Rost: The 2 big questions Seahawks face vs Rams on Thursday night
The Seahawks are preparing to face one of their toughest opponents on a short week.
There’s momentum coming off a win over the San Francisco 49ers, plus opportunity to draw even with the Rams and gain ground in the NFC West with a win over Los Angeles on Thursday night (L.A. and Seattle would both stand at 3-2 if the Seahawks win). But that win won’t come easy.
Thankfully for the Seahawks, they’ll be able to return to play at Lumen Field. They’ll also get a chance to shine in primetime, where they boast a 33-8-1 record since 2010.
Here are the two biggest questions facing the Seahawks ahead of their showdown with the Rams.
How will Seattle’s defense hold up against the explosive Rams passing attack?
The Rams have an effective run game – they’re fifth overall in offensive DVOA and saw a season-high 89 yards on 14 carries from Darrell Henderson on Sunday – but the real magic is in the passing game. It’s particularly evident with the chemistry already developed between quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp.
Rams head coach Sean McVay’s offense, which had relied heavily on play-action with Jared Goff under center, has opened up more in its first year with Stafford. According to Next Gen Stats, the Rams are utilizing play-action 25% of the time (which ranks 16th, down from first over the past four seasons) and rank first in the use of empty formations.
The result? Stafford is third overall in passing yards (1,222) and second in passing touchdowns (11) behind only Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He’s also fourth in yards per pass attempt (9.1) by a passer with a minimum of 100 attempts. Meanwhile, Kupp is third overall in receiving yards (431) behind only Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill and San Francisco’s Deebo Samuel. That offensive production has flourished behind a Rams offensive line that has allowed just three sacks in four games, none of which came in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals.
That’s not to say the Rams’ offense has been perfect. Speaking of that loss to the Cardinals, after a strong start to the season and a stellar outing against the Buccaneers in Week 3, the Rams finally struggled in Week 4 against Arizona. There were drops and missed throws. Stafford threw his second interception of the season on the Rams’ second drive – a deep pass intended for DeSean Jackson – and running back Sony Michel lost a fumble. Both led to Arizona touchdowns.
The Seahawks can hope Stafford has another off day, or they can try to impact the game by replicating some of the success they had in Weeks 1 and 4 – and avoid the big mistakes from Weeks 2 and 3. Easier said than done, right?
It has been done, though. Certainly not against an offense as capable as L.A.’s, but Seattle has found some success defensively in what has otherwise been a second consecutive season of struggling on that side of the ball to start the year. Seattle’s Week 1 win over the Indianapolis Colts saw their best pass rush production so far, registering three sacks of Carson Wentz and tallied 10 total quarterback hits. They weren’t able to tap into that consistently through the rest of September, but they did snag multiple turnovers for the first time this year against the 49ers on Sunday. They also shifted their approach, adding Ryan Neal as the sixth defensive back in their dime package for some additional speed from another hard-hitting safety.
It goes witout saying, but defensive health is hugely important in this matchup. Fans should be monitoring a few names heading into Thursday, namely pass rushers Carlos Dunlap (toe), Darrell Taylor (ankle), and Benson Mayowa (neck). Dunlap and Taylor were limited in Tuesday’s practice while Mayowa was a full participant.
Can the Seahawks’ offense play four quarters?
Seattle’s offense could be in for a shootout if its defense can’t limit Stafford and the Rams’ passing attack, and despite having the talent to do so, it’s not entirely clear whether the Seahawks can sustain that kind of production for four quarters. Weeks 2-4 have been a tale of two halves for the offense, but Thursday night brings an interesting opportunity.
A year ago, no one would call a chance to face the Rams’ defense “an opportunity” (who would willingly choose to face off against Aaron Donald, much less look forward to it?). The 2020 Rams limited opponents to a league-best 292 yards and 19 points per game. But this year’s Rams have struggled to replicate that success. Those numbers have fallen to 396 (27th) and 24.8 (18th). They gave up 465 yards and 37 points to the Cardinals, and 216 of those were on the ground. Cards running back Chase Edmonds finished with 120 yards on 12 carries, including an explosive 54-yard run. Kyler Murray found DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green for a 25-yard pass and a 41-yard touchdown, respectively.
Even at their best, the Rams have struggled against mobile quarterbacks, which made facing Murray a nightmare. Wilson may not have the mobility of Murray anymore, but he still possesses a rare ability to keep plays alive (it was on display as recently as this past Sunday with an improbable touchdown to Freddie Swain). If there’s one matchup that favors Seattle in this one, it’s Wilson’s ability to extend plays versus a Rams defense that, while packed with talent, has taken a step back this year.
He’ll still need to avoid a costly turnover. Three separate Rams players, including two cornerbacks, have recorded an interception this season.
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