NFC West News & Notes - 10/16/07

Over a period of almost six periods of play against Pittsburgh and New Orleans, the Seattle Seahawks were outscored by a 42-0 count. Predictably, it led to a pair of losses that dropped the Seahawks to 3-3. The good thing from the Seattle perspective, though, is that nobody else in the NFC West is doing anything either.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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"No one in our division has really grabbed a hold of it yet," coach Mike Holmgren said. "Our goals are still reachable. We have to start playing better, that's absolutely for sure, but no one has jumped out to a huge lead yet. We have a lot of football to play yet, and we get some players back after the bye, which will be nice."

The Seahawks next play host to winless St. Louis. But having lost last week to previously winless New Orleans served as a reminder that they can't look past anybody. "This game coming up is a very important game for a lot of reasons," Holmgren said. "Not the least of which is that it's a division game. But we have to win a game, a game, instead of focusing on the big picture. We just have to win this next game."

The Seahawks should benefit from the return of split end D.J. Hackett, who has been out since Week 1 with a high-ankle sprain. His return is crucial because the Seahawks are still a week or two away from having Deion Branch back in the lineup after recovering from a foot sprain.

Not much positive will happen for the Seahawks offense, though, until it starts being more assignment-correct. "There are too many errors," Holmgren said. "I'm pretty sure they know the scheme and know where they're supposed to be, but for some reason in the heat of battle, they're a little bit off."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck would probably go along with the theory that the media is dangerous after he nearly was hit by NBC's overhead camera when the wires sagged during a stoppage of play in the first period. "Real close," Hasselbeck said. "I really don't know what to say; I just feel real fortunate it didn't hit me on top of the head."

"I thought it was going to hit Matt," running back Shaun Alexander said. "I saw it after it hit. You kind of laugh, but then you think, man, what else could happen?"

--The Saints had been struggling while going to 0-4, but they got well against the Seahawks, scoring 28 points in the first half. "No. 1, this is obviously a tough place to play," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "They have done a great job with the 12th man. It was loud at times, especially early on and any time you can come out and have success, usually you can silence the crowd and I felt like we were able to do that a little bit. In the second half, we controlled the ball quite a bit, just no points to show for it."

--For the second straight week, the Seahawks defense had trouble getting off the field on third downs. The Steelers converted eight of 15 third downs and the Saints came out and got first downs on seven of 14 such situations. "When you keep giving an offense opportunity after opportunity by allowing them to convert those third downs, you are asking for trouble," safety Brian Russell said. "You don't want to give those guys more plays. That obviously hurt us. We need to find a way to correct third downs because whatever we are doing, we are not doing enough."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--WR Bobby Engram had his best day of the season against the Saints, pulling in nine catches for 120 yards.
--FB Leonard Weaver was used extensively late in the game as both a rusher (40 yards on three carries) and receiver (53 yards on four catches).
--DT Chuck Darby suffered a popped patella tendon and will be lost for the season. Rookie Brandon Mebane will get more snaps now.
--QB/WR Seneca Wallace had one ball thrown his way against New Orleans. He caught it for a 29-yard gain.
--WR Ben Obomanu, with Deion Branch out with a foot injury, had his biggest day with four catches for 72 yards.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. SAINTS

PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus -- Matt Hasselbeck came away with good numbers (362 yards and a 93.4 rating), but the Hawks were only four of 12 in third-down efficiency and have now scored only 17 points in two weeks.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Shaun Alexander didn't do much (35 yards on 14 carries), but Leonard Weaver had his best day with 40 yards on three carries.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- Drew Brees had been ineffective all season, but hammered the Hawks with a pair of touchdowns and a 106.9 passer rating.
RUSH DEFENSE: C -- Reggie Bush hurt the Hawks in the first half, picking up 88 yards, but the Seahawks shut him down in the second half with nine yards on 10 carries.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- New snapper Boone Stutz had a low snap on a punt that led to the Saints' first touchdown, and placekicker Josh Brown had a field goal blocked.
COACHING: D-minus -- The Seahawks got shoved around by a team that came into the game 0-4. Missed assignments and miscommunication ruled the day. Mike Holmgren's clock management came into question once again.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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The Cardinals are confident their offense will operate much better this week than it did in the loss to Carolina, even though Tim Rattay, their starting quarterback, has been with the team just a week.
Rattay joined the team last Tuesday, then had to play when Kurt Warner went down with torn ligaments in his left elbow in the first quarter. Warner underwent an MRI on Monday, the results of which were not available. Rattay will start at Washington on Sunday and likely will be backed up by Tim Hasselbeck, who is expected to sign early this week.

