NFC West News & Notes - 11/22/05

The Rams try to shake off an embarrassing loss, Arizona enjoys a rare Warner Win, the 49ers look to build on a near-upset, and the Seahawks breathe a sigh of a relief in today's News and Notes.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren downplayed similarities between his current team and the 1999 version that also started 8-2. The '99 team lost five of its final six to back into the playoffs with a 9-7 record and very little confidence. "I didn't know the players well enough to know how they would react to certain situations," Holmgren said of that 1999 team, his first in Seattle. "I would have handled things a little differently."

No defensive players remain from that team. Left tackle Walter Jones, right guard Chris Gray and fullback Mack Strong are the only offensive holdovers. Running back Ricky Watters led that team with 1,210 yards rushing. His five rushing scores accounted for all of the team's touchdowns on the ground. The current Seattle team features a much better offensive line, a more experienced quarterback and a more fundamentally sound defense. Running back Shaun Alexander already has 1,229 yards rushing in only 10 games, and his 19 rushing touchdowns mark a dramatic upgrade from the numbers Watters amassed during that 1999 season.

"If you remember, Joey Galloway had held out and then he came back right around (this time of the season)," Holmgren recalled. "It really disrupted things a little bit. It wasn't Joey's fault, but that kind of goofed that up (offensively)."

The 1999 Seahawks were exposed during a 16-3 loss to Tampa Bay that dropped their record to 8-3. Then-QB Jon Kitna tossed five interceptions. All these years later, Holmgren said his game plan that day was too aggressive.

Holmgren's current team has set its goals high. The team leads the NFC heading into its game Sunday against the Giants at Qwest Field.

"It's OK to be good, but you're trying to achieve greatness if you can, so don't settle," Holmgren said. "Don't settle for where you are. Just keep pushing to get better."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Seahawks were universal in their praise for 49ers defensive tackle Bryant Young, who left the game Sunday with knee and ankle injuries. "As far as I'm concerned, between him and LaRoi Glover, there are no better inside guys in the game," Seahawks Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson said. "It's sad to see somebody like that get hurt because you know they're always doing the right thing, always playing hard."

Seattle center Robbie Tobeck, 35, said he thought Young possessed Hall of Fame credentials. "He is the classiest guy I've ever played against," Tobeck said. "He is one of the best I've ever played against. In my mind, he should be a Hall of Famer. Just playing for 13 years against guys, he just handles himself, he's a pro."

Right guard Chris Gray, also 35, described Young as a guy who will "wear you out and beat you up and run over you and get the sack, and then help you up on his way back to the huddle and slap you on the ass and tell you good job."

--Running back Shaun Alexander rushed for "only" 115 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers. He had rushed for 165 and 173 yards the previous weeks. "I think the 49ers did a good job of forcing us to do different things," Alexander said. "They played by far their best game. When you play a divisional opponent, that's what happens."

Say what? Alexander's dominance against NFC West opponents has been well-documented. His performance Sunday marked only the fourth individual 100-yard rushing performance against the 49ers this season. His numbers suffered from the 12-yard loss Alexander took after reversing field. He still leads the NFL with 1,229 yards and 19 rushing touchdowns. He'll have to average 146 yards per game to equal the NFL record of 2,105 yards set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES


--RB Shaun Alexander is on pace to break Paul Hornung's league record for scoring. Hornung had 176 points in 1960. Alexander has 19 touchdowns in only 10 games, putting him on pace for 180 points this season.

--QB Matt Hasselbeck took a few more chances downfield Sunday in an effort to exploit the 49ers' injury-depleted secondary. The results were underwhelming. The team probably will get back to its usual offensive tactics (strategic shorter routes) this week.

--FS John Howell could miss an extended period after suffering a pulled left hamstring Sunday.

--DT Marcus Tubbs is expected to return Sunday after missing two games with a calf injury.

--WR Darrell Jackson is not expected to return this week, coach Mike Holmgren said. Jackson is recovering from knee surgery.

REPORT CARD VS. 49ERS

PASSING OFFENSE: B --
QB Matt Hasselbeck's rating was well into the 90s, but this was not an efficient performance by Seattle's standards. The team failed to sustain drives. There were dropped passes by WR Peter Warrick and TE Jerramy Stevens. Hasselbeck also nearly threw a critical interception that the 49ers might have returned for a touchdown had they not dropped the ball. The 49ers came close to another interception on a pass that caromed high into the air. The pass protection was very good, with pressure resulting only when Hasselbeck held the ball too long, which he did with some frequency.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- RB Shaun Alexander gained 40 of his 115 yards on a single run. The running lanes seemed to shrink as the game progressed. Alexander still scored twice on the ground, but this was not a signature performance by his standards. The worst play resulted in a 12-yard loss when Alexander tried to reverse field. He admitted to making a poor decision on the play. The 49ers did a nice job against the cutback runs that Seattle has used effectively this season.

