Seattle Seahawks (3-1) at St. Louis Rams (4-1)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Brian Baldinger, Jay Glazer
SERIES: 16th meeting. The Rams lead the regular-season series, 9-6. They hold a 1-0 lead in the postseason. Seattle won both games last season, including a 37-31 decision in the Edward Jones Dome. That victory started a 10-game winning streak for Seattle.
2006 RANKINGS: Seahawks: offense 21st (20th rush, 22nd pass); defense 11th (7th rush, 23rd pass). Rams: offense 10th (17th rush, 8th pass); defense 22nd (20th rush, 19th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Seahawks spent a good part of their bye week trying to solve issues along the offensive line. But the real key is the decision-making of QB Matt Hasselbeck, who already has seven interceptions, several of which have been due to poor pre-snap coverage reads. He should receive a boost with the return of TE Jeremy Stevens, a big and safe target over the middle. But RB Shaun Alexander will miss at least one more game, and the Rams know they can expect to see a heavy dose of four-receiver sets. By comparison, St. Louis QB Marc Bulger has yet to throw an interception this season. He has thrown for an average of 307 yards with seven total touchdown passes in the past four meetings, and WR Torry Holt has traditionally been a very tough matchup for Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant. Another interesting battle will be big, physical RB Steven Jackson against the Seahawks' front seven, which doesn't boast a lot of bulk but is very fast and will get after Bulger if Jackson is ineffective.
Seahawks: Have outscored their opponents 38-10 in the first quarter. ... Hasselbeck has a 95.8 passer rating in his past seven games against NFC West teams.
Rams: Bulger's has not thrown an interception in his past 214 pass attempts. ... WR Isaac Bruce needs 101 receiving yards to pass Art Monk (12,721) for 10th most in NFL history.
--WR Bobby Engram missed practice again Thursday because of an apparent thyroid problem. Engram has not practiced this week. He remained questionable on the injury report, but it's looking as if WR D.J. Hackett will be active for the first time since the first two weeks of the season. Hackett has been the odd man out since the team added WR Deion Branch via trade.
--DE Joe Tafoya missed practice again Thursday with a knee injury that will cause him to miss the St. Louis game on Sunday.
--RB Shaun Alexander missed practice again Thursday with a foot injury that will cause him to miss the St. Louis game on Sunday.
--LG Floyd Womack missed practice again Thursday with a knee injury that will cause him to miss the St. Louis game on Sunday.
--TE Jerramy Stevens practiced again Thursday and caught passes in the flow of the offense. Stevens appears ready to make an impact in his first game back following knee surgery. Coach Mike Holmgren will address the matter after practice Friday, but right now it's looking as if Stevens will get at least 30 snaps against the Rams on Sunday. Seattle needs Stevens, particularly in the red zone.
--CB Travis Fisher remains affected by a groin injury, and he is questionable for Sunday's game against Seattle. Fisher and CB Fakhir Brown (ankle) are injured, but after Thursday's practice, Fisher has a better chance of playing than Brown.
--CB Fakhir Brown remains affected by an ankle injury and is questionable for Sunday's game against Seattle. Brown and CB Travis Fisher are injured, but after Thursday's practice, Brown has less of a chance than Fisher of playing Sunday.
--S Dwaine Carpenter rejoined the team this week after being released the previous week when the Rams signed LB Isaiah Kacyvenski. Carpenter took the roster spot of LB Jamal Brooks, and he might be active this week because of the injury situation in the secondary. Carpenter has gotten some work in practice this week with the nickel and dime defenses.
--CB Jerametrius Butler could be active again this week because of injuries to Fakhir Brown and Travis Fisher. Butler was active for the first time last week against Green Bay, and he recovered a fumble in the closing second that sealed the Rams' win. "We have 100 percent confidence in J.B. to start and play," coach Scott Linehan said. "He came in and did a nice job when he played. He's done a nice job when he's played before. I think just like has been said before, you've got to be ready because you never know when your number's going to be called. That came true last week. He could be in a similar situation again this week."
