NFC West News & Notes - 10/30/06

Coaching, coaching, coaching…the theme of the day in the NFC West is coaching. Is the defensive decline in San Francisco the fault of Mike Nolan? Why are the Rams suddenly diving up huge amounts of rushing yardage? What have John Marshall and Ray Rhodes done with Seattle's formerly creative defensive game plans, and is Dennis Green really serious when he says what he says about his offensive line?

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The Seahawks suddenly have big problems on defense after allowing 499 yards during their 35-28 loss at Kansas City. The Chiefs controlled the ball for more than 42 minutes as Seattle allowed at least 28 points for a fifth consecutive game.

"I don't know what more we can do than we're doing," coach Mike Holmgren said. "If I have to make some changes, we will. Sometimes you can't make changes; you've got to coach them better, and get them to be more aware, and get them to be technically more sound." The Seahawks are still getting strong play from newly acquired linebacker Julian Peterson. Peterson had 10 tackles and his seventh sack of the season in Kansas City.

Coaches tried to shake up the defense by benching strong safety Michael Boulware after a tough outing last week. Boulware had blown some assignments. By benching him, coaches thought other players might get the message. Instead, players continued to blow assignments while missing tackles left and right.

Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, a defensive mainstay and a Pro Bowler as a rookie last season, has not been so dominant lately. Cornerback Marcus Trufant, seemingly poised for a breakout season, hasn't lived up to those expectations. Trufant's blown coverage against the Chiefs resulted in a key 51-yard reception. Kansas City scored the winning touchdown a few plays later. Those types of lapses are killing Seattle, which has now lost three of four games following a 4-1 start.

"There's no reason we shouldn't win with 28 points," Tatupu said. "I've got no answers. We've got to understand that everybody is giving us their best shot; they want to knock off the Seahawks, especially when you go into somebody's house. You've got to bring your 'A' game and we just didn't do that."

Seattle's offense will remain short-handed while quarterback Matt Hasselbeck continues to miss time with a sprained knee. Running back Shaun Alexander comes back this week, most likely, but it's too bad he can't play defense.

"This was on us," Peterson said of the defense after Kansas City racked up 30 first downs. "We've got the most guys healthy ... on the defensive side of the ball. We should have stopped them better.
"Giving them almost 500 yards and 200 yards of rushing, that's ridiculous. We've got to re-evaluate ourselves and see what we have to do from here."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Seneca Wallace exceeded expectations in his first NFL start. He tossed three touchdown passes. The last one put Seattle ahead, 28-27, in the final seven minutes. Wallace tossed two late interceptions, one on a poor decision and the other on a pass batted at the line.

--RB Maurice Morris can't get anything going on the ground. He seemed to have better blocking Sunday, but he still managed only 25 yards on 12 carries. Morris now averaging 2.9 yards per carry on the season, same as Shaun Alexander averaged before his injury. Alexander could be back for the next game.

--TE Jerramy Stevens caught a TD pass Sunday in his second game back from knee surgery. Stevens was not much of a factor for most of the game, however. He finished with three catches for 20 yards.

--WR Darrell Jackson keeps making big plays. His 49-yard TD grab gave Seattle a 28-27 lead in the fourth quarter Sunday.

--MLB Lofa Tatupu made nine tackles Sunday but he was not particularly effective. Tatupu missed several tackles on Chiefs RB Larry Johnson, including one that Johnson turned into a touchdown.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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The season is half over and the Cardinals are still looking for an offensive line combination that works. They have started the same group in only two games this season, and most of the changes have been because of performance, not injury.

That was the case last Sunday when Reggie Wells moved from guard to right tackle, and rookie Deuce Lutui made his first NFL start at guard. "I'm just surprised our offensive line did not play a hell of a lot better," coach Dennis Green said of the first half of the season. "If you look at how the team was put together, it looked to me that all pieces were there."

| Two of the original starters, center Alex Stepanovich and right guard Oliver Ross, have been benched. Nick Leckey is starting at center now, with Wells going to tackle. With Lutui moving into the starting lineup, the Cardinals clearly have an eye toward the future.

The offensive line has been a source of consternation for the Cardinals and their fans for years. If Green loses his job soon, the failure to assemble an adequate line will have been the major reason for his departure.

The Cardinals signed Edgerrin James in free agency, hoping the running back would be a key ingredient in improving the running game, which ranked last in the league last season. Instead, James has yet to gain 100 yards a game and he's averaging just 2.8 yards a carry, nearly 1.5 yards below his career average.

