Zastudil out for second straight game

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
TEMPE, Ariz. -- When the Arizona Cardinals re-signed punter Drew Butler, it meant starter Dave Zastudil was still on the mend.

Zastudil was ruled out of Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers a few hours later with a left groin injury after not practicing Thursday or Friday. He has yet to punt this season because of the nagging injury, which is expected to fully heal during the Cardinals' bye week. He was active in Week 1 to act as a holder for rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro and inactive in Week 2. Butler has eight punts for an average of 44.2 yards.

Linebacker Alex Okafor is also out for Sunday's game with a thigh injury.

Running back Andre Ellington (foot) was upgraded to probable for Sunday after being limited in practice Thursday and Friday.

Tight end Rob Housler (hip), who didn't practice Thursday or Friday, was listed as questionable, as were quarterback Carson Palmer (shoulder) and DT Frostee Rucker (calf).

Getting Rucker back would add depth to a pass rush that was depleted with the loss of outside linebacker John Abraham.

"We feel real good that he's going to test it before the game," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "He was limited today. He's battle tested, especially in this type of game."

Linebackers Larry Foote (shoulder) and Kevin Minter (quad), and center Lyle Sendlein (ankle), were listed as probable.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The avalanche of off-field stories continued for the Arizona Cardinals when running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested Wednesday on assault charges.

Being asked about contracts, injuries, play-calling and, now, a teammate’s legal issues, has become routine for the Cardinals.

Larry Fitzgerald
"We move on," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "It’s not a distraction. It will not be a distraction. Our team’s kinda gotten used to what everybody else would consider a distraction, and get ready for a huge football game this Sunday."

The Cardinals have answered a lot of questions, but not many about the 49ers, who come to University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.

The series of off-the-field stories came full circle Friday when linebacker John Abraham was put on injured reserve because of a concussion he suffered in Week 1. Abraham started the list of off-the-field stories when his June arrest on suspicion of DUI in Atlanta was reported during the first few days of training camp.

Since then:
Veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald doesn’t think he has seen this many off-field stories this early in a season in the first 10 years of his career.

"Adversity, it comes in all different sizes, shapes and forms," Fitzgerald said. "You have to be able to deal with it. Everybody’s dealing with it in some way or form. We got this type of issue here. Washington’s dealing with injuries.

"It’s all different. But come Sunday, it doesn’t matter. The best team has to come out there and win."

As far as Arizona’s on-field performance goes, the Cardinals are 2-0, having won with two different starting quarterbacks. Arians said the off-field issues haven’t strayed onto the Cardinals’ practice field this week. He called Wednesday and Thursday’s practices "great."

Larry Foote, a 13-year veteran, said Arizona needs to approach Dwyer’s absence like an injury: Next man up.

"We just got to keep rolling,” he said.

Fitzgerald said Arizona’s focus hasn’t waned.

"It hasn’t changed one bit," Fitzgerald said. "If anything, it’s even sharper.

"You come in the locker room (Thursday), I don’t know if I’ve ever seen this kind of media contingency here at the Cardinals, Thursday, Week 3. It’s just like the Super Bowl a couple years ago. We understand that there’s a lot of eyes on us. We have to [home] in. We have to have that bunker mentality. We got to just rely on each other and fight for each other."
RENTON – Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin did not practice for the second consecutive day because of a hip injury he suffered in practice Wednesday. He’s listed as questionable for Sunday's Super Bowl rematch with the Denver Broncos.

“He didn’t go [Friday], but he feels a lot better," Carroll said of Irvin. “We thought the best thing to do was rest him. We'll take him up to game time.”

It appears everyone else should be ready to play Sunday, based on the injury report and Carroll’s comments after practice.

Tight end Zach Miller (ankle), running backs Marshawn Lynch (back) and Christine Michael (hamstring), strong safety Kam Chancellor (ankle) and linebackers Mike Morgan (hip) and Kevin Pierre-Louis (hamstring) all are listed as probable.

Miller and Morgan returned to practice Friday after sitting out Thursday. All the others practiced both days.

“Zach did fine [Friday],” Carroll said. “He looks like he’s ready go. We were waiting on a report on a hip injury [on Morgan] and it looks like he’s OK.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has been quite clear that his team once again won't make a decision on a starting quarterback until the moments before Sunday's meeting with the Dallas Cowboys.

With Shaun Hill's injured thigh still in doubt, there are plenty of signs pointing to Austin Davis getting a second consecutive start. Davis impressed in his first NFL start last week against Tampa Bay when he completed 22-of-29 for 235 yards with many of those completions coming in the face of pressure and in tight late-game situations.

