Seahawks-Rams matchup huge on a number of fronts

By CLARE FARNSWORTH
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

KIRKLAND -- Watching the St. Louis Rams kick the gold dust out of the ***** in San Francisco on Sunday was like watching what the Seahawks did to the once-proud ***** the week before at Qwest Field.

It also prompted similar questions. Are the Rams (and Seahawks) that good? Or is it that the ***** are that bad?

These twin conquerors collide Sunday in an early season biggie in the NFC West. The defending division champion Rams are 2-2 and need a victory to climb above .500, while the 3-0 Seahawks can open a 2 1/2-game gap with a victory.

"It's obvious San Francisco is having some problems," All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson said yesterday, when the Seahawks resumed practicing after having the previous four days off during their bye week.

"But St. Louis is a good team. They're the best team, in all aspects of the game, that we'll face so far."

That's more than locker-room talk the week of a big game. Despite their 1-2 start, that included a squeaker over the Arizona Cardinals and an overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints at home, the Rams are winners of the NFC West three times in the past five seasons and runners-up the other two.

Three reasons the Seahawks should be concerned:



<LI>For the offense: The Rams' defense ranks 27th in the league and former coordinator Lovie Smith is now the head coach in Chicago. But the Rams still have safety Aeneas Williams and defensive end Leonard Little -- two players who have given the Seahawks fits.

Williams had a career-high eight solo tackles against the Seahawks last December in St. Louis. Little had two sacks, six quarterback pressures and a forced fumble against the Seahawks in Seattle last year, and eight tackles, one sack and a forced fumble against them the year before, also in Seattle.

"Their speed and their scheme," Hutchinson offered when asked what most worries him about the Rams' defense. "They like to bring pressure from a lot from different looks, and they have speed -- even their nose guard is fast."



<LI>For the defense: The usual suspects. Torry Holt. Marshall Faulk. Isaac Bruce. Mark Bulger. Orlando Pace. Between them, they have been to 17 Pro Bowls and accounted for 279 touchdowns in their careers.

"They're well-rounded. They have a lot of weapons," defensive end Chike Okeafor said. "We've just got to be disciplined, but still try to create havoc and turnovers."



<LI>Intangible: The Seahawks are 0-5 after their bye weeks under Holmgren, including a 35-13 drubbing at the hands of the Packers in Green Bay last season that followed a 3-0 start.

Three reasons for the Seahawks to be optimistic:



<LI>For the offense: Grant Wistrom is now a Seahawk and Brian Young is now a Saint. Last year, these two high-rev competitors comprised the right side of the Rams' defensive line, combining for 210 tackles, 10 sacks, 58 quarterback pressures and countless headaches for opposing offenses.

"There's a specific way that we're going to need to attack their defense. That will be our focus," said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who won't get the game plan until today. "Our job is going to be to go out and execute the game plan; find whatever matchups we want to take advantage of."



<LI>For the defense: This defense hasn't been constructed specifically to match the Rams' at-times helter-skelter tempo on offense, but the infusion of speed and aggressiveness the past two seasons is undeniable and gives the Seahawks a better chance to combat whatever the Rams might throw at them.

The Seahawks have the defensive linemen to pressure Bulger and a secondary capable of disrupting the Rams' passing game.

"I think we are better equipped to match up with this offense," cornerback Marcus Trufant said. "But at the same time, if we don't come in focused -- no matter how equipped we are -- things won't happen for us."



<LI>Intangible: The game is at Q, where the Seahawks have won 10 consecutive games -- the longest home streak in franchise history. It started with a 30-10 victory over the Rams on Dec. 22, 2002, and also includes a 21-20 victory over the Rams last September.

"They are a good football team," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "It's a division opponent. A real rivalry. They have won our division. It's a home game. So you put all those things in the pot, there are a lot of reasons it's a big game."