Steve Loney is Green's third offensive line coach. He's respected around the league, but he hasn't been able to get this group to play well consistently. "If you can get some consistency, then you at least know what you're going to get," Loney said. "I don't want to go and wonder, what's it going to be today?

"Everybody, myself included, has to up their performance level. We've got to get five consistent performances on a weekly basis."

Left tackle Leonard Davis is the only offensive lineman to start every game at the same position. He hasn't played great, and it appears the club has decided against trying to re-sign him. He's in the last year of his contract. The line isn't totally responsible for the offensive problems. At times, running backs have missed blocks and the club doesn't have a good blocker at tight end. But the offensive line catches all the heat.

"We're a lightning rod a little bit," Loney said. "As an offensive line, we gave up two sacks this last week. People are going to look and say, 'if you don't run the ball well and there are sacks, it lies in their (offensive linemen's) lap.' That's the nature of the business."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Edgerrin James gained 84 yards on 24 carries. In his previous seven seasons, that would have been considered an off day. With the Cardinals, it's called progress. It's the most yards James has gained since he had 94 in week three against St. Louis.

--QB Matt Leinart hasn't played well for the past two weeks. He's having trouble finding open receivers and he's getting hit too much. He isn't getting any help from the running game.

--WR Anquan Boldin is seeing more double coverage with Larry Fitzgerald out of the lineup. Teams are bracketing Boldin because he has become a focal point of this offense. He has still producing but it has been tough for him to run very far after the catch.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald is expected to return after the bye for the Dallas game on Nov. 5. Fitzgerald has missed three games because of a hamstring injury.

--CB Antrel Rolle is an aggressive player but that sometimes gets him in trouble. He was called for two pass interference penalties against the Packers.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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Judging by their performance in a 38-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers Sunday, the Rams defense can't be very confident waiting for the Kansas City Chiefs to come to town this week. The Chiefs on offense are much like the Chargers in that their two top performers are a running back - Larry Johnson -- and a tight end - Tony Gonzalez. Their eyes will be lighting up watching tape of what Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates did to the Rams Sunday.

That duo combined for 306 of the 419 yards the team gained against the Rams. Tomlinson rushed for 183 yards and caught passes for another 57, while Gates added 66 yards on five receptions. Tomlinson scored two touchdowns, one rushing and one passing, and broke the Rams' backs with big plays.

Those big plays have been the downfall the last two seasons for the Rams defense, and things were supposed to be better with Jim Haslett as defensive coordinator. But with weak-side linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa sidelined by a broken bone in his hand against San Diego, the defense had no answer. Linebacker Will Witherspoon was beaten twice on completions to Tomlinson, one a 25-yard touchdown.

Of his 183 yards rushing, 118 came on four plays. His other 21 attempts accounted for just 65 yards, but a 38-yard run resulted in a touchdown and he also had a 51-yard dash that led to a field goal. Said defensive end Leonard Little, "We would stop them for one, two or three yards, and then they would bust a play for 20. We, as a defense, were not in the right place at the right time and we didn't make tackles when we needed to. That's what the game of football is all about and, for a defense, it is making tackles. We missed some tackles we should have made on a good back."

Unfortunately, that is resembling the poor run defense evident last season. The Rams entered the game against the Chargers allowing 121.3 yards a game and 4.5 yards per rush. After San Diego rushed 35 times for 216 yards, the Rams have now permitted opponents 134.9 yards a game and their average per attempt against increased to 4.8.

"They made more plays than we did in the end," Witherspoon said. "Defensively, we didn't really get started the way we wanted to. All in all, we let them get some things and they made bigger plays than we did."

The Rams were a league-best plus-11 in turnover ratio entering the game, thanks to 16 takeaways (fourth in the NFL) and just five turnovers (tied with San Diego for second in the league). But there were no takeaways Sunday, and the Rams' lone turnover resulted in a 79-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by Chargers safety Marlon McCree.

This was the first game of a difficult four-game stretch that continues with the game against Kansas City, followed by trips to Seattle and Carolina. Concluded Little, "There is a big difference now between 5-2 and 4-3 and, as the season goes on, each victory means a lot. Getting into November, we really need to win some games. These next ones are the most important games if you want to make the playoffs."

PLAYER NOTES

--LB Pisa Tinoisamoa was active but did not play against San Diego because of a broken bone in his hand, suffered in practice Thursday. There was too much swelling in the hand to risk him playing.

