Game Snapshot: The NFC West


Posted Sep 22, 2006


You're a Cardinals fan, yes. That means you follow the Rams, Seahawks, and 49ers with a watchful eye. CardinalInsider.com gives you a snapshot of the games that matter this weekend.

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St. Louis Rams (1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (1-1)
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GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 09/24/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Brad Sham, Bill Maas
SERIES: 55th regular-season meeting. Rams lead, 29-23-2. The teams have split the season series the last two years, with each team winning on the road in 2005.
2006 rankings: Rams: offense 18th (8th rush, 23rd pass); defense 17th (26th rush, 10th pass). Cardinals: offense 16th (25th rush, 10th pass); defense 26th (21st rush, 25th pass)

*Keys to the game: For the first time in his career, RB Edgerrin James has failed to rush for 100 yards in either of the first two games of the season. Welcome to running behind Arizona's offensive line, which also allowed QB Kurt Warner to be hit mercilessly and has led to seven fumbles in two games. The Rams will attempt to bring similar pressure and if the Cardinals can't protect Warner better, he won't be able to stretch the field against St. Louis' shaky secondary. The Rams' offense should also enjoy mismatches downfield, but QB Marc Bulger & Co. have yet to click in new coach Scott Linehan's system. The offensive line has undergone some changes early in the season, and Bulger needs to make sure everyone is on the same page to avoid costly mistakes.
*Fast Facts: Rams: Bulger has gone consecutive games without an interception for just the second time in his career. ... Bulger is 6-1 (.857) as a starter against Arizona, completing more than 60 percent of his passes in each game. Cardinals: K Neil Rackers has missed two field goals, albeit from 51 and 53 yards, tying his total for all of last season. ... Warner needs 254 passing yards to reach 20,000 in his 76th career game, which would be the second fastest to that mark behind Dan Marino (75).

PREDICTION: Cardinals 27-24

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Rams:
--DRE Anthony Hargrove was a no-show for meetings and practice Thursday because of an unknown personal issue. Hargrove's status for Sunday's game against Arizona is unknown.
--DE Victor Adeyanju worked with the first unit in practice Thursday with starter Anthony Hargrove absent and unaccounted for. Adeyanju will see more time if Hargrove does not play Sunday.
--DE Brandon Green has been inactive for the first two games of the season, but he could see his first action of the season Sunday if Anthony Hargrove does not play.
--LT Orlando Pace was upgraded from doubtful to questionable after doing limited work in practice Thursday. Pace suffered a concussion against San Francisco, and coach Scott Linehan said Pace's improvement from Wednesday to Thursday was "dramatic." Pace did not play in the second half after being injured on an extra point late in the first half. "I don't think he's symptomatic now which is why I think it's encouraging," Linehan said. "I think he just feels better. He said he hasn't been experiencing any discomfort at this point. Again, we're being cautious on that."
--C Richie Incognito was named the team's offensive player of the week for his performance against San Francisco. Incognito now appears to be the team's center of the present and future.
--LB Pisa Tinoisamoa remained questionable with an elbow injury, but he's expected to play with a brace Sunday. "Pisa was better, but still was limited," coach Scott Linehan said of his Thursday practice. "Feels better. Swelling's down some. His attitude's fantastic as it always is. He's going to have to wear a brace on that because of the damage to his ligaments."