[+] EnlargeAustin Davis
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAustin Davis might have learned to handle a pass rush while leading the scout team against the Rams' formidable front.
Should Davis get the call against the Cowboys, there are many ways for him to be even better. And he'll likely have to be given that this week's opponent will almost certainly be better than the one the Rams saw last week.

"We left some points on the field," Davis said. "We’re not going to be able to do that this week. Dallas has a great offense. They’re going to score points and we’re going to have to match that.”

That Davis is even able to talk about making improvements from one week to the next is a testament to his fortitude. Last year at this time, he was looking for a job on an NFL roster. The Rams had released him after a rough training camp and preseason, in part because of his penchant for taking off and running too early rather than hanging in the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield waiting for something to materialize.

When Davis re-signed with the Rams after Sam Bradford's Week 7 injury in Carolina, they set about getting that part of his game squared away. Davis' progress wasn't as apparent on the practice field in this camp as it was during the preseason games but the difference was still noticeable.

“He’s always been real athletic," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "That’s one of the first things we really liked about him. I think him working with [quarterbacks coach Frank] Cignetti on some of the pocket movement stuff certainly helps. But really the only way to do it is to get out there and play.

"Certainly by going against our defense in practice when he was running the scout team stuff, you get a lot of work on that because obviously they are very good at rushing the passer. It’s something he’s worked on. The hardest part of doing that is not the movement part, he’s got those skills, it’s keeping your eyes up and kind of seeing where your receivers are going. ”

In that regard, what Davis did last week against Tampa Bay was even more of a surprise. Time and again he hung in the pocket with pressure bearing down on him and delivered an accurate throw, none more so than what amounted to the game winner to receiver Austin Pettis in the fourth quarter.

And though the Rams didn't ask Davis to do much until those closing moments, they also didn't scale back the offense for him at all. If it looked simple, it's because that's mostly what the offense is. In addition to his ability to maneuver in the pocket and make throws against pressure, Davis also has shown a willingness to take some shots down the field.

Through two games, Davis is 9-of-12 on throws 15 yards or more down the field. That's the highest completion percentage on such throws among qualified quarterbacks.

“There were a lot of things for him to improve, still are," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "Again, he’s got to put another good game together this week. He’s not going to be satisfied, we’re not going to be satisfied with just one good game. That was something again when he came back he had a plan. He came back in great shape. He really worked hard this offseason, spent some time doing some stuff on his own. He came back ready to play and ready to compete.”

Fisher has repeatedly made it clear that there is no quarterback controversy to be found in St. Louis. But if indeed Davis gets a second consecutive start, an improvement over last week could make it one.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Rookie nickelback Jimmie Ward, all 5-feet-11, 193 pounds of him, had his NFL baptism by fire at the hands, and feet, of the Chicago Bears' 6-4, 229-pound Brandon Marshall last Sunday.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
AP Photo/Tony AvelarSan Francisco rookie Jimmie Ward went up against a bigger body last Sunday in Chicago's Brandon Marshall and goes up against a similar player next in Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald.
The San Francisco 49ers' first-round draft pick was victimized for all three of Marshall's touchdown receptions, from 17, 5 and 3 yards, in the Bears' 28-20 comeback win at Levi's Stadium.

"It's only going to get me better," Ward said after the game.

"I was challenging him ... I was trying to press him and [get] in his face, but he made some great catches. He's good with his body."

And now, after enduring a -1.6 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus, Ward figures to get a healthy dose of another physical wideout in the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald, who is 6-3, 225 pounds and has lined up in the slot 36.7 percent of the time in two games.

So how can Ward improve in that potential matchup, especially in the red zone?

"Play a little firmer," 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "Know that the body that he's going against is bigger than his and get him some help. He's just got to play a little better. He was trying to do things right the other night, but just weren't good enough.

"It's not a major overhaul or panic button, he's just got to be a little bit better."

Fangio as well as other players have talked with Ward this week to keep his confidence up after a rough outing.

"He's a confident competitor, but yet accountable," Fangio said. "He knows if a play isn't good enough, he knows that. He doesn't start to look for excuses or point the finger. He just looks at himself. But, yeah, he's a confident guy."

As is the eight-time Pro Bowler Fitzgerald.

Rams QB Hill questionable for Sunday

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- St. Louis Rams quarterback Shaun Hill was limited in practice for the third day in a row and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys, coach Jeff Fisher said Friday afternoon.

 Hill has been battling a thigh injury since the season opener against the Minnesota Vikings and made progress this week by doing at least a little work in practice but he will once again be considered a game time decision.

