NFC West News & Notes - 10/11/06

In today's News & Notes: The Seahawks welcome one offensive weapon back as they wait for another, the Cards line up Larry Fitzgerald's replacement, St. Louis' pass defense rounds into shape with further adjustment, and San Francisco's Mike Nolan talks about defensive formations.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The Seahawks expect MVP running back Shaun Alexander to miss at least one more game after another round of tests showed he still has a cracked bone in his foot. "It is a little crack, so you really have to know what you're looking at to see what kind of progress is being made," coach Mike Holmgren said.

Alexander injured the foot during a season-opening victory at Detroit. He continued playing, but tests showed a cracked fourth metatarsal following a 42-30 victory over the Giants on Sept. 24. Holmgren has been vague about a possible return date. "He had a bunch of (tests) taken (Monday) and as far as I can tell, it is healing," Holmgren said. "We're going in the right direction. It is a smaller crack, let's put it that way."

Seattle's running game was lagging even before Alexander left the lineup. Alexander's injury was partly to blame. He was not 100 percent. The team has also changed personnel at left guard while getting by with a depleted group of tight ends. The Seahawks expect the offense to improve with tight end Jerramy Stevens back from knee surgery this week. Stevens is more athletic than any player Seattle has at the position. He is not known for blocking, but he does have the speed to help on the edge.

Stevens' ability to stretch the middle of the field might also help open up running lanes.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Matt Hasselbeck felt better physically coming out of the bye week. He has taken 13 sacks in the first four games, suffering bruised ribs along the way. Now he needs to get better protection and get rid of the football before trouble finds him. Hasselbeck's decision-making has been a little spotty by his standards. He has seven interceptions after throwing only nine last season.

--RB Shaun Alexander will miss the game against the Rams on Sunday. There's a chance he could return the following week, but the Seahawks won't put him on the field until an MRI shows that his cracked fourth metatarsal has healed.

--RB Maurice Morris faced an uphill battle at Chicago in Week 4 because the Bears are so tough on defense and Seattle fell behind. The Seahawks will be able to evaluate Morris in greater detail after he faces the Rams on Sunday. Seattle has generally run the ball very effectively against St. Louis.

--TE Itula Mili won't play as much now that TE Jerramy Stevens has returned from knee surgery. The Seahawks have thrown to Mili nine times in four games. Mili has five catches.

--TE Jerramy Stevens could play about 30 snaps against the Rams in his first game back from knee surgery. That was the word from coach Mike Holmgren, anyway. It's possible that Stevens could get more than 30 snaps. The team played WR Darrell Jackson for an entire game after Holmgren said he expected Jackson to play only about 25 snaps in the receiver's first game back from knee surgery.

--WR Deion Branch appears close to moving into the starting lineup. Coach Mike Holmgren has made no announcements, but Branch has played well and seems to be getting a grasp on the offense.

--WR Darrell Jackson leads the Seahawks with 22 catches and three touchdowns. He remains the focal point of the passing game and that probably won't change anytime soon. The team will find ways to work WR Deion Branch into a more prominent role, but not at the expense of Jackson's touches.

--WR Nate Burleson has only seven catches in four games, a slow start for a player the Seahawks envisioned as a starter. The addition of WR Deion Branch will affect how many balls come Burleson's way. Branch has five catches in two games. Burleson has seven catches in four games.

--LB Julian Peterson has gone without a sack for the last two games. He opened the season with a sack at Detroit and another sack against Arizona. Peterson played well in the Chicago game, getting nine tackles, but he wasn't a threat in the pass rush.

--SS Michael Boulware is back on the practice field this week after missing much of the Chicago game with a concussion. The bye week allowed Boulware to have extra recovery time. Seattle has some protection at the position now that DB Jordan Babineaux has also returned from a concussion.

--CB Marcus Trufant faces a tough matchup this week and he hasn't always played well against Rams WR Torry Holt. It's crucial for Seattle's pass rush to do a better job this week.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Bryant Johnson likely will start at receiver in place of the injured Larry Fitzgerald, who could be out as long as five weeks with a pulled hamstring. An MRI didn't reveal any tears in the hamstring, and Fitzgerald reportedly was responding well for treatment. But it will be a surprise if he's able to play in the next three games. The team has a bye after that, so he could return Nov. 12 against Dallas.

Johnson obviously isn't nearly as good as Fitzgerald, who made the Pro Bowl last season, his second in the NFL. But Johnson is competent and is the team's best deep threat. He has caught 10 passes this year for an average of 22.7 yards a catch. He has receptions of 39, 40 and 54 yards this year.

Dennis Green hasn't said who will replace Fitzgerald, leaving open the possibility that Troy Walters could step into the No. 2 role. That doesn't seem likely, although Green was irritated that Johnson dropped a 49-yard pass in the end zone against the Chiefs. That would have put the Cardinals ahead by 17 points in the third quarter and likely given them their second victory of the year.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Matt Leinart played well in his first NFL start last week, as the Cardinals made some offensive adjustments to help him. They used less pre-snap adjustments and motion.

