NFC West News and Notes - 10/24/07

NFC West News and Notes - 10/24/07

The one thing that has become abundantly clear for the Seattle Seahawks is that their fate rides with the team's pass rush. With undersized cornerbacks in Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings, the Seahawks have to get pressure on the quarterback or, as they've discovered, they don't stand much of a chance to win the game.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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When the Seahawks have gotten pressure on the quarterback, as they did against Tampa Bay, when they knocked Jeff Garcia silly, and as they did against San Francisco, when they knocked Alex Smith out of the game, and St. Louis, when they banged around the already banged-up Marc Bulger, their defense has been extraordinarily stout and they have won the game.

But when their pass rushers are kept at bay, as they were in Arizona, in Pittsburgh and against New Orleans, their secondary gets picked apart and they lose the game.

Even against Cincinnati, the Seahawks' pass rush was only average, but it was enough of a factor late in the game to record a victory. "When we can pressure the passer, we're a very good defense," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "I think that's the key, pressuring the quarterback."

On Sunday against St. Louis, Darryl Tapp had a career-high four sacks. He said he felt some pressure the previous weeks because the team had traded his mentor, Bryce Fisher, to give Tapp the job outright. Tapp said he felt pressure to perform at a high level immediately, and only recently began to relax and play the way he was that gave the team enough confidence to trade Fisher.

The defense is second in the NFL in sacks (23), behind only the New York Giants. Julian Peterson is third in the league, with seven, and is a key contributor. Occasionally, defensive coordinator John Marshall implements a game plan specifically to take advantage of Peterson's ability as a pass rusher, which sometimes gives him single coverage, when he gets the majority of his sacks.

"If we can't get to the quarterback .. and make him a little uncomfortable, it's been tough, we haven't been able to get off of the field," Holmgren said. "They're building confidence on a group that's still getting to know one another, a few new faces there."

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Nate Burleson will be named the NFC Special Teams Player of the week for his 91-yard kickoff return against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. It was Burleson's first career kickoff return, though he had a punt return against the Rams last year.

--QB Matt Hasselbeck suffered an injury to his right oblique muscle in Sunday's game. He will have an additional week to rest it and should be ready to play against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 4.

--RB Shaun Alexander still is wearing a cast over the cracked bone in his left wrist. The cast, however, is getting smaller and Alexander appears to be able to do more things with his left hand that he had in previous weeks.

--WR Bobby Engram is the team's leading receiver, in part because injuries to Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett have increased Engram's playing time. He will likely go back to being the team's third receiver in the slot because Hackett and Branch both are expected back for the Seahawks' next game.

--TE Marcus Pollard missed Sunday's game with an injured knee. He will have arthroscopic surgery on the knee this week and probably miss the Seahawks' next game, meaning Will Heller, who caught two touchdowns in Sunday's win over St. Louis, is likely to start.

--FS Brian Russell will be returning to play against his former team, the Cleveland Browns, in two weeks. But Russell said this is the second time in his career that he will be going back to play a former team and that he does not want to get too excited because that would take away from his focus.

--CB Marcus Trufant intercepted two passes the previous two years combined. He's intercepted three passes in seven games this season.

--Now that DT Brandon Mebane, a rookie, is starting, the veterans on the team make him bark like a seal or a dog whenever he puts his hands in the air to gather together the huddle.

--The last time QB Charlie Frye played in Cleveland, he was the Browns' starting QB in the first game of the season. Two days later he was traded, and now he is Seattle's third-string QB. He will make his first trip back to Cleveland on Nov. 4 since that trade.

--DE Darryl Tapp had 4.5 sacks through his first 22 games in Seattle. He had four sacks on Sunday, which tied a franchise record, plus had a forced fumble. One of his sacks was achieved even though he was held on the play, his helmet getting grabbed.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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There was no word yet on Tuesday about the injury left tackle Mike Gandy suffered to his right calf during last week's loss at Washington. Gandy, however, did not sound optimistic after the game, saying he didn't have much strength in the leg.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said on Monday that Gandy would be out a week or two. If that's the case, rookie Levi Brown likely will start at left tackle. That would be the least disruptive move the club could make. Brown missed three games with a sprained ankle and played last week when Gandy went out.

Brown has played right tackle since joining the Cardinals last April, but he played left tackle throughout his career in college. By starting Brown at right tackle, the Cardinals would be making one change instead of several.

Gandy's loss is an important one. He had played well this season, and the team is thin at tackle.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Kurt Warner will benefit from the bye week as much as anyone other Cardinal. He still has discomfort in his left arm from the torn ligament in his elbow. He played through it last week but the extra time should help him in terms of pain management and flexibility.

--QB Tim Rattay won't start but he could continue to play a role in the team's goal line offense. Starter Kurt Warner has trouble handing off, so keeping him in the game in those situations is risky. Rattay came off the bench in that spot last week.

