Rams vs. Seahawks: A closer look

Dilip Vishwanat

A Retrospect

Smell that? It's the sweet smell of victory. The week always seems just a little better when your home team wins, and win we did. This Closer Look will operate in the same fashion as the last one, but to start this one I'm going to outline what I got right and what I got wrong about the matchup with the Cardinals. Why reflect like that? A few reasons: it's fun to brag when you're right, but more importantly it gives me a chance to see if I suffer from any systematic biases. ** Anyway, onto the recap:

** I'll be adding more to this section later, but because I see it as primarily an exercise for me, you can read about that at the end of the post. I don't want to bore you. As always, this article will be using mostly football outsiders, you can read up on their great site here**

Where I was right! (Yeah, who's awesome)

  • The Cardinal's passing game was contained (neither receiver was prolific).
  • We generated a few turnovers off of Palmer (too easy).
  • The Hawk's pass rush did cause problems!
  • The Hawk's contained the running game.
  • Strangely, Andre Ellington didn't receive very many looks.
  • The Cardinals generated plenty of interior pressure.
  • The hawks' punting game was far superior.

Where I was wrong...(just ignore this part)

  • Marshawn wasn't dominant, but he was not shut down like I suggested.
  • Seattle receivers weren't shut down either.
  • Jerraud Powers should not have the nickname, Powers Island.
  • Despite the semi-close score, the game wasn't a defensive battle and it wasn't particularly close.

Somewhere in between.

  • The TE's were nice in the redzone but not particularly involved otherwise.

At a Glance

The 3-4 Rams host their division rival Seahawks a week after losing their starting QB, Sam Bradford (Seriously Rams fans, that sucks. My heart goes out to you.). The Rams rank 26th in DVOA (all stats through week 7), and the Seahawks remain ranked 2nd. Once again, the Seahawks look like heavy favorites.

The St. Louis Rams

The St. Louis Rams' Offense

The Rams rank 22nd in team offense DVOA, 20th in passing offense, and 31st in rushing offense. The Rams have had trouble replacing Steven Jackson and their leading rushers are Zac Stacy (with 214 yards, 4.3 yards per carry) and Daryl Richardson (with 176 yards and an abysmal 2.9 yards per carry). The last few games, Zac Stacy has taken the lion's share of carries and we should expect to see him start this game absent an injury.

*Sigh* I would talk more about the passing offense, but with Sam Bradford gone I'm guessing more than anything. Their leading receivers are Jared Cook (344 yards) and Chris Givens (295 yards). After that, there's four receivers with about 130- 250 yards receiving. As for their quarterback, Kellen Clemens, he owns a 62.2 QB rating, and a 19.2 QBR (if you like QBR - I don't). Things don't look good, in other words.

St. Louis Rams' Defense

Surprisingly (to me anyway), the Rams' defense has been really poor this year ranking just 27th in team defensive DVOA. Their pass defense has also been surprisingly poor, ranking 30th in passing defensive DVOA. Why are they do they rank so low? Well, their pass rush hasn't performed as well this year, Janoris Jenkins has reportedly not looked as good, and Cortland Finnegan hasn't been played the last three games. Put all those elements together and I can see why the Rams' defense has been struggling against the pass. In contrast to the pass defense, their rush defense has been pretty respectable coming in at 16th. Looking over their games, the only pattern I could see is that upper tier backs perform well. Demarco Murray, Frank Gore, Arian Foster, and Maurice Jones-Drew all had success against this defense. The problem with that characterization is that "upper-tier" sounds pretty subjective. I would say that Marshawn Lynch is an upper-tier back, but how much of that is just fandom and would his classification changes if he doesn't do well? I feel comfortable saying that smaller quicker backs perform more effectively against the Seahawks defense, but I don't think the upper-tier distinction is a good one.

I generally assume most of the success in a run defense is attributed to the defensive line and that's probably the Rams' biggest strength. Last year, the Rams defensive line was renowned for rushing the passer, not necessarily stopping the run. The pass rush came in ranking 3rd in adjusted sack rate last year, but this year the Rams rank 13th. The main culprit behind their regression? Tough to say, Chris long hasn't played as well this season, and I've heard that Robert Quinn has struggled with consistency (though he has been very dominant at times - 7 sacks!), but their slide down the rankings is pretty mystifying to me regardless.

