NFC West News & Notes - 9/26/06

In today's News & Notes: The Seahawks look to re-tool their offense after losing their MVP, the Rams try to trust a former MIA, the Niners' coaching staff puts out an APB on their playbook, and it seems that Arizona's new QB focus will be man who was the star of USC.


The Seahawks will be without MVP running back Shaun Alexander for the next several weeks. Alexander suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left foot during the Seahawks' victory over the Giants on Sunday. "He is the MVP and we're not going to sugarcoat that," coach Mike Holmgren said Monday. "But I do have a lot of confidence in Maurice Morris. I hope it won't change things too much."

The Seahawks were in the process of changing anyway. With tight end Jerramy Stevens sidelined and wide receiver Deion Branch working his way into the offense, Seattle used more four-receiver sets Sunday than at any time during Holmgren's eight-year tenure with the team. "You lose the MVP for a while and it's a hit," Holmgren said. "Other teams deal with it. We've had to deal with them before when players go down. You have to make substitutions.

"Because he's the MVP in the league, you will get noticed, but as a team you only have one way to handle it. That is to plug somebody in and just keep going."

Alexander struggled in the first three games. Running lanes became scarce thanks largely to personnel issues. Left guard Steve Hutchinson left in free agency. Two other key blockers, wide receiver Joe Jurevicius and tight end Ryan Hannam, also departed. The absence of injured starting tight end Jerramy Stevens further diminished the team's ability to run the ball.

Those factors and the addition of Branch made four-receiver sets more logical. The formation has a chance to work because quarterback Matt Hasselbeck gets rid of the ball quickly and the four receivers are good enough to create mismatches. And in left tackle Walter Jones, Seattle also has the best pass-blocking offensive lineman in the league.

Holmgren had leaned more heavily on the run in recent seasons because Alexander was so good. Maurice Morris isn't as big, so he isn't as well-suited to getting 25 carries a game. Look for Seattle to run the ball from spread formations, with Morris getting perhaps 15 to 20 carries per game. Morris represents an upgrade as a receiver out of the backfield, so look for him to catch some passes.

The big question now is how long Alexander will be out. Holmgren was vague on the details. "We're kind of looking at at least a couple weeks," Holmgren said. "The actual length of time for his rehab, we can't determine at this point. I don't think it will be real lengthy, but it is what it is. He just has to stay off of it."


--WR Darrell Jackson entertained teammates by writing a message on his shoes expressing envy over the $39 million deal Deion Branch recently got with the team. "I want D.B. money," the message said,
and don't we all? "It's an inside joke, but it's something to keep us focused and keep us pushing," Jackson said. "Everybody wants to get paid. Everybody makes great money out here, but he set the bar for us on the market and now we got to try to match and come up."

Jackson wore the message during the team's victory over Arizona in Week 2. He decided against wearing it against the Giants for fear that media reports would blow his cover, leading to a possible fine from the NFL uniform police.

"Deion could play my fines, but he's kind of stingy with his money," Jackson joked.

--Players reacted like school kids when coach Mike Holmgren gave them Monday off following the Seahawks' blowout victory over the Giants. "I really thought they gave everything they had," Holmgren said of his players. "It's amazing the reaction you get. They almost picked me up on their shoulders and ran me around the locker room. Here are these guys who are well paid, celebrities, and you give them a cookie like that and it's just like Christmas. It was kind of cute, actually, and well earned. I was happy to do that."

--RG Chris Gray limped off the field Sunday with his injured knee immobilized in a splint. The Seahawks thought he would miss a few weeks, but the 36-year-old might not miss a single game. Gray, who holds the franchise record with 109 consecutive regular-season starts, is cut from a different cloth. "Chris Gray to me is a little bit of a throwback," Holmgren said. "When some of us were growing up as youngsters, of course people didn't know as much about the medical side of it, the players certainly didn't, and you just knew your knee was funny, your shoulder or whatever, and typically you strap it up and play.

"We're much smarter now about injury, and that's a good thing."


--RG Chris Gray is expected to play against the Bears on Sunday, a surprise after he left the Giants game with a sprained knee. Coach Mike Holmgren called Gray a "throwback" player who finds a way to play even when hurt. Holmgren also stressed that Gray's injury is less serious than initially thought.

