NFC West News & Notes - 10/6/06

NFC West News & Notes - 10/6/06

The Seahawks have been vague about when they expect running back Shaun Alexander to return from his foot injury. Part of that is because the team can't be sure how quickly Alexander will recover from the cracked fourth metatarsal in his left foot. The team also wants to avoid setting an expectation level that may or may not be realistic.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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This is the first significant injury of Alexander's seven-year career. He had played in 99 consecutive regular-season games before missing Seattle's loss to Chicago in Week 4. Alexander says he's a fast healer, but there isn't enough history to know for sure. Coach Mike Holmgren was jovial yet evasive when asked for a precise timetable recently. "What did I say the last time?" he asked. A few weeks, he was told. "I'll stick with that," Holmgren replied.

The Seahawks were already having problems with consistency on offense even before Alexander left the lineup. That was probably understandable given personnel changes brought on by injuries and free agency. Adding receiver Deion Branch a week into the regular season was another unexpected change.

Alexander's foot, first injured in the opener, was another factor. The Seahawks like backup Maurice Morris, but they need Alexander healthy to be at their best. "We're not the same team if he's not playing," Holmgren said. "Is Maurice Morris a good player? Yes, he is, but Shaun's the MVP."

GOOD NEWS

The Seahawks are one game ahead of their 2005 pace after four games. The bye week has helped several players heal up from injuries that were taking an increasingly heavy toll on the team. Strong safety Michael Boulware, cornerback Jordan Babineaux and tight end Jerramy Stevens are expected to be ready against the Rams on Sunday. Boulware missed much of the Chicago game after suffering a concussion. Babineaux didn't play at all against the Bears after suffering a concussion the previous week. Stevens hasn't played since suffering a knee injury in camp.

The bye week also allowed right tackle Sean Locklear and right guard Chris Gray to recover from knee injuries that limited them against the Bears. Stevens' return is the one to watch. He caught 45 passes last season while stretching defenses down the middle. The threat he poses is almost as valuable as the athletic plays he can make with his 6-foot-7, 255-pound frame. Seattle's offense will remain less than full strength until running back Shaun Alexander returns in another week or two, but Stevens provides something that has been missing all season.

The offense should benefit additionally as wide receiver Deion Branch becomes more comfortable in his new surroundings.

BAD NEWS

The offense hasn't come close to picking up where it left off last season. Seattle has suffered 13 sacks, 13 dropped passes and seven interceptions in the first four games. That works out to 52 sacks, 52 drops and 28 interceptions over a full 16-game season.

Not good enough. And with Alexander breaking down physically for the first time in his career, this isn't looking like the Seahawks' year. It's early and worth remembering that Seattle actually opened last season 2-2 before winning 11 in a row. But that team was special in ways that would be difficult for any team to duplicate.

Alexander was averaging 2.9 yards per carry before doctors discovered a cracked fourth metatarsal in his left foot. The reigning league MVP turned 29 before the season. That's about the time a lot of backs start wearing down. Seattle's defense is good, but not dominating enough to win games by itself. That was readily apparent against the Bears. The Seahawks' ability to win away from Qwest Field is also in question. The team barely won at Detroit in the opener. Seattle was no match for the Bears at Soldier Field.

The Seahawks remain the best team in their division, but the Rams appear improved. Winning in St. Louis after the bye is no longer a given for Seattle.

PLAYER NOTES

--LT Walter Jones has been a little more "human" this season than in the past, coach Mike Holmgren noted. Jones has played well, of course, but he has been a little less effective since suffering a sprained ankle in the season opener at Detroit. Jones has gone an entire season without allowing more than one sack, but opponents have beaten him for two in four games this season. The bye week should help Jones' ankle heal up, making him more effective the rest of the way.

--LG Chris Spencer allowed two sacks in his first NFL start, helping Bears DT Tommie Harris become the NFC's player of the week. Harris was a brutally tough draw for a player making his first start. Spencer needs to improve and probably will as he gets experience against players with a range of ability levels.

--WR Nate Burleson has dropped four passes in four games, matching WR Darrell Jackson for the most on the team. That's bad for Burleson because fewer balls come his way. He has been bothered some by a hand injury suffered in camp. Mostly he needs to get more comfortable in the offense he joined this year after beginning his career in Minnesota.

