The Seahawks game against San Francisco will cause fans to revisit one of the more controversial decisions of the offseason in Seattle. At draft time, the Seahawks traded receiver Darrell Jackson to an in-division opponent for a fourth-round draft pick.
Jackson had been the Seahawks' No. 1 receiver, although his reliability had been questioned because of injuries. But for only a fourth-round pick? And to San Francisco? Jackson had pulled in 10 touchdown catches in 2006.
The theory was that Jackson had been a locker-room grumbler on a team dominated by players who fit the Tim Ruskell paradigm of camaraderie, selflessness and citizenship. Jackson's injury issues pushed him into the expendable category.
Over the first three weeks of the season, Jackson has been bothered with a sore back, but leads the 49ers with 11 catches for an average of 15.1. The Seahawks, meanwhile, have 13 receptions from each
Deion Branch and Bobby Engram, and 10 from Nate Burleson.
In a press conference, Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck made a veiled allusion to Jackson when he talked about how good it was to work with a receiving corps that stays healthy and is always at practice.
"When you have a play in for a guy on Sunday, and then he doesn't practice Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, it just makes it tougher," Hasselbeck said. "I just really credit those guys for basically dealing with the aches and injuries and whatever they've had to do and coming out and being in shape and being ready to go."
In a larger sense, this is an early duel for NFC West dominance, as both teams are 2-1. The Seahawks were swept by San Francisco last season.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck is off to one of his best starts, with a 97.1 passer rating. His two interceptions were both off deflected balls that should have been caught.
--RB Shaun Alexander will once again play with a cast on his left wrist. New tests revealed a crack in a wrist bone, but his play will not be limited.
--RB Mo Morris is expected to return from a hip injury and serve as a backup to Alexander and probably take snaps away from Leonard Weaver.
--TE Marcus Pollard has two drops in the last two games after starting the season with a 5-catch outing against Tampa Bay.
--WR Nate Burleson had a pair of drops for potential touchdowns but bounced back with the late game-winning grab against Cincinnati.
--WR Deion Branch has pulled in 13 balls the past two games as the offense has been focused in his direction.
--SS Brian Russell had his first interception as a Seahawk against the Bengals while also adding several big hits.
--FS Deon Grant came up with a pick against the Bengals and forced a fumble. He and Russell were critical in keeping Cincinnati receivers from getting past their cornerbacks for big plays.
--DT Brandon Mebane, a rookie, picked up his first career sack on a stunt against Carson Palmer.
--WR Ben Obomanu is expected to be back from a hamstring injury and could see action in the four-wide sets.
The Cardinals plan to utilize the no-huddle offense throughout the season, with backup quarterback Kurt Warner at the controls. The Cardinals used the no huddle with great success last week in Baltimore, nearly pulling off a come-from-behind victory. They lost, 26-23, but Warner completed 15 of 20 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns.
Whisenhunt chose Warner to run the no huddle because he didn't think starter Matt Leinart was ready to handle it. Whisenhunt used the no huddle some as Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator the previous three years, but he didn't use it in Ben Roethlisberger's first season.
It's just too much for a quarterback that young to take on, Whisenhunt said.
Warner's sterling performance prompted questions about Whisenhunt's commitment to keeping Leinart as the starter. Whisenhunt dismissed the issue shortly after last Sunday's game, and reiterated that feeling a day later.
Comparing the production of Warner and Leinart last Sunday is not fair, according to Whisenhunt. Receivers dropped four of Leinart's passes, and he didn't have the benefit of running the no huddle. Against the Cardinals' conventional offense, the Ravens utilized their usual array of creative blitzes.
When Warner was in, the Ravens backed off, and he didn't face the pressure that Leinart did.
"If Matt does not play well and continues not to play well, then that's something you have to look at," Whisenhunt said. "And I think what we've said -- not just with the quarterback position, but with this team -- is that if you're not playing well and someone else is playing better, they're going to play.
"But that's not the case here. That's not what happened with Matt and Kurt."
--QB Matt Leinart will remain the team's starter unless he plays poorly for a stretch of games, not just one here and there. Coach Ken Whisenhunt knows Leinart needs to play to develop. The young QB, however, will face another high-pressure defense this week in Pittsburgh.
