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Friday, August 20, 2010
Four Downs: NFC West preseason Week 2

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

A couple thoughts per NFC West team heading into the second week of the 2010 NFL exhibition season:

Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET)

Seattle wants to see a sharper, more engaged effort from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck after backup Charlie Whitehurst earned the headlines a week ago. Hasselbeck has enjoyed a strong training camp. A crisp effort during the preseason could provide some affirmation as the Seahawks deploy a new offensive system. Hasselbeck does have something to prove after a rough 2009 season, so writing off the preseason as meaningless for him might be going a little far. Beyond improved play from Hasselbeck, it's a bonus if Leon Washington looks good during his first game of any kind since suffering a broken leg with the New York Jets last season. The Packers have enjoyed beating up on the NFC West during the preseason, though, and sometimes Green Bay appeared to be game-planning. The Packers hammered the Seahawks, 48-13, in a 2007 game that ticked off the Seahawks' coach at the time, Mike Holmgren. Green Bay led the Arizona Cardinals 38-10 at halftime during an exhibition game last year. Again, game-planning was suspected.

St. Louis Rams at Cleveland Browns (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET)

Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford will draw most of the attention and the Rams need to protect him -- and all their quarterbacks -- better than they did against Minnesota in the exhibition opener. That is the top priority for St. Louis against Cleveland. The Rams need to see progress from right tackle Jason Smith now that the 2009 first-round choice has had a full week of practice following a toe injury. More broadly, the Rams want to see their projected starting offensive line together in a game for the first time since Week 2 last season. Rodger Saffold, Jacob Bell, Jason Brown, Adam Goldberg and Jason Smith worked together during recent practices. Can they hold up physically? Can they show improvement? Can they protect Bradford?

San Francisco 49ers vs. Minnesota Vikings (NBC, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET)


Brett Favre is expected to start and play one or two series for the Vikings. At least the 49ers won't have to worry about him throwing a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds, as he did against them last season. Favre will be out of the game by then and the outcome doesn't matter, anyway. The 49ers' focus will instead be on their own quarterback, Alex Smith, who will try to make a generally strong week of practices carry over into a game. It's early to panic if Smith and the first-team offense struggle again, but an efficient performance would give both a boost. On defense, let's see how linebacker Diyral Briggs fares against a team with more quality depth than Week 1 preseason opponent Indianapolis. Briggs dominated against the Colts.

Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans (ESPN, Monday, 8 p.m. ET)

The national spotlight gives quarterback Matt Leinart a chance to start changing perceptions after a rough week. Yes, he completed 6 of 7 passes against Houston in the Cardinals' exhibition opener, but the aftermath brought questions about why he missed a postgame news conference and whether his completed pass to Larry Fitzgerald unnecessarily exposed the receiver to injury. These are the sorts of sideshows that have marked Leinart's tenure in Arizona, whether or not they were his fault. Basically, Leinart can't get a break. This would be a good time for him to start making his own. One problem: Fitzgerald will not play and other Cardinals receivers are banged up.