St. Louis Rams (0-6) at Seattle Seahawks (3-3)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: FOX, Matt Devlin, JC Pearson
SERIES: 18th regular-season meeting. Rams lead, 9-8, and have won one playoff game in the series. Since the Rams swept the series in 2004 and won a playoff game that season, the Seahawks have won four straight. The two games last season were decided by last-second field goals.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Bulger back, but better? With RB Steven Jackson out, it will be up to rookie Brian Leonard to wear down the Seahawks' smallish front seven that is counting on help from rookie DT Brandon Mebane in his new starting role. QB Marc Bulger will play, but his ribs are still a concern and he will likely rely on short drops and quick passes to negate the blitz packages involving Seattle's linebackers. ... The Seahawks have fallen behind 21-0 in each of their past two games, and coach Mike Holmgren is seeking a quick start from his offense to build confidence. The running game continues to be a non-factor, so Holmgren needs stout protection in front of QB Matt Hasselbeck, who has been pressured into far too many poor throws in recent games.
KEY INJURIES: Rams: Jackson (groin) and C Brett Romberg (ankle) appear doubtful; WR Isaac Bruce (hamstring), SS Corey Chavous (pectoral) and WR Dane Looker (thigh) have returned to practice and should play; Holt (knee) is limited during the week, but playing on Sundays. Seahawks: WR Deion Branch (foot sprain) is out a second consecutive game, but D.J. Hackett (ankle sprain) is expected to return; DT Chartric Darby (knee) is out for the season.
FAST FACTS: Bulger has had a passer rating of at least 90 in four of the past five meetings. ... Seahawks RB Shaun Alexander needs two rushing touchdowns to become the seventh NFL player to reach 100 for his career.
--C Brett Romberg took a significant number of snaps in practice Thursday and has a good chance of playing Sunday against Seattle. Romberg injured his ankle against Baltimore.
--OL Andy McCollum will be the left guard Sunday against Seattle if Brett Romberg is able to play with an injured ankle. If Romberg doesn't play, McCollum will be the center.
--WR Isaac Bruce participated fully in practice Thursday and is expected to play Sunday against Seattle.
--WR Torry Holt, who rested his knee Wednesday, was back practicing on Thursday.
--RB Steven Jackson took some reps Thursday and was limited in practice Thursday, but he was listed as Out on Friday..
--WR Drew Bennett (hamstring) was very limited in practice Thursday and is not expected to play Sunday against Seattle.
--WR D.J. Hackett is still limited in practice as he's working to get back in action after missing a month with a high-ankle sprain.
--DT Rocky Bernard was held out of practice with a groin injury. The Seahawks are already lean in that area with the loss of Chuck Darby to a torn knee ligament.
--TE Marcus Pollard was out of practice with the sore knee that has bothered him in recent weeks.
--RB Shaun Alexander continues to practice with a small cast on his injured left wrist, but he is not limited by it.
--WR Deion Branch is expected to return to practice after the bye week from a foot sprain.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Lost amid the gloom of the team's 0-6 start has been a defense that is improving, especially against the run. Even though they are ranked near the bottom of the league in rushing yards allowed, a large percentage of those yards have come in the fourth quarter. Big plays aren't happening as much as in the past, and through six games, no running back has reached 100 yards against the Rams.
One factor has been the play the defense has been getting from rookie tackles Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan. Carriker, the 12th overall pick in the draft, was expected to come in and contribute. Ryan, a fifth-round pick, was an unknown factor. But Ryan has done so well at nose tackle, that Carriker has been playing more at three-technique.
Carriker has five quarterback pressures, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett has said at times they have asked him to do too much moving around to different positions. Especially considering that Carriker didn't play inside in college. But Carriker feels he's adapting well.
"There are things I like about the nose better and things I like about the three," Carriker said. "Definitely at the three I have a lot better pass rush opportunity. At the nose, most people wouldn't say this, but I would say playing the run at the nose might be a bit easier for me."
As for Ryan, coach Scott Linehan said, "We are talking about a rookie, fifth-round pick. There were not a lot of high expectations going in, but he has basically been one of our most productive defensive linemen. That's hard to do from the tackle spot, especially the nose guard. He's a real bright spot for us and he's improved to the point where he has earned starters playing time."
Ryan has also been impressive because in addition to doing the grunt work that nose tackles do, he has shown an ability to get to the quarterback and has two sacks.
Said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, "He's not just a nose that just eats up space like some do. He gets off blocks and makes plays in the backfield."
Said Ryan, "Me and Adam are forming a special bond on the field. We are very encouraging of each other. We came into OTAs together and we had a rough patch in OTAs, had a rough patch in training camp. It's fun to see us out there together making plays and we'll be on the sideline telling each other to make big plays and make quarterback hits. We know where we came from and we know where we're going and we are going to do it together."
Running back Shaun Alexander has gained just 60 yards in the last two games against Pittsburgh and New Orleans. When he turned 30 just before the start of the season, Alexander made it clear that he didn't believe the benchmark birthday would affect him the way it has some other NFL backs.
He hadn't taken many hits, he said, and he still felt young.
But this season, there hasn't been much room for him to run, and he hasn't done much with it, opening him to criticism and even some boos from the fans at Qwest Field.
"I think I probably need to be more patient," Alexander said of his style. "One of the things I've been working on all week (is) going back to what I used to do and stop trying to make every play perfect. I think I just need to get back and play hard like I always have and not worry about being perfect."
Alexander is still adjusting to the change in lead blockers as veteran fullback Mack Strong had to retire after a serious neck injury, and was replaced by Leonard Weaver.
"Leonard is so talented and fast and strong," Alexander said. "When I first got here, I had to get on the same page with Mack. Now, it's Leonard's turn to get on my page. Leonard's a person who studies the game and is always trying to get better. We have a lot of work to do to where Mack and I were, but we're both willing."