Behind enemy lines: Seattle

The Seahawks appear to be on some sort of mission independent from whichever opponent the schedule makes them play on a given Sunday. They have performed well enough to beat a good team such as Dallas without coming out flat against the Arizonas of the world. Expect another solid effort against a 2-7 San Francisco team on Sunday at Monster Park, where the 49ers probably will have to play their best game of the season just to stay in the game against the NFC frontrunners from Seattle.

Seattle is already 4-0 in the NFC West after sweeping St. Louis and Arizona. This is the Seahawks' first game against the 49ers. At this point, anything less than a 6-0 finish in the division would have to be viewed as a disappointment for Seattle.

"We have to prove to the world that we are the best," running back Shaun Alexander said. "That is what we are shooting for and it starts with winning the division. We play the 49ers twice and we don't want to get caught up in the same situation we did with the Rams last year."

The Seahawks became complacent and lost a big lead to the Rams early last season. They ended up getting swept in the series and barely hanging on for the division title. This season is different. Seattle has a three-game lead in the NFC West. The team also has a five-game winning streak on the line.

"It is better to take care of them the first time you play them," Alexander said, "and that is what we are going to try to do."

Seattle holds all the advantages against the 49ers. The Seahawks own the NFL's top-ranked offense. They rank third in red-zone offense and second in red-zone defense. They have allowed 30 points in fourth quarters this season, second-fewest in the league. They are facing the NFL's last-ranked offense, its last-ranked defense and a team that has been outscored 100-16 in fourth quarters.

Alexander appears headed for another big day. He leads the NFL in rushing (1,114 yards) and touchdowns (17). In fact, Alexander has scored five more touchdowns than the 49ers this season.

The temptation might be to peek ahead one week to the Seahawks' Nov. 27 home game against the Giants, and to take the 49ers lightly.

"I already talked to them about that," coach Mike Holmgren said. "But I think in this business if you're not ready to play on Sunday, regardless of who your opponent is, you're going to get beat.

"Every Sunday you can look at the scores and see a game that surprises the heck out of you and that is what happened. One team wasn't ready, the other team was ready, even though they may have been an underdog and they win the football game."

--- Holmgren said he has encouraged acting defensive coordinator John Marshall to be aggressive in his play-calling. The Seahawks rank second in the league with 30 sacks because they have good team speed and linebackers with a knack for blitzing. LB Leroy Hill and LB Lofa Tatupu have combined for 7.5 sacks in their rookie seasons.

"It's been my experience that guys calling defenses - other than Fritz Shurmur, who didn't care two hoots what I thought - that they will think, 'Well, how does this affect the offense?' " Holmgren said. "Sometimes I have to click him on (the headset) and say, 'Hey, don't worry about me, go after them. Let's be more aggressive.'"

--- TE Jerramy Stevens has 28 receptions through nine games. He'll earn another $125,000 in salary next season if he reaches 45 catches. That figure jumps to $200,000 if he catches 50 passes and $300,000 if he reaches the 60-catch plateau.

"He's playing great," QB Matt Hasselbeck said. "I read sometimes some of the quotes from the opposing coaches after the game and they are very complimentary towards Jerramy and talk about what a weapon he is and what a threat he is and how he puts them in a tough spot where they have to decide how they're going to cover him.

"He's just playing with a lot of confidence right now. One of the things that he's doing really well right now is he's got great releases off the ball. He's getting off the ball quick and people are trying to jam him at the line of scrimmage and he's getting away from them."

--- Vision might be what separates Alexander from other running backs. He is also benefiting from playing in an offense that has been together for several years now. RG Chris Gray is making his 100th consecutive regular-season start. Pro Bowl LG Steve Hutchinson and C Robbie Tobeck have been in the Seattle lineup since 2001. Pro Bowl LT Walter Jones has been starting for the Seahawks since 1997.

"What impresses me is the combination and of his vision, his running and that offensive line and how they block for him," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He seems to play off their blocks extremely well. But I think he has great vision and the holes are there as opposed to some backs can't even find them."

--- WR Darrell Jackson has rejoined the team after visiting his orthopedist in Florida earlier in the week. Jackson will not play this week, but there's a chance he could be ready for the Nov. 27 game against the Giants. Seattle is 5-0 without Jackson, who is recovering from surgery on his right knee.

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