NFC West News & Notes - 11/1/06

In today's News & Notes: The Seahawks look for answers to an increasingly deficient pass defense, the Cardinals reshuffle their offensive line "for the last time this season" (suuuurrrre…), the Rams recall the heads-up play of a rookie, and Mike Nolan avoids getting "warm and fuzzy".


The Seahawks still aren't sure how to stop all the big plays on defense. Benching strong safety Michael Boulware didn't seem to help during a 35-28 loss to the Chiefs. The problems go beyond any one player.

"As to why any phase of our football team breaks down in a particular games, there are a few reasons, different reasons, and you just have to be honest about it and try and fix them," coach Mike Holmgren said. "That's what we're going to try and do.

"We are capable of being better, though. And quite frankly, until we get some of the guys back (on offense), I'm counting on the defense to kind of carry the ball a little bit."
Seattle's defense performed ably during early victories over Detroit and Arizona. The defense was dominant for three quarters of a victory over the Giants as well. It was easy to write off a poor fourth-quarter showing in that game because Seattle was leading 42-3 after the third.

Things are different now. After allowing only 11 touchdowns in their first 11 quarters, the Seahawks have allowed 18 touchdowns in the subsequent 17 quarters. The defense has fallen to a No. 23 overall ranking after giving up 499 yards and 30 first downs in Kansas City.

"We won a game with our defense the first game of the year, 9-6 (at Detroit)," Holmgren said. "I believe our defense is capable of playing a lot better." Poor tackling against the Chiefs was only part of the problem. The team has also suffered from less-disciplined play. Players are missing more assignments this season and nobody is quite sure why.

The Chiefs exploited all areas of the defense. Damon Huard passed for 300-plus yards. Larry Johnson rushed for 155 yards. Tight end Tony Gonzalez reached triple digits in receiving yards.

"I thought they hurt us underneath more in this game," Holmgren said. "(Gonzalez) had a little too much freedom running around and that surprises me because it was a point of emphasis during the week.

"That is an awareness thing. That's a concentration thing, where he is. ... But what made things work for them is our inability to really stop their running game."

The run defense hasn't been the same since allowing a 95-yard run to Minnesota's Chester Taylor two weeks ago. Seattle gets a break when Oakland's anemic offense visits on Monday night, but the Seahawks clearly must improve on that side of the ball to be a factor late in the season or in the playoffs.


--QB Seneca Wallace proved he has the skills and poise to run Seattle's offense. He'll have to guard against trying to do too much, however, if the Seahawks continue struggling on the ground and on defense. Wallace tossed three TD passes against the Chiefs even though the offense was on the field for only 17 minutes.

--RB Shaun Alexander is probably going to miss another game. Tests on his broken left foot show the fourth metatarsal has not quite healed. That means the Seahawks will almost certainly be without their league MVP when they face Oakland on Monday night.

--RB Maurice Morris has not gained many yards on his own. If the hole isn't there, Morris isn't going to create much. That was a strength for him when the blocking was better; Morris almost never lost yardage because he hit the hole decisively. But now that there isn't much room, Morris isn't making much on his own.

--TE Itula Mili is not a factor in the passing game. Seattle has better options at receiver and even at tight end now that Jerramy Stevens has returned from injury. Mili is getting older and might not have much left at this stage.

--TE Jerramy Stevens caught a short touchdown pass against the Chiefs but he wasn't a big part of the passing game downfield. That is partly because the team is well-stocked at receiver, and also because Stevens helped in pass protection at times.

--WR Deion Branch is already a team leader. In fact, coach Mike Holmgren said Branch became a leader the minute he walked into the locker room. Branch has special qualities that endear him to teammates, Holmgren said. Branch is also a very good player. His one-handed grab set up a touchdown Sunday, and his heads-up play forced a Chiefs turnover when Seattle needed the ball back in the final minutes.

--WR Darrell Jackson has six touchdowns in seven games, leaving him three touchdowns shy of his career high. Jackson has already played in one more game this season than he did in 2006. Having a healthy knee is making Jackson more of a deep threat. He is averaging 16.3 yards per game, close to the career high (16.7) he set in 2003.

