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Friday, November 12, 2010
Around the NFC West: Ultimate sacrifice

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' responded appropriately when the team brought members of the armed forces to their facility for practice and lunch on Veteran's Day. Center Jason Brown lost his older brother in Iraq. Brown: "He was killed September 20, 2003. He was based out of Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. A mortar shell hit their tent at night. The mortar shell hit a table in front of him about waist high, and he took most of the impact and shrapnel, which meant there were several of his comrades behind him. ...  He saved many of their lives. He was 27 at the time, the same age I am now."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has had success against the blitz.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Bradford has reached rookie milestones. Thomas: "For one, he has a 4-1 record at home, and that's something no quarterback taken No. 1 overall has accomplished as a rookie since the first year of the common (AFL-NFL) draft in 1967."

Also from Thomas: Former 49ers safety Michael Lewis offers tips as the Rams prepare for his former team. The bitterness Lewis feels toward the 49ers apparently makes him feel good about sharing secrets. Lewis: "The coaching staff, they've done a great job of doing their homework on the 49ers. And that's pretty much all I'll say."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' rookies are trying to avoid hitting a wall in the second half of the season. Left tackle Rodger Saffold: "One thing I've learned is that you don't just get better in the offseason; you get better during the season. A lot of people think, 'I'm not doing too well this year. Next year I'll be able to have time to work on this, work on that.' Actually, you have to continue to get better during the season. That means doing the little things on and off the field, as well as doing the extra. I do an extra 10 or 15 minutes of just getting the hands right, feet right, things like that."

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis says Saffold missed practice Thursday.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' Clark Haggans expects to return from injury against Seattle, but Beanie Wells missed practice again, an indication Tim Hightower could get more playing time. Hightower ran more effectively than Wells when the Cardinals last played Seattle, but fumbling problems diminished his effectiveness.

Also from Somers: The Cardinals need more from Adrian Wilson, whose play has dropped off since a strong showing in Week 1. Somers: "This has not been a strong season for the three-time Pro Bowler, who has been exposed in coverage. Despite having many veterans, this defense needs some leadership and not via the spoken word. The group has enough guys who can talk. It needs someone to make a play in crunch time. Through most of his 10 year career, Wilson has been that kind of guy. But after coming up with big plays in the opening-day victory over the Rams, Wilson has been noticed more for his poor plays. At this time of year, stars have to play like it."

More from Somers: The Cardinals' defense has lacked consistency.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says coach Ken Whisenhunt expects all injured players to practice Friday. Whisenhunt: "It’s pretty fortunate this time of year."

Also from Urban: LaRod Stephens-Howling has come up big for the Cardinals despite standing barely taller than 5-foot-6. Larry Fitzgerald:  "I have a tremendous amount of respect for small guys like (cornerback) Michael Adams, LaRod, because ever since they were small they were looked at as the small guy. They continued to fight and battle and persevere."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com examines the relationship between Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant and Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald: "He’s definitely a technician. He’s probably got the best transition of any cornerback in the league -- getting out of his (back) pedal, man, he really breaks on the ball tremendously well. He’s playing the football well and, when he’s healthy, he’s one of the premier guys in the NFL. And I love to tell him, when I step it up with him, I’ve got to be at my best."

Also from Farnsworth: Matt Hasselbeck is excited about returning from a concussion.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Hasselbeck has learned to deal with constantly changing combinations on his offensive line. Hasselbeck: "I think that’s just become normal for us. So, it’s like we don’t really talk about it. It’s just almost expected. We’ve just had the injury bug there a little bit, and that’s just normal. It seems like it’s been different every week. We practice that way. Everybody plays every position. It’s very different from the years where we knew who the five were (going to be), every single play, every single practice -- it’s not that. We’re mixing and matching and just doing what we can."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers an updated Seahawks injury report. Lofa Tatupu missed practice again.

Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle says Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates wants more continuity on the offensive line.

John Boyle of the Everett Herald says Seattle held Fitzgerald to 30 yards receiving last month largely because of the Cardinals' issues at quarterback.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers' improved health gives offensive coordinator Mike Johnson additional options. Maiocco: "One wrinkle Johnson unveiled against the Broncos was '13' personnel, consisting of one running back and three tight ends. Normally, used in short-yardage formations, the 49ers used three tight ends on two running plays on first-and-10 from the middle of the field in the first quarter." By my count, the 49ers used that personnel grouping against Houston and Atlanta last season, both times on first down. They used it more extensively under Mike Martz during the 2008 season.

Also from Maiocco: a chat transcript in which Maiocco says he thinks the 49ers would wait til the end of the season before making a coaching change.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at how the 49ers plan to use new linebacker Thaddeus Gibson.

Also from Barrows: The 49ers are shuffling their secondary to prevent big plays.

Taylor Price of 49ers.com says defensive end Justin Smith thinks opposing quarterbacks are getting rid of the ball more quickly to avoid hits. Price: "Perhaps no player highlights the trend better than Rams quarterback Sam Bradford who has a league-low average of 5.7 yards per completion of all quarterbacks who average 14 pass attempts per game."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News offers thoughts on what contingency plans the 49ers should have in place.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers' coaches have lots to learn about their own quarterback, Troy Smith.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with the 49ers' rookie offensive linemen, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis. White: "Davis has given up six quarterback sacks and committed six false starts, tying him for second-most in the NFL in both categories. No one will say who allowed the sack that left Alex Smith with a separated left shoulder at Carolina, but it came through Davis' side."

Also from White: Joe Staley says he's enjoying his finest season despite some unfavorable reviews. Staley: "I'm grading out the highest I have my whole career. I know everybody doesn't think that. Everyone thinks I'm struggling for some reason. I just kind of laugh." Staley has set a high standard. Those standards have risen further since the 49ers rewarded Staley with a lucrative long-term deal. Expectations might be higher and that could be affecting perceptions. My notes show Seattle's Chris Clemons and Kansas City's Tamba Hali getting pressure through Staley early in the season. I saw Staley appear to hold more than usual in games against Atlanta and Philadelphia. I thought Staley appeared to injure his left leg against the Falcons, perhaps affecting him. But I also think Staley is telling the truth about his performance reviews, and those reviews ultimately carry more weight than outside perceptions. He's a good player being held to a higher standard.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat wonders to what degree Taylor Mays' struggles might be contributing to the team's decision to give more snaps to Reggie Smith. The team would not take Mays off the field if Mays provided a better alternative in their eyes.