NFC West News & Notes - 10/4/07

Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren tried to tell the media that the Seahawks' game against Pittsburgh this week was just the next contest on the schedule. As for revenge of the loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XL ... well, that's not a factor.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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"Our roster is quite different," Holmgren said. "Theirs is a little different. This is a new season, new team, new game. So I don't think there's any carryover."

But Holmgren acknowledged that he gets asked about that game wherever he goes, often in the context of what some fans considered poor officiating. "That was a couple years ago," he said. Still ... "I'm human. You think about it every once in a while. I think about the plays I called and what I could have done better, sure."

The biggest change is in the Steelers' coaching staff, where Mike Tomlin has replaced head coach Bill Cowher, and old friend of Holmgren. "Mike is off to a great start," Holmgren said. "Mike is a good coach.

"They've been good for a long time; they have tremendous ownership, tremendous loyalty to their coaches ... the Rooney family. It appears to me as though he has grabbed the team and he is imparting his spirit on the football team and they're playing well."

Both teams are 3-1, making this an important inter-conference meeting. How important is this game for the Seahawks? On the schedule after Pittsburgh, none of the 11 games remaining are against teams that have better than .500 records during the season's first month.

"I think you have two good football teams that started the season pretty well, and now we get to play one another," Holmgren said. "We know we are going into a very enthusiastic crowd situation in Pittsburgh; they've got great fans. The ability to handle that type of situation is going to be very important. They're playing good football, we have to match that if possible, and that's the point of emphasis this week."

The crowd noise is always an issue for visitors to Heinz Field, and Holmgren is anticipating the challenge.

"Any team that plays the Steelers ... the quarterback has to be pretty well prepared during the week, otherwise it can get ugly," Holmgren said. "We'll prepare like we always prepare. We played them a couple years ago and their scheme ... it's difficult. They do it well. They do it better than anybody. Every once in a while they're going to get you. It can't happen too often, hopefully, but when it does happen, you just don't panic and you don't change how you're approaching this thing."

SERIES HISTORY:
15th meeting. Seahawks lead series 8-7. Not included in the regular-season results is the Seahawks' 23-10 loss to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL in Detroit. Aside from that, Seattle has won four of the last five.

NOTES, QUOTES

--CB Marcus Trufant's two interceptions against San Francisco give him the team lead in that department, as do his six passes defensed. Now in his fifth season, the cornerback is playing at the highest level of his career. "I've always felt he was an outstanding technician and a good football player," coach Mike Holmgren said. "But he's quiet. He's a very quiet guy. If you play corner, I think you have to be kind of a confident guy, bordering on cockiness. He's not like that, so you don't know what he's thinking. Maybe down deep inside he's as cocky as anybody, but you don't know that by watching him, listening to him."

--QB Matt Hasselbeck harbors no lingering aftereffects from the Super Bowl XL loss to the Steelers. "The game is in the past; it happened and they won the game, they were world champs," Hasselbeck said. Hasselbeck said he thought the Seahawks' NFC championship ring looked better than the Steelers' Super Bowl ring.

--Hasselbeck was asked when he studies his game plan, and he revealed that his wife helps quiz him. "I take the notes ... I highlight," he said. "She plays coach Holmgren, so to speak; she'll say the personnel group and then she'll say the situation and then the play. It's much like when you're studying for an exam in college or something."

When do they do this? "Just sort of during commercials at night when we're watching television, or after that, in bed ... it's very romantic."

BY THE NUMBERS: 11 -- Number of new starters the Seahawks feature now compared to the lineup that took on the Steelers in Super Bowl XL.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've got a real team." -- QB Matt Hasselbeck when asked if he had a fantasy football team.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

After slow or misdirected snaps by Derek Rackley led to punts being blocked in recent weeks, the Seahawks brought in a challenger to his position, rookie Jared Retkofsky. Retkofsky was signed to the practice squad and will be given a look in practice before the game at Pittsburgh. He was cut by the Steelers during the preseason. In other special teams developments, the Seahawks will have to decide on replacements for Alvin Pearman and Josh Wilson as kickoff-return men, as both are out with injuries. Receivers Ben Obomanu and Nate Burleson are the prime candidates.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES


--RB Alvin Pearman is out with a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the season, meaning the Seahawks will have to replace him on various special teams.
--CB Josh Wilson is out this week and perhaps next with an ankle sprain.
--LB Will Herring missed practiced while nursing a knee injury that's bothered him for two weeks.
--DT Rocky Bernard was held out of practice with an ankle injury that caused him to miss a portion of the San Francisco game.
--TE Ben Joppru continues to miss practice with an ankle injury.