--WR D.J. Hackett has emerged as a legitimate threat in the passing game, easing the sting of losing WR Bobby Engram to a thyroid condition. Hackett has been a clutch player whose size and speed give a different look to defenses.

--LB Julian Peterson has seven sacks in seven games, matching his career high for a season. The defense has not been as good since adding Peterson, but he is not the problem. While everyone associated with the team expected more from the defense, Peterson has been a bright spot.

--SS Michael Boulware got on the field only for special teams against the Chiefs. Coach Mike Holmgren said he did not anticipate additional lineup changes for the Oakland game, meaning Boulware will probably remain in the background. However, putting Jordan Babineaux in the lineup didn't seem to help against the Chiefs.

--CB Marcus Trufant was the man in coverage when Chiefs WR Eddie Kennison got deep for a critical 51-yard score Sunday. The Seahawks anticipated a breakout season from Trufant, but it has nothappened. Trufant has been good most of the time, but he is nothing beyond solid.


The Cardinals will tinker again with their offensive line this week, replacing guard Chris Liwienski with Milford Brown, a former starter who has missed three games with an ankle injury. Liwienski played fairly well in Brown's absence, but Brown was a key free agent acquisition in the off-season, and coaches see him as an integral part of the line in the second half of the season.

It's unclear, however, which side Brown will play. He started on the right side before, but rookie Deuce Lutui played that spot last week against Green Bay. Lutui did fairly well, especially for his first NFL start, so coaches might not want to flip him to the right side.

This is a line combination that the team is likely to stick with for the rest of the season. Leonard Davis will stay at left tackle, with Nick Leckey at center and Reggie Wells at right tackle. Wells previously was the left guard but he switched positions because Oliver Ross was playing poorly at right tackle. That spot took on added importance when Matt Leinart became the starting quarterback three games ago.

He's left-handed and Ross gave us two sacks against Oakland, and Leinart was hit in the back a couple other occasions in that game.


--QB Matt Leinart has played poorly for two weeks, and it's hard to blame all the problems on the offensive line. Leinart hasn't been sharp with his passes, missing open receivers.

--QB Kurt Warner won't play this year unless Leinart gets hurt. Warner is contemplating retirement.

--RB Edgerrin James has yet to gain 100 yards in a game as a Cardinal. Last week, he gained 84, which was his best outing in a month.

--RB J.J. Arrington rarely plays. He has good speed and might be able to give this team a different look, should it ever run the ball competently. He returns kicks and does little else.

--WR Anquan Boldin should benefit when receiver Larry Fitzgerald returns from a hamstring injury after the bye week. Teams are doubling Boldin.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald probably will return to action Nov. 12 against Dallas, after the bye week. Fitzgerald has missed three games because of a hamstring pull. Counting the bye and the practice week leading to the Dallas game, he'll have been out five weeks.

--WR Bryant Johnson is dropping too many balls. He's the team's best deep threat but he's dropped two potential touchdown passes this year.

--WR Troy Walters is the No. 3 receiver with Larry Fitzgerald out with injury, but he's not going to get more than two or three receptions a game.

--TE Leonard Pope is a few years away from being a good all-around tight end. He doesn't block well, and he's just now understanding his role in the offense.

--TE Adam Bergen is an effective receiver, but he needs a lot of work as a blocker. He's not a focal point of the offense.

--K Neil Rackers thinks his recent misses were a result of bad technique and form. Rackers has changed some things in his approach and thinks he's ready for a solid performance in the second half of the season.


The play that might have turned around the game Sunday in the Rams' loss to the Chargers could have been avoided if not for young players like tight end Joe Klopfenstein possibly thinking college rules were still in play.

In the third quarter, the Rams trailed 14-7 and were inside the San Diego 30-yard line when running back Stephen Davis fumbled after gaining four yards. Chargers safety Marlon McCree fell on the ball and was on the ground. At first, it appeared he might just stay there.

