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NFL Preview - Seattle (2-1) at St. Louis (1-2)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It has been nearly two years since the St. Louis Rams last posted a winning streak. Doing so this weekend could be a lot tougher if Steven Jackson isn't able to suit up against the Seattle Seahawks.
Coming off their first home win since the 2008 season, the Rams look to snap a 10-game slide to the Seahawks this Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.
The Rams dropped their first two games of the season to push their overall losing streak to 10 games dating back to last year, but came away with a 30-16 victory over the visiting Washington Redskins last Sunday. It marked St. Louis' first win as the host since Oct. 19, 2008, snapping an NFL record-tying 14-game slide in the Gateway City.
Quarterback Sam Bradford threw for 235 yards with a touchdown as the top overall pick of the 2010 draft earned his first victory as a pro.
St. Louis was able to defeat Washington despite losing safety Oshiomogho Atogwe during the game because of a lingering quad injury. The Rams were already without their other starting safety, Craig Dahl, due to a concussion.
The Rams now seek consecutive wins for the first time since Oct. 12-19, 2008 -- and at home for the first time since 2006 -- but might have to do so without Jackson. The former Pro Bowl running back scored on a 42-yard run in the first quarter, helping the Rams build a 14-0 lead they failed to hold, but left during the second quarter due to a groin injury.
"We lose some of our best players not out there and some other guys stepped in and did a nice job," said Spagnuolo after Sunday's win. "We've got a lot of issues injury-wise. We're really banged up and it's early in the season, so we've got to overcome that."
An MRI on Monday showed that Jackson has a strain as opposed to a more serious tear, and the Rams are hopeful he can go this weekend. Jackson, listed as day-to-day, has played through pain before, as he battled through a back injury last year.
The Seahawks would prefer to see Jackson on the sidelines as they hope to avoid their first loss to the Rams since Nov. 14, 2004. Seattle picked up its second home victory in as many games this year with a 27-20 triumph over the San Diego Chargers last Sunday.
Seattle's defense forced five turnovers in the game, but it was kick returner Leon Washington who stole the show. The running back posted two return touchdowns in the game, taking the opening kick of the second half a club- record 101 yards for a score before posting the go-ahead touchdown with a 99- yard return with 6:24 left in regulation.
"It's important for us to show that we can play against a team like this," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Leon was just magical [Sunday]."
Carroll's club is now searching for its first road win of the season after losing at Denver in Week 2 and could have some fresh bodies on the offensive line. Left tackle Russell Okung returned to practice this week along with left guard Chester Pitts, and both could make their season debuts in this game.
Okung, the sixth overall pick of the 2010 draft, suffered a high ankle sprain back on Aug. 21 and hadn't practiced since, while Pitts is recovering from knee surgery that he underwent last season while with the Houston Texans.
Sunday could also mark the debut of Seahawks wide receiver Brandon Stokley after the veteran signed with the club on Tuesday.
The Seahawks lead the all-time series with the Rams, 14-9, and currently own a 10-game winning streak over their NFC West rivals. Seattle was a 28-0 winner when St. Louis visited Qwest Field in Week 1 of last season, and completed the sweep with a 27-17 win at the Edward Jones Dome in Week 12. 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.
Carroll is 0-1 in his career against the Rams, with his 1998 New England Patriots team falling in St. Louis. Spagnuolo is 0-2 against Seattle as a head coach, and will be meeting Carroll for the first time head-to-head.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
Washington's return game helped bail out an offense that ranks just 29th in the NFL and managed only 271 yards versus the Chargers last week. Still, Seattle is scoring an average of 24 points per game, tied for eighth-most in the league. The Seahawks could get little going on the ground against San Diego, as Justin Forsett (150 rushing yards) accumulated 17 of Seattle's 21 rush attempts and posted 63 yards. The Seahawks have yet to get a rushing touchdown from one of their running backs -- quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has two -- and is averaging just 84.7 yards per game on the ground. That has put some pressure on Hasselbeck (623 passing yards, 4 TD, 5 INT), who threw for 220 yards against the Chargers. He was intercepted once and sacked three times, including once for a safety, but did manage a nine-yard touchdown throw to tight end and leading receiver John Carlson (13 receptions, 1 TD). Carlson and Deion Branch (12 receptions, 1 TD) both ended with five catches and combined for 121 receiving yards. Rookie wide receiver Golden Tate (5 receptions) added four catches for 33 yards and Forsett made three receptions for 31 yards.