GAME PLAN: The focus for the Seahawks will be on the rushing game ... both theirs and Pittsburgh's. The Seahawks have been deficient in that area, ranking 17th in the league, averaging 64 fewer yards than the Steelers.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Seahawks C Chris Spencer vs. Steelers NT Casey Hampton. Hampton is one of the toughest in the league at the nose, and Spencer is in his first full season as a starter.
Steelers RB Willie Parker vs. Seahawks LB Lofa Tatupu. Tatupu has been having a solid season all around, but especially against the rush. Parker had a 75-yard touchdown run against Seattle in Super Bowl XL.

INJURY IMPACT:
Although he was only a backup running back, the loss of Alvin Pearman will have consequences for the Seahawks. The kickoff returner was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Complicating matters is the short-term loss of Josh Wilson, the team's other kickoff returner, who has a sprained ankle. DT Rocky Bernard also could be a concern, as an ankle injury could limit him against the challenging Steelers rushing attack.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Quarterback Matt Leinart is being challenged like never before in his athletic career. And it's clear that if needed, coach Ken Whisenhunt is willing to play the bad guy in order to get the most out of his young quarterback.

Leinart didn't help his reputation by popping off to a columnist from Yahoo! Sunday night just hours after the Cardinals upset the Steelers for one of their biggest victories in years. Leinart commented about how tough it's been for him to share the quarterback position with Kurt Warner the past two games. "I just want them to ride or die with me," Leinart told Yahoo! after the team's 21-14 victory over Pittsburgh. "If I'm the franchise quarterback, play me and let me stumble, because I'll fight through it, and that will help me and our team in the long run. I know coaches want to win now, and I guess they have their reasons. But I don't understand it, and this switching back and forth is almost worse than getting benched."

Leinart went on to praise Warner and said "the bottom line is doing whatever it takes to help this team and we won a very big game today, so I can't be mad." The next day, Leinart engaged in some damage control, telling reporters that he either didn't make some of those comments or they were taken out of context.

"I've been real open about the situation as far as being frustrating to me, because I'm a competitor and want to play," he said. "I've never once said I'd rather not play. Like I said, I'd by lying if I said I was happy with the way things were going, but at the same time, it's pushing me to become a better football player, just like I said after the game (Sunday)."

Whisenhunt brushed off the comments, saying he expected Leinart to be upset. In fact, that's the reaction Whisenhunt wanted. While Whisenhunt remains committed to Leinart, there is a feeling around the organization that Leinart was a little too comfortable with the No. 1 job. Whisenhunt's contention that he was playing Warner because he was better at the no-huddle package is legitimate, but it's also valid that his secondary goal was to light a fire under Leinart.

So, the question remains: Can the Cardinals continue using two quarterbacks successfully? In the last two games, they've moved the ball against two of the NFL's best defenses: Baltimore and Pittsburgh. They're 1-1 in those games and outscored those opponents, 44-40.

Warner is confident it can work. "There is a plan in place," he said. "People continue to talk all they want, but it's just like anything, if you're unwavering in your approach, talk is just talk."

Whisenhunt is trying to avoid butting heads with Leinart over the situation. He's been quick to praise Leinart and he certainly didn't have to put him back in the game in the fourth quarter last week against the Steelers.

Leinart looked sharp when he came in, taking the Cardinals on a 13-play drive that consumed more than seven minutes. He put two play-action passes on the money and looked like the player the Cardinals hoped they were getting when they drafted him 10th overall in 2006. Whisenhunt preferred to concentrate on that drive rather than the comments Leinart made over dinner hours later. "The way he responded for us in the fourth quarter on that drive, which essentially put the game away for us, I think that's more of what I'm going to look at," he said. "His play is improving. It was very evident on that last drive, a couple of the throws he made and how he managed the huddle and ran the offense in a critical situation for us. If he can focus like that, then that's good for our team."

SERIES HISTORY: 44th meeting. Rams lead, 24-17-2. The NFC West foes have split their games for the past three years. And in the last two years, each team won on the road. The Rams are decimated with injuries, and while the Cardinals aren't healthy, they are in considerably better shape. The Cardinals, however, must prove they can win on the road. They are 0-2 in road games this year and haven't won more than two away games in a season since 2001, when they went 4-4. Since then, they are 7-35.