Klopfenstein, a rookie, stopped when McCree hit the ground, and didn't attempt to fall on him or touch him down. According to college rules, he would have been down. But McCree got up, and was able to dash around the left side of the Rams' defense and scamper 79 yards for a touchdown and a 21-7 San Diego lead. The Rams never got closer than 11 points after that. Klopfenstein tried to go after McCree after he got up, but it was too late.

Said McCree, "I heard (teammate) Carlos Polk saying, 'Get up, get up, get up.' Nobody had touched me, so I got up and the guys made a few blocks for me and I was able to hit the sideline."
The players "froze a little," offensive coordinator Greg Olson acknowledged. "(McCree) didn't try to make a move to get up initially, and ... before you know it, he's up and moving. And now you're in a foot race."

Said coach Scott Linehan, "I think the biggest thing is that plays are never over until that whistle blows. You can't assume that the ball is dead because the guy's on the ground. He kind of stopped for a moment, recovered the ball, and I think was surprised that no one touched him. Heads up play by McCree to get up and run it. I think it's certainly a tough lesson we have to learn. I think we've got to be on that. Tag the guy down and play through the whistle. You never know, he may not have the ball secured. If you're jumping on the pile, you might be able to wrestle the ball away from him.

"Those kinds of plays don't normally show up until they show up. If someone else touches him and I'm not finishing, you never know what play's going to be a key play. I think the assumption was bad luck. We fumbled the ball. They got it. The problem is we didn't finish the play. We didn't get the guy down and he got up and returned it. Pretty big play in the game, obviously."


--QB Marc Bulger still has just one interception all season and hasn't thrown one in the first half. He has 248 pass attempts, the fifth most in the league.

--RB Steven Jackson got his yards per attempt up to 4.0 and is on pace for 1,383 yards this season.

--RB Stephen Davis could start seeing the ball more in short-yardage situations, although his fumble against San Diego was a turning point in last Sunday's game.

--WR Torry Holt saw a lot of double coverage Sunday against the Chargers, and while he had five receptions, he averaged less than 10 yards per catch.

--WR Isaac Bruce averaged 21 yards per catch Sunday, and showed he can still make big plays as he approaches his 34thd birthday Nov. 10.

--WR Kevin Curtis had seven catches for 79 yards Sunday, his most consistent outing of the season. The Rams played more three- and four-receiver sets against the Chargers, which got him more involved in the game plan.

--WR/KR Willie Ponder had a tryout with the team Tuesday, as the Rams search for an upgrade in their kick return unit.

--DE Tony Bryant was inactive for Sunday's game against San Diego, just 10 days after signing with the team. The Rams hope Bryant can eventually provide a pass rush so teams can't overload against DE Leonard Little.


The 49ers have a favorable salary-cap situation, and they're expecting seven picks in the first four rounds of the draft. So the team has the capability of making some dramatic improvements to the defense next season.

But next season is next season. That doesn't do much good now for a team that is 2-5 after a 41-10 blowout loss to the Bears. The 49ers return to the real world this week to face the Vikings at Monster Park.

"It's a way to escape, even for me to say, 'I know what we got out there, and I know there's a time when we can do this and this and this and help this football team,'" 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "But that's an escape that's only temporary. I resist that temptation because I'm here today and living now and what I do now will affect that football team.

"That's all warm and fuzzy, but that's not today. Today is not warm and fuzzy."

The 49ers currently have approximately $7.5 million in cap room. They did not pull the trigger on a trade that could have brought some help. They also did very little to upgrade the defense via free agency. When Nolan was asked if he passed up opportunities in the offseason to improve the team, he answered, "Intentionally, yes."

The 49ers did not make much of a push to re-sign outside linebackers Julian Peterson and Andre Carter. Peterson signed a seven-year, $54 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks that included $18.5 million guaranteed. Carter signed with the Washington Redskins. His deal was seven years for $32.5 million, including $9 million guaranteed.

Nolan said retaining Peterson and Carter was not worth the cost of doing business because it would have hamstrung the potential to build the roster in other areas.
"Personally, I think they're both good players, but $30 million for the two of them? No," Nolan said.

