It's a testament to the Seahawks' consistency that, since joining the NFC, they've battled all three division rivals for NFC West supremacy.
During the Mike Holmgren era, the Seahawks and Rams traded blows, with the Seahawks winning four straight division titles from 2004 to 2007 before the Cardinals won two straight. Then as Pete Carroll's Seahawks hit their stride, they had to contend with Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers, who were the class of the division before Seattle dethroned them in 20Bra13. In recent years, the Seahawks have remained competitive, going back and forth with the Arizona at the top of the standings.
And while it's still very early this season, it appears things may have come full circle, with the Rams off to a 3-1 start under first-year coach Sean McVay. The Seahawks have won eight of 15 NFC West titles since moving from the AFC West in 2002, including three of the last four, but currently they find themselves a game behind the upstart Rams, who are looking for their first playoff berth since 2004.
"We've seen the Rams play really good football in the start of the season," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "They have been explosive on offense and really control the ball. They lead the league in scoring, which is a tremendous turnaround for their program, but also just a great job by Sean and what they had done with the offense in short order. Defense has changed too, with Wade Phillips going in. We are looking at that to try and understand how it all fits together, but he has been a great coordinator and put together nothing but good defenses forever. We know we got problems there. This also happens to be one of the better special teams groups we have played. (Punter Johnny) Hekker is a great punter, the kicker (Greg Zuerlein), they got returners, and they got the whole thing in there. (Special teams coach John) Fassel does a great job with the scheme too so we know we have challenges across the board. They are a good match up and we got to be right and have a heck of a week to get ready for it."
As Carroll notes, the Rams currently lead the NFL in scoring, a dramatic turnaround for a team that was dead last in that category a year ago, and 29th the year before that. The Rams added talent to their roster, quarterback Jared Goff has taken a big leap in year two, and McVay's offense clearly has made a difference, but it still rather remarkable how quickly the Rams have seemed to hit their stride on offense.
"They're much better this year on offense," said linebacker K.J Wright. "They've got better personnel, they've got good receivers, their tight ends are good as well. They got that big tackle from the Bengals, (Andrew) Whitworth, so these guys really improved in the offseason. They got better, and they're a team to reckon with in this league now."
And yes, the Rams were 3-1 last year as well before finishing the season with a 4-12 record, but this start, which includes last week's win at Dallas, has looked much more sustainable that last year's when they squeaked out three close wins after a blowout loss in their opener.
Perhaps most impressive about the Rams' turnaround is that it is being led by a first-year head coach who, at 31, is the youngest coach in the NFL, and less than half the age of Carroll, the league's oldest head coach.
"The biggest challenge (for first-time head coach) is always figuring out what you believe, because you are going to get challenged so many times and asked so many questions and come up with so many statements and principles in your approach that you really can't predict," Carroll said. "You are challenged at the core of your philosophy, so you just have to go through it and figure it out. I think it is rare when a young guy really can just smoothly go through it and we don't see it very often and it shows how prepared Sean is and what a great job he is doing right now."
While Carroll's energy, enthusiasm and ability to connect with players would never give away his age, his connection to the McVay family might. Back when Carroll was the defensive coordinator in San Francisco in the mid 90s, Sean McVay's grandfather, John, was a 49ers executive.
"We were at San Francisco together," Carroll said. "He was really one of the heart and soul guys at the 'Niners and through all the administrative part of it and the personnel stuff and working out of Coach (Bill) Walsh and Coach (George) Seifert regimes. He was an awesome guy, so I just knew him. Sean might not have been alive then, I don't know. He was probably in third grade or something like that."
And McVay, despite being too young back then to have known Carroll well, has tremendous respect for Seattle's coach.
"My grandfather has a whole lot of respect for Coach Carroll and the way he handled himself and the contributions he made to the 49ers organization," McVay said on conference call with Seattle-area media. "Since I got into coaching, Coach Carroll's been nothing but great to me and always been willing to help and share some advice and give a perspective, but I've gotten to know him just through that. I know the relationship and the mutual respect that Coach had for my grandfather and my grandfather for him. It has definitely kind of helped ease into when I started to get to know Coach Carroll, just getting into the NFL."
Take a look at the Los Angeles Rams players you can expect to see when the Seattle Seahawks take the field in Week 5 at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.