--OL Chris Spencer will continue to start at left guard. He gives the Seahawks more athleticism up front.

--TE Itula Mili did not play against the Giants on Sunday because the Seahawks wanted to rest his knee. Mili was active on an emergency basis, but he was not needed. Mili should be able to contribute against the Bears in Week 4.

--RB Shaun Alexander will miss at least the next few games with a cracked bone in his left foot. Alexander injured the foot in the season opener. He aggravated the injury in the second game. He suffered the non-displaced fracture against the Giants on Sunday. Coach Mike Holmgren was vague about how long Alexander might be out.

--OL Floyd Womack remains sidelined by a knee injury. He'll have a hard time reclaiming his job because OL Chris Spencer has looked good at left guard since Womack was injured.



QB Matt Hasselbeck tossed five touchdown passes while completing nearly 73 percent of his attempts. The Giants picked off his first pass. Hasselbeck tossed two more picks in the fourth quarter, after Seattle had built a 42-3 lead. The miscues were easily overlooked given how well Hasselbeck played when it mattered.

RB Shaun Alexander struggled again, in part because he was injured but also because running lanes weren't particularly wide. The team did run the ball effectively in short-yardage situations, however, and that allowed Seattle to sustain drives. Alexander and FB Mack Strong combined to go 3-of-3 on third-and-1 conversions. Seattle also gashed the Giants for a 17-yard run after Hasselbeck audibled out of a pass on third-and-8.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- Seattle picked off Eli Manning twice in the first quarter and a third time in the second quarter. Through three quarters, the pass rush was good enough to make Manning uncomfortable more often than not. The crowd noise also made it tough for the Giants' passing game to operate efficiently. When the Giants finally completed a meaningful first-half pass, CB Marcus Trufant forced a fumble that LB Leroy Hill recovered. The Giants got their passing game going in the fourth quarter, but the game was well out of reach.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Giants ran the ball only 15 times because Seattle jumped to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. The Seahawks had three tackles for losses. Giants RB Tiki Barber found running room on occasion, but the Seahawks were more than happy to let New York chew up clock by keeping the ball on the ground.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Seattle avoided the mechanical problems that had plagued the team's field-goal unit. The punt-cover team downed one ball at the 3-yard-line. The Seahawks had two kick returns of 30-plus yards. The overall special-teams play was better this week even though the Giants managed a 51-yard kick return.

The offensive plan was sensational. Coach Mike Holmgren and his staff changed the way they normally play amid personnel deficiencies at tight end and a surplus at receiver. Seattle spread the field with four wide receivers and exploited mismatches against the Giants' weak secondary.


Coach Dennis Green appears on the verge of benching starting quarterback Kurt Warner for this Sunday's game in Atlanta and replacing him with rookie Matt Leinart. Green wouldn't name a starting quarterback Monday, saying he doesn't discuss personnel issues on those days. But that is a new rule, because he's never mentioned it before in his three seasons in Arizona.

ESPN reported that Leinart will start Sunday, and it's doubtful that Green would be wishy-washy about his commitment to Warner, then go back to the veteran. The move is bound to cause a stir in the locker room. All off-season, Green has said he is committed to Warner and of his plans to have Leinart sit and watch all year.

The Cardinals re-signed Warner to a three-year deal worth a minimum of $15 million, including $7 million to be paid this year. Two weeks ago, Warner was named the NFC offensive player of the week for his performance against San Francisco in the opener. He passed for 301 yards and three touchdowns in that game.

But he's struggled in the past two games, both losses, and the Cardinals scored just 24 points in those games.

In last Sunday's 16-14 loss to St. Louis, Warner three threw interceptions and had a key fumble late in the game that cost the club a chance to make a game-winning field goal.

Leinart, the 10th overall pick out of Southern California, played well in the preseason. But he played mostly against backups and vanilla defensive schemes. He'll experience a different game this Sunday in Atlanta.


