8:20 PM EST, FOX – Line: Rams -2.5, Over/Under: 54
Week Five of the National Football League kicks off with rivals from it’s most competitive division, as the Los Angeles Rams look to get back on track against the Seattle Seahawks from Lumen Field in Seattle, Washington. Through the first three weeks of the season it appeared that the Rams (3-1, 2nd in NFC West) were the undisputed class of the NFC, particularly after besting the (reigning Super Bowl Champion) Tampa Bay Buccaneers in convincing fashion (34-24), a game that wasn’t necessarily as close as that final score would lead you to believe. However, that momentum came to a screeching halt last weekend against division rival Arizona, who put on a show in the City of Angels, blowing out Los Angeles 37-20. Clinging to a slim 10-7 lead after the first quarter, the hosts were utterly blindsided by the Cardinals, who went on to outscore them 30-3 until late in the final period of play, leaving the crowd at SoFi Stadium speechless as to what had transpired. The most telling lesson from this encounter was that (Head Coach) Sean McVay’s Defense clearly isn’t as formidable as it was in 2020 in which it ranked first in the NFL in both points allowed (18.5) and total defense (282.0). Indeed, last Sunday’s affair saw the hosts relinquish season-worsts in points (37), total yards (465), and rushing yards (216), along with 8-of-13 on third down and a commanding 35:10 of possession. (Defensive Coordinator) Raheem Morris had absolutely ZERO answers for (Arizona Quarterback) Kyler Murray, who easily completed 24-of-32 passes for 268 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while rushing for another thirty-nine yards on six attempts. Simply put, this has been a MAJOR step backward for a unit that was borderline dominant last season; the Rams are yielding 24.8 points per game (18th Overall) on 396.8 total yards (27th Overall), including 273.3 yards against the pass (25th Overall) on 6.2 net yards per attempt (13th Overall), and another 123.5 yards versus the run (21st Overall) on 4.7 yards per attempt (27th Overall), all the while routinely capitulating on third down where they’ve permitted a 50.0% conversion rate (30th Overall). So what the hell happened to these guys, you ask? Well, first and foremost, Los Angeles lost (former Defensive Coordinator) Brandon Staley, who decided to stay in LA as the Head Coach of the Chargers. Regarded as a true rising star within the coaching ranks, he certainly made the most of his lone campaign with the franchise, and transitioning from Staley to Morris (whom McVay worked with during his time in Washington) was always going to be perceived as a step down, though this regression has been aided by the departure of four starters and a few key reserves from last year’s unit with McVay and (General Manager) Les Snead failing to outsource for capable replacements. Of course, this has been a concern that has been simmering for years now as Los Angeles has slowly become one of the most top-heavy teams in the league, spending a premium to acquire top-tier talent while also keeping their own in house at the expense of a wealth of draft picks and precious cap space, which are the two most precious commodities when maintaining a roster. Thanks to all of Snead’s wheeling and dealing, the Rams haven’t had a first round pick in the NFL Draft since 2016 and (barring a trade) won’t enjoy another one until 2024, with much of their future capital invested in the trade that brought (veteran Quarterback) Matthew Stafford (68.1%, 1,224 YDS, 8.64 NY/A, 11 TD, 2 INT, 76.6 QBR) to town in exchange for the man who was ironically their last first pick, Jared Goff. After the relationship between Coach and Quarterback deteriorated, McVay sent Goff packing to the Motor City along with 2022 and 2023 firsts in favor of Stafford, who despite being roughly nine years older than the guy that he’s replacing, has already looked like a match made in heaven with McVay. The 33-year old is completing a career-high 68.1% of his passes for an average of 305.5 yards on an NFL-best 8.64 net yards per attempt, with eleven touchdowns in comparison to just two interceptions, all the while enjoying the finest protection of his career in suffering only three sacks thus far, parlaying to a miniscule 2.2%, the lowest such figure in the league among starting Quarterbacks. Furthermore, the command that he’s exhibited within this scheme has allowed them to move the chains with ease, for Los Angeles is one of just four teams to convert 50% or better on third down, converting a very healthy 54.3% (2nd Overall). Now we’re going to see what kind of resolve Stafford possesses, for he’ll be leading his side into a venue here he hasn’t enjoyed any success, on a short week following a debilitating defeat no less. Tonight’s affair marks his first trip to the Pacific Northwest since January 2017, which was ironically his last time participating in the Playoffs, with the Lions getting hammered in the Wild Card (26-6). Stafford has never won in three trips to Seattle, and is 1-3 overall against the Seahawks, completing 64.5% of his attempts with as many turnovers as touchdowns (8) and seven sacks. As a team, the Rams are 6-3 against their opponent tonight since McVay arrived back in 2017, including 3-2 at Lumen Field, with the most recent being a 30-20 victory in last January’s Wild Card.