PASS DEFENSE: C --
Seattle's cornerbacks found themselves in position to make plays a few times, only to watch the 49ers come away with the football. That was the case when 49ers WR Brandon Lloyd made his acrobatic one-handed grab for a 44-yard gain against CB Kelly Herndon. The pass rush was definitely good enough, however. DT Rocky Bernard collected two more sacks, giving him 7 1/2 on the season (more than any DT besides the 49ers' Bryant Young, who has eight).

RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- Seattle has yet to allow an individual 100-yard rusher, but the run defense remained vulnerable to the occasional big play. Seattle shut down starting RB Kevan Barlow, but backup RB Maurice Hicks broke loose for a 50-yard run. Seattle also allowed a rushing TD for only the third time this season. DT Rodney Bailey again was effective, even when the 49ers double-teamed him.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Seattle suffered three more penalties on special teams returns, continuing a season-long trend. K Josh Brown also missed from 50-plus yards for the first time this season. FS Marquand Manuel did make a huge play by forcing a fumble on a 49ers kick return. RB Josh Scobey recovered to set up a field goal. Manuel also recovered the 49ers' late onside kick with Seattle clinging to a 27-25 lead.

COACHING: B -- The superior game plan belonged to the 49ers. Their defensive scheme took away the cutback runs while largely masking severe personnel shortcomings in the 49ers' secondary. The special teams took a step backward after showing progress the previous week.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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The Cardinals' injury woes on the offensive line have worsened. Coach Dennis Green revealed Monday that rookie Elton Brown, who had been starting at right guard, had arthroscopic knee surgery last week. Green is hopeful that Brown will return in two weeks, but that seems overly optimistic.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals might have lost another guard last Sunday. Alex Stepanovich, who had moved from right guard to left, suffered an injury to his right shoulder. He underwent an MRI Monday, and the results were not available. If Stepanovich can't play Sunday against Jacksonville, Adam Haayer likely would replace him. That would mean all three interior line positions will have changed since the opening of the season.

Nick Leckey took over at center when Stepanovich moved to guard. Stepanovich and then Jeremy Bridges replaced Brown when he suffered the knee injury. And Stepanovich moved to left guard when Reggie Wells suffered a season-ending ankle injury a week ago. The latest injury problems come at a time when the offense is showing signs of improvement. The Cardinals had a balanced attack last week in St. Louis, although that success could be attributed to the Rams' woeful defense.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Quarterback Kurt Warner has played well for three straight weeks, proving that's he's not quite done as a player. Warner is working under a one-year, $4 million deal and would like to stay in Arizona, if the situation is right. Look for the Cardinals to try to re-sign him, and those conversations likely will take place before the end of the season. Warner passed for 285 yards and three touchdowns last week in his return to St. Louis. "It was phenomenal," coach Dennis Green said. "It's a continuation of the Kurt Warner story."

--Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill moved his team from St. Louis to Arizona in 1988 and still takes great delight in winning in his old town. As fans headed to the exits during the Cardinals' victory Sunday, Bidwill said: "The parking lot is emptying out early."
--Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin caught his 200th career pass Sunday, a 13-yard touchdown. It was not a normal touchdown. Boldin took a 2-yard pass, juked a defender and eluded about four others for the score. No receiver in NFL history has reached the 200-reception mark faster than Boldin, who is in his third year. Boldin had missed the previous two games with a bone bruise. When asked if he was back, Boldin responded playfully: "I'm back. Didn't you see the touchdown?"

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES


--K Neil Rackers has made 31 straight field goals this season. That's the most field goals in a season in franchise history, breaking the record of 30 set by Greg Davis in 1995. Six of Rackers' kicks have been from 50 yards and beyond. That's the second most in a season in NFL history, two short of Morten Andersen's record set in Atlanta in 1995.

--RB J.J. Arrington, a rookie, is getting more playing time, and it might not be much longer until he replaces Marcel Shipp as the starter. Arrington has had some room to run lately, and he has displayed decent speed and quickness.

--CB Eric Green, a rookie, led the team with 15 tackles against St. Louis. That's not necessarily good news because the Rams picked on him throughout the game. It was Green's first NFL start.

