NFC West News & Notes - 10/30/07

In the past, Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren has said that he does not want to change his personnel along the offensive line to improve the running game because it would break up the continuity there that has been intact since training camp.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The difficulties the Seahawks are suffering are part of the growing pains with young players, Holmgren figured. But when he was asked on Monday about whether he is sticking to that ideology, he was noncommittal on the topic.

"We'll see," Holmgren said. "We are going to look at some different combinations this week and see how that works. Whether we do it in the game this week, we'll see." The issue, however, is there are not a lot of parts from which to choose in order to look at different combinations.

Neither Floyd Womack nor Tom Ashworth is talented enough to take over a position full-time; Ray Willis is injured; Mansfield Wrotto is a rookie with no experience. All of which means that while Holmgren probably would like to make some alterations to improve a running game that is ranked 22nd, averaging 92.7 yards a game, he does not have a lot of options.

Still, Holmgren was more vocal with his offensive line in Monday's practice, a sign that he is getting more involved and that something drastic needs to be done. "You don't know until you play some games now, but we're changing a couple of things, we're looking at some new things, we're trying to improve on the things we believe in. Hopefully it pays off."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said he hopes giving the entire team the bye week off will pay dividends when they visit Cleveland this weekend. "I know this, we freshened up a little bit," Holmgren said. "If that equates to playing better in games, we'll see. It came at a good time for us, and we needed the time off."

--Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is from the New England area, which is enjoying the exploits of the Boston Red Sox, Boston College, the New England Patriots and the Boston Celtics. "They are all very happy right now," Hasselbeck said. "I don't blame them. It's wicked good right now."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Matt Hasselbeck sat out Monday's practice with an oblique injury, but he is expected to practice on Wednesday.

--TE Marcus Pollard had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. He will miss the Cleveland game but expects to be back against San Francisco on Nov. 12.

--DE Darryl Tapp had surgery on his hand to repair a broken bone. He is expected to play against Cleveland.

--OT Sean Locklear sat out Monday's practice with tendinitis but is expected to practice on Wednesday.

--DT Rocky Bernard missed Monday's light practice with a sore groin but will play in Sunday's game.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD AFTER 7 GAMES

PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Given that Matt Hasselbeck has not had his starting receivers together the entire season, and that he has gotten no support from the run game, the passing game has been surprisingly efficient. Hasselbeck has an 88.7 passer rating and has made do with a revolving door of receivers, the most consistent of whom has been Bobby Engram (34 catches, 468 yards). Hasselbeck has thrown 11 touchdowns against six interceptions, three of which were the fault of receivers. Hasselbeck, whose passer rating is .01 off the second best of his career, gets his primary receivers back after the bye week, which should help him improve as the season goes along.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- There were concerns about Shaun Alexander turning 30 just before the season began, and he has done nothing to prove the doubters wrong. The 2005 MVP has only two rushing touchdowns and 460 yards through seven games. The fault does not lie exclusively with Alexander. The offensive line has missed multiple assignments, and longtime fullback Mack Strong, already at the end of his career, suffered a career-ending neck injury, leaving new starting fullback Leonard Weaver to round into shape as a blocking fullback. Weaver was a linebacker and a tight end in college..

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Even with season-ending injuries to Marcus Tubbs and Chuck Darby, the Seahawks are tied for 13th in the league, allowing 107.4 yards a game. They have allowed only Edgerrin James and Willie Parker to rush for 100 yards, while completely Cadillac Williams, Rudi Johnson and Frank Gore in check . Rookie Brandon Mebane, who now is starting for Darby, has been a pleasant surprise, while linebackers Lofa Tatupu and Julian Peterson are again playing at a Pro Bowl level.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- The Seahawks' revamped secondary has played pretty well while still getting used to one another, intercepting eight passes while giving up only five touchdowns. They rank 16th in the league by allowing 212 yards a game, but they are not beaten deep very often, a point of emphasis for Holmgren before the season. Though they don't have one shutdown cornerback, they have held opposing quarterbacks to a 73.7 passer rating, and are exceptional when they get some help from the pass rush. Safety help is key for Seattle's undersized cornerbacks.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Under new coach Bruce DeHaven, the special teams have done some spectacular things, like the punt return in Week 1 by Nate Burleson that permanently reversed the momentum, and the 91-yard kickoff return against St. Louis that clinched the game. But there have also been two blocked punts, and long snapper Boone Stutz sent a snap through the legs of punter Ryan Plackemeier that was recovered in the end zone by New Orleans, setting the tone for the Saints' first victory.

