Around the NFC West: Fitz vs. DRC

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic examines the relationship between receiver Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Fitzgerald: "I don't think there's a cornerback in the NFL as athletically gifted as he is. He's the best athlete I've gone against since I've played in the NFL. It's hands down, not even close." Both players enter the 2010 season coming off knee injuries. Rodgers-Cromartie has bounced back better than I might have expected. Fitzgerald expects to return for the regular-season opener.

Also from McManaman: The Cardinals head to Tennessee, site of their memorable 2009 regular-season defeat. McManaman: "And then there's Cardinals defensive coordinator Bill Davis, who remembers every last morbid detail of the Titans' stunning 20-17 come-from-behind victory in Week 12 last season. It was so gut-wrenching for Davis, he still has nightmares about it. And the Tennessee game doesn't even haunt him as much as Arizona's playoff performances in a narrow victory over the Green Bay Packers and a loss to eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints." It's a big season for Davis and the Cardinals' defense. The offense probably will not score as many points. The margin for error could shrink on defense.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com pays tribute to former Cardinals (and Rams) receiver Johnny Bailey, who passed away from pancreatic cancer at age 43. Little-known fact from the Cardinals' media guide: Steve Breaston's punt-return touchdown against the Steelers in 2007 was the team's first since 1993, when Bailey returned Reggie Roby's punt 58 yards for a score against the Redskins.

Also from Urban: The Cardinals brace for three games in 11 days.

Cam Inman of Bay Area News Group offers 10 observations from the 49ers' game against the Vikings on Sunday night. Inman: "Rookie tailback Anthony Dixon continues to impress. And not just by scoring the 49ers' lone first-half touchdown. On the sideline, Dixon looked at full attention as (Frank) Gore and running backs coach Tom Rathman mentored him."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers were not happy with their running game against the Vikings. Not having Gore or even Brian Westbrook was a big factor.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at 10 players who were "on the bubble" heading into the 49ers' exhibition game Sunday night. On Travis LaBoy, who enjoyed a strong game against the Vikings: "Based on the first three weeks of training camp, it's hard to see LaBoy making the team. The fourth OLB must be rugged enough to contribute on special teams. LaBoy missed the most of the team's practices with a concussion. The 49ers also are wary of a foot injury that cost LaBoy the 2009 season. However, he still has three preseason games to make an impression."

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Alex Smith was sharp for the 49ers. Barber: "Smith's performance was a big step up from the first game. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 88 yards, for a solid passer rating of 88. And the fact that he did it without Crabtree, (Vernon) Davis and Gore says something of his ability to improvise."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Smith needs to be a little less nice, or maybe a lot less nice. True, Smith might be better off if his personality had a sharper edge. The most important thing, however, is for Smith to be himself. Faking an edge isn't going to work.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle checks in with Patrick Willis following the linebacker's big hit on Brett Favre. Willis: "He's a wise old vet. I guess he was like, 'This is a little too much for me right now just coming back.' I guess a lot of people thought he shouldn't have played. I was happy to be out there myself."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Leon Washington could get the start for Seattle at running back in the team's third exhibition game. Julius Jones and Justin Forsett have each started on game to this point. Coach Pete Carroll: "We decided that somewhere months ago about how we were going to do this in the first couple of games. Just give these guys a chance to compete, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. There’s a good chance that Leon will start next week, and we’ll see how he does in that role. That’s what our plan was, to give these guys a chance to go with the first group and show us what they’ve got."

Brian McIntyre of scout.com calls T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Golden Tate and Deon Butler "locks" to earn roster spots at receiver for Seattle.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' first-team offense looks better with Mike Williams as part of the group. O'Neil: "In the exhibition opener against Tennessee, Seattle used T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and tight end John Carlson in the slot in a three-receiver formation. That lineup that didn't threaten the defense outside. Williams changed the dynamic of that group. He caught four passes against Green Bay in the first half, as did Houshmandzadeh, and Seattle scored touchdowns on two of its first three possessions."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune sizes up Seahawks rookie Dexter Davis, who has made an impact as a pass-rusher.

John Morgan of Field Gulls lists Matt Hasselbeck, Jon Ryan, Marcus Trufant and Mike Williams among "big winners" in the second week of the Seahawks' exhibition season. Aaron Curry? Not so much. Perhaps Curry really does need Lofa Tatupu by his side.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Sam Bradford will start for the Rams on Thursday night if A.J. Feeley's injured thumb remains a problem. Bradford on his performance against the Browns: "Obviously, I'd like to have had a couple more completions out there. I felt like we struggled a little bit early. I felt like once I settled down, I made some smart decisions. I felt like for the most part, I was in the right place with the ball."

Also from Thomas: The Rams signed former Missouri receiver Danario Alexander, releasing 2009 fifth-round choice Brooks Foster. Thomas: "Rams general manager Billy Devaney said the team is realistic about what to expect right away. Today marks Alexander's first practice since January, when he suffered his most recent knee injury in a Senior Bowl practice. So he'll be playing catch-up."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' poor tackling against the Browns stood out to coach Steve Spagnuolo. Coats: "After watching the game film, Spagnuolo put together a clip of five or six tackles that he said were executed perfectly. He plans to highlight those when he meets with his defense today."

Also from Coats: The Rams need more from their backup running backs. Kenneth Darby was probably most impressive among them Saturday night.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch saw improvement from the Rams' offensive line Saturday night.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says Spagnuolo wasn't happy after the Rams scored only six points off five Cleveland turnovers.