REPORT CARD VS. RAMS

PASSING OFFENSE: A --
Kurt Warner turned in another great performance, throwing for three touchdowns. He wasn't sacked, and his two young receivers, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, made big plays.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- The Cardinals still haven't gained 100 yards in a game this season, but they had 94 Sunday. They had the lead for much of the game and were able to stick with the run.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- They had five sacks, one of which knocked Marc Bulger out of the game. But Bulger also passed for three scores, and the Rams had 385 yards.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Rams running back Steven Jackson gained just 6 yards on 12 carries. The Cardinals brought a safety down to the line of scrimmage on almost every play, and the Rams didn't adjust.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A --
Neil Rackers made all three field-goal attempts, extending his streak to 31. Reggie Swinton set up a touchdown with a 90-yard kick return. It was the best all-around performance of the year by the special teams.

COACHING: A --
The Cardinals aren't very good, but they play hard. Both the defensive and offensive schemes were creative, even though the team was missing several key players because of injury.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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It was very obvious what the Cardinals defense was doing Sunday in Arizona's 38-28 win over the Rams. There was no mystery to the game plan. To stop running back Steven Jackson, Arizona consistently put eight men in the box and brought safety Adrian Wilson off the edge on the blitz on virtually every play.

The result was 6 yards on 12 carries for Jackson, while Wilson had three sacks. One of those resulted in quarterback Marc Bulger injuring his shoulder and suffering a concussion, leaving the game with the same injury for the second time in 34 days. Said interim coach Joe Vitt, "It was lack of execution. We know where 24 (Wilson) is. We know where the slide is supposed to go. We know where the backs are supposed to go. And we don't get it done. There was absolutely no disguise by them of what they were doing.

"They were showing 24 in the paint, and wherever he showed in the paint, that was where he was coming from. So you have one of two ways to pick it up, either the backs go there and pick him up or the line slides and picks it up. Three times it was critical busts. And it was something that we had worked on in practice."
Said Wilson of the constant blitzing, "That was the game plan during the week. Actually, I think I came too many times. It was good for us. And we wanted to come out here and establish a little bit of tempo with these guys defensively and set the tone for the whole game."

The Rams led 17-16 with 4:31 remaining in the third quarter when Bulger was injured. After Arizona eventually went ahead 31-20 late in the game, backup quarterback Jamie Martin was sacked and fumbled on another successful blitz by linebacker Darryl Blackstock, giving the ball to the Cardinals at the Rams 15-yard line. The Cardinals scored again to it 38-20, and the Rams scored a late touchdown to make the final margin closer. On the Rams' final possession, running back Arlen Harris replaced Jackson because of the latter's struggles handling the blitz.

Concluded Rams center Andy McCollum, "You've got to give them some credit. They had a good game plan and they executed it." Obviously, the same could not be said for the Rams.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Throughout the practice week, it was said that right guard Adam Timmerman would not start against the Cardinals, that he would only be available in an emergency. Timmerman has been bothered by a back injury, following an offseason in which he had surgery on both shoulders and his foot. But Timmerman started Sunday and played most of the game. Playing continued his streak of consecutive games, which is now at 185 and 90 straight starts. Said Vitt, "He took two series on Friday (in practice) and really played good. So when a guy like that comes to you and says he's ready to go, you give him the start."

"I guess throughout the week, (the back) got better," Timmerman said. "It's a little tight right now, but for the most part when I got up (Sunday) morning, it was the best it's felt in probably three weeks." Timmerman shared time with Blaine Saipaia during the game, and said, "(That) was probably smart. It went pretty well really."

--Much was said after the Rams' win over Jacksonville Oct. 30 about Vitt's motivational ploys. The day before the New Orleans game, he played a tape of Jim Valvano's "Never Give Up" speech. The next week, before the game against the Jaguars, it was a clip from "The Gladiators." Of course, few mentioned before the loss to Seattle Nov. 13 that portions of the hockey movie "Miracle" were played because the Rams lost. A few days before Sunday's game against Arizona, players decided to wear their blue pants at home for the first time in a show of team unity. It was a week marked by discussion of an anonymous player's comment about the team's defensive tackles to Sports Illustrated, an altercation in practice Wednesday between offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery, and Mike Martz showing up at practice for 30 minutes Friday.

But in the end, the Rams continued their mistake-filled brand of football. Asked about the decision to wear blue pants, Vitt said, "It's just something the guys voted on."

