GameScout: The NFC West, Week Twelve

The Rams and 49ers face teams that share their sub-.500 records, the Cardinals prepare to meet a stellar foe in the Jaguars, and Seattle will do battle with a team that wishes to take the top spot in the conference.

New York Giants (7-3) at Seattle Seahawks (8-2)

Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 11/27/05
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
SERIES: 11th meeting. The Giants hold a 7-3 series lead over the Seahawks. They have won four of the last five meetings, most recently in 2002, a battle of field goals that ended 9-6. A 1986 loss, 17-12 in Seattle, marked one of only two defeats the Giants would suffer that year, on their way to the Super Bowl XXI championship.
2005 RANKINGS: Giants: offense 10th (10th rush, 12th pass); defense 23rd (6th rush, 26th pass). Seahawks: offense 1st (3rd rush, 10th pass); defense 15th (11th rush, 20th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Seahawks aren't known for their great pass rushers, but Seattle's 34 sacks have to be a concern for the Giants, who enter the game with the status of LT Luke Petitgout and C Shaun O'Hara in question. The Giants will no doubt lean on RB Tiki Barber early on in a tough road environment, but it won't take QB Eli Manning long to test the Seahawks' secondary. Seattle has played bend-but-don't-break defense the past two games, and nickel CB Kelly Herndon has quickly become a liability in coverage. RB Shaun Alexander will be the focus of the Giants' defense, although Seattle does have one of the league's most balanced attacked. LT Walter Jones should have a good battle with Giants DE Osi Umenyiora, while the Seahawks will likely have to provide blocking help for second-year RT Sean Locklear against DE Michael Strahan. Seattle wants to test the Giants' secondary, which could be without CB Curtis Deloatch.

FAST FACTS: Giants: Lead the series 7-3. ... With his first punt, P Jeff Feagles will break former Vikings DE Jim Marshall's NFL record with his 282nd consecutive appearance. Feagles played for the Seahawks for five seasons (1998-2002). He is second on Seattle’s all-time list in four punting categories (punts, punting yards, inside the 20, touchbacks). Seahawks: Alexander's 19 touchdowns are the most in league history through 10 games. ... Will clinch the NFC West title with a victory and a St. Louis loss in Houston. ... Hasselbeck was recruited by Giants coach Tom Coughlin to play at Boston College. ... Six-game winning streak is the team's longest since 1984...Seahawks first-round draft choice, center Chris Spencer, and Giants QB Eli Manning played collegiately at Ole Miss...WR Joe Jurevicius played for the Giants for four seasons (1998-2001). He was the Giants second-round pick (55th overall) in 1998 NFL Draft.



--TE Jeremy Shockey (chest) has been updated to probable. He practiced both Thursday and Friday.

--RCB Curtis Deloatch, who earned the starting job by default when Will Peterson suffered a back injury (stress fracture of the transverse process), may himself be relegated to a backup role. He suffered a turf burn infection and was taken to a hospital for an overnight stay for observation and I.V. fluid intake. If he can't play, it will be rookie Corey Webster on the firing line.

--Backup QB Tim Hasselbeck, who has yet to throw a pass this season, will experience a family reunion Sunday in Seattle. That's where his brother, Matt, is the starting quarterback for the Seahawks. "Most of the family, and it's a big family, plans to be there," he said. The Giants and Seahawks fashioned custom jerseys, made up of half Giants and half Seahawks which the brothers will model for photographers sometime in Seattle.

--LG David Diehl, who has yet to miss a game since being drafted by the Giants in the fifth round of 2003, planned to spend his Thanksgiving protecting QB Eli Manning. Huh? "I'm going to protect him from eating too much," laughed the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder who has played right tackle and right guard, each for a year. "I'm going to his place and his parents will be there. I think Mrs. Manning is doing the cooking."

--WR Amani Toomer, on his recent "renaissance" as a go-to target for QB Eli Manning: "Most defenses take a look at our offense and say that they have to double-team Plax (Burress) or Jeremy (Shockey), and they say they'll let Amani beat them. That's OK with me. I'm up to the challenge. And this body isn't old enough yet to quit."