NOTES, QUOTES

--DE Darnell Dockett had three sacks last week to increase his season total to 5.5, a career high. He had just six sacks in 48 games entering this season.

--Steve Breaston's 73-yard punt return for a touchdown last week was the team's first punt return for a score in 14 years. Johnny Bailey was the last player to do it, in 1993. It was the longest streak in the league.

--The Cardinals carry only two quarterbacks on the regular roster. Receiver Anquan Boldin is the emergency QB, but he was out last week with a hip injury. So, the emergency QB against the Steelers was receiver Jerheme Urban, who spent a brief time as an option quarterback in college at Trinity.

--Receiver Larry Fitzgerald steps up when called upon. With Boldin out last week, Fitzgerald caught 11 passes for 123 yards. In the last five games he's played with Boldin out, Fitzgerald has caught 37 passes for 533 yards and three touchdowns.

BY THE NUMBERS:
4.3 -- That's the team's average rushing yardage. Last year, the Cardinals averaged just 3.5 yards a rush.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"It's a situation where you want to play because you're a competitor. But at the same time, experience plays a big factor in this game. Kurt (Warner) has seen so many different looks, and Matt (Leinart) hasn't. The better he (Leinart) plays, the better it's going to get." -- Running back Edgerrin James, on the quarterback situation.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--Ken Whisenhunt isn't committed to using both quarterbacks every game. But opponents are going to have to prepare for Kurt Warner operating the no-huddle, so coaches hope that will mean they can spend less time covering other areas.

--CB Eric Green must improve. Baltimore picked on him two weeks ago and the Steelers threw for a touchdown over him last week. Green has a habit of peeking into the backfield too much and letting receivers behind him. A few more plays like that and Antrel Rolle will be moving into the starting lineup.

--The Cardinals have had some success the past two seasons with a nickel package that includes three safeties. Strong safety Adrian Wilson moves down to either a linebacker spot or to cover the slot receiver, with Terrence Holt and Aaron Francisco staying back.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--NT Alan Branch is healthy enough to play after suffering a fractured hand before the first game. But coaches aren't convinced he can play effectively with a club on his hand, especially at nose tackle.
--WR Jerheme Urban is the team's fourth-best receiver but he'll have a hard time being active on Sunday. Sean Morey is an excellent special teams player and Steve Breaston returns punts. Urban doesn't make contributions on special teams so he'll be behind those two, plus the top three wideouts.
--C Al Johnson returned last week after missing two games with a sprained knee. His replacement, Lyle Sendlein, played well, but Johnson's experience and toughness are hard things to replace. With young players on the right side, guard Deuce Lutui and tackle Levi Brown, Johnson's experience is a huge asset.

GAME PLAN: The Cardinals have 12 sacks this season and have been able to get pressure without a heavy reliance on the blitz. With the St. Louis offensive line in shambles and quarterback Gus Frerotte getting his first start of the year in place of Marc Bulger (broken ribs), the Cardinals need to take advantage with a heavy rush. It helps, too, that running back Steven Jackson is out. The Cardinals should be able to run the ball on the Rams, but their strength is still in the passing game. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald had caught touchdown passes against the Rams in three of the last four games the teams have played.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Cardinals DE Darnell Dockett vs. Rams RT Milford Brown. The Rams might have to move Brown from guard to tackle because of injuries and that's a matchup Dockett should dominate. Dockett has 5.5 sacks this year and is having his best season.

Cardinals CB Eric Green vs. Rams WR Torry Holt. Green tends to struggle against savvy veterans and Holt will take advantage of every miscue. Green must be disciplined and consistent or Holt will make some big plays.

INJURY IMPACT: RT Levi Brown will try to practice this week after missing last week's game with a sprained ankle. Brown will be day to day, and Elton Brown will take his place if he can't play. Levi Brown didn't practice Wednesday.

WR Anquan Boldin will try to practice this week after missing last week's game with a hip muscle injury. Boldin was still feeling pain this week so he'll be watched closely as the week progresses. He missed practice Wednesday.

NT Alan Branch, who hasn't played this season because of a fractured hand, is available to play. He's trying to get accustomed to playing with a large pad and wrap on the hand.

