"It's a huge football game," coach Mike Holmgren said. "Since we've been here, this is as big as any game we'll play."
Holmgren has been with the Seahawks since 1999. He has coached in some big games during that time, but few have presented this kind of opportunity. Beating the Rams might very well vault Seattle toward earning home-field advantage in the watered-down NFC.
"I like the fact we're at home," Holmgren said. "Our fans have been great. These are the games you like to coach in, you like to play in. It should be a heck of a deal."
The Seahawks (6-2) have won all four home games this season. Seattle is 18-3 at home during the regular season dating back to the final game of the 2002 season. That's better than every team but New England (19-3) during that stretch. The Rams won in Seattle twice last season, however, counting a first-round playoff game.
"These guys are good and they have given us a lot of problems in the past," Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck said. "I think the biggest thing that we've done to improve how we go at them is that we understand them a little bit better than we have in the past. I think that shows."
Just when the Seahawks seemed to figure out their primary division rivals, the Rams switched head coaches. Interim coach Joe Vitt is a defensive-minded coach who learned the importance of running the football while working in Seattle under Chuck Knox years ago. "They are a little bit different," Hasselbeck said. "They have a new guy running the show there and he's a defensive coach and they're doing some things differently. We understand a lot of what they like to do, but they are also doing some new stuff."
The Seahawks can't be sure whether Vitt has overhauled the Rams' approach for philosophical reasons or out of necessity. The Rams have been without quarterback Marc Bulger, wide receiver Torry Holt, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, defensive end Leonard Little and cornerback Travis Fisher, among others, in recent weeks. Some or all of those players could return Sunday.
"Now they get everybody back, so what will they do?" Holmgren asked. "My feeling is they'll do what they've always done and throw it around. But Steven Jackson is a good running back. And they still have Marshall Faulk. So they're a good offensive football team."
Seattle's defense might very well determine the outcome of this game. The Seahawks surprisingly rank second in the league in sacks. But a series of recent injuries will further test the team's depth, particularly against a high-revving offense. Seattle will need a big game from improving right cornerback Marcus Trufant. On the other side, scrappy left corner Kelly Herndon has taken over for Andre Dyson, who is playing but a bit banged up.
"If we lose this game, then we put fire back in them to hope that we lose another one and they go on a little win streak," RB Shaun Alexander said. "Then, they are on top of the division again."
SERIES HISTORY: 15th meeting. The Rams lead the series, 9-5, after winning all three meetings last season. The Seahawks won in St. Louis last month by a 37-31 score.
--Players weren't happy when the Seahawks used an injury waiver to dump WR Jerheme Urban two days after the former undrafted free agent caught a key 46-yard pass against Arizona. Urban re-injured his left foot during the game and Seattle let him go.
"It doesn't sit well with me," said FB Mack Strong, one of the Seahawks' NFLPA representatives. "That's all I'm saying. I have no comment about it."
Coach Mike Holmgren said the team has a policy of upholding injury waivers.
"Look, when I talked to (Urban) yesterday, I felt horrible - forget the business decisions - about him getting hurt," Holmgren said. "It's just too bad. He is one of my favorite guys and he was doing well. But that is a policy we have around here with guys we sign off the street and free agents with a pre-existing injury.
"And that's just how it is. Jerheme understood that. When I talked to him about it, he understood that part of it."
--Holmgren said he wished he could fine players for penalties on kick returns after Seattle suffered three more against Arizona, bringing its season total to nine, plus one offsetting. "We have too many penalties," Holmgren said. "It seems as though the league has been much tighter on the holding on kick plays. And it's hurt us. I would like to see that area of our football team improve."
--Defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes is no longer watching practice and he won't sit with coaches in the booth Sunday. The idea is for Rhodes to scale back his involvement to better recovery from the mild stroke he suffered Sept. 4. The team has cut back Rhodes' hours while handing duties of coordinator to linebackers coach John Marshall.
"I'm going to walk in there every night around five o'clock and escort (Rhodes) to his car," Holmgren quipped.