Last week, Rattay had minimal time to learn the playbook, and took a small amount of snaps in practice as Warner prepared for his first start this season. This week, Rattay will prepare and practice as the starter, and coaches can tailor a game plan to his skills.

"When we did the plan last week, we had in mind things that Kurt liked," said coach Ken Whisenhunt. "And Tim, because they were more complicated reads, was not as comfortable with them."
Rattay spent his previous seven years in the NFL with San Francisco and Tampa Bay, which ran the West Coast offense. The Cardinals system is different, so it's been a challenge for Rattay to learn.

"There is different terminology for formations and plays," Rattay said. "There are quite a few plays that I haven't had much experience (with), but there are still concepts where I can draw from the past, and say, 'this is what I've done here.' "

NOTES, QUOTES

--Receiver Larry Fitzgerald has 353 yards receiving in the past three games, but he's lost three fumbles in the past four games. Fitzgerald did not lose a fumble in his first three seasons. "It kind of raises your eyebrows a little bit," Whisenhunt said of the fumbles, "but (Sunday) was unusual. He had the ball secured, he was trying to get up and it popped up. He had two others so when you see that one, it makes you worry."

--Kurt Warner is hopeful of playing soon, despite suffering torn ligaments in his left elbow. The Cardinals have an off week after the Washington game, so the extra time will only help.
"I think the biggest issue that Kurt is going to have right now, other than the pain issue, is going to be squeezing the ball, being able to physically hold it," Whisenhunt said. "Some of that is going to be his pain tolerance."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--WR Anquan Boldin ran routes before Sunday's game and felt no ill effects from the work on Monday. He's expected to practice this week and likely will play against Washington. Boldin has missed the last three games with a hip injury.
--RT Levi Brown is still moving gingerly on a sprained right ankle so he could miss his fourth consecutive game this week. Brown tried to practice last week but aggravated the injury.
--ILB Karlos Dansby is expected to miss some time with a knee sprain. His MRI results are available yet, and Dansby is hoping it's not more serious than a sprained MCL.
--S Aaron Francisco will be out the next three or four weeks with a sprained MCL. Francisco, a backup, plays in some nickel situations and is one of the club's top two special teamers.
--ILB Monty Beisel will start in place of Karlos Dansby, if Dansby missed time with a knee injury.
--QB Tim Hasselbeck is expected to sign with the team early this week. He'll be the backup to Tim Rattay. The Cardinals aren't expected to sign another quarterback unless Warner is going to be out an extended amount of time.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS

PASSING OFFENSE: D-minus -- Tim Rattay played decently under the circumstances. He had three interceptions but two of those should have been caught by the receivers.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- They had some success early but couldn't pick up critical yards late. There were too many penalties and the players didn't stay on their blocks long enough.
PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- They held the Panthers down until the fourth quarter when Vinny Testaverde found Steve Smith for a 65-yard touchdown. They could only sack Testaverde twice.
RUSH DEFENSE: D-minus -- DeAngelo Williams broke a 75-yarder late that helped put the game away. The Panthers rushed for 181 yards on 30 carries.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Punter Mike Barr had a good day and Neil Rackers had a 50-yard field goal. Nothing else stood out and once again, there were too many penalties.
COACHING: C -- Too many penalties, too many turnovers. Just too many mistakes in a game where there was little margin for error.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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Marc Bulger was on the sideline for the second consecutive game, giving his broken ribs more time to heal. On the field, Gus Frerotte was getting banged around all afternoon, as the Rams offense tried to move the ball against the Baltimore Ravens defense. It was another long afternoon Sunday, as the Rams lost 22-3 and remained winless at 0-6, and Frerotte suffered hits to his ribs and jaw while throwing five interceptions and losing a fumble on a sack.

A once-proud offense saw yet another offensive lineman leave with an injury. St. Louis began the game with backup running back Brian Leonard making his third start in place of Steven Jackson and a receiver corps depleted by injuries to Isaac Bruce (hamstring), Dante Hall (ankle) and Dane looker (thigh).

