NFC West News & Notes - 11/23/05

The Rams suffer a huge personnel hit, the 49ers' top receiver stakes his claim, the Cardinals pick a winner at the quarterback position, and Seattle's defense presents unexpected stars in today's News and Notes.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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Seattle's defense has exceeded expectations while playing with unheralded players in key spots. There were a few red flags raised, however, when San Francisco strung together a pair of long second-half touchdown drives Sunday. The Seahawks will face considerably tougher competition when the 7-3 Giants visit Qwest Field on Sunday. The Giants are the No. 3 scoring team in the league. They have proven weapons at receiver, tight end and running back. Second-year quarterback Eli Manning has been making plays, too.

"We have to really step it up," Seahawks defensive tackle Chuck Darby said. "It's going to be a big game."

Darby symbolizes the Seattle defense: undersized and underestimated, but effective when it avoids breakdowns in execution. "You have to earn respect," Darby said. "They're going to say, 'Look at the defense, it's a no-name defense.'

"They're going to come out here and I'm quite sure the coach will say they can run the ball on us, they can throw it on us. All teams are going to say that about us this year."

Seattle ranks 15th in total defense this season. The Seahawks have remained effective defensively by ranking second in red-zone defense and third in sacks per pass attempt. "We have to come out there and start fast, we have to work together," Darby said. "We have to work on all cylinders this week. (Against the 49ers), we did some good things and some bad things. We can't afford to make mistakes like that next week because they're a better team and they're going to go out there with all they've got."

NFC supremacy is at stake. Seattle leads the conference at 8-2. The Giants are among a crowd of teams at 7-3. "They've got a good offense and a lot of weapons," said defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, who leads NFL tackles with 7 1/2 sacks. "It will be a big challenge for us."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Matt Hasselbeck's passer rating is 89.3, eighth-best in the league. His numbers have suffered a bit from the loss of starting WR Darrell Jackson, who remains sidelined by a knee injury.

--QB Seneca Wallace has played in only two games this season, attempting one pass. His lone pass attempt resulted in a 42-yard completion. The team does not expect him to play unless staring QB Matt Hasselbeck suffers an injury.

--RB Shaun Alexander has 19 rushing TDs, more than the combined totals for RBs Tiki Barber (6), Clinton Portis (5), Warrick Dunn (3), Willis McGahee (4) and Reuben Droughns (2). Alexander faces a Giants defense that has allowed six rushing TDs this season.

--RB Maurice Morris has 30 carries for 171 yards and one touchdown this season. He is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. Morris has been overshadowed his entire career by RB Shaun Alexander.

--WR Darrell Jackson is not expected to return until after Sunday's game against the Giants. Seattle's passing game has remained effective without Jackson, but some of its potency is gone. Jackson was the team's best big-play threat in the passing game. He also had a rapport with WR Matt Hasselbeck.

--WR Bobby Engram has re-emerged as a primary target since returning from cracked ribs. He has 15 catches in three games since returning. That gives him 42 catches in seven games. He caught 36 passes in 13 games last season.

--WR Joe Jurevicius has a chance to set a career high for catches this season. He has 36 catches in 10 games. He caught 51 passes for the Giants in 2001, his last season with the team. Jurevicius already has caught a career-high five TD passes.

--TE Jerramy Stevens dropped a pass Sunday against the 49ers, a rare lapse for one of the Seahawks' better players in recent games. Stevens will be overshadowed this week given the presence of TE Jeremy Shockey on the Giants.

--K Josh Brown lacked depth on his kickoffs in San Francisco on Sunday and missed a 51-yard FG attempt.

--DE Bryce Fisher has 7 1/2 sacks through 10 games. He needs one more sack to match the career high he set with the Rams last season. Fisher has been a better pure pass rusher than the Seahawks thought they were getting.

--DT Rocky Bernard leads all NFL defensive tackles with 7 1/2 sacks after collecting two more Sunday against the 49ers. Bernard has started fast in previous seasons, but this time he has sustained the effort deep into November.

