How the Seahawks stack up in the NFC West: Rams may be the sleeping giant
The Seahawks have been the most stable and consistent team in the NFC West over the last decade, but they’re also a team that’s six years removed from their last NFC Championship appearance – and if they want to get back in 2020, they’ll need to best the three other teams in the toughest division in football.
It’s not going to be easy. In fact, when my Tom, Jake and Stacy co-host Tom Wassell asked whether the Seahawks are still the top dog in the NFC West, my answer was no – at least not on paper. And that’s an important distinction, since a closer look at this division reveals a fascinating battle for the crown.
In addition to the Seahawks, you’ve also got: one of the league’s best defenses looking to defend its conference title, a once-captivating offense looking to step back into the limelight, and a potential Cinderella story.
If you haven’t checked out last week’s preview of the Arizona Cardinals – the NFC West’s potential Cinderella – you can read that here. This preview will take a closer look at how the Seahawks compare to the Los Angeles Rams.
What Seahawks fans need to know about the Rams
Head coach: Sean McVay
Offensive coordinator: Kevin O’Connell
Defensive coordinator: Brandon Staley
Quarterback: Jared Goff
2019 record: 9-7 (third in the NFC West)
The Rams took the league by storm in 2018, and were it not for Patrick Mahomes’ 50-touchdown MVP season they might’ve stolen the show. Headed up by the youngest coach in NFL history, they were second only to the Kansas City Chiefs in total offense and started the season with an eight-game win streak before falling to the New Orleans Saints in early November.
They were balanced on offense, ranking fifth in passing yards per game and third in rushing yards. But more than that, they were fun.
The Rams utilized misdirection and deception, made good use of jet sweeps, and took advantage of elite pass-catchers. They used 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end and three receivers) on 90 percent of offensive plays and saw 1,200-yard seasons from two receivers, Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks.
They finished the season 13-3 and made it all the way to the Super Bowl before putting on one of the more confusing performances of their season. Suddenly, one of the most prolific offenses of the year managed just a field goal against the New England Patriots.
Oddly enough, some of that lingered into the 2019 season. Whether it was injury- or scheme-related, running back Todd Gurley was no longer the focus of the offense, and the team dropped to the bottom third of the league in rushing yards per game as a result. L.A. couldn’t find consistency and the same explosiveness in the pass game to offset that lack of production, in no small part due to an offensive line that Pro Football Focus ranked as the second worst in the league.
Big changes came this offseason. That started when the team released Gurley and linebacker Clay Matthews. There were also important additions. They hired former Washington offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell as offensive coordinator and Broncos outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley as their new defensive coordinator.
The final verdict
The Seahawks have the clear advantage at quarterback, but that’s not the only reason they should be a better offense than the Rams. Running back Chris Carson is still under contract and coming off another 1,000-yard season, Tyler Lockett is coming off a year with a career-high in receiving yards, and DK Metcalf looked anything but a rookie in his record-setting debut season. Seattle’s defense will need to improve from last year, particularly in their pass rush, but L.A.’s offense doesn’t have the weapons it once had.
If I had to guess who would fall into fourth place in the division, it would be Los Angeles. But again – and I can’t stress this enough – it’s not going to be an easy battle to the top. The hope for Seahawks fans is that the offensive line in Los Angeles never quite comes together, that the run game isn’t nearly as explosive as it was with Gurley, and that Jared Goff doesn’t have the kind of weapons around him that he did in 2018 (at the very least, he won’t have Cooks).
The Rams didn’t do much to address their offensive line in the draft outside of using a seventh-round pick on Clemson guard Tremayne Anchrum. They also lost defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and former UW Huskies linebacker Cory Littleton in free agency. Plus, there’s the new logo, which has nothing whatsoever to do with play on the field but needs to be mentioned here.
It’s not all bad. The defense still has one of the most dominant players in the league with five-time All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald. They re-signed defensive end Michael Brockers and added defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson. There’s no Gurley, but most of the offense and the brilliant Sean McVay are still there, which leaves L.A. as either a shadow of its former self or the division’s sleeping giant.