NFC West News & Notes - 9/14/06

NFC West News & Notes - 9/14/06

In today's News & Notes: Shaun Alexander looks to take off once again against an old punching bag, the Cardinals reflect on their Week One offensive firepower, the Rams adjust to their touchdown-free status and the 49ers might be building something interesting by the Bay.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The Seahawks should beat the Cardinals at home as long as their pass protection improves. Seattle suffered from pass-protection breakdowns early last season as well, never more than during an ugly loss at Jacksonville in the 2005 opener. The Seahawks managed to beat Detroit last week largely because quarterback Matt Hasselbeck avoided turnovers.

Hasselbeck somehow managed to complete 25 of 30 passes against the Lions even though he rarely had time to find receivers downfield. Seattle won't have to worry about disruptive Lions defensive tackle Shaun Rogers in this game, but Arizona does like to give teams multiple looks. That could give Seattle problems, unless coaches can get left guard Floyd Womack and the rest of the line up to speed on its handling of stunts and other tricks that surely await.

"I'm really not worried about our offensive line," coach Mike Holmgren said. "I think the guys are ready to play, but there's a difference between the preseason and playing a cranked-up team like we did against Detroit. So it was good for us." Holmgren paid closer attention to the offensive line during practice this week. He hovered over pass-rush drills and informed players that jobs could be on the line if Seattle suffers from a repeat performance this week.

Offensive lineman Chris Spencer has proven himself ready to start if called upon, and it's only a matter of time before the 2005 first-round pick gets onto the field. At this point, he would probably replace Womack, an injury-prone player who had his hands full with Rogers last week. "If it were to happen again, then we have some young people that are champing at the bit to play," Holmgren said. "That could happen. But we're going to be better this week."

Seattle has become a target after winning the NFC last season.

"When you saw the Seahawks on your schedule in the past, the only reason it would be noteworthy is that you had to take a long trip," Hasselbeck said. "Other than that, you hope that it didn't rain.

"Now, I think people are starting to know our personnel a little. Obviously, everybody knows about Shaun Alexander, but guys are starting to learn about our offensive linemen, starting to know people by name."

Teams will be using the Seahawks as a measuring stick. That's what the Lions did in the opener. Arizona, another team looking for respectability, will have to battle tough conditions at Qwest Field. The Seahawks are also sure to be better prepared. While they were familiar with the Lions' coaches, they weren't quite sure how Rod Marinelli's staff would employ its personnel. If not for Seattle's increasingly stout defense, the Seahawks might have emerged from the Motor City with an opening-day loss.

The defense faces a tougher test from the Cardinals. Arizona has outstanding personnel at the skill positions. Seattle will have to take advantage of the Cardinals' shaky offensive line. That figures to happen given that Qwest Field is such a tough place for visiting offenses to operate.

Seattle is 24-4 in its last 25 home games, counting playoffs. The Seahawks did not lose at home last season. The Cardinals have not won in Seattle since the 2002 home opener, when Trent Dilfer was the Seahawks' quarterback. Seattle has won six of the last seven games in the series overall, but the perception is that Arizona is a better team this season with RB Edgerrin James.

SERIES HISTORY: 15th meeting. The series is tied. Seattle has won three in a row and six of the last seven.

NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Matt Hasselbeck hammed it up with Arizona reporters during his conference call with them this week. "It's probably 85 and sunny where you guys are, right?" he asked. "I feel bad. I apologize. It's green here, though. I can say that." Asked if he was ready for another season of conference calls, Hasselbeck played dumb. "Is that what this is?" he asked. "My bad. I thought I called home."

--Newly acquired WR Deion Branch was so excited about diving into his new team that he asked the Seahawks to fax their playbook to the airport so he could study on his flight from New England. The Seahawks, not wanting their playbook distributed across an unsecured line, had to politely decline. "I'm excited to be a part of something that you all have, that Seattle has going right now," Branch said.

--The loss of dependable LS J.P. Darche to a hip injury underscored the importance of a position that gets taken for granted. Darche had played in 97 consecutive games before the season-ending injury. He did not suffer a badly errant snap during his Seattle tenure. "It's a little amazing to me that guys coming out of college aren't more skilled at this because it is a way to stay in the National Football League and a way to stay in it for a long time," Holmgren said. "It's a great gig if you can do this."

The position has become more specialized over the years. "It's not like when you were little and you hiked," Holmgren said. "You've got to be able to do it, and do it fast. Most of us can snap the ball through our legs, end over end, to the guy back there, but that doesn't work so well."

BY THE NUMBERS: Five. QB Matt Hasselbeck was sacked five times during the 9-6 victory in Detroit, the fifth five-sack game of his career. Seattle is 3-2 in those games. Hasselbeck's last five-sack game was a 10-6 victory over Tampa Bay in 2004, a game in which current Lions coach Rod Marinelli coached the Bucs' defensive line.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's OK. If you have an hour, ask him. Go ask him. He's sore. He got banged around. But he's all right." -- Coach Mike Holmgren on the status of Hasselbeck after the QB took a pounding in the season opener.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Seattle moved quickly upon learning Tuesday that veteran LS J.P. Darche would be lost for the season. The team brought in former Falcons LS Derek Rackley for a tryout early Wednesday. Seattle signed Rackley in time for the 29-year-old veteran to practice that afternoon. The Seahawks were fortunate that Rackley had become available after six seasons in Atlanta. The Falcons cut him during camp to go with a younger and cheaper alternative. Rackley had played in 96 consecutive games before this season, same as Darche. Seattle placed Darche on injured reserve. The team also re-signed CB Gerard Ross to its practice squad.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--LB Leroy Hill (stinger) practiced Wednesday. He remained questionable on the injury report, but there's a chance he'll be able to play this week against Arizona. Hill had 7 1/2 sacks last season.
--LG Floyd Womack is on alert this week after a sub-par performance in the opener. Coach Mike Holmgren said he expects good things from Womack, who had his hands full against Lions DT Shaun Rogers last week. But if Seattle has similar problems in protection this week, the team will consider putting 2005 first-round pick Chris Spencer in the lineup. That would not necessarily be a bad thing.
--WR Deion Branch participated fully in practice Wednesday and got some work with the starters in three-wide sets. Coach Mike Holmgren is considering more four-receiver sets now that he can put Branch, Darrell Jackson, Bobby Engram and Nate Burleson on the field at the same time.
--LS Derek Rackley tried out for Seattle on Wednesday, then signed in time to practice that afternoon. The team needed a snapper after losing veteran J.P. Darche to a season-ending hip injury.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck was not limited in practice Wednesday despite lingering soreness from his five-sack game against Detroit. Hasselbeck won't be able to take that kind of punishment every week. He needs better protection. Seattle had protection problems early last season as well. That aspect of the team's game improved as the season progressed.