The Seattle Seahawks

Because I already went over the Seahawks in detail in last week's post, I won't take too much space here. The Seahawks rank 2nd in overall DVOA (Denver is 1st). What's most exciting about this ranking is that the Seahawks don't seem to have a weakness: ranking 12th in offensive DVOA, 1st in defense, and 10th in special teams play. Likewise, their constituent elements are balanced as well: ranking 8th in pass offense, 6th in rush offense, a stellar 2nd (to Kansas City) in pass defense and 6th in rush defense. We've said it on Fieldgulls before, but the talent and depth of this team is just incredible.

Despite this team being really good, they could perform even better. Injuries have been the biggest impediment this year to the Seahawks, but they should be getting some pieces back. I hope Percy Harvin returns this game, but even if he doesn't, we will be returning the Real Mike Rob. I read in the Seattle Times that Marshawn Lynch almost broke into tears when Mike Rob came back to the locker room. I wouldn't normally say that a fullback returning to a team midseason should impact them very much but man, this looks different. I'm excited.

The Matchups

Rams' Offense vs Seahawks' Defense

Ah yes, homerism, how I missed you. Perhaps this section will always sound homer-ish, but the Seahawks defense is just so good. Case in point: the Hawks' defense is ranked top ten in all aspects and more impressively, 5th in adjusted defensive line yards at 3.34. 3.34 may not sound particularly impressive in a vacuum, but the line yards tend to drop off after the Seahawks which indicates that they are far above average in this aspect of their defense. Fortunately for Seattle fans, the Rams are likely going to try and run to victory and they should not succeed. In addition to having the 31st ranked rushing offense, the Rams employ the exact kind of rusher the Seahawks love playing. Look here at a couple scouting report quotes to see what I mean:

Via draft insider: "Doesn't display any single outstanding physical feature. Not a strong runner and easily brought down by a single defender. Lacks the speed necessary to beat defenders into the open field."
Via Christian D'Andrea (at the Anchor of Gold): "Stacy's straight line speed isn't spectacular...Stacy was also inconsistent when playing some of the best defenses in the country."

The best a physical back could muster against the Seahawks this season was Trent Richardson's 3.1 yards a carry. Unfortunately for Rams fans, that's with Andrew Luck at quarterback. I do not believe Kellen Clemens will help Zac Stacy have a good day against this defense.

Unfortunately again for Rams fans, Kellen Clemens is going to have to beat the Seahawks. I have full faith that the Seahawks are going to put more attention to stopping the run and it's going to be up to Clemens to take advantage of the best secondary in football. I just don't see it working. If there was any hope for the Rams it would be that Seattle might struggle against a speedy slot receiver, like Austin. However, a quarterback needs to deliver the ball and Kellen Clemens shouldn't perform well. Furthermore, Austin hasn't been awarded many opportunities this season even when Bradford was in, so there shouldn't be any concern that his production should suddenly spike here. All in all, the Seattle defense should contain this offense quite well.

Seahawks' Offense vs Rams' Defense

The last time I went out and predicted that the Seahawks would struggle on offense, they did nothing of the sort. They established a lead early with their passing game and coasted the rest of the game. The difference between the Cardinals and Rams however, is that the Cardinals defense is significantly better in both areas - run and pass. The Rams pass defense is ranked 30th in defensive DVOA whereas the Seahawks' passing offense is ranked 8th. For some context, Russell's nice game came against Arizona's 8th ranked pass defense (DVOA). That difference in rankings is probably safe enough to suggest that Russell will have a better game against the Ram's defense. The only reason I'm not entirely willing to suggest that just yet is because the Rams' defensive line. As of now they rank 13th in adjusted sack rate - 2 spots ahead of Arizona. The strength of their defense lies with that line and it lines up right with one of the Hawks' weaknesses - pass protection. Moreover, Robert Quinn (7 sacks!) is a beast and he's likely going to play over Michael Bowie (not quite a beast). As of right now, Seattle ranks 27th in adjusted sack rates (pass protection). That could be a major problem and prevent Russell from having a major passing game. Overall though, that pass defense is just too weak. I think Russell should be fine (which of course means, running for his life. Poor guy.