--RB Edgerrin James gained just 57 yards last week but then he had only 10 carries. The Cardinals couldn't run much because they fell behind early.
--RB J.J. Arrington is the team's top third-down back but he isn't producing much. He probably will rarely touch the ball more than five times a game.
--RB Marcel Shipp should get more playing time. He's an effective runner and just hasn't had much time to show it.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald dropped a ball last week, which is uncharacteristic of him. The Cardinals need to find him on the outside and take some chances by throwing to him even when he's covered.
--WR Anquan Boldin caught 14 passes last week, a career high. He's nursing a sore hip and likely won't be 100 percent this week.
--WR Bryant Johnson is going to get a chance to make some big plays. With secondaries concentrating on stopping Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, Johnson is going to get some single coverage.
--TE Leonard Pope won't catch a ton of passes this year but could be effective in the red zone because of his size. He's 6-8.
--OT Levi Brown, the starter on the right side, has a sprained ankle and he could miss some time. His replacement, Elton Brown, played tackle last week for the first time since high school.
--SS Adrian Wilson is still being used in several roles. He'll guard the slot receiver. He'll blitz off the edge and he'll stay back in coverage. He hasn't yet come up with the big turnovers the club is expecting.
--ILB Gerald Hayes provides a physical presence in the middle and is a good tackler.
--CB Eric Green missed some tackles last week and needs to tighten his coverage.
--NT Alan Branch could make his NFL debut this week. He's been out with a fractured hand.
--OLB Calvin Pace has filled in nicely for Chike Okeafor, who is out for the year. Pace is doing a solid job on the strong safety, where he often has take on tight ends and tackles.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
As the Rams lick their wounds from an 0-3 start and prepare to play the undefeated Dallas Cowboys, the question is whether injured quarterback Marc Bulger gives the team its best chance of winning. Bulger suffered two broken ribs and a bruised knee in the Week 2 loss to San Francisco. However, he was able to practice in the week before Sunday's game against Tampa Bay, so coach Scott Linehan deemed him ready to play against the Bucs.
Yet, because of Bulger's health and the condition of the shuffled offensive line, the offensive game plan was designed mostly to keep Bulger upright.
"He's limited. He was limited going into the game," Linehan said. "We're not going to say that (injuries) is the reason he didn't have his best game of his career. That was not an easy task and he will be much better this week; he got out of this game pretty healthy. I think he'll feel much better in practice, which will enable him to have a better week of practice and focus more on the game plan than just trying to get in the game."
Said offensive coordinator Greg Olson, "We did not want him to take some of those shots he did. We felt like going into this game against Tampa Bay that we could control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. By playing it a little closer to the vest this week, we'd control it. We may not be able to open it up as much as we have previously. But we felt that was our best chance to win that football game.
"We felt like we would be able to run the ball. We'd keep Marc clean. We'll keep him healthy in that game and limit the shots he was taken. Your margin for error is small when you play that way. Unfortunately, we had some turnovers and we did not score in the red zone again. That has been our nemesis."
With running back Steven Jackson unable to play this week, it would seem having a healthy quarterback would be paramount in order to run an offense that would give the team any chance of winning.
--QB Marc Bulger played with injured ribs and a sore knee against Tampa Bay and had the second-worst passer rating (35.6) of his career. Bulger needs three touchdown passes to reach 100 for his career.
--RB Steven Jackson is definitely out of Sunday's game against Dallas because of a partial tear of his groin. Jackson is averaging just 3.8 yards per rush this season.
--RB Brian Leonard will make his first career start in place of Steven Jackson Sunday against the Cowboys.
--RB Travis Minor becomes the No. 2 running back behind Brian Leonard with Steven Jackson out because of a groin injury.
--WR Torry Holt has caught at least one pass in 124 consecutive games and is still working to be 100 percent recovered from offseason knee surgery.
--WR Isaac Bruce passed 900 receptions and now has 901 for his career, second-most among active NFL receivers.
--WR Drew Bennett is still working to be 100 percent recovered from a quad injury that is keeping him from going full speed in practice.
--TE Randy McMichael has yet to be utilized in the passing offense. Three of McMichael's six receptions have come late in games already decided.
--PK Jeff Wilkins looks to get back on track after missing field goals of 42 and 43 yards against Tampa Bay.
