After a fairly routine win against the Houston Texans, Russell Wilson and Co. are somehow, someway, not out of the playoff hunt at 5-8. The schedule ahead of them is very Jekyll and Hyde, with two very winnable games against the feckless Chicago Bears and moribund Detroit Lions. The other two games are against the division-leading Los Angeles Rams this Tuesday and a season closer against the Arizona Cardinals. While I wrote about Seattle’s season-long woes last week, this upcoming match in LA presents a chance to flip some narratives.
Let’s start by taking a look at the 9-4 Rams…
6th in overall DVOA, 12th in points scored, and 7th in points allowed.
By the stats, the Rams are a pretty good team and on a playoff path. Only, that’s not what they wanted to get out of this season. They spent BIG this season on upgrading their roster, bringing in star-studded names like WR Odell Beckham Jr, DE Von Miller, and – by far the biggest change – QB Matt Stafford. All these names mixed in with an already veteran roster was supposed to make them Super Bowl favorites.
Instead… they’re riding a rough patch and wallowing in second place in the NFC West. A recent triumph against the division-leading Cardinals has hidden some deeper issues with this team. First and foremost being…
Matt Stafford is who we thought he was.
After the Rams traded Jared Goff, two first-rounders, and a third-rounder for Stafford – many a writer created a media storm about how now that he had the stink of the Detroit Lions off of him, Stafford was ready to bathe in the MVP sunlight.
And it’s gone… kind of that way. Pro Football Focus has him as the 10th best quarterback in the NFL, which is good. But not any better than he was in Detroit the last five years. From 2016-2020 he finished – in order – 9th, 12th, 17th, 9th, and 14th. He’s precisely in the tier we all thought he was before the season, good but not franchise-altering.
In terms of this Sunday, Seattle knows how to beat him. Get pressure on him, make him feel his age, and let his accuracy become erratic. The biggest difference between this season and the last is his protection. The offensive line is only letting up 1.54 sacks per game, which has allowed Stafford to put up a career season so far (33 TDs: 9 INTs). To make him look like he’s still in a Lions uniform, Seattle needs to put his butt on the ground.
COVID will impact this game.
The Rams have 16(!) players currently on the COVID-19 list, including stars such as Jalen Ramsey and Odell Beckham Jr. If they are vaccinated, they will be able to return once they register as negative on two straight COVID tests. There’s a chance that all those players play on Sunday, but most likely not.
Ramsey would be the biggest loss, as he is PFF’s second-ranked corner and has shown the ability to shut down DK Metcalf in the past. Without him, the Rams are instantly vulnerable on the defensive side of the field, especially to Metcalf’s physicality.
With that said, they were missing him against the Cardinals, and it didn’t matter – they still beat a team that has been vastly superior to Seattle this season.
Aaron Donald LOVES playing the Seahawks.
Donald has 16 sacks in 15 games against the Seahawks and many more quarterback hits. Seattle has always struggled for ways to neutralize the multi-defensive player of the year and has allowed him to wreck games single-handedly.
When Seattle has been their most effective against him, it’s when they can lean on a dominant ground game and force Donald side-to-side instead of just bull-rushing whatever replacement level guard is trying to stop him.
It’s a game plan Seattle will attempt to replicate.
Seattle’s response to these weaknesses are…
Seattle’s pass rush is iffy at best.
Seattle has a disappointing 21 sacks through 13 games of the season, a paltry number considering the resources they put into the pass rush. Particularly Carlos Dunlap, Benson Mayowa, and Kerry Hyder Jr who have 3.0 sacks between them, a horrible return on investment after Schneider spent $28 million on the trio this offseason. Mayowa and Dunlap, in particular, have been poor, as they only have seven quarterback hits between them.
It’s been the young guys in Rasheem Green and Darrell Taylor that have carried the pass rush production, who have posted 9.5 sacks and 21 QB hits between them. While they’ve been pretty good, neither has emerged as top-end difference makers, which also makes the COVID-19 status of Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein a big deal for the outcome of this game. Both have done a decent job overwhelming below-average tackles but struggle against true starters. Andrew Whitworth shouldn’t have much of a problem neutralizing either one, but both could be effective off the right side.
Unlike the Rams, the Seahawks are mostly healthy.
It does hurt that the two players currently on the COVID list for Seattle are the team’s leading receiver in Tyler Lockett and Seattle’s best between-the-tackles runner (when healthy) in Alex Collins.
Lockett, of course, hurts the most, and his absence will make it easier for the Rams defense to key in on DK Metcalf. Which is too bad; the potential absence of Ramsey meant that Los Angeles could have really struggled to shut down Seattle’s receiver duo. Without Lockett, the Rams could easily double Metcalf without much penalty. It will be a big stage for both Dee Eskridge and Freddie Swain to try and fill the void.
Collins’ absence could really hurt, even if Adrian Peterson is good to go. Rashaad Penny has looked really good the last couple of weeks, but given his past issues with injuries (especially when receiving a heavy workload), it’d be nice if Seattle had a trusted back to spell him with. As we said before, Seattle needs to run the ball successfully to win this game, and missing Collins could be an underrated reason why the offense could struggle.
Seattle’s offensive line is once again bad against the pass rush.
The offensive line has given up 39 sacks so far this season and once again throws a huge monkey wrench in Seattle’s offensive plans. The decline of former all-pro tackle Duane Brown has been a very underrated story this season, as has been the lack of impact that Gabe Jackson has made. Ethan Pocic has returned to stabilize the center position… but Damien Lewis being less than stellar has left him on an island. Undrafted right tackle Jake Curhan has been forced to fill in for an injured Brandon Shell. It’s a rough unit.
They all have to line up and block multi-time DPOY Aaron Donald, former all-pro Von Miller, and double-digit sack savant Leonard Floyd. This o-line hasn’t been an enormous success in opening holes in the run game either, meaning Seattle fans will be experiencing the all too familiar sight of seeing Russell Wilson planted on his backside.
Seattle seems to be coming together at the right time, but Seattle’s three wins outside of the San Francisco 49er games had a combined two wins when they played the Seahawks. The Rams are a much better team than any of the four teams Seattle has beaten, and their particular strengths are where Seattle is weakest. Beating a team like this would place Seattle back into a dark-horse spot for the playoffs… but the Seahawks have been struggling in different areas all season long. You never know in division match-ups (especially with a head coach with their job on the line), but Seattle has a chance to tell the world they aren’t done yet. We’ll see on Tuesday if they can do it.