Countdown to kickoff: Seahawks vs Rams

Posted Dec 29, 2013

For the third time in their past four games, the Seahawks will try to wrap up the NFC West title on Sunday when they host the St. Louis Rams at CenturyLink Field in their regular-season finale.

Greetings from CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks will play their final regular-season game on Sunday against an opponent that has been good at taking the Seahawks out of their game the past two seasons – the St. Louis Rams.

Whether this is the Seahawks’ final home game of the season will be determined by what plays out at CenturyLink Field, as well as University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, where the Cardinals host the San Francisco 49ers.

If the 12-3 Seahawks win, they are NFC West champions and will have a bye in the first round of the playoffs next weekend and also hold home-field advantage throughout the postseason. If the Seahawks lose, and the 10-5 Cardinals upset 11-4 49ers, all that good stuff still comes the Seahawks way.

But if the Seahawks lose and the 49ers win, well, the 49ers will be division champions for the third consecutive season and the Seahawks will take to the road next weekend as a wild-card team to face the winner of the NFC North – either the Bears (8-7) or Packers (7-7-1), who play Sunday in Chicago; or the NFC East – either the Eagles (9-6) or Cowboys (8-7), who play Sunday night in Texas.

And what a waste that scenario would represent: A Seahawks team that started 4-0 and 11-1 playing on the road as a wild-card team; a Seahawks team that lost only four games all season going oh-for-three in the final month of the regular season when presented with championship opportunities to wrap up the division.

To prevent that from happening, the Seahawks will have to find a way to win against an opponent that has played them tougher than any team in the NFC West since Jeff Fisher took over as head coach last season.

In their Week 8 game in St. Louis this season, the Rams held the Seahawks to 14 points, their second-lowest total to the 10 they scored in last week’s loss to the Cardinals. Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch got only eight carries and produced just 23 yards. Pro Bowl quarterback Russell Wilson passed for only 139 yards and was sacked a career-high seven times. The root reasons were familiar: a two-of-11 performance on third downs that limited the Seahawks to 40 offensive plays.

The Seahawks didn’t claim their 14-9 victory until since-suspended cornerback Brandon Browner tipped Kellen Clemens’ pass incomplete in the end zone on the final play of the game.

In their other three losses this season, the Seahawks were two of 12 on thirds down in a six-point loss to the Colts in Indianapolis in Week 5; ran just 50 plays in a two-point loss to the 49ers in San Francisco in Week 14; and were two of 13 on third downs in running 51 plays against the Cardinals last week.

Last season, the Seahawks scored 13 points in a six-point loss to the Rams in St. Louis and then had 20 points in their seven-point victory over the Rams at CenturyLink Field in their regular-season finale – after averaging 50 points in romps over the Cardinals, Bills and 49ers in their previous three games.

What gives? Obviously not the Rams’ defense.

“Just because we’ve played them tough and played them close doesn’t mean that we’re going to play them close, that’s no guarantee here,” Fisher said this week. “You have to prepare every week, each and every time you play them.

“The matchups are the same, but the game plays are slightly different. You have to execute and protect the football. Our guys are looking forward to the trip; they’re looking forward to finishing up against one of the top-rated teams in the league.”

The Rams were eliminated from the playoff picture with their loss to the Cardinals on Dec. 8, the same day the Seahawks lost to the 49ers. But the Rams have a chance to not only play spoiler, but get to 8-8 while doing it. Big deal? It is to the Rams because they haven’t finished .500 since 2006, when none of the current Rams were with the team.

As linebacker James Laurinaitis put it this week, “I want to get to eight. I’ve never been at .500 or above. I’m trying to take us there.”

What stands in their way is a Seahawks team that is better than it has played against the Rams the last three times they’ve met, and must play better in this matchup to insure that Sunday’s game will be the final regular-season game played at CenturyLink Field this season and not the final game, period.

So sit back and enjoy, with kickoff and televised coverage on FOX (Q/13) set for 1:25 p.m. PT.

Sunday showdown: James Laurinaitis vs. Marshawn Lynch

James Laurinaitis: Rams defensive end Robert Quinn leads the NFL with 18 sacks. Rams rookie linebacker Alec Olgetree leads the Rams in tackles with 144. But Laurinaitis is the leader of a Rams defense that made it difficult for Lynch to do his Beast Mode thing in the Seahawks’ Week 8 victory in St. Louis. Lynch’s yards were limited (23), because his carries were limited (eight), because the Seahawks’ offensive snaps were limited (a season-low 40). Laurinaitis was the Rams’ leading tackler in his first four seasons and has 134 this season. To get Lynch loose, the Seahawks will have to control the Rams’ middle linebacker.

Marshawn Lynch: The Seahawks’ Beast Mode back has been just that, just barely, against the Rams in the past – 100 yards in last year’s season finale in Seattle and 118 in the Week 4 loss to the Rams in St. Louis; and 115 yards in the 2011 game in Seattle. But Lynch has struggled along with the rest of the offense in recent weeks. He has not hit triple-digits in rushing yards the past five games, his longest drought since the first six games of the 2011 season. Lynch has found other ways to be productive during his stretch, with 13 of his 35 receptions and five combined touchdowns. But in this game, with so much on the line, the Seahawks’ line must find ways to get Lynch to the second level and into triple digits.