NFC West News & Notes - 11/6/07

Seattle Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren confirmed on Monday what many people have been saying about his team for weeks: He is going to start throwing the ball more.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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Tired of fighting to maintain a balanced offense, and frustrated with an offensive line that continues to blow assignments and fails to produce, Holmgren said when the Seahawks host the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night that he is going to rely more on the arm of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

"Instead of striving for balance, maybe we have to tip the scales just a little bit to be at our most productive," Holmgren said. "It puts a lot on Matt's shoulders, clearly, but in the long haul it might help our running game."

With a run offense in the bottom third of the NFL, and with Hasselbeck putting together a solid season that includes an 88.7 passer rating, it was only a matter of time before Holmgren was forced to make the decision. On top of that, Shaun Alexander injured his left leg in Sunday's loss to Cleveland and is questionable for Monday's game. Holmgren said Alexander is not likely to practice all week, though he expects him to play.

The Seahawks should bolster their passing game by getting back starting flanker Deion Branch, who has missed the last three games with a sprained foot, and starting tight end Marcus Pollard, who had arthroscopic surgery on his knee two weeks ago.

Though Bobby Engram is the team's leading receiver, and he had 14 receptions on Sunday for 139 yards, Holmgren said Branch will step back into the starting lineup. As for Hasselbeck, he said he is not overly affected by Holmgren's announcement that he wants to pass more.

"He can do whatever he wants to do," Hasselbeck said. "He has the call sheet and he gets to call the plays. He's going to do whatever he thinks is the best for the football team. He could just be saying that and be planning on running the ball. I don't know. Either way, we all have to be ready and we have to be responsible for whatever he calls, whatever he decides to do."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Seahawks' Sunday night game against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 18 has been changed to a day game because the networks were not enamored of the matchup between two average teams. Instead, they are airing New England's game against Buffalo. "I like playing during the day," Holmgren said. "I sleep better. My routine is better. The players' routines are better."

--Matt Hasselbeck passed Jim Zorn on Sunday to become the franchise's second all-time leading passer. He still is 6,000 yards behind Dave Krieg. Zorn, incidentally, is the Seahawks' quarterbacks coach and is instrumental in Hasselbeck's success. "There are some records that you break that are kind of cool," Hasselbeck said. "Then others, they're a product of being fortunate enough to be with one team and getting to start and getting to play a bunch of games. Obviously, at some point, if you play enough games you should hit a certain level."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--RB Shaun Alexander had x-rays taken on the cracked bone in his left wrist and while the team says it is healing, Alexander must wear the cast he has been wearing for the remainder of the season. He also has a sprained left knee and will be limited in practice this week. If he cannot play, Maurice Morris will take his carries.

--WR Deion Branch, who has not played in three weeks with a sprained foot, is expected to be back this week against San Francisco. If he can play, he will start, making leading receiver Bobby Engram the slot receiver.

--DE Patrick Kerney suffered a strained oblique but is expected to play against the Niners. Kerney said it is the second time in his career that he has had this injury but it was on the other side the first time.

--LB Leroy Hill suffered a hamstring injury on Sunday and is questionable for Monday's game.

--TE Marcus Pollard, who has arthroscopic surgery on his right knee to repair a torn meniscus two weeks ago, is hopeful to be back this week. If he is able to play, he will start, sending Will Heller back to the bench.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. BROWNS

PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus -- Matt Hasselbeck completed 30 of 47 passes for 318 yards and two touchdowns. His only blemish was an interception, throwing into double coverage. Bobby Engram caught 14 passes for 139 yards and a score.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- Once again, the running game was unproductive, producing just 105 yards, including 32 yards on 14 carries by Shaun Alexander before he left the game with a sprained knee. The running game also failed to convert a fourth-and-inches in overtime, which gave the Browns the ball back and allowed them to drive for the winning field goal.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- Though it had a good first half, it ultimately allowed Browns QB Derek Anderson to pass for a career-high 364 yards, hitting most of his receivers underneath. The Seahawks, who had zero sacks, also failed to find Kellen Winslow, who had a career-high 11 catches for 125 yards, also a career high.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Jamal Lewis ran for only 37 yards on 20 carries, which isn't stellar by any measurement. But he also had four touchdowns from either two or one yards, the front eight unable to stop Lewis on the goal line.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- PK Josh Brown had three field goals and KR Nate Burleson had a long return for a touchdown for the second straight game. Burleson returned a second-quarter punt 94 yards, tying the longest return in franchise history.

