REPORT CARD AFTER 4 GAMES
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- QB Matt Hasselbeck has thrown seven interceptions. He threw nine all of last season. The good news is that Seattle is still 3-1, and that two of those interceptions came during garbage time against the Giants. The bottom line is that Hasselbeck makes mistakes when he tries to do too much. He tries to do too much when others aren't playing well around him. Hasselbeck needs to tighten up that aspect of his game.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- The ground game hasn't been there all season. Seattle is still adjusting to life without several key blockers who paved the way for Shaun Alexander's record-breaking 2005 season. Steve Hutchinson, Ryan Hannam and Joe Jurevicius are elsewhere. Seattle has replaced them with less capable blockers. The ground game suffered additionally when Alexander suffered a foot injury in the season opener. It's impossible to say how much of the problem is related to Alexander and how much is related to blocking. Suffice to say that both issues have played a role in the team's 3.4-yard average.
PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- The pass defense was largely outstanding for the first 11 quarters of the season. Seattle has had problems in the subsequent five quarters, one against the Giants and four against the Bears. The problems against the Giants had a lot to do with easing off the accelerator after building a 42-3 lead. The problems against the Bears had much to do with a weak pass rush and injuries at safety. Seattle was without CB Jordan Babineaux entering the game, and SS Michael Boulware left with a concussion. Those injuries left Seattle exposed when the front seven failed to generate a consistent pass rush. The Seahawks need DE Bryce Fisher and DE Grant Wistrom to get upfield.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Seattle's run defense was outstanding until its 37-6 loss to Chicago. The run defense was reasonably strong in that game until Seattle fell behind largely through turnovers. The Seahawks are undersized defensively, but their great speed allows them to swarm to the ball before runners can get far. The Seahawks have allowed only one rushing play of 20-plus yards and three of 15-plus yards. Opponents are averaging 3.5 yards a carry.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Seattle suffered two blocked field-goal tries in the opener when its snapper was playing with a debilitating hip injury. A third try was blocked when holder Ryan Plackemeier, a rookie, mishandled a snap. Seattle has upped its punt-return average from 5.7 yards in 2005 to 7.5 yards through four games. The kick-return average has improved from 22.1 yards (2005) to 25.3 yards. Plackemeier's punting has produced a robust 45.3-yard gross average, but he has twice as many touchbacks (six) as punts downed inside the 20 (three). That's to be expected from a rookie.
COACHING: B -- The Seahawks are 3-1, a one-game improvement from this point last season. Coach Mike Holmgren and the offensive staff have smartly used more four-receiver sets while the team has been short-handed at tight end and running back. The staff has yet to figure out ways to tighten up the pass protection, however, and that should be a priority. The defensive staff has maximized its depth up front by rotating four defensive tackles per game. The schemes have been effective in creating pressure more often than not. Special teams coach Bob Casullo has come under criticism during his Seattle tenure, but he deserves a bit of a break early this season. The coverage units remain strong, and the return game is improved. Seattle is getting mostly positive results from its rookie punter. There were three blocked field goals early in the season, but two were directly related to LS J.P. Darche playing with a hip injury that required season-ending surgery.
REPORT CARD VS. CHIEFS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Matt Leinart threw for two touchdowns against a team that hadn't given up a touchdown pass in its first three games. He did have an interception and was sacked four times.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Edgerrin James complained, again, about not getting the ball in the fourth quarter. But he also failed to gain a yard for a first down on two plays early in the quarter.
PASS DEFENSE: C -- The Cardinals played well until the final minutes, when they let Larry Johnson take a screen pass 87 yards to set up a game-winning field goal. The front four isn't getting enough pressure.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The defense limited Johnson to 36 yards on 16 carries. The tackling was much better, as were the pursuit angles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- A blocked punt set up Kansas City's first touchdown. The punt team has been weak all year, but most of its problems were in coverage, not blocking. Neil Rackers missed a 51-yarder field goal attempt that would have tied the game.
COACHING: C -- The Cardinals are still playing hard, and the team had a good offensive game plan early. But the Chiefs gradually adjusted and shut the Cardinals down. They couldn't run the ball and became one-dimensional.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
REPORT CARD VS. PACKERS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- QB Marc Bulger spread the ball around to nine different receivers, with no one having more than three catches. Five of his 18 completions were to running backs, including a 40-yard play to RB Tony Fisher on third down that led to the final field goal. With a passer rating of 112.2, Bulger had two touchdown passes and another game without an interception.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- RB Steven Jackson lost a 100-yard game because of a two-yard loss on a late-game 3rd-and-2 play, and also failed to score from the 1-yard line in the second half. But he had 23 attempts for the fifth straight game, and ended up with 98 tough yards on a day when his long run was 14.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- It was tough to get pressure on QB Brett Favre, who almost brought his team back for another fourth-quarter comeback. A Leonard Little strip ended the comeback hopes. Favre wasn't intercepted, but his 22 completions only totaled 220 yards.
RUSH DEFENSE: C -- Because of injuries in the secondary, the Rams had to play a lot of Cover-2 defense, which allowed RB Noah Herron to have a career day with 106 yards on 20 carries. However, Herron had just 33 yards in the second half.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- The kickoff coverage improved from the week before, and punt returner Shaun McDonald set up points with a 28-yard return. PK Jeff Wilkins was money again, hitting all three of his field-goal attempts.
COACHING: B -- Coach Scott Linehan kept his team calm after a rough start on the road that included numerous penalties. They weren't able to score touchdowns when the game could have been put out of reach in the fourth quarter, but coaches stayed focused in a tough environment.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
REPORT CARD VS. RAIDERS
PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus -- Quarterback Alex Smith had his best statistical game with a career-high three TD passes to go along with his best passer rating of 120.5. Smith hit receiver Arnaz Battle on two TD passes, and let running back Maurice Hicks do much of the work on a 33-yard screen play that went the distance. The offensive line was stellar, not allowing any sacks. Smith threw an interception early in the second quarter but responded well after that.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Frank Gore ran hard and he did not fumble. He had fumbled in each of the 49ers' first four games. Gore rushed for a career-high 134 yards on 27 carries. The line blocked well, as did fullback Moran Norris and tight ends Eric Johnson and Billy Bajema. The only knock on the run game was its inability to convert two fourth-and-1 situations deep in Raiders territory in the second quarter.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- The 49ers gave up way more yards than they should have against a Raiders team that came into the contest averaging just 70 yards passing a game. The 49ers did not get much of a pass rush against a questionable Raiders offensive line. But despite their problems in some areas, the 49ers secondary came through with four interceptions. Cornerback Walt Harris recorded the first three-interception game of his 10-year career.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- The 49ers had a rough time with LaMont Jordan and Justin Fargas, but they did not allow a rushing touchdown. The 49ers run defense even scored a TD when rookie defensive end Melvin Oliver picked up a Raiders backward pass and trotted 12 yards into the end zone.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- The turning point of the game occurred early in the second half when rookie Manny Lawson broke free through the left side of the Raiders' protection and then used every bit of his 6-foot-5 frame to block Shane Lechler's punt. The 49ers took over at the Raiders' 9-yard line and promptly scored a touchdown for a lead they'd never relinquish.
COACHING: C-plus -- Coach Mike Nolan twice went for it on fourth downs deep in Raiders territory. Instead of settling for field goals, the 49ers did not get any points out of those drives. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner had a good game plan for the offense. He knew the 49ers could run the ball effectively against his former team, and that's what they did. Defensively, the 49ers could not generate any pass rush. But the secondary still came up with four interceptions.
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