Five things to watch
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Friday, Jan. 07 2005

Red-hot Hasselbeck

When the teams met in November in St. Louis, Seahawks QB Matt
Hasselbeck
suffered through one of his worst outings of the season. He
completed only 41.7 percent of his passes, for 172 yards, with a passer rating
of 45.1 All three totals were the second-lowest of the season for Hasselbeck.

He has been hampered with thigh, rib and elbow injuries this season, missing
the Arizona game on Dec. 26 because of the elbow ailment. Never a great deep
thrower, Hasselbeck played a couple of games in which he literally couldn't
throw deep. The elbow may not be all the way back, but Hasselbeck has been hot
lately. Over his past four games, dating to the beginning of December,
Hasselbeck has completed 71.8 percent of his attempts, with a passer rating of
99.4 or better in all four contests.

Hasselbeck remains a very effective red-zone passer. Since the beginning of the
2001 season, he has thrown 47 TDs with just two interceptions inside the
opponent's 20. Although not a scrambler, he's nimble for his size (6-4, 223).


On the receiving end


Koren Robinson has been a season-long headache, and Bobby
Engram
has been slowed by an ankle injury. But the Seahawks remain among
the league's best aerialists, finishing the regular season as the No. 8-ranked
passing attack.

The go-to guy at wide receiver remains Darrell Jackson, who set a
single-season franchise record with 87 catches. As was the case in 2003,
Jackson hit a lull in the middle of the season, only to finish strong. In seven
games against the Rams, he has caught five TD passes, including a season-long
catch of 56 yards in October.

Robinson has missed six of the club's past seven games for various
indiscretions. He will play today but in an unspecified role.

Engram has only 36 catches this season, his second-lowest total in four years
with Seattle. But after missing three games with an ankle injury, he finally
appears to be healthy. He remains Seattle's best third-down receiver and a
savvy zone-buster.

Because of Robinson's problems, the venerable Jerry Rice has been
starting in the base offense with Jackson. Rice doesn't have the speed and
separation skills he once possessed, but he has played in more postseason games
(28) than anyone else in NFL history. The Seahawks hope he has a big game or
two left in him.
Little vs. Womack



If you ask Rams DE Leonard Little, Seattle's Chris Terry
is one of the league's most underrated right tackles. So Little shed no tears
when Terry went on the injured reserve list Dec. 10 with a shoulder injury.
Replacing Terry in the starting lineup is Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack.
"He's a bigger body," Little said. "He doesn't move as fast as Chris Terry, but
he has gotten better."

The Rams matched their season high with six sacks last week against the New
York Jets, but it will be tougher to get to Hasselbeck. Even without Terry,
Seattle has one of the league's better offensive lines - particularly on the
left side, where tackle Walter Jones and guard Steve
Hutchinson
are Pro Bowlers. Jones hasn't allowed a sack all season.

Alexander the Great



OK, so Shaun Alexander had a "Leon" moment last week when it came to
missing the NFL rushing title by 1 yard. The Rams have nothing but respect for
the guy, especially because he ran for 326 yards against them in two games this
season. He gained 176 yards on a whopping 8 yards a carry in November in St.
Louis.

"He has great vision," Little said. "He has great speed, but his vision
overtakes everything. He's a great cutback runner. If you over-pursue on the
front side, he'll cut it back against you."

The Rams allowed nine 100-yard rushers in the regular season. They have done
better at the point of attack since Jimmy Kennedy joined Ryan
Pickett
in the starting lineup five games ago at defensive tackle, but
they remain susceptible to cutback runners.

Secondary concerns

The last time the Rams were at Qwest Field, Marc Bulger burned the
Seattle secondary for 325 yards and three TDs in a dramatic 33-27 overtime
victory. But Bulger also threw three interceptions, matching his season high.
That's the rub with Seattle's secondary. You can beat them, but they also can
beat you.

The Seahawks tied for third in the NFL with 23 interceptions in the regular
season. Cornerback Ken Lucas shared the NFC lead with six, including
two against the Rams in October. The other starting corner, Marcus
Trufant,
has very good footwork and change-of-direction skills. But his
confidence seems to be lacking lately, and he's giving receivers a lot of
cushion. Raw but talented rookie Michael Boulware has replaced
Terreal Bierria at strong safety and has five INTs.

As was the case for the Rams against the Jets' secondary, the quality dips
noticeably when Seattle goes into its nickel and dime packages. If the Rams can
pass protect, there should be opportunities for Kevin Curtis and
Shaun McDonald against the Seahawks' extra DBs.