Drew Bennett, bothered all season by a quad injury, left in the second quarter with a hamstring injury, making Marques Hagans the second receiver. Brandon Williams, signed just five days before the game, returned kicks and ended up in the game as the third receiver. Said Frerotte, who has eight interceptions in the last two games, "I know a lot of stuff will be said about all this and what happened today, and we've just got to live with it. But it's a tough way to play the game. It makes you want to throw up."

Asked where he was hurting, Frerotte said, "You name it."

Entering the game, the Rams were hoping to retain some stability in the offensive line. The week before, for the first time this season they finished the game with the same line that had started. In addition, the unit starting against Baltimore was the same as the week before, the first time that had happened this season.

But it didn't last long. Center Brett Romberg left early in the second quarter with a sprained ankle, necessitating the move of left guard Andy McCollum to center and the insertion of Claude Terrell at left guard. In addition, right tackle Milford Brown shared snaps with Brandon Gorin. In six games this season, the Rams have had three left tackles, three left guards, two centers, three right guards and four right tackles.

Said Romberg, "With all the injuries on the offensive line, I wanted to be out there. It's extremely frustrating to be on the sidelines when your team is struggling. Fortunately, the X-rays were negative and I'll be back soon. I have to be. My team needs me."

Added McCollum, "There's a lot of football left, and we've got to fight back. We don't have any answers. The injuries we've had are incredible, and we've got to fight through them."
Frerotte doesn't know if Bulger will be ready this week against Seattle, but he's ready to battle again. "When you compete, no matter what happens, no matter if you throw 10 (interceptions), you want to get back out there and prove yourself," Frerotte said. "That's why you just keep picking yourself up off the floor. You've just got to have a never-say-die attitude, no matter how bad you're hurting."

NOTES, QUOTES

--TE Randy McMichael didn't hold back when describing the team's play. "It's pathetic," McMichael said. "And anybody that doesn't feel so, they're fooling themselves. It's pathetic. And that's how we looked out there offensively."

Asked if there were a danger of players losing concentration, he said, "Only if you don't love this game. I love this game too much to have my focus go away. I'll die and I'll die playing it. I love this game that much. My whole objective is to win. Losing, it sucks, and right now, it sucks. I'm broken-hearted right now. We've still got 10 games to go, and we've got to fight our butts off for those 10."

--DE Leonard Little finally registered his first sack of the season, one that resulted in a fumble, but he was in and out of the game the rest of the afternoon after aggravating an injured toe. He missed the Ravens' next possession, which resulted in a 75-yard touchdown drive.

Little acknowledged having painkillers at halftime. Asked if he needed a "little" painkiller, Little said, "A lot of painkiller. It's going to be a thing of me tolerating the pain. I'm just going to take it day by day, and hopefully on Sunday (in Seattle), it'll be healthy enough to where I can play."

--Coach Scott Linehan admitted he thought about inserting QB Marc Bulger in the game because Gus Frerotte was being hit so much but thought better of it. "I contemplated it," Linehan said. "But I also think it was in our best interests (to keep him out). The reason we held him out is we're trying to get him healthy."

Fox-TV analysts reported that Bulger threw without pain in warm-ups and said he would likely to return this week against Seattle. Asked after the game, Bulger said he felt, "fine," while adding, "Broken ribs, they don't heal in two weeks." Asked if he might play against the Seahawks, Bulger said, "It's up to the coach."

On Monday, Linehan announced his intention of starting Bulger this week at Seattle.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Marc Bulger, who has missed two games because of broken ribs, is expected to start Sunday at Seattle. Bulger was feeling much better last week, and while the ribs aren't totally healed, much of the soreness is gone.
--WR Isaac Bruce, who has missed two games with a hamstring injury, could play this week against Seattle. Coach Scott Linehan said he optimistic that Bruce will be able to play.
--RB Steven Jackson, who has missed three games because of a partially torn groin, got some work last week and will be "pushed along" to get him ready to play, according to coach Scott Linehan. Still, there is only an outside chance that he'll play this week against Seattle.
--WR/KR Dante Hall will be out "for a while," because of a sprained ankle, according to coach Scott Linehan. Hall was injured in Week 5 and did not play Sunday against Baltimore.
--C Brett Romberg suffered a sprained left ankle against Baltimore, and he will be evaluated Wednesday when the team begins preparations for Sunday's game against Seattle.
--DE Leonard Little aggravated a right toe injury against Baltimore, and he will be hampered somewhat although he will still be able to play.
--WR Drew Bennett suffered a hamstring injury against Baltimore, and his status will be determined as the week progresses.
--SS Corey Chavous has missed two games because of a pectoral muscle injury, but might be able to play this week against Seattle. Coach Scott Linehan he was optimistic that Chavous will be able to play.
--CB Darius Vinnett, placed on waivers by the Rams on Friday (Oct. 12), cleared waivers Monday and is expected to be added back to the team's practice squad.
--CB Eric Bassey was signed to the active roster from the practice squad Friday (Oct. 12).