--WR Darrell Jackson has dropped four passes in four games, matching WR Nate Burleson for the most on the team. Jackson has been the team's most dangerous offensive playmaker this season, so a few drops are OK, but four in four games is too many.

--RB Shaun Alexander will miss the Seahawks' game against St. Louis. Alexander entered this season having never missed a game to injury. The broken bone in his foot ended a streak of 99 consecutive games played.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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The offense has received most of the blame for the Cardinals' 1-3 start, but coach Dennis Green isn't absolving his defense of responsibility. The Cardinals gave up more than 200 yards rushing last week against Atlanta, most of it coming on long runs by Michael Vick and a 78-yarder by rookie Jerious Norwood.

Giving up big plays has been a consistent problem over the past few years. Running back Edgerrin James is telling defenders that the offense is going to need to lean on them until the problems are cured, but Green doesn't buy into that.

"I think we should have been hanging our hat on defense all along," he said. "The bottom line is everybody knows what their job is. So now we can't all of a sudden ask the defense to do what they couldn't do before. I assume if they could have done that, they would have done it. And they're not playing like they should be playing, either." The front four isn't providing much pass rush. End Bertrand Berry, who made the Pro Bowl in 2004, doesn't have a sack yet. The other three starters are average pass rushers, at best.

There have been some bright spots on defense, however. Middle linebacker Gerald Hayes has played well and given the team a physical presence that had been lacking at that position. Backup defensive lineman Antonio Smith has played well off the bench, and can play both tackle and end.

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Edgerrin James has spent extra time this week working with rookie Matt Leinart on play-action fakes. James and Peyton Manning had success with that in Indianapolis.

--QB Matt Leinart has more mobility than Kurt Warner, and that should help him succeed behind an offensive line that's been shaky.

--OLB Karlos Dansby has lost some speed because of a toe injury that kept him out of preseason drills. Dansby is playing in nickel situations and has performed decently. He's not the same player he was last year, however.

--CB Eric Green will start on the right side, even though he was benched in the second half last week. Teams are picking on Green, who has had some trouble playing the ball. Still, coaches think he's a better option than David Macklin, the guy he replaced.

--C Alex Stepanovich is hanging on to his starting job, but he needs to play considerably better. He gets driven off the ball too much and has been the weakest link in a shaky offensive line.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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He was shocked when pulled from different special teams units in practice last Friday, and no idea what was going on. If you were then-Seattle linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski, a seven-year veteran voted special teams captain by your teammates, you'd wonder, too.

"I was trying to talk to people and no one talked to me," Kacyvenski said. When he went back to his locker after practice, there were three messages from his agent. A Harvard graduate, it wasn't hard for Kacyvenski to figure out what was going on.

"After that, I put two and two together," he said. What was happening was that the Seahawks had only one healthy running back and needed another to back up Maurice Morris. So, Kacyvenski was released and Marquis Weeks was promoted from the practice squad.

The Seahawks told Kacyvenski they wanted to re-sign him, but he said, "The stock phrase in the NFL is, 'Yeah, we're going to bring you back Monday.' Everyone in the NFL knows that's a famous phrase. I was wary. I was hurt. I had a lot of mixed emotions about it."

One reason he was wary was that he had agreed to accept a pay cut in the offseason from $1.5 million to the $710,000 minimum plus a $125,000 signing bonus. This was how he was being repaid.
Acknowledging that was a factor in seriously considering leaving Seattle, Kacyvenski began looking at options when as many as six teams contacted his agent. He was on a layover in Denver on the way from Seattle to St. Louis when the Seahawks wanted to talk contract. But Kacyvenski had made up his mind.

"Me and my wife, we just had to weigh all the options," Kacyvenski said. "We thought the Rams were the best one." He admitted that informing coach Mike Holmgren was very difficult. "He was like a father figure to me," Kacyvenski said. "He was very upset to say the least. Telling coach Holmgren was the hardest thing I've had to do in a long time. My stomach was in a knot for a day. Hopefully, down the road, I can call him up and talk to him again. But right now, he's not too happy."

