NFL Wild Card Round – The Los Angeles Rams versus the Seattle Seahawks: Four Point Stance

by Rick Harriman
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The Los Angeles Rams travel to Lumen Field to battle the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday, 1/9 at 4:40 PM ET.  This is a first-round matchup for wild card weekend.  The two teams split this year, each winning at home.  Winner of this game will advance to the divisional round.  The Rams enter this game as a 3.5-point underdog on the road according to MGM with an over/under of 42.5.

1st Stance: Offense

Over the half of the NFL season, the Seahawks offense was on fire.  As the league’s highest scoring offense, QB Russell Wilson was leading conversations as possible MVP.   Call it coincidence, but the downward trend of the vaunted Seattle offense hit a wall in week 10 when it faced the Rams.  First half of the season, Seahawks averaged 34.25 PPG (first in the NFL).  In the second half, they only averaged 23.125 PPG (16th in the NFL, which included a 40-point outburst against the New York Jets).

  • Game One (Week 10) Rams 23, Seahawks 16: Wilson threw for 248 yards, he had no TDs and 2 INTs. Running to extend plays, he was the leading rusher for the Seahawks as well with 60 yards.  Wilson had more rushing yards than all RBs combined in the first game (Alex Collins 11/43, DeeJay Dallas 2/8 and David Moore (1/2).
  • Game Two (Week 16) Rams 9, Seahawks 20: Scoring 4 more points than the first outing, Wilson had a better game but not stellar. Wilson threw for less yards (225) but did have a TD and no INTs.  The leading rusher was Chris Carson (not available for the first matchup) with 69 yards, Wilson also had 9 yards rushing and Rashaad Penny and Carlos Hyde combined for 17 yards as well.

Last week against the 49ers, the Seahawks came alive in the 4th quarter (to their credit) to win, scoring 20 unanswered points.  They also went for nearly half the game without a 1st down , including the entire 3rd quarter.  The troubles on offense for Seattle need to be fixed as they will not play well against the best defense in the NFL.

The big question for the Rams this week will be the starter at the QB position.  Will Jared Goff be healed enough to make the start and will coach Sean McVay have confidence in his recovery?  Or will the Rams start John Wolford, 1-0 in his NFL career with a pressure start to get the Rams into the post-season.  Apparently, this will be a game-time decision:

Regardless of the quarterback (and it looks like it will be Goff), the Rams need to be more proficient in the red zone.  Last week the Rams had 1st and goal with less than 2 yards twice and came away with 3 points.  This is not acceptable under any condition regardless of the personnel.  The Rams could come out with one of two looks at quarterback:

  • Jared Goff has a winning record against Seattle at 5-4. His numbers are pedestrian at best, but it should be noted that this is a division foe and a damned good one.  In the nine games, he averages 62% completion rate, ~267 yards per contest has more INTs than TDs.
  • John Wolford has not played Seattle and he is a different type of quarterback altogether. Against Arizona last week, Wolford had a 58% completion rate, 231 yards and he too has more INTs (1) than TDs (0).  Wolford, however, changes the way that the offense plays simply with his athleticism.  John carried the ball 9 times for 56 yards and several of those were for 1st  Compared to the rest of the running game (Cam Akers 21 for 34 and Malcolm Brown 3 for 20), he had more yards and yards per carry than the RBs combined.  That is NOT to slam the running game, but to demonstrate how good the Arizona defense is against the run and how John was able to thwart it anyway.

Comparing the two offenses this season, the Rams are better in passing yards and rushing yards but much worse in scoring.  This season, Seattle has simply been more efficient and proficient with the ball than the Rams.  A good example of this is the last game between these two.  The Rams offense was better in total yards (334 to 292), passing yards (216 to 197) and rushing yards (118 to 95) but lost the game because TDs became FGs and Seattle scored TDs (2).

The Rams have had issues in the red zone all season and this must change.  Moving the ball without scoring is pointless and quite frankly hard to watch – shout out to @tony_guajardo for helping me point this out on Twitter.  On a positive note, the Rams should be getting both Cooper Kupp and Andrew Whitworth back and both will certainly be critical in getting in the end zone.

