NFC West News & Notes - 10/18/07

Suddenly, venturing into Qwest Field isn't such a daunting challenge for visitors. The previously winless New Orleans Saints reeled off 21 consecutive first-half points on the way to a 28-17 win over the Seahawks at Qwest on Sunday night. From the last game of the 2002 season through mid-December 2006, the Seahawks won 27 of 31 home games.


But since last December, the Seahawks have lost three of five regular-season games.

"I still truly believe that Seattle has one of the better home-field advantages in the league," said St. Louis coach Scott Linehan, who brings his winless Rams team into Qwest this Sunday. "It's noticeable on film. You see people having to deal with crowd noise."

Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren talked Wednesday of it being a matter of taking care of business at home. "I don't care if it's close, big, whatever, as long as you win at home," Holmgren said. "When people travel, you're at a little disadvantage. Maybe the biggest reason is your fans believe that you can do it at home. Their emotion and reaction is that, and it creates a more difficult situation for the opponent."

In 2000 and 2002, the Seahawks went 3-5 at home. But in 2003 and the Super Bowl season of 2005, they went 8-0. "One of the things I'm most proud of our organization, of our team, since we've been here, is that football at Qwest is exciting and fun again, and it has been for a while," Holmgren said. "Fans are really into it."

More than 68,000 were on hand for the Saints game, but they couldn't alter the outcome. Losses to winless opponents, though, will create a strain. "I would hate to lose that," Holmgren said of the fan involvement. "I don't expect to lose it. Sometimes you might play a stinker, you might play a poor football game at home, but then you have to maintain that feeling and that aura of invincibility at home, regardless of how a particular game went."

Holmgren conceded that he's heard some of the boos.

"The winning and losing, I understand that," he said of fans' occasional negative response. "If we play a good football game and play hard and lose a tough one, that's one thing; if we putz it around and have penalties and drop passes and stuff, you deserve what you get."

Giving up 10 early points due to special teams mistakes deflated the crowd, Holmgren said.

The fans' high expectations, he said, are far preferable to the alternative -- fans who don't care. "I've said it once ... I'll say it again: We need our fans," Holmgren said. "We need the noise. Every team needs that ... the players feed off it. I felt like we let the people down the other night, and it was too bad. It was a shame, but we will bounce back."

SERIES HISTORY: 18th meeting. Rams lead series, 9-8. The Seahawks have won the last four straight, although the two games last year were decided by two points each.


--WR D.J. Hackett, who has been out since Game 1 with a high ankle sprain, is expected to be back on the field Sunday against the Rams. "I don't know if (the team) needs me, but you always feel like you can contribute something that everybody else can't," Hackett said. Having to sit on the sideline for weeks, he said, was "kind of like being that guy who just doesn't get picked in a pickup (basketball) game," Hackett said.

--Although he was almost hit on the head by a broken "sky-cam," QB Matt Hasselbeck is not down on those who broadcast NFL games. "I think it's great," he said of the extensive coverage. "I think it's great for our games. High-def television is one of the best things ever invented; second maybe to the wheel, or fire, maybe."

Hasselbeck said he's been down on some of his teammates who saw the camera coming at him. "I've heard where they saw it coming and they were laughing," Hasselbeck said. "What about throwing a block or something, you know? Isn't that really (their) job?"

--The Seahawks have been stung for more than a 50 percent conversion rate on third downs in the last two games against Pittsburgh and New Orleans. According to coach Mike Holmgren, it's been a crucial element in those two losses. "We were not very disciplined in our pass drops," Holmgren said. "It's a puzzle at times. You work on it and then a player is a little too aggressive, he comes up and gets the ball thrown over (his head). It might be the angle of his drop. It can be any number of things; it just happens."

BY THE NUMBERS: 14-4 -- The Seahawks' record in games played before the bye week.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Nobody in our division has really grabbed hold of it yet." -- Coach Mike Holmgren on the NFC West.


The Seahawks signed DT Howard Green, a free agent most recently with Minnesota in training camp. Green will take the roster spot opened by the injury of DT Chuck Darby, whose season ended with a torn patella tendon. The Seahawks will fill Darby's starting role with rookie Brandon Mebane. Ellis Wyms also could see more snaps in the DT rotation.

On the offensive side, WR D.J. Hackett (ankle sprain) will return a week earlier than initially predicted. Hackett was being tested during the week. If he's activated, it will cause the Seahawks to question whether they need to keep five receivers on the active list. The one most likely to fall back to inactive status will be rookie Courtney Taylor.


--DT Brandon Mebane, a rookie, will take over the starting role at the "one" technique for injured Chuck Darby. Mebane is considered more nimble with a little better pass rush.
--WR D.J. Hackett is being eased back into practice after missing a month with an ankle sprain.
--RB Leonard Weaver, having proven himself a solid rusher and receiver against New Orleans, could get more playing time against St. Louis.
--WR Deion Branch is still considered at least two weeks away from being recovered from a foot sprain.
--DE Baraka Atkins, a rookie, has been getting more time in the rotation with Patrick Kerney and Darryl Tapp.

GAME PLAN: Coach Mike Holmgren sees it as crucial that the Seahawks get off to a better start offensively. In the last two losses, they've fallen well behind before getting any drives mounted. Look for the Seahawks to go to quicker, short passes to improve the early offensive tempo.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Rams QB Marc Bulger vs. Seahawks linebackers -- Bulger is returning to the field after being sidelined for two games due to injured ribs. The Seahawks have generated very little pressure on opposing quarterbacks the past two weeks, but if Julian Peterson or Lofa Tatupu can get to him on blitzes, the ribs could turn into an issue once again.

Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck vs. Rams linebackers -- Hasselbeck said at least he doesn't have to wonder what the Rams will do with their scheme this week. "They're not going to surprise us," Hasselbeck said. "(Blitzing) is all they do. They are very blitz happy."

INJURY IMPACT: The Seahawks are hoping to get through this week and heal up during the following week's bye. WR Deion Branch is not expected to return until after the bye. The wide receiver corps, however, is bolstered by the return of D.J. Hackett (ankle sprain) a week ahead of schedule.


Quarterback Kurt Warner probably won't try to play Sunday against Washington after suffering a torn ligament in his left elbow last week against Carolina. But he wants to return soon and is targeting the Nov. 4 game against Tampa Bay -- and there's even a chance he could see limited action this week. The Cardinals have a bye next week, which will help Warner in his quest to come back from the injury. Surgery isn't needed, and since Warner is right-handed, he should be able to play quickly.

But he has a couple of obstacles to overcome. First, he has to have enough strength in the arm to grip the ball and to hand off on running plays to the right side. And he has to find out if he can deal with whatever pain comes from playing.

He'll be fitted with a brace to help give the arm stability. The worry is that Warner won't be able to hang onto the ball, and that's a huge concern given that Warner has a reputation for fumbling when hit.
If he can return after missing only one game, it would be a huge boost for the Cardinals. Tim Rattay, who signed last week, was a solid addition, given that he joined the club more than a month into the season. But his seven previous years in the league were spent in the West Coast offense, and the Cardinals scheme is a dramatic change for him. Rattay is smart and he's accurate, but learning the playbook in just a few weeks is an impossible task.

He'll be helped this week by the return of receiver Anquan Boldin. With Boldin, receiver Larry Fitzgerald and running back Edgerrin James, Rattay has some talent around him, something he didn't have when he was starting in San Francisco. Rattay also will benefit from increased work in practice this week. Since he's the likely starter, he'll get more snaps in practice, and the game plan will be geared toward his skills and his understanding of the offense. That can only help his chances of success against the Redskins.

"I think we can give him more than what he had in this past game, because the game plan will be geared more towards what his strengths are, some of the passes he's comfortable with," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

"When we did the plan last week, we had in mind things that Kurt liked. And Tim, because they were more complicated reads, was not as comfortable with them.

"We'll simplify things but we'll still be able to do some things in the pass game this week more so than last week, just because he's here another week."

Rattay is quiet, and if he's rattled by the circumstances, he's not letting on. "It is different," Rattay said of the offense. "There is different terminology for formations and plays. 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."