COACHING: C -- Holmgren failed to call timeouts at the end of the first half in Pittsburgh, which cost his team valuable points at a time that the 21-0 blowout still was in hand, he went for a touchdown instead of a field goal when he needed two scores against the Saints, and he allowed valuable time to bleed off the clock late in a close loss to th Cardinals. On top of that, the running game has yet to emerge after seven weeks. Still, Holmgren has the Seahawks in first place in the weak NFC West, positioned to win the division for the fourth consecutive season.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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If the Cardinals watched football during their bye weekend, they had to be encouraged about their chances of making the playoffs. In the NFC West, it appears to be a two-team race between the Cardinals and Seahawks. The Rams are 0-8, and the 49ers appear to be falling apart.

The rest of the NFC is a mess too, so a playoff spot can be had by a team that can put together even a small string of wins.

The Cardinals think they can do that if they can just cut down on the mistakes that have hampered them through the first seven games. The Cardinals were supposed to be entering the easy part of their schedule, at least based on what teams did last year. But the Bucs, Lions and Browns are better than people anticipated, so the road looks tougher than once anticipated.

The next two games, against Tampa Bay and Detroit, are critical. The Cardinals already have lost to NFC foes in Washington, Carolina and San Francisco and can't afford many more losses.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Ken Whisenhunt has proven he'll try the unconventional. Most of his gambles have paid off, and the level of confidence he's shown in his players has paid off in the locker room. "Convention plays strong in the mind of coaches, because it's a bottom-line business, and because you never want to be the guy that pushes the envelope and costs your team," QB Kurt Warner told The Arizona Republic.

--QB Kurt Warner's injured left elbow isn't getting him out of any work at home, where he and his wife, Brenda, live with seven kids. "The worst thing is, when you play a football game," Warner said, "how do you go to (your) wife and say, 'Well honey, I can't clean the dishes.'

"It's a good thing out here with the football team, not such a good thing at home when it comes to the 'to-do' list."

--QB Matt Leinart will wear a sling for a few more weeks. Leinart suffered a fractured collarbone and is out for the season. He can start rehabilitating once the sling comes off.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--WR Anquan Boldin is going to be dealing with a hip muscle injury for the rest of the season. Boldin won't be 100 percent again this year, but he's close enough to impact games.

--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.

--TE Leonard Pope could become a bigger factor in the passing game. The Cardinals would like to get Pope open down the seam, and QB Kurt Warner has shown he can find him.

--QB Kurt Warner hopes to survive the next few weeks while his left elbow injury improves. Warner has a torn ligament, which has taken away some strength and flexibility. Doctors say he doesn't need surgery and that the injury should improve in a month or so. Warner will play with a brace on his non-throwing arm for the rest of the year.

--OLB Calvin Pace, who once wanted to see Arizona in his rearview mirror, is interested in re-signing with the team, and the club would like to have him back. Pace has played well in place of Chike Okeafor, who suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD AFTER 7 GAMES

PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- The protection has been solid, and the receivers have delivered. The quarterback play, however, has been inconsistent.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Running back Edgerrin James has shown that he has plenty left, and the line play is much improved.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- There have been some breakdowns, but not nearly as many as last year. The front four has done a nice job of rushing the passer.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The club has kept opposing backs in check, for the most part, and it's given up only a few big plays.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- There have been some breakdowns on coverage teams, way too many penalties and punter Mike Barr is inconsistent. Returner Steve Breaston has big-play ability, and the club has blocked two punts.

