NFC West News & Notes - 11/19/07

When the Seattle Seahawks visit the St. Louis Rams next week, they will attempt to string together their first three-game win streak since the beginning of the 2006 season, when they opened up with three consecutive wins before falling into injury-induced inconsistency.


Of course, the Seahawks now find themselves having to accomplish the feat against a team with its own two-game winning streak. The Rams, who started the season 0-8, which included a 33-6 loss to Seattle on Oct. 21, have won two in a row, over New Orleans last week and then against San Francisco on Sunday.

The Seahawks will be facing a different Rams team than the one they dominated over a month ago because Marc Bulger is healthier and Steven Jackson, who did not play in that game, is back, running for 92 yards on 23 carries against the 49ers.

However, the Seahawks, who have beaten St. Louis five consecutive times, are no longer the same team, either.

Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren has decided to use a pass-centric offense, which features Matt Hasselbeck and his cadre of talented receivers, all of whom are now back. When the teams last played, Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett were missing due to their respective injuries. Both were back for the first time in Sunday's win over Chicago, and the results were optimistic.

Hackett had nine receptions for 136 yards, both career highs, as well as a touchdown and a 59-yard pass play, which also was a career high. Hackett now had 17 catches over the past two weeks.

"He is making plays," Hasselbeck said. "If you make plays, you will continue to get the ball."

Branch is not entirely healthy, but he has recovered enough from his sprained foot that he was able to get four receptions for 31 yards. And Bobby Engram, the team's leading receiver, also continued to flourish, catching eight passes for 84 yards. Engram needs just seven receptions and 34 yards to reach career highs for a season in both categories.

Hasselbeck continues to look more comfortable in the new offense, going 30 for 44 for 337 yards and two touchdowns, his passer rating improving each week because the offense is beginning to click.

Hasselbeck did seem to suffer a re-aggravation of is strained oblique, but he said it is not serious and will not affect his status for Sunday's game in St. Louis.

The lingering issue all season has been the running game and what to do with Shaun Alexander. That topic will not go away after Maurice Morris, starting for Alexander, who was out with a sprained knee, ran for 87 yards, matching his total from last week.

Holmgren said last week that Alexander will play when he is healthy, but Morris' second straight impressive game -- which included a 19-yard touchdown run and one reception for 19 yards -- may give the Seahawks an excuse to say that Alexander is not coming back until he is fully healthy.

Holmgren started down that road last week when he said that Alexander will not play until he can get a full week of practice in, which means he must be available on Wednesday.

But if Alexander is able to practice this week, it will be a point of contention on how he uses the 2005 MVP, who is not a strong player in the up-tempo attack Holmgren now prefers.


--DT Rocky Bernard suffered a concussion in the first half but was able to return. He said the injury is not serious.

--CB Kelly Jennings suffered a bruised knee when he collided with safety Deon Grant while breaking up a play. Jennings returned and said he should be available this week.

--QB Matt Hasselbeck either re-aggravated his oblique strain or injured his rib cage, though neither Hasselbeck nor coach Mike Holmgren would be specific. Hasselbeck finished
the game and will be able to play in St. Louis.

--PR Nate Burleson is being removed from his duties when it appears a punt will be fielded inside the 10. Bobby Engram has been given those duties because Mike Holmgren was unhappy about Burleson's decisions to catch the ball close to the goal line.

--DE Patrick Kerney had three sacks despite a strained oblique and for the second consecutive week had a forced fumble, which his counterpart, Darryl Tapp recovered. Kerney moved back to the left side after playing the right side all last week to protect the injury.


Over the past few weeks, the Cardinals have tried to diversify their offense by spreading the ball around at all skills positions. Receiver Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald are still the focal points, but coaches felt the club would be better served by getting more players involved. They're using running backs Marcel Shipp and J.J. Arrington more often.

Rookie tight end Ben Patrick, who spent the first half of the season on the practice squad, has been eased into the No. 2 spot behind Leonard Pope.

The club went through a month-long stretch of playing Tampa Two style defenses, and the resulting double coverage made it difficult at times to get the ball to Boldin and Fitzgerald.

So coaches are encouraging quarterback Kurt Warner to use his checkdowns. Find Edgerrin James and Arrington on short passes. Don't be afraid to hit the tight end on shorter passes. And coaches are using more screen passes in an effort to get Arrington out in space with the ball.

"I think it's a function of what the defense is giving you, but we have to make a concerted effort to do that," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "The romantic thing to do in practice, in training camps and minicamps is to throw the ball down the field.