Rattay become more comfortable as last week's game progressed. "I think I was calling plays a little better toward the end," he said. "I felt like things were coming out a little smoother."

SERIES HISTORY: 118th meeting. Washington leads 71-44-2 and has won the last five meetings. The teams have met just once since 2002, with the Redskins winning 17-13 in 2005. There are some interesting historical and personal ties between the clubs. The Cardinals last beat Washington in 2000, 16-15, two days before voters approved funding for the stadium. That victory is credited with helping the initiative pass by a narrow margin. Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and assistant head coach Russ Grimm played in Washington for Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and have implemented much of Gibbs' philosophy with the Cardinals.


--QB Tim Rattay completed 12 of 24 passes for 159 yards in his first appearance as a Cardinal. The Panthers intercepted three of his passes in the fourth quarter, but two of them should have been caught by Cardinals. "I think he handled it pretty well for the situation he was thrown in," FB Terrelle Smith said. "I don't think people even know his full name."

--Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and assistant head coach Russ Grimm both played for Joe Gibbs with the Redskins, and Gibbs called them two of the smarter players he had. He didn't foresee them coaching. "I thought they were too smart for that," he said.

--The Cardinals signed QB Tim Hasselbeck this week, and he'll serve as a backup to Rattay and Warner. Hasselbeck's wife, Elisabeth, is taking maternity leave from her job as one of the hosts of the television program "The View." Tim Hasselbeck was the color commentator for Fox when the Cardinals played Baltimore in the third game of the year.

BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Fumbles WR Larry Fitzgerald has lost in the past four games. Fitzgerald did not lose a fumble in his first three years in the league. The fumbles diminish what Fitzgerald accomplished the past three weeks with Anquan Boldin out of the lineup. He had 353 yards receiving in the three games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Guys still believe we can win. There's nobody hanging their heads in this locker room, because when it's all said and done, we feel like we'll be in the playoffs." -- WR Anquan Boldin.


The Cardinals are holding out hope that QB Kurt Warner can play Sunday, at least in a limited role. Warner is trying to find a brace that provides stability to his right elbow, and he's experimenting with several options in practice this week. It seems likely that Tim Rattay will start, but Warner reports that he has little trouble passing, so he could operate the team's no-huddle attack, as he did when Matt Leinart was the starter.


--RT Elton Brown has played fairly well subbing for Levi Brown the past three weeks. Elton Brown had some trouble with Julius Peppers last week, but his performance must be tempered by the fact that he's a guard playing tackle.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck ran a similar offensive system with the Giants the past two years, so he should be able to pick up the system quickly.
--DE Antonio Smith has produced in his first year as a starter. He has 3 1/2 sacks, only two short of his career total. He also has hit the quarterback five times and done a decent job against the run.
--LB Monty Beisel had 10 tackles last week after taking over for the injured Karlos Dansby in the first quarter. Beisel will start for the next few weeks in place of Dansby, who has a sprained MCL in his left knee.
--The Cardinals special teams will suffer with the absence of S Aaron Francisco, who will miss three or four weeks with a sprained knee. Francisco is one of the NFC's best special teamers.

GAME PLAN: The Cardinals don't have much margin for error, and they can't afford to make the mistakes they did last week. Against Carolina, they turned the ball over, committed too many penalties and blew assignments that led to big plays. They can't afford any of those mistakes if they are going to beat the Redskins on the road. Chances are, QB Tim Rattay will start, and he's going to need more help than he received last week. WRs Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald need to make big plays, and the running game has to improve. The Redskins offense has sputtered and the offensive line is beset by injuries. The Cardinals must dominate up front and limit the Redskins' big plays.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Redskins TE Chris Cooley vs. Cardinals OLB Calvin Pace -- Pace has done a nice job against some of the top tight ends in the league. He won't be matched up on Cooley the entire game, but enough that this should be a key matchup.

Redskins S Sean Taylor vs. Cardinals QB Tim Rattay -- Taylor is making more big plays than ever. He has four interceptions, and he and SS LaRon Landry are a good young tandem. Rattay must be conscious of Taylor and make intelligent decisions.

