4:25 PM EST, FOX – Line: Rams -1.5, Over/Under: 54.5
Division rivals meet for the first time this season as the Seattle Seahawks look to get back on track as they hit the road to face the well-rested Los Angeles Rams, from SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. Throughout the first half of the campaign, the NFC West has been by far and away the most competitive division in the National Football League, with their four inhabitants owning a combined record of 20-13 (.606). The Seahawks (6-2, 1st in NFC West) currently own a tenuous grip on first place, with their opponent tonight trailing them by only a single game in the standings. Billed by many as a legitimate favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LV, Seattle opened 2020 on a tear with five consecutive victories, which was good for the longest unbeaten start in franchise history. However, it’s been a different story altogether following their Bye Week, with Pete Carroll’s charges dropping two of their last three games, thanks in large part to a Defense that simply put, hasn’t come close to getting the job done. For a franchise that for so many years was synonymous with stifling defense courtesy of the Legion of Boom, it’s become rather jarring to see them struggle so on that particular side of the football. Seriously, folks, it’s gotten so bad in the Pacific Northwest, that these flaws have become impossible to ignore, constantly threatening to undermine the persistent heroics of their explosive Offense, led by MVP frontrunner, Russell Wilson (71.0%, 2,541 YDS, 7.43 NY/A, 28 TD, 8 INT, 82.0 QBR).
So how has it come to this, you ask? After reaching back-to-back Super Bowls in 2013 and 2014, a period of time in which they led the league in both points and total yards allowed, the Seahawks gradually began the transformation to an offensive-oriented team. One by one, whether due to injury, trade, or free agency, each venerable member of their Defense parted ways with the club, some gracefully and others not so much. This of course coincided with Carroll and General Manager, John Schneider, rebuilding the roster around the unique talents of Wilson, who would eventually put pen to paper on a mammoth, 4-year/$140 million contract extension, which while keeping their franchise passer in house for the foreseeable future has unfortunately made it more difficult to replenish the Defense through Free Agency. Even after trading for All-Pro Safety, Jamal Adams (24 TKL, 4 TFL, 8 QBH, 3.5 SK, 1 PD), and former Pro-Bowl Defensive End, Carlos Dunlap (23 TKL, 5 TFL, 6 QBH, 2.0 SK, 2 PD), there remains a general lack of talent on this unit, which in a scheme that favors athleticism and quickness over deception and versatility has led to all manner of problems; Seattle has allowed 30.4 points per game (30th Overall) thus far on a league-worst 455.7 total yards (32nd Overall), both of which are the most during the Carroll era, with the Pass Defense in particular getting ravaged, yielding 362.1 yards through the air (32nd Overall) on 7.5 net yards per attempt (28th Overall). The pass-rush has been terrible, registering a middling nineteen sacks (16th Overall) despite oftentimes selling out to blitz; this group has blitzed on 32.6% of defensive snaps (12th Overall), though they haven’t been as nearly as successful as they’d like, posting a hurry percentage of just 8.7% (21st Overall), a Quarterback knockdown percentage of 7.7% (17th Overall), a pressure percentage of 20.4% (22nd Overall), and lastly a sack percentage of only 4.9% (23rd Overall). The last three weeks have been particularly troubling, with the Seahawks relinquishing an average of 40.5 points in their two losses on 469.5 total yards, 373.0 of which have coming via the pass. And this is where their issues have begun to undermine the play of Wilson and the Offense. The 32-year old has been otherworldly this season, tossing a league-best TWENTY-EIGHT touchdowns through the first eight games of the schedule, piloting an attack that has produced a prolific 34.3 points per game (1st Overall), which is also good for most in the NFL. To put that into perspective, folks, his total of passing scores thus far ranks as the third-most in NFL History behind Peyton Manning in 2013 (29) and Tom Brady in 2007 (30), both of which went on to earn MVP honors. However, the pressure on Wilson to consistently perform at such a high level week in and week out has made the margin for error extremely thin, which is precisely what we saw in those two defeats; the six-time Pro-Bowler has committed seven of his ten turnovers in those two contests, including three interceptions in a 37-34 loss in Overtime against the Arizona Cardinals, and a pair of picks and lost fumbles in last weekend’s 44-34 drubbing at the Buffalo Bills. Basically, he has to play flawlessly, for if his teammates on the opposite side of the football can’t come away with a takeaway of their own, they’ve proven inept at stopping the opposition. Giving further credence to this point is the fact that their turnover differential in defeat has been a miserable minus-5, while in all other games they’ve enjoyed a much healthier margin of plus-8. Granted, this is a Defense that has been beset by a plethora of injuries as well, and the hope is that once they manage to get healthier then they will begin to find more continuity and consistency; as many as seven starters have been plagued in such a manner, including Linebackers, Bobby Wagner (Ribs), K.J. Wright (Illness), and Rookie, Jordyn Brooks (Knee), Defensive Linemen, Jarran Reed (Finger) and Poona Ford (Groin), along with Defensive Backs, Shaquill Griffin (Shoulder), Quinton Dunbar (Knee), and the aforementioned Adams (Groin), who will reportedly miss today’s affair.