--The Giants lead the NFC in scoring with 281 points after scoring a total of 303 all last season. What's happening? "Eli is the answer," RB Tiki Barber said. "He is coming along faster than anybody could have imagined."


--DT Marcus Tubbs (calf) did not practice Thursday, but did practice Friday. He remained questionable.

--LB D.D. Lewis (knee) did not practice Thursday, but did practice Friday. He is listed as probable and is expected to play Sunday.

--DE Bryce Fisher (knee) practiced Thursday and Friday. He remained probable.

--WR Darrell Jackson (knee) did not practice Thursday. He remains out.

--LB Jamie Sharper (knee) did not practice Thursday. He remains out.



When the Giants signed veteran offensive tackle Bob Whitfield, a 6-foot-6, 315-pound veteran of 13 NFL seasons, it was thought that he was going to be an emergency backup to left tackle Luke Petitgout. Nothing more.

After all, Whitfield, once a first-round draft pick by Atlanta and a former Pro Bowl selection, was about out of gas. Just a guy with a lot of background and stuff floating around in his head about how to play the position perfectly. But the Giants had a premonition that Whitfield, in the words of general manager Ernie Accorsi, "has more left in his tank than Lomas did."

The reference is to Lomas Brown, a Pro Bowl tackle signed by the Giants prior to the 2000 season who, along with another veteran, guard Glenn Parker, became the two-headed fixture on the left side of the offensive line as the Giants trotted off to Super Bowl XXXV.

"He is a young 34," Accorsi said. "He is going to help us in many ways."

How many ways? Well, he has filled in sporadically for Petitgout this season, most recently almost the entire second half against the Eagles on Nov. 20. He plays with a verve and enthusiasm that belies his age, and he just loves the action. "It's what I do," he says. "I don't want to stop playing until my body says it's over, and I haven't heard it say that yet."

Another function of this man-mountain is his teaching ability. Yes, he has taken over the refinement of Petitgout, also a former first-round pick (by the Giants). "Oh, there are just little things," he said. "Luke will listen to me. Hey, he's the man at left tackle. I'm just his backup. But I have been around for a long time, and I see little things he does that maybe I can help him do better." Whitfield, a Stanford graduate and a businessman in his adopted hometown of Atlanta (music recording studios), is almost always smiling. The exception? When the game starts and he is on the sideline.

In a rare insight to his competitive streak, he offered one of the best lines of the season way back in training camp. "I don't know how to practice to be a second-string tackle," he says, "so I'll just keep practicing as a starter."


Shaun Alexander seems to be having more fun this season on and off the field. That was the assessment this week from coach Mike Holmgren, who said he sees a difference in Alexander. "He is practicing as well as he's ever practiced here," Holmgren said. "Even after a game, where he is sore, he is taking his reps. He's battling through bumps and bruises better, in my opinion."

Alexander leads the NFL in rushing with 1,229 yards. He also has 19 touchdowns, putting him on pace to set an NFL record. Those numbers would be enough to put anyone in a good mood.

"His demeanor, his give-and-take with his teammates, is better that it's ever been," Holmgren said. "Now, you can have quiet guys and vocal guys and all that kind of stuff. But there's just a sense that they know what kind of year he is having, what kind of year he is having for us. He is complementing his offensive line; everything is just great."

The Seahawks have yet to reach a long-term contract agreement with Alexander. The sixth-year pro is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March 2006. The contract situation has not distracted Alexander from the task at hand.

"I was talking to him the other day and I said I am very proud how he is handling this season," Holmgren said. "Because to say you are not thinking about the contract is foolish. So let's not say that you don't. It is what it is, and he has approached this season very professionally. He's been a big part of our success so far.
"I just think he's probably having a great time. ... Everything's good, and it shows."

