In a season so full of difficult games, games that have seen the Rams play the fourth toughest schedule in the NFL in 2012; the Rams have repeatedly found themselves facing some of the toughest tests the league has to offer.
But, just like any class worth its salt, the final exam figures to be the hardest. For the Rams, that final exam comes in the form of a trip to the Pacific Northwest to take on the hottest team in the league’s most hostile atmosphere.
“I would submit that this is clearly, probably – I contradict myself but – the most difficult game we’re going to play all year,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “Considering they’ve scored 50, 42 and - whatever they’ve scored - they’re averaging (50) points a game the last three weeks against pretty good defenses. And they’re not giving up points and it’s a tough place to play, so this will be a huge challenge. Probably the biggest challenge for us.”
It’s only fitting that the Rams will face the Seahawks in the season finale for the second time in three years. In 2010, the two teams met at CenturyLink Field with the NFC West Division title on the line. The Rams lost that game and came up short of their first playoff trip since 2004.
This year, there are no postseason stakes on the line for the Rams while the Seahawks still have a chance to claim the division after already wrapping up a playoff bid.
There are, however, plenty of things the Rams can achieve by pulling off a victory and toss into the mix for a strong foundation moving into 2013.
At 7-7-1, the Rams have the chance to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2003 with a win. A victory would also propel the Rams to an unblemished 5-0-1 record in the NFC West Division, which would give them their first undefeated mark in the division since the 1999 journey to the Super Bowl title.
For running back Steven Jackson, who has been a part of neither in his nine years with the Rams and could potentially be playing in his final game with the team depending on his offseason path, this game carries plenty of weight.
“The only emotion that I’m thinking about is going undefeated (in the division) and secondly, my first possible winning season,” Jackson said. “Those are the only two things that I’m thinking about and those are team things, so that’s what’s most important.”
To reach those goals, the Rams will have to overcome what is, perhaps, the most difficult environment to play in all of football.
Known for the presence of the “12th Man,” Seattle’s CenturyLink Field is widely regarded as the most consistently loud stadium in all of the NFL.
Rams assistant head coach Dave McGinnis has been around long enough to remember some of the most deafening venues in league history and he believes Seattle stacks up to the best that have ever been.
“It’s impressive,” McGinnis said. “There’s a lot of loud places in the National Football League and for 27 years I’ve been to all of them. When that place is rocking, it can go. Old RFK used to bounce up and down, that building used to really move. Well that place (CenturyLink Field) moves. They get rocking pretty good up there, which is fun to play in.”
It’d be more fun to play in as an opponent if the fans weren’t matched by a team that is playing better than any other outfit in the league right now.
In the past three weeks, Seattle has slaughtered Arizona, Buffalo and San Francisco by scores of 58-0, 50-17 and 42-13, respectively.
“I don’t think I’ve ever come across a team that’s scored 50 points a game three consecutive weeks, and then faced them in the fourth,” Fisher said. “So, if we hold them to under 50 is that good?”
Considering how hot Seattle’s offense has been in recent weeks, a number under 50 would actually seem like a good job.
In the first meeting, the Rams limited the Seahawks to 13 points but that meeting came back on Sept. 30 and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was making just his fourth career start.
My how Wilson has grown since. Starting with the following week in Carolina, Wilson has posted the second-best passer rating in the league at 106.9. In that span, he’s thrown for 2,274 yards and 21 touchdowns with just six interceptions.
While running back Marshawn Lynch remains the focal point of the offense, Seattle coach Pete Carroll’s trust in Wilson has grown leaps and bounds.
“You can tell,” McGinnis said. “He’s like any rookie in this league that gets a chance to play and play regular. He’s gotten better and better and better. You can see where they trust this offense to him now. It looks like since about the Chicago game on, that they’ve opened up the whole offense to him and he’s done a tremendous job. He’s extremely poised for a first-year quarterback. All of this offense now runs through him.”
As the offense has taken off, it’s only made an already dominant Seattle defense even better. The Seahawks are first in the league in scoring defense, allowing just 15.5 points per game and fourth in total defense, giving up 304.5 yards per contest.
Led by a big, physical secondary, a hard-hitting crew of linebackers and a stout front four, the Seahawks defense presents a challenge on par or perhaps even more difficult than the ***** vaunted crew.
“They’ve been impressive all year,” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “Again, number one in the league in points per game. Just a veteran group. The secondary, obviously, you know is one of the best in the league. Obviously, they’ve got some pass rushers. Not a lot of weaknesses, but like anything else, you’ve got to go out there and execute. We think that there’s some things that we can do based off some formations and stuff we want to look at. We might be able to find some advantage, but it won’t be easy.”
No, nothing will come easy in this final examination for the young Rams in 2012. Of course, they’d love nothing more than to end with their fifth win in the final six games and their fourth straight road victory.
Even if that doesn’t happen, though, Fisher said this game won’t serve as a referendum on the season as a whole but rather a final chance to add even more to an ever-expanding resume.
“Well, as I’ve said all week, this game’s not going to define our season,” Fisher said. “So, certainly, if we find a way and we’re successful there then we end up, obviously, with – not reaching our goals – but at least it’s always good to have an opportunity to finish a year on a winning note. If it doesn’t happen then you look back and you draw other positives from the year.”