RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks tight ends Luke Willson and Cooper Helfet were practicing their deep-snapping skills at practice Tuesday, just in case.

Starting tight end Zach Miller, who had minor ankle surgery last week, also happens to be the back-up deep snapper to Clint Gresham, so Willson and Helfet thought they should be ready.

“I haven’t done that since junior college,” Helfet said. “I can do it if they need me.”

[+] EnlargeLuke Willson
Jeff Chiu/Associatred PressLuke Willson will fill in as Seattle's starting tight end while Zach Miller is out with injury.
Willson and Helfet’s immediate concern this week is getting the job done at tight end while Miller is out for at least the next two games. Willson steps into the starting role, something he did in two games last season as a rookie while Miller was injured.

“When you’re the backup guy, you kind of always want to prepare for it,” Willson said Tuesday. “It’s not one of those things where I feel like I’m entering new territory.”

It is for Helfet, the team’s third tight end who played in his first NFL game against Denver on Sept. 21, but only one special teams. So Helfet likely will see his first action at tight end in the road game Monday night against Washington.

“I’ve been getting ready for this moment for a long time,” Helfet said. “It’s exciting, but it’s the same stuff for me. I’m been playing in this offense for a long time [two seasons on the practice squad], so I’m comfortable and I’m ready to take that step. I’m ready to get in there and make some plays. I know the two-tight end sets and I should be in there for a couple of different packages.”

If the need arises, the Seahawks have some other options, as well. One is rookie offensive tackle Garry Gilliam, who played tight end his first three years at Penn State

Gilliam (6-foot-5, 305) said he worked on several pass routes at practice Tuesday and felt comfortable running all of them.

It’s unlikely, but Seattle also could use rookie defensive end Cassius Marsh at tight end, who caught two touchdowns passes lining up at tight end at UCLA.

“Whatever the team needs," Marsh said. “I was in the game plan every week [at UCLA]. I would line up in short yardage and sometimes out wide, but the majority was at tight end in goal-line situations. I’m very comfortable doing it.”

If it’s just for blocking, the Seahawks also could use back-up offensive lineman Alvin Bailey as a third tackle, something they did a few times at the end of last season.

“If they call my number I’ll be ready,” Bailey said. “We had some success with that at the end of the year and the playoffs.”

The majority of the responsibilities at tight end will fall on Willson’s shoulders. He has only one catch in the first three games, but Willson believes he is a much better player than he was a year ago when he caught 20 passes.

“Oh, big time,” Willson said. “Especially when it comes to recognizing defensive fronts and just being comfortable with technique, I feel like it’s night and day.”

Miller isn’t easily replaced. He’s an eight-year veteran who is viewed as one of the better blocking tight ends in the league. But he also caught 33 passes last season and had five touchdowns.

“Zach, he’s so mentally strong,” Willson said. “He’s a pro’s pro with his veteran leadership. I’m going to have to try and step up as much as I can and get the job done.”

Willson said he knew almost immediately after the Denver game that Miller was going to undergo surgery on his ankle.

“Just talking to him, it was pretty painful,” Willson said. “I think he played 71 snaps on that ankle, which is pretty remarkable. I saw him out there struggling, but he was fighting. I’ve got to hold down the fort until he comes back.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Peyton Manning won’t be the only one trying some trickery at the line of scrimmage Sunday in Denver.

The Cardinals defense believes it’s found the key to slowing down Manning and the Broncos’ 10th-ranked passing attack. All it will take is a hat, a fake mustache and a pair of glasses.

“You can disguise some and you can try to disguise as much as you want,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Cromartie
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriAntonio Cromartie has picked off Peyton Manning four times in his career.
“He’s going to find them out sooner or later.”

