NFC West: Cornell Green
That will happen at defensive end, where rookie Robert Quinn is getting the start over injured and inactive veteran James Hall. Quinn has shown flashes of ability as a situational player this season. Taking a longer look at him across additional situations will help.
But in too many other cases, the Rams are playing out the season without learning much about the future. Injuries are one reason. Not having enough young depth is another reason.
Sam Bradford is inactive against the Bengals, but replacement Kellen Clemens is a stopgap, not a developmental player. The team had hoped to keep Thaddeus Lewis on is practice squad coming out camp, but Lewis signed with Cleveland. And without a regular offseason, the team decided to stick with veteran A.J. Feeley as its backup even though Feeley, now injured, did not know the new offense.
Left tackle Rodger Saffold is also out. His replacement Sunday, Adam Goldberg, is 31 years old. The team knows he projects as a backup guard and tackle. He isn't going to develop into more than that.
The team has suffered too many injuries at cornerback to even consider developing young players at that position. With Justin King out Sunday, Rod Hood gets the start. Hood is 30 years old and still coming back from a career-threatening knee injury. He did not play in 2010.
Some of the players St. Louis wanted to develop this season -- tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, receiver Greg Salas and tackle Jason Smith -- are on injured reserve.
As a result, the Rams are largely just playing out the final three games.
The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
- The Cardinals have the same record they had after four games last season. They trailed in the standings at this point in 2009, but they're tied for the NFC West lead even after losing to the Chargers.
- Rookie quarterback Max Hall threw no interceptions in his first extended playing time during the regular season.
- The Cardinals remain unbeaten at home and they are the only NFC West team with a road victory this season.
- Rookie tight end Jim Dray had a 24-yard reception, the first catch of his career.
- Cornerback Greg Toler had a sack and forced fumble.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Former Bengals defensive end Justin Smith made his 49ers debut Friday night. I saw him on the field for 11 snaps. The 49ers moved him around. Here's a play-by-play look at his first live action in a 49ers uniform:
- First down: Smith lines up at right outside linebacker. He pursues Raiders running back Justin Fargas from the back side, but misses the tackle. Smith might have run into a teammate.
- First down: Smith lines up at right outside linebacker. Raiders tight end John Madsen successfully blocks Smith without help on the play.
- Second down: Smith lines up at left defensive end. Raiders righth tackle Cornell Green blocks Smith. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell throws the ball before Smith has time to make an impact.
- Third down: Smith lines up at right defensive tackle. Smith gets pressure up the middle, helping teammate Ray McDonald sack Russell.
- First down: Smith lines up at left defensive end in a 5-2 alignment. Raiders tight end Zach Miller pushes him back about 5 yards on the play.
- Second down: Smith lines up at left outside linebacker in a 5-2 alignment. Russell throws the ball before Smith can make an impact.
- Third down: Smith lines up at left defensive tackle. Russell throws the ball before Smith can make an impact.
- First down: Smith lines up at right defensive end in a 4-3 alignment. Madsen, the tight end, blocks him. Smith sheds the block and tackles Darren McFadden after a 4-yard gain.
- Second down: Smith lines up at right defensive end in a 5-2 alignment. The Raiders ran away from him for a 3-yard gain.
- Third down: Smith lines up at left defensive tackle in a 4-3 alignment. The Raiders run away from him. The Raiders block him effectively. The play gains 8 yards.
- First down: Smith lines up at right outside linebacker. The Raiders run away from him. Smith assists on the tackle after a 5-yard gain.
That was the last play for Smith, by my count. He was on the field for a non-play (negated by penalty), but I didn't count that one. While the 49ers moved Smith around, defenses tend to keep things simple when the games do not count. I would expect more from Smith once the 49ers start game-planning for opponents more seriously. His relentlessness should pay more dividends over the course of a full game, as opposed to a handful of snaps.