Last week, Fisher called Hill a game time decision and the Rams ultimately kept Hill active but only as a third quarterback for emergency situations. It's possible he could fill a similar role this week.

Austin Davis again took nearly all of the repetitions with the first team in practice and would again get the call to start should Hill not be ready to go.

Elsewhere on the injury report, the Rams remain a little banged up at cornerback. Brandon McGee (foot) and Trumaine Johnson (knee) did not practice Friday. Both have been ruled out for this week. On the bright side, Lamarcus Joyner is back in the mix after missing last week with a back ailment. Joyner practiced all week and did not appear on the injury report.

The Rams also tweaked their practice squad a bit by adding cornerback Jemea Thomas and releasing receiver Justin Veltung.

Receiver Tavon Austin (knee) and tight end Cory Harkey (knee) also did not practice for the third day in a row though both did some work on the side. They'll be questionable for Sunday. If that pair can't play, don't be surprised to see receiver Stedman Bailey and tight end Alex Bayer pick up some of the slack.

Left guard Rodger Saffold returned to practice Friday after missing Thursday with an illness.

Here's Friday's complete injury report:

Out: Johnson (knee), OL Barrett Jones (back), McGee (foot)

Questionable: Hill (thigh/calf), Austin (knee), Harkey (knee)

Probable: Wells (not injury related), Saffold (illness)

Rams searching for answers against run

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Despite the lingering stench from the St. Louis Rams' Week 3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys last year, the team's run defense turned out to be much better than it showed after running back DeMarco Murray ran all over them.

By the end of the season, the Rams were ninth in the NFL in average rushing yards allowed per game (102.8) and third in the league in yards allowed per attempt (3.7).

With all 11 defensive starters returning this year and coordinator Gregg Williams taking over, that group figured only to improve against the run. Through two weeks, that hasn't been the case.

It's a small sample size, of course, but in games against Minnesota and Tampa Bay, the Rams have allowed 171 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 30th in the NFL. They're also coughing up 5.5 yards per carry, which also ranks 30th.

The reasons for the early regression are many, but the defense to this point has looked more like a group of individuals out to do it all more than handling individual responsibilities for the greater good.

[+] EnlargeBobby Rainey
Jeff Haynes/AP Images for PaniniTampa Bay's Bobby Rainey gained 144 yards on 22 carries against the Rams.
"It’s just a lot of guys trying to make plays," Dunbar said. "We talked about it this past week. It wasn’t a scheme thing, it was just everybody taking their turn... we’re not fitting it right. Somebody took their turn here and there."

In other words, there have been many examples of players not playing sound assignment football and freelancing from play to play. As Dunbar points out, there isn't any single culprit and, in fact, the film shows that almost everyone on the defense has been guilty at some point.

Perhaps most surprising, the young secondary has actually been the most consistent group from down to down.

"I think really the front seven just has to play better," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "There’s no excuses. Missed tackles are no excuse. When we have the opportunity to go and trigger and make plays, we’ve got to make those plays. I like the way that the front seven has been humbled this week."

Missed run fits and blown assignments aren't the only issues. Through two weeks, Pro Football Focus counted 27 missed tackles for the Rams. They had 18 in the opener against Minnesota, meaning they improved some last week against the Bucs, but not enough to keep little-known back Bobby Rainey from gaining 144 yards on 22 carries.

Beyond the tackling, the Rams also found themselves put in some odd positions. Tampa Bay had great success running the ball on second down, many times on second-and-long plays when Williams would dial up a blitz or Rams defenders would be anticipating a pass and get a run instead. With the line and linebackers a bit frustrated by only making one sack through two weeks, that means anything resembling a passing down has left the front seven a bit undisciplined.

"I think there’s a fine line sometimes when you’re in certain coverages where you have to say, ‘OK, am I going to play for the run here or am I going to play for the pass here?’" Laurinaitis said. "If I play for the run, I’m not leveraging the pass. If I play for the pass, I’m not leveraging the run."

Any improvements or fixes the Rams have attempted this week will be put to their biggest test. After finishing 29th in rush attempts last year, Dallas has the look of an NFC West team with its physical and committed approach to running the ball.

The Cowboys have the fourth-most rushing attempts in the league heading into Sunday and are second in the league in rushing yards per game. Murray is off to his career-best start and has rushed for 428 yards on 51 carries in two previous meetings with the Rams.

For the Rams to have any chance at beating Dallas, they're going to have to sell out to stop the run first and sort everything else out afterward. Until it gets solved, that has to be the plan.

