NFC West News & Notes - 10/23/07

Though the Seahawks defeated the St. Louis Rams 33-6 and head into their bye week leading the NFC West, there's still a good bit of concern about the team's anemic running game. Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said that the struggles are getting to the point where he is going to become directly involved.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The question is, what's keeping the running game, so strong in the Seahawks' run to the Super Bowl in 2005, from producing not just inconsistently but at all?

"Other people have been trying to fix this, and I'm trying to delegate a little bit, but after yesterday and after reviewing the film, it's going to get a little tense around here if I don't see some improvement," Holmgren said.

The one thing Holmgren wanted to stress is that running back Shaun Alexander is not solely responsible for the team's struggles. With just 47 yards against the Rams, Alexander completed the worst three-game stretch of his career since he began starting in 2002. He had 25 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers and 35 yards against the New Orleans Saints.

Alexander was so frustrated during Sunday's performance that he got into a spirited conversation with Holmgren in the fourth quarter when Holmgren decided to remove him from the game to avoid injury. Holmgren said Alexander also was probably frustrated by the fact that when the Seahawks had the ball on the Rams 1, Holmgren called a pass play for tight end Will Heller rather than a run play for Alexander.

Alexander, who turned 30 this year, has been lambasted in the local media for his lack of production this season. But Holmgren was adamant that Alexander was not at fault, that a great deal of the blame lies with the offensive line.

"Let me put it this way," Holmgren said, "we've been forced to analyze it because of people, (the media), our families, everybody. 'What's going on with Shaun?' Because Shaun is the MVP, Shaun's a great running back. 'What's going on with Shaun?' I'm here to say that Shaun, there is not a lot (of running room) there, and we have to be better at that, we have to fix that, and we got some games now to do it when we come back."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Holmgren told his players they could have the entire week off for their bye and they had to report back next Monday. Injured players have to stay in town and receive treatment. "It's been my experience," Holmgren said, "if you give them time off, right now they've been pushing pretty hard for seven weeks, longer than that, and it's okay to get away and kind of refresh, recharge the batteries, for players and coaches."

--With both Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett injured, Bobby Engram has become the team's leading receiver, combining to catch 18 passes over the past two weeks. "It's kind of remarkable how he's been our one playmaker," Holmgren said. "Every once in a while, Nate (Burleson) will come through with something pretty spectacular, but on a consistent basis, Bobby has been the guy who has kind of carried the offense."

--Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said he thinks the Seahawks offense performs much better when it gets the plays in quickly and runs them fast. "What I mean by that is getting out of the huddle, getting to the line of scrimmage, and putting the pressure on the defense," Hasselbeck said. "Playing offensive offense, making them sit up at night the night before worrying about our personnel changes, about how quickly we go on our snap count, mixing up the cadence."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--Tight end Marcus Pollard is expected to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his knee. Pollard missed Sunday's game and has been sore since the Seahawks lost to Pittsburgh. The Seahawks do not know what exactly is bothering Pollard but hope that the surgery will cure the soreness. It is not believed that Pollard will be available for the next game against Cleveland, but he should be ready after that.

--Defensive end Darryl Tapp likely will have surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand. The surgery will allow the injury to heal sooner and allow Tapp to play without a cumbersome cast on his hand. He should be ready to play against Cleveland.

--Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said the only cure for his injured oblique muscle is ice and rest. He will remain in Seattle during the team's bye week to help heal the injury.

--Deion Branch is expected to return from a sprained left foot in the Seahawks' next game. Bobby Engram has been starting at flanker in Branch's place, but Branch will go back to starting.

--D.J. Hackett is expected to return from a high-ankle sprain for the team's next game. Hackett, who hurt the foot after making his first and only catch of the season, practiced last week but was not fully healthy. The team decided to allow him to rest an additional two weeks before bringing him back.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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Running back Frank Gore, hobbled with a sore ankle and frustrated after the San Francisco 49ers' fourth consecutive loss, said the team's problems stem from a lack of trust. He intimated that some of his teammates do not trust the play calls of first-year offensive coordinator Jim Hostler.