Meanwhile, though it’s far from ideal at this juncture of the campaign, the Seahawks (2-2, T-3rd in NFC West) are operating with a sense of urgency as they find themselves at the bottom of what has become the toughest division in the NFL. Looking to avoid what would have been their first three-game losing streak during the Russell Wilson (72.5%, 1,044 YDS, 8.11 NY/A, 9 TD, 0 INT, 60.9 QBR) era, Seattle stormed into Santa Clara and handed the 49ers a 28-21 thumping that wasn’t nearly as close as that final score would indicate. Though they certainly started slowly in punting on each of their first five possessions, the visiting side would finally explode as they traveled eighty yards in just six plays, with Wilson finding (Pro-Bowl Receiver) D.K. Metcalf (20 REC, 285 YDS, 14.3 Y/R, 3 TD) for a 12-yard touchdown shortly before the half. From there, (Head Coach) Pete Carroll’s charges would build up a head of steam following intermission, outscoring the hosts 17-7 until the Niners added a late touchdown in garbage time. Indeed, it was a tale of two halves for the visitors, who after amassing just seventy-five yards in the first half (80 of which came on that aforementioned drive), compiled 172 in the second, highlighted by a prolonged, 10-play, 81-yard drive culminating with a 13-yard strike from Wilson to (Wideout) Freddie Swain (9 REC, 125 YDS, 13.9 Y/R, 2 TD) to cushion their lead. In the end, the Seahawks left San Francisco the victor despite being outgained 236-457 thanks in large part to the mistakes made by the home side; on the ensuing possession following their opening score, (49ers Quarterback) Jimmy Garoppolo was picked off by (Safety) Quandre Diggs (31 TKL, 1 INT, 2 PD), only for their next drive to end with a failed 41-yard field goal attempt. From there, Garoppolo was would head to the sideline with an injured calf muscle, forcing (No. 3 Overall Pick) Trey Lance into action, a turn of events that would lead to five consecutive punts before the rookie cracked the code of Carroll’s Defense with a 76-yard bomb to (Receiver) Deebo Samuel. However, it was a case of too little too late for Lance and the Niners, as the ‘Hawks climb back to .500 with an opportunity to make some more headway within the division tonight. With that said, this matchup with the Rams will be no easy task for Seattle, who haven’t scored more than twenty points against them in four consecutive meetings. Coming into 2021, one of the most prominent storylines with this team was how the Offense would unfold under the direction of (Offensive Coordinator) Shane Waldron, who had spent the previous four years in Los Angeles as the Passing Game Coordinator to the aforementioned McVay. Carroll hired the 42-year old with the hope that he would modernize an attack that had become antiquated and increasingly reliant on the exploits of Wilson, who at 33-year old wasn’t getting any younger. So with four games in the books, how has the Offense performed under Waldron, you ask? Well, for those hoping that Seattle’s attack would mirror that of their opponent tonight, you’re going to be disappointed, for this unit is still a work in progress; Waldron’s charges have scored 25.8 points per game (10th Overall) on a middling 368.5 total yards (19th Overall), with a feast or famine approach that has seen them excel within the red zone where they’ve punched it on a healthy 90.0% of their opportunities (2nd Overall), but struggle mightily to get there in the first place, converting a miserable 33.3% of their third downs (27th Overall). In fact, they were only 2-of-10 on third down against the Niners, failing to convert any of their first five attempts. Indeed, it appears that this group is still very much in the “Let Russ Cook” portion of their program, but as we saw last season, that isn’t the most sustainable of blueprints for success, particularly in November and December. That’s also an issue in this matchup with the Rams, for in three meetings last season he completed just 55.2% of his passes for 647 yards with three touchdowns and interceptions apiece, while suffering SIXTEEN sacks. In fact, the seven-time Pro Bowler has been sacked thirteen times throughout his career by (Rams’ Defensive Tackle) Aaron Donald, ranking as a high-water mark for both players. And speaking of the pass-rush, this facet of the Defense is a major concern coming into tonight’s affair; Seattle is likely to be without a slew of Defensive Linemen, including Benson Mayowa (neck), Carlos Dunlap (toe), and Darrell Taylor (ankle) with a variety of injuries, which does not bode well for a unit that has relinquished the most total yards in the NFL at a staggering 444.5 yards per game (32nd Overall). If you recall, Carroll’s charges got off to a similarly dismal start on this side of the football a year ago before turning the corner midway through the schedule. However, given the competition within the NFC West, they may not be able to afford to wait that long, for this is NOT a Defense that is flush with talent or depth, particularly in the front seven where they simply don’t generate enough pressure without the benefit of the blitz. The Seahawks have blitzed on 22.7% of their defensive snaps (20th Overall), leading to respectable hurry (11.4%), knockdown (12.7%), and pressure (27.8%) percentages, but have nonetheless managed a sack percentage of only 5.4% (20th Overall). Needless to say, there will be plenty of points scored tonight at Lumen Field.