The arduous task of disguising the coverages, blitzes and schemes well enough to fool Manning will be left up to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who has coached against the quarterback five times, beating him just once. But Bowles-coached secondaries have figured out something about Manning. They’ve intercepted him seven times while allowing just eight touchdown passes -- never more than two in a game. Bowles’ defenses have allowed Manning to throw for more than 300 yards just twice -- the first time he faced Manning in 2000, which also happened to be Arians’ last season as Manning’s quarterback’s coach in Indianapolis, and the last time in 2009.

This week, Bowles will have some help.

Arians and assistant head coach Tom Moore might know Manning better than any coaching tandem in the league. Arians spent the first three years of Manning’s career as his position coach and Moore was the only offensive coordinator Manning ever knew in Indianapolis.

Add in cornerback Antonio Cromartie's experience against Manning, which includes four career interceptions -- three of which came in one game -- cornerback Jerraud Powers' three seasons as Manning’s teammate, and linebacker Larry Foote's four games against Manning, and the Cardinals have a deep well of institutional knowledge to draw from this week.

Cromartie and Foote both said the best way to keep Manning guessing is to line up in the same defensive formation on every play.

Just “holding your disguise, holding it,” Foote said with some emphasis. “You ain’t got to show other stuff but just holding it, that helps. A lot of the time he gets the ball out of his hands so fast. He sees something and he goes.”

For the last week-and-a-half, Cromartie has been instilling in the secondary the importance of not tipping their hands to Manning, who’s nine touchdown passes away from tying Brett Favre’s all-time record of 508. On Monday, fourth-year cornerback Patrick Peterson sounded like a young, eager defensive back that’s never faced Manning.

He was 8 when Manning took his first NFL snap, but Peterson has been listening intently to Cromartie and Powers, who was Manning’s teammate with the Colts from 2009-2011.

“Make sure every single coverage is the same so we can make sure that we can get into his head versus him getting into ours,” Peterson said.

But, as many defensive backs have learned over Manning’s 16 seasons, that’s a lot easier said than done.

Holding the disguise in blitzes could be the difference between Manning picking apart the Cardinals’ secondary and Arizona leaving Denver 4-0.

Manning has been blitzed 34 times this season and has thrown on 31 of them, according to ESPN Stats & Information. All three of his sacks have come courtesy of a blitz, but he hasn’t thrown an interception when the rush comes full force. His yards per attempt drops from 8.18 to 5.42 when he’s blitzed, however.

The Cardinals have blitzed on 31.2 percent of their snaps, recording two sacks and two interceptions. Considering how much Arizona relies on bringing five or more rushers, not giving Manning time to adjust his progressions or even the presnap call is critical.

“What he likes to do, he will hold that ball until you got to show it and a lot of times what we did in Pittsburgh was we just, during the week, worked on disguises,” Foote said.

With an extra week to study Arizona’s defense, especially the Cards’ blitzes, Manning needs just one hint to burn the Cardinals.

“You’ll hit him with some new blitzes and then he’ll figure out how to protect them,” Arians said. “That’s what his greatness is, is his cerebralness in the game.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Hang out at home and still move up in this week's ESPN NFL Power Rankings?

SportsNation

Are the Cardinals a top-four team in the NFL?

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    40%
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    20%
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    27%
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    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 907)

The Arizona Cardinals will take it.

Thanks to loss by the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cardinals moved up one spot to fourth, behind No. 1 Seattle, No. 2 Cincinnati and No. 3 Denver -- this week's opponent. It's tough to argue that Arizona belongs among the league's elite teams based on its record but are the Cardinals one of the top 4 teams in the NFL?

They have a defense that says so but the offense, once believed to be the foundation of the team, has been getting by with a backup quarterback in two of Arizona's three games. If the Cards are winning with Drew Stanton at quarterback and a decimated front seven, imagine how good this team could be when it gets Carson Palmer back on offense, and Frostee Rucker fully healthy and Alex Okafor back on defense.

Sunday's game against third-ranked Denver will tell Arizona how close it is to being an elite team on the field, not just in the rankings.
RENTON, Wash. -- The shoes were the solution, according to Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor.

