NFC West News & Notes - 10/8/07

When the Seattle Seahawks return to Qwest Field to play host to New Orleans, they'll have to be on the look-out for something important they lost in Pittsburgh: their offense. The Steelers provided the Seahawks with their first shutout since the first game of the 2000 season, 115 games ago.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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Not only were the Seahawks outscored 21-0, they were out-gained 342-144, and the Steelers owned a massive time of possession advantage of 40:45 to 19:15.

"We didn't play a very good offensive football game, in my opinion," said Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren after the loss. "We weren't very good at anything."

Holmgren said he's going to remind his club of the way they were blown out in an early game last season at Chicago but still regrouped, won the NFC West, and advanced to the playoffs where they almost beat the Bears in a post-season rematch.

"We were able to use that game last year in a positive way," Holmgren said. "We're going to attempt to do the same thing now."

The Steelers' defense revealed some unexpected cracks in the Seahawks' attack as quarterback Matt Hasselbeck finished with a passer rating of 44.7 after being above 100 for the first four games of the season. And running back Shaun Alexander compiled a mere 25 yards on 11 carries. "It's frustrating," said tackle Walter Jones. "You don't want to go out there and lay goose eggs. As offensive linemen, any time you don't put points on the board, you take that (blame) on your shoulders."

The Seahawks' defense was effective in the first half against Pittsburgh, but saw the Steelers mount two long second-half drives when the Hawks could not make crucial third-down stops. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger came up with big plays to help the Steelers convert third downs of seven, 11 and 17 yards on one drive.

"I know that we're going to have to execute a heck of a lot better, especially on third downs," safety Brian Russell said. "We can't do that sort of thing and hope to win. I think we're a lot better defense than that."

The experience in Pittsburgh should be applicable against the Saints, Holmgren said. "For those guys on the team that didn't realize what you need to do to compete against a good team like this, they learned (Sunday)," Holmgren said.

Tight end Marcus Pollard said a quick recovery may be a matter of coming closer together as a team. "We have to circle the wagons," Pollard said. "We have to believe in one another and just keep believing and know that we have to rely on our offense and our defense and our kicking game to win each week."

The Steelers beat the Seahawks in each of those facets. "Coach (Holmgren) said it wasn't a good enough effort, but we got beat by a very good football team," Russell said. "In order to beat good football teams down the road, we have to find ways to improve, and that applies to every (on the team)."

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Deion Branch left the Pittsburgh game with a foot injury of unknown severity A sprain was the initial diagnosis.
--FB Mack Strong suffered a stinger and had to be replaced by Leonard Weaver.
--RB Shaun Alexander had his least productive game (25 rushing yards) since the 2002 season.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck, after having a passer rating above 100 in the first four games, finished at 44.7 against Pittsburgh.
--LB Julian Peterson led the team with 10 tackles and a sack.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Kurt Warner got his old job back in, of all places, St. Louis, and now the Cardinals' fortunes ride on how much the 36-year-old has left. With starter Matt Leinart out with a fractured left collarbone for a substantial amount of time, perhaps the season, Warner was left as the only quarterback on the 53-man roster.

He has split time with Leinart the past three games, running a no-huddle package that has been incredibly productive. But that package also protected Warner. With Leinart playing, Warner didn't have to play an entire game and be exposed to the pass rush that Leinart saw.

Warner's downfall over the past few years has been against strong pass rushes. If given time, he's as accurate as ever. If pressured, he tends to make mistakes, including committing costly fumbles.
While expressing sympathy for Leinart's plight, Warner is excited to be playing.

"As you all know, I love to play and I'm excited to play and kind of pick up where he (Leinart) left off and sitting at 3-2, trying to keep the seat warm for awhile and see what happens down the road," Warner said.

What happens down the road will be intriguing. Warner needs protection, but the Cardinals' offensive line is banged up. Right tackle Levi Brown has missed two games with an ankle sprain, and his backup, Elton Brown, was unable to finish the 34-31 victory over St. Louis last week because of a knee sprain.