--RB Edgerrin James gained a season-high 94 yards last Sunday, but he isn't happy with how he's being used. James had 24 carries but he wanted more. "No, I'm not going to say anything about the play calling," James said. "I just want to play. I just want to be a part of it. I want the ball in my hands. When you're in the game and you don't have the ball in your hands, that's hard. I can't question why this and that. It's always a reason, but I don't know what is."

And James had a final word. "One day, my importance is going to be realized. I hope it's not too late."

--CB Antrel Rolle is only in his second year, but he's not shy about speaking his mind. "There's got to be some changes, man," he said after the Rams loss. "Something really has to be done ... It's player changes. It's heart changes. We need some heart transplants, because there's no way we should've (lost) to this team."

--QB Kurt Warner owned up to his critical mistakes after the game last Sunday. When asked how he felt about the mistakes in the red zone, Warner replied: "Lousy. How do I feel? Terrible. Any one of those four plays, if I don't make them, we probably win the football game."



QB Kurt Warner had three passes intercepted, including two deep in Rams territory. Receiver Anquan Boldin played a great game with 10 receptions for 129 yards, but it wasn't enough.

Edgerrin James had his best games of the year, rushing for 94 yards and averaging nearly four yards. That's a marked improvement over the first two games. James did have some opportunities for big plays but couldn't break a long run.

PASSING DEFENSE: C -- Rams quarterback Marc Bulger wasn't pressured enough, and receiver Torry Holt gave the Cardinals cornerbacks a few lessons. He picked on both Antrel Rolle and Matt Ware.

RUSHING DEFENSE: A -- The Cardinals controlled Steven Jackson. He gained just 62 yards on 24 carries. The two tackles, Darnell Dockett and Kendrick Clancy, held up very well.

The coverage teams did a nice job, as did punter Scott Player. The return teams, however, haven't produced anything in three games. The Cardinals were prepared to take a fair catch kick at the end of the game, but a penalty took away that chance.

COACHING: D -- Someone has to take responsibility for blowing a game this club should have won. There was a nice offensive game plan, centered on using more two tight-end sets. That helped the running game, and the defense was solid. But this team makes too many mistakes, and it's not just the youngsters who are making them.


The offense got some of the cobwebs off in Sunday's 16-14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. There was still just one touchdown scored, but the improvement from the previous week against San Francisco was obvious to see. Entering the game, quarterback Marc Bulger seemed out of rhythm and indecisive, and was completing just 54.4 percent of his passes for a total of 402 yards. He was also sacked nine times.

Things were different in Arizona. Although some red-zone problems continued, Bulger looked like his old self, completing 67.7 percent (21 of 31) for 309 yards. There was just one sack, and most important, Bulger hasn't had an interception yet this season in 99 attempts.

Bulger hooked up with wide receiver Torry Holt eight times for 120 yards and a touchdown. The previous week, in a loss to San Francisco, Holt had only 30 yards on five catches.
It turns out, some of the comfort level returned because of something borrowed, something blue.

New coach Scott Linehan has implemented a new offensive system, and while it incorporated some of the things the Rams had done under Mike Martz for the last seven years, the verbiage was different when calling plays. For Sunday's game, some of the pass plays were called by what the wording was under Martz.

"We just changed the verbiage back to our old three-digit (system)," Bulger said. "Because even though it means the same thing, you come out of the huddle, and you don't have to think about it.

"We didn't do it every time. Just on some pass plays. "I think it gave us more of a comfort level."

It also led to Bulger completing 21 of 31 passes for 309 yards and having a passer rating of 110.8. He has also now gone 99 pass attempts this season without throwing an interception. Ironically, this came one week before Martz brings his offense to St. Louis with the Lions.

Said Holt, who caught eight passes for 120 yards and a touchdown, "I think coach did a good job of going back to some things we hooked up on in the past. He (Bulger) can close his eyes and know that I'm there."

Added Linehan, "Most of our plays are robbed from about 30 teams anyway. I don't have any problems with that." When asked about the team's lack of touchdowns (they have two in three games), Linehan said, "I'd rather talk about the fact that we're 2-1 and getting better. We're throwing the ball for more yards, but certainly we need to get better at that. I'd say we've made a lot of improvement on our offense. It's not quite there, but we made a lot of improvement this week in our passing game."