--QB Tim Hasselbeck signed with the team a week ago and likely will continue as the third quarterback.

--RB Edgerrin James has been steady and reliable this year. He hasn't gained fewer than 57 yards in a game, and while he's gone over 100 just once, he's averaging 88 yards a game.

--RB Marcel Shipp won't get many carries unless the Cardinals are able to run the ball at least 30 times in a game. James will get most of the work to that point.

--RB J.J. Arrington showed why the Cardinals thought he was worthy of a second round pick in 2005. Arrington picked up some key yardage late in last week's game against Washington. He will still be limited to nickel packages, however.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald needs to become a deep weapon. The Cardinals should be throwing deep to him at least three times a game, because Fitzgerald has a knack for beating defenders for the ball.

--WR Anquan Boldin scored two touchdowns last week in his first game back after missing three games with a hip injury. Boldin is likely to suffer for most of the year with a sore hip.

--WR Bryant Johnson is an adequate No. 3 receiver but he's not going to get the ball much.

--TE Leonard Pope showed last week that he can be a force in the passing game. He appears to have occasional problems lining up, however.

--ILB Karlos Dansby has a sprained left knee and could miss a few weeks. Monty Beisel will start in his place.

--S Aaron Francisco, one of the club's special teams standouts, has a sprained MCL in his right knee and will be out three to four weeks.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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Claude Terrell has often been a resident in coach Scott Linehan's doghouse during the last two seasons. Now, Terrell has been released following an arrest in Webster, Tex., for assault-family violence. Terrell started 10 games as a rookie in 2005, but then missed the 2006 season because of a wrist injury. Terrell incurred Linehan's wrath by electing not to have surgery on the wrist when given permission to go home to Texas during the season. But Terrell got back in the coach's good graces by attending the team's offseason program and working hard in training camp.

However, since the season began, he was fined for being late to a team meeting before the season opener and then "mouthed off" to Linehan at an Oct. 17 practice. That resulted in a Linehan tirade after practice. Terrell has also been fined several times for not making weight at weigh-ins that occur every Friday. Still, Linehan said Monday that Terrell would start at left guard this week with center Brett Romberg out with an ankle injury and left guard Andy McCollum shifting to center.

Then came news of Terrell's arrest, although the team claimed the release was because of performance.

Said president of football operations-general manager Jay Zygmunt said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "He was released for performance on the field, and just because of how he was playing. This has been contemplated for a while."

Linehan toed the company line, saying the waiving of Terrell was "One hundred percent based on performance. It was contemplated a week ago. Off the field (issues), that's a league matter. On-field (issues), is a team matter, and that includes adhering to the standards of the team."

Terrell allegedly assaulted a woman claiming to be his wife at a hotel. She was treated for a broken nose. Terrell is on two years' probation handed down in February for a 2006 incident that was also for assault-causing bodily injury to a family member.

With Terrell unavailable, the plan is to start Milford Brown at left guard and Brandon Gorin at right tackle. This will be the third position Brown will start at this season. Gorin was signed Sept. 12. He will be the 10th different player to start on the line this season. With Andy McCollum starting his first game at center, this line will have three different position starters from last week. They are also the 13th, 14th and
15th different position starters on the line this season: Two left tackles, four left guards, two centers, three right guards and four right tackles.

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Torry Holt is still playing on a knee that isn't 100 percent. Holt has had more than his usual share of drops this season, including one in the end zone Sunday against Seattle.

--WR Isaac Bruce inexplicably fell down on a 31-yard pass reception against Seattle Sunday. Bruce was playing his first game after missing two weeks with a hamstring injury. Had he not fallen, the play likely would have resulted in a touchdown.

--WR Drew Bennett did not play against Seattle because of a hamstring injury and might be available this week against Cleveland. Bennett has also been bothered by a quad injury this season.

--TE Joe Klopfenstein has regressed from his 2006 rookie season when he started all 16 games.

--RB Steven Jackson will start Sunday against Cleveland provided he gets through the week of practice without experiencing problems in the groin that sidelined him for four games.

--PK Jeff Wilkins has missed five of his last nine field-goal attempts in outdoor stadiums.

--RT Brandon Gorin is expected to start this week against Cleveland for the first time since being with New England in the 2005 season.

--OG Milford Brown will start at left guard Sunday against Cleveland after previously starting two games at right guard and three games at right tackle.

--MLB Will Witherspoon had 16 tackles Sunday, which defensive coordinator Jim Haslett credited to the play of the team's young defensive tackles (Clifton Ryan and Adam Carriker). "If you keep him (Witherspoon) free, he will make a lot of plays for you," Haslett said.

