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5 Qs, 5 As with Turf Show Times: Previewing another big Seahawks vs. Rams matchup

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The outcome of the NFC West may very well be determined over the next two weeks. For the Seattle Seahawks, they are in first place right now but could drop to 3rd before even the Arizona Cardinals game on Thursday night. They’ll be taking on the 5-3 Los Angeles Rams at the same time that the Cardinals will face the Buffalo Bills. One Seahawks loss + one Cardinals win = Seahawks drop in the standings. A Seahawks win and a Cardinals loss would have us feeling great about Thursday night, as then it opens the door for Seattle to really pull away from both teams in Week 11. If only it were that easy.

Of all the divisional opponents, it’s clear that Sean McVay has Pete Carroll’s number. He’s won four of the six meetings and the two blowouts have gone the Rams’ way. Will this year be different? Well to preview this key divisional showdown in Los Angeles, I spoke with Turf Show Times’ managing editor...

*record scratch* Kenneth Arthur? Hmm. Name rings a bell but I can’t quite put my finger on it. This should be a refresher for anyone who’s a bit confused at the moment.

Anyhoo, he was kind enough to answer some questions about the Rams, plus a bonus question that has nothing to do with football at all. Indulge yourselves!

1.) The Rams have had a pretty weird season. They swept the NFC East and are 1-3 against everyone else, with that one win against the Chicago Bears aging pretty poorly. I see nothing to indicate that the defense has been the issue, but one thing I have noted is that the passing offense is just 15th in DVOA despite a treasure trove of skill position talent. Is it a fair assessment to say that Jared Goff continues to be the weak link in the Rams offense?

What I’ve noticed about Jared Goff this season is that he’s quite erratic and unpredictable. Over the first five games, he had transformed from the mistake-addled player he had been from most of 2019 and the end of the 2018 season into one who was avoiding the poor decisions and willing to live to see another play. Tangibly, what does that look like? Goff only had one game in 2019 with fewer than five bad throws but his bad throw totals to open this season were: two, six, five, three and three. I wasn’t necessarily impressed by his physical abilities or his innovative abilities, and it wasn’t as though I expected him to be the reason that the Rams were successful (which they were early on in the year, ranking first in net yards per pass attempt through most of October), but Goff’s decision making was on point and because the offensive line had regressed closer to how they played in 2018, plus having weapons like Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, the Rams were doing enough offensively to win. Is Jared Goff the type of quarterback who you’d watch and go, “This guy was the number one pick, I bet”? No. He turned 26 a month ago, he’s got plenty of time to be better, but right now I can’t say that LA will be winning a lot of games because of him. But early in the season they were definitely winning games with him.

More recently, they’ve needed to win games in spite of Goff. His bad throw totals in the most recent three games are 10, five and seven. He’s thrown three interceptions and fumbled three times, losing two of those to the opposing team. His completion percentage is down from where it was in Week 5 and there are too many times where as a viewer it’s not even clear what Goff was even thinking on a certain throw. To be fair, I often don’t know things. This could potentially be a Kenny problem more than a Goff problem. But quite a few balls have gone to “nobody” in the last three games. Quite a few were uncatchable. But do the 49ers, Bears and Dolphins have better pass defenses than the NFC East? Damn straight they do.

However, I also want to point out that my answer is not that Jared Goff IS the weak link. No, I don’t think this offense has a weak link. Look, if you put Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson on the Rams, would they be Super Bowl contenders without a doubt? Yeah, I think so. Goff isn’t providing the Rams with that type of play at quarterback. But I don’t think it’s fair to call him the “weak link” when a) they lost the dominant version of Todd Gurley long ago, b) Cooper Kupp has too many drops this season, c) Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett are not fantastic offensive weapons, d) they never did anything to replace Brandin Cooks. I mean, they drafted Van Jefferson with the pick they got in the Cooks deal, but Jefferson isn’t replacing Cooks. Not now and maybe not ever. Not that Jefferson can’t be great in his own right, but it’s not a move that is changing the offense right now and they lack a deep threat. The deep threat is Josh Reynolds.