GAME PLAN:
Seattle must tighten up its pass protection to win this game. Better protection will allow Seattle to take advantage of a talented group of receivers. And if QB Matt Hasselbeck gets the passing game going, there will be plenty of running room for RB Shaun Alexander. Alexander excels against teams that over-pursue. Arizona is that type of team. He had an 88-yard run against the Cardinals last season, matching the longest run of his career. The Seattle defense knocked Cardinals QB Kurt Warner out of the game when Arizona visited Qwest Field last season. That could happen again if Warner attempts 37 passes, as he did in the opener.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, a big target with great ball skills, vs. Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant, who seems poised for his best season. This is a tough matchup for Seattle because Fitzgerald is such a big and talented target. Trufant will need help from his pass rush to prevent the big play. Seattle went to great lengths in disrupting Panthers WR Steve Smith in the NFC title game last season, but it seems unlikely the team would try to jam Fitzgerald with a linebacker.

--Seahawks LG Floyd Womack, coming off a tough game in the opener, against Cardinals DT Darnell Dockett. This has less to do with Dockett than it does with Womack. Womack got a lot of attention his offseason because he was the guy Seattle named to replace Steve Hutchinson. The staff thinks Womack will be fine over the long haul, but his first outing was not encouraging. The Cardinals have been able to disrupt Seattle's offense at times in the past. Womack needs to play better.

INJURY IMPACT: LB Leroy Hill (stinger) looked and felt good upon returning to the practice field Wednesday. Seattle's training staff is a cautious one, however, and the Seahawks have good depth at linebacker. If there's any doubt, Hill could sit out another week.

--The Seahawks came out OK in the long-snapping department when they signed former Falcons veteran Derek Rackley. The loss of J.P. Darche (hip) could have been a damaging blow, but right now it appears Seattle came out of the situation OK.

--QB Matt Hasselbeck took a beating last week. Keep an eye on him against the Cardinals to see how he holds up.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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The Cardinals have not been able to stop Shaun Alexander -- few NFC West teams have -- but they have to find a way to at least slow him if they are to stay in the game Sunday at Seattle. The numbers haven't been pretty. Alexander has nine touchdowns in his past three games vs. the Cardinals. He is averaging 99.6 rushing yards in eight games since Arizona was punted to the NFC West in realignment. But last season, Alexander was particularly brutal, despite the Cardinals defense somehow ending the year in the top 10 in the league. In two routs of the Cardinals by the Seahawks, Alexander rushed for 173 yards and two touchdowns and 140 yards and four touchdowns.

But the Cardinals aren't alone. Alexander has nine consecutive 100-yard games vs. NFC West opponents. And with two more touchdowns he passes Steve Largent (101) for the club career record.
So against that background, it is a particularly bad week for the team to be short on strong-side linebackers. Starter Calvin Pace, whose work as a converted defensive end has drawn coaches' raves, injured an ankle in the opener and may be limited. He practiced Wednesday.

Pace was in the lineup because 2005 starter Karlos Dansby, best remembered for his three interceptions -- two taken back for scores -- and four sacks, hadn't practiced since June (toe) before he made his debut Wednesday. It is difficult to imagine that he could do the team much good by Sunday. Neophyte Darryl Blackstock, then, might become the man with Alexander bearing down on his grille. "I think Alexander only rushed for 58 yards (in the opener at Detroit) and I don't think that is typical for him, so we'll look to see exactly what Detroit did to make it a little rough for him," Cardinals Coach

Dennis Green said. "Then, we can hopefully emulate some of the same things.

"It is one of those teams that we have a high information level on and they have a real high information level on us. It's not just because we have played the last few years, but because Mike (Holmgren, Seahawks coach) and I have played each other so many different times."

The Cardinals had the highest winning point total on opening weekend in their 34-27 win over San Francisco, the Seahawks had the lowest winning point total as they escaped Detroit, 9-6. The specter of Alexander also comes a week after the Cardinals let Frank Gore of the 49ers gore them pretty much at will on the ground. There wasn't much good to say about their tackling form, pursuit angles, penetration or intensity. They need to regain it all -- their trademarks of 2005 -- when facing a back of Alexander's caliber.

In fact, after the Cardinals' offense stunned everyone with touchdowns on its first three possessions to give the team a two-score lead that it held into the closing minutes of the game, the defense very nearly undid it all. "Coming down to a Hail Mary at the end, there's no way it should've been that close," said cornerback Antrel Rolle. "It should've been a 40-0 game."