INJURY IMPACT: QB Kurt Warner is likely to sit out this week because of a torn ligament in his left elbow, but he's hoping that a short time off and a brace will help him return to the starting lineup. Tim Rattay is likely to start this week. ILB Karlos Dansby has a sprained MCL in his left knee and is likely to miss three to four weeks. He will be replaced by Monty Beisel. S Aaron Francisco, a special teams standout, has a sprained MCL in his right know and is expected to miss three to four weeks. RT Levi Brown is still hobbled by an ankle sprain and will be at least questionable this week. WR Anquan Boldin returned to practice Wednesday after missing three weeks because of a hip muscle injury. SS Adrian Wilson strained a hamstring and is likely to miss some practice time this week. Wilson is expected to play against the Redskins.


Too many turnovers. Too many injuries. Too many losses. That's the Rams' lament as they prepare for Sunday's game at Seattle, the team that leads the NFC West with a 3-3 record. Marc Bulger will return to play quarterback. There's hope wide receiver Isaac Bruce will be back. Center Brett Romberg will try to play on an injured ankle. Still, this offense is a shell of what it was expected to be when training camp started at the end of July.

"Going into this season, when you looked at it on paper, we thought we were going to have a darn good, explosive team this year," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "It seems like one thing after another in terms of injuries and rhythm and some of those things, the timing. We started out slow and once the injuries started to pile up, it just became difficult (to get) that rhythm again.

They will try to get it back with Bulger back under center after he missed two games because of broken ribs. The injury occurred in Week 2 against San Francisco, a game in which the Rams' offensive line had made three changes from the week before, brought about by having lost left tackle Orlando Pace for the season in the opener and Todd Steussie being unavailable because he suffered a broken foot in the final preseason game.

Pressure on the quarterback has been consistent, and then running back Steven Jackson suffered a partial tear of his groin in Week 3 against Tampa Bay. Said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, "Everybody in the league has got injuries, you can see it, they pile up, but just the way they happen (this year) and the time frame, it's kind of mind-boggling sometimes."

Last season, the Rams had just 18 turnovers all season. This year, that total is already 18, with nine coming in the last two games with Gus Frerotte at quarterback. Frerotte threw eight interceptions in two games, the total Bulger threw in all of 2006. Discussing the interceptions, coach Scott Linehan said, "For whatever reason, whether we got some luck last year, the tipped balls didn't land in the other team's hands or we were making better decisions or protecting better and those kinds of things. The interceptions have been, I think, the biggest stickler. Fumbles hurt us earlier, I think in the first two games. I think fumbles were the things that were kind of biting us but since then, it's been the interceptions. Those are killers because a lot of times you'd just rather have the ball thrown away but we have to eliminate them or we are not going to get where we need to get to."

Asked if he thought the quarterbacks were forcing throws, Linehan said, "Well I think some of it. Having offensive line issues, not saying our offensive line isn't trying or doing their job, but having different groups going. I think some of that is, maybe not directly in their (the quarterbacks) minds but, it might be indirectly or subconsciously in their minds as far as confidence in our ability, not just the offensive line but everybody, to protect.

"When that happens, then the quarterbacks are not focusing on what they should be focusing on and that's something that we as coaches got to make sure is ingrained and is not happening to the quarterback. I'm not saying it is but when you do have fluctuating offensive line issues or you have a concern as a quarterback subconsciously sometimes that affects your ability to concentrate downfield. Hopefully we will be able to eliminate those mistakes now."

So, Linehan just marches on, trying to prepare his team, while knowing that team isn't close to the one he expected to go to battle with.

Asked if he ever feels helpless, Linehan said, "No. I was hired to do a job and make adjustments and find a solution to every problem and that is what I will continue to do. The hand we have been dealt right now is to continue to battle with a winless record and keep finding groups that we can put out there or a group of people that we can put out there that will make the corrections that we need to make and hopefully we will be able to do that.

"You have basically two options. One, keep that mindset, or two, quit, and two is never an option so we will continue to keep that mindset and push forward. Nothing says you can't start a winning streak seven games into the season. I've been on a team that started off 6-0 and didn't finish very well. I'd like to be on a team that started 0-6 and finished great."

