NFC West News & Notes - 10/22/07

In the immediate future, the Seattle Seahawks get to enjoy their 33-6 defeat of the St. Louis Rams for an additional week because they enter their bye week before traveling to Cleveland to face the Browns on Nov. 4.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The Seahawks will use that time primarily to get healthy, with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck suffering an injury to his oblique muscle, defensive end Darryl Tapp breaking a bone in his hand and tight end Marcus Pollard missing the game with a sore knee.

Tapp's injury is especially disheartening, as he had a career-high four sacks and one of the forced fumbles, enabling the Seahawks to become the second-best team in the league in sacks. But they also will incorporate rookie Brandon Mebane into the defensive line more after the Seahawks lost tackle Chuck Darby for the season to a knee injury, and get newly acquired tackle Howard Green more familiar with defensive coordinator John Marshall's schemes.

The Seahawks also are desperate to fix an anemic running game that has gone from a mild concern to a major distraction.

It was one thing for the Seahawks not to be able to run on the Steelers in Pittsburgh. And it's another to be ineffective against New Orleans after falling behind early and being forced to pass. But for Shaun Alexander to rush for only 47 yards on 19 carries against the St. Louis Rams, the 27th-ranked run defense in the NFL, is inexcusable.

Alexander now has three consecutive weeks of rushing for 25, 35 and 47 yards. The bright side is that he is getting better. The down side is that it is the worst three-game stretch of his career since he became a full-time starter in 2002.

It doesn't make it any easier on Alexander that coach Mike Holmgren is beginning to make backup Maurice Morris and fullback Leonard Weaver a bigger part of the offense; Morris because he hits the hole harder and Weaver because he is a good receiver out of the backfield and creative when he gets in the open field.

That the Browns are 30th in the league against the rush matters little, apparently, because the problems with the running game are steeped in more than the Seahawks' opponent. It has more to do with Alexander feeling in tune with the mixture of a young and very old offensive line, which has been unable to get the necessary push that Alexander needs to earn yards.

PLAYER NOTES

--TE Will Heller had a career-high two touchdown receptions when he filled in for the injured Marcus Pollard. Pollard said he felt he could not "grit out" the pain in his knee so decided to rest it for this game and the bye week, with the hope that it is healed by the time the Seahawks play Nov. 4.

--WR Nate Burleson, thanks to a spate of injuries, went back to returning kickoffs, which paid off in the form of a 91-yard return. Burleson started out the season returning kickoffs, but was removed from that duty when he became the starting split end. But when return men Josh Wilson and Alvin Pearman were injured and the Seahawks were ineffective, Burleson was given the job again.

--QB Matt Hasselbeck suffered a strained oblique muscle, which affected his accuracy in Sunday's win, including an interception that was intended for receiver Bobby Engram. Hasselbeck did not finish the game because it was a blowout, but said he could have if the game was close. He said he should be fine by Nov. 4.

--RB Shaun Alexander got into an argument with coach Mike Holmgren on the sideline after Holmgren removed Alexander late in the game. Alexander said he wanted to keep playing and Holmgren said he did not want to get Alexander injured.

--DE Darryl Tapp broke a bone in his hand and likely will need surgery. If he has the surgery, he will wear a protective glove that allows his fingers to have flexibility. If he does not have surgery, he will be required to wear a cumbersome cast that is covered with gauze and tape.

--WR Bobby Engram led the Seahawks for the second consecutive week with six receptions. But he likely will go to a lesser role in the team's next game because the Seahawks are expected to get back Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett, which means Engram will be the third receiver.

--LB Julian Peterson had one sack against St. Louis and has 7.0 for the year, which is second in the league.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Seven games into this season and the Cardinals know at least one thing: they will go only as far as quarterback Kurt Warner can take them. Matt Leinart is out for the year with a broken collarbone, and the team's success rests with Warner. So far, the results have not been good.

Warner has started the past two games, both losses. He suffered a torn ligament in his left elbow in the first start and struggled through his second start last week in Washington.
In his three years with the team, Warner is 3-14 as a starter.

His performance isn't the only reason for that lousy record. He has often directed an offense that has been severely limited by mismanagement, injuries or a lack of talent. That's not the case this year. Cardinals quarterbacks have received solid support. The running game has improved, and the club has a dynamic receiving combination in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. What Warner must do is manage the game, limit turnovers and get the ball to those two receivers.

But when he struggles in doing that, the Cardinals aren't good enough elsewhere to compensate. Against the Redskins, Warner was intercepted twice in the first half, both of which led to Washington touchdowns.

The Cardinals defense was playing great, but the Redskins were able to win by mounting just one offensive drive of any note. The Cardinals made a valiant comeback but lost 21-19 when kicker Neil Rackers missed a 55-yard field goal in the final seconds.