ILB Karlos Dansby suffered a sprained shoulder last week but practiced Wednesday and is expected to play Sunday.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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Less than 12 hours after announcing Monday that Marc Bulger would start at quarterback Sunday and that offensive coordinator Greg Olson would continue calling plays, Rams head coach Scott Linehan did an about-face. Tuesday, he informed Bulger and backup Gus Frerotte that Frerotte would start this week against Arizona and told Olson he would no longer call the plays.

Linehan had turned the play-calling over to Olson last November after a 15-0 loss to Carolina, and the Rams won four of their last six games. But with the team 0-4 this season and not having scored an offensive touchdown since the first quarter of the Week 2 game against San Francisco, Linehan was ready to try anything in an attempt to salvage the season. Linehan addressed the media late Monday, but then began reviewing the last few games. He said Wednesday, "After watching the games again, especially the last three games, I just made the decision that I'm going to start Gus Frerotte this week because
Marc's not healthy enough to continue playing as our starting quarterback. Until he gets healthy, that's what we're going to do.

"I adamantly defend anything I've said in defense of Marc Bulger because I will say that until the bitter end. He's been playing injured. It was my decision based on clearance by the doctors to play him the last three weeks with some very painful cracked ribs and a very painful bruised knee. That adds up. There is no question in my mind that this has affected his ability to play at the level he expects to play and we expect him to play as well."

Playing behind a patchwork offensive line that has already featured three left tackles, two left guards, two right guards and four right tackles, Bulger had two of the worst games of his career the last two weeks against Tampa Bay and Dallas. The Rams also played without running back Steven Jackson against Dallas, and he will miss this week's game against Arizona, too. In addition, wide receiver Isaac Bruce likely won't play against the Cardinals.

However, Linehan said his evaluation of Bulger was solely based on his injuries.

"I watched the pass plays, and there was no way in my mind that some of the throws Marc missed, he would miss in his sleep," Linehan said. "I truly believe that. I don't want to be stubborn about it and stick with him. I'm very protective about Marc Bulger and what he can do. I know what he's going to do for our football team. I think it's my responsibility to see and act upon a position that's not performing at the level we expect it to perform and find out the reason why. There is no question in my mind that it's because he's in extreme discomfort as he's trying to throw and move in the pocket."

Asked whether he believed some of Bulger's struggles were linked to problems in protection, Linehan said, "We all have our little piece to this struggle we're in. I just refuse to go down the road with the issues with the injuries up front or the performance of our quarterback or anything like that. You can come up with a number of excuses if you want to. The biggest thing I want the record to be set straight on, I know what a great quarterback Marc Bulger is. I know at 100 percent Marc Bulger's playing a lot better football regardless of any of the issues. I narrow it down to really one issue, the fact is he is genuinely injured to the point he can't perform at the level we expect and he expects."

Said Bulger, "If coach feels that this is the best thing for the team, we trust him and we are behind him. I'm behind him a hundred percent. He told me (Tuesday), but obviously most guys in here would want to play. I wish I was playing, but at the same time, if he feels this will help us win and maybe help us later in the season, you know we trust him."

As for Olson, Linehan said, "I stand by Greg Olson 100 percent and always will. He's a good friend of mine, but more importantly, he's my offensive coordinator. He was the first person I hired when I got this job, and I hired him to do the job he's going to do for me on Sunday, which is be the offensive coordinator. He's going to be in the booth. He's going to assist me in calling the game. I think it'll be an even better situation now that we have the familiarity after working together now for a year and a half. He knows exactly what I'm looking for. He did an outstanding job for me and is an outstanding coordinator and play-caller.

"As you all know, last year we had a very good finish to our season. This season, for a number of reasons -- I could go through a whole bunch of excuses -- we've had some real tough luck offensively when it comes to how we're managing our offensive group. I just look at it as a lineup change; we're just kind of moving guys around. Greg's very effective for me up there, and I think he'll be twice as effective now that we've had the experience of him being on the field. We're not doing so well right now, to state the obvious. I just felt like that we'd make a few changes and try something new."