COACHING: B-minus -- Even though he knew the running game wasn't going well, Mike Holmgren kept trying to go back to it. And on fourth-and-inches, instead of running a QB sneak, he allowed backup Maurice Morris to try for the first down. He was stopped. The Seahawks defense also gave up 21 second-half points.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Ugly. There's no other way to describe how the Cardinals played in a 17-10 loss to Tampa Bay, and now a season hangs in the balance. Even though they are 3-5, the Cardinals are in the thick of the playoff hunt only because the NFC West is remarkably bad.

St. Louis and San Francisco are floundering, and Seattle leads the division with a 4-4 record.

The second-half schedule is favorable for the Cardinals, at least on paper. They have five home games, and their three road games are against teams that don't have winning records: Cincinnati, Seattle and New Orleans.

The Cardinals entered the season with what was supposedly the league's weakest schedule, but that was based on last year's records. Detroit, this week's opponent, is much improved. So is Cleveland, a team the Cards will play in a few weeks. And New Orleans has pulled out of its tailspin.

"It's halfway through," guard Reggie Wells said. "We have to stop this bleeding right now, and there's no better time to get a home game. It's a matter of coming out, believing and knowing what we can do and not worrying about mistakes we made in the past."

NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Kurt Warner is normally a positive person, but he gave a blunt assessment of the team's performance in Sunday's loss. "I'm disgusted. I'm embarrassed," he said. "I'm way too good of a football player to be a part of something that we just did out there on the field. I hope we have a bunch of other guys who feel the same way, because that was just ridiculous with the way we played offensively. There's not much else to say about. It was embarrassing." The Cardinals are 0-3 since Warner took over as the starter when Matt Leinart suffered a fractured left collarbone.

--S Terrence Holt was up front in taking blame for not breaking up a touchdown pass to Joey Galloway in the first quarter. Holt was in position but didn't make the play. "Yep, yep, yep, yep, had a great opportunity," Holt said. "Saw the ball coming out, just didn't make the play. That's a play I was brought here to make, a play I'm used to making."

--Warner completed just 10 of 30 passes. His 33.3 percent completion rate was the lowest of any single game in his career.

--While acknowledging that his offense was the biggest contributor to the loss, coach Ken Whisenhunt didn't absolve his defense of blame. The Bucs had drives of 10 plays and 19 plays in the second half. The 10-play drive resulted in a touchdown and "put us in kind of a tough position, because it wore some of our guys down," Whisenhunt said. "They kept the ball for so long. They killed us in time of possession."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--WR Anquan Boldin had just three catches for 40 yards. He had difficulty getting open all day.

--WR Jerheme Urban has trouble hanging on to the ball when he's hit. He dropped another one Sunday.

--S Aaron Francisco aggravated a knee injury and could miss a significant amount of time. Francisco suffered a right knee sprain three weeks ago and was playing for the first time since that injury.

--RT Levi Brown should return to the starting lineup this week. He backed up LT Mike Gandy last Sunday.

--OL Elton Brown, the starting left tackle for the past month, suffered a knee injury Sunday. He is to be evaluated today, but he was likely to be replaced by Levi Brown anyway.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANEERS

PASSING OFFENSE: F -- Kurt Warner completed just 10 of 30 passes, but he also was victimized by four dropped passes. WR Larry Fitzgerald had 95 yards in receptions but inexplicably stepped out of bounds on what could have been an 80-yard touchdown.

RUSHING OFFENSE F -- RB Edgerrin James gained just 15 yards on nine carries. He had nowhere to run, as the offensive line was dominated.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Cardinals pressured Jeff Garcia, and the Bucs had just one big play through the air.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- Earnest Graham went for more than 100 yards, and the Bucs had the ball for about 43 minutes in the game. The Cardinals couldn't get a turnover, either.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- P Mike Barr had a decent day, and K Neil Rackers made his only field-goal attempt. The coverage teams were good, but the return teams didn't do much.