SERIES HISTORY: 18th regular-season meeting. Rams lead, 9-8, and have won one playoff game in the series. Since the Rams swept the series in 2004 and won a playoff game that season, the Seahawks have won four straight. The two games last season were decided by last-second field goals.


--WR Torry Holt acknowledged that the problems he is having with his knee will likely be with him for the rest of his career. Holt underwent surgery in February for the second time on his right knee, but neither surgery was considered major. Still, he experiences swelling and pain after games or if he does too much in practice. Said Holt, "So I just take it day-to-day and year-to-year and hopefully put myself in a position where I can start a season and finish a season. I'm just managing the knee."

--LB Will Witherspoon said he will appeal a fine of $10,000 levied by the NFL for what it terms a helmet-to-helmet hit on Arizona QB Matt Leinart Oct. 7. Witherspoon sacked Leinart, who suffered a broken collarbone on the play. Coach Scott Linehan said he believed it to be a clean hit, and Witherspoon said he watched three angles of the play on tape and did not see any helmet-to-helmet contact.

--Mr. Automatic, also known as "Money," has been a different kicker this year. It seems after Jeff Wilkins missed a 56-yard field goal that might have won the season opener over Carolina, he has struggled.
Wilkins has missed 28- and 32-yard kicks, and has missed four of his last six attempts on the road. "It's kind of one of those weird things this year; it goes along with injuries," Linehan said. "You would never think Jeff would miss a field goal, but he's human. (Sunday) he just hooked that one a little bit. He has a new holder (Donnie Jones), but again he had problems with (original holder) Dane (Looker). I think guys go through slumps in their career and this is a mini-slump for him. He had a good game last week. He missed that field goal, but I would think that will be the end of that. Knowing Jeff, he'll come back around."

Asked if Wilkins might be pressing, Linehan said, "I don't know about pressing. I think everyone, whether they think they are or not, can tend to get a little over analytical in their approach, maybe, to the ball. I think that's what happens with any player -- great players or rookies. Jeff just hit a point where he wasn't hitting them. Like I said, he came back and had a good game last week (Oct. 7) with a new holder. He was not able to hit his first one (Sunday), but he came back and made his next one. Hopefully he'll be able to have a good 10-game stretch down the road."

BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Number of players that have rushed for at least 100 yards against the Rams this season. In 2006, 10 running backs reached 100 yards or more against them.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not sure too many people consider me the smartest guy in town, so I wouldn't worry about how it's going to damage my (reputation)." -- Coach Scott Linehan, asked if it was smart to play QB Marc Bulger with broken ribs.

With injuries affecting the receiving corps, the Rams signed former first-round pick Travis Taylor Wednesday. To make room on the roster, LB Raonall Smith was placed on injured reserve.


--SS Corey Chavous returned to practice Wednesday after missing two games with an injury to his pectoral muscle. He is expected to play Sunday against Seattle.
--C Brett Romberg did not practice because of a sprained ankle suffered Sunday against Baltimore. While coach Scott Linehan said there was an outside chance Romberg will play this week, other sources indicate he could miss two games.
--WR Isaac Bruce practiced on a limited basis after missing two games because of a hamstring injury. Linehan said it looks "promising" that Bruce will be able to play this week against Seattle.
--WR Torry Holt did not practice in order to rest his knee. He will play Sunday against Seattle.
--DE Leonard Little did not practice so he could rest an injured toe, but he will play this week against the Seahawks.
--WR Drew Bennett did not practice because of a hamstring injury, and there is an outside chance he could play this week.
--WR Travis Taylor had his first practice with the team after agreeing to terms Tuesday. Taylor was with the Raiders for the first two games of the season.
--LB Raonall Smith was placed on injured reserve Wednesday because of a knee injury.
--RB Steven Jackson (groin) practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, but it is unlikely he will play this week. Linehan said Jackson has "a real outside chance" of playing.

