. He volunteers to help the rookies. He is a team spokesman. He had bridged a difficult gap and become friends with the usually stern coach Tom Coughlin.
And last Sunday, in yet another fit of unselfishness, he took himself out of the game after the end of the third quarter. Why? "Well, I did it voluntarily," said the Virginia grad. "I was just 13 yards away from the record but after I scored the touchdown for Timmy I said, 'That's a day, that's good enough for me.' You know, I have to keep some of the records alive; otherwise I won't want to play any more."
The touchdown for Timmy was the ball he presented to Tim McDonnell on the sidelines. Tim is one of the 40 grandchildren of Wellington Mara, who died the previous Tuesday, and Barber and Tim have been friends for a long time. "He was a bellboy at training camp and we just kind of gravitated together," said Barber of the 22-year-old. "I knew I wanted to get him a ball from the game, the one we played for his grandpa."
Some game, too. Barber set a personal single-game high with 206 yards in 24 carries, and when he reached that total, he was just 13 yards away from breaking the record set in 1950 by Gene "Choo Choo" Roberts.
"I am not so much concerned with individual statistics as I am with winning," Barber said. "If we lose, the statistics don't mean a thing. But if we win, it's nice to have had a good game to help the team."
Second-year year quarterback Cody Pickett will make his first career start on Sunday for the 49ers against the Giants. Though Ken Dorsey practiced this week after sustaining a left ankle sprain in the fourth quarter of the 49ers' 15-10 victory over the Buccaneers, coach Mike Nolan has decided to go with Pickett.
Pickett has thrown 11 passes in his NFL career, with 10 of them coming last year in a blowout loss to the Bills. Pickett played 16 snaps last week. He handed off 13 times, ran two bootlegs for 12 yards and completed his only pass attempt for 10 yards on a third-and-8 play.
The 49ers will not have rookie quarterback Alex Smith available for Sunday's game. They signed free-agent Jesse Palmer to a contract this week. Originally, the 49ers thought Palmer might serve as the backup. But Dorsey has made enough progress to be able to step in if Pickett needs to come out of the game.
Nolan said the 49ers signed Palmer because vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan was high on his athleticism. "You could be looking for a guy to orchestrate around a bunch of good players," Nolan said. "You could be looking for a guy who has the ability to make a play. There are some other guys who are West Coast offense guys who know the system and the verbiage and all that. That's fine, but we need something more than that."
The 49ers like Pickett's ability to make a play, too. While Dorsey is more of a pocket passer, Pickett has the athleticism to make plays with his legs or arm outside the pocket.
The 49ers have not started four quarterbacks in a season since 1974, when Joe Reed, Dennis Morrison, Tom Owen and Norm Snead started for a 49ers team that went 6-8 under Dick Nolan, Mike Nolan's father.