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Friday, September 26, 2008
Audibles: NFC West Week 4 preview


Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

San Francisco 49ers (2-1) at New Orleans Saints (1-2), 1 p.m. ET

The 49ers have to like their chances of claiming their second road victory in as many chances this season.

Quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan proved he could fight through a slow start in Seattle and still rally the 49ers to an upset victory in a hostile environment. The Saints aren't as formidable as the Seahawks on defense, and they are also suffering from a long list of injuries. Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense will test the 49ers' defense even without receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jeremy Shockey. This could be a high-scoring game.

O'Sullivan and tight end Vernon Davis came close to connecting on a couple of big plays last week. Davis is averaging 17.0 yards per reception, up from 9.8 last season, and his speed could give the Saints problems down the middle of the field. His timing and overall rapport with O'Sullivan should improve as the season progresses.

Redskins tight end Chris Cooley caught five passes for 72 yards against the Saints in Week 2. Let's see if Davis can exploit a weak and injury-depleted Saints defense.

The 49ers have been very effective with two tight ends on the field and Frank Gore alone in the backfield. They averaged 6.1 yards on nine carries and 10.2 yards on five pass plays while operating from that personnel grouping against Detroit in Week 3.

Buffalo Bills (3-0) at St. Louis Rams (0-3), 4:05 p.m. ET

The Rams are facing a potential mutiny after benching quarterback Marc Bulger and releasing cornerback Fakhir Brown in response to their 0-3 start. Those moves seem unlikely to produce the type of emotional response needed for sustained success. This is an organization in panic mode and without effective leadership on any level.

Think about it. The Rams handed a six-year, $65 million deal to Bulger before the 2007 season. They brought in Al Saunders as offensive coordinator this year, then benched Bulger after three games in a new system. Only an organization in turmoil makes that type of move.

The way Rams running back Steven Jackson sees things, the Rams' switch to Trent Green at quarterback serves Saunders as much as it serves the Rams. It's fair to wonder if Saunders will suddenly open up the playbook now that his quarterback is under center. Saunders and Green enjoyed great success together in Kansas City, but they don't have Tony Gonzalez and a dominating offensive line on their side this time.

The Rams have the look of a badly injured animal. There's always a chance desperation will compel them to rise up and fight. Most likely, the Bills will have to overlook the Rams for St. Louis to succeed in this game.

I sense no emotional groundswell in response to the lineup changes. I do anticipate wide running lanes for Marshawn Lynch and more confusion in the Rams' secondary as Lee Evans works deep downfield.

Arizona Cardinals (2-1) at New York Jets (1-2), 1 p.m. ET

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is betting big on changing the organization's culture. He has convinced ownership to spend money on assistant coaches. This week, he convinced the organization to invest in a week-long experiment to see if the Cardinals are mature enough to handle life on the road in Washington, D.C.

We'll find out much about the Cardinals when they face the Jets at the Meadowlands. Arizona has the better team in this matchup. If that shows on the scoreboard, Whisenhunt wins big. If the Cardinals play sloppily and lose, they'll be 2-2 and no closer to demonstrating just how much things have changed in the desert.

Staying in the nation's capital after the 24-17 loss at Washington made sense in theory. While the Jets were playing a Monday night game on the West Coast, the Cardinals were secure in knowing they wouldn't have to travel this week. But the trip also risked turning the week into an extended frat party.

How did the Cardinals approach this trip? How far have they come under Whisenhunt? We'll have a better idea Sunday afternoon.