When the Seahawks and Rams face off this Sunday at CenturyLink Field, it could be the game that determines who wins the NFC West. With three games remaining in the season, the 8-5 Seahawks sit one game behind the 9-4 Rams for the top spot in the NFC West. If Seattle wins this Sunday, it would create a tie at the top of the division. But the Seahawks would be 2-0 against the Rams this season, giving them the tiebreaker over the Rams.
If the Seahawks were to lose on Sunday, their chance to win the division would be a longshot. The Rams would be two games ahead of the Seahawks, and Seattle would need to win out while the Rams lose their last two games. A loss Sunday would also hurt their chances to make the playoffs in the hotly-contested NFC.
Both teams coming are coming off disappointing losses. The Seahawks looked outmatched in their physical 30-24 loss to the Jaguars. The Rams were defeated 43-35 in a back-and-forth game against the Eagles. With both looking to rebound from those losses, here are the keys to watch this Sunday.
How will the Seahawks defense fare without Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright?
In the third quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars, the Seahawks lost both of their Pro Bowl linebackers. Bobby Wagner left with a hamstring injury, and K.J. Wright left without a concussion. Both have not practiced this week. If both were not to play this weekend, the Seahawks would be missing five Pro Bowlers on their defense due to injury. Wagner and Wright would join Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Cliff Avril on the sidelines.
This creates a massive problem for the Seattle defense. When the Seahawks played the Rams Week 5, they held Todd Gurley to only 43 yards on 14 carries. That was the second fewest rushing yards he has had this season. But without Wagner and Wright, it would be very difficult to stop Gurley like they did Week 5.
Gurley uses his speed to get on the edge and creates big plays. Wagner might be the best linebacker at getting sideline to sideline to stop those outside plays. Even if Wagner plays, a hurt hamstring would slow him down to the point where he could not make the plays on the edge. With Michael Wilhoite and Terrance Garvin likely filling in on Sunday, Gurley could fuel the Rams offense past the depleted Seattle defense.
Can the Seahawks offensive line hold off Aaron Donald and company?
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Last week, against the best pass rushing defense in the NFL, Russell Wilson was sacked only twice. That would look like a great performance for the Seattle offensive line. However, Wilson was pressured on half of his dropbacks. And for the most part, Jacksonville was only bringing four rushers, and they were getting home. So, there is still work to be done up front on the Seattle offense.
This is a different offensive line for Seattle than they had last time they played the Rams. Duane Brown replaces Rees Odhiambo at left tackle, and Ethan Pocic took over Oday Aboushi at right guard. But will they be able to slow down the Rams pass rush better than Week 5? Wilson was sacked three times and hit 11 times in their last game, leaving much room for improvement for this week’s game.
Brown will be going up against Quinn, who dominated the Seahawks last game, recording a sack and two quarterback hits. Brown is exponentially better than Odhiambo, so Quinn should not have the same impact as he did in Week 5. The question comes up the middle, most specifically the matchup of Donald and Pocic. Pocic tends to get bull-rushed a few yards back, but is able to anchor and prevent sacks. But against Donald, he may not have the ability to anchor and recover from getting bull-rushed by Donald. The Seahawks may have to run more bootlegs and rollouts than they typically call to give Wilson more time from Donald.
How will the Seattle defensive line regroup after poor performance against Jacksonville?
For only the second time this season, and first time since Week 3, the Seahawks were unable to record a sack against the Jaguars. And not only did they not record a sack, they also only had one quarterback hit. With the caliber of defensive line the Seahawks have, that is unacceptable. Blake Bortles made them pay for not getting any pressure, and Jared Goff could do more damage if the Seahawks do not get any pressure.
With the depleted secondary and linebacking corps, the defensive line needs to make Goff uncomfortable. In the Week 5 game, Goff had one of his worst games of the season. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions. He was sacked twice, fumbled once, and was hit four times. The Seahawks need to recreate that kind of pressure, or Goff will be able to pick apart the depleted back end of this defense.