The offense isn’t as good as it was in 2018 more so because they don’t have Gurley and Cooks, not necessarily because Goff is any different. LA needs to replenish his supporting cast or hope that some of these in-house guys begin to step up soon.

2.) This is the first season for the Rams without Todd Gurley since 2014. The Rams are nevertheless #2 in rushing offense by DVOA. How much of that has been Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, and how much is attributed to the success of this LA offensive line?

Malcolm Brown is better than I expected. He’s not someone who can have the ball in his hands 15 times per game, or even 10 times usually, but he’s quality in his role as a blocker and short yardage back. It’s too soon to say what Henderson will become, he barely played as a rookie and he missed a large chunk of training camp, so I’m judging him mostly off of the last seven weeks, but all I can say is that he’s also been effective in his role. Henderson’s gaining the most yards per carry in the NFL on outside runs (or at least he was the last time I checked SportsInfoSolutions DataHub) and he has five broken tackles in the last two games after only have two in the first six. But I think that has a lot to do with Rob Havenstein, Andrew Whitworth and Sean McVay.

As you know, the Todd Gurley days were like “Todd Gurley is going to beat you today.” He’d get 20-30 touches and he’d score at least one touchdown. Henderson will get 10-15 touches and he might get you that five or six yards you want. But I haven’t seen much more than that. He’s getting opportunities, loading up on some volume, but there’s nothing “Gurley” I’ve seen in him yet.

Rookie Cam Akers, the team’s first pick in the draft (52nd overall) might be the only back on the roster with that potential. But right now I’d say he’s a predictable back (he doesn’t seem to get many snaps that don’t involve him touching the football, which is not good for McVay’s play calling and element of surprise) and because he missed time with injury himself, he’s slow to develop as compared to some other young running backs. Because Henderson and Brown are capable, McVay’s not pushing him either. Maybe that will change at some point if the offense continues to lack explosiveness. Akers’ 46-yard run against the Football Team is the longest by any Rams player this year despite him only having 35 carries thus far.

3.) Defensively the Rams have hardly missed a beat even after the departure of not just Wade Phillips, but also Dante Fowler, Clay Matthews, Eric Weddle, Cory Littleton, and Nickell Robey-Coleman. It seems as if new DC Brandon Staley is really a quality Vic Fangio disciple, which I wish wasn’t the case from a Seahawks perspective. With that said, what are the best ways to attack this Rams defense if you’re Brian Schottenheimer?

I tremble at the thought of gameplanning for the Seahawks, the Rams or any other NFL team. Let me say a bunch of important key words and see if I arrive at a comprehensible answer for you ...

The Rams have Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. What else needs to be said? If they didn’t have those two players, if they only had one of those two players, would they be second in points and yards allowed? Would they have held not one, but two teams this season to under 100 yards passing and under 60 yards rushing? (No other team has done that even once!) I think if you’ve got the best defensive player of the 2000s (I apologize to all the other candidates, but Donald is the best defensive player since Lawrence Taylor) and potentially the best cornerback in the NFL, you’ve got a chance to shut the other quarterback the F up. These two pass defenses couldn’t be any more different, though I’ll say that Josh Allen worked both and Jimmy Garoppolo somehow stymied the Rams.

Now I’m going to say some more names that will somehow make me seem more well-informed and better educated than I am:

Troy Hill is a better cornerback and defensive player in general than I ever knew

John Johnson doesn’t make a lot of noise but is the quiet leader of the defense

Rookie sixth round safety Jordan Fuller returns to the field on Sunday and while that may not sound like a big deal, he was arguably a top-four defensive player for them when he was healthy; steal steal steal steal of the draft for the Rams.

Nose tackle A’Shawn Robinson has yet to debut with the Rams after signing a three-year deal in the offseason but will also be on the field this week

LA’s biggest issues on defense are the losses at linebacker: Leonard Floyd isn’t the same pass rusher that Dante Fowler was under the guidance of Wade Phillips and the Rams lack additional threats in that area other than Donald; Micah Kiser isn’t as productive as Cory Littleton, though Littleton (like Fowler in Atlanta) is struggling at his new destination; Kenny Young might be better suited as a backup but because of injuries and free agent losses is playing in a lot of snaps.