San Francisco 49ers (2-8) at Tennessee Titans (2-8)

Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 11/27/05
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Tim Ryan
SERIES: 11th meeting. The 49ers lead 7-3, including victories in six of the last seven meetings. The 49ers have never played a road game against the organization since it moved from Houston.
2005 RANKINGS: 49ers: offense 32nd (20th rush, 32nd pass); defense 32nd (24th rush, 32nd pass). Titans: offense 17th (21st rush, 13th pass); defense 18th (13th rush, 21st pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: 49ers QB Ken Dorsey earned at least one more start thanks to his best game as a pro against Seattle last Sunday. He looked much more comfortable stepping up in the pocket and showed enough arm to stretch the field. That was courtesy of improved line play with rookie LT Adam Snyder playing well. But Dorsey must get help from his running game, and third-string RB Maurice Hicks could see plenty of action with Frank Gore (hip) unlikely to play and starter Kevan Barlow coming off a concussion. Tennessee's offensive is also reliant upon its running game, which averaged just 3.0 yards per carry last Sunday. But RB Chris Brown should have some running lanes with the 49ers turning to second-year DT Isaac Sopoaga and rookie NT Ronald Fields with defensive leader Bryant Young out. Titans QB Steve McNair has a strained hip, but is expected to play and test young 49ers CBs Shawntae Spencer and Bruce Thornton.

FAST FACTS: 49ers: Have won seven of 10 previous meetings. ... Have lost 23 of their past 27 road games. ... LB Derek Smith needs 12 tackles to reach 100 for the ninth consecutive season. Titans: Brown has six touchdowns in his past five games. ... Coach Jeff Fisher was the 49ers defensive backs coach from 1992-93. ... McNair needs 10 rushing yards to pass John Elway (3,407) for fourth-most all-time by a quarterback.



--CB Shawntae Spencer rolled an ankle during practice Thursday and is questionable for Sunday's game against the Titans. Spencer is the only San Francisco defensive back who has started every game this season.

--CB Derrick Johnson, who has played well as the nickel back, is in line to start Sunday's game if Shawntae Spencer is not available due to an ankle sprain. Johnson started one game this season, and returned a fumble 78 yards for a touchdown before sustaining a groin strain that sidelined him for one game.

--CB B.J. Tucker, who was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster this week, will see considerable action as a nickel back if starter Shawntae Spencer is unable to play due to an ankle sprain.

--DT Isaac Sopoaga will make his first NFL start on Sunday against the Titans. Anthony Adams, who started the first 10 games at nose tackle moves to left defensive end to take over for injured Bryant Young. Sopoaga, a powerful 6-foot-2, 332-pounder, has 15 tackles this season and one forced fumble.

--DE Anthony Adams, who started the first 10 games of the season at nose tackle, will take over for Bryant Young at left defensive end. Adams will be asked to be more of a presence as a pass rusher. Adams has 24 tackles this season and two sacks.

--RB Maurice Hicks will take over as the backup to Kevan Barlow and is expected to see plenty of action as a "change of pace" running back. Hicks has good speed and hits the hole hard. He gained 83 yards on 11 carries against the Seahawks last week in his first action on offense.


--QB Steve McNair returned to practice Thursday after taking a day off Wednesday to rest hip and back troubles. He did seven-on-seven work and only one team period in the team's practice bubble and said he'll take a full load on Friday. The 49ers are one of two teams he's never started a game against.

--WR Tyrone Calico (calf) may need another week to return. He was making a minimal contribution when he strained a calf against Oakland on Oct. 30, and has missed the Titans' last two games.

--WR Drew Bennett should be even more comfortable in his second game back from a dislocated thumb. He'll continue to wear a splint against the 49ers.

--CB Reynaldo Hill is coming off a poor performance against the Jaguars and is likely to match up against the 49ers' acrobatic receiver Brandon Lloyd on Sunday.

--CB Pacman Jones will continue to field both punts and kicks against the 49ers in Nashville on Sunday.

--TE Erron Kinney was held out of practice Wednesday because of a calf injury, but he was back in action on Thursday and should be fine Sunday against the 49ers.



The 49ers' two most productive players this season have been defensive end Bryant Young and kicker Joe Nedney. Four days after Young was lost for three to six weeks with a right knee injury, Nedney appears as if he will not be available for Sunday's game against the Titans because of a groin strain.

"B.Y. and Joe in the same week," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "That's not a good deal." Nedney has been plagued by injuries in recent years. He sustained a torn ACL in the first game of the 2003 season, then missed all of '04 with a torn hamstring. Both injuries were to his left (kicking) leg.

Nedney aggravated his groin late in practice Wednesday. It is a condition that has bothered him most of the season, Nolan said. Young and Nedney have been bright spots in an otherwise dismal season. Young is among the league leaders with eight sacks. Nedney has made 18 of 20 field-goal attempts.