"You almost seem disappointed when you throw the 5-yard check down in practice, but those are the kinds of things in games that keep the chains moving."
In the victory two weeks ago over Detroit, Warner threw to eight different receivers. Against Cincinnati last week, six receivers caught passes.

Just as important, Warner didn't have a turnover despite facing heavy pressure. He was sacked three times but was able to dump the ball at other times to both Arrington and Pope.

The key to making checkdowns work, Warner said, is success on first and second downs.

"If you're in third-and-3, third-and-4, you don't need an 18-yard play to get a first down," he said. "You can get a check down and get a first down and keep the drive going.
Everybody can't take away everything, but if you're in a long-yardage situation, they can take away long-yardage ones and it makes it harder on you to keep drives going."

The emphasis on checkdowns doesn't mean the Cardinals have gone conservative. Teams won't be able to double Fitzgerald and Boldin on every down, and the club would be foolish not to throw deep to Fitzgerald at least three times a game. He's so big and strong, he comes up with catches even when he's covered tightly.

Boldin, too, can get deep, although his strength is running after the catch. But using players such as Arrington, Patrick and tight end Leonard Pope on shorter and intermediate passes should open things up deep for Fitzgerald and Boldin. They are less likely to see double coverage.

It should also help open some run lanes for James.

That will be critical as the Cardinals enter their final six games. Their 5-5 record is the best the team has been after 10 games since 1998, their only winning season and only playoff appearance since moving to Arizona.

The Cardinals have now won two straight and have a chance to make a run with home games against the 49ers, Browns, Falcons and Rams remaining.

"Anytime we can get a win on the road, it's a little different feeling than we've had around here for years," Warner said after the 35-27 victory over the Bengals last Sunday.
"Probably not or best game, but finding a way to win on the road is not easy to do, no matter where you're at."


--WR Anquan Boldin caught a 44-yard touchdown pass against Cincinnati. He also passed the 5,000-yard receiving mark. He reached that milestone in 63 games, tying Torry Holt as the fifth fastest player in NFL history to reach that mark.

--CB Antrel Rolle returned two interceptions for touchdowns against the Bengals, and only a penalty flag prevented him from having a third. No NFL player has ever had three in a game. Rolle had his third called back when defensive end Antonio Smith was penalized for a personal foul when he leveled quarterback Carson Palmer.
Rolle, the eighth overall pick in 2005, had just two career interceptions entering the game.

--ILB Karlos Dansby intercepted a pass on the first play of the second half Sunday. He has three interceptions in the past two games.

--In their last two games, the Cardinals have forced 10 turnovers and committed three. They are 2-0 in those games.

--QB Kurt Warner completed one pass on a sidearm flip and another left-handed on a second half drive. Warner completed 16 of 28 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns.

--RB Edgerrin James was bottled up by the Bengals. He gained just 52 yards on 22 carries and his longest run was seven yards.


Suddenly, things don't look so bleak. Suddenly, after a winless first half of the season, the Rams have won two straight games, and they can revel in an ugly victory because any victory feels good when you're 2-8.

After the Rams won their second consecutive game on the road, 13-9 at San Francisco, coach Scott Linehan said, "I've learned this coming from an offensive background, that there are no style points in winning and losing. There's just a lot of happiness all around when it comes to winning. That's the greatest part about this game, even though it was a low score, it was a team victory. I was very proud of how we played."

For the second straight week, the Rams didn't have a turnover after committing 24 in the first eight games. And, despite a total lack of offense in the second half, the defense held firm, and now looks ahead to facing first-place Seattle at home this week.

Said wide receiver Isaac Bruce, "We're not turning the ball over. We're not giving other teams more opportunities to get on the field and make plays. It's kind of come together more (now) than the previous eight games and winning does a lot for the entire attitude of the organization. We're starting to believe. We have another big challenge ahead of us next week in winning a home game, and we have to do that."

After taking an early 7-0 and 10-3 lead, the Rams managed just one field goal in the second half. In the final two quarters, the offense totaled just 38 yards on 24 plays and the ground game had just 10 yards on 13 attempts. Running back Steven Jackson actually had 104 yards at one point, but finished with 92 on 23 carries. With runs of 21 and 37 yards, Jackson's other 21 attempts totaled only 34 yards.

"It was pretty tough yards," Jackson said. "We got off to a pretty good start, but they made some adjustments and knew what we were trying to do in the running game and they were able to make things harder than they were."

As for what the team hopes to accomplish this season, Jackson said, "We're taking it one game at a time and we're really showing we have something to prove. We're not going to lie down and roll over this season. We still have six more games that we can go out and compete in and hopefully come out with some wins."

