Rams Host Seahawks in Pivotal Contest
Rams Host Seahawks in Pivotal Contest
November 13, 2004
By Barry Waller
When the Rams traveled to Seattle to play the high riding and well rested Seahawks October 10th, everything was ripe for the home team to accomplish what everyone said was their destiny in 2004, to become the top team in the NFC West and relegate the Rams to the status of wild card candidate. Instead, one of the best fourth quarter comebacks in NFL history stalled the Seahawks from assuming NFL West bragging rights.
During the game that the Rams eventually won in overtime 33-27 on a Marc Bulger to Shaun McDonald thunderbolt, the Seahawks did plenty of bragging, and the way things turned out seemed to do some real damage to their swagger. No one could really blame the Seattle players for buying into all the hype concerning their team, and at 3-0 going into that game; no one predicted such a collapse against an obviously struggling Rams team.
The shock of the loss to the Rams at home sent the Seahawks into a tailspin, as they were very flat in a loss to the Patriots and followed that up by losing a key division contest to the Arizona Cardinals. Fortunately, the antidote to their nose-dive was a two game stretch against the Panthers and Niners.
Meanwhile, the Rams followed up their big comeback victory with a tough win over the Buccaneers on MNF, but failed to “hold serve” by losing successive games to the winless Dolphins in Miami, and the Patriots at home. Mike Martz is not happy about the way those games transpired, describing his team’s play as an “embarrassment”, and uncharacteristically calling out his players for their lackluster performance.
No doubt the basis for his ire is the way his team frittered away a great chance to take command of the division. They are in the lead in all the tie breakers, especially the head to head against Seattle, but as of now, the Seahawks again sit atop the division because of the most important “tiebreaker”, the most wins. Seattle is 5-3, while the Rams finished the first half 4-4.
Sunday’s game is simply the season for the Rams, since the Seahawks remaining slate isn’t exactly the most difficult, while the Rams’ very well could be, with trips to Buffalo and Green Bay in possible cold weather approaching, and final games at home against the Eagles and Jets, with just three losses between them as of now.
To win, the Rams must win a turnover battle with a team that is their polar opposite, at +8 in that crucial category to the Rams –8 slate. The Rams must score at least 35 points to win, and that may not even be enough if they can’t stop running back Shaun Alexander, who has 355 yards rushing and three scores his last two games, albeit against some pretty soft defenses. Alexander has burned the Rams for 441 ground yards on 100 carries, with four touchdowns since he joined the NFL, despite missing half of one game in 2003 when his wife gave birth, and being somewhat less than 100% in the initial meeting this year.
The Rams downtrodden defense also must change their fortunes against Seattle wide receiver Darrell Jackson. Jackson has scored in every game he has played against the Rams since 2000, and he has 19 receptions for 353 yards in those five contests. The other top receiver for Seattle, Koren Robinson, leads his team in receptions and yards against St. Louis since Martz became head coach. Robinson, who also has dropped a few balls against the Rams, has caught 24 for 461 yards and 2 scores in five games.
Those two are joined by the best ever to play the position, Jerry Rice, who was traded to the Seahawks several weeks ago. His acquisition was hoped to make up for the injuries that have kept Bobby Engram from performing.
The Rams have also been burned by the Seattle tight ends in head coach Mike Holmgren’s “West Coast” offense. Ituli Mili, who is listed as questionable for the game, has caught 13-184 against Martz’ teams, joined by fellow tight end Jeramy Stevens, the former first rounder who has 8 receptions for 112 yards and a score during his action against the Rams.
On defense, the Rams have gotten good games from Leonard Little (4 sacks, 33 tackles in five starts), and Adam Archuleta (1 sack, 34 tackles in four starts). Those defensive leaders and others must be far better than they have been in the past to stop a team that’s 7th overall in yards per game.
The Seahawk defense has been hit hard by the loss of former Ram Grant Wistrom with a knee injury, and the other pass-rushing end, Chike Okeafor, has been nursing an injury and is sackless in two games. If he is able to play at previous form, the Seahawks will try to take advantage of the Rams right tackle spot, which has seen Grant Williams struggle recently, and is without top backup Scott Tercero this week due to a bad shoulder. Blaine Saipaia has gotten some work at the position this week, and also could figure in at left guard if Chris Dishman again struggles like he did last week.
The Rams must find a way to protect Marc Bulger, because the Rams must pass well to win this game, and they also must have at least the ability to gain yardage when they do run. The Seattle secondary is not 100% healthy either, but I doubt Rams fans will use that as reason for optimism after last week, when everybody but the water boy played corner for the Pats without the Rams being able to exploit it.
The Patriots special teams are without top cover specialist Alex Bannister, our with a broken collarbone, and are on their second punter this season, but their numbers, as mediocre as they are, still outpace those of St. Louis woeful special teams.
Martz has put his guys on notice this week, and this will be a game that indicates whether it does any good for him to get tough, or whether this 2004 team just doesn’t have what it takes to win consistently enough in the NFL. If the defense again falters, it could spell the end for defensive coordinator Larry Marmie at the end of the season if not sooner. There is a ton riding on seemingly every NFL game, but this one truly is a defining and crucial game that the Rams must win or see their season’s hopes go down the drain.