While the defensive line may be the Rams' best unit, they do have a weakness - namely their run defense. The line is just 15th in adjusted line yards. To put that into context, Marshawn had a great running game against the 7th ranked line in that category. Because the Rams rank 16th overall in rush defense DVOA and 15th in adjusted line yards it stands to reason that their linebacking core and secondary players are similarly average against the run. Not surprisingly, they rank 30th and 31st in second level and open field yards respectively. Those rankings should get you excited. If Lynch can get past the defensive line - and I think he can - then I have great faith in Lynch to expose those sorts of second level and open field mistakes. He should have a strong game.

X Factors

Cortland Finnegan's status is a question mark this week. He's been injured the last few, but was reportedly almost ready last week. If he returns then their pass defense could see a boost which might conceivably increase other areas of defensive weakness. As of this writing he was a limited participant for Thursday's practice. I'm going to assume he's healthy and able.

Percy Harvin could really change this offense. Don't believe it? Christian Ponder had a QB rating of around 83.3 when Harvin was playing last year (not including the Seattle game where he was injured). After that, Ponder's rating was 74.13 and that's with Adrian Peterson going nuts. If Harvin can make Ponder look decent, then what can he do with this offense and Russell? Huge x factor.

The Narrative

Seattle should be able to run the ball quite easily in this game and you may see a couple of big Lynch runs. If the Rams sell out to stop him, then Russell shouldn't have too much trouble passing against the Rams defense - especially if Finnegan doesn't play or is hurt. The Hawks' should also enjoy superior field position provided by their much superior punting game. Just don't expect any Kearse returns. That kicker is ridiculous. On defense, the Hawks' should be capable of shutting them down - completely. Because shut-outs are so rare, I'm not going to predict one here.

Prediction: Seahawks win 30-6.

Recap Stats

In this section I'm going to try and grade my previous declarations on a 0-10 scale. If this doesn't seem interesting to read, then please feel free to skip the section entirely. I won't mind, and I probably would skip it too were I a reader. Anyway, the rating system works with 0 being nothing was correct about a declaration and 10 being completely correct. If anyone wants to help keep me honest you're more than welcome. If you submit a grade for each statement then I'll average them with mine and the other submissions. If you can, I would ask you to replicate my format, but if you just want to include the numbers that's fine too.

Where I was right! (Yeah, who's awesome)

  • The Cardinal's passing game was contained (neither receiver was prolific). 8 I think Floyd outperformed my expectations
  • We generated a few turnovers off of Palmer (too easy). 10 Too easy.
  • The Hawk's pass rush did cause problems! 8 if this ranking seems too high, I should point out that the competition here was pretty weak. That is, the rush looked completely dominant but that result may have been due to the Cardinal's line.
  • The Hawk's contained the running game. 10, you bet they did.
  • Strangely, Andre Ellington didn't receive very many looks. 9 this would be a 10 but even I thought he would receive more touches.
  • The Cardinals generated plenty of interior pressure. 9 Washington was a menace again.
  • The Hawks' punting game was far superior. 7 I believe Maxwell ruined the return for touchdown, but even so, the punting game was pretty good.

Where I was wrong...(just ignore this part)

  • Marshawn wasn't dominant, but he was not shut down like I suggested. 3 worst prediction so far. He was great.
  • Seattle receivers weren't shut down either. 3.5 aside from the Rice touchdown, they weren't great either, still this was a bad prediction by me.
  • Jerraud Powers should not have the nickname, Powers Island. 3 he was significantly worse than Peterson, which is not surprising.
  • Despite the semi-close score, the game wasn't a defensive battle and it wasn't particularly close. 3 I get a bonus point for the score being close, but those points were made up in garbage time. A defensive battle this was not.

Somewhere in between.

  • The TE's were nice in the redzone but not particularly involved otherwise. 6 two touchdown passes made this one the most ambiguous prediction in my book but redzone touchdowns seem to be held to chance more than other measures like yards.

Average: 5.968333...

Update: This article was updated to accurately portray Marshawn Lynch's emotions as almost crying as opposed to actually crying. Link is now included. Thanks to Nicholas Reed for the tip.

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