Game Preview: Seahawks at St. Louis Rams

After a heart-breaking loss in the nation's capital last weekend, the Hawks travel to face their arch-nemesis in the Gateway City, hoping to avenge three straight losses last season, including the first round playoff game at Qwest Field.

What: Battle for first place in the NFC West
When: Sunday, October 9th, 10 a.m. (PST)
Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, Missouri
Weather: It's a dome, but outside it will be Sunny and 65 degrees




Rams Key Players:

QB Marc Bulger: Now in his third year as a full-time starter, Bulger continues to be very accurate, but still confounds Rams coaches and fans with costly interceptions in the red-zone. On the season Bulger has completed 64.6% of his passes for 1,312 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions. Bulger isn't very athletic, but has enough mobility to slide in the pocket and avoid pressure, while still keeping his eyes downfield on his playmaking wideouts. Bulger benefits from an aggressive offensive scheme, excellent skill players around him and a coach who believes in him. Bulger gets into trouble when he tries to make something out of nothing and forces balls into traffic.

RB Steven Jackson: Being in a pass-oriented offense usually doesn't lend running backs to leading the conference in rushing. Jackson has been solid at certain points so far in the young season, but the team isn't getting as much as they expected out of their talented second-year back. Jackson runs very hard between the tackles, is fast enough to get the corner on outside plays and has soft hands. He still struggles pass-blocking, but the team usually turns to veteran Marshall Faulk when they want someone in who can pickup a blitz.

WR Torry Holt: Holt continues to be the best wideout in the league not named Terrell Owens or Randy Moss. They get the headlines, but Holt just keeps the chains moving and defensive coordinators up at night. On the season, Holt has 30 catches for 442 yards and three touchdowns. He tends to run the deeper routes, using his precise cuts to turn defensive backs in circles and then his above-average speed to get behind them. He is also excellent in the open field with the ball in his hands.

DE Leonard Little: Other than the Indianapolis Colts' Dwight Freeney, Little may be the fastest defensive end in the entire league. He has a quick first step, great burst and closing speed and a non-stop motor when the play goes away from him. He is very athletic and he loves to get after the quarterback. The one weakness in his game is when teams run directly at him, something that a lot of athletic defensive ends struggle with, but he has improved in this area immensely. So far on the season he has recorded 17 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

SS Adam Archuleta: Archuleta plays like another linebacker on the field. He loves to hit, is a very good tackler and he diagnoses running plays well. He struggles when asked to cover and play in space and because he doesn't have good recovery speed, if a wideout gets behind him, they usually can hit pay dirt. Archuleta leads the Rams with 24 tackles and has one interception that he returned 85 yards for a touchdown.



Key Matchups:

Little vs. Seahawks LT Walter Jones: Jones has been nothing short of amazing this season. After missing the past three training camps, Jones took a few weeks to work into football shape. This season, with a full camp under his belt, Jones has been a brick wall for most defensive ends as he uses his quick feet to get out on speed rushers and his excellent strength to manhandle bull-rushers. He's at the top of his game and is the top left tackle in the NFC if not the entire NFL. Little and Jones have battled many times and they renew their bi-annual tilt this weekend. Jones should dominate this matchup, but if Little can generate a little rush, it could lead to some good things for the Rams' other linemen.

Seahawks wide receivers vs. Rams secondary: Talk about a battle of attrition. The Rams secondary was decimated early by the season-ending knee injury suffered by starting corner Jerametrius Butler. They have been a patchwork group so far this season and are surrendering 255 yards per game through the air ranking 27th in the league. The loss of both Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram to injury this week, could mean that veterans Joe Jurevicius and Peter Warrick will get the starting nods. While both are solid players, they both have only spent four games in head coach Mike Holmgren's offense. They must get open so that QB Matt Hasselbeck is able to consistently get the ball out quickly. If they can loosen up the run defense the Hawks could move at will on this team.

Seahawks interior offensive line vs. Rams defensive tackle rotation: C Robbie Tobeck and guards Steve Hutchinson and Chris Gray have had a good season so far. At times, Gray and Tobeck get overpowered by big, athletic interior defensive lineman, but they are savvy and they take good angles. They rarely get fooled on a stunt. Jimmy Kennedy, Ryan Pickett and Damione Lewis comprise the bulk of the reason the Rams are only allowing only 91.8 yards per game on the ground, good for 8th in the NFL. If the Hawks can control the interior of the line and get RB Shaun Alexander off early, they can keep the Rams potent offense off the field, something they must do to have chance to win.

Seahawks pass defense vs. Rams passing offense: This seems like a no-brainer, but that's because IT IS. As has been discussed ad nauseam this past week, the Seahawks allowed a terrible 72% (13 of 18) conversion rate on third downs to the Washington Redskins' putrid offense last week, so they must play tighter and challenge the Rams wideouts more at the line. The Rams are most effective when they loosen up defenses by hitting deep crossing patters causing the linebackers to get deeper drops. Then Jackson and Faulk can gash teams with their quick-hitting rushes, effectively neutralizing the pass-rush.

Seahawks DE Bryce Fisher vs. Rams RT Alex Barron: Barron held up well last week against All Pro DE Michael Strahan of the New York Giants. This week, the Seahawks' leading pass-rusher, Fisher, will play head-up on the rookie who has all of the athletic skill needed to be a great one, but is far from being developed as a pass or run-blocker. Fisher has been solid for the Seahawks as he has gotten consistent pressure on the quarterback and he's been able to hold strong at the point of attack against the run.



News and Notes: Holmgren is 60-39 (.606) in divisional games; Since 2001, Hasselback has 50 redzone touchdowns and only two interceptions; Alexander has rushed for more than 125 yards against the Rams three straight times; Alexander leads the entire league with 455 yards; Bulger is 28-12 (.700) as a starter; Faulk has 12,080 rushing yards and needs just 41 to pass Franco Harris (12,120) for 10th place on the league's all-time list; Rams lead series 9-4.



Injuries:

Seattle:
Out: T Wayne Hunter (hamstring)
Doubtful: WR Bobby Engram (ribs); WR Darrell Jackson (knee)
Probable: DT Marcus Tubbs (quadriceps)


St. Louis:
Doubtful: WR Isaac Bruce (toe)
Questionable: TE Brandon Manumaleuna (knee); T Rex Tucker (calf)
Probable: LB Dexter Coakley (back)




Prediction: Rams 31 – Seahawks 27

Scott Eklund writes and reports for Seahawks.NET and Dawgman.com. Feel free to contact him at sctthawk@yahoo.com.


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