SERIES HISTORY: 57th meeting. Rams lead 30-24-2. The teams have split the season series each of the past three years. Since the teams wound up in the same division, the Rams lead the series 7-3. The last two years, each team has won its game on the road.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Scott Linehan acknowledged that changing play-calling duties was also a message to players that everyone is accountable. "One of our obvious problems is offensively we're going through a hard time and there's a number of reasons," he said. "You can go through all the injuries and all the things that cause this to be an adverse environment right now, but because I feel it's something I'm very confident in, and feel like when you need to change things up, I think you need to be the change that you want to see on the team. I want to see significant change. I want players to know that we're not just looking to replace players or move players around or things like that; we're looking to make adjustments as coaches so they all know it's a complete team effort. I think that's part of my growth as a head coach, knowing that it does go both ways sometimes."

Asked what needs to change in play-calling, Linehan said, "It's hard to explain. I think we just need to perform better. I think sometimes the urgency of our offense has to improve. It's not Greg's fault, it's not the quarterback's fault, it's all of our (faults). I think when you are willing to address that as the head coach and the person that's primarily in charge of the offense, it does get the attention of the other players. What I want them to see is a different urgency from our group -- tempo and everything."

--Linehan on how offensive coordinator Greg Olson handled the change in play-callers: "I'm sure Greg is very disappointed. The thing about it is he has so much pride in what he does. Greg is such a good person, he feels like he's let somebody down. I explained to him and said, 'I'm not doing this because you're not doing your job, I'm doing this because I feel like I have to do my job better.' It's just something I feel that strongly about. It's obviously something I've done for a number of years and with the advent of making a quarterback change for this week and all the stuff that goes around with that and the way I know Gus (Frerotte), I think it's something that will be good timing, as well. Greg is a true professional, and he's a great person. He's handled this thing 100 percent professional, and he's a team player and will do whatever he feels I need to help us improve."

--After practicing with full participation for the first time since injuring his ankle on Aug. 18, RG Richie Incognito was happy with how he felt. "I felt good out there," he said. "I was able to push off it without any problems. It felt really good." Incognito said it was important he not come back until he was as close to 100 percent as possible.

"The coaches didn't pressure me to play," he said. "They knew it wasn't 100 percent the last two weeks. Now, it's right there."

Said coach Scott Linehan, "He looked fairly good. I talked to him after practice. He's very, very upbeat. I watched every play today to get a feel on how he looked and was responding to coming off the ball. He looked very comfortable."

--CB Fakhir Brown participated in his first practice since beginning his four-game suspension Sept. 1 for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Brown will start this week against Arizona. "Fakhir was good," coach Scott Linehan said. "He had a really good day. It was noticeable having him back out there, getting hands on balls, and tight on coverage. It's nice to have him back out there. My message to the football team was, 'We started our climb back into being healthy and getting our roster back into place with Fakhir being out there and Richie (Incognito) being out there today.' Hopefully we've turned a corner."

Said Brown, "I was excited to be out there. I feel like a rookie again."

--It's possible Andy McCollum might see his first action of the season from scrimmage Sunday against Arizona. McCollum lost a competition with Brett Romberg in training camp for the starting job at center, but he started at left guard for 16 games during the Rams' 12-4 season in 2003. Claude Terrell started last week at left guard, but McCollum was taking snaps with the first unit Wednesday. Taking snaps with the first unit at right tackle were both Milford Brown and Brandon Gorin.

Assuming Richie Incognito starts at right guard, coach Scott Linehan said, "Milford has played a game and some snaps at right tackle, as well as Brandon Gorin, so we're kind of in a position of competition right now at right tackle. The left guard position, Claude Terrell is still there, but I'd like to give Andy a chance to get in the lineup. There is no question he is a proven player. Definitely center is his position, but I could see a real benefit of getting Andy in the lineup as well. We have some mini competitions going (assuming that Richie is OK through this week) at that left guard and right tackle spot."

BY THE NUMBERS: 43.3 -- Percent of the team's rushing yards that has come in the fourth quarter of games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I tried for a couple of weeks. He had enough of me telling him that I was OK." -- QB Marc Bulger, when asked if he had tried to convince coach Scott Linehan to let him play this week.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES


--OL Andy McCollum, who lost the starting center job to Andy Romberg at the end of training camp, worked at left guard Wednesday in practice and might play Sunday against Arizona. Coach Scott Linehan termed it "a mini competition" between McCollum and Claude Terrell.
--RG Richie Incognito participated fully in practice Wednesday and is expected to start Sunday against Arizona. Incognito hasn't played since suffering a high ankle sprain against San Diego in an Aug. 18 preseason game.
--WR Isaac Bruce (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday and is unlikely to play Sunday against Arizona. A decision won't be made until Friday at the earliest.
--LB Raonall Smith (knee) has been declared out of Sunday's game against Arizona. Smith plays extensively on special teams.
--S Corey Chavous (pectoral muscle) did not practice Wednesday and will be a game-time decision whether he plays or not.
--QB Gus Frerotte will start Sunday against Arizona instead of an injured Marc Bulger, who suffered broken ribs in Week 2 and also has a sore knee.
--QB Marc Bulger will be the No. 2 quarterback Sunday against Arizona, but he would only play in an emergency. Bulger suffered broken ribs and a bruised knee in Week 2 against the 49ers.
--WR Marques Hagans will be active for the first time this season Sunday against Arizona. Hagans has been the third quarterback for the first four games of the season.

GAME PLAN: Somehow, the offense has to discover how to score points by eliminating turnovers and being productive in the red zone. They will also have to account for Cardinals S Adrian Wilson.
On defense, the Rams have to contain Arizona's no-huddle offense when Kurt Warner is at quarterback.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Rams DLE Leonard Little vs. Cardinals RT Elton Brown or Levi Brown -- Elton Brown started last week with Levi Brown sidelined by an ankle injury. Little has yet to register a sack this season, but Arizona QBs Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner have been sacked just a combined total of four times.

Rams KR Dante Hall vs. Cardinals coverage units -- Arizona has allowed a punt return for a touchdown this season, and Hall scored on a punt return last week, while totaling 262 return yards.

INJURY IMPACT: When the Rams take the field Sunday for their Week 5 game against Arizona, it's probable they will have only three of their opening-day offensive starters in the same position: WR Torry Holt, TE Randy McMichael and C Brett Romberg. Other starters that day were LT Orlando Pace (torn labrum and rotator cuff, out for the season), LG Mark Setterstrom (knee, out for the season), RG Milford Brown (competing this week with Brandon Gorin for the starting spot at right tackle), RT Alex Barron (now at left tackle), QB Marc Bulger (ribs), RB Steven Jackson (groin, will miss second game), WR Isaac Bruce (hamstring, likely out this week), FB Madison Hedgecock (cut after Week 1). ... P Donnie Jones will be the holder for PK Jeff Wilkins with Dane Looker out because of a thigh injury. ... On the Wednesday injury report, there were four players declared out: Jackson, Looker, LB Raonall Smith and OT Adam Goldberg; two players that did not participate in practice: Bruce and Chavous; and five players with limited participation: Bulger, DE James Hall (pectoral), CB Tye Hill (back), LS Chris Massey (abdomen) and WR Drew Bennett (quadriceps).

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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Quarterback Trent Dilfer will make his first start for the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. His opponent will be one of his former teams, the Baltimore Ravens. Dilfer has started once against the Ravens since he lost his job after going 11-1 as the Ravens' quarterback in 2000. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl and then get ousted as the starting quarterback before the next season.

"This is just another game," said Dilfer, who is set to make his 108th career start. "There is urgency to break a two-game losing streak."

In that sense, this isn't just another game for the 49ers. They are coming off a miserable performance against the Seattle Seahawks, in which the 49ers lost quarterback Alex Smith with an indefinite period with a right shoulder separation. The 49ers have produced fewer than 200 yards of total offense in three of their four games this season. They were particularly anemic in the 23-3 loss to the Seahawks.

"We have to put it behind us and take what we learned for the next week," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "Each opponent presents different problems and what you really got to do is prepare for the next opponent and don't let that last loss hang over your head too long. Hopefully that loss creates a more focused unit. That's the key."

A big key to the game is Dilfer, who did not take one snap from center last season behind Smith. In 2005, one of Dilfer's 11 starts for the Cleveland Browns was a 16-3 loss at Baltimore. Dilfer completed 16 of 30 passes for 147 yards and one interception. Dilfer played most of last week's game after Smith went down in the first series.

"I'm glad I've already had that experience," Dilfer said of starting against his former team.

Dilfer said he has not spoken to Ravens coach Brian Billick since the decision was made to replace him with Elvis Grbac, but Dilfer said he plans to seek out Billick before the game to apologize. Eight months ago, Dilfer let it be known that he still has bitterness toward Billick for the way he was let go. The Ravens did not offer Dilfer a contract for the 2001 season, and he signed with the Seahawks.