--DE Anthony Hargrove, who was inactive for Sunday's game against Arizona after missing practice Thursday and Friday because of personal issues, met with coach Scott Linehan Monday to clear the air. Hargrove's biggest mistake was not contacting the team when he failed to attend meetings and practice. Linehan said Hargrove will be fined "a substantial" amount and will now have to work his way back onto the field. Rookie Victor Adeyanju started in his place against the Cardinals and will be the starter this week against Detroit.

"Tony's got to re-establish himself," Linehan said. "He took a step back with obviously a tough week, and certainly deserves to do that. He's got to earn some respect back with his teammates."
Acknowledging the problems Hargrove is dealing with, Linehan added, "It doesn't excuse what happened. I'm satisfied with his approach and that he's very remorseful about what happened and he knows that he needs to make amends and that he has a long road to establishing his position on this team." Hargrove is expected to be on the practice Wednesday when the team begins preparation for the Lions.

--QB Marc Bulger was already preparing for how he was going to face his teammates in the closing seconds of Sunday's game against Arizona.
He had just hit WR Torry Holt on a crucial 3rd-and-2 play for six yards, and the Rams had the ball with 2:03 remaining at their 34-yard line. There was the two-minute warning to come and one Arizona timeout before the game would likely end.

But Bulger lost control of the ball as he turned to hand off to RB Steven Jackson and the Cardinals recovered at the 30-yard line. "I would not have brought this up if we'd have lost, but I did jam up my (index) finger pretty good early in the second quarter," Bulger said. "It's no excuse. I'm just trying to think of how it happened. It just felt like there was Vaseline on it. When the ball came out, I couldn't believe it myself."

As for what he would have said to the team, Bulger said, while admitting he could barely watch what was happening on the field, "I had most of it written in my mind. "I didn't have it all done, but I knew I was going to have to include a couple 'I'm an idiots' in there. Everything came on me at that point. You work all year round. You know how hard everyone in this (locker) room works. And the organization, the accountants -- everyone. "And then to lose the ball game. That's a big deal. One-16th of the season gone because of one stupid little ball-handling thing."

But they didn't lose. Twenty-two seconds later, after RB Edgerrin James had gained 12 yards on two plays, Cardinals QB Kurt Warner failed to handle the snap from center and LB Will Witherspoon recovered. The Rams had their victory.

Concluded Bulger, "I feel like I just won the lottery."

--With DE Anthony Hargrove back in St. Louis after missing two practices last week, rookie Victor Adeyanju got the start. According to unofficial press box statistics, he tied with Will Witherspoon and Corey Chavous for the team lead with six tackles against the Cardinals. "There were some butterflies, but they went away real quick," said Adeyanju. "Any time your number's called, you just try to do your best. I felt comfortable. My teammates and the coaches had confidence in me, and I had confidence in myself."

--LT Orlando Pace practiced only on Friday as he recovered from a concussion suffered the previous week against San Francisco. Pace started and played against Arizona, and after a slow start seemed to settle in. "I just wanted to get out there and play," Pace said. "As an offensive lineman, you constantly have a headache anyway, just butting heads."


--DE Anthony Hargrove has been fined for missing two days of practice last week, but is expected to be on the practice field Wednesday. Hargrove met with coach Scott Linehan Monday and expressed remorse for what occurred. He will be a backup while trying to earn back his spot as a starter.

--DE Victor Adeyanju will remain a starter after playing well in place of Anthony Hargrove against the Cardinals. Adeyanju was given consideration by the coaches as defensive player of the game. Especially good against the run, coach Scott Linehan said he played with "great effort and great energy."

--DE Brandon Green played solid against the pass in his first action of the season. Green had been inactive for the first two games, but was active instead of Anthony Hargrove. Green will try and be active this week against Detroit instead of Hargrove.

--LB Pisa Tinoisamoa played against Arizona wearing a brace to protect his injured elbow. He experienced no significant problems and had no further issues after the game.

--RB Steven Jackson had his third consecutive game with at least 20 rushing attempts. Jackson has had 22, 22 and 24 rushing attempts. Jackson had four games with 20 or more carries last season, and never two games straight.