Cardinals:
--TE Vernon Davis did not practice Thursday with a shin bruise but he is expected to return to practice Friday and play in Sunday's game against the Eagles.
--TE Eric Johnson has played 27 snaps in two games and has just one catch for 2 yards as Vernon Davis' backup. Johnson missed all of last season with a foot injury. When he last played in 2004, he led the 49ers with 82 receptions for 825 yards.
--LT Jonas Jennings has returned to practice and is expected to be ready to play Sunday against the Eagles. Jennings missed last week's game against the Rams with a high ankle sprain.
--RILB Jeff Ulbrich has returned to action after missing 11 games last season with a torn biceps. In two games he has recorded 13 tackles.
--NT Anthony Adams has started both games and is in a rotation with Isaac Sopoaga. Adams has two tackles in two games. The 6-foot, 297-pounder also has seen action for the 49ers on offense as a fullback in short-yardage situations.
--DE Melvin Oliver, a sixth-round draft pick, has started both games as a rookie in the 49ers' 4-3 scheme. He has four tackles in two games.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Rams:
Rams coach Scott Linehan ruminated on his third regular-season week as a head coach a few minutes after practice ended Thursday, when he jokingly said, "So you want to be a head coach?"
Linehan was referring to life as a head coach in the NFL, where the job is often more about putting out fires than actually coaching. That was the case Thursday when Linehan was dealing with the absence of starting defensive right end Anthony Hargrove, who did not show up for meetings and practice and did not have any communication with the team for about six hours.
When practice ended at 1 p.m., Linehan told reporters, "We had one player that was absent today. It's not an excused absence. As soon as I get to the bottom of why first, make sure everything is OK with Tony, then I'll comment on it. He was not at practice today. For what reason I do not know to be honest with you.
Asked if attempts were made to find Hargrove, Linehan said, "Yes, several people. No success at this point. Hopefully we will get some kind of contact before the end of the day. First of all we've got to make sure everything's OK, and then find out certainly why he would not be here."
Shortly after practice ended, around 2 p.m. it is believed, Hargrove did make contact with Linehan, and the only announcement from the team was that he was dealing with "a personal issue." The two were scheduled to meet at Rams Park Thursday evening.
Linehan was expected to address the matter Friday when the Rams practice for the final time in preparation for Sunday's game against Arizona. It is not known whether Hargrove will be fined or benched for the game. In practice Thursday, rookie Victor Adeyanju worked with the first unit in Hargrove's place, as did Brandon Green, who has been inactive for the first two games of the season.

Cardinals:
The 49ers are doing a better job of managing their salary cap, as they used some of their $10 million cap cushion to sign cornerback Shawntae Spencer and offensive lineman Adam Snyder to contract extensions.
"When you've identified who you want to keep, it's important to do that," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said.
Spencer, who had two years remaining on his original contract, is now signed through the 2012 season. He received a reported $8.5 million in guaranteed money, with $6 million of it coming in a signing bonus. He is scheduled to receive $20 million over the life of the five-year extension.
Spencer is a player the 49ers identified as wanting to keep for the long term. The organization's new policy is to determine which plays it wants to keep around and sign them to contract extensions with two years remaining on their current.
Snyder signed a four-year, $10.5 million extension with a $4 million signing bonus. He is now signed through 2011.
Other players that the 49ers are reportedly interested in signing to extensions are running backs Frank Gore and Maurice Hicks, offensive linemen Adam Snyder, and free safety Mike Adams.
Spencer was a second-round pick (No. 58 overall) in the 2004 draft. He has started 28 games for the franchise. Through the first two games, Spencer has nine tackles and has broken up two passes. He was shifted this season to the all-important left cornerback position after playing the right side his first two seasons in the league.
Snyder was a third-round draft pick last year. He started eight games last season, including seven at left tackle. He is considered the team's top backup at the guard and tackle positions.

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New York Giants (1-1) at Seattle Seahawks (2-0)
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GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 09/24/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
SERIES: 12th meeting. The Giants lead, 7-4. They won two of the three games played since 2001, but the Seahawks prevailed in overtime last season.
2006 rankings: Giants: offense 3rd (6th rush, 4th pass); defense 29th (12th rush, 31st pass). Seahawks: offense 17th (10th rush, 18th pass); defense 4th (2nd rush, 15th pass)

*Keys to the game: The Giants had 11 false starts in Seattle last year and have eight through two games this year, so they'll have to figure out a way to communicate through the crowd noise. They also need a strong game from RB Tiki Barber to help thwart the Seahawks' aggressive pass rush, which will include blitzes from any of the three linebacker positions. If QB Eli Manning has time, look for him to attack CBs Kelly Herndon and Kelly Jennings. Seattle's offense will include at least a few plays with WR Deion Branch this week, but will be without injured LG Floyd Womack. The Seahawks' offensive line has struggled through two games and QB Matt Hasselbeck is taking far too many hits, so this could be the week OLB LaVar Arrington becomes more involved in the Giants' pass rush. LT Walter Jones was beaten for two sacks by DE Osi Umenyiora last year.
*Fast Facts: Giants: Are 14-3 in games leading into a bye week. ... WR Amani Toomer leads the NFL with 17 receptions. Seahawks: Have a franchise-record 11-game home winning streak and have won 22 of their past 25 games at Qwest Field. ... RB Shaun Alexander's 101 TDs is tied with Steve Largent for the most in franchise history.