Coach Mike Nolan pays a lot of attention to what Gore says, but he said he was disappointed to hear Gore speak publicly before discussing it with him. "I believe when he says that, they're all looking for answers," Nolan said. "I believe his comment was more an act of frustration than anything."

The 49ers fell to 2-4 on the season with a 33-15 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday. Afterward, Gore had some thoughts about the 49ers offense, which ranks last in the NFL. The 49ers are managing just 213.8 total yards a game.

He said things are a lot different than last season when veteran coach Norv Turner was calling the shots on offense. This year, the 49ers offense is in the hands of Hostler, who last called plays in 1999 while 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."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Rookie right tackle Joe Staley learned some lessons from 15-year veteran Michael Strahan, the defensive end against whom he was matched for most of Sunday's game. Strahan recorded 2.5 sacks. "I feel terrible," Staley said. "I feel like I let my teammates down. It was me not being aggressive like I had to be," Staley said. "In the passing game, I let him dictate what he wanted to do. I learned a couple lessons. I need to make adjustments sooner."

Staley, a first-round draft pick from Central Michigan, had been the 49ers' most consistent offensive lineman prior to Sunday's showing.

--Veteran left tackle Jonas Jennings found himself on the sideline for the fourth quarter. It wasn't a strong showing for Jennings, who had trouble hanging with Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, but Jennings' absence for the fourth quarter was all part of coach Mike Nolan's plan entering the game.

"It's the first I heard of it," said Jennings when told that Nolan explained it as part of the team's plan. "I guess it was predetermined by the coach. That's not my area. He's the coach." Adam Snyder played left tackle when Jennings sat. Snyder started two weeks ago when Jennings missed a game due to personal reasons.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Trent Dilfer struggled in several different phases of Sunday's game. "Trent would say that he didn't have a winning performance," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. One of Dilfer's mistakes led to Osi Umenyiora's sack, forced fumble and 75-yard fumble return in the third quarter. The play broke the game open. The 49ers left Umenyiora unblocked off the left edge. Dilfer was supposed to take a three-step drop and get rid of the ball to Ashley Lelie on a fade route. However, Dilfer took more than three steps, which allowed Umenyiora to get to Dilfer for the sack.

--RB Frank Gore gained a season-high 88 yards on 14 carries, but also blamed himself for a fumble on a handoff with Dilfer. Afterward, Gore suggested the 49ers' problems on offense stem from the players lacking trust in each other and offensive coordinator Jim Hostler. Gore's status this week is "day to day" with an ankle sprain, Nolan said.

--QB Alex Smith has a chance to be available to practice on Wednesday. Smith has missed two starts after sustaining a right shoulder separation Sept. 30 against the Seattle Seahawks.

--FB Moran Norris did not touch the ball on offense, but he made a big play in the kicking game. Norris blocked a Jeff Feagles punt in the end zone to result in a safety, when the ball went through the back of the end zone.

--TE Vernon Davis returned to the lineup after missing two games with a right knee sprain. Davis caught four passes for 22 yards, but also saw a potential long play slip through his hands on the first play of the second half.

--P Andy Lee continued his strong season with a 52.6 average (45.4 net) on five punts. Lee also landed two punts inside the 20-yard line. On the season, Lee has averaged 50.4 yards on a league-high 41 punts. His net average is a remarkable 44.0.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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Rams president John Shaw shot down televised reports Sunday that coach Scott Linehan could be fired during the team's bye week, which comes after this week's home game against the Cleveland Browns.
The Rams are 0-7 and have lost their last two games by a combined score of 55-9. They have yet to score an offensive touchdown on the road, and they have lost their four road games by a combined total of 114-19. In the second half of those games, the count is 74-9.