--DE Leonard Little had 2.5 sacks the last time the Rams player the Cowboys. Little, who doesn't have a sack yet this season, has 3.5 in two career games against Dallas.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Just when tight end Vernon Davis was becoming a big part of the 49ers' offense, his services will be lost for at least two games. The 49ers will not have Davis in the lineup Sunday when the 49ers face the Seahawks in a game matching NFC West foes. The 49ers and Seahawks both own 2-1 records. The 49ers could make it through the first round of games against division opponents with a perfect record.
Davis sustained a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee during the 49ers' 37-16 loss to the Steelers on Sunday. The injury occurred on a play that the 49ers believe was the turning point of the game.
Trailing by 11 points late in the third quarter, Davis appeared to make a catch down the middle of the field at the Steelers' 10-yard line. But as he was hauling in the pass, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu dove directly at Davis' knees.
Davis secured the ball, got both feet on the ground and then was upended by the impact of Polamalu's hit. Davis maintained possession of the ball upon hitting the ground with his right elbow. After hitting the ground, the ball popped out. The play was initially ruled as a catch and fumble. But after the 49ers challenged the play, the umpire overturned his ruling to an incomplete pass.
Davis sat out the entire fourth quarter. He caught four passes for 56 yards after asking coach Mike Nolan earlier in the week what he could do to get more involved in the offense.
With Davis on the sideline, the 49ers will likely turn to second-year player Delanie Walker to start at tight end. Walker caught three passes for 19 yards against the Steelers. The other tight end on the roster, Billy Bajema, is a blocking specialist.
--QB Alex Smith took only two sacks against the Steelers on Sunday, but as a result his completion percentage dropped. Smith threw away a lot of balls and finished with just 17 completions in 35 attempts, with one touchdown and one interception. He also showed his running ability with three carries for 32 yards.
--QB Trent Dilfer, the backup behind Alex Smith, has not played a snap since joining the 49ers at the start of the 2006 season.
--RB Frank Gore, who averaged 5.4 yards a carry last season, is having a difficult time through three games. Gore had his fewest yards rushing in his 20 NFL starts on Sunday, gaining just 39 yards on 14 carries. For the season, Gore has gained 175 yards on 52 attempts (3.4 average).
--RB Maurice Hicks returned to the game Sunday after sustaining a mild concussion. Hicks returned four kickoffs for a 21.5 average. For the season, he has two rushing attempts for 10 yards and three receptions for 20 yards.
--RB Michael Robinson played a handful of snaps. He carried just twice for eight yards, while playing on most of the special teams. Robinson made two special-teams tackles.
--FB Moran Norris is the lead-blocker for running back Frank Gore. He played about half of the team's offensive snaps and did not carry the ball. For the season, he has two rushes for four yards, and two receptions for six yards.
--WR Darrell Jackson will be the 49ers' biggest threat in the passing game against his former team, the Seahawks. Jackson has 11 receptions for 166 yards in three games. He is the team-leader in both statistics.
--WR Arnaz Battle had two catches for 27 yards against the Steelers. He is the team's second-leading receiver with nine catches for 104 yards. He is a well-rounded player who is also the best-blocking wideout on the 49ers' roster.
--WR Taylor Jacobs showed a little good and a little bad in the game against the Steelers. As the No. 3 wideout, Jacobs caught his first two passes of the season, including a 21-yard TD from QB Alex Smith. It was the second TD of his career. But Jacobs also ran a wrong route that contributed to an interception and 50-yard TD return by Bryant McFadden.
--TE Vernon Davis is expected to miss at least two games with a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. Davis caught a season-high four passes for 56 yards prior to the injury.
--TE Delanie Walker caught his first three passes of the season, totaling 19 yards against the Steelers. Walker will likely get the starting assignment after Vernon Davis sustained an injury that is likely to keep him out for at least two weeks.
--LB Hannibal Navies got his first start of the season, as he takes over for Manny Lawson, who's out for the season with a torn ACL. Navies made his presence felt immediately when he sacked Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, stripped the ball and recovered it.
--CB Nate Clements is giving the 49ers no reason to have buyer's remorse. Clements has played at a very high level in three games after signing an eight-year, $80 million contract in the offseason. Clements helped hold Steelers WR Hines Ward to just one catch for two yards. Clements broke up a pass and made six tackles, several of which were outstanding plays in run support.