Though the Rams are tied for 24th in total defense, they have been stingy in keeping teams out of the end zone and are yielding only 16.3 points per game. They limited the Redskins to just one touchdown and three field goals this past weekend, despite yielding 349 yards of offense. St. Louis did allow 116 yards on the ground, slightly below its 133.7 per game average on the season. Seattle, though, may elect to go to the air in this game if both Atogwe (19 tackles) and Dahl (14 tackles) can't go. James Butler started in Dahl's place, while Darian Stewart is listed behind Atogwe on the depth chart. Atogwe made four tackles before exiting last week's game early, while linebacker James Laurinaitis (21 tackles, 1 sack) made a team-best seven stops. St. Louis owns a plus-one turnover differential and came away with a pair of takeaways versus the Redskins. Cornerback Bradley Fletcher (14 tackles, 1 INT) grabbed his club's third interception of the season, while linebacker Na'il Diggs (9 tackles) was able to force a fumble that was recovered by Butler (7 tackles, 1 INT). Defensive end James Hall (9 tackles, 2 sacks) came away with the Rams' lone sack.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
One would think that an early injury to Jackson (214 rushing yards, 1 TD) would be enough to doom the Rams, but they were able to rally back past the Redskins thanks to solid play by the reserves. While Jackson had 58 yards on 10 carries before his injury, Kenneth Darby (51 rushing yards, 1 TD) chipped in with 14 rush attempts for 49 yards and notched the go-ahead score with a 12-yard run during the third quarter. Darby figures to get the start if Jackson can't go, though Keith Toston did add 22 yards on 11 carries last week. Bradford (655 passing yards, 4 TD, 5 INT) completed 23-of-37 pass attempts and was picked off once in addition to throwing a three-yard touchdown toss to tight end Daniel Fells (8 receptions, 1 TD) as part of St. Louis' 14-point first quarter. Wide receiver Danny Amendola (16 receptions) made a team-high six catches for 56 yards and Mark Clayton (17 receptions, 2 TD) added five receptions for another 85 yards. In all, Bradford completed a pass to nine different receivers, a good sign for the league's 24th-ranked offense. Should Jackson play, he would need just 39 yards to pass Marshall Faulk (6,959) for second on the club's all-time rushing list.
The Seahawks were able to claim a victory last weekend despite allowing 518 total yards of offense, marking their first win after giving up 500-plus yards since Nov. 24, 2002. Seattle's five takeaways were the reason that was possible, and two of those came in the form of interceptions by safety Earl Thomas (21 tackles, 2 INT), who became the first Seattle rookie to pick off two passes in the same game since Nov. 4, 1984. Pressure on quarterback Philip Rivers probably helped Thomas, as end Chris Clemons (11 tackles, 2 sacks) had two of Seattle's four sacks. Tackle Brandon Mebane (7 tackles, 1 sack) and end Raheem Brock (5 tackles, 2 sacks) also got to the quarterback, while massive right defensive end Red Bryant (9 tackles, 1 sack) recovered a pair of fumbles. Strong safety Lawyer Milloy (23 tackles) led the team with 12 tackles, while linebacker David Hawthorne (15 tackles) came away with nine stops. Pressure on Bradford will again be key, seeing as the Seahawks are ranked 30th in the NFL in pass defense at 315.7 yards allowed per game. They yielded 455 to Rivers and rookie corner Walter Thurmond (9 tackles) was forced to make seven tackles.
Julius Jones owners can cut bait with the backup after watching Forsett get nearly all of the carries last weekend, while Jones was left without a touch. As long as that stays the case, Forsett has value and draws a good matchup this weekend. Hasselbeck has been prone to making mistakes, but a healthier line could help his numbers and he should be considered a sleeper start as the NFL begins its bye weeks. Carlson has shown to be a good target and is one of the better options at tight end, but Seattle's wide receiving group is lacking a true fantasy-worthy starter. Seattle's defense should put up some fantasy points thanks to Washington's return ability and a good matchup, while kicker Olindo Mare has yet to miss this season.
Jackson owners, of course, need to keep an eye on the injury report and should scoop up Darby as insurance if possible. If Jackson is out, Darby moves into the starting category and should get a good number of touches to keep the pressure off Bradford, who is showing signs of getting better but is still a risky fantasy play. Like Seattle, St. Louis lacks a true fantasy stud in the passing game. The Rams' defense ranks 17th in points allowed per game and kicker Josh Brown missed one of his four field goal tries against the Redskins. Still, he could benefit if St. Louis struggles in the red zone without Jackson.
With the Seahawks surprisingly tied for the top spot in the NFC West, the club can ill-afford to let a winnable game get away. Seattle has had St. Louis' number for the past few years, and that shouldn't change this weekend. Seattle's defense and special teams bailed the club out a week ago against a better opponent, but the offense should be able to move the ball over the Rams, who figure to face an even steeper uphill climb if Jackson is out or limited. The Rams are still growing under Bradford and do have home-field advantage, not that it has mattered in recent years. This game could be an ugly one, but the Seahawks have the experience and better tools.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 20, Rams 13
09/30 18:05:24 ET
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