The 49ers plan to sign free agent kicker Jose Cortez, who played for the 49ers in 2001 and '02. Cortez is expected to handle the kicking chores in Sunday's game against the Titans. Meanwhile, the 49ers will move nose tackle Anthony Adams to Young's left defensive end spot. Second-year player Isaac Sopoaga will get his first career start at nose tackle.


If Nedney returns to Nashville to kick for the 49ers on Sunday, he'll do it with with no hard feelings toward the Titans. He had two solid yeas for Tennessee in 2001 and 2002, then suffered season-ending injuries in 2003 and 2004. The Titans looked to Gary Anderson both those seasons, then cut Nedney as part of their salary cap purge. He landed with his hometown team, the 49ers, and is 18 of 20 on field goals.

Tennessee's gotten good work out of a cheaper replacement, rookie Rob Bironas.

"This is the team I was rooting for (growing up) so it made it something special coming back out here," Nedney said. "I didn't want to leave Tennessee. It was an outstanding place and I'm looking forward, more than you guys can imagine, to come out there and play this weekend. "But things have worked out well. I'm hitting the ball well. I'm healthy, and I'm being productive and scoring a lot of points for an offense that's not scoring a lot of points, which is - you know, it does well for me."

The 49ers have tried some surprise onside kicks this season, so the Titans will be on high alert.

Nedney would be well received by his old team. He remains close friends with punter Craig Hentrich, and special teams coach Alan Lowry calls him a favorite. Nedney saw the Titans when Tennessee played a preseason game in San Francisco, but this will be his first trip back. "It's going to be an exciting game," he said. "Somebody's coming out 3-8 baby!"

St. Louis Rams (4-6) at Houston Texans (1-9)

Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 11/27/05
TV: FOX, Curt Menefee, J.C. Pearson
SERIES: First meeting.
2005 RANKINGS: Rams: offense 5th (25th rush, 2nd pass); defense 29th (27th rush, 30th pass). Texans: offense 31st (18th rush, 31st pass); defense 30th (32nd rush, 22nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Texans should receive an emotional boost knowing Rams QB Marc Bulger is out with a shoulder injury. However, St. Louis still has plenty of offensive weapons and backup Jamie Martin will test the league's second-worst pass defense as he gets to play with WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce for the first time in three starts. The Rams still don't have as much confidence in Martin as they do in Bulger -- RB Steven Jackson has averaged 22.5 carries when Martin starts compared to 15.3 when Bulger starts. Utilizing Jackson will be even more tempting against a run defense allowing 160.6 yards per game. Houston must get its own running game untracked to avoid getting hammering in time of possession. That means keeping the game close early on and feeding the ball to RB Domanick Davis -- two things the Texans haven't done enough of all season. And with such a small margin for error, Houston must cut down on the mental mistakes and penalties that led to last Sunday's blowout loss to Kansas City.

FAST FACTS: This is the first ever meeting between the teams. Rams: Are 4-11 in their past 15 road games. ... RB Marshall Faulk needs two receptions to join Larry Centers (827) as the only running backs in NFL history with 750 for a career. Texans: WR Jerome Mathis' 32.0 kick return average is the highest in NFL history for a rookie with at least 20 returns. ... QB David Carr has six touchdowns and no interceptions in his past four games against the NFC.



--DE Leonard Little was added to the injury report Thursday as probable with an ankle injury. Said interim coach Joe Vitt, "He got a cortisone shot yesterday in his ankle, and you want to rest that thing for 24 hours afterwards. He'll be ready to go tomorrow."

--LT Orlando Pace missed some practice Thursday because of a hamstring injury, but he is listed as probable and expects to play Sunday.

--RB Marshall Faulk has practiced sparingly this week, just like last week because of a knee injury. Faulk is probable and is expected to play his usual role in the offense.

--S O.J. Atogwe practiced better Thursday than he did Wednesday because of a toe injury suffered against Arizona. While he is questionable, interim coach Joe Vitt said, "He moved around really well today. He really did. He practiced really well."

