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NFL Preview - Seattle (3-7) at St. Louis (1-9)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - No running back in the NFL has touched the football more this season than Steven Jackson. With his team beset by an injury at the quarterback position, the St. Louis Rams star figures to be in line for yet another extensive workload when the Seattle Seahawks pay a visit to the Edward Jones Dome this Sunday for a matchup between NFC West members.
Shortly after a 21-13 home loss to Arizona this past Sunday, the Rams learned that starting signal-caller Marc Bulger sustained a fracture just below his left knee that will keep the two-time Pro Bowl honoree out for a minimum of three weeks. It's the latest bit of bad news for an organization that has won a meager total of six games over the past three seasons, the lowest amount in the league.
Jackson has been one of the few bright spots in what's been another dismal campaign for the Rams. The standout back put together a fourth straight 100- yard rushing effort in last week's loss to the Cardinals and has racked up 1,031 yards on the ground through the first 10 games, which trails only Tennessee's Chris Johnson for tops in the NFL.
The sixth-year pro's 116 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries still weren't enough to prevent St. Louis from being dealt a 10th consecutive home defeat and an 11th loss in a row to an NFC West opponent. The Rams have gone just 1-9 thus far under first-year head coach Steve Spagnuolo, who took over following the team's forgettable 2-14 season of 2008.
With Bulger sidelined for the immediate future, St. Louis will once again put its offense in the hands of Kyle Boller, the former first-round washout in Baltimore who's lost the last eight games he's started. The offseason addition's last such victory, coincidentally, came against the Rams while still with the Ravens, a 22-3 verdict on October 14, 2007.
Boller started twice for an ailing Bulger during Weeks 4 and 5 of this season and committed four turnovers in lopsided setbacks to San Francisco and Minnesota. The Rams generated only 10 points combined over the course of those outings.
Seattle will be out to rediscover its season-opening form, when the club pasted the Rams by a 28-0 count in the Emerald City back in Week 1. It's been mostly downhill for the Seahawks since that shutout performance, however, with the team having dropped seven of its next nine tilts to essentially fall out of contention in the playoff race.
The lowest point may have come in the team's most recent outing, a 35-9 shellacking by the powerful Minnesota Vikings in which Seattle mustered a franchise-worst four rushing yards. The defense was equally as lousy, with the submissive Seahawks allowing the ageless Brett Favre to complete 22-of-25 passes and throw for four touchdowns.
Seattle has now lost all five of its road games in 2009, all of which have been by double-digits. The Seahawks' last triumph in an enemy venue came at the Edward Jones Dome last December, a 23-20 decision on a last-second field goal from kicker Olindo Mare.
The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the Rams, 13-9, and currently own a nine-game winning streak over their NFC West rivals. Seattle was a 28-0 winner when St. Louis visited Qwest Field in Week 1, and swept its fourth consecutive home-and-home over St. Louis last year. The Seahawks took a 37-13 home decision in Week 3 and prevailed by a 23-20 margin at the Edward Jones Dome in Week 15. The Rams' last wins of any kind in the series came in 2004, when they swept a home-and-home with their NFC West rival and went on to defeat them at Qwest Field in an NFC First-Round Playoff.
The latter contest, a 27-20 road win for the Rams, marks the only postseason meeting between the teams all-time.
Seahawks head coach Jim Mora is 3-0 against the Rams, with a 2-0 mark while serving at the helm of the Falcons (2004-06) that includes a win for Atlanta in a 2004 NFC Divisional Playoff. Spagnuolo is 0-1 against both Seattle and Mora as a head coach.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Last week's futile display from the running game provided a good illustration of why Seattle ranks dead last in the NFL in rushing offense (84.4 ypg) and has attempted the second-most passes in the league this year. The Seahawks did show excellent balance in their season-opening win over the Rams, however, producing a season-best 167 yards on the ground to complement a 279-yard, three-touchdown day out of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (1853 passing yards, 11 TD, 7 INT). Primary ball-carrier Julius Jones (392 rushing yards, 20 receptions, 4 total TD) delivered 117 yards on just 19 attempts in that game, with most of the damage coming via a 62-yard scoring burst in the fourth quarter. The veteran back missed last Sunday's contest with a bruised lung and ribs, though, and may be pushed to a supporting role in favor of second-year man Justin Forsett (255 rushing yards, 29 receptions, 2 TD) even if he's able to return on Sunday. Forsett backed up a career-high 123-yard, 17-carry showing upon replacing the injured Jones in a Week 10 loss at Arizona by totaling 80 receiving yards on eight catches against the Vikings, aiding an aerial attack that possesses two solid wide receivers in Nate Burleson (51 receptions, 662 yards, 3 TD) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (54 receptions, 3 TD). Young tight end John Carlson (34 receptions, 3 TD) burned St. Louis for 95 yards and two touchdown grabs in the team's earlier meeting, but he's been more of an afterthought in the game plan in recent weeks.