When we last saw the Seahawks, all of those previously stated weaknesses on Defense were mercilessly exploited by the Bills in a 44-34 loss. This was a case of a unit getting beaten on all fronts, for the players themselves were overwhelmed and the gameplan from the Coaching Staff was nothing short of ineffective. Carroll stated after the affair that he and his troops weren’t prepared for Buffalo to abandon the run altogether, but then again, why wouldn’t they when they were clearly having so much success with the pass? This has been a growing problem for Seattle all season, for their opponents are well aware of their struggles in stopping the pass, for no team has seen the opposition throw the ball against them more, defending an average of 45.6 passes per game (32nd Overall). The Bills knew this and feasted on the visiting side, amassing 415 yards on an efficient 31-of-38 passing, with three touchdowns. Sure, the Seahawks managed to get after Josh Allen, sacking him SEVEN times for a loss of twenty-nine yards, but that didn’t make a damn bit of difference in the end. This is where Carroll & Co are going to have to rethink their approach, because as we outlined earlier bringing pressure hasn’t translated to better Defense, often exposing the Secondary, which has proven ill-equipped to cover on an island. Offensively, Wilson was again prolific, completing 28-of-41 attempts for 390 yards and a pair of scores, though much of that production came after his side found themselves trailing 41-20 early in the Fourth Quarter, with that aforementioned quartet of turnovers proving all too costly for the visitors. Hulking Sophomore Receiver, D.K. Metcalf (43 REC, 788 YDS, 18.3 Y/R, 8 TD), continues to impress, adding another seven receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown, his fourth 100-yard outing in the last six games.
Meanwhile, lurking in the background are the Rams (5-3, T-2nd in NFC West), who have quietly been one of the better teams in the league despite many forecasting this to be a rebuilding season for the franchise. Few teams underwent more turnover in the Offseason than Los Angeles, who parted ways with a plethora of significant figures on both sides of the football. Then again, that’s what happens when you fail to meet expectations; this was a group who after advancing to Super Bowl LIII, swung for the fences by adding a slew of veteran playmakers via trade and Free Agency, further mortgaging their future by giving away a cache of draft picks over multiple years in the process. Unfortunately, all of those transactions didn’t translate to more success on the field, for Sean McVay’s side missed the Playoffs altogether, finishing 9-7 after back-to-back division titles. And it’s with that said that McVay alongside General Manager, Les Snead, performed a rather swift rebuild, excising much of the veteran fat from the roster and adjusting the distribution of money under the Salary Cap, leading to the exodus of the following names: Tailback, Todd Gurley, Receiver, Brandin Cooks, Edge-Rusher, Dante Fowler, Linebackers, Clay Matthews and Cory Littleton, and Safety, Eric Weddle, along with Defensive Coordinator, Wade Phillips. Combined that’s six starters with sixteen Pro-Bowls and five All-Pro selections to their names, with Gurley earning Offensive Player of the Year honors back in 2017. In return, McVay and Snead have made it clear who the pillars of the franchise are to be moving forward with Quarterback, Jared Goff, Defensive Tackle, Aaron Donald, Cornerback, Jalen Ramsey, and Receivers, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, each the recipient of lucrative long-term deals.