COACHING: B-plus -- A good, solid job, and Ken Whisenhunt has been willing to take some chances. The majority have panned out. This team needs to play smarter, however.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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Before the season, coming off a year in which he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 2,334, running back Steven Jackson set a goal of raising that total to 2,500 yards. Jackson would be the fulcrum of an offense expected to improve from last season's solid production in Scott Linehan's first year as head coach. However, little has gone right for Jackson and the offense, and as the Rams head into their bye week, they are staring at an 0-8 record and an offense decimated by injuries. Jackson has just 340 yards from scrimmage, and he has played just two complete games.

In Week 3, he suffered a partial tear of his groin at Tampa Bay, and he missed the next four games. Jackson returned for Sunday's game against Cleveland and quickly showed his value. Playing with energy and passion, he busted a 22-yard run on the team's opening drive and capped it with a 2-yard touchdown run, the Rams' first rushing score of the season. On the next drive, he also contributed, as the Rams raced to an early 14-0 lead. But it didn't last.

Jackson experienced back spasms and didn't play again, finishing his day with 41 yards on eight attempts and 9 yards on two receptions.

Said tight end Randy McMichael, "Steven was hungry today. He was running like a wild beast. We were matching the intensity of the way he was running the ball, and it just rubbed off on the whole team. And then he's out."

Added quarterback Marc Bulger, "He's an electric guy. He changes our team, plain and simple. We were on the offensive when he was in there and not real effective when he was out."

For his part, Jackson knew the spasms might occur. "It was overcompensation with my groin," he said. "I talked to the doctors and then went down the list of what can happen from a groin injury, and I was hoping it wouldn't happen, but when it did, it wasn't something that caught me by surprise.

"We brought the chiropractor down and he tried to crack me up and stretch me. We really worked on it to get it to loosen up, but that muscle didn't want to cooperate with us today. It's a setback that I wish would have happened in practice rather than the game, but the body is funny like that."

Jackson said he expects to be totally healthy for the team's game after the bye.

"It comes at a great time," Jackson said of the bye. "I think we need this bye for guys to get away for a while to collect their thoughts, a lot of coaches to do the same thing and hopefully we come back strong."

Monday, however, it was revealed Jackson has a bulging disk in his back, although coach Scott Linehan said he was still optimistic Jackson would be able to play against New Orleans on Nov. 11 after having the disk treated. Jackson wouldn't have been available if the Rams had a game this week.

NOTES, QUOTES

--With RB Steven Jackson out, the ground game up short on two critical possessions Sunday. Early in the second quarter, the Rams led 14-3 and faced third-and-1 at the Browns' 33-yard line. Rookie Brian Leonard gained nothing on third down and then a fourth-down attempt. Virtually the same situation presented itself in the fourth quarter with the Rams trailing 27-20 and facing third-and-half-a-yard, but with the ball at the Cleveland 16. Again, Leonard was stoned on third and fourth down. "Fourth-and-1, it's really up to the back to get the first down," Leonard said. "No matter how good the blocking is, you've got to get a yard. And I didn't do that."

--QB Marc Bulger, who has been playing with broken ribs and a bruised knee this season, left Sunday's game against Cleveland in the third quarter when he suffered a bruised thumb on his throwing hand. At first, there was concern the thumb was broken, but X-rays revealed just a bruise. Gus Frerotte replaced Bulger for the remainder of the series, but Bulger was back in the game for the Rams' next possession. Said Bulger, "I'll break every bone in my body before I take myself out. I just felt as long as I could get the snap and I could suck up everything else, then I would go. That's part of being a quarterback. You have to play when you're injured."

Bulger played with the thumb wrapped. Said coach Scott Linehan, "It was pretty sore. At first, he wasn't supposed to get back in, and then he worked through it and said he was able to throw. So we put him back in."

--The Rams were starting their sixth different line combination in Sunday's game, and RT Brandon Gorin was the 10th different player to start a game. LG Milford Brown was starting at his third different position (right guard and right tackle were the others, and at one point in practice during the week, he mistakenly lined up at right guard). With players like Brown starting games at multiple positions, the team has had 15 different starting positions on the line.

Then, in the first quarter, RG Richie Incognito left the game with a knee injury. Incognito had already missed the first four games of the season because of a high ankle sprain suffered on Aug. 18. When Incognito left, he was replaced by C Nick Leckey, who was signed to the active roster on Oct. 6. Leckey, who had been with the Cardinals since 2004, had never played guard in an NFL game. Leckey was waived by Arizona on Sept. 18.