I’d go after the linebackers! There, send it to Schotty. I just gave away LA’s worst kept secret.

And I think Staley could be coaching in Houston or Jacksonville or with the Chargers by this time next year.

4.) Who has been the Rams’ standout rookie from this year’s draft class? We can obviously cross out Sam Sloman since the Rams picked him in the seventh round and have already cut him for poor performance.

Ah, I love it when I can just refer back to something I already said! Looks like a shortcut for old Kenny-o: Jordan Fuller and third round safety Terrell Burgess were the stars of training camp, as well as Van Jefferson. But Jefferson’s seldom used and Burgess unfortunately broke his ankle against the Bears, right when he was seeing his playing time increase. That leaves Fuller and he’s probably the reason that John Johnson will leave in free agency. That and LA’s lack of money. Fuller could be really, really, really good though. I say without exaggeration that he could be the reason the Rams beat the Cowboys in Week 1 and he made big plays in the other two full games he’s played in.

5.) The decimated 49ers aside, the NFC West looks wide open and the Rams are in the hunt, but the schedule is brutal. Two Seahawks games, two Cardinals games, a road game at the Buccaneers, home to the Patriots might not be a gimme, and then the Niners rematch and the Jets round out the slate. From what you’ve seen through eight games, are the Rams capable of being a sneaky Super Bowl contender or are they just merely a playoff team and not a serious threat to make a deep run?

Well, here’s my opinion on the NFL 2020: There are only two races in either conference — the race to get the one seed and the race to get the seventh seed. (Or now...the eighth seed potentially, I guess???) After that, I personally couldn’t give two shits, three asses, and four dingdongs about getting any seed except the top seed. Frankly, that’s the only position of power, so the only other race will be, “Who is the last team in?” I don’t think homefield advantage will be as big in the playoffs this year and I think the formatting means that once you get into the battle royale, the only team that has a true advantage is the one that takes a week off and then hosts the worst remaining team left in the playoffs. Getting the one seed essentially — imho — slots you into the conference championship game. Even with less homefield advantage, I think there’s just so much going for that top seed.

How to the ever, it’s also gonna be a wild pigshitfest in the postseason, so I think that’s why the seven seed is just as important. Get in and you got a shot. I believe every team, with the exception of the NFC Easties, has a damn shot. The best shot will go to the 1 seed and then the rest are in it to pull off the upset. The Rams are better than 50% to make the playoffs and I think they’ll get there. Once they do, yeah, they can contend. They just went to the Super Bowl two years ago. Sean McVay is smart enough to get done. Donald is good enough to will it to happen. They wouldn’t be my favorite, but they’re in the running.

BONUS: What was the it like improvising with Larry David and JB Smoove on Curb Your Enthusiasm? (Editor’s note: Curb Your Enthusiasm is almost completely unscripted)

Here’s what I’ll have to say about that: we didn’t start off with much more than me having a line (“Can I help you?”) and a general direction for the scene to go in, which was obviously not going to be my responsibility. Who else in television knows more about what they’re doing than the people who make Curb, a show in its 10th season that first aired 20 years ago? Even the guy in makeup had been with the show since, I think, season one or season two. So we did the first couple of takes and I was not helping the scene go in the right direction, so Larry steps aside for a moment and comes back and tells me to reverse roles momentarily. I’ll do his part and that he’ll do my part so he can show me what he wants to see from me on the next take. So then I played Larry and he does this hilarious (obviously) take on what I’m supposed to be doing as the parking lot attendant and that moment is what stands out the most because I still cannot believe I got improv advice and direction from Larry David. We run it a few more times and it goes in the books. I’m forever grateful to Larry David, director Jeff Schaffer and everyone on set who made me feel like a part of the show, including JB Smoove, who is as real and warm as any person I’ve ever met. I could tell you two or three other stories from that day, but then what will I have to talk about in Week 16?

Thanks to Kenneth, not just for answering the questions but for also being in one of the best sitcoms of all-time. You can read my exchange here.