Chancellor said his issue with ankle pain has been alleviated for now by changing the type of shoes he was wearing.

“It must be the high tops,” Chancellor said Tuesday after practice. “I was playing with low tops. I switched, well, maybe to more mid tops. But I have more support for my ankles.”

[+] EnlargeAntonio Gates
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsSeahawks safety Kam Chancellor struggled in Week 2 against the Chargers with ankle pain, but switching shoes appears to have been the answer.
Chancellor said changing his shoes made him realize he could get by without undergoing surgery for bone spurs in his ankles, something he considered after struggling in Seattle's 30-21 loss at San Diego.

“Yeah, I was thinking about [surgery] before the Broncos game,” Chancellor said. “We found some ways to get around it and get better comfort. It feels better now. It’s feels good. No concerns at all.”

Chancellor had surgery for bone spurs in his ankles two years ago. The problem recently resurfaced.

“It just came back up," he said. “It started the Tuesday before that game [at San Diego]. It was hurting a little bit, but I didn’t want to talk about it because I’m not a guy to talk about pain or complain. So I went along with it and thought it would be OK by the time game time got here. But it wasn’t, unfortunately.”

Chancellor had one of the worst games of his career in the loss to the Chargers, when San Diego tight end Antonio Gates caught three touchdown passes.

“That’s football,” Chancellor said. “If you’re a man, you take your beatings like a man and you get back up to fight again. Of course it was stressful playing in pain like that, but it’s something that goes with football. Some of the best play with pain and beat people [while] in pain.”

Nevertheless, Chancellor knew something had to change.

“I talked to the trainers the next couple of days after that game,” he said. “I got some rest and adjusted the shoes. I went out to see how I felt on the grass in the shoes and it felt good.”

Chancellor, who also had offseason hip surgery and missed training camp this summer, played well in the next game with nine tackles and a big interception in the fourth quarter against Denver.

He thinks the issues with his ankles are something he can manage the rest of the season, thanks to the change in shoes.

“I manage everything during the season,” Chancellor said. “The way I play, I have to manage my whole body anyway. I get early treatment in the morning and get massages. I have to take care of my body so it’ll take care of me.”

Chancellor was asked why he didn’t recommend his new shoes to tight end Zach Miller, who opted to have ankle surgery last week to remove his bone spurs.

“That’s two different physiques,” Chancellor said, smiling. “He can’t support all that weight with the shoes I’ve got. He’s a big guy [6-foot-5, 260], but he took care of it and he’ll be back soon.”
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A couple of higher-profile San Francisco 49ers players have joined Jim Harbaugh in dismissing the NFL Network’s claim by Deion Sanders that players want Harbaugh out as head coach.

49ers receiver Michael Crabtree, who is friends with Sanders, took to Twitter Tuesday morning, posting:

Also, right guard Alex Boone went on ESPN Radio affiliate 95.7 The Game on Monday afternoon.

“If you’re not in our locker room, then keep the 49ers’ name out of your mouth,” Boone said. “Let’s just do that. Because you have no idea what goes on in our locker room.

“I know for a fact that everybody loves Harbaugh. He’s a great guy. How can you not want to win for a guy that wears cleats during the game? Come on now. Have you not seen that guy’s energy? He’s excited 24-7. You’ve got to love to play for a guy like that. That’s what football is all about.”

Harbaugh said Monday he had trouble giving credence to “anonymous” sources, calling it “crap,” something Boone echoed.

Meanwhile, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke, with whom Harbaugh purportedly has a tenuous relationship, downplayed the reports on his weekly radio appearance on The Game.

“All I know is that this team is fully committed,” Baalke said, “everybody from the head coach on down. We’re all in, and we’re all in it together and we’ve got to continue to grind.”

Rams encouraged by offensive progress

September, 30, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- While the St. Louis Rams defense was the group expected to take a big step forward in 2014, it so far has been a disappointment. But for as much of a letdown as the early defensive returns have been, the Rams have been equally encouraged by the start of the offense.