The Seattle backs should find plenty of running room against a St. Louis defense that was gashed for 183 rushing yards by the pass-happy Cardinals a week ago and ranks a lowly 28th overall (146.4 ypg) in that category. The Rams also have allowed foes to convert 50.8 percent of their third-down chances, the highest rate of success in the league, while a non-threatening pass rush has compiled only 17 sacks on the year, quite a drop-off from the noted high- pressure units Spagnuolo oversaw during his previous tenure as the New York Giants' defensive coordinator. The top performers of this otherwise subpar group have been rookie middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (76 tackles, 2 INT) and safeties Oshiomogho Atogwe (62 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT) and James Butler (30 tackles, 3 INT, 5 PD), while 12th-year end Leonard Little (19 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT) is still an effective edge rusher at age 35. Laurinatis amassed 14 tackles (10 solo) against the Seahawks back in September, while both Atogwe and Butler had interceptions of Hasselbeck in the loss.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
St. Louis hadn't been striking fear into the opposition with Bulger (1469 passing yards, 5 TD, 6 INT) under center, and Boller's (481 passing yards, 2 TD, 3 INT) career track record gives the team's 22nd-ranked passing offense (185.6 ypg) even less of a threat. The Rams' inconsistency in throwing the ball has made Jackson's (1031 rushing yards, 3 TD, 35 receptions) achievements even more remarkable, and the powerfully-built back hasn't shown any signs of slowing down despite having averaged 25 touches per game. He surpassed the century mark in rushing yards for the sixth time this season in last week's defeat. Jackson may be running behind a revamped front line on Sunday, however. Rookie right tackle Jason Smith, the No. 2 overall pick in last April's draft, suffered a possible concussion in the Arizona game and is a question mark to play, and it's unclear whether right guard Richie Incognito will be able to make it back this week from a sprained foot that's kept him out for a month. When Boller does drop back to pass, he'll be working with a receiving corps that has potential but is painfully young, as wideouts Donnie Avery (30 receptions, 4 TD), Brandon Gibson (12 receptions) and slotman Danny Amendola (19 receptions) all have less than two years experience.
The Seahawks were able to hold Jackson to a modest 67 rushing yards and zero catches in the opener, and enter Sunday's clash with the goal of keeping St. Louis' offensive focal point in check once again. Seattle stands a respectable 15th in rushing defense (110.5 ypg) and has been able to withstand the season- ending loss of three-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, as replacement David Hawthorne (71 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 INT) has filled in nicely and is coming off a 15-tackle effort against Minnesota. Strong safety Deon Grant (41 tackles, 1 INT) finished with 10 stops, but could miss his first game since 2000 after injuring his wrist in the contest. Cornerback Josh Wilson (29 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) is slated to be back on the field after being held out last week with a concussion, which should help out a secondary that was shredded by Favre. The Seahawks have yielded 19 touchdown passes on the year, the fifth-highest number in the NFL, but do sport a pair of proven pass rushers in 11th-year pro Patrick Kerney (19 tackles, 4 sacks) and fellow end Lawrence Jackson (20 tackles, 4 sacks). Seattle sacked Bulger three times in the teams' previous meeting.
It goes without saying that Steven Jackson should be locked into weekly lineups, but owners should still be prepared for a possible dip in production from the top-tier back this week. The Rams' workhorse failed to top 84 rushing yards and didn't score a touchdown in either of Boller's two previous starts this season, while the Seattle defense was able to keep both he and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson under wraps during the course of this year. No other St. Louis offensive player can be considered a reliable play, with Avery containing the greatest upside of the receivers. Seattle's running back situation is a bit muddled with Jones potentially back in the fold, but Forsett is still the best bet to get the most work and makes a solid choice due to his receiving skills and a matchup with a soft St. Louis defense. Hasselbeck is worthy of using as well, while those with Carlson on their roster shouldn't view his two-touchdown game against the Rams in September as an aberration. Neither Burleson nor Houshmandzadeh are elite fantasy receivers, but they're both steady contributors with a decent amount of value.
While the Rams seem to be making progress and the Seahawks have been horrid on the road this season, Seattle's dominant victory back in Week 1 is a pretty good indicator as to which is the more talented team. And with St. Louis forced to start a backup quarterback who's been mistake-prone in the past, the chances of the Rams ending their string of misery against divisional foes don't appear very good. The Seahawks are capable of preventing Steven Jackson from running wild and have enough weapons on offense to exploit a St. Louis stop unit with plenty of holes, and they'll be tough to beat as long as they win or draw even in the turnover battle.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 24, Rams 13
11/25 17:16:27 ET
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