Thursday, November 9, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Under normal circumstances the “Seahawks” printed across the front of the Rams’ opponents’ jerseys this week would be enough to inspire myriad emotions. The words rivalry, dislike and disdain come to mind when a game between Seattle and St. Louis approaches on the schedule.

The Seahawks and Rams will renew acquaintances Sunday, but given the current state of both teams, the rivalry doesn’t mean nearly as much as the possibility of picking up an important victory.

“It will be big for us to win a game right now, no matter who we’re playing,” defensive end Leonard Little said. “It will be big if we just win the game. Once we win a game we can go on from there, but until then we’re just going to fight to win the game.”

On the heels of a three-game winning streak, the Rams have countered with a three-game losing skid in their past three contests. That trio of losses has St. Louis at 4-4 at the midway point of the season.

Obviously, there is plenty of football left to be played and plenty left to play for, but none of it matters unless the Rams can, like Little says, find a way to get a win.

Despite the .500 record, the Rams find themselves in a competitive spot within the NFC West Division. Seattle has a 5-3 record and sole possession of first place, but the Rams are right on their heels and can move back into a tie with the Seahawks with a victory.

On the flip side, a loss to the Seahawks could be devastating to the Rams’ divisional and playoff hopes. While every week is important in the NFL because there are only 16 games, it’s pretty clear that, for a midseason game, they don’t get much bigger than this one.

“It’s like last week, they’re all big,” quarterback Marc Bulger said. “We’re on a three-game slide, it’s in the division, and we dig a very large hole if we lose this one. I think everyone in here understands the magnitude.”

The first meeting between the teams came on Oct. 15 and was the type of game that will be remembered for a number of reasons. The Rams jumped on the Seahawks early, grabbing a 21-7 halftime lead in a half that St. Louis dominated in nearly every facet.

The second half brought one of the wackiest finishes to a game in recent memory. The Seahawks forged a comeback by coming up with big play after big play. But receiver Torry Holt’s circus catch for a 67-yard touchdown to give the Rams a 28-27 lead with about two minutes to play.

Seattle promptly drove down the field before a penalty appeared to give the Rams a 10-second run off for a victory. But, after much confusion, it was ruled there would be no run off for illegal formation and Seattle’s Josh Brown booted a 54-yard field goal to win as time expired.

The first half featured the Rams at their best, putting up points and stopping Seattle’s rushing attack. But the second half was a different story. So, what can the Rams do to find that balance that gave them so much success in the first 30 minutes of that contest?

“We’ve got to do a better job running the ball against them,” coach Scott Linehan said. “It was probably our worst job all year, as far as having any affect in the run game. 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. I think that is going to be key this game. Certainly we have to stop the run better than we have, but we have to run it better on offense.”

Running back Steven Jackson had his poorest output of the season in that contest, rushing 20 times for just 56 yards and had seven catches for 40 yards. It was by no means a lost day, but it wasn’t up to the standards that Jackson had set in the first five games.

Along with getting the run going, the Rams will have to emulate their performance against the run when they played Seattle the first time. The defense had its best effort against the run in that contest, limiting Seattle’s Maurice Morris to 74 yards on 23 carries, an average of just 3.2 yards per attempt.

The Seahawks will be without star back Shaun Alexander again this time and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is also out with a knee injury. Seattle will also be missing lineman Sean Locklear and receiver Bobby Engram.

If ever Seattle was ripe for the picking, even with their huge home field advantage at Qwest Field, this could be the time.

“It’s reality,” Linehan said. “They are without three or four offensive players. We’re playing on the road, so that negates some of that, but we’ve got to take advantage of the fact that if we do our job as a team, potentially you can give yourself a good chance to win the game. Regardless of who’s playing, we’re playing on the road. We’ve lost three straight games. We’ve got to, regardless of who’s playing, we’ve got to go out and take care of us more than worry about who’s playing for them.”

With that cautiously optimistic viewpoint, the Rams will approach this game with a variety of points to hit. Looking beyond any game at this point would be a wasted exercise. The only game on the schedule that matters is the one before them, especially with so much on the line.

“That’s the way I always approach it,” Bulger said. “If you look down the road during a winning streak you’re going to get beat by someone who shouldn’t beat you, and if you look down the road when you’re losing, some team that you should beat will beat you. You have to take each week as a season. That’s the way I approach things. The coaches have put us in good situations; right now we’re just not making the plays. We’ve had too many mental errors and obviously physical errors.”

After Seattle, the Rams have another tough road game on Nov. 19 at Carolina so things aren’t about to get any easier. To make a playoff push, many believed the Rams would need to split the four games after the bye week. Right now, they are 0-2 with their backs against the wall. But, as easily as a team on a three-game winning streak can go on a three-game skid, the Rams believe they can put it together and go on another winning streak. The opportunity for that turnaround is there for the taking on Sunday.

“The big thing here is, one game can turn all of that around,” defensive tackle La’Roi Glover said. “It’s the second half of the season and basically a new season for us. We have eight tough games coming up; starting with this one and one game can turn your season around. One game can turn you around and get some confidence back, get your swagger back a little bit, and get that good feeling back in your team.”