Although there remains plenty of work to do for the Rams to improve offensively, there have been steady signs of progress in the first three weeks. As of Tuesday morning, the Rams are ninth in the league in yards per game (368.3), ninth in passing yards per game (264.3) and sixth in time of possession (32:12).

[+] EnlargeAustin Davis
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAustin Davis leads the NFL in completion percentage.
"I think the best way for us to look at it is the offense did move the ball well, we looked a lot better week by week," tight end Lance Kendricks said. "We have kind of got to take that in stride and use that as motivation going forward."

Perhaps most surprising about the offense's start has been the production through the air while the running game has been middling. The emergence of quarterback Austin Davis in the team's past two games has been an impetus for the improvement, but there is more at play than just Davis' league-leading accuracy.

With opposing defenses loading up to stop the run, the Rams have found favorable matchups for their receivers on the outside. That's not new for the Rams but it is a step forward that the Rams are now actually winning some of those one-on-one battles. Receiver Brian Quick leads the way in that regard with his 16 catches for 235 yards and a touchdown.

But beyond Quick, Davis and the passing game have found success by spreading the ball around. After three weeks, the Rams have 10 players with at least three catches.

"Moving the ball around to different people is always a good thing," Kendricks said. "It makes them have to play it true and play everyone and play it fair. This week, I think the focus is just building on what we did already and improving on last week’s performance. Even though we did perform well, we can always get better as an offensive unit."

One way to do that is to get the running game going on a more consistent basis. The offense was supposed to center on the rushing attack but the first three weeks have offered a series of stops and starts. The Rams are 22nd in the league in rushing offense at 104 yards per game and 20th in yards per attempt at 3.85.

The offensive line has shown improvement in each week of the season and that should continue as it plays together more. Defenses playing with extra defenders in the box is probably going to continue, and it didn't stop the Rams from having success running the ball last year. They can start by finding bigger chunk runs than what they have.

The Rams' longest rush this season was an 18-yard gain on an end-around to Tavon Austin.

“We know we’ll get heavy boxes and people trying to stop the run," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "We need to create some explosive runs. We get guys in the secondary creating seams, they've got to be able to take advantage of that. But it’s a process. That certainly takes pressure off of us by getting in second down and manageable, third down and manageable. But we go well when we’re balanced and we run the football. When teams take that away from us we tend to struggle a little bit, so hopefully we’ll like always try to get the running game going and generate a few more explosive plays. ”

If the Rams can do that, they should be able to continue building on a surprising start as they head into games with much better defenses.

Revealing Sherman profile on E:60

September, 30, 2014
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Who is Richard Sherman?

Sherman
That’s the theme of Tuesday’s profile of the successful and sometimes controversial Seattle Seahawks cornerback on the fall premiere of E:60 at 8 p.m. ET.

ESPN’s Kenny Mayne shows sides of Sherman some people haven’t seen -- reserved, thoughtful and generous -- words not usually associated with the Pro Bowl player who often is viewed as boastful and arrogant.

But this profile proves there is much more to Sherman than the brash-talker the world has come to know.

Sherman has achieved many of his NFL goals -- winning the Super Bowl, leading the NFL in interceptions and receiving a $57 million contract extension.

But Sherman also talks about how he demands more of himself and must be a success off the field, as well, like promoting education for children from underprivileged backgrounds similar to his own.

This is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the Seahawks star and his journey from Compton to Stanford, how it shaped him and how he is raw and refined at the same time. Sherman always will be hard to define.

The Film Don’t Lie: 49ers

September, 30, 2014
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A weekly look at what the San Francisco 49ers must fix.

Rather than fixing something that is not broken -- as the Niners seemingly did in the first three weeks of the season by changing their offensive identity -- they must stay the course by continuing to pound the ball and stretch their runs against the Kansas City Chiefs, who will roll into Santa Clara this weekend after blowing out the New England Patriots on "Monday Night Football."