But the Rams are happy. After being torched for 210 yards on six kickoff return yards by the Lions' Eddie Drummond, and losing Paul Smith for two games with an eye injury, the Rams didn't hesitate in pursuing Kacyvenski.

"We certainly didn't expect a player of this caliber to be available," coach Scott Linehan said, adding that he expected Kacyvenski to play on the four main special teams units Sunday against Green Bay.
After two days of practice, Linehan said, "You can just tell watching him; he's pretty comfortable in there. He's done it a lot. We've got no concerns about that. He fits in right away."

And as things seem to go in the NFL, Kacyvenski will be able to renew acquaintances with his former teammates very soon. The Seahawks come to St. Louis Oct. 15. "It's going to be tough to play against them in two weeks, but it's a business, and I had to do what I had to do," he said.

PLAYER NOTES

--LT Orlando Pace did more work in practice Thursday than the day before, but he is still considered questionable for Sunday's game against Green Bay. Pace did not play last week because of the lingering effects from a Sept. 17 concussion, but he did some contact work Thursday and said, "I feel good, it's pretty clear. I've had no setbacks and I felt comfortable."

--LB Isaiah Kacyvenski, signed by the Rams on Tuesday after being released by the Seahawks, will be active Sunday and play significantly on special teams.

--FB Fakhir Brown, expected to play despite a sore ankle, was better Thursday than the day before and remains probable for Sunday's game against the Packers.

--OL Todd Steussie will move back to left guard if Orlando Pace is able to play Sunday against Green Bay. So far this season, Steussie has played 10 quarters at left guard and six at left tackle.

--LB Pisa Tinoisamoa has had no setbacks in practice this week and will play Sunday with a brace protecting the elbow he has dislocated twice this season.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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Niners offensive coordinator Norv Turner spent the previous two seasons as head coach of the Raiders, compiling a 9-23 record before he was fired. On Sunday, Turner will be in the press box calling plays against his former team, which still features many of the players he coached the past two years.

"I'm sure it's probably a little more special for him," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "I'm sure he's got a little extra (motivation). He was there and knows all those guys. When you move on, you like to think you're moving for the better. I'm sure he wants to go out there and win."

But Turner said he is not taking this game personally because it's just a fact of life in the NFL. Anyone who latches on somewhere after getting fired is going to be facing that team again at some point.
"It's an important game for our team," Turner said. "I learned a long time ago, whether it's my relationship with (former Rams coach) John Robinson and knowing the game or other people I've been around, you got to take the personal stuff out of it. Just do your job and players go play the game."

The 49ers offense is already vastly improved under Turner from a year ago, when the club ranked last in the league with an average of 224.2 yards per game. The 49ers are currently 13th in the league, averaging 327.5 yards. However, San Francisco is coming off a 41-0 loss to Kansas City.

"I know where this team is, the youth of the offensive team, and I see an upside with (running back) Frank Gore and with Alex and our young lineman," Turner said. "And I think there are guys who are going to be really good players for a long time."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Frank Gore, who has fumbled in four consecutive games to begin the season, said he is eager to return to action against the Raiders and end his streak. "I've made mistakes and now I just got to put it behind me and play ball and get back to being myself, you know?" Gore said. Gore has 331 yards and three touchdowns on 75 carries. He also leads the team with 16 receptions for 129 yards.

--LG Larry Allen remains doubtful for Sunday's game against the Raiders with a left knee sprain. Allen has not played since the first drive of the season opener. He probably will not be available for this week's game, but could return Oct. 15 against the Chargers.

--FS Mike Adams, who has started all four games, ranks second on the team with 27 tackles. He recently turned down a 49ers offer at a contract extension. Adams is scheduled to be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

--LB T.J. Slaughter saw his most extensive playing time in the 49ers' big nickel package. Slaughter has five tackles this season on defense, all of which came in the 41-0 loss to the Chiefs. Slaughter also has a team-leading five tackles on special teams.

--TE Delanie Walker is expected to see his first action of the season Sunday against the Raiders. Walker is an exciting performer with the ball in his hand. He could see some action on special teams, as well as on offense as a backup to starter Eric Johnson.

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