BY THE NUMBERS: 27 - Sacks for Seattle through eight games, one behind league-leading Indianapolis. The Seahawks had 36 sacks all last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know that just from what I've heard this is a big game for them as well. They are circling this game and saying, 'If we win this game, we're back in the hunt and if we lose, then it doesn't look too good.' So they are going to come out and give their best and we know that. We respect these guys and we know how good they are and how good they can be and we're going to have to ready to go." - QB Matt Hasselbeck on the Rams.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Playmaking DB Jordan Babineaux is getting some work at safety after serving this season as an extra CB on passing downs. Babineaux played safety for three years in college. He has made big plays throughout the season and he leads the team with three interceptions. Babineaux forced a late fumble to preserve a 37-31 victory over St. Louis last month. More recently, he picked off Cowboys QB Drew Bledsoe and raced 25 yards to set up the winning FG as time expired.
"He has had a big play - a big, big play - in almost every game down our stretch here," coach Mike Holmgren said. "He's very typical of the guys I think who are playing defense for us now. Some might say overachieving. I wouldn't say that. I would say learning.
"They're getting there. And talented. Smart. Hard working and with some experience they could be something special."
--WR Darrell Jackson remains out with a knee injury.
--LB Jamie Sharper is out indefinitely after developing an infection in his right knee. Doctors have drained fluid from the knee repeatedly, but the infection is the primary opponent now. LB D.D. Lewis will move from the weak side into Sharper's spot on the strong side. Promising rookie LB Leroy Hill will start on the weak side. Hill has 3.5 sacks in limited duty this season.
--SS Michael Boulware missed practice Wednesday and is questionable for Sunday. He has a sore hamstring. Coach Mike Holmgren said he thinks Boulware will play Sunday.
--LT Wayne Hunter is questionable with a hamstring injury. He did not practice Wednesday.
--LB D.D. Lewis practiced Wednesday and plans to play Sunday, although he is questionable with a sore knee. He missed the game against Arizona.
--DT Marcus Tubbs missed practice Wednesday because of a calf injury. He is questionable, although Tubbs thinks he'll play.
GAME PLAN: The Seahawks naturally need to keep giving the ball to stud RB Shaun Alexander. But the Rams' pass defense is leaky enough for Seattle to throw the ball more in this game. Hasselbeck hasn't topped 300 yards passing in a game since shredding the Rams' pass defense a month ago in Seattle's first game without WR Bobby Engram and WR Darrell Jackson. Engram is back, which helps. WR Joe Jurevicius caught nine passes against the Rams last time. Seattle will make sure Alexander gets his carries, to be sure, but this is a chance for the passing game to flourish a bit as well. Defensively, the Seahawks' underrated pass rush must continue to punish the quarterback. Seattle ranks second in sacks per pass play this season, a big surprise.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Seahawks RDE Grant Wistrom, who has only two sacks, vs. Rams LT Orlando Pace, who usually owns this matchup. Wistrom hasn't been able to get to the quarterback much this season. He needs to use the home crowd to his advantage in this matchup. Even one or two big plays would energize the Seattle defense as well as the Qwest Field fans. Pace holds all the physical advantages in this matchup, however, and he should control Wistrom once again.
Seahawks MLB Lofa Tatupu, one of the better rookies this season, vs. Rams RB Steven Jackson, who has 45 carries in his last two games. Tatupu has proven to be a smart young player with great leadership skills and a firm grasp of the game. He rarely makes the same mistake twice. Seattle needs him to step up against Jackson, who figures to keep getting more carries now that Mike Martz isn't coaching the Rams. Jackson has given Seattle problems in limited duty. Tatupu needs to play one of his best games if Seattle hopes to go a ninth game without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
INJURY IMPACT: The release of injured WR Jerheme Urban won't hurt as much now that WR Bobby Engram is back from cracked ribs. Engram should take on a more prominent role in the offense. DT Marcus Tubbs expects to play Sunday even though he's questionable and not practicing. The team needs him to combat the running of Rams RB Steven Jackson. SS Michael Boulware will play, but injuries at the position will hurt against the Rams' passing game. The loss of veteran LB Jamie Sharper won't be a factor as long as LB D.D. Lewis can hold up reasonably well after missing the Arizona game with a knee injury. Rookie LB Leroy Hill is a playmaker who gave the Rams problems in St. Louis. He'll get the start on the weak side, with Lewis moving into Sharper's position on the strong side. That's not a bad thing for Seattle.