COACHING: D -- The club looked flat, and there was no excuse to play that poorly coming out of the bye. Something has to be done about the way the offense starts games. The Cardinals have scored just three field goals in the first quarter this year.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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As the Rams returned to the practice field Monday following their bye, they were trying to remain positive after losing their first eight games of the season. The reality now is the second half of the season begins with two road games, the first one against a New Orleans team that has won four consecutive games and scored 122 points in the process.

Asked what things he wants his team to do better at in the final eight games, coach Scott Linehan said, "It was obvious to everybody that we were a much better football team with (Steven Jackson) back in there, and I think we were a much more confident offensive team, but we still have to be able to do it without all the weapons. We have to find ways to do it. Putting points on the board has to happen in both halves.

"I think the second thing is we have to become a lot better team in the second half. That has not been something we've done well at all. I think second halves have been our downfall. It was evident to me that we were playing much better in this game (Oct. 28 against Cleveland). What's hurt us before is turnovers, and we allowed a team to basically overcome four or five penalties in one drive to get down and get a score. That was indicative of our inability to sustain anything. Our second halves have not been where they need to be.

"If we can do those two things -- stay in rhythm offensively, be able to limit those turnovers, become a better second-half team and then defensively, creating turnovers will be key for us as well. The biggest difference between this year and last year is we got a lot of turnovers defensively, we limited our turnovers offensively, and the part that we can't help right now is we stayed relatively healthy. We can't focus on that because that's what it is, but I think those three things would probably be a good place to start."

When Linehan arrived in 2006, he stressed being careful with the ball on offense. It worked, as quarterback Marc Bulger had just eight interceptions all season, and the team committed just 18 total turnovers. Already, the Rams have 24 turnovers this year, with an astounding 20 coming in the second half of games. Fifteen of the 24 turnovers have occurred in their four road losses, which have come by a combined score of 114-19.

As for Jackson, his absence is obvious, which isn't surprising considering he led the NFL in combined yards from scrimmage in 2006 with 2,334. So far this season he has 340.

"We think he's a special player," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said of Jackson. "He was a special player a year ago. He's a special player this year. We've got to find a way to keep him healthy and keep him out here. If you have someone with Steven Jackson's ability, you're going to miss those anytime he's not in there. He's arguably the best player on our team."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The team's rookies will return hopefully refreshed after the bye as they get accustomed to the longer season in the NFL. After the Oct. 28 game against the Browns, the team's 12th including the preseason, rookie RB Brian Leonard said, "That would've been my last game (in college), my bowl game, 12-game season. But only half the season's over." Said DT Adam Carriker, "It's definitely different. The season's obviously longer, there's more games, training camp and all that. But it's just part of being a professional."

--Rams coach Scott Linehan hopes he has the opportunity to analyze what it was that resulted in the team sustaining so many injuries in the first half of the season. On offense, the Rams have just eight players who have played all eight games, with just two starting all eight. On defense, there have been 11 playing all eight games with six having started all eight games. Including their three specialists (kicker, punter, long snapper), the Rams have had only 22 players in all eight games and just eight start all eight games.

Noting that the injuries have been "all so different. Most of them were pretty flukish," Linehan added, "We've got to look at everything and see what could have been prevented. I guess you're going to have your stroke of bad breaks in this business, and injuries are part of the game. But we've had more than anybody would have ever imagined." He will look at the offseason preparation and training camp schedule to see if there is any explanation.

He said, "It makes you look at what you're doing to hopefully prevent them. And it makes you look at what you have to do if you ever get in that position again."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--DE Leonard Little is expected to have surgery to repair a torn ligament in his toe. Little visited a specialist who indicated surgery is the likely only option. The recovery time is four to six months. Little said, "I can't wear shoes for a long period of time. It really bothers me to wear shoes."

--RB Richie Incognito is scheduled for surgery Tuesday on a partially dislocated kneecap. Following the surgery, the Rams will make a decision whether to place him on injured reserve. Said coach Scott Linehan, "We're looking at a four- to six-week recovery. It kind of depends. If it's more towards the sixth week, we'll be more inclined to have him be a possible IR candidate. If he can get back sooner than that, then we will consider keeping him on the roster for the last three or four games."

--C Brett Romberg, who missed the game before the bye because of an ankle injury, did some light running in practice Monday and is expected to do limited work in practice Wednesday.

--C Dustin Fry, a fifth-round pick this year who has been on the practice squad all season, is expected to be signed to the active roster this week.