GAME PLAN: The Rams have not allowed a runner to gain 100 yards this season, so the defense will look to limit RB Shaun Alexander and get pressure on QB Matt Hasselbeck. Offensively, even with Marc Bulger back at quarterback, their only chance to win is by reducing turnovers.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Rams running game and pass protectors vs. Seahawks LBs. Other teams have put pressure on the Rams with their linebackers, and Seattle's group of Julian Peterson, Leroy Hill and Lofa Tatupu is formidable. With Bulger returning, any success in the passing game will depend on being able to protect the QB. The offensive line, along with RB Brian Leonard, will have to step up to keep Bulger clean.

INJURY IMPACT: There was some good news on the injury front Wednesday when WR Isaac Bruce (hamstring), SS Corey Chavous (pectoral) and WR Dane Looker (thigh) returned to practice. However, it appears that C Brett Romberg will miss this week's game because of an ankle injury, meaning none of the team's offensive linemen will start all 16 games at the same position. OT Alex Barron is the only player with a shot at starting all 16 games. He started the first week at right tackle, and has been at left tackle since then. Of the four wide receivers active on opening day -- Holt, Bruce, Dante Hall and Looker -- only Holt was active last week against Baltimore.


The bye week came at a good time for the struggling San Francisco 49ers. They had some injured players they hope to get back this week against the New York Giants, and they did not have any momentum to lose with a week off. "I've been on teams where the bye week came at the worst possible time," 49ers backup quarterback Trent Dilfer said. "This is the opposite. It came at the perfect time for this team."

Dilfer could get his second start of the season in Sunday's game, but the 49ers are holding out hope that quarterback Alex Smith will be available. The 49ers played without three offensive starters in their game prior to the bye against the Baltimore Ravens.

Smith and tight end Vernon Davis, two of the most important players on their team, were out of action the previous two games. Smith played just three snaps against the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 30 before sustaining a right shoulder separation.

Smith missed the remainder of that game, as well as the 49ers' 9-7 loss to the Ravens a week later. Smith said his shoulder feels fine, but he would like to get more practice time before he would feel comfortable playing against the Giants.

Davis sustained a partially torn MCL of his right knee in the third quarter Sept. 23 against the Steelers. He missed two full games. It looks as if he will be able to play. The 49ers offense has shown that it needs all of their players. The team's offense has been the worst in the league through the first five games. The club ranks 32nd in the league in total offense, averaging just 203.2 yards a game.

The 49ers' problems have been widespread. It begins with the coaching staff, which has struggled this season under first-year offensive coordinator Jim Hostler. The 49ers have not looked crisp in their execution, and there have been many instances in which the offensive linemen did not appear to know their assignments.

"I think we've made some strides in the coaching area talking about what we want to do," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "It's not a structural problem. We just have to utilize our tools better than we have been." Nolan said he and his staff examined the team's shortcomings during the bye week and hope to enact changes in the team's approach for their game Sunday. Nolan admitted for the first time the 49ers offense has lacked aggressiveness.

"The criticism of myself and ourselves would be at times we get a little too careful," Nolan said. "In no other area do we do that -- special teams or defense.

"We need to get out of that framework, whatever's causing that. And that's a lot of what we did last week. We identified some things, and we need to utilize our personnel better because there are players who dictate whether you're a careful-or-not type of an offense."

Nolan said he plans to utilize wide receiver Ashley Lelie for the first time this season. The 49ers signed Lelie to a two-year, $4.3 million contract in the offseason but have been reluctant to play him. The speedy sixth-year receiver has averaged 17.5 yards per reception in his career. He played just 10 offensive snaps in the first five games.

"The thing I like about Ashley is that he has produced in NFL games," Nolan said.

The 49ers have not gotten much production of any kind. Their best offensive showing came in Week 3 against the Steelers, when they began to show some signs of life with a season-high 289 yards of total offense.

But in that game, Davis went down with an injury, and Smith sustained his shoulder injury on the third play of the next game.

"The way I look at it, I thought we were making that progression from the Arizona game to St. Louis to the Pittsburgh game," Smith said. "That progression was coming. It hurt to miss those two games and kind of stop that progression.

"Now, we have to get back and make it happen."