QB Marc Bulger passed for 309 yards and one touchdown, and was sacked only once. There were two red-zone situations where a touchdown wasn't scored, but on one the Rams remain convinced WR Torry Holt was pushed out the back of the end zone and the play should have been ruled a touchdown. The passing game featured plays of 45 yards to Holt and 42 to Isaac Bruce, while RB Steven Jackson added 59 yards on three receptions.

RUSHING GAME: C-plus - The Cardinals played consistently with eight men in the box, making it difficult for Jackson to run. But he still ran tough, and had 62 hard-earned yards on 24 attempts. It marked the third consecutive game Jackson had at least 20 carries.

The defense had a hard time tackling WR Anquan Boldin, but who doesn't? Boldin had 10 receptions for 129 yards, and while Larry Fitzgerald scored a touchdown, he had just 65 yards on six receptions. The key to keeping Arizona off the board was three interceptions, including two in the red zone. QB Kurt Warner passed for 256 yards, but had a passer rating of only 69.0.

Until late in the drive that would give the Cardinals their second touchdown, RB Edgerrin James had 18 carries for 58 yards. But James then got the ball on seven consecutive plays (including a 5-yard reception) and gained 38 yards rushing to end up with 94 for the day. But the Rams limited to a long of 10 and generally did a good job.

Special teams didn't have a large impact on the game, except for PK Jeff Wilkins. He had three field goals, including one of 47 yards at the end of the first half that could be considered the difference in the game.

Give head coach Scott Linehan credit for adjusting the passing offense and using some of the same way of calling plays that had been done in the past. The defense didn't blitz as much, which made sense so the secondary wouldn't be victimized by Arizona's receivers. The plan was to get as many tacklers around the ball, especially when it went to Anquan Boldin.


The 49ers made too many blunders in their 38-24 loss Sunday to remain competitive against the Eagles, something a young team can't afford against an established veteran team. "When you play a very good football team and make too many mistakes, the separation is like it was yesterday," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "It becomes insurmountable for us to come back."

The 49ers made plenty of miscues, including what Nolan described as unforced errors on the first two plays of the game. Kicker Joe Nedney booted the opening kickoff out of bounds, giving the Eagles the ball on the 40-yard line. On the Eagles' first play from scrimmage, quarterback Donovan McNabb hit receiver Reggie Brown for 50 yards on a "flea-flicker" play. Cornerback Shawntae Spencer and safety Tony Parrish allowed Brown to get behind them for the play.

"Two players were supposed to be back," Nolan said. "That's their responsibilities. They have no responsibility to the front and they let a player run right by them. That's a foolish mistake." The loss was difficult in other ways for the 49ers. Tight end Vernon Davis is expected to miss about four weeks with a fracture of his right fibula. Fortunately for the 49ers, the team has some depth at tight end. Veteran Eric Johnson will take over as the starter.

Running back Frank Gore committed his third fumble in three games. For the second game in a row, Gore turned the ball over at the goal line. This time, Eagles defensive tackle Mike Patterson picked up the fumble and ran 98 yards for a touchdown.

Rookie Michael Robinson is likely to get the call as the 49ers' short-yardage back. Robinson later scored on two 1-yard touchdown runs. Gore left the game after the fumble with bruised ribs. Although he is listed as questionable for this week's game against the Chiefs, Nolan said he does not expect Gore to miss any playing time.


--Tight end Eric Johnson took advantage of the most playing time he's received since the 2004 season on Sunday against the Eagles, with seven catches for 87 yards, including a leaping 15-yard touchdown catch with :06 remaining. Johnson is expected to take over as the team's top tight end with rookie Vernon Davis expected to miss a month with a fracture of his right fibula. The 49ers had planned to use Davis and Johnson a lot this season Johnson saw action on just 27 snaps in the first two games of the season.

"From a personal standpoint, you want to be in there contributing as much as you can," Johnson said. "When you don't get that chance, obviously it can be frustrating. I thought I came in with a good attitude and played the role the coaches gave me."