"We did a lot to put ourselves in the position to win," Warner said. "At some point, we have to figure out how to make whatever plays that are keeping us from winning. We need to get these games that we are losing."

Before Leinart was injured, Warner played a part-time role in three games, operating the no-huddle offense to near perfection. Fans and some media members clamored for him to start, but it's clear now that coach Ken Whisenhunt knew what he was doing in giving Warner an important, but a limited, role.

In his two starts, Warner has been intercepted twice and lost two fumbles on sacks.

He displayed great toughness at Washington, playing with a large brace on his arm, which makes it impossible to extend his arm to hand off without a great deal of pain. Warner knows the Cardinals need him. His backups, Tim Rattay and Tim Hasselbeck, have been with the club a short time and aren't ready to play.

At times, Warner can look exceptionally sharp. After his interceptions, he played fairly well against Washington, hitting Boldin for two touchdowns. "We did a lot in the second half to put ourselves in the position to win," he said. "It's frustrating when you go out and spot a team 14 points. It's tough to come back from."

Those interceptions are the type of mistakes Warner knows he can't make, not with this team. The Cardinals are not a high-scoring team and all but one of their games has come down to the final minutes.

Whisenhunt likes the fight his team is showing. Now, he must do something during the off week to help the execution. There have been far too many turnovers, penalties and other mistakes.

Still, the Cardinals are 3-4, their best record after seven games since 2002. "We didn't quit," Whisenhunt said after Sunday's game. "That's the one thing I will say about this team. A lot of people are going to say, 'the same old Cardinals,' but that to me wasn't the same old Cardinals. They felt like they had a chance to win and they fought the whole game."

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Anquan Boldin caught eight passes and scored two touchdowns against Carolina, but he had only 29 yards receiving. The Cardinals tried to get him open on short routes so he could use his running ability, but the Redskins did a good job of tackling.

--RB Edgerrin James has rushed for more than 100 yards in just one game this year, but he's consistently produced. He hasn't gained fewer than 57 yards and he has a total of 605, an average of almost 88 a game.

--RB J.J. Arrington showed some explosiveness against Carolina. He caught four passes for 47 yards, including a 29-yarder that helped set up a touchdown.

--OT Mike Gandy has a right calf injury that could cause him to miss some time. He will be evaluated this week during the bye. It's possible rookie Levi Brown could move from right tackle to the left side.

--P Mike Barr isn't producing as expected. He has been inconsistent as a punter, and as a holder. He dropped a snap that resulted in a blocked extra point. If the Cardinals make that PAT, they don't have to go for a two-point conversion late against the Redskins. They failed and lost, 21-19.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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The road has been a horror show for the Rams this season, so at least they can look forward to being at home this week against the Cleveland Browns. That might not be enough to prevent them from falling to 0-8 before their Week 9 bye, but at least there is the chance for respectability, something that hasn't been close to happening when the team is way from the Edward Jones Dome.

After Sunday's 33-6 loss in Seattle, the Rams have now been out-scored 114-19 in four road losses. In the second half of those games, it has been especially abysmal. In the second half against the Seahawks, the count was 23-3 for Seattle. In the four losses, opponents have scored 74 points to the Rams' nine.

Returning after missing two games because of broken ribs, quarterback Marc Bulger was under siege most of the afternoon. He was sacked seven times for 57 yards in losses, threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles. The previous week, quarterback Gus Frerotte had five interceptions and lost a fumble. That's 11 turnovers in two games for a team that had just 18 turnovers in 2006. The Rams now have 23 turnovers after seven games.

Asked if this was the worst the offense has looked this season, coach Scott Linehan said, "I would say that last week wasn't very good either. But it was not good in a number of ways. Just numbers-wise, we had a number of errors. We had pre-snap penalties, as well as the turnovers, that created problems."

Just like the week before, center Brett Romberg left during the game because of an ankle injury. Romberg injured his ankle against Baltimore, but started against the Seahawks, only to leave in the third quarter. When he left, Andy McCollum slid to center from left guard and Claude Terrell went to left guard.

Terrell had incurred the wrath of Linehan at a Thursday practice when he mouthed off to the head coach. Terrell later apologized to the Linehan and the team, but his mere presence on the roster speaks to the attrition they have experienced this season. When Linehan was asked why the blocking isn't better, he said, "That's a good question. We analyze that very thoroughly and it's a group of guys that haven't played together. And it goes to show you that when you have a group that is consistently working together as a group, you get better results. We have been in and out of different lineups and I think it creates a problem. It's obvious to me that, that is one of the areas that we struggle. And I think a lot of it has to do with that."

In his last three road games, Bulger has had passer ratings of 35.6, 42.7 and 38.0. At Baltimore, Frerotte's rating was 30.6. In the four road games, the Rams have 15 turnovers and just four takeaways. There have been 12 interceptions and three lost fumbles by the quarterbacks.