"He grossly misunderstood the talent of that football team, myself specifically," Dilfer told the Baltimore Sun in February. "I totally agree with so many things he did. But to this day, I am so sad I didn't have the chance to face the challenge of repeating."

In the article, Dilfer said he has spoken with former teammates Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe and Brandon Stokley. Each said they wished Dilfer had remained as the quarterback. "Those guys will go to their graves swearing to God that we would have won two, three Super Bowls if they would have kept me," Dilfer said. "I'm not going to say that; I have no idea. But I sure would have liked the chance to face the challenge. I would have loved that opportunity."

Dilfer publicly apologized to Billick for his remarks.

"I regret many of the things I said in February," Dilfer said. "What I do stand by is the fact that I disagree with the situation. I'm heartbroken I didn't get a chance to repeat and go through the struggles of what that entails. Where I've been wrong, and Brian Billick has been the man and I've been the child, is that I haven't been able to let it go.

"I plan on making sure he sees me face-to-face to let him know that I've let that go and I understand he had a decision to make -- the organization had a decision to make, and it's not my place to question that decision anymore."

SERIES HISTORY: Third meeting. The series is tied 1-1, with the Ravens winning the most recent meeting 44-6 in Baltimore.

NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Alex Smith's status is on a week-to-week basis after he sustained a separation to his throwing shoulder when Seahawks DT Rocky Bernard sacked him. Bernard, a 308-pounder, jumped on Smith and landed on top of him. When asked if he thought it was a dirty play, Smith said, "No, I don't think so, especially with all the restrictions they have on quarterbacks nowadays." Smith will not undergo surgery on his shoulder. The club hopes he'll be ready to return to action in several weeks.

After sustaining the injury, Smith tried to throw on the sideline without much success. "It was pretty painful, and it didn't go very far," Smith said.

--Coach Mike Nolan does not fault offensive coordinator Jim Hostler for the team's struggles on offense. In fact, he reassured Hostler this week that he believes the first-year coordinator is doing a fine job. "Jim faults himself every time we get in a meeting," Nolan said. Nolan said it's his job to help Hostler do his job. How can he do that?

"I can take a little off him (and tell him), 'It's not like your job is in jeopardy,'" Nolan said. "It's not."

--WR Bryan Gilmore had just concluded a workout with the Oakland Raiders on Monday. He became discouraged when the Raiders told him that they would not sign him. He was on his way through airport security when he received a call from his agent, informing him that the 49ers wanted him back. Gilmore then took a cab to the South Bay, where the 49ers have their practice facility, and he re-signed with San Francisco.

Gilmore was among the 49ers' final cuts of training camp. Coach Mike Nolan said the decision to release Gilmore was the most difficult call he's made in three seasons as coach. But Gilmore said he had no qualms with Taylor Jacobs beating him out for the job. Jacobs held the job as the No. 3 wideout for the first three games but struggled. "Taylor had an awesome camp," Gilmore said. "I would've kept Taylor, too. He shined. I didn't make as many big plays as Taylor."

Gilmore expects to be back in the role as the No. 3 receiver for this week's against the Ravens. Ashley Lelie and rookie Jason Hill are also battling for the job as the third wideout.

--TE Vernon Davis received a phone call from Pittsburgh S Troy Polamalu, apologizing for the hit that injured Davis on Sept. 23. Polamalu made a hit at knee level to break up a pass. Davis sustained a partially torn MCL and will miss his second game this week. "I don't know how he got my number, but the guy called me and apologized for hitting me that low," Davis said. "It's cool. That's all right. That's what happens. It's part of football."

BY THE NUMBERS:
0 -- The passer rating of backup quarterback Trent Dilfer when he took seven-step drops against the Seahawks. On those pass plays, Dilfer completed four of 15 passes for 37 yards with two interceptions and two sacks.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"We have to learn from that game and focus on Baltimore. This is a big week for us to show how the team can bounce back, particularly the offensive line." -- 49ers rookie RT Joe Staley after the team's lackluster 23-3 loss to the Seahawks.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The 49ers are down to one healthy tight end. Instead of signing a tight end, the club brought back OT Patrick Estes, who played the position in college. The 49ers like Estes and had hoped to bring him back after releasing him Sept. 5 to make room for DL Atiyyah Ellison. The 49ers have struggled on the offensive line this season. Estes could see action as a second tight end in short-yardage situations. David Baas has held the role as the second blocking tight end on short-yardage plays.