PREDICTION: Seahawks 24-21

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Giants:
--TE Jeremy Shockey re-sprained his ankle in Philadelphia, missed Wednesday's practice but went through the entire practice Thursday. Head coach Tom Coughlin said he would be listed as probable and that he had an excellent chance of playing Sunday in Seattle.
--WR Sinorice Moss, the second-round draft pick with blazing speed, re-injured his strained quad in his first action of the season in Philadelphia and may not suit up for the game in Seattle. He caught one pass for four yards, and also missed most of training camp as well as all four preseason games.
--LT Luke Petitgout will also be re-visiting a chamber of horrors of sorts. Last year in Seattle he was flagged five times for false start infractions and that could not entirely be blamed on the incredible noise generated in Qwest Field. He offered no excuses then and none this week.
--RB Brandon Jacobs figures to be getting more and more work as the season rolls on. He has shown great power and speed as Tiki Barber's backup and now that he has absorbed the playbook and blocking assignments, he will be more involved with the offense. He has carried 13 times in two games for 89 yards; he had 38 carries for 99 yards all last season.
--CB Sam Madison, signed from Miami during the UFA period last spring, has been a disappointment so far. He was burned several times by the Eagles, who threw in his direction 12 times compared to the two times they challenged the other corner, second-year Corey Webster. Lurking in the weeds are two possible replacements, R.W. McQuarters and Frank Walker.

Seahawks:
--RB Shaun Alexander hopes to resume practicing Friday after resting his sore foot Wednesday and Thursday. "Football is a physical sport," Alexander said. "There is always going to be bumps and bruises. I believe that we all came to an agreement that this is the best way for me to be the healthiest." Alexander's foot has been bothering him since the season opener at Detroit. He practiced all last week and carried 26 times against the Cardinals on Sunday.
--RB Maurice Morris has proven effective in relief of MVP Shaun Alexander, who has been bothered by a sore foot. Alexander is still getting the bulk of the carries, including 26 last week, but Morris is more than just a capable backup. Look for Morris to continue to get some carries when Alexander needs a rest.
--TE Will Heller is taking the reps in practice this week because Jerramy Stevens remains out and Itula Mili is hurting. Mili hasn't practiced this week and might not play Sunday. Heller is extremely limited as a receiver.
--TE Itula Mili missed practice again Thursday. He's feeling better and might try to practice Friday, but for now it seems unlikely the veteran will play Sunday. Seattle is very thin at the position because starter Jerramy Stevens is out until October.
--TE Jerramy Stevens might not return until Seattle comes back from its bye with an Oct. 15 game at St. Louis. Stevens is recovering from knee surgery. He was expected back in early October, but the Seahawks do not play between Oct. 2 and Oct. 14. That leaves Oct. 15 as the most logical date for his return.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Giants:
The truth is that the New York Giants are more than just difficult to figure out, they are virtually impossible.
They opened the season with a strong showing, played crisply and well, and lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 26-21, because of a few mistakes and a few calls by the officiating crew that challenged the imagination.
So they were 0-1 heading off to Philadelphia, always a backyard lead-pipes-and-chains rumble, and they played possibly the worst game they have played in two seasons.
And they won, 30-24, despite doing almost everything wrong.
So now they are 1-1 heading off to Seattle, where they played another impossible-to-describe game last season and lost, 24-21 in overtime, despite three chances at field goals that Jay Feely usually knocks off in his sleep.
So what is the common denominator here? What have they done during the losses that they haven't done when they win?
It's Eli Manning, the young quarterback, and against the Eagles last week he may have reached manhood, NFL-style.
"I have never seen him in that much control," said defensive end Michael Strahan, the oft-selected Pro Bowler. "He was in charge. He had a look on his face. The guys in the (offensive) huddle were talking about him differently."
During the comeback, which took most of the fourth quarter and most of the overtime period, Manning completed 13 consecutive passes (one spike notwithstanding). He completed two passes the team and coaches were still talking about days later -- a 20-yarder to wide receiver Tim Carter as he was falling down with a defender around his legs, and he threw it sidearm into a crowd; and the game-winning, game-ending touchdown, a 31-yard out pattern to wide receiver Plaxico Burress that was thrown so that only the 6-5 Burress, and not the 5-10 Sheldon Brown, who was isolated on him, could catch.
"On the money," said head coach Tom Coughlin. "Wow, what a game."

