Two teams, two coaches, one title

It's a matchup that, at this point in the season, isn't that big on the NFL-landscape, but the ramifications for the NFC West couldn't be bigger as the Seattle Seahawks host the St. Louis Rams at Qwest Field on Sunday. The injury-bug hasn't been good to the Seahawks as they're missing several players who contributed to their last second 30-28 win when the two teams faced off three weeks ago.

St. Louis head coach Scott Linehan and Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren know the stakes and neither is anticipating anything short of a dogfight when the teams take the field and the Rams' head man said the Seahawks' defense is something that has him worried.

"What they've done, which is what really good teams do, is they've stepped up with the injuries," Linehan noted. "I think they've really stepped their game up big by creating some key lost yardage plays against us. They went on a pretty good tear as far as sacking the quarterback. I think they've really improved from where they started and they're playing their best football right now."

One player who has made his presence felt in the first half of the season is LB Julian Peterson who ranks second on the team with 50 tackles and leads the defense with seven sacks – including two against St. Louis in the first meeting.

To counteract Peterson's playmaking ability, Linehan said his team needs to run the ball better.

"(The first meeting) was probably our worst job all year, as far as having any affect in the run game," Linehan admitted. "They did a good job of stopping the run, so we have to establish that so we can run some other things.

"Everybody's trying to make offenses one-dimensional and whether you have a good look to run the ball or not, if you're not getting yards it's on us getting everybody blocked, the schemes we're running, types of runs we're running, and being able to break some tackles too."

As far as Seattle's defense is concerned, heading into Monday night's game against Oakland, they had struggled recently trying to stop teams from running on them, but after the defense held the Raiders to just 64 yards on the ground, Holmgren said he thinks his defense is getting back on track.

"We haven't been very disciplined, I don't think," Holmgren said regarding his defense. "I thought our discipline, the fundamental part of our football, wasn't as good. The other night, it was good.

"Now you can say what you want about the Raiders' season and how the Raiders are, and while there's some truth to that, I was glad about that we were fundamentally sound. When you do that, you have a chance. We were better the other night.

"I thought they did a great job. I was a little bit hard on those guys. We have good character guys. We have good athletes over there. We just needed to refocus I thought and stick with the game plan. Do your job, don't worry about the guy next to you and play hard. That's what they did."

Along the Rams offensive line, Linehan said the stability along his offensive line is one reason to be hopeful about the Rams' chances.

"When you have a veteran group that has been playing together you tend to get a little bit more continuity and rhythm in what you're doing," Linehan said. "We're not unlike anybody else. You look across the league and everybody's having to piece in players. Linemen get hurt just like any other position, so you need to have a group of seven or eight players you think you can win with and be able to plug them in.

"It takes a while and teams that are lucky are teams that have been able to keep a group together that has stayed healthy because they're able to communicate and work things out that may come up in a game that maybe a group that hasn't been working together can't. I think we're improving in a lot of areas. We took a little bit of a setback in the pre-snap penalties, which we're really trying hard to avoid, but other than that I think we're developing some continuity there."

One player struggling with some of those pre-snap penalties is second-year OT Alex Barron, but Linehan said his young bookend has done a good job otherwise.

"If you eliminate some of these penalty things, I think he's played pretty well," Linehan said. "In general, if you really go back, his guy's not really affecting the game as far as pass rush, that's what he does a very good job of, and he's a very athletic run blocker.

"He's still a young player and he still makes young player mistakes. He got his first year in last year and this year, for the most part, he's done a very fine job. We just have to get through those things that happen before the ball is snapped before we get to another level."

On the defensive side of the ball, Linehan said his defense is happy to possibly get back LB Pisa Tinoisamoa from a hand-injury and he's already noticed a difference in the tempo of his stop-unit.

"I can tell you that after today's practice I saw a big difference in our defense and how they were reacting, responding, and getting lined up with Pisa out there," Linehan said. "We've missed his presence in these last two games and we could use him this week."

Holmgren noted that WR Deion Branch has really made his presence felt in Seattle's offense and had a breakout game against the Rams the last time to two faced off with six receptions for 76 yards and two touchdowns.

"Deion's great," Holmgren said. "That will go down as one of the real good things that we've done player personnel-wise here, ever. He'll be here for a long time and he'll be a very fine player for this team for a long time. He's such a good person – very likable.

"He comes in and, where you might get some uneasiness from the other receivers about ‘certain balls aren't coming my way anymore', you don't get any of that because they like and the see what he is and who he is. He and Matt (Hasselbeck) will develop a great, great relationship. They're just starting now. He and Seneca (Wallace) already have a pretty good thing going. He's the real deal."

If Seattle wins this week, they will have essentially a three-game lead over the Rams in the division because the first tie-breaker is the head-to-head record. Should they lose, then it will be that much harder to defend their NFC West title from 2005.

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