Vernon Davis will be out at least another game with a knee sprain. Backup Billy Bajema, a blocking specialist, is questionable with an ankle sprain. The only healthy tight end on the roster is second-year player Delanie Walker, who was a wideout at Central Missouri State.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--WR Bryan Gilmore, among the 49ers' final cuts, was re-signed. Gilmore was the 49ers' No. 3 wideout last season, but he caught just eight passes for 150 yards.
--OL Patrick Estes, released prior to the 49ers' season opener, was re-signed for depth on the offensive line. Estes can also be used as a tight end in blocking situations. The 49ers' blocking specialist at tight end, Billy Bajema, is questionable with an ankle sprain.
--WR Taylor Jacobs, who was the 49ers' No. 3 wideout through the first four games, was released. Jacobs caught three passes for 40 yards in the first four games. He has the 49ers' only touchdown reception. But Jacobs also dropped a couple of passes and ran the wrong route on a pass that led to an Alex Smith interception and touchdown return.
--FB Zak Keasey was waived to make room on the active roster for OL Patrick Estes. Keasey was added to the practice squad after he cleared waivers.
--DE Marques Douglas has a league-high six stuffs this season. Douglas is having a strong season with 28 tackles and two sacks in the first four games of the season.
--LB Patrick Willis is on pace for 200 tackles this season, according to the 49ers coaches' review of game film. Willis leads the team with 51 tackles in four games.

GAME PLAN:
Niners QB Trent Dilfer is probably going to have to implement the same philosophy that he used during the Ravens' Super Bowl season of 2000. The 49ers offense ranks last in the league, yet they somehow the team is 2-2 this season. The Niners recorded their two victories by taking care of the ball. Dilfer's main task might be to hand the ball to RB Frank Gore. The 49ers' offensive line must do a better job of creating running lanes for Gore. In passing situations, the linemen have to protect better than they did last week against the Seahawks. The 49ers had protection breakdowns across the board, as they allowed six sacks. San Francisco has to run the ball in the neighborhood of 60 percent of the time against the Ravens. Defensively, the 49ers' main focus will be on stopping the run. They could use a bigger defensive line. Last week against the Seahawks, the 49ers scrapped their 3-4 defense and played primarily in the nickel with four defensive linemen. The 49ers believe cornerbacks Nate Clements and Walt Harris will be able to match up with the Ravens' wideouts. They will have to do a good job against the running of Willis McGahee, who has gained 376 yards on 80 carries for a 4.7-yard average. With the confidence the 49ers have in their corners, look for S Michael Lewis to creep closer to the line of scrimmage to give the 49ers an eighth man in the box.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
49ers RB Frank Gore, who is the biggest threat on the team's offense, vs. Ravens run defense, which ranks fourth in the league yielding just 71 yards a game.

49ers FB Moran Norris, who has excelled as a lead blocker, vs. Ravens MLB Ray Lewis, who leads the Ravens with 50 tackles in four games.

49ers LG Larry Allen and C Eric Heitmann, who have experienced problems with miscommunication picking up stunts, vs. Ravens DT Haloti Ngata and OLB Terrell Suggs, who have a combination of power and speed that provides a test for offensive linemen.

49ers LB Patrick Willis, who leads the 49ers with 51 tackles and has played consistently in the run game, vs. Ravens RB Willis McGahee, who has gotten off to a strong start in his first season with his new team.

49ers CBs Nate Clements and Walt Harris, the strength of the 49ers defense, vs. Ravens WRs Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, who have yet to have a reception of 20 yards or more this season.

INJURY IMPACT: QB Alex Smith sustained a grade-3 right (throwing) shoulder separation. The 49ers say no surgery will be required. The results of the MRI examination were confirmed by Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Ala. Smith will not play this week against the Ravens. He is expected to miss several games. The 49ers say Smith's availability will be on a week-to-week basis.

--TE Vernon Davis sustained a partially torn MCL in his right knee Sept. 23 and expected to miss at least one more game with the injury.

--WR Jason Hill, a rookie who was expected to start seeing more practice time, might be available this week. He began seeing action in practice on a limited basis. The 49ers might opt to give him another week of rest with the bye week approaching.

--TE Billy Bajema re-aggravated his right ankle sprain against the Seahawks and might not be available for Sunday's game against the Ravens.


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