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December 27, 2014 at 3:17 PM

Seahawks-Rams: What to Watch

Here are three things to watch in Sunday’s Seattle Seahawks-St. Louis Rams game from beat writers Jayson Jenks and Bob Condotta.

First, Jenks:

1, Can the Seahawks counter St. Louis’ bag of tricks? An obvious angle given how badly the Rams burned the Seahawks with trick plays last time around, but it is a major part of St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher’s repertoire, and Seattle can’t let the Rams hit on a couple of those plays again. The Seahawks outplayed the Rams in their October loss, but they gave up a huge kickoff return, a punt return for a touchdown on a gimmick play and a fake punt. The Rams don’t have much to lose in this one, and it seems entirely plausible they could roll out a whole new bag of tricks this time around. Seattle has to be ready.

2, The continued play of cornerback Byron Maxwell. Maxwell has steady down the stretch this season, much as he was down the stretch last season. He doesn’t have the numbers that pop — two interceptions, 11 passes defended — but he has been a sturdy contributor opposite Richard Sherman. He also proved highly flexible when he was forced to slide inside and play nickel corner for a handful of games earlier this season. Maxwell has been one of Seattle’s quiet and reliable performers.

3, Can the Seahawks keep tight end Luke Willson involved? Willson blew onto the scene last week against Arizona, and with good reason: The 24-year-old Willson had by far his best game of the season with three catches for 139 yards and two long touchdowns. He showed his vertical speed and his ability to shed tacklers, and it had many wondering if that’s the type of impact he could have moving forward. The Seahawks could use a vertical threat down the middle of the field, and Willson’s size and speed make for an interesting option.

And from Condotta:

1. Can the Seattle offensive line continue its resurgence? The play of the line was a revelation against Arizona, allowing just one sack of Russell Wilson after he had been sacked seven times in the first game. To be sure, as coaches made a point of noting afterward, Wilson himself helped prevent some sacks this time by better reading blitzes and getting rid of the ball quickly. But there’s no question the OL also simply played better, and did so without center Max Unger and left tackle Russell Okung. Okung will be back Sunday but the Seahawks may again have to go with Patrick Lewis at center in place of the still-recovering Unger. The Rams will present lots of challenges up front in the likes of Robert Quinn (likely to usually go up against Okung) and tackle Aaron Donald (who gave J.R. Sweezy and James Carpenter lots of problems in the first game).

2. Will Steven Hauschka bounce back? About the only negative of the Arizona game was Hauschka missing three field goals. It’s worth remembering that none were gimmes — 47, 50 and 52.  But those were good conditions and the type that NFL kickers are expected to make more often than not. As coach Pete Carroll said, there’s no reason to panic and every reason to expect Hauschka will return quickly to the reliable kicker he has been the last few years. But you’d rather go into the playoffs without your kicking being in a slump. So while you’d rather not be forced to kick field goals, the Seahawks might like a chance to get  Hauschka off the schneid Sunday.

3. Which other receivers will step up with Jermaine Kearse out? For the second straight year, Jermaine Kearse is missing the regular-season finale against the Rams — in each year, the only regular season game he has missed. Without Kearse, the Seahawks will have to rely on Paul Richardson, Ricardo Lockette, Bryan Walters and maybe/probably Kevin Norwood to fill complementary roles opposite Doug Baldwin. Norwood has been inactive the last two games but with Kearse would figure to be active this week. Richardson’s role doesn’t change without Kearse, but he could get more opportunities. The running game is always first for Seattle. But the Seahawks had a lot of success passing in the first game against the Rams, so there could be some chances for some of the other receivers.



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