--Vitt has had officials at practice the past few weeks, but the mistakes, especially at critical times, continue. Said Vitt, "We've brought in the officials for practice. We have charted penalties in practice. We have listed the penalties on the board. I've come in every morning and tell the players in practice offsides, illegal contact down the field, false starts, illegal procedures. We chart them on a daily basis. And they continue to happen. Again, we're either accepting it as coaches or we're not, but it has to stop. It has to stop. I think with the parity this year in the National Football League, most of these teams are even. And the team that plays the most mistake-free football is the team that has the best chance to win. And before you ever win in this league, you have to keep from losing. And we keep shooting ourselves in the foot."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Marc Bulger underwent an MRI for his injured shoulder Monday, but no results were immediately available. Bulger is expected to miss anywhere from two to four weeks. He also had a concussion.

--SS Adam Archuleta spent Sunday night in the hospital as a precaution after suffering a concussion in the first quarter of the game against Cardinals. "I think he went in and played two series after the initial concussion," interim coach Joe Vitt said. "To his credit, he tried to stay in there and battle, but he was really woozy on the sideline." Archuleta will undergo testing later in the week before it's determined whether he can play Sunday at Houston.

--OG Blaine Saipaia suffered a concussion against the Cardinals on Sunday and spent the night in the hospital as a precaution. Saipaia will undergo testing later in the week before it's determined whether he can play Sunday at Houston.

--SS Jerome Carter saw his most extensive action of the season after Adam Archuleta suffered a concussion. Said interim coach Joe Vitt, "Jerome Carter made some mistakes (Sunday) when he had to go in and play for Arch. It was his first extended play time in a mixed-down situation. He's going to grow from that. At the end of the day, he did more good things than bad things."

--NT Ryan Pickett had another solid game, making four tackles and deflecting a pass against Arizona.

REPORT CARD VS. CARDINALS

PASSING OFFENSE: B --
Marc Bulger and Jamie Martin combined to complete 33 of 43 passes for 385 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. That's very good. But Bulger was sacked three times and Martin twice, with the last sack on Bulger knocking him out of the game. Stats mean little when the starting quarterback is lost because of failure to pick up blitzers.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- Brutal. RB Steven Jackson rushed 12 times for 6 yards, lost a fumble deep in Arizona territory, and five of his attempts went for minus-11 yards. In one second-quarter stretch, Jackson had 13 yards on three attempts. His other nine rushes "totaled" minus-7 yards.

PASS DEFENSE: D --
Except for one sack/fumble in the first quarter, the Rams got no pressure on QB Kurt Warner, who picked them apart all afternoon. Warner, playing in St. Louis for the first time since leaving the Rams after the 2002 season, completed 27 of 39 passes for 285 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 115.9.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Rams weren't gashed for big plays, but they still allowed a team that had averaged 67.4 yards a game to gain 94 yards on 26 carries. Rookie RB J.J. Arrington had 45 yards on 11 attempts.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- The Rams were showing improvement on coverage units until a huge breakdown late in the game. After kicking a field goal to pull within 24-20 with 3:35 remaining in the game, the Cardinals' Reggie Swinton took the ensuing kickoff 90 yards to the 5-yard line, setting up a touchdown that virtually sealed the victory. David Allen did average 26.5 yards on six returns, while K Jeff Wilkins hit two extra points to extend his streak to 301, tying Norm Johnson for the second-longest consecutive streak in NFL history.

COACHING: C -- First, there was Vitt's questionable decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-5 from the Arizona 14-yard line, training by seven points. Later, Vitt used the team's final timeout with 2:04 left in the game.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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San Francisco receiver Brandon Lloyd rebounded with a strong game Sunday against the Seahawks after a horrible showing a week earlier. Lloyd appeared to shy away from two catchable balls in the 49ers' eight-point loss to the Bears on Nov. 13, including one at the goal line. Afterward, Lloyd pointed the finger at quarterback Cody Pickett for throwing the ball too soon.

Last week, 49ers coach Mike Nolan said he talked twice with Lloyd on the subject.

"You count on your teammates to make you a better player, and if you alienate those players, you're not helping yourself any," Nolan said. "It's pretty simple: No one guy is going to get the job done by himself.

"Guys go the extra mile for someone they really care about. Everybody knows Brandon is a good player on the football team and they want him to perform well, but I don't care how good you are, if you alienate people, it doesn't help you do your job as best you can."

Lloyd declined to answer questions about his conversations with Nolan. "What me and coach Nolan talk about is between us, so I'll be happy to talk to you about (Sunday's) game and the Tennessee game," Lloyd said.

Lloyd provided many of the highlights Sunday in the 49ers' closer-than-expected 27-25 loss to the Seahawks. He caught seven passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. He could have had another touchdown, but he was ruled out of bounds on a one-handed grab in the end zone in the third quarter. "They said I was going to be out of bounds," Lloyd said. "I thought I was more pushed out."

