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Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Around the NFC West: Frank Gore strategy

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Frank Gore was nearly on the ground when Jason Pierre-Paul, the New York Giants' 278-pound defensive end, rocked the San Francisco 49ers' running back with a clean, tough hit.

It was the sort of hit that is tough to anticipate, increasing vulnerability to injury. Gore got up, quickly located his backup on the sideline and signaled for Kendall Hunter to replace him.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Gore's knee injury does not appear to be serious. Barrows: "Gore was seen moving around Monday without a limp, and Jim Harbaugh said he thought the running back would be able to play Sunday against the Cardinals. Gore entered Sunday's game against the Giants with a sprained left ankle, then appeared to injure his right knee after a hard tackle by defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul in the second quarter." Noted: Do the 49ers absolutely need Gore to win at home against the Cardinals? They might. No victories are gimmes. Still, if the 49ers can get away with significantly scaling back Gore's work or holding him out of the game entirely, that could serve them well for the remainder of the season. Gore lasted 11 games in 2010 before suffering a season-ending injury.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Gore told him he felt fine.

Also from Maiocco: Harbaugh says multiple 49ers assistants project as head coaching candidates. Noted: Harbaugh is making a concerted effort to promote selflessness among the 49ers. He regularly gives all credit to players. Players regularly deflect praise. Winning makes everyone happy.

Scott Kacsmar of Cold, Hard Football Facts breaks down the 49ers' victory over the Giants. Thanks for passing along, Scott.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says Alex Smith played Sunday with confidence he had not shown previously.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle quotes Harbaugh as saying there was nothing lucky about the play Justin Smith made to preserve the victory Sunday.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says the team is more committed to running the ball lately. Farnsworth: "The coaches also have committed to the run, despite running into those defenses that had been allowing averages of 86.8 (Ravens) and 93.9 (Cowboys) rushing yards. The Seahawks’ 42 rushing plays on Sunday where the team’s most since Week 3 in 2008, when they ran the ball 46 times for 245 yards in a 37-13 win over the Rams." Noted: Leading the game or at least staying close makes it possible.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers thoughts on the Seahawks' victory over Baltimore, including this one on Alan Branch: "Typecast as an underachiever in Arizona, Branch has looked anything but as Seattle's nosetackle. He plays with passion, energy and he's built similarly to Red Bryant giving the Seahawks another long-limbed hulk on the defensive line. The Cardinals weren't all that sad to see him go, but he has been a key addition to Seattle's defensive line."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune takes a closer look at the Seahawks' penalty problems.

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says Russell Okung is playing with attitude and it's make a difference, according to coach Pete Carroll. Noted: I made a similar observation following the Seahawks' game at Dallas a week ago. I suspect this means Okung is more confident in his health.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic looks for reasons behind the Cardinals' improvement on defense. McManaman: "Maybe they've finally grasped all the endless details in coordinator Ray Horton's complicated system of schemes. Just a couple of weeks ago, however, Horton indicated that the team is running only about 30 percent of the total package. Perhaps then it's been a much-needed injection of youth and enthusiasm, which the team clearly seems to be getting from the likes of linebackers Daryl Washington, Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield. Or it could all just be a mirage. The Cardinals have allowed only one touchdown the past two weeks - and no passing touchdowns for the past three - and yet their past two wins have come against teams with a combined 5-13 record."

Also from McManaman: Ken Whisenhunt downplays talk of any Cardinals quarterback controversy.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic thinks the Cardinals are likely to give John Skelton another start while Kevin Kolb recovers from his toe injury. Somers: "If Skelton starts and struggles in San Francisco, then there is no decision for Whisenhunt to make. He goes back to Kolb. If Skelton plays well and Kolb returns to health, then Whisenhunt will have to participate in the quarterback discussion then. Not before."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com has this to say about former Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart, the new starter in Houston following Matt Schaub's injury: "Leinart will take over the reins of a 7-3 team that is in control of its division. The Texans have a favorable schedule, a great run game and a good defense. I was surprised Leinart passed up a chance to sign with Seattle this offseason and possibly become the starter. It worked out for him. It will be interesting to see how life in Houston plays out with Leinart as QB."

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams quarterback Sam Bradford left for one play against Cleveland after getting hit in the thigh, not after aggravating his ankle injury. No walking boot for Bradford this week, either.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch runs through the Rams' lengthy injury list. Thomas: "Spagnuolo mentioned 15 injured players, or nearly one-third of a game-day roster. Among them, cornerback Al Harris and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui are out for the season with knee injuries suffered Sunday in Cleveland. ... Cornerbacks are all but an endangered species at Rams Park. The Rams also are running low on offensive tackles and tight ends, and they aren't exactly swimming in wide receivers."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com expects Chris Long to finish with around 13 sacks this season. Long has eight heading into a matchup with Seahawks right tackle James Carpenter.