"We have just got to get in sync with it, and I’m confident we will," Laurinaitis said. "But that stuff definitely deserves to be talked about until we put the fire out. You can’t sit there, and if you told me before the year we’d have 170 yards averaged against us, I’d be like, ‘Get out of here.’ But that’s where we are right now. I think guys have really swallowed their pride and like, ‘Hey, we need to work at this; let’s go out and work at it.’ No excuses."

49ers vs. Cardinals preview

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
It's that time of the year again, when NFC West rivals start going head-to-head.

Sunday's game at University of Phoenix Stadium will be the division opener for both the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers. Both teams have been decimated by injuries and suspensions but are out to prove that their stock in the West is rising. This matchup hasn't quite been the rivalry Arizona wants it to be, with the 49ers winning nine of the past 10. But all it takes is one game to swing the momentum.

ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez discussed Sunday's game.

Weinfuss: What did the Chicago loss do for the 49ers' psyche, especially coming so early in the season and after that win over Dallas?

Gutierrez: Publicly, the Niners say every loss hurts, that this one is no different from any other. And yet, this one would seem to sting a little more, especially with how it went down. The 49ers, under Jim Harbaugh, have been known to never really let an opponent rally after taking a lead, especially a big lead. But the Niners blew advantages of 17-0 and 20-7 in eventually losing 28-20, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick melted down with three interceptions and a lost fumble. So, yeah, this one was different. The key, then, is seeing how they respond in Arizona, especially in such a key early-season divisional matchup against an opponent not named the Seattle Seahawks.

That being said, they do have to prepare for the possibility of facing two different quarterbacks. So what are the big differences between the grizzled vet Carson Palmer and career backup Drew Stanton?

Weinfuss: There aren’t many major differences between the two. Palmer is 6-foot-5; Stanton is 6-3. Both are considered pocket passers but Stanton is better on the move than Palmer. He’s four years younger and it shows in his athleticism -- which I also think is more of a natural gift compared to Palmer’s. When you get deeper into the pair, it’s easy to see how much more comfortable Palmer is in the offense. He knows where guys will be -- even if he’s not making his progressions as he should -- whereas Stanton, who’s been embedded with Bruce Arians’ scheme for three years now, is learning the nuances that come with actually playing in the offense. Stanton held on to the ball a little more last weekend against New York because his familiarity and timing with his receivers just isn’t there like it is for Palmer.

How different is San Francisco’s defense without the likes of Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman? Will the Niners' pass rush be impacted long term?

Gutierrez: In a word -- very! How can it not be? Besides being without Smith, who is two games into his nine-game, NFL-mandated suspension, and Bowman, who is on the PUP list recovering from that devastating left knee injury suffered in the NFC title game, the Niners are also missing starting nose tackle Glenn Dorsey, on the IR/designated to return list with a biceps injury. And the situation for defensive lineman Ray McDonald, arrested on suspicion of domestic violence on Aug. 31 but allowed to play as the investigation goes on, can change at any moment. The Niners have only four sacks through two games and they need to generate more pressure, otherwise a rebuilt secondary -- three new starters with one, Tramaine Brock, sidelined with a sprained toe -- will pay the price in coverage.

Speaking of coverage, but on the other side, why has Patrick Peterson seemingly been on the wrong end of things when it comes to matching up with Michael Crabtree, who has caught 41 passes (his most against any opponent) for 618 yards and six TDs against the Cardinals?

Weinfuss: Before we begin debating how good Peterson is or isn’t because he hasn’t played like the elite player he’s supposed to be this season, let’s point out that Crabtree had 456 of those yards from 2011 to 2013, and in 2013 against Arizona he had just three receptions for 29 yards. Let’s break it down even more. In 2012, when Crabtree had a career-high 1,105 yards, it was in large part because the Niners’ offense was playing well and he was the primary option when he went off for 244 yards in two games against Arizona. Let’s go another level deeper. He had 18 catches on the right side from 2011 to 2013 compared to 12 on the left, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Peterson split his time almost evenly between the two sides so a very strong explanation for why Crabtree has torched the Cardinals is that if Peterson was covering him, Peterson tends to rely on his athleticism more than his skills, especially against top-tier talent.

Having won nine of their past 10 against the Cardinals, do the Niners consider this a rivalry? If not, how many wins by the Cardinals would San Francisco need to consider Arizona a bona fide rival?