With Leckey in the game, the Rams had three offensive linemen playing who were not deemed good enough to make Arizona's roster. The other two are Brown, who was released by Arizona on June 5 after refusing a pay cut, and Gorin, who was released by Arizona in the final cut-down. Monday, the Rams announced that Incognito has a partially dislocated kneecap and is likely out for the season. Incognito will seek a second opinion before deciding whether to have surgery.

--The Rams are on their bye this week, and they will practice Tuesday and Wednesday before being given off until next Monday. When they return from the off week, the Rams will travel to New Orleans and San Francisco before coming home to play Seattle and Atlanta.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--RB Steven Jackson was diagnosed with a bulging disk in his back, but it's still possible he will be able to play against New Orleans on Nov. 11. During the off week, Jackson will be treated with medication to relieve the inflammation with the possibility of later having an injection.

--RG Richie Incognito has a partially dislocated kneecap and will be out for an extended period of time. Incognito will have a second opinion, at which point it will be decided whether he will have surgery.

--QB Marc Bulger has a bad bruise on the thumb of his throwing hand, but he should be fine for the Nov. 11 game after the bye against New Orleans.

--DE Leonard Little has a toe injury, but the swelling has gone down and he's feeling better. Coach Scott Linehan said it would be up to Little whether to try and play with the injury or have immediate surgery.

--C Brett Romberg is expected to return from an ankle injury after the bye. Romberg was inactive Sunday against Cleveland.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. BROWNS

PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- The battered offensive line did a good job of protecting QB Marc Bulger, and he was able to pass for 310 yards and have a passer rating of 91.2. It was the best day of the season for WRs Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Drew Bennett, who each had six receptions. Holt had 110 yards, Bruce 70 and Bennett 63. Bennett previously was bothered by quad and hamstring injuries.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- It was night and day when Steven Jackson was in the game. Jackson had to leave in the first quarter because of back spasms, and the running game struggled. Brian Leonard totaled 33 yards on 15 carries, and he was unable to make a first down on two situations where it was third-and-1 and forth-and-1.

PASS DEFENSE: C-plus -- The Rams had no answer for WR Braylon Edwards, who had eight catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns. TE Kellen Winslow had just two receptions, but one was a 21-yard touchdown. WR Joe Jurevicius also hurt the Rams with 76 yards on five catches. QB Derek Anderson wasn't intercepted, and he had a passer rating of 143.0.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus -- Generally, the run defense was OK, but two-second-quarter touchdown drives were accomplished mostly with running plays. RB Jamal Lewis led the Browns with 61 yards on 17 attempts, and the Rams have yet to allow 100-yard rusher this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Nothing outstanding in returns or coverage, and nothing especially negative either. PK Jeff Wilkins did hit two field goals of 40 and 46 yards.

COACHING: C -- It's amazing how coaching is better when players return from injury. The offense has struggled all season, but Sunday showed how the offensive plan works a lot better when Steven Jackson is on the field and all three wide receivers are healthy.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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Coach Mike Nolan said he is not worried about the San Francisco 49ers beginning to splinter after a 2-5 start because of the quality of character he has assembled on the team. The 49ers came apart on Sunday in a 31-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Some players clearly lost their composure. There were a couple thrown helmets on the sideline and kicker Joe Nedney gave the fans an obscene gesture.

"I don't construe those actions as quitting," Nolan said. "We have too much character on this football team. Our issue is poor performance. And we need to pick that up."

Nolan defended his decision to keep quarterback Alex Smith in the game. Smith returned to the lineup after missing two starts with a separated right throwing shoulder. Smith did not throw the ball accurately. He was in obvious pain after enduring several hits from the Saints defense.

Nolan said he didn't remove Smith from the game because Smith did not want to come out. Also, the team's medical staff said that Smith would not be risking further injury by continuing to play. It became a matter of pain tolerance.

"If it were for medical reasons, the doctors would've taken him out of the game," Nolan said.