Lloyd downplayed any notion that it was important for him to rebound after a rough game against the Bears. He chalked up the narrow loss as another learning experience along the way for the 49ers, who face the Titans on Sunday in a game the team believes it has a legitimate chance to win.

"We grew up a lot (against Seattle), but the way we're going to measure our growth is how we play next week," Lloyd said. "We've had strong practices every week, and finally we're able to carry it over to the game."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Mike Nolan has a decision to make. Does he go with Ken Dorsey, who played well Sunday in a two-point loss to the Seahawks, or does he go with top overall pick Alex Smith? Dorsey aggravated a left ankle sprain on Sunday. Smith practiced last week but was designated the team's No. 3 quarterback because Cody Pickett had the potential of being used on special teams. If Dorsey had come out of the game in the fourth quarter, Nolan said Smith would have entered the game.

Nolan declined to tip his hand whether he would go with Dorsey if he was deemed healthy. "If he's healthy ... I'd rather refrain from anything on that until we see how it is," Nolan said.

--Running back Maurice Hicks did not get his first carry of the season until the 10th game, after Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore were unavailable due to injuries. On his first carry, he ripped off a 50-yard run. "It feels good to be able to step in and help my team," said Hicks, who finished with 83 yards on 11 carries. "I want to put them in the best situation to win. Patience is the key. I knew my opportunity would come, and it did."

--Tight end Terry Jones started for the 49ers just five days after he was claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens. Jones caught one pass for 19 yards -- the longest reception from a 49ers tight end this season.

--Former 49ers public-relations director Kirk Reynolds, who left the club after his controversial training tape was found its way into the media, made his first appearance at Monster Park. Reynolds worked as Steve Young's public-relations man.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES


--DE Bryant Young sustained a medial collateral tear in his right knee and some cartilage damage. He is expected to miss three to six weeks, which puts his return this season in question. Young leads the 49ers with eight sacks and was on pace for a Pro Bowl season.

--QB Ken Dorsey re-injured his left ankle but said he did not believe the injury would prevent him from playing in Sunday's game against the Titans if the coach Mike Nolan decides to give him the start.

--QB Alex Smith said he practiced all last week without any pain and said his right knee is fine and should not prevent him from playing Sunday against the Titans.

--RB Frank Gore was on crutches Monday because of a left hip flexor that kept him out of action on Sunday. Gore probably will not be able to play in Sunday's game against the Titans.

--RB Kevan Barlow left the Seattle game in the third quarter with a concussion. He said he was able to return to the field, but team doctors decided to play it safe. Barlow said he passed all the tests on Monday and expects to play Sunday against the Titans.

REPORT CARD VS. SEAHAWKS

PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus --
Quarterback Ken Dorsey played very well in his second start of the season, compiling a passer rating of 101.1 with 18 completions in 29 attempts for 249 yards and one touchdown. Receiver Brandon Lloyd bounced back with a big game, catching seven passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. Left tackle Adam Snyder performed well in his first start at that spot, taking over for ineffective Anthony Clement. The blemish on Dorsey's day was the failed two-point conversion pass at game's end. Dorsey underthrew Johnnie Morton on the pass when it appeared as if running back Terry Jackson was wide open.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Third-stringer Maurice Hicks came on when the first two backs, Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore, were unavailable due to injuries. Hicks gained 83 yards on 11 carries. His 1-yard touchdown burst in the final minute set the stage for the two-point conversion that could have sent the game into OT. The run-blocking was very good, with C Jeremy Newberry and RT Kwame Harris, in particular, doing good work.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus --
The 49ers' banged-up secondary held its own against a high-powered Seahawks offense. Matt Hasselbeck threw for 233 yards and one touchdown, but most of the damage was kept to a minimum. Safeties Mike Adams and Ben Emanuel, starting in place of injured Tony Parrish, both played well. The pass rush did not get sufficient pressure on Hasselbeck.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Aside from one play on which Shaun Alexander scampered for 40 yards because of a blown assignment and two missed tackles, the run defense did a very good job. For the game, the Seahawks attempted 34 runs and averaged 4.3 yards a carry. Alexander was held more than a half-yard under his season average.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C --
K Joe Nedney again helped keep the 49ers in the game with four field goals. And P Andy Lee did a fine job with a 40.0-yard net average. But for the second straight week, return man Rasheed Marshall lost a fumble that led directly to points on the other end.

COACHING: B-plus --
Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy opened the playbook a little and allowed Dorsey to try to make some plays down the field. The 49ers were able to get the offense moving a little because things were not so stodgy. Coach Mike Nolan has done a good job of managing his locker room and keeping hope alive when things could have spiraled out of control.


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