In many ways, the Rams are in the midst of navigating through a similar period that the Seahawks did a year ago, reaching a Super Bowl despite youth at many key positions, particularly at Quarterback, where Goff (65.5%, 2,145 YDS, 7.04 NY/A, 13 TD, 6 INT, 58.5 QBR) was on a rookie contract. Eventually, they would have to pick and choose who they wanted to pay long-term, unfortunately sacrificing much of the talent and depth surrounding those foundational pieces which made them so formidable in the first place. In 2020 alone, Goff, Donald (26 TKL, 7 TFL, 15 QBH, 9.0 SK, 3 FF, 1 FR), Ramsey (21 TKL, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PD), Woods (37 REC, 436 YDS, 11.8 Y/R, 4 TD), and Kupp (48 REC, 527 YDS, 11.0 Y/R, 2 TD) account for 35.21% of their Salary Cap, with the first two gobbling up 26.41% of that figure alone. In 2021, after the recent extensions signed by Ramsey, Woods, and Kupp, that quintet will account for a staggering 61.84% of the Cap, which means that Los Angeles simply CAN’T afford to miss when replenishing their depth via the Draft, Trade, or Free Agency. So with that said, how have they faired thus far, you ask? By most accounts, this is a team that has proven to be polarizing for the simple fact that they’ve managed to put together some impressive performances, though they’ve done so against largely poor competition. Make no mistake, the Rams have been the recipient of one of the easiest schedules in the league thus far, boosted greatly by four meetings with denizens of the NFC East, which has been by far and away the worst division in the NFL; the four teams comprising the (L)East have mustered a combined record of 9-24-1 (.264). In turn, all but one of Los Angeles’ five victories have come against those teams, besting them by an aggregate score of 104-55, while averaging 26.0 points per game on 385.0 total yards, and relinquishing just 13.8 points on 286.5 total yards with a turnover differential of zero. However, the record of the other four teams that they’ve faced is a much steeper 21-14 (.600), with their ledger against those opponents a disappointing 1-3, averaging 22.3 points per game on 407.8 total yards and giving up 24.3 points on 297.3 total yards, though that last figure is skewed greatly by the fact that they’ve committed seven turnovers which have frequently granted the opposition a short field, including four in their most recent showing against the Miami Dolphins (which we’ll get into shortly). So who the hell are these Rams, you ask? Well, it appears that they’re a team that has proven fully capable of dominating lesser competition, particularly teams with poor Offenses, but those who can threaten them in a myriad of ways have presented a wealth of problems thus far. Case in point; in a 24-16 loss at the San Francisco 49ers, the reigning NFC West Champions physically manhandled them in the trenches, racking up 390 total yards and possessing the football for a commanding 37:55 despite missing a number of players due to injury, while the Bills met little resistance en route to posting 375 total yards in a 35-32 affair back in late September. The second half of this season will likely decide just how we choose to view the Rams, for five of their final eight opponents currently have winning records, with the group in total possessing a combined mark of 24-27 (.470), though if you remove the hapless Jets (0-9) from that collective, it’s a much more arduous 24-18 (.571), with five games remaining against the the rest of the NFC West, including a pair of dates apeice with the Arizona Cardinals and tonight’s opponent, the Seahawks.
When we last saw the Rams, they managed to @#$% the proverbial bed at the Miami Dolphins, who exposed many of their flaws in a 28-17 loss that really wasn’t as close as the final score would lead you to believe. The narrative coming into the game was Miami choosing to unveil Tua Tagovailoa, the 5th Overall Pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, as their Starting Quarterback despite climbing back to .500 under the leadership of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Many thought that the rookie would indeed struggle against a Defense spearheaded by the likes of Donald and Ramsey, but that simply wasn’t the case, as the young passer calmly took advantage of the frequent short field created by his own Defense; Tagovailoa completed just 12-of-22 passes for ninety-three yards and a touchdown, but was sacked just once, and apart from a lost fumble managed to refrain from making the mistakes of his counterpart, Goff (35-of-61, 355 YDS, 1 TD, 2 INT), who was under duress all evening. And this was the real story of the affair, for Los Angeles simply couldn’t keep from shooting themselves in the foot against Miami’s Defense. Think about this for a moment, folks; the visitors held an overwhelming advantage in a number of categories including total yards (471-145), rushing yards (131-55), passing yards (355-93), first downs (31-8), and time of possession (36:30-23:30), only to see all of that negated by four costly turnovers and a series of other mistakes. Sixteen drives and only three ended in points, as they saw four culminate in a turnover, another end on downs, and another conclude with a missed field goal. Furthermore, one of those four turnovers, a strip sack fumble of Goff early in the second quarter is when the momentum of the contest turned in favor of the home side, who returned the football seventy-eight yards for a touchdown, the second of a stretch in which they scored twenty-eight unanswered points.