During the season's first three games, the 49ers floated away from their identity as a smashmouth, power-running team. And they paid for it with a 1-2 start.

In Week 3, they returned to their roots by riding Frank Gore, who rushed for 119 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles, and churning out 218 yards rushing as a team.

And ESPN Stats & Information came up with this nugget: Against the Eagles, the 49ers ran outside of the tackles 14 times and picked up 148 yards, the second-most yards they’ve gained there in a game since at least 2006. And it was the most rushing yards a team has had outside the tackles since the start of the 2013 season.

“This is about us being back to who we are,” Niners right guard Alex Boone said after the game. “Now we have to keep building on it, keep rolling and realize that we have a tough team coming to town in Kansas City. We have to just go out and continue to build on what we have done so far.”

The Chiefs have the 19th-ranked rush defense in the league, giving up 116.5 yards on the ground per game.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- This week would be different for the Arizona Cardinals if almost any other team was next up on the schedule.

But they’re preparing to take their undefeated record to the Rocky Mountains to face the Denver Broncos, the defending AFC champions who are quarterbacked by a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

Foote
If that won’t keep a team’s focus and avoid a hangover after a bye week, nothing will.

“It’s a good thing that we’re playing against Denver because if you’re playing against a team that ain’t doing so well, you’ll be lollygagging into the week,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “But since we’re playing a high opponent at their place, that juice is already going. Guys know it.”

So does Arians, who was Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s position coach from 1998-2000 with the Indianapolis Colts. He, along with the rest of football, hasn’t lost track of his former pupil and has watched Manning develop into one of the best ever at the position -- especially at home.

Since 2001, Manning is 76-22 at home -- which includes a 16-2 record in Denver, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“It’s much different playing him at home than on the road,” Arians said.

Foote noticed there was better communication during Monday’s practice, which was Arizona’s first contact since beating San Francisco on Sept. 21.

The Cardinals returned to the field for the first time since Wednesday wearing pads. About midway through practice, Arians had his charges take them off. But that was all the Cardinals needed to get back into the swing.

“Just hit each other,” Arians said. “That’s why we had pads on today. We didn’t have them on last week because we didn’t need to but we’ll have them on twice this week to make sure we’re game ready.”

Some Cardinals took preparations into their own hands.

With the extra week to prepare, Foote began watching film on Denver last week. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie began Monday. The Broncos were also off last weekend so Arizona didn’t have a game to study during the weekend, but it didn’t matter. Arizona’s coaching staff began breaking down film of the Broncos last spring because they didn’t change coordinators and Arians knew Manning wasn’t going to alter the offense much.

It isn’t often that Arizona has been part of a game with hype and build-up, at least this early in the season. The Cardinals weren't going to let a bye week derail what's already been started.

“I’m excited,” Foote said. “We’re geeked up. It’s no secret people are starting to talk about us. We got to keep going.”
RENTON, Wash. -- It’s a bad week for the Seattle Seahawks to lose their starting tight end, considering how poorly the Washington Redskins played against the New York Giants’ tight ends last week.

Eli Manning was 10-of-11 while targeting his tight ends in New York’s 45-14 victory on Sept. 25 -- including 7-of-8 for 54 yards and three touchdowns to Larry Donnell.

Seattle tight end Zach Miller is out for at least the next two games after undergoing a clean-up procedure on an ankle. That makes second-year player Luke Willson the starter for the Monday night game against Washington at FedEx Field.

[+] EnlargeZach Miller
AP Photo/Scott EklundThe Seahawks are going to be without tight end Zach Miller for at least two weeks.
Willson (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) has only one reception this season. He had 20 receptions for 272 yards and one touchdown as a rookie. Willson is viewed as a good receiver, but not the blocker that Miller is.

“It’s a great opportunity for him to step up,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Willson. “He’s improved in every area. He’s stronger and faster than he was a year ago, but this is a lot to ask of him.”

