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Friday, September 19, 2008
Audibles -- NFC West Week 3 preview

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

St. Louis Rams (0-2) at Seattle Seahawks (0-2), 4:05 p.m. ET

Both teams are a bit edgy coming off consecutive defeats to open the season. The Rams are already in desperation mode. Owner Chip Rosenbloom made sure of it when he said jobs would be lost if the team didn't show improvement. Coach Scott Linehan got the message. Linehan also got the Seahawks' attention by saying he thought the Rams would win this game because they didn't have any choice.

"I think every coach has a certain confidence level," Seattle's Mike Holmgren responded. "More often than not, they don't talk about it publicly. I will probably mention that."

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck told Seattle reporters the 0-2 start would not lead the Seahawks to "make ridiculous statements and say things that are panic things to say." Hasselbeck also told St. Louis reporters he expected to win the division again because that's what the Seahawks have done for the last four seasons.

"That is a pretty bold statement," Rams defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said, "but you still have to line up on Sunday at 1 o'clock (PT) and put your money where your mouth is."

Seattle's receiving situation is a mess. The Rams' defensive secondary has given up huge plays repeatedly. Linehan has talked about both teams being in same position given their 0-2 record, but the pressure is clearly on the Rams. All signs point to Seattle in this matchup.

Arizona Cardinals (2-0) at Washington Redskins (1-1), 1 p.m. ET

Watch to see if the Cardinals' defense can confuse Jason Campbell and force him into mistakes. Arizona has simplified its defense since Ken Whisenhunt arrived as head coach, but defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast knows the Redskins' offense. The connection: Redskins coach Jim Zorn.

Zorn and Pendergast squared off twice annually when Zorn was coaching quarterbacks for the Seahawks. In 2004, when Pendergast was in his first year with Arizona, the Cardinals forced Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck into a four-interception game at Sun Devil Stadium. Zorn and Hasselbeck learned from those struggles, allowing Seattle to enjoy success as Hasselbeck became a more complete quarterback.

The Cardinals probably would have won at Washington last season if Kurt Warner hadn't thrown two interceptions. Warner said so this week. He has protected the ball better than ever during the first two games; Arizona is the only NFL team without a turnover. The Cardinals can win this game if Warner doesn't revisit his previously careless ways.

I'll be monitoring two matchups in this game. One, how does the middle of the Cardinals' defense hold up against Clinton Portis' physical running? Arizona has had injury problems at nose tackle. Portis runs hard between the tackles. Two, how will Cardinals right tackle Levi Brown fare against Redskins defensive end Jason Taylor? Knee injuries have slowed both payers recently.

Detroit Lions (0-2) at San Francisco 49ers (1-1), 4:05 p.m. ET

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz's presence in San Francisco makes this game interesting. The Lions have had nice things to say about Martz all week. Martz has downplayed the significance of facing his old team. Does anyone really think Martz is viewing this as just another game against just another opponent?

Frank Gore is coming off a tough week at Seattle. The Seahawks loaded up to stop him. Their defensive tackles consistently won one-on-one matchups. The Lions lack the same kind of ability. Martz talked all offseason about running the offense through Gore. He talked about establishing a minimum number of touches for Gore in each game. This would seem to be Gore's chance to enjoy a breakout game against a vulnerable defense.

In 2007, the Lions' rushing totals varied wildly late in the season as criticism mounted over the team's pass-happy tendencies. Check out the number of times the Lions carried the ball in each of their last eight games: eight, 11, 30, seven, 32, nine, 32 and 17. Game situations dictated some of that, but an AFC team executive once told me he thought those types of discrepancies reflected Martz's tendency to react to criticism.

Despite a 33-30 upset victory in Seattle last week, the critics pointed to eight sacks allowed by the 49ers. I'm thinking that figure will fall sharply this week.