--LG Todd Steussie has settled in at left guard now that LT Orlando Pace has returned from a concussion. Steussie has played mostly tackle in his career, but coach Scott Linehan is glad to have Steussie there after the switch of Richie Incognito to center following the season-ending knee injury suffered by Andy McCollum. Said Linehan, "He fills in very nicely there. It's still a good thing to have him helping a young center and being next to a young center, and having two veteran guards next to Richie."
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Tight end Jerramy Stevens practiced again Thursday and caught passes in the flow of the offense. Coach Mike Holmgren said earlier in the week that Stevens could play roughly 30 snaps against the Rams on Sunday, but that number was only a rough estimate. Another strong showing in practice Friday could make Holmgren more comfortable letting Stevens get additional reps.
Seattle's red-zone offense has suffered without Stevens and running back Shaun Alexander. The Seahawks have used only a handful of two-tight end sets in the first four games, but that will change now that Stevens appears ready to hit the ground running.
There are concerns, however, about how well Stevens can hold up over the long haul. Stevens underwent one surgery in April and another in August, both for cartilage-related problems in his left knee. He spent the last six weeks rehabbing from the second surgery.
Stevens participated fully in practice Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Holmgren probably will address the matter when he meets with reporters following practice Friday. The team will leave for St. Louis on Saturday, healthy at tight end for the first time all season.
"To have everybody healthy and be able to play, it helps us, it does," Holmgren said. "We use two tight ends a fair amount in the red zone, or have over the years, so this allows us to do that.
"And that is taking nothing away from Will Heller, who caught a touchdown pass against the Giants, but it is nice to have Jerramy back."
Pisa Tinoisamoa knew he could probably hit the jackpot if he allowed himself to become a free agent after the season. Many players would prefer to do that, knowing that their second contract is usually the one where they hit paydirt.
But Tinoisamoa likes St. Louis, likes the program that new coach Scott Linehan is installing and likes the fact that he can play alongside linebacker Will Witherspoon, who signed a long-term contract as a free agent in the offseason.
So it was, that just a few days before the Rams play division rival Seattle on Sunday, Tinoisamoa signed a new contract that should keep him with the Rams through 2011. His 2006 salary was $500,000, and with the new deal, the total value is around $25 million with $10 million in guarantees.
"We knew we probably could have gone to the free agent market and just gotten loads of dough," Tinoisamoa said, "but that wasn't important to me. What was important was winning and being with a great group of guys who are getting better. And we've got that."
Having said that, Tinoisamoa was still somewhat surprised the deal got done after his initial surprise when the Rams contacted his agent a few weeks ago. "I watch 'Jerry Maguire' a little bit, but it took him the whole year," Tinoisamoa said. "I figured it would be awhile. Three weeks later, (my agent) is telling me we have a great deal."
Linehan was thrilled the deal got accomplished, knowing players often want to become free agents. Said Linehan of Tinoisamoa, "He wants to be a Ram and he wants to be part of this. I think it says a lot about him because a lot of these things probably don't get done during the season. We are certainly glad it has worked out in this case."
In addition to Witherspoon, Tinoisamoa likes the way the defense is improving after the signings of defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, cornerback Fakhir Brown, safety Corey Chavous and the drafting of cornerback Tye Hill in the first round. "It was one thing to see 'em and hear about guys coming over, because we've had a couple guys that we've heard about that never really panned out," Tinoisamoa said. "So when they got this group of guys, and we played with them, and I saw it firsthand, I'm thinking, 'Yeah, this is a great place to be.' "You want to be in this position right now, and I'm just fortunate. Timing is everything."
As for falling in love with St. Louis, that was another bonus for the San Diego-bred Tinoisamoa. He stayed in town this past offseason because his wife was pregnant. "We hung out and loved it," he said. "I was really impressed with St. Louis and how they treated me. I just would hate to leave, and now I don't have to worry about that for a little while."
Now, Linehan hopes the club can get defensive end Leonard Little signed. His contract is also up after this season.
"I just visited with Leonard about it," Linehan said. "When we talk about keeping guys around, he's one of the guys, as we look at as a franchise and as a team, one of the guys that really is a glue to this team, not only on our defense. It would me make just as happy, or more, if we could be talking about Leonard being here, and I would think Leonard will, at some point."
Little said there have been discussions, but only preliminary ones, with his agent.