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Clayton: 5 things to watch in Seahawks vs Rams

Carroll says Seahawks RB Thomas Rawls is "anxious to get back out." (AP)

Are the Los Angeles Rams ready to take command of the NFC West?

A year ago, no one would think that would be possible. The Rams were 4-12, and Jeff Fisher lost his job as head coach. They traded up in the draft to get former Cal quarterback Jared Goff, who finished the season with seven consecutive losses.

O’Neil: Seahawks face an old nemesis that might now be an actual rival

Not only are the Rams now 3-1, a game ahead of the Seahawks, but they are favored to beat Seattle Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Fisher was great in getting the most out of the Rams in the NFC West game, making them one of the toughest teams for the Seahawks to beat.

The Arizona Cardinals, another NFC West foe, have struggled to start the season. Their offensive line has been riddled with injuries and problems with pass protections, leaving Carson Palmer vulnerable to take a pounding.

The Seahawks have struggled with slow starts and offensive problems on the road, but if they are going to be a Super Bowl contender, they need to win games like these — or else fall two games behind the Rams in the division.

Here are five things to watch.

The Seahawks’ backfield
Here it is five games into the season, and it’s a guessing game to know who is the Seahawks starting halfback. Chris Carson’s ankle injury re-opened the debate. Will it be Thomas Rawls? How about Eddie Lacy?

Then you have the questions about who will be the passing-down back. C.J. Prosise continues to baffle the coaching staff with his injuries. While Pete Carroll said Monday Prosise was a go for the Rams game, he missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with an ankle injury that sidelined him last week.

As a team, the Seahawks — thanks to good blocking in second halves — got their running attack up to 121 yards a game, but so much of it has been Russell Wilson and Chris Carson. Wilson has 138 yards on 25 carries and a 5.5 yard per carry average. Wilson will help with another good running game, but the backs need to produce about 80 to 90 yards against the Rams.

Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard versus Rams head coach Sean McVay
This should be a great chess match. McVay is a master of deception with his offensive play-calling. He uses a lot of bunch formations to confuse defensive backs in man coverages. He is very creative in getting the ball to halfback Todd Gurley, who was named the NFC offensive player of the month. Gurley was more of a workhorse running back, but now he’s getting 25 touches a game (and accounting for 54 percent of the Rams offense) because McVay is feeding him the ball through the air. Even though the Rams have added three receivers who have all been productive, McVay rank sixth in the league in the number of two tight end plays. This is the Seahawks’ third consecutive game against teams that run a lot of two tight ends, so Richard has to make sure his defensive players focus on avoiding mental lapses.

Young Seahawks cornerbacks versus the most improved receiving corps in football
The Rams added wide receivers Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins from the Bills and Cooper Kupp in the draft. Watkins is the deep threat and the No. 1 receiver, while Woods catches the intermediate routes. Kupp has been the best of the rookie receivers this year and works primarily out of the slot. On Seattle’s side, cornerback Jeremy Lane’s groin injury should give Shaquill Griffin a chance to start on the outside and have Justin Coleman playing the slot, probably matched up against Kupp. Coleman did a great job there last Sunday, getting a pick-six off of Colts’ quarterback Jacoby Brissett. This will be the most extensive action for Griffin, whose playtime has been slightly limited because of the two tight end sets, but he’s only been beaten for 20 catches and 109 yards in four games.

The Rams might be vulnerable on defense
It’s surprising to see the Rams rank 27th in yards allowed and giving up 26.3 points a game. The biggest problem has been stopping the run. They are giving up 151.5 yards a game and 4.9 yards an attempt. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is converting a 4-3 defense into a 3-4 and still making adjustments. There is some thoughts that inside linebackers Mark Barron and Alec Ogletree are a little light for being inside linebackers. But they do have speed. The secondary has been giving up too many big plays. Phillips made an adjustment last week on the defensive line by moving Michael Brockers from nose tackle to defensive end, while Robert Quinn moved from defensive end to outside linebacker. Still, the big problem for the Seahawks is blocking Aaron Donald, one of the most dominating defensive players in football.

Filling in for Cliff Avril
Avril will be out an extended period of time with a neck injury, which means his defensive end duties fall into the hands of Frank Clark and Marcus Smith. Clark is off to a great start with 1.5 sacks and seven-and-a-half hurries. Smith had 1.5 sacks Sunday against Indianapolis. Clark is in his third year and could set himself for a big contract extension in the next year or two if he can continue to evolve as one of the game’s better young pass-rushers. The Rams line, though, is better with the additions of John Sullivan at center and Andrew Whitworth at left tackle, who has allowed only one pressure and one sack this season.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.

John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
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