--Free safety Mike Adams was the only defender that stood between Eagles running back Brian Westbrook and a 71-yard touchdown run. Westbrook used a devastating stiff arm to allow him to scamper the final 35 yards en route to a 71-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. "It was mean," Adams said of the stiff arm. Adams played at Delaware, while Westbrook went to rival Villanova. "That's not polite. I need to talk to him about that.

--Rookie running back Michael Robinson might become the team's short-yardage back after Frank Gore fumbled on the goal line for the second consecutive game. Robinson saw most of the playing time Sunday after Gore left with an abdominal strain. It is uncertain whether Gore will be healthy enough to play Sunday against the Chiefs. "Unfortunately, Frank got hurt, but fortunately I got a lot of work today," Robinson said. "Hopefully, Frank comes back in and he does what he does, which is be Frank Gore." Robinson carried five times for 29 yards and scored on two 1-yard touchdown runs.

--Fullback Moran Norris made his 49ers regular-season debut, getting the nod over Chris Hetherington, who started the first two games. Hetherington was inactive for the game because the Morris' blocking style worked better with the team's game plan. Coach Mike Nolan said Norris did a very good job of blocking on Eagles middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. The team's starting fullback will be decided on a week-to-week basis. Norris is more of a blocker, while Hetherington is a better all-around fullback.


--LT Jonas Jennings returned to action and appeared to play well for the 49ers on Sunday against the Eagles. Jennings missed one week with a high right ankle sprain.

--RB Frank Gore left the game Sunday with what the club reported as an abdominal strain. On Monday, Gore was reported to have bruised ribs. Although he was expected to begin the week listed as questionable, coach Mike Nolan said he expects Gore to be ready to play against the Chiefs.

--LG Larry Allen is expected to miss another week or two with a left knee injury sustained in the season opener Sept. 10. Allen was injured on the sixth play of the game.

--TE Eric Johnson, who led the 49ers with 82 catches in 2004, saw his first significant action since that season after missing last year with a foot injury. Johnson, playing in place of injured Vernon Davis, caught seven passes for 87 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles.

--TE Vernon Davis sustained a hairline fracture of his right leg and is expected to miss four weeks, he said.

--TE Delanie Walker is expected to return to full practices this week for the first time since he sustained a right shoulder separation on Sept. 1, in the 49ers' final exhibition game.



Quarterback Alex Smith compiled a passer rating of 84.8, which included 293 yards passing. But he was sacked three times and absorbed about 15 hits because of protection breakdowns against an Eagles defense that kept coming. Tight end Eric Johnson emerged again in the offense with seven receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown. Antonio Bryant was relatively quiet, though a 49-yard gain was wiped out due to a penalty.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus -- The 49ers rushed for 123 yards on 28 carries, including two 1-yard TD runs from Michael Robinson. But Frank Gore continued his disturbing trend of losing his grip on the ball. He fumbled on the goal line for the second consecutive game, and this was returned 98 yards for a Mike Patterson touchdown. Gore has now fumbled in three consecutive games.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- The 49ers had more coverage breakdowns in this game than the first two games combined. Eagles receivers were often left uncovered through blown coverages. The Eagles hooked up on a 50-yard gain on a "flea-flicker" on the first play, as safety Tony Parrish let Reggie Brown get behind him. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The 49ers did not show the strength to get off blocks and make plays. Brian Westbrook, in essence, put the game away with a 71-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, a play on which safety Mike Adams could not bring him down 35 yards from the end zone. The line and linebackers had difficulty getting off blocks to make plays near the line of scrimmage.

Joe Nedney began the game in bad fashion with a kickoff out of bounds. Four plays later, the score was 7-0. The 49ers did not get much in the return game, but punter Andy Lee had a net 38.1-yard average and dropped two punts inside the 10-yard line.

COACHING: D -- The 49ers made some offensive adjustments at halftime, allowing the offense to show some production and the defense to hold the Eagles to three three-and-outs in their five second-half possessions. But the first half was a disaster. The 49ers didn't have answers to anything the Eagles did. Down by 21 points, coach Mike Nolan decided against going for it on fourth-and-1 from the Philadelphia 40-yard line. The 49ers ran out most of the final 50 seconds before punting. Top Stories