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Seahawks running game has to work for the offense to have any chance against the Rams

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

It’s safe to say that the Seattle Seahawks offense usually does not perform well against the Los Angeles Rams, at least not in the Russell Wilson era. Subtracting any defensive or special teams touchdowns, these are the point totals for Seattle in his 20 career starts:

2012: 13, 20

2013: 14, 20

2014: 26, 13 (20 with pick-6)

2015: 17 (31 with fumble and punt return TDs), 17

2016: 3, 24

2017: 16, 7

2018: 31, 31

2019: 30, 12

2020: 16, 20, 20

2021: 17 (7 points with Wilson in the game, 10 with Smith)

This sucks. It unequivocally sucks. They routinely do not clear 20 offensive points against the Rams and some of this is even before Aaron Donald was drafted.

Russell Wilson’s career sack rate is 8.3%. Against the Rams (playoff game included) it’s a comical 12.1%. Four of his five worst games in terms of sacks conceded have been versus the Rams. This transcends his more mobile days to the more recent Russell who basically will not scramble for yards unless he absolutely has to.

But let’s consider that there have been some more recent bright spots against this Rams defense. Both 2018 performances resulted in close losses but they eclipsed 30 both times with late-game chances to win, and Wilson’s best statistical passing performance came in the 2019 win at home.

You know what else happened in those three games?

The Seahawks ran the ball well.

2018, Home: Chris Carson - 19 carries/116 yards | Mike Davis - 12 carries/68 yards, 1 TD

2018, Away: Rashaad Penny - 12 carries/108 yards, 1 TD | Mike Davis - 11 carries/58 yards

2019, Home: Chris Carson - 27 carries/118 yards

In the 2018 road game, the Seahawks actually had a better EPA/play running it than throwing it, and Russell Wilson boosted the total with a couple of designed runs as part of his 92 yards on the ground. The stats are not as kind (but not terrible) for the 2018 and 2019 home games, but the latter does include a disastrous pitch to Tyler Lockett that lost 8 yards on 3rd and short and goes down as a rush attempt.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Russell Wilson was insanely efficient in all three games. His composite totals are 47/70 for 642 yards, 10 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 1 lost fumble, and 7 sacks taken. The sack rate dips to about 9% in this scenario — put it another way, a sack rate of 1 out of 11 dropbacks compared to 1 out of 8.

You’re probably going to roll your eyes at the thought of “establishing the run” and normally I would too, but in this instance I think it has some merit. Seattle already doesn’t pass protect very well on a week-to-week basis, but especially against the Rams they are usually screwed the moment they are put in a blender of obvious passing situations. Wilson was phenomenal on early down passes in the three highlighted games, and statistically they were more effective on early down passing than running. But it is far easier said than done to build the whole offense out of early down passing against the Rams.

This is not a call to run it more just for the hell of it. It’s a call to run it competently and at a rate that will slow down the Rams’ pass rush, even if it doesn’t produce great EPA/play. And if it’s not working early you don’t just give up completely, but don’t repeat the Cowboys playoff game. There is almost no way the Seahawks, especially with the likelihood of no Tyler Lockett, can afford to expose Wilson to more harm than necessary. We’ve seen this story far too many times.

All of this is to say that this is a huge opportunity for Rashaad Penny, who scored his first NFL touchdown against the Rams, then suffered his worst injury a year later versus the same team. It would be one hell of a time to repeat his 2018 success to give Seattle a two-dimensional attack worth respecting. If Penny can’t do it and the offensive line isn’t up to the task... well just hope Seattle’s defense can finally start generating some takeaways because there are not too many other viable routes to victory.