Nolan said the pain Smith was experiencing did not affect his performance. "Was he accurate? No," Nolan said. "Was it only after he took some hits? No. He threw some (inaccurate) balls early in the game before (he) got hit."

Smith said he is certain he'll be able to play Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, though Nolan said he could not make that call until he receives injury updates from the team's medical staff.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Kicker Joe Nedney, an 11-year veteran, apologized for an obscene gesture he made to fans sitting behind the 49ers bench after a third-quarter kickoff out of bounds. Nedney's gesture with his middle finger was caught on the TV broadcast. "I apologize for my gesture at (Sunday's) game," Nedney said. "It is tough to be part of a loss and my emotions got the best of me. I know losing is tough for the fans, too. Nobody is harder on ourselves than our own team. It was an emotional response and, again, I apologize."

Last year, Michael Vick was fined $10,000 for flipping the bird to fans attending an Atlanta Falcons game.

--Running back Frank Gore rushed for 41 yards on 12 carries. His longest gain was nine yards, breaking an NFL-best streak of 25 consecutive games with at least one carry of 10 or more yards. Gore played with a right ankle sprain he originally sustained last week against the New York Giants. At one point when he aggravated the injury on Sunday, he came to the sideline and threw his helmet to the ground. Gore later re-entered the game. "This ain't no time to rest it," he said.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Alex Smith felt a lot better Monday morning when he returned to work. Smith was in extreme discomfort Sunday in the loss to the Saints, but he took every snap. Smith finished with 22 completions in 43 attempts for 190 yards. Nine of Smith's completions and 74 of his yards came on the final drive of the game.

--WR Jason Hill, a rookie, made his NFL debut. He played nine snaps and had one catch for six yards. He also made a special-teams tackle. "He did show some promise," coach Mike Nolan said. "Even when he didn't get the ball, he ran some good routes."

--RB Frank Gore was limited by a right ankle sprain that occurred a week earlier against the Giants. Gore aggravated the injury on Sunday. He rushed for 41 yards on just 12 carries and was held without a gain of 10 yards or more for the first time in 26 games.

--LB Patrick Willis recorded an unofficial game-high 10 tackles against the Saints. Willis entered the game with 82 tackles for the season, according to the coaches' film review of their first six games.

--P Andy Lee ranks third in the NFL with a 49.9 average on his league-leading 48 punts. His net average of 43.4 is tied for best in the league with the Raiders' Shane Lechler. Lee also leads the league with 12 punts inside the 20-yard line.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. SAINTS

PASSING OFFENSE: F -- Alex Smith showed a lot of courage, but his play was atrocious. He missed wide-open receivers, as 10 of his passes sailed high. Smith was playing in extreme pain from a right shoulder separation of a month ago. Smith completed 22 of 43 passes for 190 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He had nine completions for 74 yards on the final drive. The pass protection was pretty good, but the receivers did not give Smith a lot of help, either.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- The running game never really was a factor because the 49ers fell behind so quickly. Frank Gore, playing on a bum ankle, gained just 41 yards on 12 carries. Maurice Hicks carried twice, but lost a fumble. This area of the game was pretty much invisible.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- The 49ers' anemic pass rush put no pressure on Saints QB Drew Brees. They did not record a sack, and the coverage on the backside was the worst it's been for the 49ers this season. Brees completed 31 of 39 passes for 336 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating for the game was 136.8.

RUSH DEFENSE: D-minus -- Reggie Bush had his way with the 49ers defense in the first half when it was still a game. He rushed for 64 yards on 10 carries. In the second half when the game was out of hand, the 49ers run defense improved marginally.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- The star of the team is punter Andy Lee. He had a 46.9 average (40.4 net) on seven punts. Other than that, the 49ers weren't good in this phase. Joe Nedney had a kickoff out of bounds. They had consecutive penalties on onside kick attempts. The 49ers did not start one drive outside the 30-yard line after any of the six kickoffs.

COACHING: F -- No phase of the game looked prepared to play a football game, let alone a game that was seen as critical for the reeling 49ers. Coach Mike Nolan should've pulled Smith, who was in excruciating pain. The defense went with five defensive backs, and that strategy backfired. On special teams, Hicks returns every kickoff to the left side, and teams have caught on.


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