 2nd Stance: Defense

The defense for the Seahawks for the first half of the season was abysmal.  Ranked last in the league, they were at one time on pace to give up more total yards than any team in NFL history.  The second half is a complete turn-around.  IT has been pointed out that part of this is due to scheduling (inferior opponents), but the change is dramatic:

  • (First half vs second half)
  • Total Yards (455.75 YPG vs 305.375 YPG)
  • Passing Yards (362.125 YPG vs 207.875 YPG)
  • First Downs Allowed (27.75/g vs 19.25/g)
  • 4th Down efficiency (57% vs 22%)
  • Sacks (2.375/g vs 3.75/g)

Clearly something has changed.  Schedule certainly contributed and health (particularly SS Jamal Adams and his availability) helped as well.  Adams is questionable for Saturday but likely to play; if he cannot go or is hampered in any way, this will have a negative impact on the defense.  He certainly thinks their defense is now elite.  Adams told reporters after the win against the Rams in week 16 “to me, we’re the best defense in the league.  I believe in these guys, I believe in this coaching staff and what we bring to the table day in and day out, so we’re just going to continue to get better because we haven’t even played our best football yet, and that’s the scary part.”

Adams has his own opinion, but the Rams defense finished the regular season as the best in the league.  They finished first in total yards, passing yard and total points.  They finished third in rushing yards and are healthy, getting healthier going into the playoffs.  One of the best to ever play the game, former Ram Aqib Talib, knows what he is talking about and listed the Rams secondary as the best in the league:

The Seahawks will continue to be concerned with Aaron Donald; they have employed two, three and even four blockers to try to contain him this season.  And they have succeeded; in two games, Donald has managed only two tackles and one sack, but this attention has caused other issues.  In the two games, Russell Wilson has been sacked 11 times.  The Rams will be hungry to add to that total.

And then there is Jalen Ramsey.  When he has lined up against true WR1s this season, he has been beyond great:

The Rams have an advantage on defense, but Seattle’s play lately may make this a defensive battle.

3rd Stance: Special Teams

Seattle has a great kicker in Jason Myers.  Not only was he perfect on FGs during the regular season, but he also averaged just over 7 points per game as the leading scorer.  Add that he has length (deadly from 40+ with a long of 61), he is a weapon.  They are in the top half for kick-off returns and their punter (Michael Dickson) has been compared to none other than Johnny Hekker (blasphemy!).

The Rams also have a weapon in kicker Matt Gay.  While not perfect on the season (he has two misses), he is also the leading scorer (after only 7 games) as he averaged 8.3 points per game.  His length has not been as tested, but he does have a 51-yard FG on the season.  The Rams return game has shown some signs of life over the past couple of games and the best punter in the game, Johnny Hekker, has been giving the Rams great field position all season long.

Edge to Seattle as their stats are better, but it is almost a push.

4th Stance: Intangibles

  • Coaching – Sean McVay versus Pete Carroll. McVay has a 5-3 lead in this series and these two teams seem to always play each other close.  McVay has the edge in record, but this is a push between the two.
  • Post of the week from Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) – If you are not following Jourdan, you are missing out, she is the BEST. If you are not subscribing to The Athletic, you are REALLY missing out as she goes deep into Rams coverage that you should not miss. This one says feels like it has taken FOREVER to manifest – Big Whit.  Oh, and no thank you to the

“Ram”dom info from the week:

  • Rams uniform combination for this week will be a first:
  • Best Pic of the week (I don’t write politics, but could not resist) – Rams fans be like:

Prediction

Tale of the Tape:

These two teams know each other well and the safe play is for McVay to start Goff and give him an appropriate leash.  If Goff plays well and does not turn the ball over, he will stay in the game and it will be close.  The riskier, but upside play, would be to start Wolford and give some extra dimensionality to the offense.  Riskier simply because of a lack of overall NFL experience, but he handled that well last week.

I will bet of Goff starting and playing well, making this a close game and the Rams win it 23-20 on a Matt Gay field goal.  Who’s next?

 

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