Said Bulger, when asked about his emotions, said, I'm a little angry about things, embarrassed about things, frustrated about things. But there's no good emotions. I've got two days to switch that around. I'm back Wednesday and getting ready for Cleveland."

PLAYER NOTES

--C Brett Romberg, who suffered a sprained left ankle in Week 6 against Baltimore, left Sunday's game against Seattle with an injured right ankle and right knee.

--OL Andy McCollum started at left guard and moved to center for the second straight week when C Brett Romberg was injured during both games.

--TE Joe Klopfenstein, who hardly played the week before, was listed as the starting fullback against Seattle, although he was used as an H-back. Klopfenstein struggled with pass protections.

--WR Isaac Bruce returned to the lineup after missing two games because of a hamstring injury. Bruce had two receptions for 52 yards.

--WR Travis Taylor, signed during the week, played and had one reception for four yards. Taylor also had a drop and couldn't prevent a late-game interception after he got his hands on the ball.

--P Donnie Jones had his fourth game with an average of 50.0 yards or more and had one punt for 80 yards in the loss to Seattle.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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The San Francisco 49ers return home for a crucial game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. The 49ers are mired in a four-game losing streak, and are third in the NFC West with a 2-4 record. The club had expectations of advancing to the playoffs, but they have looked nothing like a playoff team through the first six games of the season.

"I never foresaw that happening," 49ers veteran defensive lineman Bryant Young said. "The only thing we can continue to do is work. We have a lot of room for improvement."

The team's expectations of winning the NFC West are not out of reach, but the club has plenty of work to do. Most -- if not all -- of that work must be done on offense. The first step in rectifying their problems is simple, 49ers running back Frank Gore said. He said the offense needs to trust each other and what first-year offensive coordinator Jim Hostler is trying to accomplish.

"You got to trust," Gore said. "If you don't trust, you're not going to win. When we trust (backup quarterback Trent Dilfer), trust the coordinator and trust everybody, we'll win."

Gore said some of his teammates lack confidence in their embattled offensive coordinator. Hostler was promoted from quarterbacks coach after Norv Turner left in February to become the San Diego Chargers' head coach. Hostler's only experience calling plays prior to this season was in 1999, when he was offensive coordinator at Indiana (Pa.), an NCAA Division II school.

"I just know that we had Norv Turner," Gore said. "He's been doing it for a while. Whenever he said something we wanted to do it.

"And now I feel that a lot of people when coach Hoss or somebody calls something, it gets in the back of their heads, 'Is he calling the right play?' instead of just going out there and busting your behind. That's all it is right now, I feel."

The 49ers spent their bye week examining their problems on offense. They average a league-low 213.8 yards per game. The 49ers featured some different looks on offense. They used a variety of offensive formations and tried to better use their personnel, coach Mike Nolan said.

The 49ers hope to have all of their personnel available to face the Saints. Starting quarterback Alex Smith missed the past two starts after sustaining a right shoulder separation on Sept. 30. Although he is throwing passes at near full strength, Nolan said he detected that Smith was a bit tentative.

Also, Gore's status is in question after sustaining a right ankle sprain in the 49ers' 33-15 loss to the New York Giants. Gore had his best game of the season, rushing for 88 yards on just 14 carries, but his status for the game against the Saints was in question.

In the loss to the Giants, the 49ers committed four turnovers that led to 27 points. They also had 13 penalties for 82 yards.

"We're our own worst enemy right now," Nolan said. "We've been that for a while. I know we'll keep getting better, and I don't know when it turns. It was the same thing last year, and it was the same thing the year before. But it's disappointing to me that we're like that early on. It's a disappointment because it costs us games."

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Alex Smith was the No. 3 quarterback on Sunday. He warmed up prior to the game, but his shoulder was still not considered strong enough to play. Smith sustained a separated right shoulder on Sept. 30. His status for next week's game against the New Orleans Saints is in question.

--QB Trent Dilfer made his second consecutive start in place of injured Alex Smith. Dilfer completed 23 of 38 passes for 209 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating was 71.1. He was also sacked six times for minus-45 yards.

--RB Frank Gore had a season-high 88 yards on 14 carries, but he sustained a right ankle sprain in the second quarter that might affect his status for next week's game. For the season, Gore has 394 yards on 98 carries. He has raised his average to 4.0 yards.

--WR Ashley Lelie saw his most extensive playing time on Sunday and caught two passes for 52 yards. His first reception, a 47-yarder from quarterback Trent Dilfer, is the 49ers' longest gain of the season.

--RT Joe Staley had the worst game of his brief career. Staley was matched up against Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, who recorded 2.5 sacks. Staley also surrendered a sack to Giants defensive end Jason Tuck.

--LB Patrick Willis continued his impressive season with a game-high 13 tackles in the 49ers' 33-15 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.


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