Why the Rams have been a problem for the Seahawks, and how it can be different this time
Dec 23, 2020, 11:28 AM | Updated: 11:39 am
If there’s one team that has consistently been a thorn in the Seahawks’ side during Russell Wilson’s tenure at quarterback, it’s the Los Angeles Rams. As luck would have it, Seattle will need to exorcise that particular demon if it’s going to clinch its first division title since 2016 on Sunday.
Wilson is 7-10 in his career against the Rams, and it’s been especially tough in recent seasons after Sean McVay became the Los Angeles head coach.
The Rams split the season series in 2017 with the Seahawks, but they made a statement with a 42-7 blowout in Seattle in Week 15 of that year. In 2018, the Rams went 2-0 against Seattle on their way to the NFC West title and a Super Bowl appearance. In 2019, it was another case of the two rivals splitting the season series, though Los Angeles’ 28-12 win in Week 14 was much more decisive than Seattle’s 30-29 win in Week 5. And with the Rams owning a 23-16 win in Week 10 of this year, McVay takes an impressive 5-2 record as a head coach against the Seahawks into this Sunday’s gigantic matchup.
Seattle (10-4) has the upper hand in the standings going into the game and can clinch the NFC West with a win over LA (9-5), but a Rams victory would allow them the opportunity to steal back the division as long as they beat Arizona in Week 17.
So what is it about the Rams that makes them such a tough opponent for Seatle?
“Over these past seven meetings, what has stood out most is how consistently the Rams have been able to hold Seattle to fewer to 20 points,” Danny O’Neil said Wednesday on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant. “It’s happened four of those seven meetings (since 2017), and Russell Wilson specifically has tended to have a harder time with the Rams than he does any other division opponent. Interceptions, he gets sacked more, the team scores less.”
The most obvious factor is that Los Angeles’ defense is led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who was just named a Pro Bowler for the seventh time (he’s in his seventh season) and is only a half-sack out of the NFL lead this season with 12.5. But he’s not the only reason the Rams create so much trouble for Wilson.
“Well, they have one of the best defensive linemen to ever play the game (in Donald). That’s a great start,” former Seahawks wide receiver Michael Bumpus said. “He’s always going to be around. Even if he’s not getting to the quarterback, he’s affecting the game, collapsing the pocket, making Russell get out. On the outside they have a lockdown corner (Jalen Ramsey), and Darious Williams is another corner that no one really talks about but he has four interceptions (this season) and he picked off Russell twice the last time they met up.”
What the Seahawks need to do
When it comes to offense, Bumpus wants the Seahawks to take a page out of the Rams’ book.
“I don’t think it’s just them getting after Russell Wilson. I think it’s them getting after Russell Wilson and then controlling the ball game,” Bumpus said. “It’s almost like they set the tempo every single game. The Hawks are trying to catch up to them and match their tempo, match their intensity. There’s something about their tempo and their focus that allows them to make it a tough game. Is there a mental block with Russell? I’d like to think there isn’t, but when you’ve lost to a team as much as Russell has (to the Rams), you definitely think about it.”
One way Bumpus would like Seattle to address that is open the game with the ball, which he knows is unlikely if the Seahawks win the coin toss because their strategy is almost always to defer to receive the ball at the start of the second half.
“You need to show a lot during that first drive to make this defense wonder about what you’re trying to do. I want the Hawks to win the toss and take the football. I just want them to take the football and say, ‘Look, we are going to establish the tempo offensively. We are going to set the tone. … You guys gotta catch up to us.'”
There is confidence in the Seahawks’ defense holding up its end of the bargain, especially considering Seattle has held each of its past six opponents to 23 points or less – and that includes the Rams, who won 23-16 in Week 10.
“I feel like Seattle’s defense has caught up to what the Rams were doing and how the Rams were running circles around them earlier,” O’Neil said.
The key there will be beating the Los Angeles offensive line, which has allowed quarterback Jared Goff to be sacked just 20 times this season.
“The one thing that the Rams do consistently (on offense) is protect Jared Goff,” Bumpus said, noting that Seattle already has 40 sacks this year compared to 28 all of last season. “That means that they weren’t getting after Jared Goff (last year) the way they possibly can this year. They now have (safety) Jamal Adams, a guy who’s going to be lurking around that box. Jared Goff is going to have to account for him.
“… The feeling of this defense is that they’re going to get after the quarterback, and they’re playing decent when it comes to the pass game. It’s all about Jared Goff. If you can force a turnover or two and contain that run, get after the quarterback, these guys have a chance. This is the best I’ve felt about the Hawks going into a Rams game in the past couple years.”
You can hear the full discussion from Wednesday’s edition of Danny and Gallant in the podcast at this link or in the player below.