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. RAVENS

PASSING OFFENSE: F -- QB Gus Frerotte had a passer rating of 30.6, was intercepted five times and lost a fumble on a sack that also was close to being an interception. He was sacked four times. WR Marques Hagans, active for the first time in his career the week before, led the team with five receptions for 74 yards. Enough said. It was good to see the tight end included in the passing offense as Dominique Byrd (4-44) and Randy McMichael (2-29) combined for six receptions and 73 yards. Torry Holt totaled just 33 yards on four receptions.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- It wasn't good, but then again, no one runs against the Ravens. They had allowed 66 yards per game in their first five games, and the Rams rushed for 67, averaging 2.5 yards per carry. Brian Leonard went nowhere with 18 yards on 12 carries. One bight spot was Travis Minor, who showed some quicks and had 40 yards on seven attempts.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- There were a couple of big plays and a tough pass-interference penalty for 27 yards against CB Fakhir Brown, but generally the pass defense was solid. Kyle Boller threw for just 184 yards, for a passer rating of 63.8. LB Pisa Tinoisamoa had an interception in the red zone.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- RB Willis McGahee had a 6-yard touchdown run, but the Rams had one of their better days of the season against the run. McGahee averaged just 2.4 yards a carry, totaling 61 yards on 25 attempts. For the game, the Ravens rushed for 77 yards on 31 attempts.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-plus -- PK Jeff Wilkins missed another chip-shot field goal from 35 yards out. Wilkins has now missed four of his last six attempts in outdoor stadiums. Donnie Jones had only two punts and had a 44.0-yard net. The coverage unit did give up a 54-yard return to Yamon Figurs. Recently signed returner Brandon Williams was solid, averaging 11.0 yards on punt returns and 22.4 on kickoffs.
COACHING: C -- Scott Linehan is coaching without many bullets in his gun, but he still makes some head-scratching decisions. In the third quarter, trailing 16-0, he opted for a 32-yard field-goal attempt rather than go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Ravens' 14-yard line. OK, he wanted to get some points on the board. However, with under four minutes to go in the game and trailing by 19 points, Linehan started using timeouts when the Ravens had the ball in their final two possessions. He then had QB Gus Frerotte throwing with 1:05 to play, and Frerotte took a shot to the jaw.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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Quarterback Alex Smith felt some pain while throwing on the side during the 49ers' practice Monday, but Smith is not experiencing discomfort in his shoulder. He is feeling the effects in his right forearm.
Smith sustained a separated throwing shoulder Sept. 30 when he was sacked by Seattle defensive tackle Rocky Bernard. Smith has made a remarkable recovery and is throwing the ball well. But because his
arm was in a sling for a couple days, Smith said the work he has put in throwing the ball has left his forearm sore.

Still, he believes he is on target to practice Wednesday and then play Sunday against the Giants.

"That's definitely the goal," Smith said.

The 49ers also hope tight end Vernon Davis will be available to play Sunday. Davis has missed two games with a partially torn MCL in his left knee. He is also expected to try to practice Wednesday. Smith and Davis likely will be listed as questionable for the game.

The 49ers returned to practice Monday after taking three days off over the weekend with their bye week. The 49ers spent most of last week trying to find ways to improve the league's last-ranked offense. The team is averaging just 203 yards of total offense per game. Last week, coach Mike Nolan set aside Monday and Tuesday for meetings. He even had players fill out cards for suggestions on how the team can improve.

"I hope we didn't waste a whole week," Nolan said when asked if he believes the 49ers will show improvement against the Giants.