--RB Edgerrin James still hasn't gained 100 yards in a game this year. He had 71 yards last week and complained afterward that he wanted the ball more in the second half.

--RB J.J. Arrington has had one carry in the last month. His main role is as a kick returner and he did a better job last week against the Chiefs.

--WR Anquan Boldin isn't usually a deep threat, but last week's 49-yard touchdown pass was the fifth longest of his career.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald is expected to miss between two and five weeks with a pulled right hamstring. He might only miss three games because the Cardinals have a bye Nov. 5.

--WR Bryant Johnson likely will start in place of the injured Larry Fitzgerald. Johnson is a steady receiver who is averaging 27.3 yards a catch this season.

--WR Troy Walters probably will move into the No. 3 receiver's role because of the injury to Larry Fitzgerald. Walters is small, but he's very quick and sure-handed.

--TE Leonard Pope should develop into a solid all-around player. He needs to improve his blocking, and he's already a good receiver. He is making too many mental errors to be a regular starter right now.

--TE Adam Bergen is an effective receiver, but he's not going to be a focal point of this offense. He'll probably finish the season with 30 or so catches, provided he stays healthy. He's struggled with his blocking.
--K Neil Rackers is still one of the best in the game. He's missed three kicks of over 50 yards this year after missing just two kicks all of last season.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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He was disappointed in his own play Sunday, in what his first start in the NFL. But Rams rookie cornerback Tye Hill knows he has to have a short memory. After getting beat by Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings for a 46-yard touchdown pass, Hill wasn't happy with himself. It was veteran strong safety Corey Chavous that talked to him about forgetting a bad play and rebounding from it. Hill was starting because Fakhir Brown was out with an ankle injury.

On the play where Jennings scored, the Rams were in a Cover 1 defense instead of Cover 2 and quarterback Brett Favre went after the rookie immediately. "Welcome to the National Football League," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said Monday. "You give up a big play, you have to forget it and line up and play again. It's like a pitcher. You give up a home run, what are you going to do? Are you going to walk off the mound and quit? You have to pitch the next pitch."

Asked about Hill being down on himself after the game, coach Scott Linehan said, "First of all, I think a great trait a competitor has is that it means a lot to them if they don't feel they played well enough or ... in his words he felt he let his teammates down and all that. I think that's a great trait to have, to a point. I think you've got to have a short memory to play corner, just like quarterback or starting pitcher. You make a mistake, you've got to get mad or disappointed, and you've got to get over it.

"I think young players have got to go through that. I certainly would rather have that. A guy that absolutely crushes if he gets beat than have any kind of indifference in any way. He'll learn and he'll learn how to not carry that over so much."

Said Hill of the win over Green Bay, "It was a good win, a team win. But I'm disappointed in the way I played. I've got to get up on pace with everyone else." Haslett noted that it being his first start, it was the first time Hill had played 65-70 plays in a game. After talking to Chavous, Hill said, "I just have to stay focused and keep playing."

Hill is likely to start against Sunday against Seattle should Brown still be hampered by the ankle injury.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Marc Bulger has thrown 214 passes without an interception, a streak that covers 26 quarters. He faces Seattle this week, the game where the streak started when he threw an interception on his final pass of the first half.

--WR Torry Holt was limited to three receptions against Green Bay, but being double covered most of the game made it difficult for QB marc Bulger to get him the ball.

--WR Isaac Bruce still draws double coverage many times, and he had only two receptions for 23 yards against Green Bay.

--TE Joe Klopfenstein continues to improve each week, and while he is not yet the focus of the passing game, he did make a nice catch on a 24-yard play against Green Bay.

--RB Steven Jackson added 118 scrimmage yards to his total against the Packers, and continues to be a dual threat running and receiving. But he still has just one touchdown in five games.

--DE Leonard Little wasn't originally credited with the sack on his strip of QB Brett Favre that ended the Packers' comeback hopes. That was corrected after the game, and it gave Little two sacks for the game and a team-leading five for the season.

--C Richie Incognito is settling in after being moved from guard after the first game of the season, and will be the long-term answer for the team at center.

--LB Pisa Tinoisamoa continues to play with an injured elbow, and remains consistent with his every-down play.

--LB Brandon Chillar isn't talked about much, but he is developing into a very solid presence on the strong side.

--LB Jamal Brooks, who was inactive against the Packers after the signing of Isaiah Kacyvenski, was placed on waivers Tuesday.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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Although coach Mike Nolan's history is as a 3-4 coordinator, the 49ers are clearly a 4-3 team. They simply do not have the personnel to play a 3-4 at this stage. In the 49ers' 34-20 victory over the Raiders, the 49ers lined up with a four-man line for 45 of their 56 defensive plays. They played a three-man line nine times, all on either third downs or long-yardage situations.

When asked if the 49ers were now officially a 4-3 defense, Nolan said it will continue to be a week-to-week decision based on the game plan against the opponent. "When we get into the game plan meeting (Tuesday), we could end up back at a 3-4 next week," Nolan said.

But, generally, the 49ers believe a fourth defensive lineman, rookie Melvin Oliver, helps the team on run downs. The team would rather have Oliver on the field on first and second downs, as opposed to outside linebacker Brandon Moore.