The club moved left guard Reggie Wells to right tackle, where he played last year. There are no worries there, but replacing Wells is a concern. It will be either rookie Lyle Sendlein, normally a center, veteran Brad Badger or Chukky Okobi, another center.

While coaches try to sort that out, the Cardinals' front office will search for a backup quarterback. Lang Campbell, who is on the practice squad, is not believed to be a candidate. Even if the Cardinals find someone with experience in the offense, he won't have spent training camp or the regular season with the team.

Warner, meanwhile, will be given the reins of the whole offense, and he'll continue to operate the no huddle.

"I thought Kurt stepped up and did some good things for us," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "Certainly, from this point forward, that (the no huddle) is going to be part of our offense still."

Warner has enjoyed playing for Whisenhunt. While placing an emphasis on the running game, Whisenhunt has shown a willingness to gamble in certain situations. "Those are the kinds of coaches you love to play for, one that says, 'we're going to win and lose with you guys, not by me being the perfect coach and calling the perfect play in every situation,' because it doesn't happen."

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Anquan Boldin has missed two consecutive games with a hip injury. In those games, receiver Larry Fitzgerald has caught 19 passes for 256 yards and a touchdown.
--QB Kurt Warner was intercepted Sunday for the first time since losing the starting job last year. Warner hadn't thrown an interception in his previous 118 passes before he was picked off in the third quarter by the Rams.
--After not intercepting a pass in the first three weeks of the season, the Cardinals have five in the last two games. Adrian Wilson had an interception for the second straight game and cornerback Roderick Hood had two, returning one of them 68 yards for a score.
--The Cardinals have now won three straight in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
--OT Reggie Wells recovered a fumble in the end zone for his first touchdown since high school. Hood's interception return also was his first fumble since high school.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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Just when some injured players return, more go out. The Rams have been patching holes since the season started, and the result has been an 0-5 record. Everyone is searching for a light at the end of the tunnel, with road games the next two weeks at Baltimore and Seattle.

"I've never been a part of anything like this on any level as far as not being able to get a win, not getting a call, not making plays consistently, injuries," wide receiver Dante Hall said. "Just never been a part of something like this. I couldn't tell you what it is or put my finger on it, I don't think anyone can. That's why we can't get a win. It's unbelievable what's happening to this team. We come into this season with the cards stacked right and it just seems like things, week-in-week-out, are just falling apart."

Against Arizona, the Rams declared seven players out of the game on Friday and Gus Frerotte was in the lineup for Marc Bulger (cracked ribs, bruised knee). But they did get right guard Richie Incognito back for the first time this season after he suffered a high ankle sprain Aug. 18 against San Diego, and Andy McCollum was inserted at left guard.

McCollum and Incognito were the eighth and ninth players to start games on the offensive line, while the five line positions have been started by 12 players because three -- Alex Barron, Milford Brown and Claude Terrell -- have started at two different positions.

"Richie came back and was good for us on the line," Frerotte said. "We changed up the way we huddled up and we went with some quick cadence and did all those kind of things to help and we were able to move the ball. Just a couple of costly mistakes hurt us."

One of those mistakes was a 68-yard interception return by Cardinals cornerback Rod Hood early in the fourth quarter that gave Arizona a 27-20 lead. Still, despite the winless beginning, players were trying to remain positive.

Said Hall, "We have to just keep 'sawing wood,' and just keep doing the same things. You have to find a way to translate it into a game in the second half. We talked about it too. We knew it was going to come down to a second-half, fourth-quarter type of game. We talked about seizing the moment when it came and once again we just didn't get it done."

Asked about things going against his team, coach Scott Linehan said, "If things were going for us we wouldn't be here talking about things going against us. Eventually, if we keep our heads about us the game does turn around. We can lament the calls that went against us and all the injuries, but we just didn't do enough to win the game."

Frerotte was asked if it almost feels impossible to win a game. He said, "It's just one of those years. But we just have to keep battling."

