Seattle and St. Louis went head-to-head in Week 17 of last year for the NFC West title. The Seahawks won and became the first losing team, at 7-9, to reach the playoffs. Today the Notebook takes a look at both rivals as we make it an NFL Sunday…
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS PREVIEW
It’s amazing how much one playoff win can do for perceptions. After a year in which they stumbled around the worst division in the league’s history, Seattle steals a division crown and then when they win a home playoff game over New Orleans, suddenly the year became a success. I suppose I’d rather be Seattle than Tampa Bay, who won 10 games and stayed home, but it shouldn’t obscure the obvious problems with this Seahawk team.
The problem can be summed up in a single word—playmakers. Seattle has very few players who are difference-makers in a game. Free safety Earl Thomas is getting there and veteran defensive end Chris Clemons came up with 11 sacks. On offense, they signed wide receiver Sidney Rice from Minnesota, hoping he’s recovered from the hip surgery that cost him most of 2010. Beyond that, it’s about it.
Matt Hasselbeck was turned loose, and with his persistent back problems that makes sense. The odds of him surviving a full year aren’t very good. Although I don’t know that signing Tarvaris Jackson is going to solve the problem. The defensive line after Clemons is not effective, and the secondary, with Marcus Trufant and Kam Chancellor is better against the run than the pass.
Where there is hope is in a resurgent running game. Marshawn Lynch didn’t do a lot after he was acquired from Buffalo—save one magnificent touchdown run in the playoff win, making his season a microcosm of the team’s. But Lynch will have a full year to get in rhythm with Pete Carroll’s offense, and his offensive line should be healthier. Left tackle Russell Okung was in and out of the lineup last year with an ankle problem. Seattle also made some quality imports from Oakland, bringing in Robert Gallery to play guard and Tom Cable to coach the line.
If the running game gets established, Seattle has a chance to compete again and if the NFC West doesn’t improve, that will keep them in the hunt. But the Seahawks are a long way from being a genuine playoff-caliber football team.
ST. LOUIS RAMS PREVIEW
St. Louis won seven games a year ago and while they have a ways to go to be a legitimate contender the progress under head coach Steve Spagnuolo was obvious, as was the development of rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, who may be that rarity—a number one overall pick at QB who doesn’t become a bust.
Bradford is one part of a big youth movement in St. Louis, especially at the skill positions. The Rams need second-year receivers Mardy Gilyard and Danario Alexander to step up to the plate, and they also drafted Austin Pettis out of Boise State. At tight end, second year man Michael Hoomanawmui will share time with rookie Lance Kendricks. The only place there’s a veteran presence is Stephen Jackson at running back. The Rams’ recent futility has obscured how well Jackson has played, with his impact noticeable only to Fantasy League players. But the vet has taken a lot of hits and currently has a hip problem that requires caution in the preseason. As an insurance policy St. Louis added Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood to back him up.
The offensive line is in good hands on the edges, with Rodgers Saffold and Jason Smith. The interior is acceptable—they can pass block and keep Bradford off his back, but there won’t be a big run thrust up the middle.
When we move over to the defensive front, we find reasons for optimism. The Rams are excellent on the ends in their 4-3 defense, with Chris Long and James Hall adding up to a solid pass-rushing tandem. On the inside, Fred Robbins leads up a solid and gritty group that can stop the run. Anything that does slip by will be picked up by middle linebacker James Lauranaitis, who looks on the verge of a breakout year.
Defensive concerns lie in the secondary. Free safety Oshiomogo Atogwe departed via free agency and the loss of last year’s captain leaves a big hole up the middle. If nothing else, the corners are in good shape with Ron Bartel and Bradley Fletcher.
After jumping from one win to seven wins, improvement will be a little slower for the Rams from this point forward. But even the smallest uptick means playoffs in a division where the standard is at an unprecedented low.
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