"But it'll be a process. It won't be (corrected with) a magical wand. We have work to do, and it'll be collective. I think we made some strides in the coaching area. We talked about some things that we want to do. It's not a structural problem. The system in place is the same. We just have to utilize the tools better than we have been."

NOTES, QUOTES

--After last week's game, 49ers coach Mike Nolan asked rookie LB Patrick Willis if he had ever met Ravens LB Ray Lewis. He answered, "No, sir." So Nolan, who was Ravens' defensive coordinator for three seasons before the 49ers hired him, introduced the players in the parking lot.

"He was a cool guy, a down-to-earth guy," Willis said of Lewis. "He gave me some words of wisdom. He told me to be my own person. People compared him to other great linebackers before his time, too. He said all he had to be was the next Ray Lewis. He said all I can be is the next Patrick Willis. He said he had all the respect in the world for the guys who came before him, but he said, 'I'm Ray Lewis and not anyone else.'

"He told me to continue to work hard and keep in touch and use him. He gave me his cell phone number."

--Nolan said recently that he did not know what exactly was wrong with the 49ers offense. When pressed on why the head coach could not identify the problems, Nolan said it is difficult to diagnose a remedy as soon as something happens. "I know they label a couple guys as geniuses, but genius is a contradiction," Nolan said. "If you were a genius, you wouldn't be a football coach."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Alex Smith threw some more passes Monday and said his right shoulder feels strong. Smith sustained a separated throwing shoulder Sept. 30 against the Seahawks. He expects to be able to practice Wednesday and be available to play Sunday against the Giants.
--QB Trent Dilfer would start his second game in a row if Alex Smith is unable to play Oct. 21 against the Giants. Dilfer has completed just 46.2 percent of his passes with one touchdown and three interceptions. His passer rating is 43.3.
--TE Vernon Davis has a good chance to return to action when the 49ers play Sunday against the Giants. Davis missed two games with a partially torn MCL in his right knee. He is expected to return to practice Wednesday.
--WR Ashley Lelie will see increased playing time Sunday against the Giants, coach Mike Nolan said. Lelie did not catch a pass in the 49ers' first five games of the season as the No. 4 receiver. It is unclear exactly what role he will have against the Giants.
--OL Kwame Harris, who lost his starting job to rookie Joe Staley at right tackle, said he is prepared for anything. The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday, and Harris said he is prepared to remain with the 49ers for the season as a backup or get dealt to another team.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD AFTER 5 GAMES

PASSING OFFENSE: F -- It does not matter whether it's Alex Smith or Trent Dilfer, the passing game has been atrocious. The pass protection has been inconsistent, the receivers haven't gotten open, and the play-calling and offensive philosophy have not helped, either. The 49ers are completing fewer than half of their passing attempts, with a team passer rating of 57.7.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- The running game has not been strong this season. Big things were expected after Frank Gore rushed for 1,695 yards last season, but he has struggled. Gore has gained just 3.6 yards a carry, with 306 yards on 84 rushing attempts. The linemen have not held their blocks, and teams have been overpowering the 49ers with eight-man fronts.
PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- The pass defense has been pretty good. The 49ers are allowing the opposition to complete 62.8 percent of their passes. However, the 49ers are doing a good job of keeping the ball in front of them. Nate Clements and Walt Harris are strong tacklers. The team's biggest defensive shortcoming is the lack of a pass rush.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- The 49ers had difficulty containing the Steelers' Willie Parker, but they've done well against the other backs they've faced. They put the clamps on Seattle's Shaun Alexander while playing a nickel defense for almost all of the game. The opposition is averaging 3.8 yards a carry this season with just two rushing TDs in five games.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- P Andy Lee has gotten off to a strong start, as he leads the NFL with an outstanding 43.8-yard net average. (He is tied atop the league with a 50.1-yard gross average). The 49ers coverage units on kickoffs and punts have been solid. The team has not gotten much on returns. K Joe Nedney has made seven of eight field-goal attempts.
COACHING: D -- New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has done a good job in his role as the team's play-caller, but the offensive play-calling hasn't been as effective. The 49ers' production has been the worst in the league due to a timid offensive philosophy. Coach Mike Nolan appears keen on trying to win defensive battles. First-year offensive coordinator Jim Hostler has not been able to get anything going.


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