SERIES HISTORY: 33rd meeting. The 49ers lead 17-15, including victories in six of the past seven meetings. The Giants were a 24-6 winner when the club last met in 2005 in San Francisco.


--Rookie right tackle Joe Staley faced a player who has gone to the Pro Bowl in four of the 49ers' first five games. But this weekend will be different. He'll be going against seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan of the Giants. "Michael's been in the league 15 years," Staley said. "He's someone I grew up watching. It's going to be a real honor to play against him. But that doesn't change the way I have to play. I have to go after him and try to dominate."

Earlier in the day, Strahan described the matchup against Staley as a "young, quick and smart" versus "old, slow and creaky." When Staley heard that description, he started laughing. "Creaky? I'm sure he has some oil," Staley said.

--During the bye week, 49ers coach Mike Nolan held a series of meetings designed to remedy the 49ers of their offensive problems. He met with the position coaches and coordinators; the players met with their coaches; and Nolan even met with some of his players. The 49ers also held three days of practices. When asked if he thought the week work would pay off, Nolan answered, "I would hope so. Hopefully we didn't waste a whole week."

But Nolan figures there probably won't be any quick fixes, either. "It will be a process. It won't be a (wave of) a magical wand. We've got work to do and it will be collective."

--Nolan made an interesting revelation during the bye week. He told of a conversation he had with Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who told him that he planned to double-team 49ers receiver Ashley Lelie when he was on the field. But during the Oct. 7 game between the 49ers and Ravens, Lelie played just one snap. The Ravens did not double-team any of the 49ers' other receivers.

"Sort of gets your attention, doesn't it?" Nolan asked. "There were some things after this game I knew clear-cut we had to do better. There wasn't a lot of gray area on some of things. It didn't surprise me."
Starting receivers Darrell Jackson and Arnaz Battle did not receive that kind of attention from the Ravens. In fact, they have been single-covered throughout this season. That has enabled the opposition to stack the line of scrimmage to slow down Frank Gore. Up until this week, Lelie has been the 49ers' No. 4 wideout. He is expected to get more playing time Sunday against the New York Giants.

--The 49ers don't want anyone to know where offensive coordinator Jim Hostler is going to be located for Sunday's game. After spending the first five games of the season on the sideline, Hostler might be moving upstairs. Nolan said during training camp that he preferred his coordinators sit in the booth because that's "the best place to play chess," he said. But Hostler said he felt more comfortable on the sideline. Nolan said a decision has been made, but he did not want to say anything else on the subject before Sunday. "It's not a huge thing that will change an opponent's (strategy)," Nolan said. "We've discussed a lot of things. Everything's been on the table, as far as what we need to do to get better, and I don't want to dismiss anything."

--Nolan said when it comes to quarterback Alex Smith's availability, he will not factor in the Giants defense and the fact that they are third in the league with 21 sacks. "If the doctors say he's healthy, that's the decision I make," Nolan said. "I'm not going to pretend to be the doctor. If they say he's healthy, then he's healthy. If he's not healthy then he won't play. The doctors will call that shot. And the doctors would not tell me he's okay if he wasn't. That typically means he's able to take a blow as well."

BY THE NUMBERS: 18 -- Consecutive games the 49ers passed for fewer than 200 yards.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know they label a couple guys as geniuses, but genius is a contradiction. If you were a genius, you wouldn't be a football coach." -- 49ers coach Mike Nolan, on why he didn't have immediate answers to what's wrong with the 49ers offense.


Rookie Jason Hill was on the verge of getting some playing time after being inactive for the first two games of the season. But he sustained a hamstring strain three days before the Sept. 23 game against the Steelers. Hill was sidelined for the next three games. Now that Hill is back to being healthy, he might have lost his place in line. The 49ers have decided to give veteran receiver Ashley Lelie more playing time. The team also brought in Bryan Gilmore two weeks ago to help after they released Taylor Jacobs. Also, the 49ers have signed LeRon McCoy. The 49ers now have seven wide receivers on the roster, including return specialist Michael Lewis.