--LB Leroy Hill has three sacks in three November games as he continues to get more playing time. Hill ranks among the NFL's top rookies in sacks. His pass-rush ability was what Seattle liked most when the Seahawks drafted him in the third round.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Quarterback Kurt Warner has been much more efficient in his last three starts than in his first three starts this season. Coach Dennis Green attributes that to being more familiar with the offensive system.

"He's a better player now for us in this system then he was in the beginning of the year," Green said. "(He) had to shake off the system he was in before, where they hold the ball a little bit longer, little bit deeper routes, more speed. It took him a little bit of time to get a feel for our system. I think he has it now."

In the first three games, Warner passed for 699 yards and had a passer rating of 78.7. He was intercepted twice, threw for just one touchdown and was sacked nine times. Since returning from a groin injury three games ago, Warner has passed for 978 yards, thrown for five touchdowns and been intercepted three times. He has been sacked five times.

While he might feel more comfortable in the system, a bigger factor is that the Cardinals are getting a better feel about how to use their own personnel, including Warner's skills. The pass protection has improved with the team using more maximum protection. The Cardinals are also using shorter drops, allowing Warner to get rid of the ball before he feels pressure.

It also helped last week that receiver Anquan Boldin returned after missing two games with a knee bruise. He made a dynamic 13-yard touchdown reception against St. Louis, the kind of play that ignites an offense.

With time, Warner should have no problem finding Boldin and receiver Larry Fitzgerald. If the Cardinals running game develops - a big if - the passing game will be even more productive.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Kurt Warner has four touchdown passes in the past two games and hasn't been intercepted. He's thrown for 978 yards in the past three.

--QB Josh McCown probably won't start another game this season unless Kurt Warner gets hurt. McCown is a solid backup, however, who can guide a team to a win.

--RB Marcel Shipp had more room to run that usual last week but he doesn't have the big-play ability of J.J. Arrington. Shipp could lose his starting job soon.

--RB J.J. Arrington appears to be more confident and is playing much better than he did earlier this season. It wouldn't be surprising to see him move into a starting role this season.

--RB James Jackson has played a limited role in the past two weeks. That won't change unless there is an injury ahead of him.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald continues to produce every week. Fitzgerald leads the league in receptions and will just continue to get better.

--WR Anquan Boldin is the team's best player, period. He's a warrior who plays hard all the time. The Cardinals don't pretend to be anything but a passing team, so Boldin will get plenty of opportunities.

--WR Bryant Johnson will miss a third straight game with a sprained shoulder.

--WR LeRon McCoy, a rookie, missed some route adjustments last week and needs to play better to receive more playing time.

--TE Eric Edwards is a decent receiver and the team is beginning to throw more to its tight ends.

--TE Adam Bergen, a rookie, has nice hands and scored his first touchdown last week.

--K Neil Rackers has made 31 straight field goals and has made at least two in every game this season. He has made six from 50 yards or more, tying for second-most in NFL history. The record is eight, set by Atlanta's Morten Anderson in 1995.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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With the Rams in deep trouble with a 4-6 record, there are those who want to see what rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick would do in a game situation. Fitzpatrick, this year's seventh-round draft pick from Harvard, won the third quarterback job with an impressive preseason, beating out Jeff Smoker. Because of injuries to starter Marc Bulger and backup Jamie Martin, Fitzpatrick will get practice time this week with the first unit. Fitzpatrick displayed an ability to run in the preseason, and that could be an important skill to have. Bulger and Martin have been sacked a combined 32 times, fourth-most in the NFL.

Bulger injured his throwing shoulder for the second time this season, and this injury is said to be worse than the one he suffered Oct. 17 against Indianapolis. Bulger missed two games, then had the team's bye week before returning against Seattle on Nov. 13. Bulger was injured when sacked by Arizona safety Adrian Wilson. He also suffered a concussion on the play.

An MRI was negative, but reports indicated there is more swelling this time than after the earlier injury. With only six games remaining in the regular season, Bulger might not play again this year. When asked Monday about Bulger, interim coach Joe Vitt said, "(He's) sore. Very, very sore. He also sustained a concussion. He's banged up."