Gutierrez: Not really. Sure, they respect them -- publicly. But the Niners’ big rival resides in the Pacific Northwest, rather than the Southwest desert. No disrespect, but the Seahawks have been where the Niners have, and want to go back. The Cardinals starting out 2-0 might actually work against them as the 49ers will have to take them as a viable threat in the division and not sleepwalk through the game. I don’t know if there is a certain number that would make this a bona fide rivalry, where the players and fan bases have a genuine dislike for each other, besides the Cardinals winning a Super Bowl and talking trash with aplomb while dispatching the 49ers along the way. They are rivals, in a sense, simply because they have to be, being in the same division and all.

Niners rookie nickel cornerback Jimmie Ward had a baptism by fire last week with Brandon Marshall often lining up in the slot against him and beating him three times for TDs. I would expect the Cardinals to watch that tape and put Larry Fitzgerald, another big, physical wideout, in there to test out Ward. What say you?

Weinfuss: I say the Cardinals will do it. And I’m sure Fitzgerald is ready for the matchup. He was more productive from wide outside last season than he was from the slot but he’s spending more time inside than he has in his career. He’d be a fine test for Ward -- probably even more so than Marshall -- because of Fitzgerald’s skill set, which, despite his speed slowing with age, hasn't started to dwindle yet. Fitzgerald would teach Ward a thing or two about how a receiver uses his body to shield defenders from the ball. He’d also teach Ward about covering a receiver with impeccable hands. Fitzgerald has 20 drops in his career and one in each of the past three seasons. It could be one heckuva education for Ward.

Broncos vs. Seahawks preview

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
videoRedemption or redo, what will it be?

For the first time in 17 years, the two teams who battled in the Super Bowl will play each other in the following season. The Denver Broncos, 43-8 losers to the Seattle Seahawks seven months ago, get a chance to make amends Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

A victory by the Broncos (2-0) would be a bit of redemption after the humiliating loss in Super Bowl XLVIII. A win by the Seahawks would show they're still at the top of the heap and they've regrouped after a surprising 30-21 loss last week at San Diego.

Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Seahawks reporter Terry Blount take a look at some of the key issues entering the Super Bowl rematch.

Blount: Jeff, the Seahawks defense had some major problems stopping the Chargers offense last weekend, which, as you know, is very similar to the schemes the Broncos use. The Seahawks had no answers for San Diego tight end Antonio Gates. Do you think the Broncos saw some things they can exploit?

Legwold: Terry, there is no explaining away a 35-point Super Bowl loss -- or at least no explaining that would satisfy the team's faithful. But there has been a nagging feeling around the team in the weeks and months since the Super Bowl blowout that if you look at the game video, the Broncos had receivers open, that they left plays out there they had made for months. So, the Broncos feel like if they execute, they can find some room to work. In looking at the Seahawks' scheme, my belief is any team has to stay patient, be content with the short and intermediate routes and wait for the chance for the big play. That's certainly easier said than done if the Seahawks get pressure up front. For the Broncos, tight end Julius Thomas has been a matchup nightmare for defenses thus far with four touchdowns in two games. The Broncos have been far more efficient out of a two tight end look early in this season, and, more importantly, more willing to use it. By the time they reached the Super Bowl, they had worked out of a three-wide receiver set on offense almost exclusively down the stretch.

Terry, staying with the Broncos offense, do you think the Seahawks look at it any differently with Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver, instead of Eric Decker, Montee Ball at running back and Ryan Clady back at left tackle? Or do you think they see the same scheme with just different personnel than they faced in Super Bowl XLVIII?

Blount: I honestly don't think they see it much differently, believing it's still the same formula overall with Peyton Manning leading the way. One thing the Seahawks players and coaches say over and over again is they want to force teams to adjust to what they do, not the other way around. No matter who the Seahawks are playing, they tend to stick to what they do best on defense, which is aggressive play in the secondary, ferocious tackling and a relentless pass rush off the edge from multiple line sets. The goal is to coax the opposing offense into making mistakes and going all out to force turnovers. No matter who they play or how renowned that team's personnel, the Seahawks take the attitude of "This is what we do. Beat us if you can." The Chargers did last week. They dink-and-dunked them to death. So the Seahawks probably feel if they clean up what happened last week it should work this week since the Broncos have a similar style.

Jeff, it's only two weeks into it, but how much better can the Denver defense be this season with the addition of DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward?

Legwold: Overall, the group still hasn't quite put together the full four-quarters, get-it-done effort they believe they can. The defense has made fourth-down plays in the closing minutes to preserve each of the first two wins, but it has had some issues on third down -- the Chiefs repeatedly converted in situations of third-and-8 or longer -- that need immediate attention. But those signings in free agency have already paid dividends. Ware, who was voted a team captain after his arrival in March, has 1.5 sacks, and Talib and Ware have given the Broncos more of a physical edge. But maybe more importantly, the two have allowed defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to use a bigger variety of looks because of their versatility. Ward lines up all over the formation, even putting in snaps at weakside linebacker at times. The Broncos also had five defensive starters on injured reserve for the Super Bowl. The return of some of those players, such as linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and safety Rahim Moore, will give the defense a vastly different look than what the Seahawks saw in the title game, or even in the preseason game in August.

