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Clayton’s Keys: Seahawks can prove they’re for real with win over Rams

The Seahawks and Rams both come into Thursday's game with a 3-1 record. (AP)

Are the Seahawks for real as a contender to win the NFC West?

Should Seahawks switch up offense to exploit Rams’ weakness?

We’ll find out Thursday night when the Seahawks host the Los Angeles Rams. Both the Seahawks and the Rams are 3-1. Both lost a home games, the Seahawks to the New Orleans Saints and the Rams last Sunday to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

My thought heading into the season was that the Seahawks will be a playoff team and the Rams would drop back a little bit from their 13-win season that took them to the Super Bowl. I thought the Rams’ drop-off would be to about 11 wins. Based on the start of the season, both teams are heading in the direction I predicted.

Last year, the Rams had a three-game gap over the Seahawks. Thursday night will determine how close these teams are.

Here is what we’re looking at in Week 5.

• Even though Jadeveon Clowney hasn’t dominated, the new Seahawks defensive end has done better than people think and outsiders are recognizing it. Clowney, despite holding out and missing training camp with the Houston Texans, had 48 plays in the season-opener against Cincinnati. He looked good.

Clowney only has one sack in four games but ESPN ranked him as the seventh-best edge rusher in beating his blocker in pass rush situations. He’s winning 27 percent of his rushes. Things should only get better as he gets on the line more at the same time as Ziggy Ansah.

Ansah showed his value against the Arizona Cardinals by getting five tackles, one sack and two hits on the quarterback. As Pete Carroll said earlier this season, what you’ve seen is only going to improved upon as the season progresses.

• One of the best tests of the Seahawks’ plans to stay in base defense will be against the Rams, who are a three-receiver team. Seattle defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. loves the coverage ability of his three linebackers. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are getting the bulk of the tackles and Mychal Kendricks has become a play-maker, getting sacks, big tackles and good plays in coverage.

• This game will show where the Seahawks are as a defense. Believe it or not, they rank eighth as far as fewest yards allowed on defense. They are giving up 22.3 points a game. Some wonder if that is because of the relatively easy September schedule. They gave up 418 yards passing to Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, but they’ve faced backup quarterbacks in 10 of the past 12 quarters. They faced a lot of good running backs in September, but they are the sixth-best in fewest rushing yards allowed (79.5 per game).

• The Rams clearly aren’t the same offense as they have been the past two years. Head coach Sean McVay remains one of the best play-callers in the league but teams have figured out why to slow down the Rams’ three-receiver set. This started last December in a game against Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions. The Lions were the first team to use a 6-1 concept with their front seven. The six-man defensive line took away some of the plays at the edge at the line of scrimmage and in the short areas near the line. Patricia used four defensive tackles in quarters coverage, which gave the defensive backs the ability to help out stopping the run. The four-man zone caused problems for QB Jared Goff getting the ball downfield.

• The Rams’ offensive line has struggled. They had to replace two and there has been a drop-off as the line figures out where it is. Tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Haverstein have each been flagged three times for offensive holding. That should decrease. Whitworth and Haverstein are known for getting hands outside the frame of a defender, a penalty call that a week ago was ordered by the league to give more latitude. Whitworth had a tough game for penalties Sunday in the loss to Tampa Bay, but officials are supposed to give him more time to adjust.

• Los Angeles running back Todd Gurley could be the key to the game even though he’s getting less carries. The Rams won’t say his limited participation is because of his arthritic knee but something isn’t adding up. When he gets the ball, he’s still good. Some of his blocking in pass protection has dropped off. The Rams’ offense is at its best when Goff can fake a run with Gurley or give him the ball. The Rams are big on play-action, but if the running game isn’t there, they aren’t the same.

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