Martin entered the game when Bulger left late in the third quarter, and suffered bruised ribs. That injury is believed to have occurred on a sack/fumble in the fourth quarter.

Running back Steven Jackson played poorly picking up blitzes during the game. When the Rams got the ball back after the sack on Martin, Arlen Harris replaced Jackson in the backfield.

PLAYER NOTES

--SS Adam Archuleta is expected to miss Sunday's game against Houston as a result of the concussion he suffered last Sunday against Arizona. Rookie Jerome Carter would replace him as the starter.

--SS Jerome Carter would start Sunday against Houston if, as expected, Adam Archuleta doesn't play because of a concussion suffered against Arizona. This would be the first start for the rookie. Carter played extensively against the Cardinals when Archuleta left the game.

--OL Blaine Saipaia is expected to miss Sunday's game against Houston as a result of the concussion he suffered last Sunday against Arizona. Saipaia was the first guard off the bench, and split time with Adam Timmerman against the Cardinals. Saipaia was injured blocking on a kickoff return.

--QB Marc Bulger might miss the remainder of the season after suffering his second shoulder injury of the season Sunday. The injury occurred on a day in which Bulger tied Dallas' Drew Bledsoe for first place in the NFC in passer rating at 94.4.

--QB Jamie Martin is expected to start Sunday against Houston if he recovers from bruised ribs suffered last week against the Cardinals. The Rams are 2-0 in Martin's two previous starts this season.

--QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will take snaps with the first unit in practice this week, with Marc Bulger out and Jamie Martin nursing bruised ribs.

--RB Steven Jackson seems to have games in which he loses concentration, and Sunday appeared to be one. He struggled in every aspect of the game, and was replaced late in the game by Arlen Harris because of problems blocking the blitz.

--RB Marshall Faulk was used sparingly Sunday against Arizona because of the numerous times the Cardinals were blitzing. Faulk does well against the blitz, but to play him a lot just to block would have been counterproductive.

--WR Isaac Bruce's 46-yard touchdown reception Sunday was the 76th of his career, tying him with Harold Jackson and Fred Biletnikoff for 20th place on the NFL all-time list.

--WR Torry Holt, after struggling his first week back from a knee injury, had 11 receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown against Arizona.

--WR Kevin Curtis had another productive day receiving, with nine catches for 98 yards and a 26-yard touchdown against the Cardinals.

--TE Brandon Manumaleuna, after fumbling the previous week against Seattle, did not have a pass thrown his way Sunday against Arizona.

--PK Jeff Wilkins is 16 of 18 on field goals this season after hitting another two Sunday against Arizona. Wilkins has also made all 26 of his extra points, and has hit 301 straight in his career.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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Just when things appeared as if they were coming together for the 49ers defense, the club lost perhaps its best player. Defensive end Bryant Young, who had been thriving in the 49ers' new 3-4 scheme in his 12th NFL season, was lost for three to six weeks with knee ligament and cartilage tears. It is possible he could miss the remainder of the season. Young said he is optimistic he will be able to return to the playing field. Though he was on crutches Monday, he said he plans to be aggressive in his rehabilitation in hopes that the injury sustained in the second quarter of Sunday's game against the Seahawks is not a season-ender.

Young sustained the injury while making a tackle on Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander. A pile of bodies fell on Young's right leg while he had Alexander wrapped up. Young returned for one play later in the half, but quickly exited the game because he felt instability in his knee.

"Regardless of BY's situation, we're always going to turn to him to be a leader," 49ers linebacker Andre Carter said. "He's the heart of this team." Young becomes the fifth defensive starter from the season opener to be lost. Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich and defensive backs Ahmed Plummer, Tony Parrish and Mike Rumph are all out with injuries, while linebacker Jamie Winborn was traded to the Jaguars in October.

Young is the team's most popular player, a point that was driven home on Sunday after his injury. The crowd at Monster Park showed its appreciation to him when he was taken off the field, when he walked to the locker room, and again when he emerged from the locker room to rejoin his teammates. "It was really humbling to experience," Young said. "I'm really grateful for the fans we have and the years I've been here. I couldn't believe that. It's like, 'Wow, that's for me?' It was good to hear that when you have the crowd behind you."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Alex Smith said he practiced all last week without any pain in his right knee and said he figures to be close to 100 percent for Sunday's game. However, coach Mike Nolan has not made a decision whether Smith will return to the starting lineup or if Ken Dorsey will retain the job.

