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Wednesday, October 26, 2011
NFC West: Injury situations that matter

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Arizona: Beanie Wells missed practice Wednesday and will have to fight through a knee injury if he does play against Baltimore in Week 8. The fact that the Cardinals initially thought Wells suffered a season-ending injury makes returning only one week later seem like a long shot. The Cardinals have not set a timetable for Wells' return. Whether Wells practices Thursday and Friday should tell us plenty about whether the third-year running back plays Sunday. The Cardinals are a much more physical team in the running game when Wells is available. The Ravens rank among the NFL's top three in rushing yards allowed overall and per carry. Tight end Todd Heap's availability is also in question. A hamstring injury continues to slow him. The Cardinals have better depth at the position this season, though. Wells is the key variable.

St. Louis: Sam Bradford continues to miss practice with a high-ankle sprain, preventing the Rams from making fuller use of new receiver Brandon Lloyd, in my view. I see no reason for the Rams to rush Bradford back onto the field against a New Orleans team known for taking shots at opposing quarterbacks, including their ankles. The assumption here is that Bradford must practice by week's end to have a shot at playing. The Rams have yet to activate receiver Mark Clayton and cornerback Marquis Johnson from the physically unable to perform list. The need is greater at corner than receiver. The Rams, already without their top three corners for the remainder of the season, lost corner Justin King to a groin injury last week. His status remains unclear. Right tackle Jason Smith could be out indefinitely after suffering neck and head injuries at Dallas. Left tackle Rodger Saffold missed practice with an illness Wednesday.

San Francisco: The 49ers are expected to welcome back receiver Braylon Edwards from knee surgery. The timing is perfect for Edwards because the 49ers are facing the Cleveland Browns, who drafted him third overall. Coach Jim Harbaugh suggested his injury-related optimism earlier in the week might have been premature. You can bet Edwards has been pointing toward this game for his return, however. Fullback Moran Norris isn't expected to return. His replacement, Bruce Miller, has shown improvement. The 49ers have used only one back half the time on first and second down to this point in the season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They're obviously comfortable using two tight ends with two wide receivers, diminishing the need for a fullback. They're fine without Norris, in other words. Parys Haralson's expected return from a hamstring injury comes as rookie Aldon Smith is stepping up his game, anyway. How many snaps those players get will be a storyline for the remainder of the season. Smith, it seems, needs to play. Right guard Adam Snyder is expected back from a stinger. The 49ers' ground game has been better since Snyder took over as the starter.

Seattle: The Seahawks should get center Max Unger, running back Marshawn Lynch and/or tight end Zach Miller back from injuries this week. All were limited Wednesday, and coach Pete Carroll said decisions would not be made until later in the week. Seattle needs Lynch because the team doesn't have another big back for its offense. Backups Leon Washington and Justin Forsett are too similar to provide the differentiation Carroll values. Miller's absence played a leading role in the team's defeat at Cleveland, I thought. Backup Anthony McCoy suffered through a rough game. The Seahawks need him back. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is the other big question mark for Seattle this week. His pectoral injury hasn't prevented him from throwing, but he remains limited. It's too early to say whether he's likely to play this week. I would expect a better effort from backup Charlie Whitehurst this week, should he play.