Rams want to show Seattle who is boss
By Jim Thomas

Of the Post-Dispatch
Leonard Little (above) says the Rams have been looking forward to the kind of test the Seattle Seahawks present.
(Chris Lee/P-D)

SEATTLE - Almost since the first preseason magazines hit the newsstands in June and July, the Seattle Seahawks have been portrayed as the team to beat in the NFC West and an up-and-coming power in the NFC.

"There's been a lot of talk that they're going to overtake the NFC West, and that the Rams are fading," Rams wide receiver Torry Holt said. "It doesn't bother me none."

Holt, in fact, agrees with that assessment. To a point.

"They are an up-and-coming team in the National Football League," he said. "But we won 12 games (last season). We still are the champs of the NFC West. And until somebody dethrones us, then that's the way we're going to carry ourselves."

And one last thing.

"You still have to play," Holt said. "No matter what's being said in the papers and the magazines, we still have to go out there and strap it on. And they have to beat us, and we have to beat them."

So the NFC West sorting process begins in earnest Sunday afternoon at Qwest Field. A victory by Seattle, which is coming of its bye week, puts the Seahawks at 4-0 for the first time in franchise history. It also puts the Seahawks three games up on the loss side against the Rams.

But a Rams victory puts them at 3-2, and Seattle at 3-1 with the Seahawks traveling to New England on Oct. 17. A loss doesn't eliminate the Rams, but a victory means the division race is on.

"This one will tell a lot about who's got early control of the division," Rams defensive captain Tyoka Jackson said. "The season's not over after this game, but. ..."

As for all the Seattle hype?

"Well, we heard the same thing last year, so what does that mean?" Jackson asked. "It means absolutely nothing, it's just talk. The game's played on the field. ... If we go out and play Rams football, it doesn't really matter."

In their two victories this season, "Rams football" has meant a mix of running and passing on offense, zero sacks allowed by Rams blockers, and stingy defense.

In their two losses, the Rams have been pass-happy on offense, allowed five sacks in both contests, and been overly generous on defense.

There's no doubt Rams players like the more balanced approach on offense. They've been dropping hints whenever asked about the importance of the running game, as if they're almost hoping the head coach is listening.

"To be balanced is great," offensive tackle Grant Williams said. "We were all talking afterwards (against San Francisco). You could tell, and you could probably see on TV, they weren't real sure what was coming. So it's just advantageous for everyone. It even makes it easier to throw for Marc (Bulger) when we do throw."

Against the *****, the Rams had seven runs go for more than 10 yards, their second-highest total of the season. (They had eight against Arizona.)

"Any time you can run it, that gets those linebackers aggressive (in run support)," Bulger said. "It opens up the play-action. I think it was evident watching Isaac (Bruce) get behind the linebackers in that zone. That's pretty much what you're trying to get off the play-action."

The second part of the victory equation at San Francisco was the play of the defense. The Rams forced turnovers, rushed the passer and took chances on the blitz. The result was a dominating performance for 2 1/2 quarters.

"We came out with a lot of intensity that game," linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. "We got that turnover on the second series, and that just made us want more and more."

More of that kind of defense is needed to stay on the field with Seattle. The Seahawks have a balanced offense, with a solid offensive line and threats at all the skill positions.

"This is probably the best offense we've played all year," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "They can pass, run the ball. Great offensive line. So it's a big challenge."

Meanwhile, the Seattle defense is off to a surprisingly strong start, bolstered in part by the offseason acquisition of former Rams defensive end Grant Wistrom. Almost across the board, there are no glaring weaknesses on either side of the ball for Seattle.

If that weren't enough, the Seahawks are building up the kind of home-field dominance that the best teams display. The Seahawks have a franchise-record 10-game home winning streak, currently second only to New England's 13-game home streak in the NFL.

No wonder coach Mike Martz says, almost matter of factly, "In our division, at this point, they really are the team to beat."

Bulger agrees, but adds, "It's up to us to change it. We respect them, but at the same time, we're not intimidated by them or anything like that. I think it's going to be a good test to see where we're at."