The 49ers plan to retain players a couple years before they become free agents with contract extensions, something the previous regime failed to do. They have already used that strategy the past two seasons to lock up such players as linebacker Jeff Ulbrich, receiver Arnaz Battle, cornerback Shawntae Spencer and offensive lineman Adam Snyder.


--CB Donald Strickland signed with the 49ers. Strickland (5-10, 187) was originally a third-round draft pick by Indianapolis in 2003 out of Colorado. A native of San Francisco, Strickland started 12 games for the Colts from 2003-04 before being waived midway through the 2005 campaign. He was signed by Philadelphia last November and played in three games for Philadelphia. During his three NFL seasons, Strickland has started 12 of 19 games and three postseason games. He has totaled 54 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble.

--CB B.J. Tucker was waived by the 49ers.

--PK Shaun Suisham was waived from the 49ers' practice squad. Suisham joined the 49ers practice squad last Tuesday when a position opened up following QB Gibran Hamdan's signing from the 49ers practice squad to the Seattle 53-man roster.

--OT Sam Wilder was waived from the 49ers' practice squad. Wilder went to training camp with the 49ers and then joined the practice squad.

--LB Renauld Williams was signed to the 49ers' practice squad. Williams (6-0, 238) spent part of last season on the practice squad and the active roster of the 49ers, seeing action in two games. He was in training camp this past season with San Francisco but was waived prior to the start of the regular season.

--QB Alex Smith is having a solid season after experiencing struggles as a rookie. He has completed 125 of 209 passing attempts for 1,431 yards with nine TDs and five interceptions. Last season, he was sacked 29 times while attempting 165 passes, this season he has been dumped 15 times.

--RB Frank Gore has already surpassed his team-high rushing total of last season. Gore, who gained 608 yards rushing last season, has 631 yards on 124 carries. However, Gore has fumbled five times in seven games, four of which have been lost. Gore also has 26 receptions for 211 yards.

--RB Michael Robinson is not getting much action, but he is clearly the team's No. 2 running back. Robinson has 25 carries this season for just 60 yards, while Maurice Hicks has two rushes for seven yards.

--FB Moran Norris started his fifth consecutive game, as he has supplanted Chris Hetherington as the team's primary fullback. Norris has not carried the ball. He has three receptions for 2 yards, including a touchdown.

--WR Antonio Bryant leads the team in receiving yards with 473 on 26 receptions. He caught his second TD pass of the season on Sunday against the Bears, but also lost a fumble in that game.

--WR Arnaz Battle has been healthy this season and he is turning into a competent No. 2 receiver with 24 receptions for 265 yards. He is tied with Antonio Bryant for the team lead with two TD receptions.

--WR Bryan Gilmore, the team's No. 3 receiver, has not been much of a factor in the passing game with just six receptions for 129 yards. He was the target of three pass attempts on Sunday but did not catch a pass. He has also rushed three times for 53 yards.

--TE Vernon Davis is expected to miss one more game with the fracture in his right leg. His most likely return date is Nov. 12 at the Lions. Davis had five catches for 37 yards this season, all of which came in the season opener at the Cardinals, before the injury.

--TE Eric Johnson has taken over as the starting tight end and has played almost every snap since Vernon Davis' injury. Johnson, who led the team with 82 catches two seasons ago, is fourth on the team with 20 receptions for 195 yards. When Davis returns to the lineup, Johnson will see his playing time slashed considerably.

--LG Larry Allen returned to the starting lineup Saturday against the Bears for the first time since sustaining a left knee injury on the sixth play of the season. Allen played well in the run game, but lacked movement in pass protection.

--K Joe Nedney, who made 26 of 28 field-goal attempts last season, has made 9 of 13 this season. He has missed field-goal attempts of 34, 46, 51 and 49 yards.

--DT Isaac Sopoaga, who had played every game the past two seasons, was not active for Sunday's game against the Bears. The 49ers would like to see Sopoaga do a better job of sniffing out the ball. He had just four tackles in the first six games of the season.

--KR Maurice Hicks has a 24.5 return average on 33 kickoffs, but he fumbled for the second time this season early in the loss to the Bears. Hicks also sustained a concussion later in the game and his listed as questionable for this week's game against the Vikings. Top Stories