Terry, the Seahawks had the inevitable talent drain of a Super Bowl winner after the free-agency dust settled. How effective do you think they've been to stay true to their plan and replace the players who departed?

Blount: It's still to be determined how this will turn out. Seattle lost 10 players who had 58 years of combined experience. They've been replaced, for the most part, by much younger players and, in many cases, players with a lot more talent. But it's hard to make up all that experience they lost. So far, it seems to have hurt them the most on the defensive line in losing defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. Those three players accounted for 11.5 sacks last season. The Seahawks added veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams, but his impact has been negligible so far. Rookie Cassius Marsh, who was expected to make a difference as an edge-rusher, hasn't shown much yet. Depth on the defensive line was a huge team strength last season because it kept everyone fresh late in game and into the playoffs. After two games, that same depth isn't apparent, but it's early.

The Broncos got a tiny bit of revenge in the preseason opener, when they beat the Seahawks 21-16 in Denver. But is this really the game they've been looking toward for the past seven months?

Legwold: A regular-season win would not erase a Super Bowl blowout, it just won't. Deep down, even the Broncos know that. But the item the team has carried around, what they've had to listen to, is they were "soft" or "intimidated" in the Super Bowl. The Broncos will admit to mistakes in the game, but they are tired of hearing they lost because they were too shaken to succeed. That's the part of the narrative they'd like to do something about, and if they can put together a quality effort Sunday, that would probably close the book a little for them on the whole thing, at least until the playoffs start. In the end, though, they know they can't make a Week 3 game of the new season be everything, either. There's plenty of work for them to do moving forward, win or lose Sunday, to get them back for another shot at the trophy.

Terry, in the end, an awful lot of people around the league believe if these two teams get their respective acts together and keep them together, it could be a repeat Super Bowl. From the Seahawks' perspective, how have they handled the title aftermath, and do they see what happened in San Diego as just a bad outing or something that might need a little more attention?

Blount: That's always the key question: Will all the fame and accolades change you? Richard Sherman has become a national celebrity who transcends football. Russell Wilson seems to appear on every other TV commercial here in Seattle. Sherman, Earl Thomas and Michael Bennett all received big-money deals in the offseason. But through the offseason, organized team activities and training camp, I didn't see the slightest indication this team had become complacent. If anything, it seemed more driven to prove it could return to the Super Bowl and win it again, breaking the trend of teams not getting it done the following season. However, they fell off the horse a little last week. It wasn't that they lost, but how they reacted to the loss. They said and did some things that were uncharacteristic, but they were clearly stunned about getting beat. How they react to it this week will say a lot about where they're headed.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer is trying anything and everything to awaken the sleeping nerve in his right throwing shoulder.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsCarson Palmer has been sidelined with a right shoulder injury.
Palmer has already tried electrical stimulation therapy, ice, massage, acupuncture, dry needling and art machines as healing aids. The most extreme measure, he said, was electrical shock therapy that made Palmer jump with every volt.

None of it has worked, but Palmer and coach Bruce Arians said they see progress every day.

Palmer said that he is averaging about five hours of sleep per night while he’s trying to figure out a solution. He spends his early days and late nights in the Cardinals’ weight room with Arizona’s trainers and coaches. Before Sunday’s game in New York, they worked with Palmer in the hotel pool and hot tub. The rest of his day before and after practice, meetings and film, Palmer has spent looking for a new remedy. On Tuesday, Palmer went from one treatment to another every two-and-a-half hours.

“I’ve been doing a lot of extracurricular activities with people who think they can help,” Palmer said. “I’m going to continue to do that. It’s been very time consuming. It’s been very costly, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”

None of his treatments woke the bruised nerve in time for Sunday’s game, which backup quarterback Drew Stanton helped the Cardinals win 25-14 over the New York Giants.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Palmer said. “I wish I had a concrete answer or somebody knew exactly what to do to wake it up, but that’s not known. It’s just time. The only answer is time, and I’m hoping it doesn’t take any more time.”

The injury occurred in the second quarter of Arizona’s win over the San Diego Chargers in Week 1. Palmer scrambled to his left for 11 yards and took on safety Eric Weddle shoulder first. Palmer bounced right back up and continued to play, finishing with 304 yards and a 64.8 completion percentage.