The Seahawks also have tight end Cooper Helfet, a Duke graduate who spent last year on the practice squad. Helfet played in his first NFL game on Sept. 21 against Denver, only on special teams.

Carroll said the team could bring in another tight end, but he was more inclined to stay in-house.

“We looked hard and brought a lot of guys in here and worked out a lot of people,” Carroll said. “But we would like to stay with our people, banking on the communications and the system working for us. We're going to get it fixed right here.”

That leaves a few options, including rookie offensive tackle Garry Gilliam, who played tight end for three seasons at Penn State before moving to tackle.

“He has it in his background,” Carroll said. "He’s eligible to do it. He’s pretty quiet. He hasn’t come up and banged on my door about that, but he’s more than willing. He knows. We’ve talked about it since he first got here that this could be a possibility. He’s ready if we call on him.”

The Seahawks also have RaShaun Allen on the practice squad. He's a 6-4, 250-pound rookie out of Southern. And rookie defensive end Cassius Marsh lined up at tight end a few times at UCLA in goal line situations, catching two touchdown passes.

“Oh yeah, now he has banged on my door a few times,” Carroll said of Marsh. “He’s not as quiet as Garry.”

The biggest issue with Miller being out is the loss of a quality blocker on the edge. Miller has lined up quite a bit on the right side to help out rookie right tackle Justin Britt.

Another option for the Seahawks is to use a third tackle on the line in Alvin Bailey, which they did a few times at the end of last season. But that takes a receiver option out of the game.

No option gives the Seahawks everything they get from Miller, an eight-year veteran who played his first four seasons in Oakland when Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable was there.

“Zach does a ton of things for us’’ Carroll said. “He was with Tom those years in Oakland. That background they’ve built really helped us a lot in so many areas with all the little things [Miller] knows how to do, like being in motion, playing as a fullback as well as a normal tight end. And we’ve moved him everywhere, including outside. He’s a very versatile player that we will miss a lot in him being out.”

But the Seahawks felt it was better to get Miller healthy now, using the bye week, than risk losing him later in the season.

“It wasn’t going to get any better,’’ Carroll said. “He had some loose bodies [in his ankle] and it was very uncomfortable. It’s been bothering him for a number of weeks. He’s been playing with it and we don’t want him to have to tolerate it any longer. We wanted to fix him up and hope he has a speedy recovery.’’
RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is hoping that tight end Zach Miller only misses a couple of games after undergoing a clean-up procedure on his ankle, but there was some good news on the injury situation Monday.

After saying last week that strong safety Kam Chancellor could have ongoing ankle problems all season, Carroll had a more optimistic response to Chancellor’s situation when asked about it after practice.

“It bothered him a lot in the San Diego game [Sept. 14],” Carroll said of Chancellor. “But he did a really good job against Denver [Sept. 21] and he looked fine [Monday]. We might be able to put that behind us. We hope so.”

Carroll also was encouraged about the progress cornerback Tharold Simon has made since undergoing minor knee surgery on Sept. 4, but Simon won’t return for the Monday night game at Washington.

“He’s doing great,” Carroll said of Simon. “He’s only a couple weeks away from getting back out here.”
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When the St. Louis Rams travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles this Sunday, Austin Davis should be the starter at quarterback.

Davis
I wrote as much after Davis' performance against the Dallas Cowboys, and obviously nothing has happened in the time since that has made me change my mind. Many of you feel the same way. And, for what it's worth, I still believe coach Jeff Fisher will give Davis another shot against the Eagles. I know he has repeatedly said a healthy Shaun Hill will take the job back when he returns from an injured calf, but Davis has earned the shot.

Either way, it's important to put what Davis did in starts against Tampa Bay and Dallas in perspective. In Davis' two starts, he is 52-of-71 for 562 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 98.4 and a QBR of 77.5. His completion percentage of 72.3 is the best in the NFL, and he is eighth in the league in yards per attempt at 8.02.