--QB Jeff Smoker had other options, but he elected to leave the Eagles practice squad this week and re-sign with the Rams. A sixth-round pick in 2004 by the Rams, Smoker was released at the end of training camp this year, but came back after Marc Bulger's first shoulder injury. "I think he threw the ball well today, and he's kept his weight down," interim coach Joe Vitt said. "I think he really feels comfortable here. He's been in the system for two years. Yeah, I'm really happy with him today. He did (have other options), but you'll have to ask him about that. I don't know what he wants people to know. We were all very thankful that he chose to come back here. He likes it here, he knows the system and he knows his teammates."


--CB Chris McKenzie worked at dime in his second day on the 53-man roster.

--LB Charlie Anderson (hip contusion) practiced Thursday and Friday and is expected to play Sunday.

--RB Domanick Davis (knee) practiced Thursday and Friday and is expected to play on Sunday.

--CB Demarcus Faggins (hamstring) was held out of practice on Thursday and Friday and is not expected to play Sunday.

--S Jason Simmons (hamstring) was held out of practice Wednesday and will not play Sunday.

--QB David Carr did not practice on Thursday because of an illness. He did practice Friday and is expected to be healthy by Sunday.

--LB Antwan Peek (hip flexor) practiced Thursday and Friday and is expected to play on Sunday.

--DE Robaire Smith (ankle) practiced and is expected to play Sunday.



For the second time this season, the Rams have lost quarterback Marc Bulger to a shoulder injury. After Bulger suffered the first injury Oct. 17 against the Colts, the Rams won their next two games with Jamie Martin under center and without wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. Facing a possible lost season with a record of 4-6, Martin returns, this time with Holt and Bruce back on the field. Rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick again will be Martin's backup, and he took more snaps in practice this week than he did the last time he was one injury away from playing. Martin did suffer bruised ribs last week against Arizona.
Interim coach Joe Vitt was pleased with Martin's work this week.

"He was really sharp the last two days, really sharp," Vitt said Thursday. "His ribs were a little hurt going into (Wednesday's) practice, but I thought he was really sharp. He threw the ball well, good anticipation. He had a good zip on the ball. The receivers did a good job of running routes and catching for him." Asked if he is comfortable giving Martin the entire playbook to run, Vitt said, "He has the entire playbook, but then we'll whittle it down. He's been in this system his whole life, so he knows what to do. He knows where to go with the ball, he knows his progressions. He knows his pre-snap reads, he knows all that stuff. We haven't cut it back for him."

As for what has impressed him about Fitzpatrick, who played well in the preseason and beat out Jeff Smoker for the No. 3 job, Vitt said, "He's mobile. He has a strong arm. He's extremely smart. He's really devoured the offense. He understands it. He can make the impromptu play. He stays alive. He's accurate on the run. He's really got a great future."

But for now, as the Rams try to salvage something positive out of this season, Martin is the man.

"I have come to expect good things from Jamie," Holt said. "He's been here before; he's been in this situation before. We rolled with Jamie the last two games before we went into the bye week. He has proven that we can win with Jamie. We are OK, we are fine with Jamie. We are fortunate enough to have a guy that understands the system."

Martin has a passer rating of 83.2 in the four games he's played, and he says he's ready. "This is my career," Martin said. "I'm a career backup to be ready in these situations. Having those two games earlier in the year under my belt really helps to kind of calm down this week and know what to expect and hopefully have some good games."

Also ready will be Fitzpatrick. "You're always excited about the opportunity to play," Fitzpatrick said. "Hopefully everything goes well and Jamie throws for 300 yards and we win the game. But if something happens and I have to go in, I'm definitely going to try to seize the opportunity."


The reason the Texans' defense has been so inefficient and lacks big plays is not complicated, said veteran Marcus Coleman. The Texans' starting free safety said the team is more conservative than it has ever been and that players aren't capitalizing when a rare opportunity to make a big play arises.

"It's not necessarily my job to criticize or critique what's going on," Coleman said. "I just have to play what's called. That's all I've been trying to do. Is it frustrating? Yes. Do I understand? Not entirely, no. Am I going to keep playing and see what happens? Yes."

