NFC West: audibles 5
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Seahawks' reliance on changing plays at the line of scrimmage presents special challenges in hostile environments. The offense struggled badly in that aspect of Seattle's opening-season defeat at Buffalo. Progress must be made for the Seahawks to take full advantage of receivers Bobby Engram and Deion Branch, who are back from injuries.
The Seahawks might be wise to stick with the straight-ahead running game that has worked whenever tried this season, starting in the second half of the Buffalo game. Julius Jones and the offensive line seem well suited to that style of play. It's also a good way to attack an aggressive defense that figures to swarm plays on the perimeter.
This is a huge game for a so-far-underwhelming Seattle defense. Injuries have slowed middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Seattle needs his best in this game. Slowing Brandon Jacobs is the best way for the Seahawks to force Eli Manning into mistakes.
The Cardinals went from 2-2 to 3-6 last season, one reason they couldn't catch Seattle in the division race. A loss to the Bills wouldn't necessarily hurt much in the short term because the Seahawks and 49ers also face tough matchups this week.
This is still a game the Cardinals need to win. They've lost two in a row. They've got the Cowboys coming to the desert in Week 6, a scary thought for the Arizona defense if it doesn't right itself against the Bills this week. A trip to Carolina follows a bye in Week 7. The possibility of a five-game losing streak looms if the Cardinals can't beat the Bills.
The Bills are better on both lines. They have the better running back. They are playing with greater confidence after four consecutive victories. But they don't need this game as badly as the Cardinals need it. Emotions and home-field advantage should serve as equalizers for the Cardinals in this game. I like their chances from that standpoint but wonder if they have the depth to overcome injuries to Adrian Wilson, Bert Berry and Anquan Boldin.
Big-play note: Buffalo's Lee Evans (six) and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (four) have combined for 10 pass receptions of at least 30 yards. Green Bay's Greg Jennings (four) is the only other player in the league with more than three.
The pressure is on the 49ers in more ways than one. The schedule is getting tougher and the offense is having a hard time protecting quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan.
I see a pattern developing. Last week, the Saints had six sacks against the 49ers after collecting only four in three previous games. This week, the Patriots come to Candlestick with only six sacks in three games. I see that number swelling.
The 49ers' offensive line will have a hard time dealing with Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas. Don't forget about Tedy Bruschi, either. The 49ers' blitz pickup could have problems dealing with the combinations New England figures to send toward O'Sullivan.
Look for the 49ers to hit on some big plays on third down. But will it be enough?