Rams-Seahawks: 5 Things To Watch
By Jim Thomas

Of the Post-Dispatch
Seattle's Ken Lucas keeps San Francisco's Curtis Conway from making a catch last month.
(Elaine Thompson/AP)

Alexander the great

When the Rams played in Seattle last season, Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander didn't arrive at the stadium until the end of the first quarter. His wife had given birth to their first child earlier that day. That prompted Rams defensive tackle Ryan Pickett to quip: "She ain't pregnant now, is she?"

Well, that's one way to slow Alexander down. From 2001-03, he emerged as one of the most productive backs in the NFL, averaging just over 1,300 yards rushing and nearly 17 TDs a season. Alexander is no toothpick at 5-11, 225 pounds, but what sets him apart is speed and acceleration.

"He's very fast," Pickett said. "He's got some size, but you can't tell by his running style. He's more of a scatback. If he sees something, he's gone. You want to get him before he gets started. So that's our plan."

Alexander has been slowed by a bruised knee, an injury he suffered in the season opener. But he has still scored six TDs, tied for first in the NFL, and should be at full speed - or close to it - after resting up over the bye week. He's easily the best back the Rams have faced so far this season.

On the receiving end

Koren Robinson is the more hyped player, selected No. 9 in the 2001 draft. But Darrell Jackson really is the go-to guy in the Seattle receiving corps. Jackson has caught a TD pass in each of his last three games against the Rams, while Robinson caught the game-winner against the Rams with 1 minute to play last season in Seattle.

For all of his skills, Robinson is a body-catcher prone to drops. He's dropped five balls in Seattle's three games this season. Jackson, meanwhile, is off to a great start and is on pace for a 100-catch season. Neither player is a burner, but both have good size, and good run-after-the-catch ability.

"They know how to get open," Rams cornerback DeJuan Groce said. "They know how to beat zones; they know how to beat man coverage."

Benefiting from all the attention given Jackson and Robinson is savvy No. 3 receiver Bobby Engram, who is adept at finding creases in zone coverage. Normally, Engram is the team's slot receiver, but he occasionally lines up outside.

"He's real crafty," Groce said.

Maturing Matt

Seattle coach Mike Holmgren's patience in Matt Hasselbeck has paid off, with Hasselbeck developing into one of the league's better QBs. If allowed to get comfortable and get in his rhythm, Hasselbeck can be as effective as any QB in the league. Although not a scrambler, he has good instincts about when to avoid pressure, and is deceptively strong.

"He doesn't run for a lot of yards, but he avoids a lot of sacks," Pickett said.

To reinforce that point, Rams players were shown tape during the week of several plays in which pass rushers appeared to have him sacked, but didn't get him.

Blitz city

By unofficial count, the Rams blitzed a season-high 18 times last week against San Francisco as coordinator Larry Marmie's defense continued to evolve. The Rams sent extra pass rushers at the ***** five times on the game-opening drive alone, with one of those blitzes resulting in a drive-stopping sack.

Another interesting sequence occurred in the fourth quarter, when the ***** had a first and goal at the Rams 4. The Rams blitzed all four times on a successful goal-line stand, resulting in three incomplete passes and a 2-yard gain.

All three Rams sacks in the game came on blitz plays - one of which resulted in a fumble and the Rams' first takeaway of the season.

"We want more of an attacking defense," coach Mike Martz said. "It wasn't by accident that all those big plays were off of pressure."

Look for more of the same against Seattle, although Hasselbeck is more adept at hot reads than ***** QB Tim Rattay.

Secondary skirmish

So far this season, no one has been able to slow Rams WRs Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. They've combined for 57 catches for 758 yards and three TDs in four games. But in Seattle's Marcus Trufant and Ken Lucas, Bruce and Holt are up against the best set of corners they've faced this season.

"We know both of them," Holt said. "We know what they like to do. Trufant, his feet are unbelievably quick. He's very instinctive for a second-year player. Lucas is very patient, well-coached. He reminds me a lot of Dexter McCleon."

Lucas stays at right corner, with Trufant on the left side, so Holt and Bruce will see both corners at various times in the game, depending on the formation. Lucas employs more press coverage at the line of scrimmage than Trufant. Last year, Trufant did more pressing.

"But I'm sure in this game, they'll (both) come down and press us, try to disrupt the timing of our offense, slow some things down," Holt said. "We're ready for that. We worked on some things throughout the course of the week."