--SS Corey Chavous played the whole game Sunday after missing two games because of a partially torn pectoral muscle.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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The San Francisco 49ers are on a four-game losing streak entering their game Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. There is still some question if their quarterback and running back will be on the practice field Wednesday for the first day of preparations. Quarterback Alex Smith sustained a separated right throwing shoulder Sept. 30 against the Seattle Seahawks on the third play of the game. He missed the remainder of that game, as well as the next two starts.

He was scheduled to test his arm while throwing with "game-like urgency." If he feels his shoulder is strong enough to play Sunday, he will regain the starting job from backup Trent Dilfer. One of the big questions is whether Smith will be able to withstand a hit on Sunday.

"I'm confident about taking a hit. It's getting better and better," Smith said. "As of right now, if it came down to it, I'd be fine."

Also, there is some question whether running back Frank Gore will be near 100 percent for the game. He sustained a right ankle sprain in the second quarter of the 49ers' 33-15 loss Sunday to the New York Giants. Although he returned to the game, he needed assistance afterward to make his way to get X-rays underneath Giants Stadium.

On Monday, he was limping noticeably when he reported to work at the 49ers' practice facility in Santa Clara, Calif. Later in the day, he was walking much better and declared that he would be able to play. However, he might take limited practice reps in the days leading up to the game.

The 49ers need to find some answers on offense in a hurry. The 49ers rank last in the NFL in total offense, averaging 213.8 yards a game. The 49ers have gone 19 consecutive games since passing for more than 200 net yards.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Alex Smith will test his shoulder to determine if he's ready to make quick passes with the urgency that is required in a game. He sustained a separated right shoulder Sept. 30 and has not played since.

--QB Trent Dilfer will receive his third consecutive start if Alex Smith is unable to play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Dilfer had a poor performance in the 49ers' 33-15 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday, throwing two interceptions and holding the ball too long on a sack-fumble that resulted in a touchdown.

--QB Shaun Hill is the team's No. 3 quarterback. Although there was brief consideration given to putting Hill in the lineup to replace Trent Dilfer, Hill will remain on the sideline.

--RB Frank Gore is nursing a sore right ankle, which he sprained in the second quarter of the 49ers' 33-15 loss to the Giants on Sunday. Gore said his ankle is feeling a lot better and he expects to play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. It is uncertain whether he will be able to participate fully in practices leading up to the game. Gore is on pace to rush for just 1,000 yards this season after gaining 1,695 last season. Gore has gained 394 yards on 98 carries this season for a 4.0 average. He has not scored a touchdown in the past four games, all losses.

--RB Michael Robinson saw a lot more action Sunday as he played in the same backfield as Frank Gore, on occasion. Robinson carried just once for four yards and caught two passes for 13 yards. If Gore is unable to play Sunday, he would likely split the playing time with Maurice Hicks.

--RB Maurice Hicks did not carry the ball Sunday, but caught two passes for 12 yards. If Frank Gore is unable to play Sunday with an ankle sprain, Hicks will split the playing time with Michael Robinson. Hicks is also the team's main kickoff return man. He has 27 returns for 607 yards.

--TE Vernon Davis returned to action Sunday after missing the previous two games with a partial tear of his right MCL. Davis is close to 100 percent. He caught four passes for 22 yards, but also failed to latch onto a deep pass down the middle that would've gone for a huge gain.

--WR Darrell Jackson has been a disappointment for the 49ers, as he's caught just 18 passes for 216 yards through the first six games. Jackson caught just two passes for 6 yards on Sunday against the New York Giants. One of his receptions was a 1-yard scoring pass with :16 remaining in the game.

--WR Arnaz Battle is a solid all-around receiver but he has not supplied a whole lot in the passing game. Battle has 21 receptions for 216 yards. He had his best game on Sunday against the New York Giants when he caught six balls for 57 yards and a touchdown.

--WR Ashley Lelie got his most extensive playing time of the season, as he was elevated into the No. 3 role after being mired deep on the depth chart for the first five games. Lelie's first reception of the season provided the 49ers with their biggest offensive gain of the season, a 47-yard completion. He finished with two catches for 52 yards.

--LT Jonas Jennings is still the team's starter, coach Mike Nolan said. Jennings sat out the fourth quarter against the New York Giants, as Adam Snyder took over. The 49ers plan to continue to mix Snyder into the action at left tackle.

--P Andy Lee had another strong game against the New York Giants, as he punted five times for a 52.6-yard average (45.4 net). For the season, Lee is averaging 50.4 yards a punt with an incredible 44.0 net.

--LB Hannibal Navies was re-signed after he was waived on Saturday. The club waived Navies, who could not have played on Sunday because of a knee sprain, to activate special-teams player Zak Keasey to the 45-man active roster. Once Navies cleared waivers, the 49ers brought him back and waived Keasey.

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