"I do like the play of Melvin," Nolan said. "He's doing a good job and he's helping us on the run. He's doing some very good things."

Also, the 49ers want outside linebacker Manny Lawson on the field in the base downs. Although he came to the 49ers with the No. 22 overall pick because of his pass-rush skills, Lawson has been more valuable on early downs, Nolan said.

In an effort to keep Lawson fresh, the 49ers have taken him off the field on third downs and inserted either Moore or rookie Parys Haralson to rush the passer. "Manny's has been a rookie that's been getting a lot of play, and we can't do that to him, because late in the game, he's wearing down," Nolan said. "As a rookie, he's already close to the college season he went through and he's got a whole other season to go. So Parys enabled us to give him a breather.

"Whether it's 4-3, 3-4, what the groups look like in there, we're trying to utilize as many of our good players as we have. When you get bona fide 'This guy is the guy,' you don't ever want to take them out of the game. I'll say this, Manny is going to be one of those guys, but the one difference is that he's a rookie and we have to temper a little bit how much we use him."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Alex Smith has looked like a different player in his second NFL season. Smith has a passer rating of 85.2, completing 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,071 yards. He has six touchdowns and three interceptions, and has been sacked only eight times in five games. He has also rushed for 59 yards.

--RB Frank Gore is the co-leader for rushing yards in the league with 465, tied with the Rams' Steven Jackson. Gore has a 4.6-yard average. He ended his streak of four consecutive games with a fumble while rushing for a career-high 134 yards against the Raiders.

--RB Michael Robinson carried 12 times against the Raiders but managed only 21 yards. The team's new short-yardage back was stopped for no gain on a fourth-and-1 situation in the second quarter. Robinson has 62 yards on 23 carries this season.

--FB Chris Hetherington was inactive Sunday against the Raiders for the third consecutive game after starting the first two games of the season.

--FB Moran Norris was active for the third consecutive game, and he responded with a big performance. Norris was a devastating lead-blocker for Frank Gore, who rushed for 134 yards. Norris played 40 of the team's 60 snaps. He also caught a 7-yard pass on a third-down play to keep a TD drive alive.

--WR Antonio Bryant was clearly frustrated Monday that reporters were talking to him about his recovery of an onside kick, rather than his receiving. Bryant caught just three passes for 27 yards. He received five stitches after getting drilled by Raiders' Justin Fargas upon recovering an onside kick. Bryant voiced disapproval at his teammates on that side for not blocking Fargas.

--WR Arnaz Battle is healthy and playing well. Battle caught four passes for just 37 yards, but he had the first two-TD game of his career. Battle caught scoring passes of 4 and 6 yards. He has 15 catches for 194 yards on the season.

--WR Bryan Gilmore, the team's No. 3 receiver, played 23 snaps against the Raiders and did not have a reception. For the season, Gilmore has five catches for 114 yards.

--TE Vernon Davis is expected to miss at least another couple weeks with a broken right lower leg. He sustained the injury in the third quarter Sept. 24 against the Eagles. Davis has five catches for 37 yards this season, all of which came in the season opener at the Cardinals.

--TE Eric Johnson has taken over as the main tight end after Vernon Davis' injury. Johnson was on the field for all 60 of the 49ers' offensive plays against the Raiders. His blocking was much-improved from the week earlier against the Chiefs. Johnson had three catches for 23 yards.

--LG Larry Allen is scheduled to practice Wednesday, and coach Mike Nolan said he is hopeful Allen will be available to play against the Chargers. He has been out with a left knee injury since getting injured on the sixth play of the season. Allen will probably be listed as doubtful.

--LT Jonas Jennings, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, left the game against the Raiders in the first quarter with a wrist injury. He underwent surgery Monday morning to repair a torn finger on the same hand. He is listed as probably for Sunday's game against the Chargers.

--K Joe Nedney, who made 26 of 28 field-goal attempts last season, is just 7 of 11 this season. He missed a 49-yard attempt wide right on Sunday against the Raiders.

--LB Parys Haralson, a rookie, saw his first extended action of the season as he came into games as a third-down pass rusher. He was credited with one tackle in the game.

--DE Melvin Oliver, a sixth-round draft pick from LSU, is the reason the 49ers have gone with primarily a 4-3 defense. Oliver has been the base right end. He recorded two tackles, and also had a 12-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown against the Raiders.

--LB Manny Lawson was used primarily on early downs in the 49ers' base defense. Although he came to the 49ers with the reputation as a pass rusher, he is more of a cover linebacker. Coach Mike Nolan said he wants to keep him fresh. Lawson showed his athleticism when he blocked a punt against the Raiders. Lawson was credited with seven blocked punts in his career at North Carolina State.

--TE Delanie Walker, who had not played since sustaining a separated shoulder Sept. 1 in the 49ers' final exhibition game, saw one snap on offense and some duty on special teams. Walker returned one kickoff 25 yards.

--CB Walt Harris did not get a lot of action Sunday, but when the Raiders came his way, he made the most of it. Harris had a career-high three interceptions, and has been the 49ers most consistent defensive player through the first five games.


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