3 Questions: Can Seahawks unlock DK Metcalf vs Rams CB Jalen Ramsey?
The Seahawks (10-4) haven’t won the NFC West since 2016, but they have a chance to secure the crown when they face the Los Angeles Rams (9-5) this Sunday. Win and it’s theirs, regardless of what happens in Week 17, but it’s not going to be easy.
The Seahawks are healthier this time around than in their Week 10 loss to LA, but the Rams might just be angrier. They’ll be ready to bounce back after an ugly loss to the New York Jets, and the league’s best defense will be looking to make this game another headache for quarterback Russell Wilson.
Here are three questions for this Sunday’s divisional showdown:
Who wins the matchup between Pete Carroll vs. Sean McVay (and Brian Schottenheimer vs. Brandon Staley)?
The Pete Carroll era has been the most successful in Seahawks franchise history but the Rams have managed to get the better of Carroll’s teams since 2015. Seattle has just three wins in 11 meetings since September 2015 and they’ve won just two of their last seven (which covers McVay’s tenure).
That makes the head-to-head matchup between Carroll and McVay one to watch, but there’s another potentially more important matchup on Sunday: Seahawks offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer vs. Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley.
Staley’s young NFL career kicked off just three years ago when he became the outside linebacker coach for the Chicago Bears under then-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and he has since skyrocketed up the coaching ranks. In his first year as defensive coordinator and his first season with L.A., Staley has turned the Rams into the league’s best defense. That’s in part thanks to having Aaron Donald, one of the best defensive tackles in NFL history, but it’s also thanks to names fans are less familiar with.
“He has really gotten the most out of guys like Darious Williams, who’s playing opposite Jalen Ramsey (at cornerback),” ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry said this week in an interview with The Huddle on 710 ESPN Seattle. “He’s gotten the best out of a couple (defensive) ends and pass rushers. Leonard Floyd comes to LA and has had a huge season. Of course, anytime you’re an edge rusher and have Donald on the interior, you’ll have some one-on-ones that’ll allow you to get to the quarterback. But really, Staley mixes up his coverages, he mixes up his plan, and the players love it because week to week there’s always something unique and new that they’re going to be adding in.”
Staley’s defense bested Schottenheimer’s offense earlier this year. Williams intercepted Wilson twice and Floyd sacked him three times. With the NFC West on the line, it’ll be up to Schottenheimer and Wilson to top a defense that’s allowing just 19.2 points per game and is holding offenses to 286 yards.
Can the Seahawks stop the Rams’ run game?
That will be the key to slowing the Rams’ offense, which is one of the league’s best offenses when it’s firing on all cylinders.
Running back Cam Akers (591 rushing yards, two touchdowns) is sidelined with a high ankle sprain, but it’s not the same kind of hit that losing Todd Gurley a few years ago would have been. The Rams are going with a running back by committee approach this season, which means behind Akers is Darrell Henderson Jr, who has an almost identical stat line (562 yards, five TDs). But if Seattle can stifle the run, it will limit what McVay and quarterback Jared Goff are able to do.
“There are few quarterbacks who are as good as (Goff) when he is really in rhythm in play-action,” Thiry said. “However, teams have really discovered and keyed in that if you can stop the Rams’ run and if you can get the pressure on Goff and make him go through his progressions, that’s really when things start to break down. So, the difference between a good Rams’ offense is play-action, their run game is hitting in all stages. But if you can get pressure on Goff, that’s when things break down.”
Inconsistencies on offense have been hurting a stellar season from the Rams’ defense. The Rams have committed a turnover in every game this season and Goff has struggled in particular when the run isn’t established early. In their Week 12 loss to the 49ers and their Week 15 loss to the Jets, the Rams failed to surpass 37 rushing yards in the first half. Goff also threw an interception in the first half of both games.
It’s a favorable matchup for the Seahawks, who are limiting opponents to 94.6 rushing yards per game.
Can Wilson find DK Metcalf this time around?
Wilson had one of his worst performances of the season when these two teams met in Week 10. He threw two interceptions and couldn’t find the end zone, and the offense looked like a shell of the electric unit that was leading the league earlier this season.
To their credit, the Seahawks were playing without their top two running backs, Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde, both of whom will be back in this game. But they also failed to consistently execute plays with their best weapons. Receiver DK Metcalf, who’s had a phenomenal second year, was made a non-factor by Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey and didn’t see a target until the third quarter. He finished the game with just 28 yards on two catches.
Beating Ramsey in coverage won’t be easy for Metcalf – and it won’t get much easier for fellow receiver Tyler Lockett – but the offense will have to be better than it was in Week 10 if they want to claim the NFC West. Against the Rams’ passing defense, that means a big day from Carson and Hyde. But it also means taking advantage of the explosiveness of Metcalf and Lockett.
Scores first: Rams
First takeaway: Seahawks
Most yards surrendered: Seahawks
Final score: 24-21 Seahawks