NFL Nation: audibles NFC 4
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
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.
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.
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.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Buccaneers quarterback Brian Griese threw an unheard-of 67 times last week against Chicago. Yes, it was an overtime game, but it's safe to say the Bucs feel good about their passing game.
That confidence should make for an interesting matchup Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, where the Packers will bring an injury-depleted secondary. At least two starters, cornerback Al Harris and safety Atari Bigby, are expected to miss the game -- and two other safeties were nursing injuries as the weekend began.
If neither Nick Collins nor Aaron Rouse are available, the Packers will be down to their third-string safeties (Charlie Peprah and Jarrett Bush). The changes don't have to be game-breakers, but rest assured: Griese will test the Packers secondary from the outset.
The defensive tackle tandem of Kevin and Pat Williams receive plenty of due credit for the Vikings' strong run defense. But no less important is the play of middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, whose sideline-to-sideline ferocity will be just as critical Sunday against a Titans rushing offense that is averaging 157 yards per game.
Vikings coaches already have credited Henderson with four tackles behind the line of scrimmage, one sack, one forced fumble and 31 tackles overall this season. He isn't the NFL's fastest linebacker, but his sure-footed instincts will make him a good match against Titans tailbacks LenDale White and Chris Johnson.
Henderson's intensity this season recently prompted defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to make a pretty strong comparison. "He reminds me a little bit of [Mike] Singletary," said Frazier, a teammate of Singletary's when both played for the Chicago Bears.
The Williamses will get plenty of attention from the Tennessee offensive line, but the Titans would be well-advised to keep close tabs on Henderson as well.
We've hashed through the Bears' defensive problems pretty thoroughly here this week. Suffice it to say, there's some concern in Chicago about the damage Donovan McNabb -- chest injury or otherwise -- could inflict along with his 10 closest friends Sunday night.
Yet that's not the only issue the Bears are facing. Through three weeks, the Eagles have the NFL's best run defense, allowing 45.7 rushing yards per game. If that performance holds true at Soldier Field, the Bears will lose the production of their best and most consistent offensive player: Tailback Matt Forte.
Forte has touched the ball on 43 percent of Chicago's offensive plays and has 73 carries through three games. Do the Bears trust their passing game to carry the offense? Do you?
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
There's no such thing as a must-win game in Week 4, except for when you're talking about the Saints' situation.
They're battered with injuries and a suspension (guard Jamar Nesbit) and they're 1-2. Before the season, you would have looked at this game and automatically penciled in a win for the Saints. Now, nothing is automatic.
But the Saints have to win this game. It's the first of three straight home games (Minnesota and Oakland follow San Francisco into the Superdome) and the Saints have to come out of that stretch with at least two wins or their season is over. After the homestand, they won't play in Louisiana again until Nov. 24.
They have an upcoming stretch where they go to Carolina and London for a game with the Chargers. Things get a little easier after that with a bye and road trips to Atlanta and Kansas City. But that might not help if the Saints are buried in a hole.
Both teams are trying to establish identities and this game should make everything a lot more clear. Atlanta's two victories have come against the lowly Lions and Chiefs, but the Falcons have to win an NFC South game before they truly can contend in the NFC South.
In their wins, the Falcons have run the ball and taken the pressure off rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. In their lone loss, Ryan looked like a rookie quarterback because Tampa Bay took the running game away.
Think the Panthers might have seen the film of that game?
Carolina's defense has played well, but the offense hit a snag in Minnesota. Quarterback Jake Delhomme suddenly is taking a lot of criticism for being too emotional when he gets sacked or the offense is penalized. That's nothing new. Delhomme always has been emotional. The gestures just look different when the Panthers are playing smart football.
What will Jon Gruden come up with this week? Anything's possible. With top receiver Joey Galloway out last week, the Bucs threw a team-record 67 times against the Bears and, almost a decade too late, Brian Griese finally looked like John Elway.
But you can't ask Griese to do anything close to that every week. The Bucs need to be able to run the ball. They've got Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn, who each showed some flashes in the first two games. There's been a lot of talk about how this might be the best offensive line in franchise history (then again, think about the history of this franchise) and that may be true.
It's tremendous to throw the ball 67 times and not give up a sack -- even if most of the passes were thrown on short drops. But this offensive line needs to show it can block for the run before it can be considered anything special.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Another early-season division showdown. The Cowboys are heavily favored, but I don't see a blowout coming. After a dismal showing against the Giants on opening night, the Redskins have bounced back with wins against the Saints and Cardinals. Quarterback Jason Campbell seems to have found a rhythm within coach Jim Zorn's West Coast offense.
Campbell has great respect for Wade Phillips' defense, but he also knows he torched it last November in a 28-23 loss at Texas Stadium. Win or lose, we'll know a lot more about the Redskins after Sunday's game. Tight end Chris Cooley and wide receiver Santana Moss have both had huge games against the the Cowboys over the past three seasons. Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart wants to make sure Moss doesn't catch any deep balls.
The Redskins have a strong running game with Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts, but their only hope against the Cowboys is through the air. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is hoping to cut down on some of his mistakes. He has turned the ball over in the end zone three times, and he can't do that against an opportunistic Redskins defense. Look for Redskins rookie safety Chris Horton to receive a lot of snaps this week. Washington loves what he brings to its defense.
There's a good chance the Eagles will be playing without three key starters on offense. Brian Westbrook (ankle) is questionable, but the fact that he didn't practice at all this week leads me to believe he'll sit this one out. Westbrook's backups, Correll Buckhalter and Lorenzo Booker, have to be ready to go.
The Eagles could also be without tight end L.J. Smith (back) and right guard Shawn Andrews (back). At even strength, this is a game the Eagles should win, but in my book, it's a pick'em if Westbrook doesn't play. Donovan McNabb (chest) will have plenty of weapons at receiver, but the line has to do a good job of protecting him for the Eagles to win.
Remember the defensive game plan against the Steelers? I'd do the same thing. Try to slow down running back Matt Forte early, and then put the game in Kyle Orton's hands. I don't think they'll sack him eight times as they did Ben Roethlisberger, but he'll go down four or five times. This is a game that Jim Johnson's defense needs to win, and I think they'll be up to the task.