It seems every week the Los Angeles Rams are playing their “most important game” of the season. Since the Rams haven’t played many “meaningful” games this late in the season in a long time, all games are their most important. Though, this one is like a two-game swing in the NFC West. A win would give the Rams a two-game lead and keep their destiny in their own hands. A loss would drop them down into a very tight NFC playoff race while bringing back bad memories of the Rams from yesteryear.
The thing is, though, this is not the Rams of yesteryear, this is a different team. The confidence level the new coaching staff has instilled in the 2017 Rams is unmatched by any Rams team in the last 13 or so seasons. There’s just something about head coach Sean McVay saying, “This is a big week for us” that lets you know this team will be ready to play. Most hostile road environment or not, this team is ready to defend their lead.
Los Angeles Rams Offense vs. Seattle Seahawks Defense
The week 15 edition of the Rams at Seahawks will come without two of their defensive leaders in Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor. Two of the best players at their respective positions in the league who have not been with the team since week 10. In those four games without them, the Seahawks have allowed 21.8 points against as compared to 18.3 in their first nine games. One of those games saw the same Eagles team that put 43 on the Rams score only 10 points. In that same span, the Rams have averaged 25 points and have only failed to reach that once (Vikings).
Something the Rams have failed to do in recent weeks is getting Todd Gurley the ball. He has not seen more than 19 carries over the last six games. In fact, he has averaged only 15.2 carries per game since the bye as compared to 20.7 before the bye. There’s a reason the Rams are 6-0 when Gurley sees 19+ carries and 3-4 when he sees 18 or less. One of those losses includes the first matchup against the Seahawks back in week five. That game saw Gurley get his first sub-15 carry game of the season and sub-100 scrimmage yards. The tone of the offense in this game will begin and end with the use of Gurley, the more the better. This will also help to eliminate on of the best pass-rushes in the league. Times that by 10 if All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner misses with a hamstring after recording seven tackles in week five.
After establishing the run, McVay can implement his high powered pass attack and take advantage of the injuries. Over the last three games against the Seahawks, the Rams have completed only four passes to Sherman’s coverage. Not to mention the play where he almost took quarterback Jared Goff’s head off in 2016 at Centurylink Field. With the Seahawks giving up the seventh most pass yards per game over the last three (263.7), the temptation is real. And that’s not to say that the Rams shouldn’t throw the ball, they should test this secondary. They have given up the seventh most passing yards over the last three games (263.7), and have Robert Woods returning.
Woods had been the most productive Rams receiver before his shoulder injury. He was also the only receiver to catch a pass against Richard Sherman in week five. If you couple that with rookie sensation Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins, you understand why McVay likes to pass. Kupp had the opportunity to catch the game-winner in the first matchup before dropping it in the endzone. That is the type of divisional game that comes back to haunt you later in the season. The Rams hope that is not the case as this week sets that scenario up. This week’s success will hinge on balance. The balance will open up the pass game and play-action. The balance the Rams have on offense is one not possessed by many teams in the NFL, and they need to exploit that against a banged up defense.
Los Angeles Rams Defense vs. Seattle Seahawks Offense
Despite Russell Wilson’s elusiveness, the Rams have matched up well against him. They have sacked Wilson seven times in their last three meetings and held them to 14.3 points. With the issues for the Seahawks on defense, they will need more than that to take control of the NFC West. The Rams will need the discipline to contain Wilson and avoid him making big plays and taking the game over.
This is something they have been great at seeing as how Wilson has run for 42 yards over his last three games against them. In fact, the Rams are one of three teams to keep Wilson under 20 yards rushing in 2017. Despite that, Wilson has won all three of those games, so the coverage will need to be tight. That being said, the Rams have lost cornerback Kayvon Webster for the year with an Achilles. They have not fared well without Webster, either.
There have been five games Webster has missed or left early, three of which have resulted in a loss. Filling in for him will likely be former college standout Troy Hill. Hill stepped up and played well against the Eagles, but did not fare well for the Rams in 2016. One game saw the always dangerous Doug Baldwin score on him. Though Baldwin spends a large amount of time in the slot, so he will see a lot of coverage against Nickell Robey-Coleman. Robey-Coleman has been one of the best slot corners year after year and helped transition Lamarcus Joyner to free safety. His ability to shut Baldwin down can be game-defining this week. Speaking of Joyner, Wilson has not seen him play safety this year.
This helps that Wilson has not seen his capabilities live in a game and his range can create turnovers. In fact, with Joyner and John Johnson III’s interchangeable play, recognizing coverages and blitzes may be tricky early on. Any advantage against an explosive offense helps. In terms of the run game, the Seahawks have had a bit of a revolving door.
Currently, rookie running back Mike Davis has been getting a majority of the carries. Davis is a very compact runner and styles a runner the Rams saw in week 14 in Jay Ajayi. The Rams absolutely need to respect the Seahawks’ run game, and they will. Though the Rams know exactly what the Seahawks want to do. If the Rams can continue to get in the face of Wilson, they should get him uncomfortable and get him to make bad decisions. A lot of those bad decisions Wilson makes is when he is facing pressure and the Rams seem to ramp it up even more against him.
NFC West Outlook
Sunday’s game at Centurylink will be very telling in how far this young Rams team has come. Since the Rams have yet to lose back-to-back games in 2017, you have to expect them to show up. This is a very smart, young group that doesn’t seem too caught up in the moment to not. You can thank the leadership of the big three in Sean McVay, Wade Phillips, and John Fassel for the responses after defeat. The Rams are actually averaging 31.3 points per game in games following a loss, something they will need against Wilson.
With the NFC pretty much on the line in week 15, expect the Rams’ staff to be more prepared to face a tough opponent in a hostile environment. A building piece to build on will be the lack of preparation the Rams showed when playing the Vikings in Minnesota. You can bet that won’t be the case this week. In a tough divisional game, the edge is going to the Los Angeles Rams, who will retain the division lead, 33-17.
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