The Seattle Seahawks won’t get a chance to hand their division rival their first loss of the 2018 season, after the L.A. Rams dropped the game of the season last week, a 45-35 instant classic in New Orleans.
Instead, the Seahawks uphill climb will be finding a win in the most unlikely of spots, against the league’s most complete team. The Rams are steamrolling opposing defenses in 2018 and did so in Seattle in Week 5, despite the Seahawks keeping a close scoreline.
In this week’s column, we’re skipping the primers on offense and defense, as Seattle faced the same team just over a month ago. You can find a full primer on Sean McVay’s stunning offense and Wade Phillips’ time-tested defense here.
Numbers that Matter
6.5: One of the simple innovations McVay has brought to the forefront of modern NFL offenses is the use of tight splits. Los Angeles’ receivers—most commonly Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods—line up in-tight near the line of scrimmage. This small pre-snap adjustment forces secondary players to come near the box and into traffic post-snap, allowing the Rams’ receivers to get free releases. McVay manufactures separation for his wide receivers by simply adjusting their alignment.
In 2018, L.A. ranks fourth in the NFL in yards after catch, averaging 6.5 yards per reception. Unsurprisingly, Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers lead the league in this category—McVay and Shanahan share offensive principles. Kupp enjoyed an outstanding first half against Justin Coleman in the Seahawks and Rams’ first matchup, as the slot receiver caught six passes for 90 yards and a touchdown before departing the game with an injury.
Los Angeles’ receiving corps is back to full strength for the rematch, and Coleman and Seattle’s secondary need to be better prepared and avoid getting into trailing positions with the ball in the air.
190: In Week 5, the Seahawks, to the surprise of some, exchanged blows with the Rams for the better part of four quarters. A big part of their offense was Chris Carson and the rushing attack, which totaled a season-high 190 yards against a talented L.A. defense. The 190 yards given up on the ground by the Rams in Week 5 was the most they’ve allowed all season, and nearly 100 more than their season average of 94.8 (excluding Week 5).
Though Carson’s status for Sunday is unknown—and likely won’t be known until game day—Seattle will again lean on their rushing attack to keep pace with one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses. Mike Davis, who turned 22 touches into 107 yards in an increased role last week, will likely be turned to if Carson can’t go. The Seahawks rushing attack has hit its stride mid-season; as a team, they’ve topped 150 yards on the ground in five consecutive games.
15.3: A big part of the success of a L.A. offense that ranks 2nd in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and 1st in total offense is their ability to sustain drives. The Rams have run the 5th most plays this season, they convert third downs and finish drives—they are a brutal proposition for any defense.
One of the more incredible numbers relating to L.A. in 2018 is their three-and-out percentage: 15.3% of their drives have ended after just a single set of downs. The gap between the Rams and second (the Falcons at 21.4%) is nearly identical to the gap between second and 10th (the Giants at 27.6%) in three-and-out percentage.
In 2018, Seattle’s defense has struggled with forcing three-and-outs. The Seahawks are forcing them on 25.9% of drives they face, the 5th worst figure in the NFL. Bend don’t break is a pillar of Pete Carroll’s defense, and against McVay and L.A., there is little choice. Whether you like it or not, your defense is going to bend. But if Seattle’s defense can hold up enough to force a handful of field goals, they can remain in the game into the 4th quarter, just like in the first matchup this season.
Matchups to Watch
Tyler Lockett, David Moore versus Marcus Peters: In Week 5, Moore and Lockett ruthlessly took turns roasting Peters. Lockett beat him for a 39-yard touchdown before Moore beat him for a 31-yard score. Though Lockett and Moore have both been pleasantly surprising in 2018, neither of their performances in Week 5 were unique. Peters has been getting toasted by opposing wide receivers on a weekly basis.
Forced into a press-corner role in Aqib Talib’s absence, Peters has suffered tremendously. Quarterbacks are completing 60.5% of their passes when targeting Peters, and he has allowed 463 yards and six touchdowns. Peters has had a habit of allowing explosive plays in 2018, and Sunday will see him matched up against two receivers who have a penchant for producing big plays.
Two-thirds of Lockett’s production in Week 5 came out of the slot, but when the Seahawks got him matched up against Peters, they took advantage. Moore was the one primarily drawing Peters and enjoyed his breakout game, pulling in two touchdowns. Both will get the chance to go against Peters on Sunday, and as has been the case throughout Peters’ 2018, there’s a chance for a big play anytime he’s involved.
Frank Clark versus Andrew Whitworth: The first time these two teams met in 2018, Clark was battling an illness and was hospitalized multiple times leading up to the contest... and it had no impact on his performance at all. Clark wreaked havoc all game, collecting an interception, a strip sack...
Frank Clark in the wide 9 with a great get off. Misses with the chop, but follows it up with a dip/rip. Turns the corner on Whitworth & gets a strip/sack! #Seahawks— DLineVids (@DLineVids) October 7, 2018
via @SamuelRGold pic.twitter.com/9dTQ6cj4wE
... and a particularly epic tackle for loss.
Whitworth, one of the NFL’s most consistent left tackles, has been beaten by Clark regularly since joining the Rams prior to the 2017 season. Their first matchup, in Week 6 of 2017, saw Clark beat Whitworth for a fourth quarter strip-sack. Their second matchup, in Week 15, had another Clark strip-sack.
Clark’s first step and ability to dip goes directly against Whitworth’s strengths, and it’s proved to be a problem every time they face one another. In such an uneven team matchup, Seattle really needs any and every advantage they can find. If the first three meetings between Clark and Whitworth are any indication, that will include a possession-changing play by Clark.
Opponent to Know
Dante Fowler Jr, EDGE: If you could point out one flaw in what was a complete L.A. roster as the trade deadline approached, it would be at EDGE. Despite the dominant play of Aaron Donald and the always solid Ndamukong Suh, the Rams were missing the element of pressure from the outside. They had gotten just two sacks from Samson Ebukam, who was being counted on to take a step forward. So, Los Angeles did what any franchise in a Super Bowl window should do: They were aggressive in filling a need.
The Rams flipped a third- and fifth-round pick in exchange for Fowler, the former 3rd overall selection. Fowler made his L.A. debut in Week 9 against the Saints, but was effectively shut down by the perennially underrated Terron Armstead.
Terron Armstead continuing his All-Pro caliber play in 2018, totally shutting down Dante Fowler Jr. in his first game in a Rams uniform. Fowler adopted the cross-chop from Yannick & used it a ton this game, to no avail: pic.twitter.com/sqDMhSvrlr— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) November 6, 2018
Though Fowler is by no means a game-changing talent, playing outside of Suh and Donald will lead to sacks. If interior pressure forces Wilson outside the pocket on Sunday, as it has in nearly every previous matchup between these two teams, Fowler will have every opportunity to clean up and start his production on the Rams with ease.
Los Angeles will walk to an NFC West championship and home field advantage in 2018. From a divisional standpoint, little is at stake in this matchup. However, at 4-4, the Seahawks need to find a win where they’re the underdog somewhere down the stretch, as they get into a brutal part of their schedule. Though it’s unlikely it comes in Week 10, if Seattle can keep it close again, they could sneak out of a huge game against the Rams with an even bigger victory.