Another effort like the last one and that is exactly the kind of game the Cardinals will be in Sunday, on the wrong end. It is the second of three consecutive NFC West games to open the season. "Our first four games are conference games. Division and conference games depend on how far you go in the season," Green said. "Atlanta and Seattle are picked to be in the playoffs and the Rams have been in the playoffs for a lot of years, so we have a good rugged, hard-nosed schedule, but one I think we'll be up to."

If they pull it out Sunday, it would be the Cardinals' first 2-0 start in 15 years. But Seattle is 22-3 in its past 25 regular-season home games, including a 10-game streak. "I'm concerned about the whole team right now," Green said. "I just don't think we played very well. But it is very good to win when you don't play well because we're having a conversation right now that you don't normally talk about, which is 'How did you win the game?' Normally you explain how you lost the game. There is a big difference."

SERIES HISTORY: 15th meeting. Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks are tied 7-7 in series that dates to 1976. But Seahawks have won past three and six of past seven, and Cardinals Coach Dennis Green is 1-4 vs. them in his career. A year ago, the Seahawks swept the series with routs of 33-19 and 37-12. Most historic meeting between these teams from the Cardinals' perspective came in 1976, in the Seahawks' very first game in the NFL. Seattle was in position to score and win in the closing minutes but the Cardinals' defense thwarted the Seahawks and the Big Red prevailed, 30-24.

NOTES, QUOTES

--And the NFL scoring leader after Week 1? Your Arizona Cardinals, those lovable lugs who couldn't punch it into the end zone in 2005 and made a record-setting field goal kicker out of Neil Rackers (he made 40 in 2005, and still got two in the opener). That's the good new from the Cardinals' perspective.

The Bad? Their Week 1 opponent, San Francisco, is tied for third in the NFL in scoring. The Cardinals defense was just short of atrocious. In a week in which three teams were shut out and two others scored only six points, the Cardinals had the highest point total by a winning team (34) and the Seahawks, their foe this Sunday, had the lowest point total by a winning team (9-6 over Detroit).

--QB Kurt Warner's 301 passing yards rank second in the NFC, his three TD passes tie for the league lead and his 114.8 passer rating leads the NFC and ranks fourth in the league.
Warner is NFC Offensive Player of the Week as well as a finalist for the Week 1 FedEx Express NFL Player of the Week award.

--RB Edgerrin James, who rushed for 73 yards -- but only a 2.8-yard average -- in his debut with the Cardinals, needs 109 more to pass Earl Campbell (9,407) for 20th on the NFL career rushing list.
Emmitt Smith, who played the final two years of his career with the Cardinals, is the career leader at 18,355 yards. James might have stunned his old fans in Indianapolis when he dived into the end zone for his first TD with his new team. "That was the first time I ever dove in," he said. "And I'm sure a lot of people in Indy are probably mad."

--Although the Cardinals have one Wilson -- Adrian -- who is among the league's best at making sacks off the safety blitz, it was another Wilson who initially made them famous -- Larry, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Larry Wilson was added to the team's Ring of honor in new Cardinals Stadium during halftime of their opening game in the building.

--The Cardinals scored touchdowns on their first three possessions of the season. It was the first time they'd scored three touchdowns in the first quarter in 31 years.
One of those scores was James' 1-yard dive into the end zone. The last time they'd scored a rushing touchdown in the opening period was in 2003, by QB Josh McCown.

--Who'd have guessed that the Cardinals' new stadium would have taken a hit before any of the players did? During a "monster truck" show, one of the vehicles hit a block wall and knocked out a few blocks. No MRI was necessary to confirm that there was no structural damage, and the stadium was listed "probable" for the Cards' opener.

--And speaking of the new stadium, Michael Bidwill, Cardinals vice president who shepherded its construction, after seeing the finished product, remarked, "I think it turned out a lot better than we had envisioned. We knew that we wanted to set a new standard of design not only with the exterior, but with the landscaping and tailgating areas, as well as with the interior. I didn't expect that it would be named one of the top 10 sporting facilities in the world. I didn't expect to receive e-mails from world-renowned architects like Frank Gehry. I think it certainly exceeded everyone's expectations, including mine."

Bidwill said he is especially partial to the retractable roof, which makes early-season home games more comfortable, and the retractable-field, which makes the building truly multi-purpose. "I like the roof, and the fact that it is retractable and the fact that it is partially translucent," Bidwill said. "I like the field, and the fact that it is natural grass and it slides in and out, but now that the players describe it the fastest and the best field in the National Football League.

"The great design and graphics throughout the stadium are something that I love. The Great Lawn out in Sportsman's Park and all the terrific landscaping and shade trees that we have is another one of my favorite features. Our locker rooms are terrific. There are so many different favorites to talk about, I don't think that you can put one at the top of the list. But certainly, in the summertime the air-conditioning seems to be the most important one."

BY THE NUMBERS: 3 --
Touchdowns scored by the Cardinals in the first quarter of their opener after the team scored no touchdowns in the first quarter in all of 2005. They settled for nine field goals for the 7-first quarter points last season. They last scored three touchdowns in a first quarter 31 years ago.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not going to be very patient, I'm just not going to be." -- Cardinals Coach Dennis Green, whose teams won 6 games and 5 in his first two seasons, on benching veteran CB David Macklin for second-year Eric Green after the first series of the opener after Macklin dropped an interception and missed a tackle on a TD reception.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

After veteran right-side CB David Macklin dropped a potential interception and took a poor pursuit angle that led to a missed tackle on 49ers TE Vernon Davis' 31-yard TD reception, Macklin was benched in favor of second-year player Eric Green, whom coaches had expected to take the job from Macklin in training camp. Green has talent but he is, well, green, and it showed during his spirited battle all afternoon with 49ers WR Antonio Bryant. Late in the game, Bryant burned Green on a 46-yard pass play that led to the TD that trimmed the Cardinals two-score lead to 7 in the closing minute.
Green, however, is expected to stay in the lineup Sunday at Seattle.

--OLB Isaac Keys was re-signed to the practice squad as injuries create depth issues at the position. He appeared in six games in 2005 and was among final cuts in the trim to 53.

--C Shawn Lynch was released from the practice squad to make room for Isaac Keys. Lynch started a game in 2005.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Kurt Warner's 301 passing yards rank second in the NFC, his three TD passes tie for the league lead and his 114.8 passer rating leads the NFC and ranks fourth in the league. He is 24-12 (.667) as a starter when passing for 300 or more yards.
--RT Chris Liwienski, an eight-year veteran formerly with Minnesota, who was signed for veteran depth two weeks ago, started the opener and is expected to remain in the lineup at Seattle while Oliver Ross (knee) recovers from surgery. Ross likely is another week or two from returning. Liwienski did a decent job on short notice with his new team. He initially played for Cardinals coach Dennis Green in Minnesota and started nine games for the Vikings at LG last season.
--TE Leonard Pope was the only rookie starter in the opener and the 6-foot-8-inch, athletic target is shaping up as the newcomer who will have greatest impact this season, although over time QB Matt Leinart and LG Deuce Lutui will give him a run for the title.
--OLB Karlos Dansby (toe), the 2005 strong-side starter, made his debut at practice Wednesday but is a long shot to start at Seattle. He could see limited duty, though. Dansby had three interceptions and four sacks during a breakout 2005.
--DE A.J. Schable, an undrafted rookie from South Dakota State, made his debut not as a down lineman but as a blocking FB in goal-line packages and on special teams. The team cut both of its blocking fullbacks in the trim to 53, so Schable's versatility may keep him on the roster. He is listed No. 2 at right DE behind Bertrand Berry.
--CB David Macklin was benched after he was burned a couple of times in San Francisco's opening series in favor of Eric Green, who was expected to take the right-side job from him in training camp but didn't quite get it done.
--CB Eric Green, who played extensively before he really was ready as a rookie in 2005, played all but the opening series vs. San Francisco in the opener and is expected to start ahead of veteran David Macklin at Seattle.
--K Neil Rackers has connected on 42 of his past 44 field goals, including 25 in row from under 40 yards. He was 2-for-2 in the opener.

GAME PLAN: When was the last time the Cardinals, who've had one winning record since 1984, griped about a win, especially an opening-day win? It's one thing to nip the 49ers at home but quite another to beat the Seahawks in Seattle. The Cardinals have to pick it up significantly in all areas to be in this game vs. the defending NFC champs. There will be more harmful noise. Seattle will be far more physical. The Cardinals need to go to the run more with Edgerrin James, but this might not be the time and place for it. They need to get an early lead, and their best chance is through the air. Then, perhaps, they can turn to James to run the clock. With their shaky offensive line, the Cardinals don't appear to be equipped for a grind-it-out war of the type Seattle won in its opener at Detroit.

Defensively the Cardinals are back to Square 1. They absolutely stunk in the opener, allowing Frank Gore of San Francisco 87 rushing yards. Another day like that and Shaun Alexander will be pushing the 200-yard mark. They have to find some intensity, manufacture penetration, tackle better and above all take better pursuit angles. This week is all about shoring up the basics for a unit that played its worst game in a couple of years. It didn't look like the group that finished in the league top 10 a year ago by any stretch.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Cardinals RB Edgerrin James, a Pro Bowler who has some of his finest games vs. Seattle, vs. Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander, a Pro Bowler who has some of his finest games vs. Arizona. Neither of the big names opened with a bang. Neither reached even 80 yards rushing, much less 100. But James had a career-high 219 rushing yards vs. Seattle in 2000 while with Indianapolis. He needs 109 to pass Earl Campbell (9,407) for 20th in NFL history. This is his first shot at the Seahawks as a Cardinal. James has restored the threat of the run, making the Cardinals passing game even more effective. That was reflected in their NFL-leading 34 points on opening day.

Alexander routinely rips the Cardinals' defense, with 173 yards rushing and two touchdowns in their first meeting a year ago and 140 yards and four TDs in the second. He has nine consecutive 100-yard games vs. NFC West opponents. With two more TDs he passes Steve Largent (101) for the club career record. If it becomes a low-scoring contest, as Seattle's 9-6 opening win at Detroit was, ball control will be critical.

--Cardinals WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, both Pro Bowlers early in their careers and among the NFL's highest-producing tandems, vs. Seattle CBs Marcus Trufant, a former first-round pick, and Kelly Herndon. Fitzgerald goes for his sixth consecutive 100-yard receiving game vs. an NFC West foe. He has caught at least seven balls in his last five games vs. division opponents. Boldin is just as effective if not a bit more Seattle-specific in his mastery of the division. He has a catch of 30-plus yards and averages 105.6 receiving yards in his past three games vs. the Seahawks. Although Trufant is an excellent young talent, he can't stop them both by himself.

INJURY IMPACT: OLB Karlos Dansby (toe), OLB Calvin Pace (ankle) and RT Oliver Ross (knee) practiced Wednesday but it is unlikely that Dansby or Ross will be in the lineup for Sunday's visit to Seattle.

--The Cardinals may be thin at strong-side linebacker, not a good thing when facing Seattle RB Shaun Alexander. Dansby's first practice of the year was Wednesday. He had not practiced since June. Replacement Calvin Pace, who has dazzled coaches in his move from DE, was injured in the opener, but evidently not seriously enough to miss Sunday's game. Pace practiced Wednesday. But 2005 third-round pick Darryl Blackstock or veteran James Darling may be needed for depth vs. Alexander, who has mauled the Cardinals recently (313 yards, 6 touchdowns in Seahawks series sweep last season).
Blackstock played the strong side until moved to the weak side to address a depth shortage during training camp. Darling was the starting MLB in 2005 but played OLB prior. The veteran is versatile enough to make the move if needed.

--RT Oliver Ross says he may be ready Sunday, but that is unlikely given that he had not practiced before Wednesday since undergoing surgery during preseason. The position has been played by committee since. Fred Wakefield (now a TE), Jeremy Bridges (now a Carolina Panther), Reggie Wells (starting LG), Brandon Gorin (acquired in trade) all tried it before Chris Liwienski (claimed on waivers), a veteran pickup from Minnesota, was signed and hustled into the opening-day lineup. He did a decent job as the team scored TDs on its first three possessions of the season.

--QB Matt Leinart, whose right (non-throwing) shoulder popped out of its socket in the final preseason game, has no structural damage and is expected to be available as the backup at Seattle following a dazzling preseason of work. He did not play in the opener.

--NT Gabe Watson (calf), a rookie who was expected to push free agent Kendrick Clancy for the starting job, was an opening-day inactive. Watson is listed third on the depth chart, behind Clancy and Langston Moore, but is expected to come back and push once the injury heals.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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To a man, the Rams' offense can't wait to score a touchdown, especially from the red zone. That way, the questions about it not happening won't be asked anymore. In a preseason where the first-team offense played just more than four quarters while learning a new system, the starters have yet to score a touchdown, and in the season-opener against Denver, there were four failures in the red zone. (Technically, it was five, but that final red-zone trip came as the clock expired and quarterback Marc Bulger kneeled down three times.)

Fans usually call for more creativity in the red zone, but coach Scott Linehan doesn't buy that. "Just execute better," Linehan said, when asked how to improve red-zone scoring. "Every play's unique in any game, whether it's the red zone or the 20 yard-line coming out. It's all really more execution. Every once in a while you have that perfect play, but I think you've got to really execute at your best when you get down there. It's not easy to score down there, as we were proving, but it is about the timing and details of it.

"I think it's a great humbling, but learning experience for all of us. Like I said on Monday, we will work very hard on getting better at it without making it a mental thing. Just know that it's something we certainly need to improve on and just get better at executing down there. I really think that's it more than anything. You can over-analyze it, but I think we just need to play better and execute better when we get down there."

Linehan did acknowledge the frustration, but likened it to a hitting slump in baseball. "I think as a competitor, it weighs on you," he said. "Willie Mays said it one time about being in a slump. They said, 'What do you do to get out of a slump?' He said, 'Keep swinging.' So we're going to keep calling plays and try to get it in the end zone."

Noting the failures against Denver, offensive coordinator Greg Olson said, "There were plays to be made out there. I just think it was a combination of we had some mental errors on a couple plays, and we had physical errors where we just got beat, or we didn't make a throw." After the game Sunday night, Linehan said sometimes it can be a case of trying too hard. He elaborated on that when recalling the most frustrating failure when the Rams recovered a Denver fumble at the 3-yard line and had to settle for a field goal.

"That right there ... got us a little bit out of whack, and got us a little bit tight and tentative after that," Linehan said. "I think we were like, 'We're snake-bit.' I think the natural tendency was to start pressing a little bit."

Without coming out and saying it, the Rams have a quiet confidence that things will change this week in San Francisco. The 49ers had 31 points scored against them in the first game against Arizona, and while this game is on the road for the Rams, there is the feeling there are matchups to be won in the San Francisco secondary. Using another baseball analogy, Linehan said of the negative streak, "I liken it to last week, watching the Yankees play. I think A-Rod (shortstop Alex Rodriguez) hadn't had a hit in 22 or 23 at bats. Then he got two hits in a row and they stopped talking about the hitless streak. I think we have just got to go in there and get it done and start a new streak and that is scoring down there."

SERIES HISTORY: 113th regular-season meeting. Rams lead, 58-52-2. Since 1999, the Rams had won 10 of 12 games in the series until the 49ers swept in 2005 by a total of seven points, 28-25 in San Francisco and 24-20 in St. Louis. How close has this series been? In the 112 games played, the Rams have scored 2,507 points to San Francisco's 2,484, a difference of 23 points.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Rams didn't throw to the tight end in the opening win over Denver, but coach Scott Linehan said that was by design, considering rookie Joe Klopfenstein was making his first NFL start.
"We were going to limit a little bit of what we did with the young tight end corps," Linehan said. "We only have two up, Madison (Hedgecock) backed up, both the fullback and tight end spot. He (Klopfenstein) was a little tentative early in the game, but as the game went on, he got better and blocked very well. He didn't really have many opportunities to catch the ball. We used some three-wide sets and things like that, but that was the designed nature of this particular game plan.

"We used him in protections on some play actions and things like that to help our protection and take some pressure off him. I think some games will lend more to the tight end and I think our utilization of him in the red zone will improve our productivity down there as well. Not many guys, whether they're drafted high, or not, start the opener. He did it with relatively little anxiety and improved as the game went on, and I think he played pretty good in the second half, and played great down the stretch of the fourth quarter."

--As the Rams prepared for the 49ers, Linehan continued to put emphasis on the fact the team did not commit a turnover against Denver. With five takeaways, the Rams led the NFL with a plus-5 turnover ratio after one week. Said Linehan, "I was proud of our offense that they understand and, trust me, welcome the opportunity to see that we have to improve but also didn't wreck the game on our side. The thing that was great was we protected the ball. It's really hard to go through an NFL game and not turn the ball over; to be able to protect the football the way we did, and kind of hang in there even though it's a little frustrating to come away with threes instead of sevens.

"Not to make that the emphasis, but that's the obvious thing that we have to improve on. The one thing that I'm the most happy with is we're plus-5 in the turnover differential in the NFL right now and that's a great way to come out of the gates."

--QB Marc Bulger has heard the concerns about the offense's struggles, considering the first unit hasn't hey scored a touchdown, including the preseason. Thus, the questions have started regarding how comfortable Bulger is with the new offense installed by coach Scott Linehan. Said Bulger, "We're getting there. It's an ongoing process. Obviously, we're not there, but with each game and each practice we're getting to know each other more and more. He knows what I like more and I'm going to learn what he's thinking and what he's going to call more. Same with the receivers. He's going to start learning what routes they run better than others. It's a whole maturation process that we're going to have to go through. I'm not saying two or three years out, but we're getting there and I think we'll get better every week.

"We just don't want to panic after one week. I know we didn't do much in the preseason, but we're going to get it going. One week in, you look at Seattle, the No. 1 offense (from 2005), and they struggled a little bit. If we had the same system, we might have struggled, just because it is Week 1. I think you compound the fact that it's a new system and that's why we're a little bit slow right now. We are doing some good things. We're going to get there and we aren't going to panic."

As for those the offense is becoming conservative, Bulger said, "I don't think so. Like I said, there's a lot going into a new offense. Believe me, I'm with you. I'm used to having 300-yard games. It'll happen. We've got the most confidence in coach Scott Linehan. He's done it before. He's installing things with a purpose to bring us along. We've all been in the same system for six years. It's different for us. We're doing some things well, but obviously we're struggling a little bit in the red zone, but I think in time we'll get better."

BY THE NUMBER: 3 - Number of turnover-free games the Rams have had on offense in the last four seasons. That includes last Sunday's game against Denver.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"I think we're mature enough to understand that. I do kind of kid with (defensive coordinator Jim)Haslett and say, 'That's all that we need is five turnovers a game'. He didn't want to hear that. I think there's a certain amount of that, too. You also need a certain amount of confidence and what a great confidence builder that was. I think the realistic side says that's not going to happen very many times in your life time, the way the game went. I think it really sent a big charge through our team that we were able to go out and win a game like that." - Coach Scott Linehan on the bar being raised by the defense's performance in the win over the Broncos.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Rams and Jaguars exchanged practice-squad players with each going to the other team's active roster. Center Brett Romberg was signed by the Rams off Jacksonville's practice squad as a replacement for Andy McCollum, who was placed on injured reserve because of a knee injury. Nose tackle Montavious Stanley was signed off the Rams' practice squad by Jacksonville, replacing defensive Reggie Hayward, who was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles. Replacing Stanley on the Rams' practice squad was defensive tackle Tim Sandidge, who was released by the Rams in the cutdown to 53 players.

--It's not official, but it appears Rams coaches are leaning toward moving Richie Incognito from left guard to center after the loss of Andy McCollum for the season. Incognito was a center during his college career at Nebraska and took snaps at the position Wednesday in practice. Larry Turner replaced McCollum during Sunday's game against Denver. With Incognito at center, Todd Steussie would likely be the left guard with Adam Goldberg as the backup.

While sometimes it's not good to change two positions, getting the five best offensive linemen on the field is the goal. And having Incognito, a bigger player than Turner, at center will result in a better matchup when the 49ers use a nose tackle in their 3-4 or 4-3 defense.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--LG Richie Incognito, who made his first NFL start in Week 1, worked at center in practice Wednesday and could start there against San Francisco this week.
--T Todd Steussie might get the start at left guard against San Francisco if Richie Incognito moves from guard to center.
--LB Pisa Tinoisamoa did not practice Wednesday because of a sprained foot, and while he is listed as questioned on the injury report, it is expected that Tinoisamoa will play Sunday against the 49ers.
--NT Jimmy Kennedy did limited work in practice Wednesday because of a broken bone in his hand, but Kennedy is expected to play Sunday despite being listed as questionable on the injury report.
--LB Jamal Brooks did not practice Wednesday after receiving treatment on an infected bursa area of his knee. Brooks is listed as questionable, but will probably play this week against the 49ers.

GAME PLAN: On offense, the Rams will try to exploit matchups in the 49ers' secondary and create yardage with the passing game. Defensively, the goal will be to get pressure on quarterback Alex Smith and force him into mistakes. To do that, the defense will have to stop running back Frank Gore.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Rams WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, who combined for 12 receptions against Denver, vs. 49ers CBs Walt Harris and Shawntae Spencer, who were part of a pass defense that allowed 301 passing yards against Arizona and a passer rating of 114.8.

Rams DL, which had four sacks against the Broncos, vs. 49ers OL, which will be without LG Larry Allen and possibly LT Jonas Jennings. If Jennings doesn't play, the Rams would likely switch DE Leonard Little from the left side to the right.

INJURY IMPACT:
The impact will be huge after the loss of C Andy McCollum for the season. Larry Turner filled in when McCollum left the game against Denver, but Turner could be back on the bench against San Francisco. The Rams are expected to slide Richie Incognito to center from left guard, and insert Todd Steussie at left guard.

===================
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
===================


Perhaps the 49ers were more competitive in their season opener against the Cardinals than most people had envisioned. The team's offense put up more yards than in any game last season, and their defeat was not sealed until the final play of the game -- a desperation pass from quarterback Alex Smith into the end zone. "I'm certainly disappointed in the loss," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said of the 34-27 loss to the Cardinals. "We're about winning, we always talk about winning and that's our main objective."

