The Seattle Seahawks (3-6) will travel to St. Louis on Sunday to take on their division rival. The last time these teams squared off it was to determine the 2010 NFC West championship.
The first matchup of these teams in 2011 will likely have more bearing on which team ends up in the cellar than at the top of the division.
Many analysts and fans have had a difficult time figuring out what to expect from the Seahawks this season.
The rest have simply stopped trying.
Most of the rest, at least.
I did prepare a mid-season report for the Seahawks following their loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The article drew some scorn, as I predicted the Seahawks would lose to the Dallas Cowboys and the St. Louis Rams on the road, with a win over the Baltimore Ravens in between.
The following slides will show what the Seahawks will do to avoid a let-down loss in Week 11.
The Rams (2-7) have struggled this season, but are riding wins in two of their last three games.
Some will argue Seattle is better off ending up at the bottom of the division, as would be St. Louis. It would certainly improve their draft position, but both of these young teams need to learn how to win in the NFL.
More important, Pete Carroll and Steve Spagnuolo are two of the last people that would espouse losing for any purpose.
There are two important factors in the Seahawks' home-field advantage.
There is certainly an energy given off by the fans that the players feed upon. The cheers from 66,000 fans provide that extra spark that can help a pass rusher get off a block or an offensive lineman get that extra push to open a hole.
It is widely believed that the 12th Man tipped the outcome of the Seahawks' playoff victory last season. After a close road loss to the New Orleans Saints during the season, Seattle responded with a convincing victory at home.
When the world champions answered the bell and they got up 10-0, our fans were right there to give us that extra boost. There was that energy. There’s no place like it. So when the world champions were up on us 10-0, we didn’t blink.
There is a more tangible advantage provided by the noise of CenturyLink field. Opposing offenses aren't typically able to get off the ball as fast as they would in a more subdued environment. This allows the Seahawks' defensive line to get a better jump, making it difficult for the offensive linemen to get in and under their pads.
The Seahawks won't have either of these advantages in St. Louis. They will need to find a way to respond if they hope to pull out a win and keep their season on life support for one more week.
Readers that have seen many of my articles may recall my concern with how the Seahawks cover tight ends. They've given up several big games to tight ends this season, and have a history of surrendering big plays to running backs catching passes out of the backfield.
Last week, Ed Dickson of the Baltimore Ravens had 10 receptions for 79 yards and two touchdowns against Seattle. Dennis Pitta added four more catches for 49 yards.
Some of the issues appear to be linebackers missing assignments, but there have also been instances where the secondary was late getting into position. Seattle needs to keep the Rams tight ends in check.
St. Louis has struggled getting their tight ends involved in games this season. Michael Hoomanawanui is out for the season with a torn ACL. Rookie Lance Kendricks has struggled this season as well, missing time with a foot injury.
Billy Bajema is the third option, but he and Kendricks combined have just 23 receptions on the season.
Seattle can't afford to let this duo do any damage on Sunday.
Turnovers will show up a bit later on this list, but it bears mentioning here, too. The Seahawks have been opportunistic at times, but the St. Louis Rams have only thrown five interceptions on the season.
St. Louis is dead-last in sacks surrendered this season with 32. Seattle needs to mix up rush packages and pressure Sam Bradford into throwing the ball before he is ready.
Seattle is becoming known for tight coverage their secondary. With the health issues the Rams receivers have had, Seattle may be able to force the Rams into making a few mistakes.
The Seattle Seahawks are ranked second in the league in a not-so-welcome category. The team is averaging nine penalties per game on the road.
Surprisingly, they are getting hit with 9.5 per game at home, thanks in part to the 13 penalties called on them in their win over the Baltimore Ravens.
While many of the penalties seem to be ticky-tack at best, the players need to realize they have a target on their backs. Contact from defensive backs and use of the hands by the offensive line will be under greater scrutiny.
It has seemed as though officials enter the game with an idea of what flags they will be throwing on the Seahawks.
The team needs to find a bit more discipline if they are going to win on the road. However, at some point players like Kam Chancellor needs to be allowed to play football.
Hard hits are a part of the game, and part of what the fans pay to see. I'm all in favor of player safety, but referees need to be certain they see an infraction before drawing a flag.
The Seahawks have been able to shut down most ground attacks this season. Their defensive line has shown a great ability to stop rushers at the line of scrimmage, and their safeties have provided excellent support to keep short-gains from becoming long runs.
The best young safety tandem in the NFL of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have also been great in pass defense.