Palmer said this week he “knew something was going on, just didn’t know what” after the hit.

When the medication he was on during the game wore off, the nerve fell asleep. Palmer said Arizona’s doctors have sent his MRIs for second opinions but he doesn’t plan on seeing doctors not on Arizona’s staff.

The 34-year-old Palmer can’t get a second opinion from a counterpart, either, because he hasn’t found another quarterback who’s had a similar injury.

Palmer won’t let himself think about the possibility of long-term nerve damage, despite it being a real possibility. He’s just taking it day-to-day but he hopes one of those days begins with a re-energized right shoulder.

He’s still in the market for new treatments. Witchcraft was suggested and Palmer seemed open to the idea -- jokingly, of course. Given the uncertainty of the injury, he might just try it -- but he won’t sacrifice a small animals for the good of his shoulder.

“I don’t do that,” he deadpanned. “I’m a dog lover. I definitely won’t do that. I think that’s drawing the line.

“But I’m just on the other side of the line.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After an early evening Thursday practice, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher made it clear that a decision on the starting quarterback will again be made before Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys.

But the decision could be a little more difficult this week with veteran Shaun Hill making progress toward a return from an injured thigh. Hill remains limited on the official injury report but did more Thursday than he did Wednesday. Austin Davis continued to get the vast majority of the work with the first-team offense.

"Shaun was limited today," Fisher said. "He did more, but we're still day to day. It will most likely be a pre-game decision like it was last week."

The Rams worked Hill out before last week's game against Tampa Bay and decided he could be active as a third quarterback capable of taking shotgun snaps in an emergency. He could follow a similar path this week if the Rams decide to go with Davis on game day.

Elsewhere on Thursday's injury report, the Rams did not have guard Rodger Saffold because of an illness and cornerback Brandon McGee was downgraded from limited participation to did not participate because of a foot injury. Center Scott Wells, who did not practice Wednesday, returned to full participation Thursday.

Here's the full breakdown:

Did not participate: WR Tavon Austin (knee), TE Cory Harkey (knee), CB Trumaine Johnson (knee), OL Barrett Jones (back), Saffold (illness), McGee (foot)

Limited participation: Hill (thigh/calf)

Full participation: Wells (not injury related)
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- With both Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald still hobbling around -- Davis' left ankle, McDonald's right knee -- might the San Francisco 49ers' tight end spotlight turn to a third-string, converted basketball player?

Derek Carrier, who played small forward at Beloit College in Wisconsin until his junior year despite averaging 8.3 points while starting 21 games for the Buccaneers, could be in line to start at tight end for the the Niners in Sunday’s road game against the Arizona Cardinals.

"I just try to focus on what I need to do individually to help the team the most," Carrier said Thursday. "That’s just go out there and execute and do my job."

He was rushed into service late in Sunday’s 28-20 loss to the Chicago Bears, two of his three catches coming after Davis and McDonald were hurt. For the game, Carrier had three receptions, the first of his career, for 41 yards, including a clutch 22-yard pickup.

"He plays fearless," said 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. "He goes out, he’s going to give you everything he has, and he’s willing to go and make a play. I think he showed that on Sunday."

If he has to show it again this Sunday in Arizona, the 49ers will be short-handed in terms of bodies and experience between Kaepernick and Carrier, but not confidence.

"It’s something that comes with time, comes with reps," Carrier said. "And that’s why I think the last game against Chicago was valuable for myself, getting that time with Kap to work.

"For me, I think it was a great learning experience being there at crunch time and being able to get some reps in there. Unfortunately we got the loss, but for me I thought it was a great learning experience."

Bevell knows it's a different Denver D

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell knows the worst thing he could do this week is formulate a game plan based on what the Seattle Seahawks did in carving up the Denver Broncos' defense in the Super Bowl.

"It’s a totally different team defensively," Bevell said. "They’ve added really great players and they have [outside linebacker] Von Miller back. Now they have [defensive end] DeMarcus Ware, [strong safety] TJ Ward and [cornerback] Aqib Talib.

"The list goes on. They have really solid players. It’s completely different defense with the players that they have now, so there’s really no comparison."

Miller and Ware rushing off the edge are two players the Seahawks didn’t have to contend with in the 43-8 Super Bowl victory. That is a big concern, especially coming off a loss at San Diego where the Seahawks' offensive line struggled at times in protecting quarterback Russell Wilson.

"We had a couple miscommunications," Bevell said. "Going into the game we knew that was something important and we talked about that. I talked about it with you guys on how we need to make sure we handled it, and we didn’t. That kills you on a third down.