The 49ers on Sunday face the Rams, a team they posted two wins against last season. So the 49ers expect to win Sunday's game, as they bounce back from a loss that was both encouraging but also disappointing.

"Obviously, losing the game is the adversity," Nolan said. "We have to do a great job responding to that adversity, identify why we lost the game and get better at those things. That will be our objective, then we get ready for St. Louis this week." The 49ers' youth demonstrated itself in both the good and the bad that showed up in the season opener.

Tight end Vernon Davis showed his incredible physical skills when he took a short pass and exploded down the left sideline on a 31-yard touchdown play. He later fumbled and dropped a third-and-2 pass deep in Cardinals territory that would have kept a drive alive.

There was also a costly penalty on right tackle Kwame Harris, whose holding infraction nullified a 52-yard touchdown pass to receiver Antonio Bryant. The defense was called for having 12 men on the field, giving the Cardinals a better red zone opportunity in the first quarter. "We had more mental errors than you would like in a game," Nolan said. "You don't forgive it because it's a young team, but you recognize it. So that you don't frustrate yourself and you don't frustrate your players, you continue to teach them the right things to do and how to do them.

"It is typical when you have a lot of young guys playing together. We want to build on the positives and learn on the negatives. We've got both. We've got a 50 percent positive thing to build on and we've got a 50 percent negative thing to correct from a mental error standpoint."

The 49ers are encouraged with the progress Smith has made from a year ago when he threw 11 interceptions and just one touchdown, while posting a passer rating of 40.8. But the 49ers certainly have a number of things on which they can improve. The offense called three timeouts because they were slow getting up to the line or there was confusion in the huddle.

"Overall, there were a handful of those in the game where we had to call a timeout, for whatever reason," Smith said. "That's something we have to become more efficient at, just getting lined up."
But overall, the offense looks to be in much better shape than a year ago, when the 49ers ranked last in the league. Smith appears to have benefited greatly from offensive coordinator Norv Turner, whose system is easier to pick up initially. Smith passed for a career-high 288 yards against the Cardinals, while equaling his touchdown-pass total from last season.

"It was not a completely clean game, as it wasn't for anyone, but again statistics do tell me where specific players are headed," Nolan said. "I thought that was a good indication of the direction that Alex is going in."

Turner showed some imagination in the opening game, with a couple gadget plays. Running back Frank Gore took a direct snap on one running play, and the 49ers pulled off a double reverse with receiver Bryan Gilmore shaking free for a 22-yard gain.

SERIES HISTORY:
115th meeting. The Rams lead series 58-54-2, but the 49ers won both meetings last season for the first time since 1998.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Although he is just 22 years old, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith is being called upon to assert himself as a leader on the team. "Age has nothing to do with it," backup quarterback Trent Dilfer said. "It's the nature of the position, regardless of age." Smith said he has a fine give-and-take relationship with veteran receiver Antonio Bryant, who is known to be one of the team's most high-strung personalities.

While the two have a very good rapport, Smith said he realizes that there might be times this season when they don't see eye-to-eye. "I anticipate there might be times, absolutely, that he and I might butt heads," Smith said. "Who knows? If we're struggling or something and not getting things going, absolutely, something might happen. In the heat of the game a lot of things get said and happen."

While Smith said he is open to receive some feedback and wants to play with receivers who want the ball, there comes a point when he does not want to hear constant jabbering on the sideline or in the huddle. "The last thing I want to see and hear is someone continue to tell me how open they are and that they want the ball," Smith said. "I have enough on my plate."

Coach Mike Nolan said he carefully considered all the attributes that Bryant brings to the team. But he admits that Bryant's temper is something he will always monitor. When asked if he has concerns about Bryant's temperament, Nolan answered bluntly, "From the time I first sat down with him until as long as we're together, yes."

--The 49ers were penalized in their opener for having 12 men on the field against the Cardinals. It was a first-and-goal from the 5, and the 49ers stopped Cardinals running back Edgerrin James for a 2-yard loss on the play. Well, apparently, that defense was so successful, the 49ers are switching. According to the team's official depth chart, the 49ers have 12 players listed as starters: four linemen, four linebackers and four defensive backs. Actually, the club plays a 3-4 and 4-3 almost interchangeably, so it lists each of those positions on the depth chart.

--Strong safety Tony Parrish has started all 122 games of his NFL career, but 49ers coach Mike Nolan has not warmed to him completely. Parrish and Mark Roman split time at safety, while free safety Mike Adams played the entire game at free safety. Nolan said Parrish and Roman would continue to split time until one of them seizes the job. "I think they're both capable of playing and I don't have a clear-cut starter at the position right now," Nolan said. "As (former Cowboys coach) Tom Landry once said, 'You don't have two starters, you always got two backups.' Until somebody takes it, that's what we got."

--Guard Tony Wragge was celebrating his status on the 49ers' 53-man roster on the day the final cuts were made in 2005. But three days later, he was waived when the 49ers picked up veteran fullback Chris Hetherington. When asked if he thought it might be his last best chance to play football, Wragge said, "Yeah, in the NFL, yeah." Wragge knew he could return to play for the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League, but he thought his NFL dreams might be over. He played three games late in the 2002 season for the Cardinals, so three seasons without seeing action would appear to be a sign that he had no future in the NFL.

But the 49ers called Wragge in late November and signed him for the final five games of the season, then sent him to NFL Europe, where he said his confidence grew immeasurably.
Wragge played 53 snaps in Sunday's season opener after left guard Larry Allen was injured. He might get his second career starter against the Rams this week, as Allen is expected to miss up to a month.