--RB Steven Jackson, who suffered back spasms against Cleveland in the game before the bye and was diagnosed with a bulging disk, did some conditioning Monday and is scheduled for some light work Wednesday. The Rams expect him to play Sunday against New Orleans.

--S Hanik Milligan was signed Monday for depth in the secondary and to contribute on special teams. He takes the roster spot of S Bhawoh Jue, who was released.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD AFTER 8 GAMES

PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Thanks to protection issues and poor production on the road, the combination of Marc Bulger and Gus Frerotte has performed well below expectations. The duo have combined for a 58.4 passer rating, with Bulger's 64.3 well off the 90s he's accustomed to. There have been 25 sacks, numerous hits and a disappointing completion percentage of 55.9. Want more? The Rams have had just six touchdown passes and 16 interceptions, already double the total Bulger had all of last season.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- The offense is better with Steven Jackson in the game, but his numbers are strikingly similar to those of rookie Brian Leonard. Both have the same number of attempts (77) and Leonard has 2 more yards (276-274) for identical 3.6-yard averages per carry. Poor results on first down have resulted in too many long-yardage situations and a lack of production on third down.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- Considering that the team has rarely led in games, the pass defense has been OK. With few occasions where the pass rush could tee off on an opponent, the Rams have just 12 sacks, and DE Leonard Little has only 1.0. LB Will Witherspoon, rookie NT Clifton Ryan and DE James Hall are the only defenders with 2.0 sacks. Opposing quarterbacks have a 92.2 passer rating, largely because the defense has come up with only five interceptions.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- This has been the defense's biggest area of improvement. No rusher has gone for 100 yards, and big plays have been reduced. The longest run against was a 43-yard touchdown by San Francisco's Frank Gore in Week 2. Rookie DTs Ryan and Adam Carriker have been able to keep blockers away from Witherspoon, who has done well in the middle. In 2005, opponents averaged 4.7 yards per rush and last season it was 4.9. Through eight games, that average has been slashed to 4.1.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Overall, the coverage units have been better, although there was a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Dante Hall was helping to make the return game a threat, but now he has missed four games because of a high ankle sprain. PK Jeff Wilkins has struggled on the road with field goals, but the brightest spot has been P Donnie Jones, who is averaging 50.3 yards per punt with a net of 41.3.

COACHING: C -- Most would give the coaches a lower grade, but as Fox analyst Troy Aikman said in Week 4, "Scott Linehan is coaching with his hands tied behind his back." An offensive coach who produced as he did with this team last season, he hasn't suddenly forgotten how to coach offense. The projected starters on offense have started a total of 48 of a possible 88 games at their position. On the offensive line, it's 16 of a possible 40 starts. No coach could overcome that amount of injuries.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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The 49ers plan to keep rookie offensive lineman Joe Staley at right tackle for the short term, though his future might be protecting the blind side of the quarterback. The 49ers on Monday placed left tackle Jonas Jennings on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain that will require surgery. Jennings missed the past two games with the injury. Adam Snyder has started three games at left tackle this season, as Jennings skipped another game due to personal reasons.

When asked if Jennings fits into the 49ers' future plans, coach Mike Nolan said, "Sure, all of our players do right now."

Staley appears to have a future at left tackle for the 49ers, who traded away their No. 1 pick next season to the New England Patriots to select Staley with the 28th overall selection. If the season ended today, that pick would be No. 4 overall.

Aside from a disastrous game against the New York Giants when he surrendered 3.5 sacks, Staley has been the team's best offensive lineman this season. He has started every game since beating out incumbent Kwame Harris for the starting job in training camp.

Staley played left tackle at Central Michigan, and he is likely to return to that spot as early as next season.

"Joe could do that," Nolan said of Staley ultimately playing left tackle in the NFL. "He's very capable of doing that."

The 49ers' offensive line, which was a weakness of the team through most of the season, has played well in back-to-back games. On Sunday, the line regularly provided quarterback Alex Smith with plenty of time to throw, but Smith was routinely off target with his passes.

"Alex didn't play as well as he'd like to play," Nolan said.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RB Michael Robinson got his first NFL start with Frank Gore out of the lineup due to an ankle sprain. Robinson gained a career-high 67 yards on 17 carries, and he regularly sought Gore's advice on the sideline between series. "That guy has eyes like no other," Robinson said. "He was able to tell me some things that helped. He said just keep plugging away."