"I think it was one of the first third downs we mishandled it and miss [identified] it, and of course, we ended up getting sacked on it. It was the communication I had talked about all week. So there’s still work to be done there."

This week will be another stern test for rookie right tackle Justin Britt, trying to hold off Miller and Ware.

"He’s a stud," Bevell said of Miller. "He’s got great athletic ability. He’s a speed-rusher and he can go speed to power. He’s just really, really athletic, and it’s a challenge each and every time to be really solid on technique and do what we’re asking [Britt] to do. Obviously, he'll need help sometimes."

Britt did a nice job in the season opener against Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews. Britt had some rough moments last week, but so did veteran left tackle Russell Okung. Bevell is pleased overall with Britt’s progress.

"I think he’s improving each and every week," Bevell said. "Obviously, there still are things he knows he can work on. Sometimes it’s great, and sometimes he’s not quite doing exactly what we need him to do.

"We kind of expect that out of him. We’ve just thrown him in and said, 'Hey, this is your deal.' He’s totally taken to it and totally committed to working. He’s a young player and he’s only going to get better."

49ers waiting on Anthony Davis at RT

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Anthony Davis, who started every game of his first four years at right tackle for the San Francisco 49ers until missing the first two of this season with a left hamstring issue, has yet to practice this week.

Jonathan Martin, acquired this offseason, had been doing a serviceable job on the right side ... until having a rough go of it in Sunday night’s 28-20 loss to the Chicago Bears.

Martin allowed two fourth-quarter sacks in the Bears’ comeback win, along with four pressures overall, to post a -1.2 grade, per Pro Football Focus.

Among other 49ers offensive linemen, right guard Alex Boone allowed two hurries and had a grade of -0.7 in his first start after holding out for a new contract all summer, and left guard Mike Iupati had a good game with a +1.8 grade.

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, though, would not comment specifically on the job done by Martin.

"We could talk about a lot of guys," Harbaugh said. "There’s some really good things and things that we’ll look to improve on. We all kind of fall into that category right now after this game. We all feel like we have fingerprints on it.

"Some really good things were done by Jonathan Martin, by our offense, by our defense, by our special teams. Other things we need to improve on."
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Per the St. Louis Rams' policy, quarterback Shaun Hill hasn't been available to speak to the media since after the regular-season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.

 Injured players are off-limits until they start doing more in practice. But Hill, who practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday, was made available for the first time since after that game and injuring his thigh/calf.

That's because he's starting to make genuine progress toward a return. While Hill has yet to do any work in 11-on-11 team drills, and his status for this week remains uncertain, he said Wednesday he's making strides.

“Better and better every day, absolutely," Hill said. "That’s about all I can say about it. It certainly is getting better every day.”

Wednesday's practice offered the most tangible evidence since the injury that Hill is indeed improving. He was also listed as limited in last Friday's practice though that was a bit generous given how little he did. In Wednesday's workout, Hill did more in individual drills and appeared to be moving around better than he did late last week or even in pre-game warmups last week in Tampa Bay.

Since he suffered the injury, coach Jeff Fisher has been clear that Hill is still his starter so long as he's healthy. The question has been when Hill will meet that standard. Fisher has also emphasized the need not to rush Hill back to avoid making the injury worse.

Asked Wednesday what he needs to see from Hill to plug him back into the starting lineup, Fisher reiterated those thoughts.

“More than what we’re seeing right now," Fisher said. "Again, this is about not setting him back so we don’t want to put him in position out here on the field to where we’re risking setting him back. He’s day-to-day, and we’ll see where it goes.”

Austin Davis, who started last week against the Buccaneers, took the vast majority of the reps with the first team Wednesday with backup Case Keenum getting a few more reps. Davis led the Rams to a win in that game and will start again this week in the event that Hill doesn't show Fisher and the coaching staff what they need to see.

“I think that’ll be determined later in the week," Hill said. "But, the idea going in is to just keep progressing and see what happens when we get later in the week.”

Hill opened the first game against Minnesota 5-of-5, but the lingering memory of his interception near the end of the first half has persisted.

Hill and Fisher have said that interception was due in part to the injury, offering that Hill was trying to throw it away but couldn't get it out of bounds because he lacked the leg strength to drive it that far while on the run.

For Hill, whose last start (prior to this season's opener) came in 2010, the injury has been frustrating even if it isn't a severe one.

“That is something I struggled with, big time, originally when it happened," Hill said. "It’s been hard for me to get on the field, especially the last few years. And finally when you get the chance, for that to happen, it’s harder to come back off. What can you do? You pick yourself back up and get yourself back as quick as you can.”