JOHN CLAYTON

Clayton: 5 Things to watch in Seahawks-Rams

Dec 15, 2017, 3:33 PM
davis, mike davis, seahawks...
The Rams' offense ranked near the bottom of the league in rushing defense -- but Seattle has had trouble with their own ground game. Mike Davis has a chance to put up yards Sunday. (AP)
(AP)

First, it was the loss of two members of the Legion of Boom — Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor.

On Sunday, the Seahawks face another tough reality. A loss to the Los Angeles Rams could jeopardize their chances of making the playoffs and possibly put the team in a position of not make the playoffs. A loss would not eliminate the Seahawks from a shot at the division title, but it would all but give the NFC West to the Rams.

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If the Seahawks are 8-6, they would need to win out their final two games just to get a Wild Card, which will be difficult because of tie-breakers and so many Wild Card candidates in the NFC.

The Seahawks have faced the challenges of playing without three Pro Bowl defenders, including defensive end Cliff Avril. Last Sunday in Jacksonville, they saw the problems of playing without Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright as well. A team that started the season with eight Pro Bowlers on defense were down to three. The pass rush didn’t get to the quarterback, and the Jags both ran the ball well and hit big plays in the passing game.

Here are five things to watch in this Sunday’s must-win game:

Injuries on defense. Bobby Wagner is listed as questionable with a hamstring and K.J. Wright is doubtful with a concussion. The defense has had the week to practice without both linebackers on the field, so you figure they would be better against the Rams than they were against the Jaguars when they had to unexpectedly play their second half without both

The Seahwaks needed both players back for this game. The Rams run a complicated offense, plus they are so good against the run. The communications and sure tackling are so vital facing a team that has Todd Gurley as the halfback and Sean McVay as the play-caller. With both linebackers on the field in the first meeting, the Rams were still able to generate 375 yards of total offense. But they only scored 10 points because they didn’t do well in the redzone and they committed five turnovers.

Being without Wright is tough. Being without Wright and Wagner put this defense at the breaking point.

Getting off to a good start. What the Seahawks can’t afford to do is fall behind early. That was one of the keys to the win over the Philadelphia Eagles — getting off to a fast start with scoring drives in the first quarter. Falling behind against the Rams could be fatal; because of the injuries at the linebacker, the Seahawks might not be able to hang close with the Rams if they have the lead. Stopping the run will be tough, particularly knowing Sean McVay wants to pound the ball with Todd Gurley.

Gurley was held to 43 yards on 14 carries in Seattle’s first meeting with the Rams in L.A.. The Rams jumped to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter but the Seahawks battled back to tie with a Jimmy Graham touchdown pass and a pair of Blair Walsh field goals. The Rams didn’t score in the season half of the 16-10 Seahawks victory. When Goff is trailing by seven points or less in games, he’s a 54.1 percent thrower with two touchdowns and three interceptions on 85 passes.

Goff could have trouble with the crowd noise and the rainy weather.  McVay does a great job of coaching Goff on most plays. He will use the communications system and stay in the ear of Goff until the 15-second cutoff. That might be tough if the crowd is noisy.

The crowd could also make it more difficult for the Rams to execute some of their deceptive players. McVay is a master of trickery with his play-calls — he’s use Sammy Watkins as a decoy on long routes, and he puts Tavon Austin in motion in the backfield to confuse defenses. If the Rams’ offensive players can’t hear all the play calls and adjustments, it might be hard for them to operate their normal offense.

Big day needed by Byron Maxwell. Maxwell struggled last week with the Jaguars receivers, giving up about eight receptions. Here’s an interesting stat: Goff isn’t great throwing to the right sideline, and has completed 43 of 103 for 582 yards. That’s 41.7 percent completions and 5.65 per attempts. Maxwell has taken over Richard Sherman’s stop at left corner, policing the right side of the field of the offense.

One thing to watch is the type of crossing patterns the Rams run at the Seahawks. The Jaguars had great success working crossing patterns, which work well against Cover One and Cover Three defenses.

Running on the Rams. Wade Phillips is one of the best turnaround coaches in NFL history on defense. He usually produces a top-five defense when he moves to a new team. Statistically, the Rams rank 18th in yards allowed, but they are the fourth-worst team in the league stopping the run. They give up 124.1 yards a game rushing and 4.7 rushing. Phillips switched the Rams from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. They don’t have that massive, wide-body nose tackle to stop the run.

But they do have the most disruptive defensive lineman in football: Aaron Donald.  Seattle’s running backs only gained 39 yards in 19 carries in the first Rams game, and they’ll need a 60-plus yard effort out of Mike Davis and about 4 yard per carry to get something going on offense this time.

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