The Texans (1-9) revamped the defense during the off-season to make it younger, faster and more aggressive. The linemen were even told to report at lighter weights so they would be quicker. There has been little payoff. The Texans are on pace for just 22.4 sacks, which is fewer than they recorded last year, when they were last in the league. Last season, they finished fifth in the league with 22 interceptions. This year, they are second-to-last with three.

The Texans' five forced fumbles (two by special teams) ranks them 30th out of 32 teams this season. They finished last year with eight and ranked 31st. Coleman insisted no one on defense has given up, but said the unit would likely benefit if defensive coordinator Vic Fangio would let the players take more risks.

"You have to be aggressive on defense," Coleman said. "I've always believed in being aggressive and being attacking on defense. That's the philosophy I've taken because I've seen it work and I know what comes with it.

"You don't have to go out and try to blitz every single time or whatever, but sometimes you do have to force the hand to make it work for you."
It has worked for the Texans in the past. In the five games when the defense returned a takeaway for a touchdown, the Texans won the game. The defense has yet to score this year.

Fangio said the more conservative approach has been due to the Texans' personnel. With a number of new starters and players switching positions, he has minimized the risks. "You want to do more, but can you do more when you're not executing what you're doing already?" Fangio said. "You get to that fine line of, should you just get better at what you've been doing or do more?"

The Texans rank last in the league in run defense and 30th in pass defense. With six games remaining, outside linebacker Antwan Peek said he doesn't expect the play-calling to change. Peek, who has three sacks and one forced fumble, was expected to be one of the Texans' biggest playmakers in his first season as a starter. "This is when you're less likely to get those opportunities, especially when fingers are being pointed at the coaches. They want to make sure everything is perfect," Peek said. "When you take a risk, basically that risk can break down the whole defense. For me, there are times I want to take more chances. But this is my first year in the system, as far as a starter, and I want to do everything coach wants."

That philosophy often makes the defense appear as if it is playing not to give up plays rather than playing to make one. Coleman said he hopes that changes soon - like Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

"I hope nobody is afraid," Coleman said. "I hope nobody is just trying to maintain. Sometimes it kind of feels like that.

"I would go after (the Rams) just because I know how to defend them. I've beat them before so I know how to beat them. But I'm not the coach. I'm just the player. They make the calls. I play the plays. That's it."

Jacksonville Jaguars (7-3) at Arizona Cardinals (3-7)

Sunday, 4:05 ET
GAMEDATE: 11/27/05
TV: CBS, Don Criqui, Steve Beuerlein
SERIES: Second meeting. The Jaguars won the only previous meeting between the two teams in 2000 by a 44-10 score at Alltel Stadium. This is the first time the Jaguars have played at Alltel Stadium.
Jaguars: offense 18th (14th rush, 19th pass); defense 4th (17th rush, 1st pass). Cardinals: offense 12th (32nd rush, 3rd pass); defense 26th (18th rush, 23rd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Jaguars expect RB Fred Taylor to be healthier and more effective than last Sunday, when he left after losing eight yards on six carries. Jacksonville's improving passing attack will test Arizona's shaky secondary, but the Jaguars like to use the run to set up QB Byron Leftwich. The Cardinals' defensive line has been depleted by injuries, but Arizona did hold St. Louis to six total rushing yards last Sunday. However, the real key for the Cardinals is to get some semblance of a running attack. They averaged 3.6 yards on 26 carries against the Rams, which they would gladly take a repeat of. QB Kurt Warner has been red-hot, but long passing situations against the Jaguars is a dangerous prospect with Jacksonville's 15 interceptions good for third in the league.

FAST FACTS: Jaguars: Have scored at least 20 points in a team-record six consecutive games. Seek to score at least 30 in three consecutive times for the first time in franchise history. ... LB Mike Peterson has led the team in tackles in all 10 games this season. Cardinals: Warner has had a passer rating of better than 95.0 and completed 64 percent of his passes the past two games. ... WR Larry Fitzgerald has a league-high 18 receptions of at least 20 yards.



--RB Fred Taylor was added to the injury report Thursday as probable with an ankle injury. The Jaguars say he's not really injured, but his timing and conditioning are off and they may rest him Sunday at Arizona.

--G Chris Naeole returned to practice Thursday with a knee injury and is likely to play at Arizona. He's listed as probable.