Against the Cowboys, Davis was 30-of-42 for 327 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions as the Rams came up short.

Let's take a look at a couple of former or current Rams who got their first opportunity in circumstances similar to Davis and how they fared in their first two starts and what happened after:

Fitzpatrick
Ryan Fitzpatrick: The Rams used a seventh-round pick on Fitzpatrick in 2005. Like Davis, Fitzpatrick began the season as the third-string quarterback behind Marc Bulger and Jamie Martin. On Nov. 27 against the Houston Texans, Fitzpatrick entered the game in place of Martin and went on to energize the team, completing 19-of-30 for 310 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The effort was similar to Davis' work against the Cowboys in that it came against a fledgling defense and the numbers appeared the same. A week later, Fitzpatrick was 21-of-36 for 136 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Doubts began to creep in about whether he should continue to start, and those doubts came to fruition later when he threw five interceptions in a loss to Minnesota. Fitzpatrick has gone on to a nice career that has seen him bounce from Cincinnati to Buffalo to Houston, where he is currently the starter.

Keenum
Keenum
Case Keenum: Like Davis, Keenum entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Texans. After the Rams destroyed the Texans in Week 6 last season, Houston turned to the hometown favorite to take over for Matt Schaub. Also like Davis, Keenum offered immediate results. In his first two starts, Keenum was 35-of-59 for 621 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 118.0 and a QBR of 74.8. Those numbers even exceeded what Davis has done in his first two starts, but the Texans were unable to win either game. From there, Keenum went on to get six more starts, and though he sprinkled in some strong outings (particularly against New England), the Texans were 0-8 with Keenum starting. Now, Keenum is on the Rams' roster providing depth behind Davis.

Of course, Fitzpatrick and Keenum are just two examples of backup quarterbacks who made a splash when they first got starting opportunities but then came back to Earth a bit after. Some backups have gone on to greater success, some have gone on to worse. Davis does have the advantage of being in his third NFL season as opposed to Fitzpatrick and Keenum, who were rookies when they got their first opportunities.

Really, what happens with Davis from here is simple. If he keeps producing, he should keep starting. If he doesn't, the Rams can go back to Hill. Assuming Davis gets the next start, we will learn a lot more about him as the Rams get into the teeth of their schedule.

In the meantime, there is little reason to make a big announcement to declare Davis the starter for the rest of the season. To borrow the cliché from coaches and players all over the league, Davis' position as starter should be taken one game at a time.
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh gave no medical updates Monday on the conditions of injured tight end Vernon Davis or right tackle Anthony Davis.

Davis
Davis
Vernon Davis, who was playing for the first time since injuring his left ankle and knee in Week 2, tweaked his back early in the second half Sunday and said after the game he was not “worried,” adding, “Everything should be cool,” before grimacing and walking off gingerly.

Anthony Davis, meanwhile, was hurt when Colin Kaepernick was sacked in the second quarter and he rolled up on the back of Davis’ left knee. Davis was making his season debut following offseason shoulder surgery and a left hamstring injury that ended his consecutive starts streak after four seasons.

Asked specifically about the right tackle’s knee injury, Harbaugh was cryptic.

“I’d hate to comment right now, before anything official," Harbaugh said.

“How severe? Too severe? Probably best not to comment until some official information (comes out).”

Taking an early look at the Eagles

September, 29, 2014
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EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams return to the field this week with a trip to Philadelphia. With a little extra time before the Rams return from the bye Tuesday morning, let's take a look at what the Eagles bring to the table heading into the week 5 matchup.

Bouncing back: The Eagles suffered their first loss Sunday at San Francisco as the 49ers shut down Philadelphia's vaunted offense. In fact, the Eagles failed to score an offensive touchdown, and their 213 yards of total offense is their second-lowest output under coach Chip Kelly in his two seasons. Despite posting scores by way of punt return, interception return and a blocked punt, the Eagles fell 26-21, so there are a few lingering issues of concern to keep an eye on this week.

