Seahawks try to take control of NFC West

Sunday, October 10, 2004

SEATTLE -- Say what you want about Grant Wistrom's big free agency deal. The Seattle Seahawks believe he's earning his paycheck, plus today they get part of the bonus back.

Nobody on Seattle's side has to block him.

The high-energy defensive end switched teams in what is becoming one of the NFL's freshest rivalries. Wistrom left St. Louis for a free agency offer that included a $14 million bonus.

"We always had to account for Grant and he gave us the same sort of problems he creates now for other teams," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said. "He's just a good player, and I'm glad he's on our side now."

If Holmgren is happy now, he could be ecstatic by tonight.

A victory would make the Seahawks (3-0) unbeaten through four games for the first time ever, extend Seattle's home-field winning streak to 11 games and open an early but comfortable 2 1/2-game lead in the NFC West.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves, not with the Rams (2-2) recovering after a slow start.

Holmgren thinks the St. Louis defense remains formidable, even without Wistrom. The Rams have been slowed by injuries, but they still have Leonard Little, Adam Archuleta and Aeneas Williams.

"It's still a great defense even without Grant," Seattle guard Steve Hutchinson said. "They're a good unit. They play really good team defense."

And the offense?

Marshall Faulk is coming off his 40th career 100-yard rushing game in last week's 24-14 win at San Francisco, when Rams coach Mike Martz embraced what for him seemed an extraordinary run-first approach.

"I don't know why that's such an issue," Martz said. "I've always been pragmatic. I get in a game and I have an idea about what we want to do. If things don't turn out well in an area, you change gears and move."

The offensive line, though, is coming together. Even better, Faulk catches an occasional breather -- even if defenses don't -- because of promising rookie Steven Jackson.

"Anybody who thinks Marshall Faulk has lost a step isn't watching the same football," Wistrom said. "He looks as quick as ever and now he's got another running back who can come in and spell him, something he hasn't really been afforded since he's been in St. Louis."

Marc Bulger still has Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt running patterns. Orlando Pace is still taking up plenty of room at left tackle. In fact, he'll match up with Wistrom for the first time at game speed.

"They are a powerful offensive football team," Holmgren said. "They have been and they are very, very capable still of lighting things up."

Can the same be said of the Seahawks?

Seattle is coming off a bye week. Before that was a 34-0 win over the 49ers where the defense dominated. Sure, the Seahawks put up a lot of points, but there are still questions about when they'll hit stride offensively.

"We can achieve more. We can put up 45 points if we really let the dogs loose," said receiver Koren Robinson, who acknowledged that kind of scoring effort won't be easy this week.

The defense, on the other hand, has been marvelous.

Seattle has allowed only 13 points in three games and held San Francisco scoreless for the first time since 1977. The Seahawks forced four 49ers turnovers, and no opponent has reached the end zone since the opener.

Martz said Seattle has one of the most well-coached defenses in the league. He emphasized it's not built on "fancy schemes and tricks."

"I'm talking about guys who are well-coached in fundamentals," Martz said. "They play with a great attitude. You don't see them out of position. They get to the ball in a hurry and they get there in a bad mood."

The Seahawks have become tough to beat at home. Only New England's 13-game home-field winning streak is longer than Seattle's 10-game streak. A key chapter occurred last year when the Rams visited.

There was a sentimental tone when Seattle's Shaun Alexander arrived late after the birth of his daughter. The ending was a genuine thrill, though, with Hasselbeck leading a late TD drive for a 24-23 win.

"That was the start of a great home-field advantage for us last year," Holmgren said. "The fact we could win a close game at the end against a really good team, the fans should feel they had a lot to do with it. They did."

Time for the rematch. This series is becoming known for its dramatic moments and intensity.

Just ask the guy who's seen it from both sides.

"We viewed it as a rivalry in St. Louis," Wistrom said. "That's what it's developed into. These are two of the best teams in the NFC West right now, two teams with a lot of pride."

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