--DL Bryant Young leads the 49ers with four sacks. He ranks fifth in the NFL among active players with 87 sacks in his career.
--K Joe Nedney saw his streak of 18 consecutive field goals come to an end. He has made seven of eight attempts this season. Nedney has also experienced a lot of success with the 49ers with his onside kicks. The 49ers have recovered six of his nine onside attempts since he joined the team in 2005.
--CB Nate Clements has gotten off to a strong start after signing an eight-year, $80 million contract as a free agent. Clements often covers the opposition's most dangerous receiver. He gets very little help in coverage, which explains why 27 of his 28 total tackles have been solo. Clements leads the 49ers with six passes defensed.
--OT Kwame Harris, who was on the trade block since losing the starting job at right tackle in training camp, will remain with the 49ers through the end of the season. Harris is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March.
--OL Tavares Washington, who spent all of last season on the practice squad, was re-signed after practice-squader Harvey Dahl was signed to the Falcons 53-man roster.

GAME PLAN: Obviously, the 49ers' offensive game plan is contingent on which quarterback starts. Alex Smith looks as if he has a good chance to play Sunday against the Giants, just three weeks after sustaining a separated throwing shoulder against the Seahawks. With him on the field, the 49ers need to move him outside the pocket with some rollouts and bootlegs. Backup Trent Dilfer is much less mobile than Smith, so he would primarily be sitting in the pocket. Offensive coordinator Jim Hostler has to make better use of the 49ers' offensive players, particularly receiver Ashley Lelie and tight end Vernon Davis. Lelie played just 10 offensive snaps in the first five games of the season. He is the team's only legitimate deep threat from a wideout position. Davis went virtually ignored for the first two games of the season. In the third game, Hostler made it a point of emphasis to get the ball to Davis. That strategy worked out, but Davis sustained a right knee sprain. He is expected to return to the starting lineup this weekend. The 49ers have to make the Giants respect their passing game. That won't be easy, because the 49ers have the worst passing attack in the league. But they have to find a way to discourage the Giants from putting eight defenders in the box. Only then will running back Frank Gore be able to find some room to run. The 49ers offense has gained more than 200 yards of total offense just once this season.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: 49ers RT Joe Staley, who has been San Francisco's best offensive lineman as a rookie, vs. Giants LDE Michael Strahan, a 15-year vet who is strong against the run and has 1.5 sacks so far.

49ers LT Jonas Jennings, who returns after missing one game for personal reasons, vs. Giants RDE Osi Umenyiora, who had six of his seven sacks in one game against the Eagles.

49ers SS Michael Lewis, who ranks third on the team with 43 tackles and broken up two passes, vs. Giants TE Jeremy Shockey, who has 23 receptions for 293 yards and one TD.

49ers CB Nate Clements, who has one interception and six passes defensed, vs. Giants WR Plaxico Burress, who leads the Giants with 30 catches for 507 yards and eight touchdowns.

49ers rookie LB Patrick Willis, who leads the 49ers with 67 tackles in five games, vs. Giants running backs. Derrick Ward leads the Giants with 421 yards and Brandon Jacobs has averaged 5.4 yards while missing a lot of time with a knee injury.

INJURY IMPACT: QB Alex Smith has a chance to play Sunday after sustaining a separated right shoulder Sept. 30 against the Seahawks. Smith did not see much practice time early in the week, so the 49ers might opt to keep Smith out of action for one more game so he'd be near 100 percent health to play the Saints on Oct. 28. TE Vernon Davis is expected to return to action Sunday after missing two games with a right MCL sprain. Davis was just starting to become a major part of the offense when he sustained the injury Sept. 23 against the Steelers.

S Keith Lewis (hamstring) is likely to be held out of action after experiencing the strain on Oct. 7. Lewis is one of the 49ers' core special-teams players. TE Billy Bajema (ankle) returned to full practice this week after missing two of the first five games with the sprain. OLB Tully Banta-Cain (ankle) saw limited practice time early in the week but was expected to be available for Sunday's game. S Michael Lewis (Achilles) saw limited practice time early in the week but the 49ers believe he will be able to start against the Giants. OLB Hannibal Navies (knee) was held out of practice early in the week and was questionable for Sunday's game. Top Stories