Asked about the reports of Linehan's imminent demise, Shaw told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "That's a ridiculous report. There will be no coaching changes during the bye week. No one's happy about 0-7, including our head coach. But that's ridiculous."

Shaw reiterated what he told the paper a few weeks ago when he said any evaluations of Linehan would come after the season is over.

It's difficult to fathom how an offense that had so many superlatives last season in Linehan's first year could descend to such failure. In 2006, the Rams had just 18 turnovers and quarterback Marc Bulger had just eight interceptions. Currently, the Rams have 23 turnovers, including 15 in the four road games. All of those have gone against the quarterback. Bulger has seven interceptions and two lost fumbles, while Gus Frerotte is responsible for the other five interceptions and another lost fumble.

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 Sunday's 33-6 loss to Seattle, Bulger, returning after missing two games because of broken ribs, was intercepted three times and lost two fumbles. The defense, while showing some improvement, has just four takeaways in the road games.

The offensive line was guilty of five false starts against the Seahawks, and pass protection was poor, leading to seven sacks. Asked if this was the worst the offense has looked this season, 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."

While Linehan has tried to avoid linking the offensive problems to issues with the line, he alluded to that after Sunday's game when asked why the blocking isn't better. Said Linehan, "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."

Of the top eight offensive linemen entering training camp, three are on injured reserve, including All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace, and another, Todd Steussie, was released from injured reserve after reaching an injury settlement with the team.

Only once has the same line that started a game finished the game. Over the course of the first seven games, there have been three left tackles, three left guards, two centers, four right guards and three right tackles.

Asked to explain the offensive problems, tight end Randy McMichael said, "You can't explain it. There is nothing that can be said. You can talk and try to correct it, but you have got to get it done. It is about man-on-man, who wants it more. Sometimes it is not about technique, or coaching, but who wants it more. And sometimes, you know, you fall short. So we have to go look ourselves in the mirror as a man and say, 'What do I want to do? Do I want to fold the tent up or come out and play like a man for these last nine games?'"

NOTES, QUOTES

--TV cameras caught QB Marc Bulger rolling his eyes toward coach Scott Linehan in the first quarter after Linehan had some words following another failed red-zone trip. On second-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Bulger rolled to the right and was sacked rather than throwing the ball away. Asked about what was said, Bulger would only say, "I think every player and coach are going to get into it probably 10 times during a game. I honestly don't know what it was, but I'm sure it was on TV. Five seconds later, it's just football. That's the way it is. That's the kind of thing that happens when you're 0-7. And it happens when you're 10-0. On offense, it's all just to get things corrected.

"It's not a thing where I'm right and you're wrong. It's just explaining yourself and coaches explaining themselves and you're all just trying to get on the same page and get better. There's not a lot of time for arguing out there. I'm sure whatever everyone saw was less than five seconds. I'm not worried about it."

--C Brett Romberg probably shouldn't have played after suffering a sprained left ankle in Week 6 against Baltimore. But he started, and he lasted until the third quarter when he injured his other ankle and also banged his right knee. Said Romberg, "I felt it on the first play, but after that it felt good. I think the medicine kicked in a little bit. And then, all of a sudden, the right one went. I've got all the luck in the world. I was sitting back pass blocking, and I guess Marc (Bulger) got sacked into the back of my leg. It didn't feel too good. I think it's probably the same (type of injury) as last week."

--FB Madison Hedgecock was cut by the Rams following the first game of the season, and he was immediately claimed on waivers by the Giants. Since joining the Giants, the team has won five of six games.
Said Hedgecock, "I got an opportunity here and I've got to make the best of it, because I think they did me a wrong in St. Louis. I didn't deserve none of that. Why would you get rid of a key person in your offense after your first game? I made the team, I played the first game. The head coach had a guy he wanted to bring in, one of his old players."

That would be TE/H-back Richard Owens. When it was noted the Rams were 0-6 (prior to Sunday's game), Hedgecock said, "Yeah, 0-6, I'm happy. Every day they lose, I laugh. And every day we win, I laugh."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--RB Steven Jackson, who has missed four games because of a groin injury, is expected to play Sunday against Cleveland.

