It’s been four years since the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West title. They were a yard away from ending that drought in 2019, and now thanks to the New York Jets’ stunning win last week, they can clinch the division this Sunday by beating the Los Angeles Rams.
Seattle lost 23-16 in the first matchup, with Russell Wilson turning in one of his worst performances as a pro while the defense appeared to figure something out in the 2nd half of the game. The Seahawks are 2-5 against Sean McVay’s Rams so if history is a guide, we may yet see the division slip away at home again. However, one of those wins was last year and the Seahawks are much healthier entering the rematch compared to mid-November.
To preview the game in the ol’ “5 Questions, 5 Answers” format I’ve once again linked up with Turf Show Times managing editor Kenneth Arthur. You all know who Kenneth is, right?
Q1 - What the hell happened to the Rams last week against the Jets? Goff only had one turnover, the Jets didn’t break 300 yards of total offense, no field goals or PATs were missed, was it just a really bad performance?
I am not sure I can explain how the Jets managed to out-coach and out-execute a much better team on Sunday. That was unexpected. It would be easy to explain it by the mistakes that the Rams made because it is certainly true that Goff’s pick and Johnny Hekker’s block punt directly led to points and could have changed the outcome of the game. But I could not explain how the Jets managed to convert a lot of third downs against LA’s defense and how the Rams could not do the same against the New York defense. It was a lot of little moments that added up to a Jets win. If you looked at the box score, you’d think that Frank Gore had a bad game. He was an MVP for the Jets. He kept grinding out yards where there weren’t supposed to be yards and that became first downs. It was a clear example of a running back making a difference when his offensive line is outmatched. And the Rams’ lack of having an explosive offensive threat really showed itself to be an issue against a defense that was meant to be as bad as New York’s. That is even more of a concern without Cam Akers, who had a few game-changing runs that were called back because of penalties by his blockers.
Q2 - Cam Akers is going to be out this weekend after spraining his ankle. It looked like the Rams virtually promoted him to featured back instead of doing it by committee or having Darrell Henderson be the lead guy. How has Akers looked in his lead role and how big a loss is this for the Rams rushing offense?
Akers has far and away looked like the best running back on the Rams and when that became evident in the last few weeks, it seemed to give them a spark that they’ve lacked without the Brandin Cooks or Todd Gurley-type that they had in 2018. It seemed like maybe he could be their best replacement for Gurley since his explosiveness disappeared mid-2018 and going back to Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown does seem like a downgrade. On the other hand, the Rams offense had some good early-season games with Henderson as a lead back. I’m not sure if that same formula is working however because Henderson was concerningly unproductive in the six or seven games leading to Akers taking over as the lead back.
Q3 - Russell Wilson has had his struggles against Rams defenses over the years but against McVay in particular he’s had some clunkers. It’s amazing that he was as effective as he was in the 2019 win given how most of the other games usually look. Is there a chance Wilson and the Seahawks passing game can successfully attack Los Angeles’ defense?
Despite how things feel after a loss to the Jets, I will keep believing this is an elite defense until an even more disastrous game happens. I realize that the word “disastrous” seems like an overstatement because all they did was give up 23 points and there were a number of short fields provided by the offense and special teams units, but this was the NFL’s worst quarterback of 2020 and a 37-year-old running back and Jamison Crowder as the only weapon of note. This is meant to be a secondary in the running for “best in the league right now” with Aaron Donald up front with the guy who isn’t even ranked in the top-32 of most categories but Sam Darnold posted his highest passer rating of the season and was only sacked twice. Mekhi Becton seems to have a bright future. The Rams have been fairly consistent against Wilson and it’ll be interesting to see how they respond to last week.
Q4 - On the flip side, Jared Goff has been lights out against the Seahawks since 2018 and for whatever reason he looks like an MVP against this team and this team only more than anyone else. What are the best ways for Seattle to exploit Goff’s weaknesses and turn him into Jared Goof?
I really haven’t seen Jared Goff play that well since early October. He hasn’t put together any complete games recently that I can remember. There were a number of people defending Goff because he “wasn’t the problem” against the Jets, but at his level of pay and what it means for an organization to spend that much of their funding on one player, he needs to be a consistent part of the solution. He’s not that. He’s not the quarterback who has driven LA to victories. He’s been riding shotgun to the defense and lately even taking a backseat to Cam Akers. Maybe it’s not all his fault, perhaps he is at a disadvantage because his deep threat is Josh Reynolds, but when you’re at the $31-$34 million salary range, the franchise can’t necessarily afford a threat better than Reynolds. If the Rams had drafted a star receiver in the last two years then maybe Goff would be able to unload deep more often. But that hasn’t happened. He’s consistently made mistakes this season and I think Seattle would be at an advantage if they shut down LA’s run game.
Q5 - What’s the mood of Rams fans after such an embarrassing defeat? On the surface the team looks like it can make a run in a weak NFC, but yet they seem just as inconsistent as everybody else.
I think it’s been a fairly balanced response of disappointment but also an understanding that the Rams still have a viable shot at winning the division. I think it just makes it that much more obvious that the Rams have concerning offensive issues that haven’t been solved since things started to go south towards the end of 2018. Without Gurley, the scoring hasn’t been where it needs to be and as great as the defense can be with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, it is hard for any defense to keep up with a 17-23 point offense these days. The Rams are still Super Bowl contenders, I think, and there are plenty of fans who see that too.
BONUS: Have you heard of Michael Dickson?
I exclusively cover teams with elite punters.
Thanks to Kenneth for answering these questions! You can read my answers over at TST when the article is posted.