3 Players to watch in Seahawks’ showdown vs NFC West-leading Rams

Oct 5, 2018, 10:32 AM | Updated: 3:26 pm
seahawks, bobby wagner...
Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner was prepared to play the final year of his contract in 2019. (AP)

The Seahawks’ second NFC West matchup in as many weeks will kickoff this Sunday, Oct. 7 when Seattle faces the 4-0 Los Angeles Rams at CenturyLink Field.

Which Hawks defensive player faces biggest task vs Rams’ No. 1 offense?

Here are a few players we’re keeping an eye on:

LB Bobby Wagner

Austin Calitro has dominated headlines heading into the game, since he’ll be starting at weakside linebacker in place of a suspended Mychal Kendricks. But middle linebacker Bobby Wagner is on a mission to stop Rams running back Todd Gurley, and the battle between these two Pro Bowlers will be one worth watching.

Last time these two met on the field the Rams dominated Seattle 42-7 for the worst home loss in Pete Carroll’s tenure. Wagner entered the game with a hamstring injury that had kept him out of practice and, after the game, prompted teammate Earl Thomas to declare Wagner should have sat out.

Wagner is healthy this time, and he has his sights set on making the Rams’ offense as one-dimensional as possible.

“We know they’re going to give (Gurley) the ball,” Wagner told reporters Wednesday. “They’re going to get him with screens, they’re going to get him with runs – outside runs, inside runs. Our goal is to meet him everywhere. My goal is to meet him everywhere he goes.”

Gurley has rushed for 338 yards and four touchdowns this season. He has another 194 yards through the air for two touchdowns.

Wagner has 12 tackles through three starts. Pro Football Focus lists Wagner as the top-ranked linebacker, noting he hasn’t missed a single tackle and has forced more incompletions (four) than any other linebacker this season.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges for Wagner. Sean McVay’s offense has continued to develop since that last meeting and incorporates plenty of misdirection, which will test a Seahawks’ defense filled with more than a few new faces.

“These guys definitely test your eyes, what you’re looking at, and your gaps,” Wagner said.

“They obviously do it really, really good and I think that’s what makes them stand out so much. Their coaches do a good job of finding someone they want to pick on. If you’re the guy and you’re not disciplined, then they accomplish it.”

S Tedric Thompson

Tedric Thompson, who started at free safety while Earl Thomas was in the midst of an offseason holdout, will once again fill in for the All-Pro when the Seahawks face the Rams. With Thomas now on IR, Thompson will be fighting to keep the starting gig for the remainder of the season.

While Thompson received praise from coaches and teammates during the preseason, he’ll face a big challenge. As was pointed out by Wagner, the Rams like to pick players to target — and a young safety filling in for a perennial All-Pro could be an easy mark.

Fellow safety Bradley McDougald believes Thompson is up to the task, telling 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton he’s been most impressed with the second-year pro’s speed.

“He’s a very rangy player,” McDougald said. “He’s one of the only athletes I’ve seen besides Earl that can really get from the middle of the field to the sideline and make a play on the ball repetitively. Not even guessing; just reading the quarterback and getting a good jump. He’s just a great athlete.”

Goff is completing 72 percent of his pass attempts this season and has just two interceptions to his 11 touchdowns.

Offensive line

We know — this isn’t a single player. But the battle between the offensive and defensive lines will dictate the pace of this contest.

Pro Football Focus has regularly ranked the Seahawks’ offensive line in the bottom quarter of the league, and unsurprisingly, fans and analysts have been critical of the unit for years.

Despite acquiring a new right guard in free agency and hiring a new coordinator, the O-line struggled in the first two weeks of the season, surrendering surrendering 12 sacks through losses to the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears.

But in their last two contests – both wins – Seattle’s offensive line has allowed just two sacks per game and finished with back-to-back 100-plus yard games from a running back.

Sunday will bring their biggest test of the season. Rams’ defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the top-ranked D-lineman in the league and his 30 total pressures are four more than anybody else through the first quarter of the season. Fellow defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh gives the Rams the best D-tackle tandem in the NFL. Seattle’s offense will need to control time of possession if they want to limit the Rams’ high-scoring offense — and to do that, they’ll need another solid performance from the group up front.

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3 Players to watch in Seahawks’ showdown vs NFC West-leading Rams