--LB Patrick Willis, who has established himself as a leading candidate for NFL defensive rookie of the year, had another strong game Sunday. And he did it while playing in significant pain after sustaining a broken right hand in the second series of the game. "That's football," Willis said.

After recording a team-high 10 tackles and a sack in the 49ers' loss to the Falcons, Willis underwent X-rays. The examination revealed a small fracture in his hand. Willis is not expected to undergo surgery and likely will to continue to play with the injury, a team spokesman said. Willis played much of his senior season at the Mississippi with a cast on his right hand because of a broken finger.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Alex Smith completed just 17 of 38 passes for 149 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. Smith said his poor performance had nothing to do with the injury he sustained five weeks earlier. Smith made his second start since suffering a separated right shoulder. "The shoulder felt healthy," Smith said. "It'll get better and better every week. It's only been five weeks since I tore it. It definitely gets better each day, which is a good thing. Other than getting hit, it felt good."

--RB Frank Gore missed Sunday's game with a right ankle sprain. He originally sustained the injury two weeks ago and played last week but aggravated the injury. He went through pregame warm-ups Sunday, but the 49ers' medical staff determined Gore was not ready to play.

--LT Jonas Jennings was placed on injured reserve after missing the past two games with a high ankle sprain that will require surgery, 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. Jennings is ineligible to return this season. Jennings will have missed all or parts of 31 games in the three seasons (48 games) he has been with the 49ers.

--TE Vernon Davis might have had the best game of his two-year career on Sunday, catching seven passes for 77 yards. Davis, who missed two games earlier this season with a knee injury, has 25 catches for 253 yards. Coach Mike Nolan said Davis also showed his maturity when he pulled veteran Moran Norris away from a skirmish to avoid a potential penalty.

--P Andy Lee had another strong game. He has been far and away the most consistent player on the team. Lee averaged 50.2 yards on five punts with a net average of 45.6 yards. He landed two punts inside the Falcons' 10-yard line.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS

PASSING OFFENSE: F -- Alex Smith had another poor performance with a 22.8 passer rating. He missed open receivers, and three of his good passes were dropped. Smith completed 17 of 38 passes for 149 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. Smith was also sacked twice, one of which resulted in a fumble and turnover. The bright spot was tight end Vernon Davis, who caught a career-high seven passes for 77 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Frank Gore was out with an ankle sprain, so Michael Robinson and Maurice Hicks shared the load. Robinson carried 17 times for 67 yards. Hicks had seven carries for 49 yards and a touchdown. The 49ers failed to get the big yards on the ground when they needed them. On a third-and-goal from the Falcons 1, Robinson was thrown for a 3-yard loss.

PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- The 49ers' coverage was pretty solid against QB Joey Harrington. The Falcons had just 131 yards passing. CB Nate Clements was matched against Roddy White, who caught three passes for 55 yards. S Michael Lewis recorded his first interception since coming to the 49ers as a free agent. The 49ers, however, mustered very little pass rush against a banged-up offensive line.

RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- The defensive line did not do well at the point of attack. The Falcons gained 155 yards and controlled the tempo of the game with their run game. The Falcons gained 101 yards rushing in the first half, scoring their two touchdowns during that time. LB Patrick Willis was a bright spot on defense, recording a team-high 10 tackles despite playing most of the game with a broken right hand.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- The kicking game was solid once again. Andy Lee averaged 50.2 yards (45.6 net) on five punts. He landed three of them inside the 15-yard line. Kicker Joe Nedney made all three of his field-goal attempts, from 49, 32 and 22 yards. Michael Lewis did not get much in the return game, averaging 6.8 yards on four punt returns and 17.3 on three kickoffs.

COACHING: C-minus -- There's not much to blame from the game plan. Offensive coordinator Jim Hostler did a reasonable job of mixing the run with the pass until the 49ers had to turn almost exclusively to the pass. There were plays to be made from the offense, but Smith missed some open throws and the receivers dropped passes. Defensively, the 49ers mixed things up, using a lot of nickel and different looks. However, the 49ers did not do a good job of managing the clock. They wasted two timeouts in the second half, including one in which they had the wrong defensive personnel on the field.


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