--WR Jimmy Smith returned to practice Thursday with a hamstring injury. He is listed as probable and should play at Arizona.

--LB Pat Thomas, who is questionable with a hamstring injury, was the only player not to practice Thursday.

--DT Marcus Stroud practiced again Thursday with a foot injury. He is expected to play but all the injuries he's suffered this year have hampered his effectiveness. He only has 40 tackles this year.


--WR Anquan Boldin caught his 200th career pass last week. In his third year, Boldin has reached that mark faster than any other player in NFL history.

--RB J.J. Arrington has taken on an increased role over the past month, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him replace Marcel Shipp in the starting lineup before the season ends.

--WR Bryant Johnson will miss this week's game with a sprained shoulder. This will be the third straight game he's missed. He'll be replaced by rookie LeRon McCoy.

--TE Eric Edwards is taking on an increased role as a receiver. The club had been using its tight ends in pass protection earlier this year. But with the offensive line playing better, the tight ends are running more routes.
--CB Eric Green will get his second straight at left cornerback, playing in place of the veteran Robert Tate.



In another sign that the Jaguars figure they shouldn't have much trouble beating the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, they are likely to rest running back Fred Taylor for the game. The Jaguars want to get him in top condition for the stretch run and they don't figure to miss him against 3-7 Arizona, which has a defense ranked 26th in the league.

Coach Jack Del Rio added Taylor, who has been nursing an ankle injury, to the injury report Thursday as probable even though Del Rio said Taylor is not injured and will continue practicing this week. Del Rio said the problem is that Taylor's conditioning and timing are off because he hasn't done much practicing in the last month and has had only 18 carries the last three weeks.

"He may not go, not because he's injured. The story is not that he's injured and he is not being demoted. He needs to be 100 percent to help the team down the stretch. He needs to get his timing down. It'll be a coaching decision," Del Rio said. Del Rio said he knows Taylor is willing and eager to play hurt, so he decided to discuss the situation with Taylor on Thursday.

"We talked and we both agreed that trying to evaluate him Sunday, when he's going to be gunned up and wants to go, is not the best time (to make a decision). He really needs the conditioning and the timing, the work he hasn't been able to get because he's been going through the healing process," Del Rio said.
"It's not his ability to handle the pain. It's the desire to get him closer to 100 percent and having that burst and breakaway ability (that's his trademark). I appreciate his toughness and the desire he shows in wanting to help the team. He's willing to go out and play through things, but the smart thing to do for him and for us is to focus on him being the explosive breakaway threat he is. It takes a little time."

Last Sunday at Tennessee, the Jaguars made a game-time decision to let Taylor play and he lost 8 yards in six carries. He came out after suffering with a thigh bruise trying to make a tackle on Antwan Odom when Odom returned a fumble for a touchdown. Del Rio said there wasn't much running room against Tennessee and said, "the experience wasn't really fair to him."

Taylor missed the Pittsburgh game on Oct. 16 with the ankle injury, but came back the following week at St. Louis to rush for 165 yards on 22 carries. In the next game against Houston, he had 48 yards in 12 carries before aggravating the injury. He sat out the second half and the Baltimore game before getting six carries against Tennessee.

Greg Jones will likely to continue to handle most of the running load with Taylor out while Alvin Pearman will be the third-down back.


Outside linebacker Karlos Dansby was upgraded from questionable to probable Thursday, an important development as the Cardinals prepare to play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. Dansby is a mainstay on the defense, playing every down, including all nickel situations. He missed last week's game with a groin team, and he was listed as questionable early this week.

The club will need him if it's to slow down Jacksonville's offense, especially its running attack. Dansby is physical and can run. The Cardinals already are playing without several defensive starters, including nose tackle Russell Davis and end Bertrand Berry. The situation at offensive guard remains scary. Both starters last week, Alex Stepanovich and Jeremy Bridges, could be out Sunday.

Stepanovich is doubtful with a shoulder injury, and Bridges is questionable because of an ailing ankle. Bridges has yet to practice this week. If they can't play, they'll be replaced by Adam Haayer (left guard) and Fred Wakefield (right guard). Both are more comfortable at tackle, and they'll be facing two of the best defensive tackles in the league in Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. Top Stories