--C Brett Romberg now has two badly sprained ankles and is not expected to play next Sunday against Cleveland. Romberg played with an injured left ankle against Seattle, and he left the game with an injured right ankle.

--DE Leonard Little will need surgery at some point to repair torn ligaments in his toe. Because of how painful the injury is, Little played sparingly Sunday against Seattle. If he continues to have trouble contributing, it's possible he might have surgery before the end of the season.

--DE Victor Adeyanju played solid against the run vs. Seattle, filling in for the injured Leonard Little (toe). He had seven tackles.

--C Andy McCollum will start Sunday against Cleveland with Brett Romberg expected to miss the game due to an ankle injury.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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In just seven games as a head coach, Ken Whisenhunt has proven to be a gambler. But he knows that leaves him open to criticism when the chances he takes don't pan out. Whisenhunt's come under some criticism in Arizona for his choice of plays for a two-point conversion against the Redskins. If the Cardinals had made it, the game would have tied and likely gone to overtime.

On the play, receiver Anquan Boldin took a shotgun snap from center and sprinted right with the option to run or pass. The Redskins sold out to stop the run and receiver Larry Fitzgerald was open in the end zone. Boldin, however, didn't throw the ball high enough and the pass was broken up.

Whisenhunt has been criticized for not running a standard play with a quarterback taking the snap. He understands the second-guessing. "It should be," he said. "It didn't work. That's the bottom line. If it works, then it's great. We've had a number of situations where we've made those calls and they've worked. But the bottom line with that play is that it was a well-designed football play. And it started with the ball in one of our best players' hands. That was the ultimate design of the play."

"There was a lot of thought that was put into that and it didn't work," he said. "I accept the criticism for it. I deserve it. It didn't work. That's going to happen."

Most of Whisenhunt's gambles this season have paid off. Instead of kicking a field goal, he went for a touchdown on the last play of the first half. He got it. Quarterback Kurt Warner found Boldin for the score, which made it 14-6 at halftime.

NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Kurt Warner started and played almost the whole game despite suffering a torn ligament in his left elbow, his non-throwing arm. The Redskins who know Warner weren't surprised. "I knew he was going to play," said linebacker London Fletcher, a former teammate of Warner with the Rams. "He's finally back as a starting quarterback on a good football team. I don't think Kurt was going to let this opportunity slip away."

Redskins offensive coordinator Al Saunders, a Rams assistant when Warner was there, said he talked to Warner last Monday. Warner called to see if he could get a couple of tickets to the game. "I told him, 'I'll tell you what; I'll give you two tickets if you let me know if you're playing or not.' "

The Cardinals have a bye this week, but they weren't looking forward to it after last Sunday's heart-breaking loss.

"Anytime you lose a game like this, you just want to get back on the field as soon as you can," said receiver Anquan Boldin. "Next nine games, whoever we got, they better bring their A game, because we are going to make new laws for the second half of the season."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--WR Anquan Boldin returned after missing three games because of injuries and made a big impact. Boldin had just 29 yards receiving but he caught eight passes, including two touchdowns.

--LT Mike Gandy has a right calf injury that could cause him to miss some time. If he is out, it's likely that rookie Levi Brown will replace him, with Elton Brown staying at right tackle.

--WR Sean Morey and S Aaron Francisco missed the game because of injuries, and their absence was felt on special teams. Washington had an 80-yard kick return.

--TE Leonard Pope played one of his better games, catching a nice long pass over the middle and scoring a touchdown on another play. Pope, however, appeared to have trouble lining up correctly a couple of times.

--OLB Calvin Pace played one of his best games as a Cardinal. He led the team in tackles with nine and had an interception and a sack. He's played so well that the team hasn't missed Chike Okeafor that much. Okeafor is out for the year with an injury.


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