Asked about looking ahead to the game against Seattle, Linehan said, "For once I don't have to stand up here and talk about a whole slew of injuries. We had a couple guys that need to get healed up this week, but nothing real significant. We're learning as a team, growing as a team and we're looking forward to our rematch with Seattle this week. We've had some tough games with San Francisco, but today we were able to win this football game. We did not lose the game by being careless with the ball and doing things that lose games."

The patchwork offensive line struggled at times, leading to six sacks of quarterback Marc Bulger and just two first downs in the second half when they could have iced the game.

But the line should get more physical and experienced with the return of guard/tackle Todd Steussie this week. Steussie has been out since suffering a broken foot in the final preseason game, but reached an injury settlement and will be re-signed.


--WR Isaac Bruce had five receptions for 54 yards and now has 13,817 yards for his career, passing Rams receivers coach Henry Ellard to move into fifth place on the all-time list. Bruce needs 82 yards to reach Cris Carter and 187 to equal James Lofton.

--C Brett Romberg (ankle) was inactive because of his injury and did not play against the 49ers.

--OG Nick Leckey started his second straight game at right guard, but gets overpowered at times.

--OL Todd Steussie will be re-signed this week and could end up starting at right guard against the Seahawks. Steussie suffered a broken bone in his foot in the final preseason game Aug. 30 and is eligible to return this week after reaching an injury settlement with the team in September.

--LB Will Witherspoon had another big game with seven tackles, one sack, one quarterback hurry and three passes defensed.


The San Francisco 49ers will be looking to avoid their longest losing streak since 1978 when they travel to face the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. A season that began with promise has fizzled over the past two months, as coach Mike Nolan has seen his team fall apart during an eight-game losing streak.

The losing streak stands at eight. It is the 49ers' longest skid since 1999.

"We were considered a playoff team before the season," 49ers receiver Darrell Jackson said. "Now, we're trying to find our way, find our identity."

The 49ers' identity through 10 games has been that of a team has not been able to function on offense. The club ranks last in the NFL, averaging just 221.1 yards a game. At this pace, it would be the worst single-season offensive showing in franchise history.

Moreover, Nolan and quarterback Alex Smith have experienced some troubling "communication" problems. Smith struggled in his three games since returning after sustaining a separated right shoulder on Sept. 30.

Not only was the shoulder still bothering him, but his agent, Tom Condon, said Smith was overworked in the 49ers' weight room in the days after the injury. Smith has also battled tendinitis in his forearm, according to Condon.

Smith has grown noticeably weaker in his right forearm. There is a concern that he might have suffered nerve damage from the work in the weight room. The 49ers say Smith's forearm injury is a strain. Furthermore, Nolan said he knew nothing about the work in the weight room. Smith, and those close to him, do not believe Nolan has supported the third-year quarterback. Even though Smith's struggles were apparent, Nolan repeatedly refused to blame the problems on Smith's health.

Finally, Smith said he had enough.

"It's really been hard because to continue to have it get reported that you're 100 percent, and that's not really the case," Smith said. "That's been frustrating as well."

Although Smith said he repeatedly told Nolan of his physical ailments, Nolan claimed it was all news to him when Smith went public with his problems. Veteran backup Trent Dilfer made his third start of the season in the 49ers' 13-9 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. It is unclear which quarterback will start this week against the Cardinals. The 49ers enter the game having gone 11 quarters since their last touchdown.

If nothing else, at least the 49ers managed to break a streak of 22 consecutive games with fewer than 200 net yards passing in their loss to the Rams.

Dilfer completed 20 of 42 passes for 231 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He was sacked three times for minus-19 yards, giving the 49ers 212 net yards passing. The 49ers string of futility was the longest in the NFL since the league liberalized the passing rules in 1978.


--RB Frank Gore had the worst game of his career as a starter, rushing for just 32 yards on 15 carries in the 49ers' loss to the Rams. Gore does not appear to have fully recovered from an ankle sprain he sustained Oct. 21 against the New York Giants.

--QB Alex Smith did not play Sunday as he said he is still feeling soreness and discomfort in his shoulder and forearm from the right shoulder separation he sustained Sept. 30.

--QB Trent Dilfer completed 20 of 42 passes for 231 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating for the game was 44.8. He was also sacked three times for minus-19 yards.

--WR Arnaz Battle had a season-high 86 yards receiving on six receptions. Battle played every snap of the 49ers' 13-9 loss to the Rams.

--WR Darrell Jackson, whose hands have been inconsistent this season, dropped a potential game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Jackson finished with just two catches for 36 yards.

--K Joe Nedney made all three of his field goal attempts. He made kicks of 28, 38 and 46 yards. Nedney has made 14 of 15 field goal attempts this season. Top Stories