If the Seahawks can control Steven Jackson, Sam Bradford will have to challenge Seattle's secondary. He is limited with proficient targets though, which could make for a difficult day.
Even if Bradford is ready to take the team on his shoulders, he'll need a few targets to help him out.
Prior to his Week 5 injury, Tarvaris Jackson appeared to have the offense working well. After a shaky first quarter against the Falcons, Jackson ended the game with 319 yards passing and three touchdowns.
He had similar proficiency the following week in a little over 30 minutes of action against the Giants.
The Seahawks offense struggled heavily against the Cleveland Browns with Charlie Whitehurst under center. Jackson came off the bench in the second quarter the following week; Whitehurst was given the start as coach Pete Carroll wanted to give Jackson another week for his pectoral strain to heal.
Jackson wasn't able to find the end zone, but he still threw for 323 yards. Over that span equal to eight quarters of work, Jackson threw for 750 yards.
The wheels seemed to fall back off in Dallas. Jackson struggled making decisions and had accuracy issues.
Seattle needs more production from the quarterback position down the stretch. Jackson also needs to convince the coaching staff he is worthy of starting in 2012, while the team grooms his expected replacement.
Sidney Rice burst onto his new team with an eight reception, 109 yard game in his debut. The Seahawks beat the Arizona Cardinals 13-10.
Rice had another 100 yard game with seven receptions against the Bengals two weeks ago.
Rice has less than six receptions in his other five games. He remains the biggest playmaker on the offensive side of the ball and Tarvaris Jackson has to get him involved in the offense.
When Jackson has sent the ball deep to Rice, the results have been favorable. He may not always look open, but his size and speed will help him make plays.
The Seattle Seahawks have struggled with a few receivers this season. Particularly the small, speedy type. Mike Wallace racked up 126 yards on eight receptions with a touchdown in Week 2.
Brandon Lloyd has been leading the charge of the Rams' receivers over the four weeks since being acquired from the Denver Broncos. He was the leading receiver in each of those games.
The 6'0" target has shown the ability to have great burst of speed, but he is hardly one of the elite burners in the NFL.
This should tip the scale in favor of the Seahawks cornerbacks. Expect defensive coordinator Gus Bradly to keep the safety on Lloyd's side of the field, dedicated to offering help over the top. This will allow the corners to play press coverage in an effort to limit Lloyd's touches.
Last week the Seahawks held the Ravens wide receivers to just 50 yards on five receptions. Seattle will look to have a repeat performance against the Rams.
The Seattle Seahawks had the NFL's stingiest run defense for much of the season. They were holding steady at 3.2 yards per carry through their first seven games.
They saw their yards per carry figure take a hit during their road loss to the Dallas Cowboys though, as they surrendered 5.6 yards per carry—6.3 to Demarco Murray.
The fortunes of the St. Louis Rams are going the other direction.
Steven Jackson failed to surpass 100 rushing yards in the team's first five games. A Week 1 injury hampered his first two weeks. Blowout losses in four of their first five games didn't help the Rams' ground game, either.
Jackson rushed for 417 yards in his last three games. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry over those games and for the season as a whole.
Jackson has actually never had 100 yards rushing against the Seahawks. If the Seahawks are able to control him again in this contest, it bodes well for their ability to pull out the road win.
Seattle had decent success early in the year with getting their opponent off the field on third downs. They have struggled a bit more as of late.
Their mark has been impacted with the defense spending too much time on the field. Only the Indianapolis Colts have left their defense on the field more.
Penalties have been another drive-extender for opposing offenses.
Seattle is in the middle of the NFL, allowing opposing teams to convert on 38 percent of their third down attempts.
The Seahawks are only averaging 1.8 turnovers per game, while forcing just 1.6.
However, Seattle is plus-six in turnovers in their three wins. They have 10 takeaways in those games, with just four turnovers.
Seattle will need to take care of the ball if they want to take out the Rams on the road. This is the cornerstone of a Pete Carroll team, and look for Tarvaris Jackson to at least begin the game with a conservative approach, focusing on ball control more than covering a lot of ground.
To be fair, the Seahawks' offense is averaging 1.4 touchdowns per game. That isn't going to cut it, though.
Despite a huge advantage in field position last week, the Seahawks had to settle for five field goals. It was enough to beat the Ravens, as Seattle had three takeaways and no turnovers.
The team can't count on those fortunes continuing, though. Tarvaris Jackson will need to take advantage of the size and talent of his receiver corps and find a way to get the ball into the end zone.