Any more parallels between these two rivals, andthey will morph into the St. Louis Seahawks and Seattle Rams.
Throughout the decade, the Rams and Seahawks have fought eachother for NFC West titles, with the other teams sometimes also inthe playoffs as a wild card. St. Louis ruled beginning the 2000s.Then the Seahawks won four consecutive division crowns. All thatended with a thud last season, when both flopped.
"We were pretty terrible," Seahawks quarterback MattHasselbeck said of his team's 4-12 season, its worst in 16 years.
The Rams were even worse. Their 2-14 record was their worstsince 1962.
So, yes, both teams are thrilled 2009 finally starts on Sunday,against each other.
"I think it (is) important for us to come out of the gate, tolook good, and to kind of regain our home-field advantage we lostlast year," Hasselbeck said of Qwest Field, which wasn't soraucous last season while the NFC's winningest home team since 2001went just 2-6 there. "To regain, I think, a little bit of thatswagger that we used to have."
Both teams have debuting coaches. The Rams and Seahawks use thesame term describing their new leaders: "straight shooters."
St. Louis rookie head man Steve Spagnuolo is one of ninefirst-time head coaches in the league this season. The formerdefensive coordinator for the Giants has gotten rid of so manyunderperforming veterans on a porous defense now led by rookiemiddle linebacker James Laurinaitis that Hasselbeck said theSeahawks "have no idea" what they'll face Sunday.
On offense, Spagnuolo wants the Rams' former "Greatest Show onTurf" to be as old as Kurt Warner. He wants his team's identity onoffense to mirror the rugged running of Steven Jackson.
Jim Mora's tenure leading his hometown Seahawks also beginsSunday. He was San Francisco's defensive coordinator before hisfirst go-around as a head man, in Atlanta from 2004-06. His defensepromises to attack more. Dynamic rookie Aaron Curry, thefourth-overall draft pick, starts at outside linebacker. CoryRedding is in from Detroit at end, and there are three new startersin a secondary that allowed the most yards passing in the leaguelast season.
Like Spagnuolo, Mora is also ditching a more passive, pass-firstoffense - the one Mike Holmgren had in Seattle for the last 10years. Mora has brought in offensive coordinator Greg Knapp toinstall his zone-blocking, one-step-and-go running game, a schemethat has produced top 10 rushing offenses eight consecutive yearsin San Francisco, Atlanta and Oakland.
"That's the thing with defensive coaches, they realize thatrunning the ball is their friend," said Jackson, who last seasonjoined Eric Dickerson as the only Rams to rush for 1,000 yards infour consecutive seasons. "It keeps the defense off the field andit allows for the offenses to wear out the opponent's defense. Ithink both teams want to be physical."
And healthy, for a change.
Both have star quarterbacks coming off injuries.
Hasselbeck insists the bulging disk in his back that cost himnine games in the worst season of his career is healed. That'slargely thanks to intense rehabilitation with the same Canadianphysiotherapist, Rick Celebrini, who helped Steve Nash with acongenital condition in the NBA star's back.
"Oh my back? You guys are, like, months behind," Hasselbecksaid this week, chiding reporters for asking. "My back is fine.Where have you been?"
Yet Hasselbeck can still be excused for looking over hisshoulder for franchise career sacks leader Leonard Little and therest of the Rams coming at him. Seattle will be without threestarters on the offensive line, including nine-time Pro Bowl lefttackle Walter Jones and center Chris Spencer. Plus, rookie MaxUnger will make his first career start at right guard.
In St. Louis this week, Marc Bulger took direct snaps for thefirst time since breaking his right pinkie. The Rams quarterbacksaid Wednesday he's not pain-free, but he's good enough to playSunday, barring a setback before he gets on the team plane.
Jackson's not exactly fretting about Bulger.
"It's a pinkie," he deadpanned.
Bulger missed the last three preseason games after he got hurtin practice on Aug. 17. Yet he says there's no excuse for beingrusty Sunday.
"I'm not going to use it as a crutch ... if things don't goright," Bulger said.
Here's a possible excuse: the inexperience of his widereceivers. Torry Holt is gone, one year after fellow mainstay IsaacBruce left. What remains are just four wide receivers, none of whomhas more than two years' experience. Starters Laurent Robinson andDonnie Avery have just 18 combined starts entering Sunday.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times