--QB Ken Dorsey played very well Sunday in the 49ers' 27-25 loss to the Seahawks, and might have earned himself another start. However, the issue is whether Dorsey is 100 percent after aggravating a left ankle sprain. With his solid performance, Dorsey has become the team's highest-ranked passer, surpassing Tim Rattay, who was traded last month. Dorsey has a passer rating of 79.1.

--QB Cody Pickett was active for Sunday's game against the Seahawks but did not play. He was a backup on special teams, as well as the team's backup quarterback for the first three quarters. But if Ken Dorsey had been injured in the fourth quarter, coach Mike Nolan said Alex Smith would have taken over.

--RB Kevan Barlow declared himself ready to return to action Sunday against the Titans after sustaining the second concussion of his career. Barlow missed a game last year after he got knocked in the head against the Rams. Barlow leads the team with 508 yards rushing on 151 carries for a 3.4-yard average.

--RB Frank Gore is questionable for this week with a left hip flexor strain. Gore was unavailable for Sunday's game against the Seahawks because of the injury, which he sustained in practice Friday. His condition did not improve. He is still hobbling around on crutches. Gore has 326 yards on 65 carries for the season.

--RB Maurice Hicks, buried at No. 3 on the depth chart, finally got his chance to play after injuries to Kevan Barlow and Frank Gore. Hicks responded with 83 yards on 11 carries. He tore off a 50-yard run the first time he touched the ball. He also ran for a touchdown.

--FB Fred Beasley did not play in Sunday's game because of a neck stinger. His availability for Sunday's game against the Titans is also in question.

--FB Chris Hetherington took over as the starter for Fred Beasley and did a good job blocking in the run game. Hetherington did not carry or catch a pass.

--WR Brandon Lloyd rebounded with a strong game after struggling a week earlier against the Bears. In fact, coach Mike Nolan said he had two talks with Lloyd about his conduct. Nolan said he was concerned that Lloyd might alienate some of his teammates. After he appeared to shy away from a pass on the goal line against the Bears in traffic, he blamed the mistake on QB Cody Pickett throwing the pass too soon. Nolan said he was pleased with the way Lloyd came back with seven catches for 119 yards and one touchdown.

--WR Arnaz Battle is as healthy as he's been since the third game of the season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last week. Battle should be close to 100 percent Sunday against the Titans. Battle caught one pass for 11 yards against the Seahawks.

--WR Johnnie Morton, the 49ers' No. 3 receiver, is fourth on the team with 16 catches for 184 yards.

--TE Terry Jones, who was claimed five days earlier off waivers, started for the 49ers and caught one pass for 19 yards. It was the longest completion to a 49ers tight end this season.

--K Joe Nedney scored 43 consecutive points for the 49ers before the club finally scored a touchdown. Nedney has made 18 of 20 field-goal attempts this season.

--DE Bryant Young will miss from three to six weeks with tears to his medial collateral ligament and meniscus cartilage of his right knee. Young leads the 49ers with eight sacks this season and was on pace to be perhaps the 49ers' only representative in the Pro Bowl.

--WR Marcus Maxwell was elevated to the 53-man roster last week after the Jets and Packers made recent inquiries about taking him off the 49ers' practice squad. Maxwell was not active for his first game, but might see some action later in the season.

--LT Adam Snyder played extremely well in his first start at left tackle in place of struggling Anthony Clement. Snyder started a week earlier against the Bears at right guard and also performed well.

--FS Mike Adams is a player who appears to have a long career ahead of him with the 49ers. The club likes what he brings to the lineup. He ranks second on the team in tackles with 51.

--RB Terry Jackson is having a very good season on special teams, where he leads the club with 16 tackles. Jackson also provided a spark for the team on offense in one-back sets, as he caught two passes for 23 yards.


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