Seahawks:
The Seahawks gave running back Shaun Alexander another day of rest Thursday, a move designed to let the MVP's sore foot recover. He remained probable on the injury report.
"Football is a physical sport," Alexander said. "There is always going to be bumps and bruises. I believe that we all came to an agreement that this is the best way for me to be the healthiest."
Alexander's foot has been bothering him since the season opener at Detroit. He practiced all last week and carried 26 times against the Cardinals on Sunday. Running back Maurice Morris has proven effective in relief, although Alexander is still getting most of the carries.
Alexander said he expects to practice Friday. He did not provide specifics on how his foot became injured.
"Playing football, people fall on you," he said. "I can't tell you it was this play or that; I just know how it happened. It is just football. Football is physical."
Soreness is different from being injured.
"The good thing about soreness is that it does stop," Alexander said. "It is a lot better today than it was the last two weeks."
Alexander has averaged 70 yards per game this season. He averaged 117.5 yards during his MVP season of 2005.
The team has had some instability at left guard since losing Steve Hutchinson to the Vikings. Floyd Womack started the season there and struggled before suffering an injury. Chris Spencer, a first-round pick last year, is the new starter.
The team also lost Ryan Hannam, its best blocking tight end, and Joe Jurevicius, its best blocking receiver.
"Our running game is fine," Alexander said. "Anytime you get new people involved, it changes things. I think that it won't be long until all of it jells. Hopefully it starts this week."
Does he miss Hutchinson?
"I was like that after the trade, but now it is over with," Alexander said. "I won't have to worry about what Steve is doing. Steve is making a whole lot of money blocking for some other guy."

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Philadelphia Eagles (1-1) at San Francisco 49ers (1-1)
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GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 09/24/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Brian Baldinger
SERIES: 27th meeting. The 49ers lead the series, 17-8-1. The two teams faced each other in Week 2 last season, with the Eagles winning easily, 42-3. Quarterback Donovan McNabb threw for 342 yards and a career-high five touchdowns in that game.
2006 rankings: Eagles: offense 1st (10th rush, 2nd pass); defense 20th (10th rush, 26th pass). 49ers: offense 6th (12th rush, 6th pass); defense 18th (16th rush, 19th pass)

*Keys to the game: RB Frank Gore's ability to be a productive workhorse on the ground has helped create time for second-year QB Alex Smith to take more shots downfield. He'll look often for WR Antonio Bryant working against a secondary without injured CBs Lito Sheppard and Rod Hood. The Eagles will also start DE Trent Green with Jevon Kearse out for the season. Smith & Co. will have to put some points on the board because San Francisco has its own defensive concerns going up against Philadelphia's balanced offense. The Eagles are utilizing a lot of play-action passes, and WR Donte Stallworth will have an advantage working against CBs Shawntae Spencer or Walt Harris. The 49ers also could use a heavier mix of the 3-4 scheme to help account for the versatility of Eagles RB Brian Westbrook.
*Fast Facts: Eagles: Team's defensive ends have 9.5 sacks, five fewer than they had all last season. ... QB Donovan McNabb's career 2.07 TD-INT ratio (139-67) ranks second all-time behind Steve Young's 2.17. 49ers: Smith has thrown for 521 yards in two games after passing for 875 yards in seven starts last year. ... 91-38 (.705) home record since 1990 is fifth-best in the NFL.

