Playoff Game Preview: Rams at Seahawks

The Hawks host the Rams in the first home playoff game since 1999 and try to erase the memory of two heartbreaking losses to the Rams in the regular season.

What: First-round playoff game
When: Saturday, January 8th, 1:30 pm (PST)
Where: Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington




Rams Key Players:

QB Marc Bulger: He plays the most important position in Mike Martz's complex offensive system. Bulger has played well at times during the season, but his inability to get the team into the endzone has hurt the team record-wise. On the season Bulger completed 66.2% of his passes for 3,964 yards, 21 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Bulger's 93.7 passer rating was eighth in the league and his best as a full-time starter. He can make all the throws but he gets rattled when he is pressured. His interceptions come in bunches and if teams can get him out of rhythm they can force Bulger into errors.

RB Steven Jackson: The last time these two teams faced off future Hall-of-Famer Marshall Faulk was the starting running back. Now Jackson has that distinction and he has proven to be a load for defenses to handle. He is huge (6'2", 235 lbs), but his speed is the difference-maker. He can run inside but he is even better on the perimeter. Jackson finished second to Faulk in rushing with 673 yards and five touchdowns, but passing of the torch has taken place and look for Jackson to run with it.

WR Torry Holt: Holt is one of the top-five wideouts in the league. He runs precise routes, has sure hands and blocks well on running plays. He led the team in receptions with 94 for 1,372 yards and 10 touchdowns. Holt also reads defenses well and makes adjustments to his routes when needed.

WR Isaac Bruce: Bruce had a bounce-back season of sorts in 2004. Since 2000 he had steadily lost receptions and yardage to the emerging Holt and it was thought he was on the downside of his career. All Bruce did was go out and produce a 89 reception, 1,292 yard and six touchdown season. He is still a deep threat and he runs very precise routes. He does shy away from contract and can be out-muscled for balls over the middle. He is a threat to take it the distance if he gets the ball in the open field and Martz loves to get him the ball in space.

DE Leonard Little: Little was double-teamed most of the season and finished with seven sacks and 46 tackles. He did not benefit from defensive end Bryce Fishers solid season on the opposite side but he is still a big-play waiting to happen. He never gives up on a play and pursues the ball well down the field. Even with his lack of statistics, offensive coordinators must game-plan for him.

LB Pisa Tinoisamoa: The Rams defense was very suspect during the season and many experts attributed it to the play of the front-seven. The linebackers in particular warranted the ire of Martz at some points but Tinoisamoa wasn't one of those players. He continues to impress with his speed and his ability to sniff out plays. When teams ran away from him, he still made plays on the other side of the field. He led the team with 92 tackles and eight tackles for loss. He is a sure tackler who plays well in big games.

CB Jerametrius Butler: Butler led the team with five interceptions and 19 passes defensed and his solid play was a pleasant surprise to new defensive coordinator Larry Marmie. Butler isn't very big and can be out-muscled by bigger receivers but he is quick and he is excellent when the ball is in the air.



Key Matchups:

Seahawks pass-rush vs. Rams offensive line: Orlando Pace is widely considered one of the top three left tackles in the league, if not the best. He engulfs bull-rushers with his massive body, yet still has the athleticism and reach to keep speed-rushers at bay. RT Blane Saipaia is a journeyman who is long on heart but short on athleticism. DE Chike Okeafor must win the battle against Saipaia in order for the Hawks to disrupt Bulger's rhythm. One development from Sunday's win over the New York Jets that could be a big problem for the Rams is the injury to G Tom Nutten. Nutten has been all-but-ruled out for Saturday's game against the Hawks and whomever Martz decides to start on the inside will have his hands full with DTs Rashad Moore, Cedric Woodard and Rocky Bernard. The Hawks will send some blitzes but with the way the Rams burned them in their previous meetings this season, Seahawks defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes may shy away from that tactic.

Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck vs. Rams Secondary: Hasselbeck will need the help of his receivers on this one, but he must have a stellar day versus the Rams average pass-defense. WRs Darrell Jackson, Jerry Rice and Bobby Engram must keep the chains moving and the Rams defenders off-balance in order to establish a good running game. Last week Hasselbeck held the ball too long and surrendered some sacks early, but that was because the Atlanta Falcons deep patrol had the Hawks wideouts locked down. Look for Holmgren to roll Hasselbeck out a little more (something that worked in the teams' first meeting) and use play action to freeze the Rams aggressive linebackers.

Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander vs. Rams front seven: Alexander's state-of-mind will be an unknown until his first few carries on Saturday. After coming up one yard shy of the rushing title he made some comments to the press that he felt he was "stabbed in the back". Well, now is his chance to show the world why he really should be considered the best running back in the league. On a national stage, something that Alexander has relished in during his five seasons in the league, his ability to break off big runs against the Rams porous run-defense will be a key. If they can keep the chains and clock moving it will keep the potent Rams offense off the field and hopefully out of the endzone.

Jackson vs. Seahawks front seven: When he faced the Seahawks earlier in the year all Jackson did was spell Faulk when he needed a breather. Even in his short stints against the Hawks he gashed them for big yardage. Now that he is getting more carries, it will be up to the front seven to shut him down. If the Hawks can make the Rams offense one-dimensional, they can pin their ears back and tee off on Bulger. Look for Martz to get Jackson about 35 touches in this game as he tries to grind out a win on the road.

Seahawks head coach Holmgren vs. Martz: Martz has gotten the better of Holmgren all season and both are considered offensive masterminds. If Holmgren can get on a "play-calling roll" and keep the Rams defense off balance then that will work to the Hawks advantage. Martz loves the passing game, sometimes to his demise, and if he can get out of the passing mode and run his rookie workhorse it could be a long day for the Seahawks defense.



News and Notes: With two wins this season the Rams lead the series 9-4; This is the first home outdoor playoff game in Seattle history; The Seahawks have lost their last five playoff games. The last one they won? A 13-7 victory over the Los Angeles Raiders on Dec. 22, 1984; Holt is the only player to record five straight seasons with more than 1,300 yards receiving; Rams defense ranks 17th in the league (29th rushing, 11th passing); Rams offense ranks 6th in the league (25th rushing, 5th passing); Seahawks defense ranks 26th in the league (23rd rushing, 23rd passing); Seahawks offense ranks 8th in the league (8th rushing, 13th passing).

Injuries:

RAMS: PROBABLE: WR Isaac Bruce (hip); LB Brandon Chillar (shoulder); DE Bryce Fisher (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: DE Tyoka Jackson (ankle); DE Leonard Little (groin)
DOUBTFUL: RB Arlen Harris (hamstring); G Tom Nutten (knee)


SEAHAWKS: PROBABLE: WR Darrell Jackson (hamstring); CB Marcus Trufant (thigh); G Jerry Wunsch (illness)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Niko Koutouvides (knee); TE Itula Mili (thigh); CB Bobby Taylor (knee)
DOUBTFUL: DE Grant Wistrom (knee)
OUT: DT Marcus Tubbs (ankle); WR Jerheme Urban (foot)




Prediction: Rams 31 – Seahawks 28

.NET Reporter Scott Eklund writes for Seahawks.NET every week. Feel free to contact him at sctthawk@yahoo.com.


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