McCoy
Running in place: Much of Kelly's offense is based on establishing the run, something the Eagles did particularly well with running back LeSean McCoy in 2013. But right now, the run game is stuck in the mud. McCoy has 29 carries for 39 yards over the past two weeks. That includes a 10-carry, 17-yard performance against San Francisco, the lowest rushing output of his career as a starter. The lack of production left McCoy calling Philadelphia's run game "embarrassing."

Johnson
Line dancing: If you're looking for reasons for Philadelphia's recent offensive struggles, look no further than a banged up offensive line. The Eagles have been without star guard Evan Mathis and top-notch center Jason Kelce, both of whom have been lost to serious injuries. Neither will be available Sunday against the Rams, but Philadelphia will be getting some help up front this week. Tackle Lane Johnson, who was suspended the first four weeks, is eligible to return this week and should be able to hop back in the mix at right tackle. That will help at two positions, because Todd Herremans can move back inside to right guard with Johnson back. A big part of the Niners' success came from getting after quarterback Nick Foles without much help from the blitz, something the Rams haven't done much of this season but should be a major part of their arsenal.

Second-half surges: Despite some of the issues listed above, the Eagles deserve a lot of credit for winning their first three games. The reason for those victories? An impressive knack for dominating in the second half of games. In wins against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins, Philadelphia overcame double-digit deficits to win. That is a strange trend, but it shouldn't be considered too much of a fluke given how the Eagles are built. Kelly prefers to run a fast-paced offense with an emphasis on conditioning that makes it tough on teams in the second half. That trend stopped in San Francisco as the 49ers were able to keep their offense on the field, but it is something to monitor as the Rams head to Philadelphia this week in search of their second win.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- While No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson continues to wait his turn to contribute to the St. Louis Rams, their other first-round pick has jumped out to a strong start despite limited opportunities.

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the No. 13 overall pick in May, isn't technically a starter three games into his rookie season but he's making the most of the chances he's been afforded. And a strong argument could be made that Donald's opportunities should increase based on how he's played.

Although Donald has played an average of just 25.3 snaps per game in the first three games, the unofficial statistics the Rams keep based on coaches' review of the film would indicate he's been their most productive defensive lineman. Those reviews have him down for 16 tackles, a sack and three tackles for loss.

[+] EnlargeAaron Donald
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsRookie Aaron Donald has made the most of the limited opportunities he's been given.
Not that the soft-spoken Donald is satisfied with his early efforts.

"The game is faster," Donald said. "I’m getting adjusted to it and getting a little more comfortable out there but to me, football is football. That’s all we can do is go out there and compete. It’s the same thing I have been doing since I was 5, playing the game of football. Going out there when my number is called and trying to make plays."

For now, it seems unlikely that Donald will have his number called much more than he has throughout the first three weeks. He played 50 percent of the defensive snaps in the opener against Minnesota and has been below that in the games against Tampa Bay and Dallas.

The Rams prefer to rotate their defensive linemen as much as possible which has left Donald relegated to working in behind Kendall Langford on the interior. Most of Donald's snaps have so far come on obvious passing downs as his quickness and pass-rush skills make him a natural fit for that role.

Against Dallas, Donald played 19 of his 27 snaps in pass-rush situations. But Donald has been productive against the run, too. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus has Donald graded as the Rams' best defender in the first three weeks with a grade of 5.9 against the run. That score is second best against the run among defensive tackles in the league according to PFF.

Given the Rams' woes in defending the run, they rank 29th in the league, it would make sense to sprinkle in a handful more snaps for Donald moving forward.

"On pass-rushing downs is usually when I’m going to be in there," Donald said. "But you just rotate. We try to keep each other fresh. When my name is called I’m going to go in there and give it everything I’ve got. Then I come out and he goes back in. That’s the good thing. They are valuable reps and you don’t want to waste none of them so when you are out there, you better be ready to go."

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