--LB Dexter Coakley started and played against San Diego with Pisa Tinoisamoa sidelined by a broken hand.

--WR Isaac Bruce moved into 10th place on the all-time for receiving yardage while totaling 105 yards Sunday against San Diego. Bruce now has 12,771 career receiving yards.

--OG Adam Timmerman played in the 200th game of his career Sunday, including playoff games. Timmerman has played in 197 consecutive games, also including post-season games.

--RB Tony Fisher became the third player to return kickoffs this season for the Rams and was about as average as the previous two. Fisher averaged 20.3 yards on six returns and had a long of 23. J.R. Reid has a 20.2 average on 14 returns with a long of 40, while Kevin Curtis averaged 21.8 yards on five returns with a long of 25.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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The 49ers have won two games this season, but they are having a difficult time being competitive in the other games. This week's game figures to be an important showcase for a team that is reeling. The 49ers are 2-5 as they head into a home game against the Vikings.

The 49ers trailed 41-0 at halftime Sunday against the Bears. In other games this season, they lost to the Chargers 48-19; fell to the Chiefs 41-0; and trailed the Eagles 31-3 early in the second half. Although the 49ers have, at times, given the appearance of an organization that is on the correct path, the kind of losses they have experienced lately would make anyone wonder. Coach Mike Nolan said he is not second-guessing himself.

"I evaluate everything I do," he said.

Nolan said he was not willing to accept more than his share of blame for the 49ers' recent meltdowns. He said the coaching staff and the players are equally to blame. "It's always 50-50," Nolan said. "Everybody needs to approach it the same way. That's how you rectify your problems. I could stand up here and be a glutton for punishment and say it all falls on me, but they won't get better that way. The fact of the matter is it's 50-50."

Nolan, a long-time NFL defensive coordinator, remains closely involved in the defense. Nolan said he will not make any changes to his coaching staff at this time. Most speculation has centered around embattled defensive coordinator Billy Davis. "It's really unfair to pin that on any one person," Nolan said. "I'm the head coach. There's a time and place for everything you do. Right now is the time to stay focused on getting (the problems) rectified and (to) stay focused.

"Our problems are on the field. Our problems are not off the field."

The 49ers have to get some things figured out on defense before facing the Vikings. The team has made some minor personnel adjustments. Safety Keith Lewis is getting more playing time. Third cornerback Sammy Davis was demoted, and defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga was a healthy scratch against the Bears.

Recently, respected veteran defensive lineman Bryant Young said there was "mass confusion" on defense. "I didn't mean it in a bad way," Young said. "I think what we do as a defense, we really have to understand our roles and do a better job when we call a play. Everybody has to be on the same page. ... Or someone just has to make the play when it's called."

When asked if his comments were an indictment of the coaching staff, Young answered, "Absolutely not." Quarterback Alex Smith said the 49ers remain on the right track. Now, they're looking forward to playing a home game, where they have won both games this season.

"I truly think this team is heading in the right direction and (playing the Bears) was an opportunity for us to showcase that against a good team," Smith said. "It's just that we kill ourselves in the first half with turnovers and put the game out of reach so quick."

The 49ers committed four first-half turnovers that led to 28 points, as they surrendered the most points in franchise history during the first half of a game.

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Frank Gore hired high-powered agent Drew Rosenhaus to represent him. Gore went out and rushed for 111 yards on 12 carries against Chicago. He also fumbled for the fifth time this season, but the 49ers retained possession.

--WR Antonio Bryant caught five passes for 58 yards and his second touchdown of the season.

--LB Derek Smith has a muscle strain in his left eye that prevents him from moving his line of vision upward. He declined to have season-ending surgery. It might take four months in the offseason before the condition gets better. Smith had five tackles Sunday against the Bears.

--RT Kwame Harris had another rough day, getting beaten for both sacks in the 49ers' 41-10 loss to the Bears. He was also called for a face-mask penalty that moved the 49ers out of field-goal range in the third quarter.

--QB Alex Smith threw one interception and lost two fumbles in the 49ers' 41-10 loss to the Bears. Bears LB Brian Urlacher tipped Smith's pass at the line of scrimmage and made a one-handed interception. Smith completed 16 of 26 passes for 146 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also rushed five times for 23 yards.

--CB Sammy Davis, who started the 49ers' previous game in place of injured Walt Harris, was benched as the team's third corner. Davis suited up against the Bears but did not play. FS Mike Adams covered the slot receiver on nickel downs.


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