PLAYER NOTES

--SS Jerome Carter suffered a broken bone in his foot and is expected to be out for an extended period of time.
--S Todd Johnson suffered a sprained neck on a special teams play in the third quarter. He was to be further evaluated before an estimate of how much time he will miss is made.
--SS Corey Chavous was inactive because of a pectoral muscle injury.
--CB Ron Bartell was forced to play safety against the Cardinals when both Jerome Carter and Todd Johnson were injured in the game.
--CB Fakhir Brown was activated for the game against Arizona, and returned with a splash after missing four games because of a suspension. Brown had two interceptions and was also credited with nine tackles and six passes defensed.
--OT Adam Goldberg is out for the rest of the season after being placed on injured reserve Saturday because of a knee injury.
--C Nick Leckey was signed to the roster Saturday to provide depth with Andy McCollum now at left guard. Leckey started 11 games for the Cardinals in 2006.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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At least the San Francisco 49ers know how they're going to spend their bye week. Coach Mike Nolan is putting his team to work, because they have plenty of work to accomplish for their final 11 games of the season. The 49ers are 2-3, but with an offense that could be among the worst in league history if they maintain this horrid pace.

"I don't know what the issues are on offense, exactly," Nolan said. "But we have a lot of work to do. We are going into a bye week. That's not an off week. That is a work week.

"Obviously, there are some things that need to be improved, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. We don't want to get into a situation where we start to press on defense and special teams and then we start to change the problem. We know where it lies right now and we'll get it rectified."

The 49ers have gained fewer than 200 yards of offense in four of their first five games. The lack of production on offense is quite troubling, considering the team lost nobody of significance from a year ago. The passing game has been bad, and running back Frank Gore is having difficulty finding holes to run. Gore has rushed for 306 yards on 84 carries (3.6 average).

The 49ers played last week without three starters on offense in their 9-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Backup quarterback Trent Dilfer filled in for Alex Smith. Tight end Vernon Davis missed his second game with a knee injury, and left tackle Jonas Jennings was excused from the team for personal reasons.

The 49ers might get all three players back for their game Oct. 21 against the New York Giants. Smith sustained a separated throwing shoulder in the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 30. A week later, Smith began throwing short passes. He hoped to be able to return to practice for the game against the Giants. That is the same timeline for Davis.

The 49ers figured they would be vastly improved from their offense of a year ago, which ranked 26th in the NFL. It certainly has not turned out that way, so there are a lot of problems that need to be corrected during the bye week.

When asked if Nolan might strip offensive coordinator Jim Hostler of the play-calling duties for the next game, Nolan said, "No, I don't believe so, but we'll look at everything." Davis said he felt as if he could've made a difference. Davis appeared to be emerging as a threat in the passing game Sept. 23 against the Pittsburgh Steelers when he was sidelined with a knee sprain.

"I know I can help out," Davis said. "If I'm running my routes the way I'm supposed to, I can help the team as a receiver and a blocker. I think I could've been able to use my speed and spread them (Ravens defense) out a little."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Alex Smith hopes to return to practice after the bye week and be ready to play Oct. 21 against the New York Giants. Smith sustained a separated right shoulder Sept. 30 against the Seahawks. He tossed some short passes prior to Sunday's game.
--K Joe Nedney saw his streak of 18 consecutive field-goal conversions come to an end when he pushed a 52-yard attempt wide right in the closing minutes.
--WR Bryan Gilmore, who was re-signed last week to take the place of released Taylor Jacobs, came up with a diving 42-yard reception against the Ravens. It was his only reception of the game. He also tried one carry on an end-around and was stopped for an 8-yard loss.
--LB Patrick Willis continues to be a tackling machine. He shared team-high honors with 12 tackles on Sunday. He and teammate Derek Smith both recorded 12 tackles in the game.
--RB Frank Gore continues to be frustrated after rushing for 1,695 yards last season. Gore carried 16 times for just 52 yards against the Ravens. He rushed for three touchdowns in the first two games, but has not gotten in the end zone since. He has 306 yards on 84 carries in the first five games.
--QB Trent Dilfer, making his first start in nearly two years, completed 12 of 19 passes for 126 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Dilfer was sacked three times and rushed once for four yards. He will get the start Oct. 21 against the Giants if starter Alex Smith is not back from a separated right shoulder.


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