Here's the second part of my question swap with Doug Farrar, of Scout.com's Seattle Seahawks site and Football Outsiders. Today is THE day...the St. Louis Rams kick off their regular season - did we mention it's a new era? - with a road trip to Seattle. The game starts at 3:15 p.m. Central time. We'll have more throughout the day.
TST: What are the early returns on the change from Mike Holmgren to Jim Mora?
DF: I was at one of the first minicamp practices of the Mora era, and the first thing you notice with this team now is that everything moves faster in practice, Players, position groupings, drills - Mora obviously wants a team with drive and intensity, and he uses speed in practice to weed out the guys who don't get it. I don't think he's quite as manic about execution as Holmgren was, but I also think he has a sharper eye on the overall picture. Holmgren tended to run the offense with an iron fist and defer a lot to his defensive coordinators. Mora's a defensive coach with an offensive coordinator he knows and trusts in Greg Knapp, and he's not shy about pointing out when something isn't working offensively.
Still, Mora's facing an uphill battle in the comparison. Mike Holmgren was the greatest coach this franchise has ever seen, with Chuck Knox a close second, and the team isn't good enough for Mora to have the kind of success that Holmgren did during his peak here
TST: How do opponents game plan against Seattle's front seven on defense?
DF: The best way used to be to run right at the tackles - the Seattle defense has been too small between the tackles over the last few years, which is common among Cover- and Tampa-2 defenses, unless you happen to have the odd Tommie Harris or Warren Sapp hanging around. That's not too common. With Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole, the hope is that there's enough stoutness to stop long gainers. The differences this year are the addition of linebacker Aaron Curry, who looks dominant already, and the new schemes implemented by new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Bradley runs some very creative zone blitzes - against the Chiefs in the third preseason game, he lined up Nick Reed, a 250-pound end, as a wide-three-technique tackle and had him drop into coverage. I think you'll see for formation diversity, which will make the defense a little tougher to scout.
TST: Last year's injury to Patrick Kerney aside, the defense didn't seem to respond well to the situation on the other side of the ball. Will that be different this year?
DF: To a point. Curry provides the combination of edge rush ability, string tackling in space, and coverage skill that the Seahawks always hoped they'd get from Julian Peterson. But if kerney can't stay healthy or isn't what he used to be, ends Darryl Tapp and Lawrence Jackson seem to be more complementary in nature - they're maybe better off as the run-stopping ends on the other side, and Jackson has some potential rushing inside. The linebackers are unbelievable. The front four is still a work in progress, and it generally doesn't work without Kerney.
TST: Without Trufant, is the Seattle secondary suspect to a strong vertical passing game?
DF: The Seattle secondary is vulnerable with or without Trufant. Last year, they gave up far too many big plays. Safety Brian Russell, one of the biggest coverage liabilities in the NFL, has been mercifully released, and he is now the Jaguars' problem. Bringing Ken Lucas back from the Panthers (he was a Seahawks DB from 2001 through 2004) was a great move, as he brings two things the other Seattle defensive backs don't have - size, and coverage acumen. Team president Tim Ruskell took Kelly Jennings and Josh Wilson with the team's first pick in previous drafts, but neither player has proven anymore than nickel coverage ability.
TST: What matchups, either units or players, will be the most important and interesting for this game?
DF: Seattle's receivers against St. Louis' back seven: T.J. Houshmandzadeh will be an intermediate matchup nightmare for corners and safeties, Nate Burleson has some big-play ability, and rookie Deon Butler is the speedy wild card. They need to take advantage of St. Louis' weak (O.J. Atogwe aside) secondary.
St. Louis' front four against Seattle's offensive line: Here's where the Rams might have an advantage. Steve Spagnuolo knows how to surprise with defensive formations, and the Seahawks offensive line is vulnerable, especially on Hasselbeck's blind side.
Patrick Kerney, Aaron Curry, and Cory Redding against Alex Barron and Jason Smith: If the Seahawka are to win this game, this is where it will happen. Seattle's defense needs to play off the Qwest crowd noise, take the lead, and apply constant pressure on the Rams' Quarterback Du Jour.