PREDICTION: Eagles 28-20

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Eagles:
--RB Brian Westbrook sat out his second straight day of practice with knee inflammation. He is listed as questionable for Sunday's game, but is expected to play.
--CB Joselio Hanson will get his first start of the season Sunday against his former team, the San Francisco 49ers. Hanson will replace Rod Hood, who is nursing a heel strain.
--TE Mike Bartrum, the team's long-snapper, did not practice Thursday for the second straight day and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against San Francisco. If he can't play, defensive end Darren Howard would handle the long-snapping duties.
--TE L.J. Smith, who leads the team with 13 receptions, practiced Thursday. He suffered an AC shoulder sprain Sunday, but is listed as probable for Sunday.
--CB Dexter Wynn likely will handle the punt return duties again Sunday, even if Reno Mahe's sprained ankle is healed. Wynn had 22- and 14-yard punt returns last week against the Giants.

49ers:
--TE Vernon Davis did not practice Thursday with a shin bruise but he is expected to return to practice Friday and play in Sunday's game against the Eagles.
--TE Eric Johnson has played 27 snaps in two games and has just one catch for 2 yards as Vernon Davis' backup. Johnson missed all of last season with a foot injury. When he last played in 2004, he led the 49ers with 82 receptions for 825 yards.
--LT Jonas Jennings has returned to practice and is expected to be ready to play Sunday against the Eagles. Jennings missed last week's game against the Rams with a high ankle sprain.
--RILB Jeff Ulbrich has returned to action after missing 11 games last season with a torn biceps. In two games he has recorded 13 tackles.
--NT Anthony Adams has started both games and is in a rotation with Isaac Sopoaga. Adams has two tackles in two games. The 6-foot, 297-pounder also has seen action for the 49ers on offense as a fullback in short-yardage situations.
--DE Melvin Oliver, a sixth-round draft pick, has started both games as a rookie in the 49ers' 4-3 scheme. He has four tackles in two games.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Eagles:
Running back Brian Westbrook didn't practice for the second straight day and still is listed as questionable on the team's injury report for Sunday's game at San Francisco with inflammation in his right knee.
Westbrook didn't practice last Wednesday or Thursday either, but was listed as probable the entire week on the injury report. He had 26 touches and 124 rushing and receiving yards in last Sunday's 30-24 overtime loss to the New York Giants.
"Brian has a lot of experience and he played last week, and played pretty well for the most part, with very little practice," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "I'm not quite as concerned (about Westbrook not practicing) as I would be with a rookie or maybe a second-year man. And everybody is different. Some guys need that practice to play real well and others seem to play pretty well without it."
Westbrook sat out most of the preseason after stretching ligaments in his foot on the first series of the Eagles' first preseason game against Oakland. After getting 24 touches in Week 1 against Houston, the knee became inflamed.
If Westbrook plays this week, which is likely, coach Andy Reid probably will lighten his load a little and give more carries to backup running backs Correll Buckhalter and Ryan Moats. Buckhalter has just 14 carries in the first two games. Moats doesn't have a carry yet this season.

49ers:
The 49ers are doing a better job of managing their salary cap, as they used some of their $10 million cap cushion to sign cornerback Shawntae Spencer and offensive lineman Adam Snyder to contract extensions.
"When you've identified who you want to keep, it's important to do that," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said.
Spencer, who had two years remaining on his original contract, is now signed through the 2012 season. He received a reported $8.5 million in guaranteed money, with $6 million of it coming in a signing bonus. He is scheduled to receive $20 million over the life of the five-year extension.
Spencer is a player the 49ers identified as wanting to keep for the long term. The organization's new policy is to determine which plays it wants to keep around and sign them to contract extensions with two years remaining on their current.
Snyder signed a four-year, $10.5 million extension with a $4 million signing bonus. He is now signed through 2011.
Other players that the 49ers are reportedly interested in signing to extensions are running backs Frank Gore and Maurice Hicks, offensive linemen Adam Snyder, and free safety Mike Adams.
Spencer was a second-round pick (No. 58 overall) in the 2004 draft. He has started 28 games for the franchise. Through the first two games, Spencer has nine tackles and has broken up two passes. He was shifted this season to the all-important left cornerback position after playing the right side his first two seasons in the league.
Snyder was a third-round draft pick last year. He started eight games last season, including seven at left tackle. He is considered the team's top backup at the guard and tackle positions.
 



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