Rams Prepared for Important Early Season Battle
Thursday, October 12, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

In the afterglow of a victory, the Rams get a 24-hour grace period from head coach Scott Linehan to enjoy the win before moving on to the next week. That is a pretty standard cooling down for most teams throughout the league.

But, after last week’s 23-20 win against Green Bay at Lambeau Field, that down time was trimmed considerably. Not more than 20 minutes after the win, Linehan was asked about preparing for the next game.

That’s because, at this point, there are few games on the team’s schedule with more meaning than the pair of meetings against Seattle.

In his first year as the Rams’ head coach, Linehan has quickly learned the importance of the games against the Seahawks and acknowledges the rivalry.

“I think you always look forward to playing the team that sets the bar,” Linehan said. “The bar was set by Seattle last year in the NFC and in our division. That’s kind of the way the league works. It goes in cycles, but they’re certainly the team to beat, not only in our division, but in the entire NFC. It’s a pretty big challenge for us, but it’s also one that we’ve been looking forward to. It will be a pretty big measuring stick based on how this game turns out this week, and kind of lets us know where we’re at at this point.”

Soon after the divisional realignment placed the Seahawks in the NFC West, the Rams staked their claim to dominance in the division. The only true challenger from that group to emerge was Seattle. This week’s game is the 10th between the teams in the past five seasons in a rivalry that seems to get more heated every year.

In 2004, the Rams-Seahawks battle picked up steam after St. Louis won the division in 2003. The Seahawks brashly proclaimed themselves ready to take over the NFC West that year, but the Rams did not oblige.

The Rams posted three consecutive victories that year, including an NFC Wild Card game win at Seattle in January of 2004. The Seahawks won the division, but they could not get past the hurdle that was the Rams.

Finally, last year, Seattle made the leap by knocking off the Rams twice last year, winning the division and eventually the NFC Championship before falling in the Super Bowl. Since realignment in 2002, the Rams lead the series 5-4 with a 5-2 record at the Edward Jones Dome.

At 4-1, the Rams are in first place in the NFC West, a half game ahead of Seattle. The Seahawks are 3-1 and coming off a bye week. It’s only Week 6, but it’s clearly a big game for both teams.

“I believe that is definitely the case,” linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski said. “The games in the last four or five years always are hard fought games down to the end. I know, being on that side last year, how we won it in the end was one of those games that we would have lost in the years past. It was a big stepping-stone for us. I was talking to some guys and they’ve shown that post game locker room speech that Coach Holmgren gives when he says, ‘We finally got that monkey off our back.’ That’s definitely how everybody felt after we left St. Louis last year. I think we went on an 11-game winning streak after that too. It was one of those things that propelled our season.”

Wins in this series generally have helped to propel a season. In 2004, the Rams’ miraculous comeback in Seattle spurred them on to a playoff berth and gave them the confidence to win that wild card game.

Even with all of the implications of Sunday’s game, the Rams are doing their best to maintain the approach of taking it one game at a time, regardless of the name on the opponent’s jersey.

Seattle enters this week ranked 21st in total offense and 11th in total defense. The Seahawks will be without star runner Shaun Alexander and probably receiver Bobby Engram.

Coming off an embarrassing loss to Chicago, Seattle has the advantage of coming into this week off its bye week which gives the Seahawks the added help of preparing for an extra week.

Fortunately for the Rams, there is a positive precedent set from before that 2004 comeback. Seattle was coming off a bye then and had the Rams at home before losing in stunning fashion.

This time, the Rams have the advantage of being at home, which could level the field a bit.

More important the any rivalry implications, though, is the chance for the Rams to improve their records, win their fourth consecutive game and get off to the team’s best start since they began 2001 with a 6-0 record.

“It’s bigger because it raises our record from 4-1 to 5-1 if we win the game, and puts us in better position in our division,” Linehan said. “There is some reality to that. I think it’s important that we look at it as the next game, even though it is a division rival, and defending division champs. It does kind of give you a little bit more of a feel as to where you’re at; playing a team that pretty much dominated the entire NFL last year. Our guys are real excited for the challenge.”

:seasux: