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OPEN THREAD - Rams (4-1) vs Seattle Seahawks (3-1)

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Eariler this week, I talked to Paul over at brother SB Nation site Field Gulls, and he answered a few question about the Rams opponent for today's game and rival for the NFC West title.

I'm also going to use this as the open thread for today's game, so enjoy. Be sure to head over to Field Gulls for some fine football discussion as well.

1. What adjustments did the Seahawks make after their NFC Championship season?

The biggest adjustment was one that was forced upon us, which was compensating for the loss of Steve Hutchinson at left guard. Walter Jones and Hutchinson were largely responsible for sealing up the left line for Shaun Alexander's runs last year. Since Hutch went to the Vikings, we've had to try out Floyd Womack and Chris Spencer at the position. Womack didn't do very well at all, then got injured. Spencer is learning on the job, although
there's more hope that he'll solidify the position better than Womack did.

Other than that, we brought in Julian Peterson in the defensive
backfield, which has already paid off. We also nabbed Nate Burleson from the Vikings as mild retribution for their taking Hutchinson. I think Nate's going to be a great part of the offense down the road, but you can tell right now he's still going through an adjustment period with this offense.

We lost receiver Joe Jurevicius to the Browns in free agency this
season. A lot of folks around here thought that was unfortunate; I always thought Burleson was the better long-term option and still do.

2. Hasselbeck and Alexander (before injury) - and the Seahawks offense - seem to be struggling a little bit this season. Why?

Well, I don't think you'll find a Seahawks fan who'll underestimate the importance of a good left guard ever again. In my mind Hutchinson's departure has had a big effect on our protection of Hasselbeck and opening up our running game.

Except for the game against the Giants, Hasselbeck's been under a lot of pressure in the pocket this season, scrambling for his life and making some mistakes in the process. The protection has broken down a bit. That also has something to do with Shaun's lower yards-per-carry average as well, though it's now apparent he was probably playing with a bad set of
wheels thanks to the foot injury.

Jerramy Stevens was also one of Hasselbeck's favorite targets last year in the clutch, and his absence has affected the game plan somewhat. We've also had to ramp up our new receivers, Burleson and Deion Branch,
a little bit. It's not a wholesale new offense, but it's enough of a
change that there have been learning curves that other really good defenses have learned to exploit early on. I think it will improve as the season goes on.

3. How does Jerramy Stevens' return change the offense?

Stevens was a favorite interior target of Hasselbeck last season, and I'm sure Matt will be glad to have him back. Our backup tight ends Itula Mili and Will Heller were always more of the blocking type of tight end, even though Heller notably had a touchdown reception in the rout against the Giants.

My gut tells me Stevens will probably not be thrown into the offense at full-speed against St. Louis, since he hasn't played in any sort of game since the Super Bowl, and the chemistry of our receiving team is still a work in progress. But he'll probably absorb some of the passes Hasselbeck was going to throw to Bobby Engram this week.

What you will probably see this weekend that you haven't seen yet is more two-tight-end sets, especially with Engram's mysterious thyroid problem keeping him out for at least this week. The Seahawks have been experimenting with 4-wide formations the last two games. Worked pretty well against
the Giants. Against the Bears, not so much.

The Rams will probably be looking at a couple offensive sets that
other teams on the Seahawks' schedule won't be seeing this year. We'll have to see how Seattle executes.

4. Tell us about Holmgren's strategy versus the Rams this weekend.

I would think you'd see a little more conservatism from the Seahawks game plan this week. The Rams are pretty formidable in the turnover department, so the first key would be to amp up protection of the ball. In Alexander's absence, Mo Morris and to a lesser extent Mack Strong will have to at least
keep the running game in place. On passing downs Hasselbeck has to improve his reads, but that's also tied in with getting him protection from the line, not forcing him into panic mode.

Bruce and Holt have always posed problems for the Seahawks' corners, so our linebacking trio of Peterson, Tatupu and Hill may have to be more active in the fringes during passing downs. The defensive line also needs to regain the dominance they had in the first three games of the season and use their quickness to clamp down on the Rams' backfield. That pressure was
absent against the Bears. Let's just say this last bye week was
probably the most welcome early-season bye in NFL history, and hopefully some problems were addressed in the last two weeks.

5. Give us the outsider's look at the keys to Seattle's 2006 season.

Hate to be a broken record, but job one is to regain the chemistry of the offensive line, and find a way to gel in front of the ball carriers and quarterback. Incorporating Burleson and now Branch into the specifics of the West Coast offense was a key, but until Alexander comes back that offense won't be what it was predicted to be. So obviously the first part is
getting everyone healthy.

There's a lot of optimism with our linebacker corps, and Seattle's
defense -- again, before we went to Chicago -- was inspired and dominating. They just have to regain their sense of purpose and mission after that particularly bad blowout. I think they will.

Hasselbeck has matured more with every game, and even in the most adverse of circumstances this year he's gotten a little smarter and more in control of the Seahawks' tempo. He needs to get more support, which I think he'll get when the injured list decreases. But his poise and presence are the most important keys if the Seahawks want to repeat the success from last year.

The Seahawks were unilaterally driven after the Super Bowl to prove themselves worthy to go back. Anybody who thought it would be a cakewalk has probably seen the light by now, but there's still a very measured optimism in the ranks of the fans and coaches.

Thanks again to Paul at FieldGulls. Be sure to head over there to see how Seahawks fans see the game today.

Go Rams!