BY THE NUMBERS: 26 --
The number of consecutive games the 49ers had been out-gained passing prior to Sunday against the Cardinals. The 49ers had 286 net yards passing, compared to the Cardinals' 283.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Teams are looking at a lot of new faces and there are a lot of people doing different things in this offense and contributing, so it'll be hard on teams to zero in and focus on specific things" -- 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The left side of the team's offensive line was considered one of the strengths of the 49ers heading into this season, but injuries to left guard Larry Allen and left tackle Jonas Jennings have made things a bit uncertain. Allen will miss up to four weeks with a left knee sprain, while Jennings is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game against the Rams with a high ankle sprain. It is still a little unclear how the 49ers plan to reconfigure their offensive line.

Coach Mike Nolan said the team has not decided what to do with its offensive line this week. And, he admitted, even if he knew, he wouldn't divulge the details of his plans. Adam Snyder is considered the team's best backup offensive lineman. He could play guard for Allen, but would shift to left tackle if Jennings is unavailable. Tony Wragge and David Baas are also in the mix to play at left guard. Wragge entered Sunday's game when Allen was injured on the sixth play of the game against the Cardinals. Wragge played the rest of the game. Snyder entered for two possessions after Jennings went down with his injury. Jennings returned in the second half to finish the game.

Because of their shortage on the offensive line, the 49ers signed tackle Sam Wilder to the practice squad. The team waived fullback Zak Keasey to make room for Wilder.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Alex Smith said there is little carryover in getting prepared to face the Rams, against which he started one game last season. Smith will be challenged with the variety of blitzes that new Rams defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has brought to the organization.
--WR Antonio Bryant was held without a catch in the first half and had just two passes thrown his way. But in the second half, he caught four passes for 114 yards. He also had a 52-yard TD grab negated by a penalty.
--LG Larry Allen is expected to miss 2 to 4 games with a sprained left knee. Allen sustained the injury to his medial collateral ligament on the sixth play of the 49ers' season opener against the Cardinals. Allen missed 16 games in the first 12 seasons of his NFL career, including 11 games in 2002 due to an ankle injury.
--TE Eric Johnson is expected to see more action than in the opener, when he was limited to just 10 plays in the game. Coach Mike Nolan said Johnson was kept off the field because the club decided to go with more three-WR formations, instead of two-TE sets.
--K Joe Nedney, who set a team-record for field-goal accuracy last season, was 2-for-3 on field-goal attempts Sunday. He made a 22-yard field goal, making him 57 of 57 in his career inside 30 yards. Nedney also executed his sixth successful onside kick of his career. He is three of five on onside kicks since coming to the 49ers last season.
--S Mike Adams has won the starting free safety job, while Tony Parrish and Mark Roman are still splitting time at strong safety. Adams recorded a team-leading 10 tackles in the season opener.
--LB Manny Lawson, the team's No. 22 overall pick in the draft, had seven tackles in his first NFL game. Lawson, a defensive end in college, also showed his speed when he raced 20 yards down the field to defend a pass to Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald that fell incomplete.

GAME PLAN:
With their injuries on the offensive line, the 49ers will undoubtedly be tested by the Rams' blitz packages under new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. The 49ers will have to work hard to get the run game going behind Frank Gore. In the opener, the 49ers ran the ball 18 times while attempting 41 passes. Gore could turn into a workhorse-type of back with his pounding style. Gore carried 16 times for 87 yards and two TDs against the Cardinals. Prior to the start of the season, coach Mike Nolan said he expects the 49ers to run the ball 60 percent of the time over the course of the season. The run game has to be a big part of this game, both with Gore getting the ball in his hands a lot, as well as the team using play-action pass to slow down the Rams' blitz package. Defensively, the 49ers will try to keep the Rams guessing with their defensive scheme. The 49ers used a lot of 4-3 in the opener, but also generated some pass rush with their 3-4 scheme, as outside linebacker Brandon Moore had a good game rushing the passer. Nolan said Moore will be more active this week in the team's game plan. The 49ers must get some hits on Rams quarterback Marc Bulger to keep him from sitting in the pocket and delivering the ball down the field to receivers Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Kevin Curtis.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
49ers RT Kwame Harris, whose has struggled some with his pass-blocking through the years, vs. Rams LDE Leonard Little, who recorded two sacks and two QB hurries in the season opener.

--DT Bryant Young, who will play a lot inside when the 49ers move into their 4-3 defense, vs. RG Adam Timmerman, who has historically played well against Young in the past.

--CBs Walt Harris and Shawntae Spencer, who appear to give the 49ers their best cornerback tandem in some time, vs. WRs Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, who combined for 12 receptions for 144 yards in Week 1 against the Broncos.

INJURY IMPACT: LG Larry Allen (left knee) sustained a sprain of his medial collateral ligament on the opening drive of the 49ers' first game of the season. The injury will not require surgery, but Allen is expected to miss 2 to 4 weeks.

--LT Jonas Jennings (right ankle) sustained a high ankle sprain late in the first half of the season opener against the Cardinals. He is listed as doubtful, but coach Mike Nolan said Jennings has a chance to be in the starting lineup Sunday against the Rams.

--TE Vernon Davis (left hip) sustained a bruise in the opener and missed five plays. He returned to play the entire second half and is probable for the game against the Rams.

--TE Delanie Walker (separated right shoulder) is expected to miss another several weeks. Walker sustained his injury in the 49ers final exhibition game, Sept. 1.

--LB Parys Haralson (left foot strain) is expected to be out another week, though he returned to practice on Wednesday. He might be available for the Sept. 24 game against the Eagles. Haralson sustained the injury Aug. 15 in practice.

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